All posts by alecrem

The way I study Japanese

Since I get more translation and interpreting work lately, I wanted to share my method for studying Japanese.

When one’s been working mostly in Japanese for almost five years, one’s Japanese level is more than OK. And when I say I have JLPT level 1 most Japanese think my Japanese must be awesome, but JLPT’s top level isn’t actually that high. In contrast with other Japanese language qualifications, JLPT is only for people who don’t have Japanese as their mother tongue. This means most Japanese people haven’t ever heard of it, and also its aim is set to certifying one’s ability for communication in Japanese up to a regular employment level.

Some books I use as Japanese textbooks
Some books I use as Japanese textbooks

But knowledge areas appearing in any job are limited and without motivation and interest in many different things your Japanese learning could stall. That’s where I was saved by this studying method.

First, once we’re in this level we have to stop thinking as a foreign student and think about someone who understands Japanese. We probably need to use books made for Japanese people. The ones in the picture above explain useful bits and pieces of Japanese which you won’t find at exams.

Mondai na Nihongo by Yasuo Kitahara

For example, Yasuo Kitahara‘s Mondai na Nihongo show us many expressions and usages that aren’t perfectly correct but more or less widely used in nowadays Japan. I think it’s not good to ignore them, but it’s not good either to adopt them without even noticing. I prefer learning to understand and detect them, and not using them myself.

Otonago no Nazo by Shigesato Itoi

Shigesato Itoi‘s Otonago no Nazo is a compilation of corporate and business jargon, explained with some criticism and even sarcasm. If the previous book was a bit serious, this one is quite fun to read.

There are many books like these, but I think it’s also important to read fiction and manga. Lately I’m hooked on Bakuman, a comic which gives us the perspective of the people making manga.

And before finishing, I’d like to ask you to disregard possible imperfections in my redaction in Japanese and English. When I work with translations I always have a native specialist to check the texts, so quality is guaranteed. But I like writing this blog on my own as a way to practice and learn.

Self-public relations in Japan

It’s common in Japan to ask people to pitch their best qualities and skills when they’re writing a resumé or taking part in some social acts. They call it self-public relations, mixing a Japanese word and the English PR acronym. The resulting word, jiko-PR, is supposed to mean self promotion is a clear example of corporate jargon as there are perfectly Japanese words that would do the job.

It’s common for borrowed words to keep only the meaning that’s more relevant to the destination environment, and cases like this let us see clearly some differences between the Japanese society and the so-called Western one. This time around I’d like to stress the one-way communication nuance in the Japanese use of the word relations as in PR.

Self PR Self Promotion Public Relations

Public relations include communications of the one-way kind but also of the two-way kind. But the Japanese usage of jiko-PR (meaning self promotion) only has a one-way meaning. Words like these are worthy of being included in Shigesato Itoi‘s, corporate lingo dictionary, Otona-go no nazo (something like “the mysterious language of adults”).

This way of using the English word public relations proofs how established and strict are hierarchies in Japan’s business and corporate environments. For instance, it’s hard to find a magazine that reviews products in a honest way, as the companies selling these products are usually funding the magazine itself by investing in advertisement. So the magazine owes them –and their products– respect.

But now that Japan is on the social media train, I think it’s about time for having communications in all ways.

Speaking about Spain

Last week I spoke at Kokusai Hiroba, a space for international activity in Acros Fukuoka. My lecture was for a program they have for fourth-graders to understand the international world.


What I did here is explaining the multicultural world using three axis: the space axis, the language axis and the culture axis. For instance, if you take a look at the space axis you’ll figure that Spain and Latin America are far, but share a language and some common spots in their culture too.

A not very serious graph for you to picture the axis

To understand the world as a whole, I think one has to understand there are spaces which hold several languages or cultures. Japan, the Japanese language and the Japanese culture, however, are in a very unique position and don’t overlap in a significant way with any other regions on any axis. I think it’s important for Japanese children to understand this, as they have no examples in their own environment.

But this time it had to be explained for fourth graders (10 years old) so I couldn’t use the axis expression. I spoke about this without using the “a word”, and mixing in pictures and stories about Spain so that the kids had tangible references.


And when one explains things about far places, it’s better to do that through comparisons with things they all know. For example, if we tell the children Spain’s area in square kilometers they will ignore the information. But if we tell them Japan’s area is 3/4 of that of Spain they will get an idea. Actually, I like explaining things this way for adults too.

No number on my name card

Japan is a place where people care a lot about privacy, but one can always find exceptions. This time, the exception is that anyone, even people you’ll never see again, will give you their name card with their full name, mail address, postal address and phone number. This of course isn’t a privacy problem for people for whom the only personal information in their cards is their name (being anything else corporate or professional data) but the card trading in Japan doesn’t limit itself to business and work. I read something interesting about this a Japanese book –”iPhone to Twitter wa, naze seikō shita no ka?“.

And between corporate and private are we, the freelancers. We often don’t need or want a separate address and phone number for business as it would be an expense. But we might not want our potential clients or potential never-really-see-you-agains know where we live or our private cell number. I’m not even the only one living there –there’s my wife too.

Tarjeta de visita de Alecrem
The card I got some time ago. I'd like a new one.

My decision seemed obvious to me but still puzzles some Japanese people I meet: I only put information on my card to contact me over the internet. No postal address or phone number.

Another reason not to give my phone number on first sight is that I lose concentration when I’m working and someone I’m not used to talk to calls out of the blue. It’s not a language problem –I’m great at Japanese. It’s something like if a client came to your home without prior notice. You have to interrupt everything you’re doing to deal with them. And it’s a productivity matter, as when I lose concentration it can take a lot of time to get back to the zone. One can feel this especially when working alone at home.

I’d prefer people contacting me through e-mail –or Twitter, or a blog comment. This way I can finish what I’m doing (or at least dump the contents in my head) and get to replying in a few minutes id it’s urgent. A phone call would only wait for some seconds.

I like taking care about performance in working and communications, and I’m lucky that most people working in international or internet related things are used to communication through e-mail.

Of course there’s times when a phone call is the best, but that rarely is the case the first time a client contacts me. I am sometimes told that I should be more flexible, but truth is I don’t have a secretary or people to work for me while I’m ambushed by phone. As a freelancer, I need to manage my time properly for bot business and communication.

The telephone was once the only technology to get to someone in a reasonable frame of time, but nowadays we get our e-mail and other information instantly delivered to our computers and other wireless devices. I’d like to use this technology to get a better performance in both communication and work.

Welcome to Alecrem

I have started to work on the English version of my business Alecrem, and I decided to start a blog here too.

I will write about my business itself, and about things I think or just find interesting as a foreign freelancer in Japan. I think my themese here will be mostly business, technology, culture and society.

Of course my personal blog pepinismo is still being updated.

Thank you for coming to Alecrem!