Jim's Answers to Frequently Asked Questions


I get a lot of email. Much of it I cannot answer. Please do not take this as a personal rejection; I simply do not have the time to deal with up to 20 enquiries a day on a wide variety of topics. Often they are asking about things completely outside my knowledge or interests.

I have prepared this page which I think provides enough information and pointers to information sources for enquirers to discover the answers to their questions. I add to this page as hopeful emailers come up with new requests. Please scan down it as it probably has some pointers that may help you with your enquiry.

If you do decide to email me, please use a meaningful Subject line. Emails with subjects such as "hi", "Help" or "Hello" are likely to end up in my spam-bin and be deleted without me reading them. Emails which are all in HTML may not reach me at all, as they are likely to be diverted to my spam trap. And if you want a reply, don't expect me to log onto a sender verification service, etc. etc.

Also, take a little time with the spelling and grammar. I'm, er, elderly and old-fashioned and don't feel much like helping people who can't be bothered being polite or pressing their Shift keys.

Q: Can you translate these symbols for me?

A: I cover this below, but please do not send me images of Japanese or Chinese text, e.g. labels on artworks, to translate. It takes far more time than I have. I'm sorry if this seems rude, but if I helped everyone who emailed, I'd be flat out. If you have small quantities of text, e.g. an inscription on some pottery, the following may work:

There are people on that group who can help and may be moved to look at it for you.

PS: artists' names etc. on artworks are often very difficult to read or translate.

Q: Can You tell me some good links about .....?

A: All the sites I have found useful are linked from my Japanese page. I have no other sets of links hidden away, and cannot help if you want anything else. So please look at that page, and if you can't find what you want, try elsewhere.

Q: Can you help me with the ..... Windows or Macintosh software?

A: I mainly use Unix and Linux systems. I cannot provide any useful advice about Microsoft or Apple software. I am serious about this. (Some people simply have trouble believing I cannot help them with Windows problems.)

Also, most enquiries in this area are of the "how do I do Japanese on my computer" variety. My Japanese page has some useful links about Japanese text, email, etc. on Windows software.

Q: Please tell me which handheld electronic dictionaries/translators/PDA to buy

A: I get heaps of email from people wanting advice on handheld electronic dictionaries, PDAs and "translators". My experience of these is very limited; Years ago I used a Canon Wordtank (8500). I later bought a Casio PocketPC on which I loaded Glenn Rosenthal's JWPce, which includes a dictionary function (sadly the Casion died a couple of years back.) I also have an old HP100LX, but that was supplanted by the Casio. In 2007 I bought another Wordtank (G50). I have never owned or used a Palm system.

Some time ago I put together a mini-FAQ on handhelds, but apart from that I simply have no advice. My G50 Wordtank suits me OK, but I'm probably not an average user.

Please do not ask me for a recommendation, either for which to buy, or for software packages.

Q: Can you tell me the best way to learn Japanese?

A: I am not a language teacher, and I know very little about language classes outside my own city (Melbourne). Please don't ask me for advice, especially for advice about courses in the US. I have not examined any of the on-line courses around, either free or paid, and I cannot comment on them.

I can't really make specific recommendations about where to study Japanese, because I don't know what is available. If possible you should look for a course for beginners, but if none are available, getting the first Japanese for Busy People textbook might be a good place to start.

Q: I want to get a job in Japan/I want to recruit a Japanese speaker.

A: I don't know anything useful about getting a job in Japan. Please don't ask me. Also I know nothing about recruiting Japanese speakers for jobs in the US or anywhere else.

Q: Please translate this into Kanji

A: I do not respond personally to requests for Japanese translations, kanji, "images", "scripts", "ideographs", "symbols", "hieroglyphics", etc. of Japanese writing.

The reasons for this are:

  1. it takes far too much of my time. Once in a while was OK, but I get several requests a day.
  2. many requests are for mottos, slogans, sayings, epigrams, proverbs, etc. These are often incredibly difficult to translate in a meaningful way. You really need a native speaker of Japanese for these.
  3. many are for tattoos; a practice I don't like very much.
  4. many are for inscriptions on sword blades, pottery, flags, etc. These are actually quite difficult, and involve detailed and specialized knowledge. I don't know the field, and don't have the time or interest to put in a lot of research on it;
  5. there are heaps of professional translators out there trying to make a living. I'm not going to try to undercut them. If you want to look for a translator, I recommend the Honyaku directory. If you have a very small amount of translation, someone on the sci.lang.japan Usenet news group may be able to help, but please do not ask to have material from anime or manga translated.

Q: What is the best translation software or WWW translation server?

A: Many people email and ask for the address of sites or the location of free software which will translate English to Japanese. First, there is NO free software that does this, as far as I know. There is commercial software available, some of which can be found in the TRANSLATION section of my Japanese WWW page. I don't use any of it, and will not make recommendations on which to buy. Second, there are some WWW servers which attempt to do translations. The results can best be described as variable in quality. Use at your own peril. Probably the Amikai-based ones are best. The WWW translators do a half decent job at helping understand what a page is about, but when it comes to doing documents properly it can only happen if you use a professional and skilled (human) translator.

Q: What is this painting my grandfather brought back from Japan? Is it worth much? Where can I sell it?

A: (Sigh). I wonder sometimes whether any art works remain in Japan.

Identifying works. While I'd like to help people identify artists of works, it usually takes a lot of time, and I am afraid I have none to spare. Please try elsewhere. I cannot advise you who to approach, as I simply do not know anyone outside my own city. If you live near a large gallery, you may get some useful advice from a curator. Also a knowledgeable art dealer may be of help, but don't expect too much free advice. There are many many books available.

Buying and selling. I do not deal in Japanese art. Please don't waste time by offering me things to buy. Also I have no expertise in appraising works of art or investigating authenticity. I know nothing about art dealers in the USA, so please don't ask me where to buy or sell things.

Other Artists I really have little information available about artists not listed on my site. I don't have the time or energy to research these matters for other people.

Q: I want a cool Tattoo. What is the Japense Sybol for "War and Death"?

A: If you are interested in tattoos:

Be very careful with Chinese/Japanese tattoos. Some people like to play jokes by suggesting outlandish combinations of characters.

Q: Send me the Japanese Alphabet.

A: I get many requests for information about Japanese writing and the "Japanese alphabet". I have put together a WWW page which explains a little about Japanese writing. Feel free to look at it. There is also some information on Japanese numbers.

Q: What is my name in Japanese?

A: I also get a lot of requests from people wanting to know how to write their names in "Japanese letters". To help these people, I have put together a few pages of instructions and a simple server.

Q: What is the Japanese word for .....?

A: You can explore my online Japanese dictionary using the graphics display of option.

Q: Quick! Send me some information for a Project/Term paper!

A: While I would like to help students, I get many questions which can only be answered by doing some serious searching in a library or on the WWW. Quite frankly, it would not be doing anything for their education if I answered their projects for them. I really have to suggest to students that they dig the information out themselves, or ask someone who has more spare time than I do. (One young person sent me an abusive email claiming she'd failed a term paper entirely because of my failure to supply her with the information.)

A good place to start looking is with Ben Bullock's sci.lang.japan FAQ.

Other Sources of Information You might like to ask on some of the Japanese-related Usenet groups. The best ones to try are: sci.lang.japan, fj.life.in-japan and soc.culture.japan.moderated. There are people on those groups who may be able to assist. The latter two groups are read by English-speakers in Japan, both locals and ex-pats. Be warned though; there are people in the sci.lang.japan group who get irritated by repeated translation requests, particularly for manga and anime. The groups can be reached many ways, including the Googlegroups WWW site.

Jim Breen
Feb 2008 (most recent update)