Sunday, July 7, 2013

Gathering Japanese Penpals

So, in my last post I spouted some more bullsh-, I mean advice, about how awesome it is to learn Japanese from a penfriend/email friends.

I thought I'd also share some thoughts about which sites I have found useful.

I've had some good luck with I think it was through that site that my wife first emailed me. But, in any case I've had a 3 or 4 long-lasting penpals because of that site, which I think is pretty good going. And additionally, this was a long time ago, and is definitely a good site for beginners of Japanese.

For those at the more advanced level*, I have a couple of recommendations. I've used for a while now, I believe its one of the first hits if you do a google search, as is But for those of you who haven't typed メル友 (email friend) into google before, I think its worth a bit of a summary. is good in that it has a pretty large user base, and there is always someone online (though I've not had a huge amount of luck finding these online people in the early hours of Japan Standard Time), and submitting a post usually gets a few replies. In addition to creating a profile, you can submit posts in one of several categories, which correspond to most things you might want to talk about. You can also post in different age categories if you'd prefer to find someone your own age, or in geographic categories (which consists of the different regions of Japan and "overseas").

I try not to to post in the overseas section, as that usually results in being inundated with messages from people wanting to learn English, but if your Japanese isn't so good, it might be a good place to start from, as a lot of visitors to that message board have at least some proficiency in English.

The site has its cons though. Firstly, it is riddled with some pretty ahem naughty adverts. As much as I'm fond of the female form, its not terribly conducive to level-headed conversation, and I use an ad-blocker on it these days. Maybe its because of this that there seem to be a lot of people on that site with dubious intentions... Also, I find that most of the people I come into contact with stop emailing quite quickly. Though, that could be a personality problem (-_-) covers atmeltomo's weak points pretty well: it has a filter to defend against the horny people (which actually caught me out when I was writing my profile... Though I've no idea what I wrote to make it do that), and the site is almost entirely ad-free. Unfortunately Merutomopark has a much reduced user base, but nonetheless, the two posts I made there have gotten a fair number of replies.

One slight problem with merutomopark is the lack of categories. You can post by age or region, but if you have a specific question or topic you want to go through, there isn't going to be a separate board for that. The other significant missing feature is notifications. When someone sends you a message, you wont know until you log back into merutomopark.

To summarise, if you're looking to chat to a Japanese person right now and don't want to use a chat room, atmeltomo is the place to be (once you kill the adverts), and it's sister site is possibly even better in that respect. If you're more patient and just want an email friend, I think merutomopark is a better bet.

That said, if you're a beginner, there loads of English-language penpal sites (which you don't need my help to find), some of which may have some Japanese people on, though I'll mention again, because I had some success** with it.

*or those prepared to use a dictionary to guide themselves through the registration process

**Not that I'm a big proponent of using penpal sites for finding spouses, but I'd say that a wife and child is a pretty big success

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Learn Japanese by Email! (and VOIP, IM etc.)

Learning Japanese by pen-friends/email-friends...


  • Learn Japanese as it exists in its natural environment
  • Almost no previous experience necessary
  • Can pick up slang words
  • Meet truly interesting people from interesting places
  • Learn anywhere, any time


  • Some pen friends may object to your spouse* 
  • May pick up words mismatched to your gender
  • Can pick up slang words

I've maintained a long time that getting a pen friend -or now we're in the digital age, an email friend- is among the best ways of learning a language. My personal plan for learning Chinese was basically: buy a book and audio CD that teaches the basics, then find mail-friends online.

To be honest, I never ended up learning Chinese all that long, but then Japanese has to take precedence in my life. Maybe when I've settled into Japan, I'll start up the Chinese again. I digress, but still, if you're interested, I feel I got on pretty well as a beginner with just those two resources: the beginner's book, and mail-friends**.

The great thing about email friends is that they cost you nothing (unless you end up marrying one of them... Whoops!), and even if they don't teach you, you're still learning.

In fact, as much as I want to like people for trying to teach me, its those email friends that correct me every sentence that I end up emailing the least often. I've taken a very 適当 (casual) approach that probably has more to do with passively absorbing what sounds right than actually putting in effort and being proper.

In any case, if you want to learn how to speak proper Japanese, you're going to want to read books, not chat to random people... If you can't read books yet, then its probably too early to worry about speaking properly, unless you want to do business in Japan, or ask your girlfriend's dad if its OK it to marry his daughter (shoot there's another thing I forgot to do!)...

But even so, email friends are helpful at pretty much any level of ability.

The only thing I would say against email friends is that I get a hell of a lot higher uptake from girls. I don't mind this (though my wife might), but it does mean that I'm not absorbing whatever language usage is more common amongst my own gender. The other thing, which I feel is related, is that many of these email friends will stop emailing as soon as I tell them I have a wife.

This lead me more recently to just omit that fact until asked... Certainly it means you can get a bit more practice in before it comes up, but in actuality I suspect its better to make it one of the first things to say so that you can find the email friends that are actually looking for friendship and save yourself some bother at the same time.

To close, I think its also worth pointing out that its never been a better time for gathering some email friends, with mobile internet as its current price, and email-capable mobiles, you can easily afford to do this anywhere. Free Japanese support, wherever you want, whenever you want, from native speakers of the language.

* if you're lucky, your spouse won't object to your pen friends ;)
   by the way, I'm interested in hearing if anyone else seems to find they lose a lot of email friends on account of having a spouse, because it seems very strange to me... Please comment!

** on second thoughts, I should add online dictionaries to the list of necessities, but online dictionaries are far easier to find than good pen friends or good books.