Japanese conjugation learning

Guide to Japanese Conjugation

Guide to Japanese Conjugation

By Hei Kin Wong | May 27th 2021

Introduction to Japanese Conjugation

Are you interested in Japanese conjugation but find it difficult to remember different forms? Maybe you forgot how certain forms conjugate. Or maybe you just want to talk to native speakers effectively. Well, we’ve got you covered! This guide is for people who want to learn about all the different forms of conjugation you’ll use in real life. It is also for those who are learning Japanese conjugation and want a quick revision on different conjugation forms. We have also compiled some tips and tricks that will help you improve your learning/revision process!

This article is a part of our extensive series on learning Japanese and online Japanese lessons.

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    Japanese conjugation learning

    Do I really need to learn Japanese conjugation?

    The short answer would be a simple “YES”.  Similar to English, Japanese conjugation is the cornerstone of speaking fluent Japanese and being able to express the correct ideas. Knowing the right amount of verbs and conjugating them effectively will make your life so much easier in Japan. While learning Japanese conjugation can be intimidating, this guide will help you memorize all the conjugation forms better and gives you some tips on how you can improve your Japanese conjugation.

    What are the different Japanese conjugation forms?

    While there are quite a few conjugations to remember, a lot of them are actually easier to memorize than you think! This guide will introduce to you 11 (well, there are a few more or a few less depending on how you count them) of the most used conjugation forms. These can be divided based on the level of proficiency you want to achieve:

    Beginner Level

    Intermidiate Level

    ます形 (Masukei) - The Polite Form

    仮定形 (Kateikei) - The Conditional Form

    辞書形 (Jishokei)  - The Plain Form

    意志形 (Ishikei)  - The Volitional Form

    ない形 (Naikei) - The Negative Form

    命令形(Meireikei) - The Imperative Form

    過去形 (Kakokei) - The Plain Past Affirmative Form

    受身形(Ukemikei) - The Passive Form

    て形 (Tekei) - The Conjunction Form

    可能形 (Kanōkei) - Potential Form

    使役形 (Shiekikei)  - Causative Form

    What are the 3 verb groups and how to tell the difference?

    Japanese verbs can be divided into three groups: V3, V2, and V1. This is one of the official ways Japanese textbooks used to label different verb groups. While it creates a standard that all Japanese learners can refer to, a name like that it is not easy to memorize. So we often refer to them as irregular/exception verbs(V3), Ru-verbs (一段 / いちだん /  ichidan verbs) and u-verbs (五段 / ごだん godan verbs). 

    Irregular verbs/V3 Verbs

    While the irregular form gives off a difficult image, it is actually quite an easy form to memorize. The most common irregular verbs are する suru (to do)  and 来る kuru (to come). This is a big relief for people who have trouble memorizing all the conjugation forms. Not only because a lot of combination verbs like 勉強する benkyō suru (to study) uses する at the end of the verb, meaning that for these verbs you only have to memorize the conjugation once.

    Ru-verbs/V2 verbs

    Have you ever wonder why Ru-verbs are also called 一段 Ichidan verbs? Well, it's because there is only one-way ru-verbs conjugate to. The next verb group is the Ru-verbs. As the name denotes, these are verbs that end in る(ru) at the end of the verb. In general V2 verbs includes any verbs that end in the い(i) / え(e) column + る(ru). This is also the easiest verb group to conjugate as it only requires you to take out the る and replace it with a new conjugation ending. Here are some examples of ru-verbs:

    今日映画を見る ?

    Kyō eiga o miru?

    Want to watch a movie today?


    Shōyu rāmen o tabemasuga?

    Do you eat soy sauce ramen?


    Nanji ni nemasu ka?

    What time do you go to bed?

    U-verbs/V1 verbs

    The last of the verb groups is the u-verbs or 五段 godan verbs. As the name suggests, these are verbs that ended with う, く(ku), ぐ(gu), す(su), む (mu), ぬ (nu),ぶ(bu), う(u), つ(tsu), る(ru).  U-verbs are called 五段 godan verbs because it uses the five vowel sound in its conjugation form. For example:

    Vowel sound




    ない motanai


    ます mochimasu







    But how do you tell them apart?

    Having trouble telling which verb group a verb belongs to? Here’s a simple method you can use to identify a verb and which verb group it is. When you cannot identify a verb, start asking yourself: Is it a する suru or 来る kuru? If the answer is yes, then it is a group 3/irregular verb. If the answer is no, then we move on to the second question: Does the verb end with “eru” or “iru”? If it’s a yes, then it's a group 2/ru-verb; If it's a no, then it's a group 1 verb/u-verb. Let’s try it with a sample verb:

    泳ぐ oyogu (to swim) in plain form

    Is it a する suru or 来る kuru? No, so not a irregular verb

    Does it end with “eru” or “iru”? No, not a ru-verb either

    Since it is neither a irregular verb nor a ru-verb verb, it must be a u-verb

    Of course, there will always be exceptions to this rule. However, using this method should help you identify verbs a bit better than just memorizing them.

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    Beginner level Japanese conjugation

    ます形 Masukei - The Polite Form

    The polite form, more commonly known as ます masu form is the form that you hear the most. This is the form that native speakers use when talking to a new face. The masu form can be considered one of the main forms Japanese speakers use to communicate with each other. Whether it's Japanese textbooks or language learning apps, masu form is always the first form to be taught when it comes to Japanese conjugation.

    Verb Group

    Conjugation Rule

    Example Verb 1

    Example Verb 2


    Change the u part of the last vowel sound to their respective i vowel and add ます masu

    読む yomu ►読みます Yomimasu

    (to read)

    買う kau ►買いますkaimasu

    (to buy)


    Remove る ru (making it a verb stem) and add ます

    食べる taberu ►食べますtabemasu (to eat)

    着る kiru ►着ますkimasu

    (to wear)


    Add ます masu to the verb stem

    くる kuru►きます kimasu

    (to come)

    する suru ►します shimasu

    (to do)

    The negative ます masu form is very similar to the affirmative form, except instead of adding ます masu we will add ません masen to the verb stem:

    Example u-verb: 持つ motsu ►持ちません mochimasen

    Example ru-verb: 見る miru ►見ません mimasen 

    Examples irregular verb: くる kuru ►きません kimasen する suru ►しません shimasen

    And for the past affirmative and negative ます masu form, we will use ました mashita and ませんでした masendeshita to conjugate the verbs respectively:

    Verb Group

    Example Verb

    Past affimitive

    Past negative


    書くkaku (to write)

    書きました kakimashita




    起きる okiru (to wake up)

    起きました okimashita



    irregular verb

    くる kuru

    する suru

    きました kimashita

    しました shimashita





    While the polite form is one of the most important forms to memorize, there are more basic forms you will need to know if you wish to master beginner-level conjugation. This brings us to:

    辞書 / じしょ 形 Jishokei - The Plain Form

    The plain form is called the dictionary form (辞書形 jishokei) because this is the form you will find in a dictionary. It is also the informal/casual present affirmative form of a verb. You will hear this just as much as the polite form since native speakers use this form between family and friends. See the example verbs we used above? We use the plain form as the base because it will help you find out the verb’s group and its stem. Let’s look at some example besides the one listed above:

    Verb Group

    Plain form examples


    呼ぶ yobu (to call) 話す hanasu (to speak) 立つ tatsu (to stand) 知るshiru (to know)


    いる iru (to exist) 答える kotaeru (to answer) できる dekiru (to be able to)

    irregular verb

    くる suru する kuru

    Other than the informal way of speaking, the plain form also has other uses. You will often see the plain form being used in newspaper articles and academic papers. Writing that does not address its audience directly will be written in plain form. Plain form (and masu form) also has another usage. Grammatically the Japanese language does not have a future tense. However, plain forms and masu forms are often used to address future actions. Take a look at the following examples:


    Watashi wa sakkā o suru.

    I play soccer. 


    Watashi no hikōki wa 8-ji ni shuppatsu shimasu.

    My plane departs at 8 o'clock.

    Based on the context of your sentence. It can also be used to address actions in the future:


    I will play soccer.


    My plane will depart at 8 o'clock.

    ない形 Naikei - The Negative Form

    Think of the ない form as the negative plain form. It basically adds “not” to the sentence/verb. This is the form when you want to make a negative statement in an informal/plain way.

    Verb Group

    Conjugation Rule

    Example Verb 1

    Example Verb 2


    Rule 1. Change the u part of the last vowel sound to their respective a vowel and add ない

    Rule 2. Verbs that ends with the hiragana う will change to わ instead

    読む yomu ►読まない yomanai

    買う kau ►買わない kawanai


    Add ない to the verb stem

    食べる taberu ►食べない tabenai

    着る kiru ►着ない kinai


    Change くる kuru to こない konai

    Change する suru  to しない shinai

    くる kuru ►こない


    する suru►しない shinai

    Example sentences:


    Tesuto o wakaranai hito wa sensei ni kiitekudasai.

    If you don't understand the test, ask your teacher.


    Terebigēmu o shinaide kudasai.

    Please do not play video games.

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    過去形 Kakokei - The Plain Past Affirmative Form

    As the name suggests, the ta form is used to express things that happened in the past in plain form. The rules are a bit more complicated for the ta form, so here’s a table to help you visualize them better:

    Verb Group

    Conjugation Rule

    Example Verb 1

    Example Verb 2


    If verb ends in the hiragana う,つ,る, then add った to the verb stem

    持つ motsu ►持った Motta

    (to carry)

    買うkau ►買った katta

    If verb ends in the hiragana む, ぶ, ぬ, then add んだ to the verb stem

    学ぶ manabu►学んだ mananda

    (to learn)

    読む yomu ►読んだ yonda

    (to read)

    If the verbs end in the hiragana く, then add いた to the verb stem

    書くkaku ►書いた kaita (to write)

    聞くkiku ►聞いた

    (to listen)

    If the verbs end in the hiragana ぐ, then add いだ to the verb stem

    泳ぐ oyogu ►泳いだ oyoida

    急ぐ isogu ►急いだ isoida (to hurry)

    If the verbs end in the hiragana す, then add した to the verb stem

    写す utsusu ►写した utsushita

    (to copy)

    出す dasu ►出した dashita

    (to take out)


    Add た to the verb stem

    起きる okiru ►起きた okita

    見る miru ►見た mita

    Irregular verbs

    Change くる kuru to きた kita

    Change するsuru  to した shita

    くる kuru ►きた kita

    する suru ►した shita

    Example sentences:


    Watashi wa ano eiga o mita.

    I saw that movie (already).


    Mō tesuto o benkyō shita

    I have already studied for the test.

    That sums it up for the past affirmative plain form. However, we have yet to talk about the past negative plain form yet. This is basically the “did not” form in Japanese. Don’t worry! It's very similar to the normal plain negative form. Here is a simple table to show you the rules and a few examples:

    Verb Group

    Conjugation Rule

    Example Verb 1

    Example Verb 2


    Rule 1. Change the u part of the last vowel sound to their respective a vowel and add なかった nakatta

    Rule 2. Verbs that ends with the hiragana う will change to わ instead

    読む yomu ►読まなかった Yomanakatta

    買う kau ►買わなかった kawanakatta


    Add なかった nakatta to the verb stem

    食べる taberu ►食べなかった tabenakatta

    着る kiru ►着なかった kinakatta


    Change くる kuru to 来なかった


    Change する suru  to しなかった shinakatta

    くる kuru ►来なかった konakatta

    する suru ►しなかった shinakatta

    Example sentences:


    Asa gohan o tabenakatta.

    I didn't eat breakfast.


    Kyōkasho o yomanakatta.

    I did not read the textbook.

    て形 Te-kei - The Conjunction Form

    While the form has many functions in the Japanese language, one major use is being the “and” form of Japanese. It can connect different verb sentences and clauses. It can also be used to connect things done in succession. For example:


    Asa gohan o tabete, gakkō e ikimashita

    I ate my breakfast and went to school.


    Toshokan ni itte shukudai o kakimashita.

    I went to the library and wrote my homework.


    Jogingu shite shawā o abita.

    I jogged and showered. / I jogged then showered.

    So let’s take a look at how to make te form from our dictionary form:

    Verb Group

    Conjugation Rule

    Example Verb 1

    Example Verb 2


    If verb ends in the hiragana う,つ,る, then add って to the verb stem

    持つ motsu ►持って Motte

    買う kau ►買って Katte

    If verb ends in the hiragana む, ぶ, ぬ, then add んで to the verb stem

    学ぶ manabu ►学んで manande

    読む yomu ►読んで yonde

    If the verbs end in the hiragana く, then add いて to the verb stem

    書く kaku ►書いkaite

    聞く kiku ►聞いkiite

    If the verbs end in the hiragana ぐ, then add いで to the verb stem

    泳ぐ oyogu ►泳いで oyoide

    急ぐ isogu ►急いで isoide

    If the verbs end in the hiragana す, then add して to the verb stem

    写す utsusu ►写して utsushite

    出す dasu ►出して dashite


    Add てto the verb stem

    起きる okiru ►起きokite

    見る miru ►見mite

    Irregular verbs

    Change くる kuru to きて kite

    Change する suru  to して shite

    くる kuru きて kite

    する suru してshite

    The negative te form works similarly to the ない form, but with a twist:

    Verb Group

    Conjugation Rule

    Example Verb 1

    Example Verb 2


    Take the ない form as base, remove the い and add くて


    yomu ► yomanai ► yomanakute



    Kau ► kawanai ► kawanakute


    Add ないで to the verb stem

    食べる taberu ►食べないで tabenai de

    着る kiru ►着ないで kinaide


    Add ないで to the verb stem

    くる kuru ►こないで konaide

    する suru ►しないで shinaide

    Example sentance:


    Asa gohan o tabenaide gakkō ni tsukimashita.

    I arrived at school without eating breakfast.


    Tsukaretakara, o furo o hairanaite, neta.

    I was tired, so I didn't take a bath and went to bed.

    Other uses of the て te-form

    Aside from serving as the “and” of a sentence, te form can also be used in other ways. For example, using te form on its own can be seen as a command or request:



    Wake up.

    It can also be combine with the polite from to make a more formal request:

    宿題を書いてください 。

    Shukudai o kaite kudasai.

    Please write your report.

    There is also another causal use of the te form. Native speakers would often use it to make an implied sentence for a cause:

    A: 宿題は?

    B: 昨日一日中ゲームをして.....

    Kinō ichinichijū gēmu o shite.

    I played games for a whole day yesterday so…… (implying the homework is not done)

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    Intermediate level Japanese conjugation

    So far we’ve discussed the most basic forms of conjugation. Let’s take a step further and learn something more complicated.

    仮定形 Kateikei - The Conditional Form

    The simplest way to explain this form is to think of it as the “if” form. However, there are four ways that Japanese people can use to say “if”. These are very complicated forms that can be used in various conditions. We will not dive too deep into all its uses here, so treat this as an entry point for you to learn all about the conditional form. Let’s look at them one by one:

    1st Conditional - The ばba

    This is used when we want to say: “When X is true, Y will happen.”


    Jikan ga areba repōto o kakimasu.

    I will write a report if I have time.


    Taifū ga kureba gaishutsu dekimasen.

    You cannot go out if a typhoon comes.

    Verb Group

    Conjugation Rule

    Example Verb 1

    Example Verb 2


    Change the u part of the last vowel sound to eba in the verb stem

    読む yomu ►読めば yomeba

    買う kau ►買えばkaeba 


    Example Verb 3

    Example Verb 4


    持つ motsu ►持てば moteba

    する suru ►すれば sureba

    Since we are in the intermediate level, it would be fitting to talk about how adjustive conjugate in this form as well:

    Adjuective Group

    Conjugation Rule

    Example adjestive 1

    Example adjestive 2


    Change the last い with ければ kereba


    Wakai ► wakakereba


    Kawaī ► kawaikereba


    Add であれば deareba


    Genki ► genkideareba


    Yūmei ► yūmeideareba

    2nd Conditional- The とto

    The と conjugation is applicable to events that would happen no matter what if the condition is reached. For example:


    Natsu ni naru to atsuku narimasu.

    If it becomes summer, it gets hot.

    The conjugation is also quite simple, it is just the dictionary form of a verb + と.

    3rd Conditional- たらtara

    たら has similar usage to the two conditional mentioned above. It basically took the past-tense of た form and change it to たら in order to connect causes together.


    Himadattara, asobi ni ikimasu.

    If I have free time, I will go play.

    4th Conditional - ならnara

    This is also called the Contextual Conditions form because it is used based on a given context:

    Context: お菓子[かし]たくさん買いました。 

    Okashi takusan kaimashita.

    ► I bought a lot of sweets.

    Answer: たくさん作ったなら私わたしにもください。

    Takusan tsukuttanara watashi watashi ni mo kudasai.

    ►If you’ve made a lot of sweets, please give me some, too.

    To conjugate into this conditional form simply  attach なら to the dictionary form or the ta-form of a verb.

    意志形 Ishikei  - The Volitional Form

    The volitional form has a few uses, the main ones we will talk about are the suggestive uses and trying to express your own intention. The essence of volitional form is to express the will of yourself or someone else. For example:


    Sanpo shiyou.

    Let's take a walk.


    Dono resutoran ni ikou ka na~

    Which restaurant should I go to?


    Otetsudai shimashou ka?

    May I help you?

    Here’s how verbs can be conjugated to volitional form:

    Verb Group

    Conjugation Rule

    Example Verb 1

    Example Verb 2


    Change the u part of the last vowel sound to their respective o vowel and add う

    読む yomu ►読もう yomou

    買う kau ►買おう kaou


    Add よう to the verb stem

    食べる taberu ►食べよう tabeyou

    着る kiru ►着ようkiyou


    Add よう to the verb stem

    くる kuru ►こようkoyou

    する suru ►しようshiyou

    命令形 Meireikei - The Imperative Form

    One of the least used forms by native speakers, this form is reserved only for authority figures, like the police or higher political figures. Suffice to say, this is a form that you only need to know about. If it is to be used, it should only be in extreme situations where an order needs to be given.

    Verb Group

    Conjugation Rule

    Example Verb 1

    Example Verb 2


    Change the u part of the last vowel sound to their respective e vowel

    読む yomu ►読yome

    買う kau ►買kae


    る in the dictionary form  becomesろ

    食べる taberu ►食べ tabero

    着る kiru ►着kiro


    For くる, it has a unique irregular form

    For する, change the る in するintoろ

    くる kuruこい koi

    する suru ►しshiro

    Some examples of imperative form you might hear in daily life:


    Jikan o mamore!

    Be punctual!


    Chanto hōkoku miro!

    Look at the report seriously!

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    受身形 Ukemikei - The Passive Form

    The passive form is just that, conjugating a verb to make it passive. When you conjugate a verb into the passive form it means that said verb was done to something or someone. This is considered by many native speakers to be a more polite way of saying things and it is more commonly used by Japanese than you might imagine. So let’s look at how it is conjugated!

    Verb Group

    Conjugation Rule

    Example Verb 1

    Example Verb 2


    Change the u part of the last vowel sound to their respective a vowel and add れる

    聞く kiku かれる kikareru

    持つ motsu ►持たれる motareru


    Add られる to the verb stem

    食べる taberu ►食べられる taberareru

    答える kotaeru ►答えられる kotae rareru


    For くる, add られる to its stem

    For する, its changed to される

    くる kuru ►こられる korareru

    する suru ►される sareru

    Example sentences:


    Kanojo ga watashi ni tanjōbi o wasure rareta.

    I had forgotten my girlfriend’s birthday.


    Heya wa chanto sōji sa remashita.

    The room was cleaned properly.

    使役形 Shiekikei - Causative Form

    Similar to english, the causative form is used when you want to express an action that someone/something makes happen. The idea is to make someone do something or let someone do something:


    Nattō zenbu tabe saseta.

    Made(someone) eat all the natto.


    Kodomo ni bīru o noma semasen.

    Don't let children drink beer.

    Let’s look at how we can conjugate different verb groups into the causative form:

    Verb Group

    Conjugation Rule

    Example Verb 1

    Example Verb 2


    Change the u part of the last vowel sound to their respective a vowel and add せる

    会う au わせる awaseru

    学ぶ manabu ►学ばせる manaba seru


    Add させる saseru to the verb stem

    起きる okiru ►起きさせる okisaseru

    答える kotaeru ►答えさせる kotaesaseru


    For くる, add させる  to its stem


    For する, its changed to させる

    くる kuruこさせる kosaseru

    する suruさせる saseru

    可能形 Kanōkei - Potential Form

    Think of the potential form as the English equivalent of “can”, where conjugation of a verb could express one’s ability to do something. An interesting fact about the potential form is that all verbs will become ru-verbs after the conjugation:

    Verb Group

    Conjugation Rule

    Example Verb 1

    Example Verb 2


    Change the u part of the last vowel sound to their respective e vowel and add る

    kakuける kakeru

    写す utsusu ►写せる utsuseru


    Add られる to the verb stem

    起きる okiru ►起きられるokirareru

    答える kotaeru ►答えられる kotaerareru


    For くる, add られる to its stem

    For する, its changed to できる

    くる kuruこられる korareru

    する suruできる dekiru

    Example sentences:


    Watashi karashi ryōri wa tabe raremasu yo.

    I can eat spicy food.


    Furansugo wa hanasemasu ka.

    Can you speak french?

    So that about wraps it up for all the main conjugation forms you will need to remember! These are all important tools that you need in order to achieve better fluency. The key here is to master them one by one. Start with the masu form or the plain form and move on from there. Just like me when I first started to learn Japanese conjugation, you might still find it challenging to learn, remember and effectively use all the different forms. So let’s look at a few tips on how you can improve your learning efficiency!

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    Here at Japan Switch, we offer affordable Japanese language private lessons for around 3000 yen for 50 minutes. If you think a group environment helps you learn better you can also take our group classes for about 1500 yen for 50 minutes. Classes can be either online or in-person in our Shinjuku office and it would be a great opportunity for you to enjoy Japanese learning with other students! 

    Which are the best textbooks for learning Japanese conjugation ?

    If you have watched other blogs about Japanese learning on Japan Switch, then you will know the first book we would recommend is the Survival Japanese Conversation for Beginners. It’s cheap, covers the basics of Japanese conjugation in interesting ways, and tells you how to apply different conjugation forms you have learned through realistic examples. This book is perfect for both self-learning and classes. Give it a look!

    Learn Japanese conjugation with Japan Switch textbook

    If you want more suggestions on what textbooks are good for learning Japanese conjugation, then I’d suggest you check out the Ultimate Guide To Japanese Textbooks on BFF Tokyo. It provides a great list of Japanese textbooks from the beginning level all the way to advanced level Japanese.

    What other tools can you use to improve your Japanese conjugation?

    You most likely have heard of the interactive language learning app Duolingo. you might even be using it to learn Japanese right now. This is a great learning (and in my opinion) a great refreshing tool for people who are currently learning Japanese conjugation. The exercises are clear and should not take you more than 10 minutes, making it a fantastic tool for Japanese learners like us to reinforce our knowledge of Japanese grammar. If you encountered a new verb and are not sure how it should be conjugated, try out this verb conjugator online! Just type in the dictionary form of a Japanese verb then it should tell you how that verb is conjugated in different forms.

    Another great spot to learn all about Japanese conjugation is Youtube! There are many channels and videos that explain different forms of conjugation in a simple way. Check out this guide on “How to Learn Japanese through YouTube” to learn more!

    Final Thoughts

    I hope you have learned a thing or two from this article. I know that Japanese conjugation (and to some extent, Japanese grammar) can be difficult to memorize at first, but once you are able to get the basics down then you should have no problem using them. If you forgot how certain forms are conjugated later down the line, you can always come back to this page! My additional recommendation for learning Japanese conjugation would be to make your own notes on how different forms conjugate. It not only helps you remember them a bit better but also gives you notes to review at a later date.

    I have talked briefly about Japanese verbs at the beginning of this article. Learning more about Japanese verbs will help you study Japanese conjugation a lot better! Here at Japan Switch, we have a guide on Japanese verbs that you can check out! Oh, and if you are learning Japanese with the goal of talking to native speakers, we also have some tips on Japanese communication!

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    Japan Switch

    Japan Switch provides affordable morning and noon Japanese lessons in Tokyo. Centrally located, relaxed environment and quality textbooks. Japan Switch is your alternative option to a Japanese language school in Tokyo.


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