Common Mistakes in Beginner Japanese


A few days ago I was sat in a cafe with a friend, when a group young people (gah I’m so old) sat at the table behind us. The group consisted of 3 Japanese junior high school girls, and 3 German people. My friend and I were studying but as soon as we could overhear Japanese, our concentration was broken.

It was then that one of the German kids started speaking in quite low level Japanese.

“とても高いです!” [It’s really expensive]

What stood out about this was that…you very rarely hear a native speaker use とても [really]. Only when you’re really emphasising something, I think. But people learning Japanese love to use it.

[EDIT: I posted about this on Facebook and a Japanese friend said she’d use it with her boss. Perhaps it’s too polite for normal usage? I’m no native speaker, I don’t have the answer!]

It got me thinking about all the things that foreigners say a lot that aren’t exactly incorrect Japanese, they just aren’t what a Japanese person would normally use.

And before I continue I’d like to say that I am by no means an expert on Japanese. If anyone would like to correct me on anything here, or add something, please do so!

So, instead of とても, what should one say? Well, here are what I consider to be slightly more natural ways to express the same;

If you’re with friends, and are a girl, like the group in the coffee shop, you might use [cyou]. It’s used by young women a lot, and is pretty informal. It has the nuance of being ‘overly’ as opposed to ‘really’ like with とても. メッチャ can be used in the same way, but has a nuance like ‘totally’ in English, as opposed to ‘overly’ like 超.

I’d say that the most general, natural ways to say “it’s really expensive” would either be “けっこう高い” or ”かなり高い”. A google search says that けっこう高い gets 139,000,000 hits whereas かなりたかい gets a little less at 137,000,000. Neither of these mean flat out “really expensive”, both mean more “quite/fairly expensive”. I think in Japanese it’s better to imply something rather than saying it directly, and so maybe this is why things are said this way.

Another rookie mistake is the use of することができる [are able to do ___]. There’s a magazine stand near where I live that is owned by a French guy who loves Japan. I sometimes go in there and speak with him in Japanese since he likes the practice (and I could do with the practice these days too!!) When I first met him, I remember, he was so happy to find another Japanese speaker, he bellowed at me “OOh! 日本語を話す事ができますか?” [You’re able to speak Japanese?]

Now, I know why we non-native speakers use 〜事ができる. It’s because you don’t have to think about changing the end of the words, right? Well, the thing is, I’ve never heard a native speaker use this phrase before – they use the harder, verb changing grammar. So, instead of 日本語を話す事が出来る they’d say 日本語を話せる. Yep, changing that second to last hiragana. It’s a pain, I know.

I have one last example of common mistake. And it’s one I know all too well. When we all start out with Japanese, we all like to translate literally from our mother tongues, and so we translate all the words. The word “you” is あなた and so, perfect! You can ask something like “what’s your name?” – “あなたの名前は何ですか?” Just typing this into google brings up mainly direct translations of “genki English songs”, or websites for Japanese – English translation. It’s just not used so much. If you don’t know a person yet, you’d be polite and shove an お, the honorific prefix, onto the name – お名前は何ですか?

Even when you get to know a person, you don’t use あなた. When I went to study in Japan I didn’t know how to cope with this lack of ‘you’ and so when I learnt the word きみ, which also means you, I used it a lot. Although it’s the kind of thing a boyfriend would use for his girlfriend, it’s not a cute way of saying “you”, it is mainly used where a superior person is speaking to an inferior person – like a boss to the secretary. Needless to say, this didn’t go down well with my Japanese friends. The truth is, you don’t need to use anything at all – most of the time Japanese doesn’t even need a subject anyway! They just make it that way to make translators like us cry. It’s like a great mystery in Japanese conversation, just leave it up to the listeners to figure out who you are talking to!

If anyone has any other examples like this, I’d love to hear them! Things like this really interest me – differences in languages are the interesting parts of learning! Especially because I have a lot of people following my blog who have a much higher level of Japanese than myself – I’d love to hear your views on this!

Margarete Cafe

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Being slightly geeky, my friends and I sometimes like to set up camp in a cafe and sit and write, read or study. My friends like to write novels because they are clever clogs, and I tend to write more standup comedy these days.

We’d heard about a cafe/restaurant called Margarete – a slightly upmarket place was a great place to chill out. Situated near to Dom Romer, it was very easy to get to on the way home from work.

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So there were many good points and many bad points about Margarete. Let’s run through them –


The food was really good. I had the quiche and Boyfriend had the eggs and green sauce. The green sauce here was easily the best we’d tasted in Frankfurt so far.

The drinks were good.

I love the interior – and the big open windows at the front were really nice since it was a roasting hot day.


The service was terrible. Even worse than the normal German level of service. I can’t even put it down to the place being busy – it just wasn’t.

It’s expensive. 7 euros for a quiche the size of my palm? Gaaah.

The card machine chewed up and spat out two cards. It just wouldn’t accept them – for no reason at all. That was pretty annoying and embarrassing.

Despite the bad points, I think this would be a cute date night place – the couple could even bond over the poor service! They do proper meals here too but you may need to take out a loan to be able to afford it…

I’d go back, but only on a day when I’m ok with really poor service.

Find Margarete at Braubachstraße 18, 60311 Frankfurt


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I was giving a Frankfurt tour to two Japanese friends. They arrived at 6.30am so we had a whirlwind morning tour of the city. As we approached the centre, we saw this van. All three of us stopped to watch it. The little hooks pull the levers and the bottoms of the three compartments open to all the glass falls out.

A German man approached us. “You’ve not got these where you’re from?” he asks.

“Well, I’ve not seem anything like this in Japan, and I’m not sure what we do in England” I replied.

“You want to know something weird? Look at how the coloured glass is separated in the boxes. When the bottoms are opened, they all fall in together! So there really is no reason to separate them from the start!”

I would never have thought of that…

Awesome Things to do in Japan – Cat Cafes!


Before you say, yes, this is just an excuse for me to post lots of photos of cats. #sorrynotsorry.

One thing I loved to treat myself with in Japan was visited to cat cafes. Think of a nice place to sit and drink nice drinks. Take away the tables. Fill the room with cat friendly climbing frames, sofas, toys. This is a cat cafe, and it’s FRICKIN’ AWESOME.




Cat cafes came about in Japan because people there often live in tiny little apartments that don’t allow any kind of pet. So, to get their petting needs, they’ll go to a cat cafe and pretend for a few hours like they have a special feline in their life.

I said that I treated myself to a visit to one of these places because they are pretty expensive – you can expect to may something like 1000 yen to get in, then 600 yen for a drink, with a top up fee of around 500 yen for every extra hour you wish to have at the cafe. And I complain about the entrance fees for museums in Frankfurt!!

Inside, you’ll have usually photos of all the cats with little descriptions about them, including whether they like to be pet and held. I’ve never seen anyone treat the cats badly; the first photo is a typical scene – a woman trying desperately to engage with a cat but the cat wanting nothing to do with the toy nor the girl.






I’ve been to a few cat cafes now – in Tokyo, Nagoya, Ise and Osaka. Some of them (like this Osakan one in my photos here) are very nice and the cats are clearly well looked after. The one I visited in Ise wasn’t so nice, and the cats were openly fed low quality food, and cats who fought with the others were kept in big cages. You can’t really know whether a place will be good or not until you go in (unless you do a google search of where in Japan you’ll be, and find a recommendation) so it’s hard sometimes. Though this is a sweeping generalisation, but I have noticed that the way Japanese people think of and treat animals can be very different to how we think of and treat animals in the West.





If you find yourself in a large Japanese city, I do recommend having a look at a cat cafe – you can find them usually in the “geeky” section of down (for example, in Nagoya you can find them in Osu Kannon) so look out for flyers or look on the internet for links to new places.

If you aren’t going to be in Japan any time soon, you could try the cat cafe that’s in Vienna! It’s on my to-do list!

Have you been to a cat cafe? I’d love to know in the comments!

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