Japanese, Japanese Resources, Textbook Experiences

Textbook Experience: Tobira (Gateway to Advanced Japanese)


Greetings everybody! I finally finished my Tobira textbook last week (more than a year after purchasing it OTL), so as promised, here is a post regarding my experience with the book. I hope that you guys will find this helpful and / or interesting in guiding your own Japanese studies. I have also written a bit about comparisons between Tobira and An Integrated Approach, in case you wish to know more about that. If you can’t be bothered to slog through all this, just head to the bottom of this post.


The book has 15 chapters. My photos of the contents page turned out a bit crappy and unclear, so I will just list the topics here instead:

  1. 日本の地理
  2. 日本語のスピーチスタイル
  3. 日本のテクノロジー
  4. 日本のスポーツ
  5. 日本の食べ物
  6. 日本人と宗教
  7. 日本のポップカルチャー
  8. 日本の伝統芸能
  9. 日本の教育
  10. 日本の便利な店
  11. 日本の歴史
  12. 日本の伝統工芸
  13. 日本人と自然
  14. 日本の政治
  15. 世界と私の国の未来

The book also has 17 sections dedicated to language notes and 10 notes on culture. You can see photos of these further on in the post. As you can see, the book covers a diverse range of topics. Some of the earlier chapters deal with pretty stock-standard ‘Japanese textbook’ subject matter (e.g. food, sports and recreation etc), but I still enjoyed these nonetheless. I thought that the chapter topics were well-chosen and engaging (except maybe for Chapter 2, that was a bit dry but hopefully you can get past that lol). I learnt a lot about aspects of Japan and Japanese culture that I hadn’t really bothered to explore, such as its traditional arts. I have even started listening to podcasts about Japanese history, it’s that bad O.O The later chapters about politics and the environment also had lots of specialist vocabulary that would be useful if you’re transitioning to more authentic and difficult texts such as newspaper articles, or the articles that often appear in the JLPT N2 reading.


Pre-reading activities

Each chapter has a little activity that can be done before actually beginning the chapter. It gives you an idea about what you’ll be learning about, and useful context for the reading passages. As there were no similar pre-reading activities in AIATIJ, this was a first for me. Some activities link you to pages compiled on Tobira’s website (more on that later), while some just have vocabulary or discussion activities meant to be done without the Internet. I didn’t do the discussion activities because I was learning by myself but I did the other research activities. It was a good way for me to have a handle on reading vocabulary so that I didn’t have to consult the glossary later, and in some cases, especially for topics I didn’t know much about (like Japanese history), good background information. Thumbs up from me!


Reading Passages

Here is an example of a Tobira reading passage. This is from Chapter 5 (food!) so it’s not that long, but the passages in the second half of the book definitely get longer. There is a mix of horizontal and vertical writing (but mostly horizontal) and 1-3 passages per chapter. There are kanji readings at the bottom of each page if you need, and a vocab list if you need on the next page. The book doesn’t have a CD, but all of the passage audio files can be found on the Tobira website (details on how to login are found in the book :D).



As mentioned before, a typical vocabulary list (as well as a snippet of a 言語ノート). You can download Anki decks of all the Tobira vocabulary from their website if flashcards are your thing.



There are usually 1-2 dialogues per chapter. These are a mix of formal and informal language. As with the reading passages, you can listen to them if you download the tracks from the Tobira site. The book also comes with some pairwork activities and a sort of “fill in the blank, make your own conversation based on the dialogue you’ve just read” exercises, which are probably more for a classroom environment? idk.


Comprehension Questions

Test your understanding of the dialogues and reading passages here. There are also expansion questions aka questions based on the general topic of the passages but not the exact content, so a good way to test your active skills of writing and / or speaking.



There are quite a lot of grammar points introduced in each lesson (10+), but some of these aren’t so much grammar points, as phrases or expressions, which makes things less strenuous. Some of the points were also already covered in AIATIJ. There are no English translations for sample sentences, but it’s good to get rid of the crutch I think. At this level, translation shouldn’t be too hard. But it is hard to think about the best way to translate some of the harder, very Japanese language-specific structures.

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Language and Cultural Notes

Each chapter has at least one language and / or cultural note. These are a nice touch, with interesting points on nuance or further cultural knowledge. The language notes are particularly important because you want to use this book to transition to a more advanced level right? So it’s getting these little mistakes and knowing the subtle differences in language usage that will help to make the difference.


The Tobira site / Tobira’s aim of ‘multimedia’ learning

You can see on the little disclaimer on the front of the book that Tobira aims to distinguish itself from other textbooks by taking a multimedia approach to learning. In this day and age, this is pretty appropriate. So this is where the Tobira website comes in. You can download kanji practice sheets, kanji exercises, grammar exercises, watch (grainy) cultural videos (the book is from 2008 I think so no HD here guys…), Anki decks, listen to the audio of the book’s passages and find the links used in the pre-reading activities etc. The site makes for an interesting and useful companion, but I question how they will go about updating everything when a new version of the book comes out. However, the sheets that you can find online mean that you can probably do without Tobira’s companion kanji and grammar workbook I reckon.

In Conclusion:


-engaging content with lots of cultural information

-self-learner friendly

-lots of resources available on the Tobira website

-pretty decent grammar explanations (that can be supplemented with a grammar dictionary if you want) and lots of sample sentences


-err…in AIATIJ they would point out when new grammar points were being introduced in the reading passages. I personally would have found it useful if they did this as well in Tobira because sometimes I couldn’t remember whether I’d learnt it already or not (lots of Japanese grammar points are so similar >.<) and I’d just get confused, and my translation would get a bit funky.

-I don’t think there are answers to the worksheets available on the website…?

So…Tobira or An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese?

I’m just going to put this out there now that I personally found Tobira more engaging and less dry than AIATIJ. I was also eternally grateful that the Tobira content was much broader in context, and not just limited to university student-centric topics (e.g. letters of recommendation, awkward homestay situations). That aspect of AIATIJ literally drove me up the wall, I wanted to tear my hair out sometimes. It seems to me that Tobira is less well-known than AIATIJ, probably because the former is newer, but I enjoyed learning from Tobira more, I’m going to say this upfront.

In terms of difficulty…I would say that Tobira is a bit harder than AIATIJ? Well, the titles do say ‘a gateway to advanced Japanese’ and ‘intermediate Japanese’ respectively so….yeah. There is overlap between the grammar points covered in the two books though, so I don’t know if it’s so much of an investment to buy both books. I had initially only bought Tobira, but then I had to buy AIATIJ to take with me to university Japanese classes. There are downloads of AIATIJ floating around on the net, so what I would perhaps recommend is get the PDF and purchase Tobira, if you indeed have language learner fear of missing out. Otherwise, just buy one and use a grammar dictionary (PDFs floating around on the net too). Learning is pretty individual after all so the choice is yours! Edit: A reader has drawn my attention to the fact that not paying for language resources hurts their creators, and by extension, the language learning community. I acknowledge that this is true, and am embarrassed that I did not think of this at time of writing. All creators should be remunerated for their works, and I apologise for the callousness of these comments. 

So here ends my textbook experience with Tobira. If you have any thoughts and questions, please feel free to leave a comment ^^

Cooking, Food

Take the biscuit: Monte Carlos


It’s been a (loooong) while since I’ve posted a recipe, so I thought I might do one this week! Uni hasn’t started yet, so I decided to bake some Monte Carlo biscuits on the weekend!

Monte Carlos are a popular classic here in Australia and are manufactured by household-name brand Arnotts. I don’t know if they are eaten elsewhere in the world, so if you’ve eaten them before, do let me know! Named after the city of the same name, Monte Carlos are honey biscuits with raspberry jam and vanilla cream sandwiched inside. This recipe makes quite large biscuits (and the biscuits are indeed the heaviest in the Arnotts cream biscuit range!) so one already makes a more than substantial afternoon tea! Experiment with different honeys if you so wish for different tastes – I used leatherwood, which made the biscuits wonderfully fragrant ^^

Monte Carlo Biscuits (adapted from SMH Good Food)


3/4 cup brown sugar

125g softened butter

1 egg

2 tbsp honey


2 cups self-raising flour

Ingredients for filling

1/3 cup raspberry jam

1-1.5 cups icing sugar

15g butter

1 tsp vanilla essence

2-3 tbsp milk


1. Preheat oven to 180C.

2. Line a biscuit tray with baking paper.

3. Cream brown sugar and 125g butter until well blended. Add egg, honey and a pinch of salt.

4. Fold through sifted flour. Roll mixture into a log about 20cm long. Cover with plastic and allow to rest in the fridge for about 20 minutes.

5. Uncover and slice into 1-cm-thick slices OR roll out until 1cm thick and cut out your desired shape. Place on tray and bake for 15 minutes or until golden.

6. While still warm, brush half the biscuits with the jam. Set aside to cool.

7. Sift icing sugar into a bowl. Add remaining 15g butter and vanilla essence. Mix in enough milk to form a thick icing. Spread other half of the biscuits with the icing and sandwich together.

Recipe notes:

-the 15 minute bake time is for large biscuits. If you wish to make smaller biscuits, you will have to experiment and reduce baking time accordingly!

-the original recipe makes a looot of vanilla cream I found so I’ve already halved the quantities written in the original recipe for this adaptation


…and get eating! The filling sets quite well so it won’t ooze, making it an ideal snack if you wish to transport it to work, school etc. Enjoy your Monte Carlos, and I’ll see you next week! (it’ll be language-learning related, I promise!) ^^

Japanese, JLPT N3



Checked my JLPT N3 results last week and err…yeah I passed guys! I’m really happy with how I did, and because it’s the first JLPT exam I’ve ever taken, it serves as a good diagnostic tool for N2 and N1 in future (if I indeed wish to take them T.T). Well…I’m pretty sure I’ll want to take N2 at least. Looking back to the post that I wrote straight after exam, it seems that my predictions were spot on in that reading > listening > language knowledge. The total mark is about right too because practice papers are always easier (so practice tests usually mean about 10 more marks). I’m pleasantly surprised that I got full marks for the reading section though! There was one article where I literally had no idea what was going on =.=”

I have a good feeling what caused my shortcomings in vocabulary and grammar = LACK OF REVIEWING MECHANISMS in my learning regime. I use Anki, and I know that it works for me when I do use it, but the problem is…I just can’t be bothered with it. I use the shared online decks (so I don’t have to make my own) and Anki does all the review period calculations (so I don’t have to organise that myself) BUT I STILL DON’T REVISE MY ANKI CARDS REGULARLY ENOUGH. Idk, I just find it…boring? And I think it’s a vicious cycle because then all the Anki cards pile up and that makes me feel even less willing to use it T.T Does anybody have any other suggestions for learning vocabulary and grammar? I feel this is kind of ironic though, because although my vocab and grammar is apparently not too good, I’m able to read Japanese texts well? I guess global comprehension is a bit different.

Well, that’s about it from me. I hope all you other JLPT test-takers got the results you wanted as well! You must let me know how you did ^^



So I found out that Benny Lewis has finally made his way down under and he’ll be doing a Sydney meet and greet! The event isn’t until March so I’ll have to see what my uni timetable is like, but I’d really like to go!! I expect that I will feel really inadequate in the face of his epic polyglotting skills though. I’ve been following his blog since I was in high school, and I really look up to him as a language learner (he is my language learning idol)! Reading Fluent in 3 Months inspired me to start up Polyglot Plotting. Although everybody may not necessarily agree with his methods (as learning is highly individual), his suggestions are sound and I appreciate his work ethic and commitment to not just language learning, but making sure it’s for everybody. I really do hope I can make it!

Japanese, Miscellaneous

summer studying.


Because that’s what everybody does in summer right? いま 私は 日本語 の 勉強 を 中心に 生活 を している ことにした! 😀 I’m now up to Chapter 8 of Tobira, and am enjoying it thoroughly. I highly recommend the textbook and am looking forward to writing about my experience with it when I am finished.

In other language learning-related matters, I have finished the La Vérité sur l’Affaire Harry Quebert which I think I blogged about a couple of weeks ago, all 800 pages of it! Unashamedly proud ^^ It was a very good book – despite its length, I couldn’t stop reading it (so thank god I’m on holidays right now!). But there were so many plot twists that I felt like I was watching a Christopher Nolan film =.= So if you’re into a little crime and mystery, it’s a good book to read.

Somebody has also just gifted me Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris (‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’), so I will now be making a start on it. The timing is just so right haha 🙂 I haven’t actually read any of Hugo’s books, but perhaps it’s time that I become more culturally enlightened T.T

Don’t have much else to report. But I’m happy and learning lots, and I hope you all are too ^^

Food, Miscellaneous



I actually have nothing to blog about in particular so I’m just going to leave this food porn here hohoho >:D It’s the special rice from Gumshara here in Sydney’s Chinatown. They make fantastic ramen (which I have previously mentioned) but if you don’t feel like being weighed down by a bowl of noodles, I highly recommend that you allow yourself to be weighed down by this bowl of rice instead! It comes with all your typical ramen toppings + spicy pickled mustard greens on rice. The rice also has yummy things like more egg and cha shu chopped through it. They give you a small bowl of their extra-thick tonkotsu broth too (you can just make it out in the background), so what I like to do is wet the rice with the broth and eat it in large, ungraceful, foodgasmic mouthfuls. Did I also mention that all of this heart-stopping glory can be yours for $9? You’re welcome.

I suppose I should probably mention some form of language learning here though right? Well, I’m going to start Chapter 5 of Tobira today (IT’S ON JAPANESE FOOD WOOP) and I am on track to finish it before uni starts again. I also used my Japanese to communicate with fans on Twitter who are organising food support for my k-idol’s activities in Japan, and it appears that they understood me so I am proud 😀 I am also more than halfway through La Vérité sur l’affaire Harry Quebert, which I posted about about two weeks ago I think, so my French cognitive muscles aren’t totally going to waste (unlike my Italian ones woops). Turns out it’s actually 800 pages, not 600 O.O I’m really enjoying it so far!

So that’s all I can report for this week! I hope you are all well, and that your language learning is going well. You must tell me what you’ve been up to ^^


The Liebster Award

Liebster Award

I was tagged for the Liebster Award by the lovely Hannah of hanajickstudies – thank you ^^ I had no idea what this thing was until I did a quick Google search, but in any case, it gives me the chance to talk more about myself and the blog.

1. When did you start your blog and why?

I started Polyglot Plotting in November 2013. I had just finished my high school graduation exams and wanted to explore my hobbies more. None of my real-life friends has much interest in language learning, so what better way than to reach out to the online community right? I don’t regret a thing, and I’m enjoying myself immensely here on WordPress 😀

2. Books or ebooks, or both?

Books. I don’t know why I’m so adamant about this though.

3. Which country do you want to go to that you haven’t been to yet?

South Korea!

4. Forests or lakes?

Lakes. Forests are creepy.

5. Which place can you travel to again and again?

Japan. It’s so extraordinarily multi-dimensional, and the people are polite enough that they won’t get on my nerves *coughFrenchpeoplecough*

6. One word which describes you?


7. What are your top three favourite things?

A good bowl of ramen – Vanilla Coke flavoured Lipsmacker lip balm (at age 19, fancy that) – eyeliner

8. What one event next year are you looking forward to the most?

Being on the other side of another year at uni!!!

9. If there was no risk of failure, what one thing would you try?

Be a foreign correspondent. Or maybe start a notebook / stationery business.

10. Do you have a plan with your blog?

Nope! People who do shouldn’t be trusted because that means they have … an agenda.

Now I’m supposed to tag 10 people, but I feel as if I don’t really know enough people here to tag! Ah what to do…idk. In any case, thanks for reading, and I hope that this post demystifies me a little bit!

Best wishes for those New Years’ resolutions! 😀




A wonderful combined birthday / Christmas present (they’re only one week apart) that came from my French host family yesterday! I did my homestay with them back in 2011 when I was 16 (how time flies!!) but we are still good friends ^_^

The book doesn’t seem to have a blurb but the front cover tells me it has won literary prizes, so I’m looking forward to tackling it once I finish Musso’s Parce que je t’aime. It’s 600 pages too! I am gradually transitioning out of reading young adult fiction in French to regular adult novels, but reading YA is usually more fun because it just deals with more imaginative fun stuff 😀 This will be a good challenge for me.

Japanese, Japanese Resources, Resources, Textbook Experiences

Textbook Experience: An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese


Hello everybody! As promised, here is my post on AIATIJ (because who has time to type out the whole title). I have labelled this post as a “textbook experience” rather than a review because I am just a person who blogs about my own language learning and I don’t really feel particularly qualified to review it ‘properly’ as such and I don’t want people to think what I have written about it is definitive. This is just my experience with the book and a chance for you guys to take a look inside and see the structure of the text if you so wish – take from it what you will. In any case, the text and CDs are available to download on the Internet ^^ (I bought the book so I could take it to university + I like paper books). I considered doing a video to accompany this but I decided that my voice sounds too horrible when recorded, and my mum loves to talk on the phone so it’s hard to find a spot in the house to film where the air is not dispersed with Cantonese chitchat =_=


The book comes with 2 CDs inside the front cover. Every dialogue and reading passage (except for the speed reading exercises) has a corresponding track on the CDs, as well as separate listening practice exercises. The pace of the recordings is quite fast.


Table of contents: there are 15 chapters, covering a wide range of topics as you can see. However, if there is one issue with this book, it’s that it is heavily geared towards university students (seeing as it was written by university professors for their students originally). This means that a lot of of the book’s dialogues and reading passages take place in a university or homestay context e.g. dealing with misunderstandings with host parents, university clubs etc. This can be a bit unengaging if you are not a university student and/or not going on exchange. I am a university student and I was sick of it at times. The whole content isn’t student-centric but I’d say about 80% of it is.


Chapter cover page: outlines what the chapter will be teaching you.



Dialogues: There are three dialogues per chapter, incorporating each chapter’s grammar points and topic matter. I appreciated how the conversations were a mix of both formal and informal language by introducing a variety of contexts (speaking to teachers using honorifics, talking with friends etc.). I think this is important for many intermediate learners because most easier textbooks only use formal ます language, leaving people frustrated about not knowing how to communicate in daily situations using more casual forms. The book also has a good section on 敬語 (keigo).


Reading Passages: There is usually one reading passage per chapter, two for the last couple. The passages are a good length and some were a good challenge. They have drawn extracts from a variety of external sources, including books, essays and even a newspaper article (which fits in to the N3 criteria of understanding everyday texts). The first few passages are written horizontally and from then on, they are written vertically, also good practice if you wish to start reading authentic Japanese books.



Vocabulary and Kanji Lists: To be used as one wishes. The kanji lists are divided into kanji that you should be able to read and write and kanji that you should be able to read in each chapter.


Grammar Notes: Each chapter introduces 8-10 points. It might seem like a lot (?) but some of the ‘grammar’ points are actually more like phrases so it’s not that hard. There’s lots of good sample sentences so you can see the points in use and a short explanation to accompany each one. If I felt that I needed a bit more help understanding the point, I just looked online. You could also potentially invest in a grammar dictionary to aid your studies.

I think you could safely say that the grammar is N3 level. Some of it might even be N4 level because I already knew some of it.


Other activities: the other activities included per chapter include classroom speaking activities (maybe if you have a study buddy?), writing practice and listening drills. There are no answers or transcripts provided in the book though, which could be a problem if you want to see how you’re going with your listening :/


Speed Reading: And last but not least, each chapter finishes off with a speed reading exercise – this is to practice reading quickly and learning how to make educated guesses as to the meanings of unknown words by examining the context (as they don’t want you to look up the words you don’t know).

Thoughts on the book: 


  • It’s a good book! 😀 Seriously though, I quite enjoyed it haha
  • Quite self-learner friendly! 🙂
  • I learnt a lot of interesting cultural bits and pieces from it (because not everybody gets to go to Japan =.=)
  • It’s quite thorough
  • Some of the reading passages were quite challenging, but in a good way


  • THE UNIVERSITY STUDENT-CENTRIC CONTENT – I DON’T CARE ABOUT HOW TO ASK A TEACHER TO WRITE ME A LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION TO GO ON EXCHANGE ETC ETC Sorry for the caps, but it was just annoying that the book’s target audience is so narrow ie a university student studying Japanese and going on exchange in Japan. Having said that, the reading passages are often broader in context and audience.
  • Lack of transcripts and answers EDIT: transcripts and listening answers can be found on the Japan Times website (thank you almantina!)

I think that’s about all I have to say about AIATIJ – this is why I feel so ill-placed to review things. I have too much fun learning and studying and these endorphins just kind of blind me to any possible objective faults of resources T.T In any case, I hope that this was helpful / interesting. If any of you guys have used the book or might want to use it in future, let me know in the comments! As I said in my last post, I’m still working through Tobira but I hope that I can post about my experience with it at the end of summer break.

See you guys next time ^_^

Japanese, JLPT N3

First JLPT experience! (N3)


So I finally took the JLPT N3 last Sunday!! Obviously, due to the Japan Foundation’s misconduct rules, I can’t really say much about the test itself but I feel that it went quite well and it was an enjoyable experience! The one thing that bothered me was that since the Sydney test location was a university, we had to do the exam on these tiny lecture theatre desks =_=

The language knowledge section was a little bit hard. Otherwise I think everything was quite manageable, especially reading. So I predict my section scores to be: reading > listening > language knowledge. I was also grateful for the breaks in between the sections, otherwise my concentration would have been 0000000000%.

I am quite looking forward to receiving my test results in March. In the meantime, I am now on the last chapter of my Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese textbook, so I am aiming to have my review ready to post next week. I also hope that my Tobira review will also be ready to post by the end of summer break.

I am currently considering some upper-intermediate / beginner-advanced materials to help me towards the start of my N2 journey. I am taking a look at Kanzen Master’s N2 Grammar text as well as Osamu Kamada’s Authentic Japanese. If anybody has used these texts or has any recommendations, please let me know, and please tell me about how you guys found the JLPT if you took it last Sunday!