Saturday, November 26, 2011

Learning Japanese with Lang-8

If you don't have the time or money to pursue formal classes, learning a foreign language can be tricky and discouraging. Interaction with native speakers can be hard to come by, especially if you're in an area where there just aren't many to begin with.

Lang-8 is an amazing example of the power of the Internet. Relying on the basic goodness of people, it works more or less like this: You keep a journal in the language you're learning, and native speakers will correct what you write. In return, you correct journals written in your own native language.

While there is a premium version with some nice features, Lang-8 is free to use. If you are at a level where you can read and write basic sentences in at least hiragana (the most basic Japanese alphabet), I'd definitely recommend it for Japanese-language learners.

The only thing that I don't like about Lang-8 is that I'm not sure at times of what's appropriate (for example, if you friend someone, do you have to correct all of their entries they ever make? How long of an entry can you make and reasonably expect others to correct it? etc. ) but I guess as with a lot of the new social media the rules are still being made up as we all go along.

If you decide you'd like to try Lang-8 out for Japanese, here's a handy phrase you can use when someone corrects your entry. 添削をありがとうございます。(Tensaku wo arigatou gozaimasu - Thank you for your corrections.)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Seller Review: Rakuten and Yumesakibana

I am happy to report that my first experience with Rakuten, a collection of Japanese shops that ship internationally, was a great one!

As mentioned earlier, I needed a yukata that would properly fit my wrist-to-wrist measurement for my dance lessons. Since I'm tall and 138cm in that "wingspan" measurement, cheap vintage yukata were pretty much out, nixing my usual haunts of Ebay and Ichiroya.

I sucked it up and went to Rakuten, which several friends like using, but no one I knew had ordered kimono through it and I figured I'd pay through the nose for a new, unusual size yukata.

Even though I can get the gist of most Japanese-language pages, I was happy to find that Rakuten will automatically ask you if you're an international customer or Japanese when you first load up the site.

I chose International, which made all the pages pop up in machine-translated English. If you wanted, like me, to check details in Japanese, there's always a button you can click to see the page in the original Japanese.

Like Ebay, you can sort items by price, which is useful. One thing I found odd is that you have to click another button to only see items that are in stock. Why would you care about something that went out of stock in 2008? Unless there's a chance they'll restock?

Searching for yukata, I was able to narrow down the list pretty quickly, and could even drill down through yukata categories by color or set. If you're someone who needs a larger size in general, search "yukata" plus TL, 2L, 3L, 4L, or 5L.

I settled on a pretty black yukata with cream and crimson lilies from a shop called Yumesakibana ("a dream's blooming flowers"), entered all of my information to become a general Rakuten member (which is free and allows you to build up bonus points through some purchases), and purchased the item. Yumesakibana emailed me first with the exact shipping quote, which I had to agree to before they would run my payment, either PayPal or credit card. They were polite, prompt, and spoke English well in their emails.

Within two weeks, for less than $100, I had a brand-new, quality yukata in my wingspan sent by expedited EMS shipping. It's beautiful and exactly as described. Plus the nice folks at Yumesakibana sent as a surprise bonus gift a free koshihimo (the hip tie you use to blouse the kimono over when adjusting for height) and a cute bunny and sakura kinchaku (the drawstring bag you see used a lot with yukata). :D

Seller: Yumesakibana 夢咲花, through Rakuten
Item: 5/5
Shipping: 5/5
Communication: 5/5

Based on my experience, I can happily recommend Yumesakibana. I also plan on doing more general kimono shopping on Rakuten in the future!

(If you've shopped on Rakuten, please feel free to share your experiences in the comments. I'd love to hear what you've bought and how it worked out.)