Part of the reason I enjoyed learning Japanese in college is that the grammar and structure are so very different from English -- there was less potential for confusion than if I'd studied, say, French (or at least it seemed that way to me at the time). The word order of Japanese is subject-object-verb, compared with the subject-verb-object in English, which took some getting used to. Something that seems unique to the Japanese language is the existence of grammatical "particles" or verbal markers for parts of sentences, such as the object, conveniently o (as in sushi o taberu, to eat sushi); no, a marker for showing ownership or association (Keiko no okaasan, Keiko's mother); and ni, a particle showing direction (anata ni ageru, I will give it to you). Two of the more troublesome grammatical elements for students are wa and ga, which mark the topic and subject of a sentence, respectively, and which many students never seem to quite figure out on a conscious level -- in fact, I am one of them, even though I'm fluent in the langauge. Although the two are often interchangeable, wa is the wider subject of the sentence (often omitted), and ga acts like a "second subject" or object -- it's easy to think too much about it. A sentence that uses both would be watashi wa sushi ga suki desu, literally "As for me, I like sushi." Japanese people seldom know anything about their own grammar so if you want to confuse one, ask them to explain the difference between wa and ga. (Oh and by the way, this is a different wa than the wa (和) meaning harmony.)
One of the rules of Japanese cleanliness is that anything related to feet or shoes is kitanai (dirty, unclean), and shoes are always left at a special recessed area near the front door called the genkan. The custom of putting shoes near the front door can lead to some interesting social interaction that we couldn't conceive of in the States. For example, a genkan full of shoes is an immediate signal that a party is going on, and if a girlfriend drops by her boyfriend's apartment and sees a strange set of woman's shows there, she knows without going inside that he's fooling around. In Doushin - Same Heart, a dating-sim game that will be released in English soon, there's a sub-plot where one of the characters sees her sister's shoes in the genkan despite the fact that the lights in the house are off -- she immediately knows that her sister must be up in her room, and that something must be wrong.
Some shots of coming back from Karuizawa a couple weeks ago. My friend is into touring around Japan on his bike, therefore he has a copy of Touring Mapple. Incidentally, you've been in Japan too long when you can hear a word like "mapple" and not break out into hives.
One of the long-term problems about living in Japan is learning enough kanji to say, tour around the countyside with a map only in Japanese, becuase no English or bilingual map would be reliable enough. The solution is to just learn to read it all.
The snow was largely melted when we were up there two weeks ago. I'm sure it will all be gone this weekend. That's Mt. Asama by the way, the volcanoe that erupted lasat year.
Having some beer? Nothing goes better than peanuts & rice crackers and French Toast sticks.
Random shot of a poem by Mitsuo Aida. It says, "Happiness is always decided in your own heart." I really respect the work of Aida-san, who is one of the most famous calligraphers of postwar Japan and has done great things with using characters as poetic design elements.