I'm super excited to visit Minako-chan, eat some good food, see the flowers... and be in Japan sometime other than the Frozen Winter. :)
To prep, I'm tripling up on Japanese language software. Here are some thoughts!
Caveat: For those who don't know, I've never formally studied Japanese. I learned from manga, TV shows, and video games. This has led to some truly hilarious skill gaps, some of which have been pointed out to me by the following programs. XD
Nintendo DS "My Japanese Coach"
I've used the DS Japanese tutor off and on for about two years now. It's probably most useful for vocab drills. It can be a little buggy, and the snail's pace moving from romanji to hiragana to kanji is almost unbearable. Comparatively, the lessons on verb conjugation fly by without much practice. The writing exercises with the stylus are generally nice (... but again, buggy, as it only intermittently cares about stroke order, and sometimes errors out entirely). The game comes preloaded with thousands of phrases in the "Reference" section, and I wish it would utilize these more effectively in the game itself. It's really cheap for an electronic dictionary/phrasebook, though.
The teacher-animation is incredibly embarrassing. Having a CG-Kimono-Lady bounce when you get something right is awful.
Hilarious Thing It Taught Me (that I should have already known): "otearai" means bathroom. I knew the kanji, but never thought about the pronunciation! Lollerskates!
The idea behind Rosetta is immersion. They show you photographs while a phrase is read aloud; you then choose the appropriate photograph. It's interesting, and it tries to teach some conjugation (the difference between, say, "The children are jumping" versus "The children have completed jumping") without actually directly teaching it. It's a good software if you're looking to learn phrases... but not necessarily "useful" phrases.
Here's me explaining it to fellow biologist John--
Me: "...so then you click on the picture that matches what you heard, or read."
Coworker John: "Hmmmmm I don't know about that. Is that a good way to learn?"
Me: "There's no English at all, so it forces you. You keep guessing until you get it right, and eventually you figure out why you got it right."
John: "What about sentences and stuff?"
Me: "I guess with enough repetition, you'd memorize the sentence you hear, but you wouldn't necessarily learn structure."
John: "Right? Weird. You could totally learn things wrong that way. Like, you need the bathroom, and with what you remembered from Rosetta, you'd yell 'THE BOY IS IN THE BATHROOM'."
Me: "... it's not impossible."
Anyway, I obviously can't argue with immersion-learning, since that's how I learned my Japanese. But like I said, not the most useful conversational phrases. "The little girl has long, straight black hair" or "The clown on the left is taller than the clown on the right".
Hilarious Thing It Taught Me (that I should have already known): "mijikai" means short. (Make your own BL manga joke here.)
My biggest weakness is numbers and counters. So I downloaded this free Android Market app and it's been super. It has a hiragana test, a katakana test, kanji, and numbers. You can specify which JLPT you want in the kanji portion, so I can filter out the high-level stuff I'll never learn. There's a writing portion in beta, but I haven't tried it yet. No phrases or conjugation or anything, but it's a cool little quiz (and probably particularly useful for kanji drilling before an exam) plus it's free! (I've also got the "FlashCards" free app, but most of those kanji are waaaaaay beyond me and there's no way to take it down to my stupidity.)
Hilarious Thing It Taught Me (that I should have already known): There are 1200 JLPT level 1 kanji? Bejeebus.
Those are my major Study Tools at the moment... but let's all just admit that I'm really doing most of my learning from Tokimeki Memorial Girls Side. And THIS is why all my vocab comes from shoujo manga...