Jeff, one of Nihongo Shark’s readers, is taking the italki language challenge this month in order to prep for JLPT N3. In case you missed it, you can read about his first lesson here.

There’s so much Japanese in this article, you might want to cry. But if you read it like 12 times, then a good amount of it will probably stick.

Good luck!

– Niko

sapporo matsuri - with text

p.s. While I should probably be taking online lessons like all these other smart kids, instead I went to Sapporo-matsuri and took pictures of food on sticks. I’ll post about it later this week… uh… maybe…


Jeff’s Italki Experience, Part 2

I didn’t realize Japanese had so many ways to express “even though.”

That goes without mentioning the situation-dependent suffixes -ぽい and  –らしい, the different usages of the causative tense, and the intensifiers that flood or reverse the meaning of sentences.

Now I understand what Fray Jeronimo de Jesus meant about Japanese:

“This language is for young men only; old men can’t take it in.”
– Moran, J.F. Japanese and the Jesuits: Alessandro Valignano in Sixteenth Century Japan (Amazon [Warning: Obscenely Expensive])

But take heart, fellow-learners: you can learn the grammar for the JLPT N3 in a month of studying an hour a day.

My italki teacher focused on grammar to ensure that I grasped the nuances. (Kanji is better-suited for self-study).

I share some of my grammatical gleanings below:

Even Though (わりに vs. くせに)

わりに is similar to くせに, but the difference lies here:

わりに describes an action that belies or contradicts reality.

くせに expresses indignation at deceptive or distasteful behavior.

わりに expresses a contradiction between reality and appearances.

He looks young for his age.
(He looks young despite (わりに) his age.)

It was easier than expected.
(It was easier even though (わりに) it seemed difficult).

It’s delicious even though(わりに)it’s cheap.  

Even though you say you have no money, you buy a lot, don’t you?

Even though you didn’t study for the test, you did well.

くせに expresses indignation at deceptive or distasteful behavior.

知っているくせに、教えてくれない。 (教え=おしえ)
Even though he knows, he won’t tell me.

元気なくせに、病気のふりをしている。 (病気=びょうき)
Even though he’s healthy, he pretends he is sick.

Even though he really likes it, he says he hates it.

Even though he is a man, he acts like a woman. (This is clearly a derogatory use).

A similar usage follows:

Even though you are man, hurry up and decide!  (This is to say that even though he is a man, he is not acting like man because he is being irresolute).

*They call criminals くせもの—(i.e. “despicable people” who deceive or cheat).


なんか、 なんて、and な どprecede and emphasize a negative word. They express an unexpected or negative feeling.

なんか and なんて are the impolite, sneering, and childish counterparts of など, which is more polite and more suitable for adults.

You must absolutely not wear make-up.

I really hate natto.

I’m absolutely not crying!

There’s no way I can give a speech in Japanese.

Adjectives さえ vs. こそ

(They follow and describe nouns).

さえ means “even”—(e.g. Even children can do X).

I can’t even write hiragana, so I absolutely can’t write the kanji.

Even children know that.

こそ expresses emphasis—like “absolutely.”

I will certainly study tomorrow!

The reason I get so angry is because I care about you so much.

こちらこそ (in response to thank you)
It is I who should say thank you (i.e. I am more thankful).

Prepositional Phrases

とおり means “as the ___ said.”

You might have heard the phrase “そのとおり,” which means “Just as you said” or “You said it correctly.”

It’s snowing—just as the weather forecast said.

It was just as my teacher said: the exam was hard.

I came just as the map directed which my friend wrote for me, but I still got lost.

にとって means “for _____.”

Maybe it’s easy for you.

ついでに means “on the way _____.”

The main purpose comes before ついでに. (E.g. While I was on my business trip ついでに, I went to a restaurant. The main purpose is the business trip.)

While you are on your walk, would you mind mailing this letter for me?

たびに means “every time ____.”

Every time I go shopping, I receive a lot of bags.

Correct usages follow:

Vる、Nの、or その たびに.

FYI, you cannot say “たびには.”

とたん means “at the same time” or “immediately.”

Right when I opened the window, a strong wind came.

Causative Tense

The causative tense conjugates a verb “to make someone or something do ____.”

飲む in the causative tense is 飲ませる, which typically means “to make someone drink”—such as making a sick person drink some medicine.

Another usage of the causative tense is “to let someone do____.” You can use this tense to ask for permission:

Please let me wash my hands.

Because I have a fever, please let me take a break.

Please tell me about your company.

Suffixes  ( -らしい vs.-ぽい)

-らしい is used when something especially fits its circumstances.

はるらしい is only used during the spring. It describes a spring day in spring that especially characterizes spring: flowers-blooming and sun-shining with weather that cools and warms.

In literature about Japanese workers, the word いきずらしさoften appears—it means when life, which is usually difficult, is especially difficult.

-ぽい is used when something fits a different circumstance better.

はるぽい is only used when the season is not spring. (E.g. In the winter, if a day is unusually warm, then you would say it is “はるぽい.”

Someone once called me “にほんじんぽい,” which means that even though I am not Japanese, I seem Japanese.

Or you may call an adult who acts childish こどもぽい.


As studying kanji is concerned, I took pictures of the JLPT3 Kanji I read on the train and in my spare time:

jlpt n3 kanji 1 jlpt n3 kanji 2 jlpt n3 kanji 3 jlpt n3 kanji 4

italki Impressions


I appreciate my italki teacher’s foresight to practice grammar during the lessons.

See how much meaning the grammatical structures carry—more meaning than English suffixes tend to carry anyway.

I plan to contact my Italki teacher when I study for future JLPT tests. I didn’t expect that he would help me as much as he did.



I learned from living in Japan, coming back to the USA, and moving back to Japan again. I am living what I call a dialectical life: starting with something, experiencing the opposite, and growing into something new through the synthesis and conflict of the two. And I love ramen.

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