San Francisco, CA
This is a non-profit, community school dedicated to teaching Japanese to English speakers. It's located close to Japan-town. The school is loosely associated with the local Buddhist church, but the classes are completely non-religious.
The classes are well paced for working adults and easy to manage time-wise. Classes meet once-a-week for 3 hours, usually on a Saturday morning/afternoon or a Wednesday evening. Plan on also doing about 3 hours per week of self-study and home work. Classes last for 11 weeks and there are four quarters per year. Class size is about 10-15 in the beginning classes, and less in the advanced classes. Price is only $150 per class!
The instructors are relaxed and easy to understand. They are usually native Japanese who recently completed a master's degree in teaching Japanese as a second language at SFSU. Most also teach at other institutions or have other jobs.
The students are usually 20- or 30-something adults, although some high school students attend to get their language requirement here. Typical reasons for studying: Japanese spouse, Japanese connection at work, love of Japanese culture (anime, manga, j-pop, food, etc.).
Typical class is very interactive, with lots of conversation practice. Not taught from the textbook, although the text is used as a reference/starting point. The textbooks used are older, and sometimes a little idiosyncratic in organization. The web is used a little for communication and distribution of secondary materials, but this is not a high-tech program.
The whole school feels like it needs updating, but it's actually very good. The teachers provide instruction and guidance that you can't get from self-study. However, these classes are good for someone who will also learn some Japanese from other sources -- like self-study, reading manga, watching Japanese TV and movies, or talking with Japanese friends.
A lot of talk is made about the end-of-class progress exams. Don't be fooled by the "pressure" --- these tests borrow material directly from the class and are relatively easy to pass with a little advance preparation. No surprises. Just go to class and participate in all the work and you'll be fine.
The facility is old, but at $150 per class, what do you expect?! Some odd rules, like no eating or drinking (except water) in the classrooms.
Tip: If you're really serious, skip the Beginning Conversation class and start with the Beginning 1 and 2 classes that also teach the basic Japanese writing systems: Hiragana and Katakana. Japanese writing is not too hard to learn -- it just takes a little practice and discipline. Plus, the conversation-only classes have no growth path to intermediate study.
Other Tip: This school does not really provide very good advice about what other materials are available for learning Japanese, so you'll have to find these on your own. Some students use flashcards from White Rabbit Press. There are useful, and accessible reference books on grammar like "Japanese the Manga Way: An Illustrated Guide to Grammar and Structure". Advanced students also use electronic dictionaries from Canon, Sharp, etc. There's also a variety of websites, including the WWW JDIC.
This restaurant is all about the taste of the food, and it's excellent. At first glance, Murasaki might look like just another local Clement street restaurant, but it is so much more. The Tokyo-trained chef uses high quality, fresh ingredients, and the dishes are delicious.
The focus is on traditional sushi and Japanese cooking. Recommended are the ikura (salmon roe) and the unagi, which is the best anywhere -- warm and moist, with just the right sauce on top. Other favorites include the sashimi platters and the crab salad.
Traditional cooked Japanese items are in the menu and posted on a specials board. Try the Yaki Nasu (grilled eggplant) or the grilled squid for an authentic experience. Look for other off-menu items, including drinks. Ask about beers like Asahi Black (a kind of dark ale), and sakes -- our favorite is Kurobin ("Black Bottle").
We've been going to Murasaki for almost ten years, and it keeps getting better. The atmosphere is simple, so if you're looking for a cool environment or trendy dishes, try elsewhere. But if you want high quality sushi, and appreciate the understated presentation of traditional Japanese cuisine, then this is the place to go.
Open everyday, so this restaurant is great on weeknights. Can get busy on weekends, so make a reservation between 7-9pm. Sometimes the service can be a little slow, or the dishes come out at an uneven pace, like sushi before cooked appetizers. The mostly Japanese staff are always kind but can be a little reserved, so be sure to ask if you have questions or need attention. Let them know that you're enjoying the food, and they will reciprocate with extra warmth.
Pros: Super sushi and delicious cooked dishes
Cons: Simple, but comfortable, atmosphere -- this restaurant is all about the food
Owner Jaime Lara and mechanic Will are straightforward and honest. My wife and I have been coming here for a couple years and are very satisfied. We occasionally have to go to the dealer for warranty and other specialized work, but this is our preferred local mechanic. They've never proposed unnecessary work or tried to inflate the prices. Customer service is good for a local mechanic, but this means that the customer should still ask a lot of questions and 'break the ice', since most mechanics initially are a little gruff and reserved! Call ahead and make an appointment.