The Quick and Dirty Guide to Japanese is a canonical classic of the Internet community. Posted years ago on the sci.lang.japan newsgroup, this guide appears in a multitude of pages written by folks such as myself, devoted to the learning of the Japanese language.
Usually the guide is presented in a plain-text-only format. I recall running across a similarly html-lized version a year or two ago, but have since not been able to find it again, hence this presentation. It's not very different from other versions available on the web other than that it's been indexed for easy browsing, and contains further links and information at the bottom.
This is my reasoning on this: you can build a vocabulary of nouns, just by looking in a dictionary or asking a native speaker. They almost never inflect (in any true meaning of the word) and are easy. Plus we won't be worrying about those strange noun-like things that can act like adjectives. So *you* can take care of the nouns yourself as you see fit.
On the other hand, the verbs and adjectives inflect so I'll try to present the most compact rules conceivable for allowing you to manipulate every verb you ever encounter and hopefully you can take it from their. The less mental overhead for remembering how to do it, the less painful it will be. After knowing the conjugation rules pat, you can get new vocabulary out of a dictionary or ask a native speaker.
Now that you have a bunch of nouns and a bunch of verbs and adjectives (that you can inflect), you need to know how to piece them together. That's where learning about the particles come in. Remember, this is a *Quick and Dirty* guide so don't expect these generalizations to *always* work, just expect them to work in as many cases as possible based on what I know.
Now, in compiling this, I noticed that the descriptions are pretty comprehensive. So why aren't these things presented this way in class? Well, an educational institution obviously has a financial stake in dragging out your language learning as long as possible (and confusing you along the way), now doesn't it? They also feel obligated to teach you every little detail so you feel like you're getting your money's worth. In the case of this guide, return comments such as: "You made generalization X, but for got to mention exceptions Y and Z." won't be appreciated very much. This is a *quick and dirty* guide, remember? So be forewarned that their are exceptions all over the place, but that I have tried to be as accurate as space allows. And space is the primary concern here. Please don't forget that.
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Before talking about particles let's get into word order. In general, standard word order for Japanese when using an action verb is:
[SUBJECT]+TIME+PLACE/IMPLEMENT+INDIRECT OBJECT+OBJECT+ACTION VERB
"Ashita, gakkou de sensei ni purezento wo agemasu." ("[I'm] going to
give a present to [my] teacher tomorrow.")
For an existence verb it is:
"Takahashi wa, ima honsha ni iru." ("Takahasi is in the main office
For a motion verb it is:
"Ashita, paatii ni iku." ("I'm going to a party tomorrow.")
SUBJECTs are put in brackets to stress that they are very often
deleted. In general, if a new subject is introduced where another had
been previously understood, signal the change by placing "wa" after
the subject. If a subject is understood, but for some reason not
deleted (that's rare) use "ga" or nothing. Often you can move a
subject out after the verb when things start piling up before the
"Ashita boku ga kooen de utau." (I'm singing at the park
tomorrow.) often becomes:
"Ashita kooen de utau, boku." For more on SUBJECTs, see the longer description in the next section, "Subjects
and Deletion". Knowing how to delete is a key to sounding natural.
TIME is usually followed by "ni". In general, use "ni" for specific points in time or specific spans of time. So "jyuu gatsu [ni]" (October), "san gatsu mikka [ni]" (March 3rd) take "ni". A word like "ashita" (tomorrow) that can only be understood by context (it changes depending on when you say it). These types of words are called "deictic" time words and don't take "ni". "Ashita iku" ("I'm going tomorrow."), but: "sanji ni iku" ("I'm going at 3.") Even if you have trouble making the distinction between these two types of time words, don't worry: Japanese people can understand what you mean even if you get it backwards.
PLACE/IMPLEMENT is followed by "de". By PLACE, I mean the location that a volitional *action* occurred. If you're eating at home, that's "ouchi de shokuji suru". If you're eating with chopsticks, that's "ohasi de taberu". The place you do something or the thing you use to do something takes "de". If you're going somewhere by car, you say "kuruma de iku". It's not that hard to understand really. (See INDIRECT OBJECT for why DESTINATIONs are different.)
Verbs of motion that tell DESTINATION, or ones of existence that tell the LOCATION of something take "ni". (DESTINATIONs can also take "he".) Try to distinguish PLACE from LOCATION by thinking of it this way: PLACE is WHERE SOMETHING IS DONE, LOCATION is WHERE SOMETHING OR SOMEONE IS.
Use "kara" ("from") after an ORIGIN and "wo" after a ROUTE.
kara, kooen wo totte, ouchi ni kaeru." (Lit. "I'm going home from
school through the park.") There's usually an intermediate verb in
this type of usage.
OBJECT is followed by "wo" or nothing. "Hon wo yonde iru" (I'm reading a book.) This is a really simple one in most cases. I really don't know many Japanese learners who can't understand this.
INDIRECT OBJECT is followed by "ni". By INDIRECT OBJECT, I mean a sort of secondary object that some verbs take. "Kono hon wo anata ni ageru." ("I'm going to give this to you.") You have "this book" and you have "to you". The "this book" part is the OBJECT. The "to you" part is the INDIRECT OBJECT. "Wo" and "ni" are used to distinguish these two.
VERBS don't take any particles, but they need to be inflected. There's a big section at the end on how you do that, and useful colloquial English equivalents of what those inflections mean.
To boil this section down, remember it this way:
Subjects and Deletions
Usually, you don't have to worry about whether to use wa or ga, because most subjects can usually be deleted. "You can't get something wrong, if you left it out in the first place." That's my philosophy. So we'll work on the parts of sentences that you can delete, starting with subjects.
If you turn to a Japanese and suddenly make a statement:
"Ashita paatii ni iku." ("[I'm] going to the party tomorrow.")
The listener will assume the subject is you. So don't bother supplying any subject. To do so, is in fact, not natural; a Japanese wouldn't normally do it.
If you turn to a Japanese and suddenly ask a question:
"Ashita paatii ni iku?" ("[Are you] going to the party tomorrow?")
The listener will assume the subject is himself or herself. Easy! Most one-on-one conversations where you or the listener is the subject *don't need an explicit subject*. No chance of screwing up wa/ga here.
If you suddenly turn to a Japanese and want to make a statement or ask a question about some other person altogether, use "wa" after that person's name or title the first time you mention that person:
"Shachoo wa, ashita paatii ni iku?" ("Is the shachoo going to the party tomorrow?")
Let's just say the "wa" introduces a change in subject. This time it signals a change from the default "you the listener" to the "shachoo". After you establish that you're talking about the president you can go back to dropping subjects again:
"Sono ato wa, kaeru ka na?" ("Is he going home after that?"--again some vagueness added with "ka na" ("I wonder"). Don't be too forward making assumptions about other people. This trick also stops the listener from thinking the question is back to being about themself. There's a strong tendency for questions to erase understood info and you have to signal that things are unchanged. Usually you play with the verb a little bit to get this across. Note that the change in time being talked about was also signaled with a "wa".)
Note that this tendency to delete in Japanese parallels the point where an English native speaker would use plain pronouns like, I, you, he, she, they. When you start a comment about yourself, you use "I" (Japanese delete). When you ask about the listener, you use "you" (Japanese delete). When you've first established someone and then keep going with that person, you use "he" or "she" (Japanese delete). See? Simple.
Deleting Other Established Info
Just like with subjects any info that's been established can be deleted, and any changes in established info can be signalled using "wa":
"Ashita paatii ni iku?" ("[Are you] going to the party tomorrow?")
"Un, anata wa?" ("Yeah, how about you?"--info about "paatii ni" and "iku" unchanged, therefore deleted. Subject changed to original questioner, so the change is signaled with "wa".)
"Un-n, ikanai" ("No, I'm not going."--info about "paatii ni" still deleted, "iku" comes back as "ikanai" because it has changed form.)
"Sono ato no eiga wa?" ("How about the movie afterwards?"--the established info "paatii" changed to "eiga" so we use "wa" to establish the change in understood information. Understood info that *hasn't* changed is still left out, like the subject "boku" and the action "iku".)
This is pretty much how deletions work whether it be subjects or something else. In general, always go for deletions if possible. This section also serves the purpose of giving you a feel for "wa".
In general, you don't need it. In the instances where you do, you can slowly build a feel for it. Basically, you need it in situations where you're not expressing a change in subject, but where you want to state the subject even though it is established info. Usually, this is to add emphasis or avoid ambiguity.
"Shacho wa, ashita paatii ni iku?" ("Is the shachoo going to the party tomorrow?")
"Un-n, ikanai mitai." ("No, it doesn't look like it."--throw in a "mitai" because you don't wan't to act too sure of the actions of others in Japanese. We're not really covering that though, it's just a side note.)
"Nande?" ("Why not?")
"Sore ga wakaranai" ("I don't know why not."--there's no real ambiguity in this case, and "wakaranai" alone would have worked, but it is a case where you're not changing an understood subject to another, you're restating the understood subject as such for some emphasis. If you're stating an established subject, for whatever reason, use "ga". But you could've deleted, and if you were following my explanation you should have. This one sentence also helps dispell the huge MYTH that "wa" is for negative sentences.)
Use mo when you're adding more info on a list of established info. It may be used alone when marking subjects and objects, and can follow other particles (like ni, de, and he). Put it this way: if "wa" clears the understood info and replaces it, "mo" adds extra info on top of what's already there without clearing out anything.
"Ashita paatii ni iku?" ("[Are you] going to the party tomorrow?")
"Un, iku yo." ("Yeah, I'm going, how about you?"--note what was deleted and why.)
"Boku mo iku." ("I'm going too."--add yourself to the understood subject.)
Mo is easy, so we won't waste any more time with it. Just trying to be complete and it only took a few lines to do.
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Another thing that many Japanese learners need is an easy method of arriving at all the verb conjugations and a highly reduced set of rules for how to get them right on the different types of verbs. That's easy enough really because there are only three major verb types: -ru verbs, -u verbs, and -aru verbs (a polite type not much used except for "gozaru/gozaimasu"). People really hate Eleanor Jordan for this kind of naming, but in language learning you take what's easy and go with it; there's no need to worry about theoretical linguistics here. Also note that I changed romanization styles at this point to one that makes the changes in verbs appear much more uniform.
-Ru verbs are those that end in -ru like taberu and ireru. "-u" verbs end in u, ku, gu, bu, mu, nu, su, tu, or [a,i,u,o]+ru (rarely e+ru because those are almost always -ru verbs like taberu. I only know of three like that: keru/kick, heru/decrease and heru/elapse--there are probably more, but I have a feeling they would also only be two syllables like these). So the only real overlap worth worrying about is "i+ru". If you memorize two forms for each of these (like: ireru/irete and hairu/haitte) you can keep them straight.
Everything's done by dropping or replacing -ru with something else. Just remember the different uses of each conjugation.
drop -ru to add things like -masu, -yasui (easy to): tabe (tabeyasui (easy to eat))
replace with "-te" for gerund: tabete (gerund is for "and"-ing verbs (eat and go, "tabete iku") and simple orders (eat that, "are tabete")
replace with "-ta" for past tense: tabeta
replace with "-tara" for meaning "if": tabetara (if I/someone eats)
replace with "-tari" for meaning "do things like": tabetari (I did things like eating--tabetari sita. not used much)
replace with "-reba" for another "if": tabereba (if I/someone eats. A little different from "-tara" but don't worry about that now, they're pretty much interchangeable.)
replace with "-yoo" for "let's": tabeyoo (let's eat)
replace with "-ro" for rude orders: tabero (eat dammit!)
replace with "-nai" for negative: tabenai
replace with "-rareru" for "can": taberareru <- these are now -ru verbs (I can't eat this! kore taberarenai yo! Good in cafeteria's.)
replace with "-saseru" for "make (someone) do": tabesaseru <- now a -ru verb ("Kore tabesasenai de yo!" Don't make me eat this. A negative request equal in level to "tabete" is "nai" plus "de")
replace with "-rareru" for passive "was X-ed": taberareru <- now a -ru verb (looks exactly like "can" for this type verb. "Raion ni tabesaserareta." I was eaten by a lion. Use "ni" for "by" to show the agent.)
replace with "-saserareru" for "be made to": tabesaserareru (this follows from just putting two separate types above together. My mom made me eat chicken. "Okaasan ni chikin wo tabesaserareta." Putting it in passive makes you seem like you didn't want to and you feel sorry for yourself.)
-RU verbs are by far the easiest to conjugate: you drop -ru and add something else. Simple. -U verbs aren't that easy but almost. Typically you drop -u and add something else. The problem is that there might be a phonetic change (such as when ha becomes pa, or ta becomes da) for some of the types. See the other chart for simple-English meanings of the conjunctions, this one just tries to keep the conjunction rules clear.
First, there are some -u verbs that end in -ru. We have to get that out of the way right now. Real -ru verbs (where -ru gets dropped) always end in "iru" or "eru", if you see one that ends:
"aru" (exist) "uru" (sell) - or - "oru" (break)
It's guaranteed *not* to be a -ru verb. It's probably a -u verb. (With the exception of super-polite oddballs like gozaru/gozaimasu, but effectively, you can forget about those and assume anything ending "aru", "uru" or "oru" is an -u verb.) Verbs like "iru" (exist or need depending on context) can be either type. In fact, "need" is an -u verb (gerund is itte) and and "exist" is a -ru verb (gerund is ite). If you hear one of these, (like "hairu") be sure to ask what the gerund ("haitte") or past tense ("haitte") is too, so you can remember what type it is. So far I've only met three verbs that ended "-eru" that were -u verbs instead of -ru verbs. These are: keru/kette (kick), heru/hette (decrease), and heru/hette (elapse). Except for these "iru/eru" verbs, every other type of verb is obvious by hearing only one form.
Including -u verbs which might happen to end in -ru, these are all the types there are:
-ku (these two types conjugate similarly) -gu
-bu (these three types conjugate similarly) -mu -nu
-ru (these three types conjugate similarly) -tu -vowel+u
-su is the only one that is well-behaved, -(s)u will change simply to -s(a), -s(i), -s(e), -s(o) in all cases with no odd behavior to remember.
Here are the replacements:
replace -u with -i to add "-masu", "-yasui", etc. (works straight across, no phonetic changes in any of the types)
hanasu -> hanasi (talk) kiku -> kiki (walk) oyogu -> oyogi (swim) yobu -> yobi (call) nomu -> nomi (drink) sinu -> sini (die) tukuru -> tukuri (make) matu -> mati (wait) harau -> harai (pay)
Replace -u with -ite for do "X and Y" and for simple commands. (types not following the rule, but acting similarly, are grouped) hanasu -> hanasite (talk)
kiku -> kiite (walk) (replace entire -ku) oyogu -> oyoide (swim) (replace entire -gu, be sure to use -ide)
yobu -> yonde (call) (replace entire -bu, be sure to use -nde) nomu -> nonde (drink) (replace entire -mu, be sure to use -nde) sinu -> sinde (die) (replace entire -nu, be sure to use -nde)
tukuru -> tukutte (make) (replace entire -ru, be sure to use -tte) matu -> matte (wait) (replace entire -tu, be sure to use -tte) harau -> haratte (pay) (replace -u, be sure to use -tte)
Replace -u with -ita for past tense. (types not strictly following the rule, but acting similarly, are grouped)
hanasu -> hanasita (talk)
kiku -> kiita (walk) (replace entire -ku) oyogu -> oyoida (swim) (replace entire -gu, be sure to use -ida)
yobu -> yonda (call) (replace entire -bu, be sure to use -nda) nomu -> nonda (drink) (replace entire -mu, be sure to use -nda) sinu -> sinda (die) (replace entire -nu, be sure to use -nda)
tukuru -> tukutta (make) (replace entire -ru, be sure to use -tta) matu -> matta (wait) (replace entire -tu, be sure to use -tta) harau -> haratta (pay) (replace -u, be sure to use -tta)
(In fact, I query search and replaced "e" with "a" on the gerunds to get this if that helps any. The rule breakers are breaking the rule uniformly now.)
Replace -u with -itara for "if". (Or, just add "ra" to the past.) (types not strictly following the rule, but acting similarly, are grouped)
hanasu -> hanasitara (talk)
kiku -> kiitara (walk) (replace entire -ku) oyogu -> oyoidara (swim) (replace entire -gu, be sure to use -idara)
yobu -> yondara (call) (replace entire -bu, be sure to use -ndara) nomu -> nondara (drink) (replace entire -mu, be sure to use -ndara) sinu -> sindara (die) (replace entire -nu, be sure to use -ndara)
tukuru -> tukuttara (make) (replace entire -ru, be sure to use -ttara) matu -> mattara (wait) (replace entire -tu, be sure to use -ttara) harau -> harattara (pay) (replace -u, be sure to use -ttara)
Replace -u with -itari for "do things like X". (Or just add "ri" to past.) (types not strictly following the rule, but acting similarly, are grouped)
hanasu -> hanasitari (talk)
kiku -> kiitari (walk) (replace entire -ku) oyogu -> oyoidari (swim) (replace entire -gu, be sure to use -idari)
yobu -> yondari (call) (replace entire -bu, be sure to use -ndari) nomu -> nondari (drink) (replace entire -mu, be sure to use -ndari) sinu -> sindari (die) (replace entire -nu, be sure to use -ndari)
tukuru -> tukuttari (make) (replace entire -ru, be sure to use -ttari) matu -> mattari (wait) (replace entire -tu, be sure to use -ttari) harau -> harattari (pay) (replace -u, be sure to use -ttari)
Replace -u with -eba for "if" (works straight across, no phonetic changes in any of the types)
hanasu -> hanaseba (talk) kiku -> kikeba (walk) oyogu -> oyogeba (swim) yobu -> yobeba (call) nomu -> nomeba (drink) sinu -> sineba (die) tukuru -> tukureba (make) matu -> mateba (wait) harau -> haraeba (pay)
Replace -u with -oo for "let's do X". (works straight across, no phonetic changes in any of the types)
hanasu -> hanasoo (talk) kiku -> kikoo (walk) oyogu -> oyogoo (swim) yobu -> yoboo (call) nomu -> nomoo (drink) sinu -> sinoo (die) tukuru -> tukuroo (make) matu -> matoo (wait) harau -> haraoo (pay)
Replace -u with -e for rude orders "do X dammit". (works straight across, no phonetic changes in any of the types)
hanasu -> hanase (talk) kiku -> kike (walk) oyogu -> oyoge (swim) yobu -> yobe (call) nomu -> nome (drink) sinu -> sine (die) tukuru -> tukure (make) matu -> mate (wait) harau -> harae (pay)
Replace -u with -anai for negative. (This is now an adjective.) (works straight across, only one phonetic change in one type)
hanasu -> hanasanai (talk) kiku -> kikanai (walk) oyogu -> oyoganai (swim) yobu -> yobanai (call) nomu -> nomanai (drink) sinu -> sinanai (die) tukuru -> tukuranai (make) matu -> matanai (wait) harau -> harawanai (pay) (stick a wa in there, not just an "a". Makes it easier to say, too. Lucky us!)
Replace -u with -eru for "can do X". This is now a -ru verb. (works straight across, no phonetic changes in any of the types)
hanasu -> hanaseru (talk) kiku -> kikeru (walk) oyogu -> oyogeru (swim) yobu -> yoberu (call) nomu -> nomeru (drink) sinu -> sineru (die) tukuru -> tukureru (make) matu -> materu (wait) harau -> haraeru (pay)
Replace -u with -aseru for "make (someone) do X". This is now a -ru verb. (works straight across, only one phonetic change in one of the types)
hanasu -> hanasaseru (talk) kiku -> kikaseru (walk) oyogu -> oyogaseru (swim) yobu -> yobaseru (call) nomu -> nomaseru (drink) sinu -> sinaseru (die) tukuru -> tukuraseru (make) matu -> mataseru (wait) harau -> harawaseru (pay) (Don't forget to throw a wa in there!)
Replace -u with -areru for "X is done (often to someone)". This is now a -ru verb. (works straight across, only one phonetic change in one of the types)
hanasu -> hanasareru (talk) kiku -> kikareru (walk) oyogu -> oyogareru (swim) yobu -> yobareru (call) nomu -> nomareru (drink) sinu -> sinareru (die) tukuru -> tukurareru (make) matu -> matareru (wait) harau -> harawareru (pay) (Don't forget to throw a wa in there!)
Replace -u with -aserareru for "be made to do X by someone". Same result as just doing the two conjunctions separately but is taught in most books as a specific conjunction. This is now a -ru verb. (works straight across, only one phonetic change in one of the types)
hanasu -> hanasaserareru (talk) kiku -> kikaserareru (walk) oyogu -> oyogaserareru (swim) yobu -> yobaserareru (call) nomu -> nomaserareru (drink) sinu -> sinaserareru (die) tukuru -> tukuraserareru (make) matu -> mataserareru (wait) harau -> harawaserareru (pay) (Don't forget to throw a wa in there!)
Now that was long, but it was mostly cut-and-paste because even these are well-behaved when you organize them correctly. When you boil down what needs to be done to these verbs to conjugate them correctly, the information required is really minimal--even for the oddballs. That's all you need to be able to conjugate almost every verb in Japanese. Most books say that their are only two irregular verbs in all of Japanese: suru and kuru. Those you have to learn separately, but they kind of make sense. In fact, though, there's a third one: iku. The reason is that unlike kiita for kiku, you don't say iita, you say itta. You don't say, iite, you say itte. But it's regular in it's irregularity because it acts like tsukuru for some weird reason.
kuru ("will come", or "comes (often, everyday, etc.)") ki (to add "-masu", note that "-yasui" isn't used) kite (casual command: "come here") kita (past tense: "someone came") kitara (add ra to past) ("if(once) someone comes", some connotation of when) kitari (ad ri to past) ("do things like come") kureba ("if someone comes", no connotation of when) koyoo ("let's come", no, it can't possibly mean orgasms) koi (rude request: "come here you") konai (negative: "won't come" or "doesn't come (very much)") korareru ("can come") kosaseru ("make (someone) come") korareru (passive--no example comes to mind) kosaserareru ("be made to come (by someone)")
suru ("will do", or "does (often, everyday, etc.)") si (to add "-masu", or "-yasui") site (casual command: "do this") sita (past tense: "someone did") sitara (add ra to past) ("if(once) someone does", some connotation of when) X sitari (ad ri to past) ("do things like doing X") sureba ("if someone does", no connotation of when) X siyoo ("let's do X") siro (rude request: "do this dammit") sinai (negative: "won't do" or "doesn't do (very much)") dekiru (really "seru") ("can do"--"someone I can love": "ai seru hito") saseru ("make (someone) do") sareru ("be done (by someone")) saserareru ("be made to do (by someone)")
A cool trick to remember suru is that many of the conjugations match what you would get if you conjugated a lone "su", so it's kind of like "hanasu". Hanasita--sita. Hanaseru--seru. Hanasaseru--saseru.
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These aren't that hard. They always end in [a,i,u,o]+i. They *never* end in e+i that would be a noun. Basically you replace "i" with a form of "ka" to inflect.
yasashii ("It's nice") yasashiku nai ("It's not nice") yasashikatta ("It was nice") yasashikattara ("If it's nice.") yasashikattari (possible I suppose but not heard often) yasashikereba ("If it's nice.")
These inflections follow what a "ka+u" verb would do. If you can conjugate "kau" (to buy) you can conjugate every Japanese adjective. Just note that you don't say: "atsukaseru" for "make something hot" you say "atsuku suru". For a command, say: "yasashiku natte" ("be nice").
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Tad Perry Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org CompuServe: 70402,3020 NIFTY-Serve: GBG01266
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The very nature of a *Quick and Dirty* guide to anything means that there are glaring omissions. Not much is mentioned concerning adverbs or numbers. Numbers in particular are a very tricky aspect to learning Japanese. Refer to the links section off of the Learning Japanese page to find other articles available on the internet.
If time permits, I may add some additional helpful articles for the beginning Japanese language learner.
One further statement regarding the use of the Quick and Dirty Quide to Japanese... like the author, I too warn against using this guide as a sole guide to learning Japanese. The information presented here is useful in gaining an overview of the language in the most general senses, and to assure the beginning student that it is possible to learn this language... eventually. ^_^
If you wish to become a more serious student of the Japanese language, I suggest you look into classes available to you locally, or a wide variety of books and tapes available at your nearest bookstore.
Please feel free to look around. I'm interested in hearing people's comments and suggestions. Also, if you have a review of a reference material, book, program, weblink, or anything else related to the learning of Japanese that you would like to see here, please write me at John Teehan aka Tumbleweeds at email@example.com! I look forward to feedback.
Tumbleweed's Computer Shack
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Tumbleweed's Guide to Learning Japanese
Tumbleweed's Shack / firstname.lastname@example.org / last rev. June 28, 1998, 9:15 p.m.