Welcome to the course blog for this year's Japan Study Trip! To start things off, we thought we'd direct you to some fantastic (and mostly free!) Japanese language and culture resources to help prepare for the trip.
First off is Japanesepod 101, run by a funny, young bunch of people living in Japan, who joke around and offer really quirky, interesting cultural commentary along with every lesson. The paid version includes lots of extra learning tools, but the podcast itself is free. You can also directly download the podcasts through iTunes. They also have a great Audioblog, which is a bit more includes travel tips and interesting tidbits not found on the main site.
Another great (and very cute) language resource for beginners is the NHK Language Center, where you can learn the language through short audio dramas, videos, and PDF files, and the less cute but quite useful CosCom Language School site.
More traditional language CDs aren't nearly as lively as Japanesepod, but can be really useful for structured language learning that sticks. One really well-structured course is Pimsleur's Japanese I, which I often practice with on the train. The full set is crazy expensive, but luckily the Harold Washington library downtown has an amazing language section on the 7th floor, where you can check the same set out at no charge, along with stacks of other good audio and video tutorials.
For those of you interested in learning the written language, there are lots of good options out there. One very good standard book is Japanese for Busy People, which comes with its own audio CD. Those of you interested in learning the language for manga-reading purposes can get started with books like Japanese in Mangaland (beginner course) and Japanese the Manga Way, which focuses on grammar and structure. Once you get the basic phonetic alphabets down, you can practice with these Hiragana and Katakana Drag-and Drop games.