With many of our favorite games hailing from Japan, it should be no surprise that some of our writers have attempted to learn Japanese. Being one of the Top Five most difficult languages for native English speakers (according to the U.S. Foreign Service Institute), it’s also no surprise that we have struggled with this language at some point. In this series on “Learning Japanese,” we share about why and how we learned Japanese.
Yvonne’s Journey: For the Love of Gaming
For me, it all started in 2014. A Facebook friend mentioned studying Japanese to be able to buy a Japanese 3DS in future. I had dabbled with a Japanese game before that, Okari Chibi Robo, and loved it. Unlike the Switch, the 3DS was region-locked, so buying a Japanese 3DS made sense if you really wanted to play games that have never been released in the West.
And that was my main reason, no ambitious plan to add another language to my vocabulary. No, just to import games that would never come my way otherwise.
I soon found that learning Japanese is way more difficult than learning a Western language!
The Japanese language has very different grammar to what I’m used to, and the way sentences and words are built are totally alien to us Westerners. Plus, Japanese uses signs from several sets of alphabets. Hiragana and Katakana have 46 signs each, and then there’s Kanji, derived from Chinese, which has thousands of signs. And even if you recognise the signs, you still might not know the meaning!
So call me crazy, but I decided to go for it anyway. I imported a Japanese 3DS, and learned the hiragana and katakana alphabet signs. I’m not as ambitious to learn kanji, as that was one huge bridge too far. But game texts always give the hiragana or katakana signs above any kanji sign they use, so you know how to pronounce it.
I mainly used Dr. Moku’s Hiragana en Katakana Mnemonics app on my iPad, set one of my keyboards to the Japanese signs, and I was good to go!
Tongari Boushi to Mahou no Machi
I couldn’t wait to dive into one of the games I was keen on, Tongari Boushi to Mahou no Machi (とんがりボウシと魔法の町). That was the sequel to the only entry game of the series that ever made it West, Magician’s Quest, despite several petitions to Konami to translate the game that never happened. I really wanted to play it.
It was slow going, and I didn’t manage to translate everything I came across. The signs they put above the kanji were so small that I really had trouble deciphering them, even with my reading glasses. But I did have good fun trying, and Google Translator (with the photo function) helped me a lot. When I came across something that seemed important, I typed the signs into my dictionary or Google and would see what I got back.
I didn’t make it all the way through. Other games took over, and nowadays there are more games on the Switch available than I’ll ever have time to actually play. But if you have ample time on your hands, I’d really recommend giving Japanese games a go. This sure is a fun way of learning!