New York Japan Cinefest

2016 June 9
by Stacy Smith

WIT Life is a periodic series written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03). She starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some of the interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

Last week I had a chance to check out the 5th annual New York Japan Cinefest, whose mission is to introduce Japanese themed films and discover new talent in filmmaking.  In the past I have attended this festival hosted at Asia Society and always loved it, and this year too did not disappoint.  I made it to the first night of this two night event, which showcased six short films varying in length from 5 to 40 minutes.

I was most looking forward to the final film A Beautiful Person, as it was the newest work from the Kumamoto-born director Isao Yukisada and featured a cast exclusively from Kumamoto (with an appearance from the ubiquitous Kumamon!).  I had to laugh once they started speaking as the dialogue was in heavy Kumamoto-ben (dialect), adding to the film’s authenticity.  The story didn’t captivate me as much as I had hoped it would, but it was like a time capsule as it had been filmed pre-earthquake.  Especially after recently going back to Kumamoto and witnessing the horrible damage the castle has undergone, it was really special to see read more…


2016 May 26
by Stacy Smith

WIT Life is a periodic series written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03). She starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some of the interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

I seem to have a knack for timing my business trips to Japan in sync with releases of my favorite director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s films, and this time is no exception.  Last night I had the chance to check out 海よりもまだ深く (Umi yori mo mada fukaku) or After the Storm), a welcome addition to Kore-eda’s impressive body of work.  It features the familiar cast of characters who can be found throughout the rest of his films, such as Hiroshi Abe and Kirin Kiki paired once again as mother and son, and Lily Franky.

Abe plays Ryota, a character with the same name as the one he played in Kore-eda’s 歩いても歩いても (Aruito mo aruite mo or Still Walking).  This Ryota is a formerly award-winner author who barely makes ends meet by gambling and his job as a private investigator.  He struggles to pay child support to his ex-wife in order to be able to see his son on a monthly basis.  Despite being accustomed to Kore-eda’s leisurely pace, I found the film a bit slow at the beginning.  However, as the story unfolded I started to be drawn more into the stories of the characters.  Perhaps it was because I’m far from home and missing my own family, but I found my eyes filling with tears during some of the tender family moments.  I loved the deceivingly simple but significant shot of the four bowls and four sets of chopsticks, drying after being washed following a family meal.

I was blown away by the extremely nuanced performance of Taiyo Yoshizawa who plays Ryota’s son, and thrilled to see Yukiyoshi Ozawa (the very crush-worthy Katsuragi Sensei from the NHK Sakura morning drama!) in the role of Ryota’s ex-wife’s new boyfriend.  It goes without saying that Kiki was amazing as Ryota’s mother who just lost her husband and lives in low-rent housing while longing for a condo, and Franky has a humorous role as Ryota’s boss at the detective agency.  Ryota is a lost soul at the beginning of the film but at the end we somehow have hope for him, an idea reflected in the beautifully haunting closing song “深呼吸” (shinkokyuu or deep breath) from ハナレグミ (Hanaregumi).  Its lyrics include “saying goodbye to the me of yesterday” and “hello again to the me of tomorrow.” Abe is masterful at subtly conveying this change, with the film’s last scene showing him walking upright as opposed to the slouched shoulders and defeated gait he had for the majority of the film.

Chinese Phrases for Department Store Shopping – In Beijing!

2016 May 24
by Wenjuan Zhao

Today we follow Peter on a shopping adventure in a department store in Beijing. Peter is studying in a Masters program for Chinese at Beijing Foreign Studies University. He arrived at Beijing last November with only winter clothes. Now it is May, and he needs to get new clothes for the summer. His Chinese friends recommended Xidan Department Store, 西单商场 (xī dān shāng chǎng), which is nationally well known with more than 70 years of history and an excellent reputation.


Peter likes high quality products and trustworthy places  wherehe can return products easily. So he decided to take his Chinese friend’s advice and go shopping at Xidan. Below are language tips for how to go shopping in Chinese, and these tips should work in any Chinese speaking country. The scenario is simplified to make it easy to follow. In the flashcards below, I  add a variety of vocabulary which you can use to conduct more sophisticated conversation.

At the entrance, Peter approaches the shopping guide.
你好。请问男装在几楼?nǐ hǎo 。qǐng wèn nán zhuāng zài jǐ lóu ? Hello. Excuse me. Could you tell me which floor sells menswear?
三楼。sān lóu 。 The third floor.
谢谢。xiè xiè 。 Thank you.
不用谢。bú yòng xiè 。 You are welcome.



He arrives at the third floor by taking the escalator. There are quite a variety of brands and so many products. A salesclerk gives him a little guidance. 
请问先生您要买什么?qǐng wèn xiān shēng nín yào mǎi shí me ? What would you like to buy, Sir?
我想买衬衫。wǒ xiǎng mǎi chèn shān 。 I want to buy some shirts.
好的。您从这边走,到头右转。那里是衬衫区。hǎo de 。nín cóng zhè biān zǒu ,dào tóu yòu zhuǎn 。nà lǐ shì chèn shān qū 。 Okay. You can go (straight) from here and make a right turn at the end. That is the shirt section.
谢谢。xiè xiè 。 Thank you.
不用谢。bú yòng xiè 。 You are welcome.


Following the instruction of the shop assistant, Peter finds the section of shirts.
下午好,先生。欢迎光临。要买衬衫吗?xià wǔ hǎo ,xiān shēng 。huān yíng guāng lín 。yào mǎi chèn shān ma ? Good afternoon, Sir. Welcome. Would you like to buy some shirts?
是的。(不,谢谢。我只是看看。)shì de 。(bú ,xiè xiè 。wǒ zhī shì kàn kàn 。) Yes. (If he is not sure yet, he can say No. Thanks. I am just looking around. )
您喜欢哪件?nín xǐ huān nǎ jiàn ? Which one do you like?
这件蓝色的。这是多大的?zhè jiàn lán sè de 。zhè shì duō dà de ? This blue one. What size is it?
39号的。喜欢的话,您可以试穿一下。39hào de。xǐ huān de huà ,nín kě yǐ shì chuān yī xià 。 39. If you like it, you can try it on.
好的。我试一下。请问试衣间在哪里?hǎo de 。wǒ shì yī xià 。qǐng wèn shì yī jiān zài nǎ lǐ ? Okay. I’d like to try it on. Where is the fitting room?
请跟我来。qǐng gēn wǒ lái 。 Please follow me.
谢谢。xiè xiè 。 Thanks.
After trying it on, he realizes it is too small for him. He gained some weight in the last few months because he likes Chinese food so much! 
售货员,请问有没有大一点的?这件有点紧。shòu huò yuán ,qǐng wèn yǒu méi yǒu dà yī diǎn de ?zhè jiàn yǒu diǎn jǐn 。 Miss, do you have a larger size? This one is a little tight.
这件是40号的。您再试一下。zhè jiàn shì 40hào de 。nín zài shì yī  xià 。 This one is size 40. You can try it on (again).
好的。hǎo de 。 Okay.
He tries on the larger one. It fits him nicely.  
谢谢。我要这件了。xiè xiè 。wǒ yào zhè jiàn le 。 Thanks. I want this one.
好的。我帮您包一下。hǎo de 。wǒ bāng nín bāo yī xià 。 Okay. I will wrap it for you.
我可以刷卡吗?wǒ kě yǐ shuā kǎ ma ? Can I pay by credit card?
我们只收Visa卡。wǒ men zhǐ shōu Visa kǎ 。 We only accept Visa card.
我的是Visa. 给你。wǒ de shì Visa. gěi nǐ 。 Mine is Visa. Here you are.
一共是120块。原价240元。打五折。这是您的收据,请收好。yī gòng shì 120kuài 。yuán jià 240yuán 。dǎ wǔ shé 。zhè shì nín de shōu jù ,qǐng shōu hǎo 。 The total is 120 bucks. Here is your receipt. Please keep the receipt carefully.
谢谢。要是有什么问题,我可以退吗?xiè xiè 。yào shì yǒu shí me wèn tí ,wǒ kě yǐ tuì ma ? Thanks. If there is any problem, can I return it?
可以。一个月以内凭发票都可以退。kě yǐ 。yī gè yuè yǐ nèi píng fā piào dōu kě yǐ tuì 。 Yes. You can return it with a receipt within one month.
太好了。谢谢。啊……tài hǎo le 。xiè xiè 。ā …… Great! Thank you. Uh……
请问还有什么我可以帮助的吗?qǐng wèn hái yǒu shí me wǒ kě yǐ bāng zhù de ma ? Is there anything else I can help you with?
我可以用一下厕所吗?wǒ kě yǐ yòng yī xià cè suǒ ma ? Can I use the bathroom?
没问题。我指给您。您沿着指示牌的箭头走,走廊尽头左拐就到了。méi wèn tí 。wǒ zhǐ gěi nín 。nín yán zhe zhǐ shì pái de jiàn tóu zǒu ,zǒu láng jìn tóu zuǒ guǎi jiù dào le 。 No problem. I can show you. Please follow the arrow on the direction board. At the end of the corridor, turn left. is The bathroom should be right there.
非常感谢。fēi cháng gǎn xiè 。 Thank you very much.
不用谢。欢迎您再来。bú yòng xiè 。huān yíng nín zài lái 。 You are welcome. Hope you come back soon!


Flashcards and Pronunciation of the Dialog:

If you can learn and practice these sentence structures and vocabulary, in no time you will be shopping like a local. With the tightening of intellectual property right laws in China, there are less and less counterfeit products you can find. If you buy from regulated stores, you are guaranteed to have high quality goods and a no hassle return. I hope you enjoy your shopping experience in China and next time we eat out! 下次再见!

Kumamoto earthquakes

2016 April 22
by Stacy Smith

WIT Life is a periodic series written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03). She starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some of the interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

Over a week has passed since the earthquakes down in Kyushu, and things have settled down somewhat but it is still a very scary situation. I spent my time on JET in Kumamoto, so this unexpected disaster was especially hard-hitting. I have a business trip to Tokyo next month, so I’m planning to go down to Kyushu during that time to help out with recovery efforts. It’s hard to be so far away and not be able to do much, but at this point due to the instability the best way to help seems to be donations.

In that vein, here are links to two organizations that are currently accepting contributions. The first is a fund created by the Japanese American Association of NY (JAA, hosting its Sakura Matsuri from 11 am-1 pm at Flushing Meadows Park tomorrow!) devoted exclusively to Kyushu Earthquake Relief (, and the second is Japan Society’s general Earthquake Relief Fund (

Finally, here’s the song Kumamoto produced by NY-based jazz pianist Senri Oe and featuring Mamiko Taira on vocals. He wrote this haunting tune right after the disaster as a way to deal with his feelings of helplessness. He describes this music as his own way of providing relief goods, as unlike other supplies a song won’t spoil nor can there be too much or too little of it. It might be just what some people are looking for, and can be accessed by anyone via the Internet. In the spirit of the potential solace it offers, enjoy.

Portlandia’s Noodle Monster

2016 March 25
by Stacy Smith

WIT Life is a periodic series written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03). She starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some of the interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

Last night IFC’s Portlandia Season 6 finale featured a tsukemen ramen monster taking over the town, with potentially disastrous results.  This monster was brought to life when leftover tsukemen noodles, intended to be just dipped and not soaked, were dunked into their broth due to a lack of refrigerator space.

At a meeting deconstructing what happened, the Mayor (Kyle MacLachlan) recognizes that it’s as if the noodles were “baptized against their will.”  They then realize that the only solution is to dip the noodles again to restore them to their original form, and one proposal is filling a city pool with ramen broth for this purpose.  I found the episode’s overall handling humorous, though the Asian cliches felt a bit hackneyed.  In conjunction with the episode, IFC is offering the chance to win 10 years worth of ramen!

Sake production and dorayaki creation in film

2016 March 20
by Stacy Smith

WIT Life is a periodic series written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03). She starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some of the interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

This weekend I had the chance to see two fabulous Japanese films being screened here in the city, one documentary and one fiction.  The former is The Birth of Sake being shown at IFC, and the latter is Sweet Bean playing at Lincoln Plaza Cinema, both through this Thursday, March 24th.

The Birth of Sake, directed by Erik Shirai who was on hand for a post-screening Q&A, has already won awards at Tribeca and other notable film festivals.  I had heard of it in passing a few years back when the Kickstarter campaign raising money for the film took place, and the result is a sneak peek inside the normally cloistered world of sake creation.  The film takes an in-depth look at this process carried out by the hard working staff of the 144-year old Tedorigawa Brewery in Ishikawa Prefecture.

Their business is unique in that everything is done by hand, whereas the majority of modern Japanese breweries are automated.  Tedorigawa’s workers range in age from 20-70, and one requirement of their grueling job is that they must live at the brewery during the sake-producing six months from October until April (and according to Shirai, due to Tedorigawa’s new popularity thanks to his film, this season has been extended to May!).  They are willing to taking time away from their families and home lives to make this sacrifice, and many are veterans of their craft looking to cultivate the next generation of workers.  Not only will this film educate viewers about the sake-making process, but it offers a rare glimpse of the people behind it.  In particular, I loved the scenes humanizing the workers, like when they were splashing each other in the bath, teasing each other while shopping or breaking out into karaoke after a long day of work.

Director Naomi Kawase’s 2015 Sweet Bean (あん or an, sweet red bean paste) is a surprisingly tender film about the creation of an equally treasured aspect of Japanese food/drink culture, dorayaki (どら焼き or red bean pancake).  This dessert is ubiquitous in Japan, from pre-packaged types found in convenience stores to freshly made dorayaki at food stalls.

The film centers on a dorayaki proprietor whose stand has many regulars, but who just seems to be going through the motions.  His life changes when he is visited by an elderly woman asking if she can work there, in response to his help wanted ad.  He initially declines, but is eventually won over by her delicious homemade red bean paste, a filling he has never quite mastered.  She joins him and helps bring in many new customers, but things change when we learn more about this new employee.  This deceivingly simple story ends up packing a huge wallop, largely due to the legendary Kirin Kiki’s performance (her actual granddaughter, Kyara Uchida, plays the role of a young customer at the shop and her performance is also phenomenal).  I especially like when she describes how in order to properly make red bean paste, one must first thank the beans for making the journey from the fields and give them time to mix properly with the added sugar before proceeding (like when you introduce two people in お見合い, omiai or matchmaking).

For readers who want to learn more about sake/dorayaki production or just enjoy two quality films about Japan, I would highly recommend both The Birth of Sake and Sweet Bean!  Don’t blame me if afterward you are craving a dorayaki and some sake to wash it down…

人魚に会える日 (Girl of the Sea)

2016 March 14
by Stacy Smith

WIT Life is a periodic series written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03). She starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some of the interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

Last week I returned from a short business trip in Japan when Tokyo was enjoying unseasonably warm weather.  People were in t-shirts over the weekend, and with 梅 (ume, or plum blossoms) already in bloom an early 桜 (sakura, or cherry blossom) season is predicted for this year (if only I could have stuck around for a few more weeks…).  However, this morning’s Japan news reported the weather dipping back down to chillier temps, so who knows when actual blooming will take placgirloftheseae.  Stay tuned to the 桜前線 (sakura zenzen, or cherry blossom front)!

While in Tokyo I had the chance to check out the film 人魚に会える日 (Ningyo ni aeru hi or Girl of the Sea),  made by 20-year old Okinawan director and Keio University student Ryugo Nakamura.  He made his debut at age 13 with the film やぎの冒険 (Yagi no bouken or The Catcher on the Shore), and has produced over 30 movies, amazingly prolific for his young age!  After debuting in Okinawa, Girl of the Sea had a limited four-day run at the cool venue Eurolive in Shibuya (which also houses the Tokyo Film Academy).  Nakamura created the film in collaboration with his classmates over two weeks of their summer vacation.

In the Q&A after the movie he detailed how in addition to the efforts of these classmate volunteers, the actors were kind enough to drive themselves from Naha (Okinawa’s capital city) to the northern city of Nago when they realized how limited the film’s resources were.  I was particularly starstruck by the participation of one of my favorite Japanese singers/songwriters, the Okinawan artist Cocco.  Nakamura recounted how during an intense scene Cocco has with two high schoolers who were overwhelmed to be acting with her, she put them right at ease.

Girl of the Sea deals with the theme of the proposed Futenma Marine Corps Base relocation and how the base issue affects Okinawans, especially young people.  This topic is of great interest to me since I recently spent three weeks interpreting for a State Department delegation of Okinawans studying base land redevelopment (with one being from Ginowan, which hosts Futenma and where many of the movie’s scenes take place).  The film approaches this massive topic from several different perspectives, including that of a 引きこもり (hikikomori or shut-in) high school student who plasters his room with various slogans such as “Save our environment” and “No more bases!”  The plot develops when he goes missing and two of his friends encounter unexpected elements, such as human sacrifice, while in pursuit of him.  Girl of the Sea incorporates horror and fantastical aspects, but also has a signficant dose of humor (thanks to idiosyncratic characters like the high school teachers).

Ultimately, the film goes on to serve as a powerful and poignant allegory for how the presence of bases affects Okinawans and the island’s nature.  No matter where you stand on the base issue, Girl of the Sea provides food for thought for both sides.  For this reason, I hope this conversation-starting film will have the opportunity to be screened here in NY sometime in the near future.



Kauai’s Japanese lantern

2016 February 25
by Stacy Smith

WIT Life is a periodic series written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03). She starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some of the interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

I just returned from my 3-week State Department interpreting trip and subsequent mini vacation in Hawaii!

While enjoying some R&R on my favorite island of Kauai, I discovered something that I hadn’t noticed in previous visits.  I was staying in Kapa’a, a centrally located area boasting a beautiful bike path that I love using for morning runs overlooking the ocean.  During a run, I happened to turn my gaze away from the ocean and a Japanese-seeming lantern in the distance caught my eye.  I was curious about its location on what looked like the edge of a playing field.

Upon closer inspection, it was revealed that what I saw was a 15-foot cast concrete lantern built in 1915 by Kauai’s Japanese community to commemorate the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 and Emperor Taisho’s 1912 ascension to the throne.  Here’s a bit more of its story courtesy of the Historic Hawaii Foundation website (lightly edited by me): “By World War II, pro-imperial sentiments were a problem for a later generation of Japanese-Americans who literally buried the lantern in 1943, both to protect it from vandalism during a time of anti-Japanese sentiment and as a display of pro-American loyalty.

Once buried it was forgotten until 1972, when the parents of children playing soccer at Kapa’a Beach Park complained about a dangerous piece of steel rebar sticking out of the ground.  Work crews discovered that the rebar was attached to a buried monument that no one wanted to claim, and the lantern was reburied 24 hours later.  In 1987, Mayor Tony Kunimura led an effort to unearth the lantern with the help of the Kauai Historical Society.  Thanks to this, it was eventually moved to the corner of the beach park and braced.  However, the lantern is threatened by exposure to the elements, and being buried and dug up twice has damaged it.”

Apparently the lantern’s metal braces are rusting and damaging the concrete, which has several serious cracks and breaks.  In 1991, a professional sculpture conservator appraised the cost to fix this damage as $50,000, but it was never repaired.  At the time, the Kauai Historical Society and the Kapa’a Business Association had wanted to restore the lantern as part of an overall plan to revitalize Kapa’a, but the money was never raised.  The lantern is not in the best condition, but it still stands as a tribute to Japan’s military victory and the pride that was felt by Kauai’s Japanese toward their home country.


Proficiency Test of Thai as a Foreign Language (CU-TFL)

2016 February 25
by Jimmy

The Chulalongkorn University Proficiency Test of Thai as a Foreign Language (CU-TFL)

A lot of our students that are taking Thai are interested in measuring their proficiency with an external examination. There is a university in Thailand that offers a proficiency test.

The CU-TFL is a standardized exam designed by the Sirindhorn Thai Language Institute to evaluate Thai language proficiency in speech, reading comprehension, listening, and writing. It is possible to take each exam separately, or all of them integrated as one test.

The CU-TFL can only be taken at one location: the Sirindhorn Thai Language Institute at Chulalongkorn University. The address for this institute is as follows:

Room 405 Chulawit 1 Building, 4th floor, Henri Dunant Rd. Wangmai, Pathumwan, Bangkok 10330 Thailand.

To register for the CU-TFL, please click here and follow the instructions listed under “Registration Process.” To take the reading, listening, and writing tests, it costs $15 each, while it costs $45 to take the oral proficiency exam.

For more information regarding the CU-TFL, please contact Ms. Paveena Kanjanapayont at or by phone at 02-218-9481.

Since the CU-TFL cannot be taken in the United States, we recommend taking an ACTFL OPI in Thai instead in order to determine oral proficiency. For more information regarding ACTFL OPIs, please click here.


ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) Information

2016 February 25
by Jimmy

ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI)

An Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) is a 20-30 minute face-to-face or telephonic interview with a certified tester from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) to assess one’s oral proficiency in a certain language. After taking an OPI, the tester will rank one’s oral ability in one of four categories: Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, Superior. Furthermore, these levels are divided up into three ranks: Low, Mid, and High, which further assist in accurately determining one’s oral ability in a language.

ACTFL offers OPIs in many languages, such as Cantonese, English, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, and Thai, all of which are taught at Hills Learning.

In Korean and Mandarin, it is also possible to take an OPIc, which is an OPI held over the Internet. OPIcs involve recording 15-30 minutes of speech based on individualized prompts, and sending the recording to ACTFL for an evaluation.

To find more general information about OPIs, please click here. 

Furthermore, to find more specified information about OPIs, such as pricing, or to sign up for an OPI, please contact the following:


445 Hamilton Avenue, Suite 1104

White Plains, NY 10601

Tel: (914) 963-7110×310

Fax: (914) 963-7113