Sporadic Happiness (in Japan!)

(formerly) updated every Wednesday

#39 My favorite ASL Resources – Baby Signing

So I posted an entry a long time ago about how I became interested in sign language through a TV show called Switched at Birth:

Switched at Birth: Volume One

Since then I have become much more serious about studying American Sign Language, and have compiled a few resources that I like to use. This is the first of 2 posts I will make on the subject.

The very first videos I used to learn sign language I found on youtube, but they have a website called My Smart Hands

The lady who explains the videos is very down to earth and explains what the signs mean when she does them. She then cuts to a video of her daughter signing the same word she just introduced.

I first found these videos through a much-watched clip showcasing her daughter at a young age demonstrating the signs she knows. I was suitably impressed:

The website has a very small dictionary. It’s geared mainly towards teaching your baby signs, so that it can communicate with you. It’s a proven phenomenon that babies can communicate with their hands and bodies before they can speak, so teaching your baby some basic signs (like eat, more, milk, cookie, diaper, up, down, potty, etc) can enable them to tell you what they are wanting without having to resort to pointing (which you may not follow completely) or crying.

I think it’s awesome to teach babies sign language because it eliminates frustration for both you and your baby. I’m definitely teaching ASL to any kids I might have in the future, and I encourage others to do the same! The above resource is a fabulous one for learning the most basic of signs.

Sometimes I also like to watch youtube videos from a TV show called Baby Signing Time

Though to be honest, the host annoys me a bit. She’s unnervingly and unnaturally perky.

She also wears these ridiculous bands on her fingers which makes her hand looks so unnatural. I realize she’s trying to do it so you can see her fingers more clearly (her thumb and pointer are labeled with blue, while the rest of her fingers are labeled with red bands.) However, I find it more distracting than useful. But then again, the show is intended for babies and children, not adults, so maybe the extra visual does help them.

I put up with her incessant perkiness because it’s one of the better teaching resources I’ve found online so far. She signs new words a few times each, and explains what it’s supposed to represent (like with “Spring,” it’s flowers coming out of the ground). I find that extra explanation (more than just the visual) is useful to commit the sign to memory. Then she’ll show some footage of toddlers and young kids signing the same sign, which is also a good reinforcer. Sometimes though she’ll throw in a self-written song at the end which usually is not my cup of tea, but she will sign the words again while singing it and it’s helpful to see things multiple times (repetition!).

She sells tons of DVDs and educational packages. I don’t personally own any, as I’ve just been cruising the clips I can find on You Tube. If I ever have a baby some day, I’d seriously consider buying some though. They’re pretty good, all things considered. Here’s one you may be interested in to get started.

Signing Time Volume 1: My First Signs DVD

There’s even some youtube videos talking about a set of parents who found out their little girl had way above average reading skills, and they attribute some of this to her early exposure to ASL with Baby Signing Time. They argue that being exposed to sign language gives babies extra visual cues to stimulate them and prepare them for reading. For Baby Signing Time, the written word is shown along with a picture of it, at the same time that a sign is introduced. That can definitely reinforce word recognition from an early age. I have often heard that signing to babies improves their language skills in general, whether or not reading is included. I certainly think teaching them can’t hurt!

Though when they explained that both the parents of this gifted child are Speech Pathologists, I go “well duh” – anyone who works with speech as their field is going to make sure to reinforce language skills in their child. Still, I do believe that ASL has a lot of benefits for babies to learn (and adults too – learning a language is a great way to stimulate the brain).

So here’s my suggestion for you. Go out and teach your babies sign language!

But first, teach yourself.

Good luck!

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#38 My Darling is a Foreigner

So last week I posted about Essay Manga and introduced 2 series that I really like.  I decided to introduce the 3rd series in its own post because it really deserves its own bit of attention.

This series is called ダーリンは外国人 or My Darling is a Foreigner.

It’s about a Japanese cartoonist (漫画家)living in Japan named Saori who is in a serious relationship with a foreign (ie: non-Japanese) man named Tony.  She chronicles their relationship and their cultural differences in her works.

The very first manga that was put out in this series has very fortunately also been released in a bilingual version!  You can read the text in both English and Japanese.


My Darling is a Foreigner (in English) (Darling ha Gaikokujin)

Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, none of the other books have been released in a similar way, and are only available in Japanese.

Here’s what the Japanese version of the first book looks like:

My Darling is a Foreigner 1 (Darling ha Gaikokujin – Gaikokujin no kare to kekkonshitara dou naru ka)

I find the series interesting for a lot of reasons – of course, the cultural differences between Saori who is Japanese and Tony who is American is interesting to read. The first and second books focus mainly on this aspect.


My Darling is a Foreigner 2 (Darling ha Gaikokujin)

Also, Tony is a linguist and terribly interested in foreign languages and languages in general, and he gets to geek out sometimes. Saori even devoted 2 whole books to what goes on his mind, subtitled “Inside Darling’s Mind”

Later on they have a baby, and there’s a whole book chronicling the decision to conceive, Saori’s pregnancy, the birth, and the first few months with their baby.


My Darling is a Foreigner 3 (With Baby) (Darling ha Gaikokujin 3 (with baby))

I liked this book in particular, as someone who has pondered having a baby at some point.

I also recently discovered a whole new set of books in this series where Saori, Tony, and sometimes Baby all travel together to different countries or places and chronicle their adventures there. They have books about trips to Italy, France, Australia, and Hawaii.

My one complaint about this installment in the series is that instead of them talking about some casual trip to these countries, and thus using easy language explaining the sights, the sounds, the food, whatever, they tended to do more structured activities there – wine tasting, jewelry making, glass making, mosaic making, a short acting class, talking with renowned chefs, etc etc, such that a lot of the terminology is really technical and quite a slog to get through in Japanese. It felt like more of a chore, personally, than a divertisement when reading these (I bought the Italy and France ones).

But, of course these books are not aimed at a foreign audience, but rather at a Japanese one that does like technical details and facts and can understand Kanji and technical words just fine. Though, in all honesty, I do feel the need to say that through reading these books I’ve gotten more interested in Italy specifically (I’ve been to France before) and want to try and make it over there some day now! It wasn’t on my list of places to visit before. Though I can’t give it all the credit, because the book Eat Pray Love is what first piqued my interest in Italy.


Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

Going back to this series though, there’s also been a movie made based off of the first book of My Darling is a Foreigner but I do NOT recommend it. I think it’s pretty lame. Why? Because they totally emasculated Tony and made him more palpatable for Japanese viewers (who are used to their men skinny, well dressed and well groomed).

Here’s the movie poster:

This is a nice poster in that you can see the characters along with their cartoon counter parts.  But the actors are a lot younger than the actual couple.  Also, in the cartoon you may notice that Tony is rather shaggyand depitcted as having a wide face, whereas the actor Tony seems more clean-cute and streamlined (styled hair and everything).  I admit, they did seem to make an effort to approximate them.  Perhaps I’m judging too harshly.

For a comparison, here’s what the couple actually looks like:

The thing that bothers me though is the personality of Tony in the movie.  I don’t know what the real Tony is like in terms of mannerisms and whatnot, because I’ve never met him or even seen video of him.  He is indeed described as being a sensitive person in the books, but still, I feel like they made the Tony in the movie far too quiet and unassuming like a Japanese person might be like, and it seems to remove all tension between the couple because of a lack of “foreignness” between them.  Still, if you’re interested, go ahead and see the movie anyway.  Just don’t have too high expectations of it.

Let me end this post with an article in English from the Japan times that talks about the manga, so those of you that don’t read Japanese or can’t get access to the books can still get an idea of what this series is like!

Drawing on Love

Enjoy.

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#37 Essay Manga

I first heard the term Essay Manga (エッセイ漫画) in one of my favorite anime of all time, Paradise Kiss.

In one scene, a character (pictured above) named Miwako (which is an adorable name, by the way) mentions that her mother writes Essay Manga while traveling around the world with Miwako’s father, who is a photographer.  I had no idea what Essay Manga was at the time…but now I do!  So I want to share it with you all.

Essay Manga is basically non-fiction manga, where the writer/artist writes and draws about his/her own life.  As a personal fan of non-fiction over fiction books in the first place, I find essay manga generally to be a lot more interesting personally than regular manga.

So here I would like to introduce to you three Essay Manga series that I have read some and liked.  In this post I’ll talk about two series that I’ve really enjoyed (that have 3 and 2 volumes each, thus far), and in the next post I’ll talk about a much more prolific series that is somewhat of a cultural phenomenon.

Series 1: Nihonjin no Shiranai Nihongo ・日本人の知らない日本語・Japanese the Japanese Don’t Know

This series has 3 volumes, one of which was just released very recently.  You can get the first two volumes (in Japanese only) on amazon.com


Nihonjin no shiranai Nihongo (The Japanese the Japanese don’t know)


Nihonjin no shiranai Nihongo II (The Japanese the Japanese don’t know II, Volume 2)

This is a series about a Japanese woman teaching Japanese as a foreign language to study abroad students who come to Japan.

As the title suggests, I think the original impetus behind this series is that sometimes students of Japanese learn various forms of the language that are either archaic, obscure, overpolite, out of context, or what-have-you, that the author thought it would be amusing to share her experience with the Japanese public.  Very fortunately, with an eye for her students as well, the books have furigana over the Kanji, making it easier for us learners of Japanese to read it.

As a previous study abroad student in Japan myself, I can relate to her students, and it is also interesting from an international perspective because she teaches a variety of students from all over the world.  She has students from Russia, France, China, Korea, the US, etc etc and draws each one of them showing off their personality and individuality.  They’re probably exaggerated charicatures, but compelling none the less.  She talks a lot about what they are interested in and why they came to Japan, and examples of their mistaken/strange/funny Japanese usage.

I’ve read volumes 1 and 2 a while back, and my boyfriend recently purchased volume 3 (pictured above), which is subtitled The Graduation Edition or 卒業編・そつぎょうへん.  I’m looking forward to reading it in the near future.

Series 2: Chuugoku Yome Nikki・中国嫁日記・A Chinese Wife and an Otaku Husband

This is a series I discovered just by browsing the Essay Manga section of a large bookstore.

It caught my eye in part because of the art style, which is exaggerated and chibi-like and adorable, but also because of what it’s about, which piqued my interest.

It’s about a 20 something Chinese woman who married a 40 something Japanese Otaku.  Apparently (I learned this through reading some of the first book) the woman’s older sister married a Japanese man first, then recommended it to her younger sister as well, and a somewhat arranged marriage was set up.  At first I thought this comic was written by the woman, but it’s actually written by her husband.  He originally started it as a blog, and later published it in book form.

The comic goes a bit into their personal life such as misunderstandings or tender moments, and also has a lot about the differences between China and Japan as the woman is constantly discovering new things as she navigates the Japanese language and life in a new country.  As someone who is interested in Chinese culture and the Chinese language, there’s a lot of juicy tidbits in here.

I highly recommend this manga to anyone who wants a slice of life on an international/intercultural relationship, or someone who is interested in the differences between Japan and China.  Of course, disclaimer!, one can’t make judgements on an entire country or an entire population from just getting to know a few people from it (the book also features the man’s Chinese conversation teacher, the woman’s sister, and a few others), but it’s still an interesting and eye-opening read, in my opinion.

There are 2 volumes; I bought them both, but have yet to read more than about 1/3 of the first one.  Am looking forward to getting back into it though!

It doesn’t look like this is available on amazon.com, but if you want to know more about this couple, there’s an English article/interview about them that was published in the Japan Times almost exactly a year ago.  There’s even a picture of the husband, which I’d never seen before!  Enjoy.

Top blogger illustrates Chinese wife’s struggles

Series 3…

Look forward to next week’s post for details on this one!

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