Saturday, February 11, 2012

How J-Drama "Marumo no Okite" Improves My Rusty Ear

I’m dusting off the cobwebs of this blog and hoping to be more active again. I’ve got a lot going on in my crazy writing life, but will do my best to ganbarimasu!

Recently my husband granted me the wish of a subscription to TV Japan through Comcast Xfinity. Way back in the day when I was first studying Japanese (in the ancient times of no Internet and when VHS was the ultimate in high tech), I relied a lot on a local San Francisco station, Channel 26, that broadcasted Japanese programming mainly on weekends, to help with hearing real Japanese. There was a time when you could catch a wide variety of Japanese TV shows on Channel 26, some with English subtitles, and it was a great help in training my ear to Nihongo.

But as the years passed and the demographics in San Francisco started shifting, Channel 26 began to strip away its Japanese programming in favor of Mandarin and Cantonese language shows. The pickings became slim and with the advent of TV Japan, I now understand that many of the expats or temporary expats in the Bay Area weren’t watching Channel 26 anymore. And with the advent of TV Japan I’m assuming it was harder and harder for the station to attract Japanese sponsors.

With TV Japan I’m back on track and I can hear Japanese 24/7 if I want to. This helped tremendously when I found myself in Osaka last month, my first time visiting Japan in more than five years and by far my longest break from one of my favorite places in the world. My ear wasn’t as rusty as it usually is and I also felt “in tune” with Japan since I was much more aware of what was going on, thanks to steady viewing of TV Japan at home.

I want to urge those of you studying Japanese to try and immerse yourself in the language as best you can. And these days with the Internet, DVDs, cable TV, etc., etc. there’s really no excuse—even if you live thousands of miles away from Tokyo you can still get an earful.

One of the best ways to improve your Japanese, I think, is by watching Japanese TV dramas. On TV Japan I’ve been watching one called Marumo no Okite. TV Japan mostly shows up-to-the-minute NHK shows, but has recently started offering other programming. Marumo no Okite originally aired on Fuji TV last spring, but it’s new to me so I don’t mind if it’s a bit old.

If Marumo no Okite were an American TV show, I wouldn’t watch any more than five minutes of it. It’s sappy and sentimental, about a young salaryman (Sadao Abe) who unexpectedly must take in his old baseball team buddy’s two kids when the friend dies suddenly. The children (Mana Ashida and Fuku Suzuki) are precocious and much too perfect (though they don’t mug for the camera as much as some American child stars) and there’s also a talking dog. Sheesh!

But I’m not expecting Downton Abbey here. I like that Marumo is predictable and sentimental and repetitive because that makes it much easier to understand when you don’t have any English subtitles on which to rely (another good strategy to help you improve). It’s also good to notice how the Japanese changes when a character is talking to his family, to his boss, to his customer and to a stranger. If you observe enough, you’re bound to pick up a lot. And if you find yourself understanding everything Mook the talking dog says you can reward yourself with a treat!

Wendy Nelson Tokunaga is the author of the novels, “Midori by Moonlight” and “Love in Translation” (both published by St. Martin’s Press), and the e-book novel, “Falling Uphill,” written under the pen name Kelly Sweetwood. She’s also the author of the nonfiction e-book, “Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband.” Her short story, “Love Right on the Yesterday” appears in the upcoming book, “Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction: An Anthology of Teen Stories.”

Wendy holds an MFA in Creative Writing from University of San Francisco and teaches for Stanford University’s Online Writer’s Studio and for the MFA program at University of San Francisco. She also does private manuscript consulting for novels and memoirs. When she’s not busy writing, Wendy loves to sing jazz and Japanese karaoke with her Osaka-born surfer-dude husband accompanying her on keyboards. Follow her on Twitter at Wendy_Tokunaga and visit her website at:


  1. Nice to see you posting again, Wendy. Thanks for the link to TV Japan. It's not offered here in Iowa (no surprise), but they seem to have all sorts of interesting links to program websites. Maybe I'll learn a little more Japanese language that way.

  2. Thanks, Jeannette! TV Japan actually wasn't available at first in my area either -- not sure if that was just a Comcast thing or what. Too bad you can't get it in Iowa, but there are lots of things on the web too. Ganbatte!

  3. Wendy, I'm in the East Bay and have been looking for alternatives to Channel 26's slim pickings, so am happy to learn of TV Japan -- thanks for your recommendation. It's been 3+ years since I was last in Japan and I don't know when I'll get to return, so I'm looking for ways to keep Japanese alive in my life. Yoroshiku!

  4. Thanks for the comment, Mari! Now it's been a number of months that I've had TV Japan and there's so much to watch that I find that it's hard to keep up!

  5. When I lived in Japan as a child and again in my 20s, I especially loved watching the musical variety shows (Four Leaves! Pink Lady! Noguchi Goro! Saijo Hideki!) and the commercials. Japanese still produce some of the most stunning television commercials in the world... and the Japan travel documentaries on NHK are also such a treat. Ahh, natsukashii.....

  6. Yes, you are so right! There's a wonderful NHK travel program on TV Japan called "Somewhere Street," which I really enjoy.

  7. I will look for Somewhere Street when I next subscribe to TV Japan. We've temporarily unsubscribed to save money! : (