Want To Learn Japanese? Try This.


When I was teaching at the junior high level, I had my students keep a quote notebook. Every day, their first order of business was to enter the day's quotation written on the chalkboard. They followed a very simple template. Date, quote, author. As an example, let me give one of my favorites that I often assigned.

January 7, 1980

"Work spares us from three great evils: boredom, vice, and need."


At the end of the year, every student compiled somewhere between 160 and 180 quotes. (For various reasons, some schooldays might  not have one.)

Like any good teacher, I practiced what I preached.  I kept my own personal quote notebook. And still do. Whenever I come across a sentence or passage in whatever I'm reading that's too good to forget, it goes down in my commonplace book.  That's what it was called in the distant past when many writers kept track of their favorite lines.

Here's a quote from my Commonplace Book . Excuse the caps, but it is a particular commonplace book after all.  The following entry may also introduce you to the Japanese language. And if you memorize the Japanese as I have, you might even say you know a little Japanese. True, very little.  And in a very limited sense . But still true.

Furu ike ya;

Kawazu tobikomu:

Mizu no oto.


Translation: The ancient pond here. / A frog jumps into the pond:/ Sound of the water.

Soon you may be fluent in some Japanese. Especially when the subject of frogs comes up.



Filed under: education, literature


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  • But does the splash make a sound if there is nobody near the pond to hear it?

    Not to mention that the frog makes both water waves and sound waves?

  • In reply to jack:

    Jack, don't ask me. I was never one for making waves.

  • Aquinas, I don't know if you have ever downloaded an app, but I found a language app called Duolingo that I always recommend when the issue is broached.

  • In reply to 4zen:

    Thanks, 4zen, for the tip. I gotta look into that. Do you remember the magazine Quinto Lingo? It's no longer published but it ran the same articles in 5 languages, hence its name. I still have a few that managed somehow to survive the ravages of time and change. The 5 languages, BTW, were English, French, Spanish, German, and Italian.

  • Thank you, AW, for writing about Basho-- one of my favorite haiku poets. Do you have this little book, "One Hundred Frogs," by Hiroaki Sato---a collection of variations on the translation of those few words.

    Maybe it's beyond words. Here's Allen Ginsberg's version--

    The old pond

    A frog jumped in,


  • In reply to Weather Girl:

    Thanks, WG, FYI. I don't have that book, but you've stoked my interest in reading it.

    Allen Ginsberg was fluent in Japanese? Beats me.

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