Can You Katakana?

Family Games GeekMom Toys Travel

One of the many nice things about working for G4 is traveling. Thanks to Attack of the Show and Ninja Warrior, my husband and I have been to Japan quite a few times – and this October we took our daughter (then 13 months) with us. Tokyo with a toddler in tow was just incredible. We met people we wouldn’t have otherwise met, saw the city in a completely different light, and had experiences we never could have expected.

For instance, I spent a good hour in the department store Isetan happily watching my daughter play with a little Japanese girl in a pool full of brightly colored nerf bananas. No language necessary!

No, I don’t know why they had a pool of brightly colored nerf bananas there, but add it to the list of why Tokyo is wonderful. So, so, so very wonderful.

My daughter was at this awesome stage where she was very smiley and friendly to strangers – so we’d get into elevators with these buttoned-up Japanese businessmen and she’d lean out of the stroller and say “HI!” and they would just melt. Everywhere we went we could hear people as they passed us saying “Kawaii!! Kawaii-ne?!” – which means “Cute! Cute, right?” – and I have to tell you, as her mother, that was VERY SATISFYING.

Anyway, by the time Christmas rolled around, we were going through some serious withdrawal. The Tokyo DT’s are not a pretty sight; sobbing over empty bags of Green Tea Kit-Kats and crumpled packages of Grape Mentos, trolling the local ramen places in Little Tokyo, listening to Capsule’s “Fruits Clipper” CD over and over, dressing like a gothic lolita – okay maybe it didn’t get THAT bad, but you understand me.

Thankfully, a good friend of mine came to the rescue and gave my daughter a fantastic Christmas gift: Japanese Character Blocks by Uncle Goose.

They’re wooden blocks that have the same look and feel of the classic ABC blocks, but instead, boast Hiragana characters and the Katakana equivalent. I’m not doing this definition justice, but essentially, Hiragana and Katakana are like syllables the Japanese use for words that have no Kanji to represent them. Hiragana is used for the traditional Japanese sounds and Katakana are used for words that the Japanese have borrowed from other languages. A good example of this is “towel” – which in Japanese is “taoru.”

They’ve also got a puzzle on one side, which I have no shame in telling you is REALLY HARD to figure out, and thus, VERY REWARDING to complete!

If you plan on teaching your child another language, or, uh, just like looking as though you are — these are a marvelous tool. They have them in a ton of different languages like FrenchItalianChineseKorean – even Hieroglyphics.  Baby shower gift: SOLVED.

I’m not planning on putting her in a toddler Japanese class anytime soon, but I figure, hey – she’s a sponge right now.  Maybe she’ll soak these characters up, and one day find herself in Japan, surprised to realize she knows the department store OIOI isn’t said as if you were a British Ruffian, “Oi! Oi!” – but is pronounced, “Maru One.”




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8 thoughts on “Can You Katakana?

  1. Wow! Those are great blocks. I’ll have to seriously thunk about getting those. My four year old would love to start spelling words with them like he did with our English cloth letters. Hooray for polylingualism.

    Which Isetan in Tokyo had the banana pit? We might have to take a train ride there.

    1. The one in Shinjuku close to Shinjuku station. Look for them in the BAPETOWN section. There are 2 or 3 of them. So wonderful!

  2. My 10 yo son and I take Japanese language and culture classes for fun. I LOVE these blocks. Even though he’s too old to play with them like a toddler would, they will be fun to have around the house.

    Arigatou Gozaimasu

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