Surviving Lockdown With Japanese Lessons

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found lockdown to be much more difficult the third time around.

It’s been a challenge to keep my motivation and productivity levels as high as they usually are, and I’ve noticed myself feeling more anxious and stressed lately. Thankfully I have a few new hobbies to focus on this year, and they both revolve around my favourite country in the world – Japan!

Last month I downloaded the Duolingo app, as I’d like to learn how to speak and read Japanese fluently. My goal is to pass the JPLT N5 exam by the end of 2022, which should be a pretty good challenge for me. I studied Japanese for a year or two during high school, but ended up dropping the class because I didn’t feel I had the time to learn another language. Of course, I’m kicking myself now!

However, those lessons did give me a foundation to build upon. I was already familiar with Hiragana and Katakana when I first downloaded Duolingo, so I whizzed through the first few sections fairly quickly.

I also managed to pick up a few useful phrases during my trips to Japan, such as ‘sumimasen‘ which is a polite way to say ‘excuse me’ – very useful when bumping into people in a crowded train station! It’s been fun learning how to incorporate these phrases into more complex sentences.

Currently I’m focused on getting to grips with sentence structure, basic Kanji and grammatical rules (did you know they have a special symbol only used when counting rabbits and birds?)

I spend around 30-60 minutes a day on Duolingo, and I’m amazed at how quickly my Japanese skills have improved. It helps to supplement the lessons with video tutorials on YouTube – I highly recommend Namasensei if you can get past the constant swearing.

I’m also lucky enough to live with Elliott, who is much further along on his language journey than I am. If I’m confused or unsure about something, he always manages to explain it in a way that I can understand. Last week I was completely stumped when it came to telling the time in Japanese, and now it seems so simple!

Along with Duolingo and YouTube tutorials, I’ve also found a way to observe how real Japanese people speak to each other. So far I’ve learned a fairly formal way of speaking, but I want to know how to speak more casually and abbreviate certain words. This is where Terrace House comes in – it’s a Japanese reality show on Netflix in which a handful of regular people live their lives in front of the cameras. I love watching it with Elliott and discovering new words and phrases, and it’s also useful to hear examples of proper enunciation.

As you can imagine, studying and practicing Japanese works up quite an appetite.

Last year I discovered Just One Cookbook, an amazing website and YouTube channel run by a Japanese lady. Her recipes and tutorials have to be the best on the internet! She taught me how to make the perfect sticky rice, spicy sesame ramen, tangy ponzu sauce and so much more.

Alongside her traditional recipes I’ve also been learning about the art of Japanese cooking and the importance of plating correctly, and highly recommend the two articles linked below.

Essential Japanese Cooking Tips for Beginners

This article is the place to start if you’re looking at getting into Japanese cooking. It covers presentation, basic ingredients, helpful substitutions and balancing the delicate flavours of each dish. I refer back to it constantly and learn something new every time!

The Ultimate Guide to Japanese Tableware

During my trips to Japan I became fascinated by Japanese tableware. I love how multiple small dishes are served on exquisite little plates and bowls, and this article gives a great insight into each piece and the specific reason for the placement.

Japanese Recipes

I’m determined to attempt two new recipes each month – see below for the dishes that I’m especially proud of mastering throughout the past year.

Spicy Vegetarian Ramen

This creamy, spicy ramen is almost identical to my favourite dish at T’s Tan Tan. It’s so simple to make and can be whipped up in less than 30 minutes.

Inari Sushi

These little deep-fried tofu pockets stuffed with rice are a simple yet delicious addition to any Japanese meal.

Maki Rolls

Sushi can be fiddly, but these little maki rolls are easier than they look. I like to stuff mine with avocado or cucumber and dip them in a mixture of soy sauce and wasabi… delicious!

Sticky Rice

Authentic Japanese sticky rice can be a little tricky to get right. This easy tutorial is foolproof and guarantees perfect sushi-ready rice every time!

Ebi Katsu

I try not to deep-fry too often, but I make an exception for Ebi Katsu. Take high-quality king prawns, cover them in panko breadcrumbs and fry them up for a couple of minutes and you’ve got yourself the perfect crunchy side dish.


These balls of rice stuffed with a filling of your choice are a great grab-and-go snack to eat on the run.

Vegetable Tempura

I absolutely love crispy, light tempura batter paired with fresh vegetables. Thanks to this recipe, I can now make it at home!

Sunonomo Salad

On a hot summer’s day, there’s nothing better than a fresh cucumber and seaweed salad sprinkled with crunchy sesame seeds.

Horenso Gomaae

This is a great way to pack in the greens while still retaining that authentic Japanese flavour.

Miso Soup

I was recently gifted the cutest little Japanese miso bowls, and this recipe tastes even better when sipped from them!

Vegetable Gyoza

Making my own gyoza wrappers seemed intimidating at first, but it couldn’t be simpler with this recipe. Stuffed with a flavourful vegetable mixture and perfectly fried in sesame oil, I challenge you to stop at just one.

Ponzu Sauce

This tangy, citrus-based sauce can liven up a bowl of rice and vegetables just as effectively as it enhances the flavour of grilled fish. It takes just five minutes to make and can be stored in the fridge for a few weeks.

My next challenges are Pumpkin Korroke, Mapo Tofu, Hiyayakko and Spicy Edamame. I’ll keep you updated on my progress!

While I’ve definitely been struggling more with lockdown this time around, I’m thankful that I’m able to throw myself into these practices. If nothing else, I’ll have a few new skills under my belt by the time we come out of hibernation.


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