Online Resources for Studying Japanese

Here are a few online resources that I've been using lately to study Japanese.


My online dictionary of choice. Easy to use, a lot of optional functionality. Searching by radical is a handy feature.


A database of example sentence, originally created for Japanese, but with many other languages as well. This is where Jisho.org pulls it's sample sentences from, but there tends to be greater variety on Tatoeba.

If there is a phrase I know in English, but don't know how to say it in Japanese, I'll search it on Tatoeba.  The results are inherently more natural than trying to use Google Translate.

Google Translate

If there's a sentence giving me trouble, I like to put it into Google Translate and then break the sentence down into it's individual parts. That way I can quickly see the meaning of each part and look up words that aren't translating well. In this way, I use it more as a workspace than for its direct translation.

Also the built-in translator included in Chrome allows you to quickly translate entire webpages, making it especially helpful on sites like Mixi, with full Japanese interfaces.


A place to practice writing in Japanese, with a community of native speakers to help correct your sentences. Great for making your writing sound more natural.


An online SRS app for practicing vocab and quizzing yourself on kanji. I prefer this to Anki because it allows me to quickly create a custom deck of words I need to study, with the kana, translations, sample sentences, mnemonics, etc usually already built-in.

Read the Kanji

Great way to study JLPT vocab and kanji, with a beautiful and easy to use interface. A sample sentence is usually provided and the characters to study highlighted. You try and remember the pronunciation and type in the kana. It keeps track of what you get right and wrong, and helps you remember the ones you forget most often.

Erin's Challenge!

A video series for learning Japanese put online with a number of tools and features to help you learn. Helpful for learning conversational Japanese and speaking the right way in the right situation.

NKH News Web Easy

Short news articles written in japanese updated everyday with helpful features built-in.


Enables an in-browser Japanese dictionary that defines words on roll-over. Helpful when reading more difficult articles online. There's also Rikaikun for Chrome.

Furigana Injector

For those sites with a lot of kanji. It puts furigana over words you don't know so that you can quickly see its reading. Allows you to customize the list of kanji to insert furigana on top of. Firefox / Chrome


Here are a few channels that I like geared towards learning Japanese.

Japan Society

Tokyo MX

Yes Japan


Offline suggestions

A lot of stuff you can study online, but it's good to have a few physical resources to compliment the rest.

Japanese Graded Readers

Short stories written entirely in Japanese. There are six levels and 30 volumes all together, making up about 150 different stories.

Genki textbook

There are a lot of textbooks out there, but I enjoy this one the most. It's good for learning grammar and sentence patterns.

End note

Overall, these resources have given me a really well rounded course of study. A bit of reading, writing, listening; flashcards, vocab, grammer. For self-studying, these tools can help you to progress your knowledge little by little, and as always, do what works best for you.


Learning to read Japanese with Japanese Graded Readers

I bought a few books from the "Japanese Graded Readers" series. If you're not familiar with the series, they are books written in simple Japanese for people in the process of learning the language. The books use kanji for each word, but only use words that the reader will know. (Sometimes stories for children are written only in hiragana, but that's not helpful for an adult who needs to learn kanji) Also, every kanji has furigana. There's no English in the books at all, so you'll have to look up the words you don't know. It's good practice I think. Very realistic.

Each volume comes with five short books. Each book contains one story, or in some cases two or three very short stories. There usually is a moral to the story (appreciate what you have, don't take other people for granted, live your live to the fullest), but it's not pedantic or insulting to your intelligence. There are also some famous stories like Hachikō, or classic stories like Urashima Tarō. There are even stories that present information about daily life, like sushi or kimonos. Each volume also comes with a CD that has audio recordings of all the stories produced using a few good voice actors.

I bought volumes 1-3 from level 1, but there are 5 levels all together (levels 0-4), making 13 books total. If you're trying to figure out your level, I think level 0 is good to start just after finishing learning hiragana. Then level 1 would be like your first year in a language program, level two your second, and so on.

The only problem is that they're kind of expensive at $31 each. I got them from White Rabbit Japan, so there was also the added cost of shipping from Japan to the US. Overall, I think it's a good investment for people who's goal is not just to learn a bunch of random kanji, but who really want to learn how to read Japanese.


How to Learn Japanese Vocabulary, Realistically

Often times language learning programs and learners themselves conflate 'practice' with 'learning'; the idea that one can effectively learn vocabulary by reading basic vocab list or flipping through some flashcards.

I've found that even textbooks rarely teach vocabulary, and teachers only sometimes take the time to really describe and explain a vocabulary item.

Thinking back on my experience in Japan, there is a natural process for learning a word that classes, textbooks, and flashcards rarely duplicate.

I've tried to break down the process to it's individual part and it goes something like this:
You hear someone say a word in a sentence that you don't understand. You ask them to repeat the sentence. You then repeat the unknown word back to them as a question. They isolate the word and repeat it back for you.
Then you ask them what it means. They try and describe it in their language. They give synonyms, descriptions, example sentences (you could say…). You still don't fully understand it, so they try saying the word in English, telling you what it means in your native language.
At that point, you have a pretty good grasp at what the word means, so you're able actually use the word in a sentence (making up a unique one of your own). And, at that point, you can have a conversation using that word as topic.

Here is a really simple example (hopefully you can follow the Japanese, otherwise a translation is provided below):

A: 私には猫がいます。
B: ねこ?
A: はい、猫。
B: 猫って何ですか。
A: 猫は動物です。猫は犬と反対のものです。たくさんの人がペットとして猫を飼っています。
A: 例えば「私は猫が好きです」と言うことができます。
A: 英語で猫は「cat」と言います。In English, 猫 means cat.
A: I have a cat. 私は猫を飼っています。
A: これは私の猫の写真です。
B: ああ、猫。わかります。
B: 私は黒猫を飼っています。名前は「Licorice」です。
B: あなたの猫の名前は何ですか。

A: I have a .
B: A ねこ?
A: Yes, a .
B: What is a ねこ?
A: A  is an animal. A  is the opposite of a dog. Many people keep  as pets.
A: For example, you can say "I like ".
A: The kanji for cat is "".
A: in English, a  is called "a cat". 英語で猫は「cat」と言います。
A: 私には猫がいます。I have a cat.
A: Here is a picture of my cat
B: Ah, a cat. I understand. 
B: I have a black cat. Its name is Licorice.
B: What is the name of your cat?

Through this conversation, you learn a new word from many different perspectives.
If you could somehow take this person-to-person process and apply it to individual vocabulary items in a self-study setting, you would have a significantly better understanding of the language and better retention rates, as the process activates a number of different ways of thinking.


Erin's Challenge! Japanese Video Lessons

A few years ago, Japan Society produced a televised video series called Erin's Challenge! I Can Speak Japanese. In the show, you follow an exchange student as she moves to a new school, learning Japanese as she goes.

I first found out about Erin's Challenge on YouTube (aka Erin ga Chosen! Nihongo Dekimasu or エリンが挑戦!にほんごできます in Japanese). It was an interesting show and it helped me pick up some useful conversational vocabulary. Now they've taken it one step further and developed an interactive website to go along with it.

The website allows you to watch all of the episodes for free, providing subtitles, transcripts, audio samples, a manga version, review questions, and everything else you might get from a textbook or language course.

As you watch the video, it displays text-based subtitles, giving you a whole number of options; the native Japanese with kanji, hiragana, or romaji, as well as the translation in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, and Korean. You can turn on and off each of the options, giving you a lot of flexibility. You can even set it to automatically pause after each sentence, letting you study every word in detail.

Overall, it's a great Japanese learning resource with a ton of features and a lot of content, making it a fun and intuitive way to learn Japanese.

Check it out, here.


Easy News for Learning Japanese

The Japanese news agency, NHK, has a section dedicated to providing news articles written in an easy to understand Japanese with a number of useful features that makes learning to read Japanese even easier.

The articles on NHK News Web Easy are only a few paragraphs long, written in basic Japanese, making for a quick read. All kanji in the articles are accompanied by furigana, allowing you to read the entire article, even if you don't know the meaning of that particular character. Additionally, an audio track allows you to hear the text read aloud, connecting word and pronunciation as you go. They also provided the original televised segment, so you can get a better idea of what people in Japan are getting when they watch TV.

They don't provided an English translation (not everyone speaks English), but the pop-up dictionary, Rikaichan, will show you the meaning of each individual character (along with its spelling in hiragana) and makes a great tool to use in conjunction.

With two articles posted everyday, there's always plenty of content to practice with. If you spent half an hour reading this everyday, you'd be able to read Japanese in no time.

Technical note: If you're having difficulty viewing the furigana in Firefox, try the add-on Furigana Injector.


Using Memrise to learn Japanese

Using Memrise to learn Japanese

I recently came across an interesting new online learning tool called Memrise. You can use it to study a variety of languages, but I have been using it to practice Japanese. Below is a short introduction and preview to Memrise, that I created to show how I use it to study Japanese.

View on YouTube.

So far, I've created a couple lessons of my own, which I will feature here on Wired in Japan. My lessons are focused on learning how to read Japanese in context, where Memrise helps to review vocabulary items and create visual connections between form and meaning.

You can find me on Memrise, here. I have a few lessons available, so sign up and give Memrise a try.

Plant those seeds!


Lend a Hand to Japan

Everyone I know in Japan is alright, but there still is great damage to Japan and many people have lost their lives. Even though buildings were made to withstand an earthquake the flooding from the resulting tsunami is very bad, especially in the area near Sendai (close to the epicenter).

I donated to the Red Cross to help those in trouble. If you can help, please donate by texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10. Or by visiting this link: http://is.gd/fGUWVE

Last night I made the above poster to help with the situation in Japan. Because I am so far away, I feel like there is not much I can do to help. Hopefully many people will see this poster and they will help by donating as well.

You can view the poster here: http://is.gd/ro3Yjc . Please share it with your friends.


Wired Kana: Lesson 1

Wired Kana is a series of lessons that will cover the basic Japanese alphabets, Hiragana and Katakana. Wired Kana: Lesson 1 starts with the 5 basic Japanese vowels; あ, い, う, え, お. These characters are the foundation for every other character in the series and vital for learning how to pronounce Japanese words.

To begin learning the Japanese characters, start by watching this instructional video.

Below is an example of each character, audio of its pronunciation, and a helpful way to remember it. Additionally, there's a chart showing each characters stroke order; showing how it looks when written.

How to remember:
The hiragana character あ looks like an apple.
The katakana character ア looks like an ice cream cone.

How to remember:
The hiragana character い looks like two eels.
The katakana character イ looks like an easel.

How to remember:
The hiragana character う looks like a sideways 'U'.
The katakana character ウ looks like the wick of a candle.

How to remember:
The hiragana character え looks like a person exercising.
The katakana character エ looks like an egg stand.

How to remember:
The hiragana character お looks like a surprised face.
The hiragana character オ looks like an old man with a long beard.

Listen to all the characters you learned in lesson 1.

Example audio and handwriting provided by Yuka Nishino.


Japanese Language Tools

During my time learning Japanese, I've tried many resources and have found that there's not just one magical source, but that it takes a multitude of tools to cover all the bases; and some are better than others. Here's what I am using to learn Japanese:

Language class
I have never learned so much, in such a short amount of time. Not only do you get informed and specialized instruction, but also the opportunity to put what you're learning into practice. The course I took dedicated an entire class period per week to speaking, pronunciation and conversation. The lesson focused not on learning new vocabulary, but on taking what you've already learned that week, and putting it to use. The instructor would give us prompts, and we would give answers aloud, in front of the class. We would also work on conversational skills and dialogues in small groups or pairs.

The Genki Japanese textbook is well designed and formatted, with a logical and well paced introduction of material. It does a good job at teaching vocabulary and providing the grammar necessary to put it to use. It's good in a classroom setting but can also be used for self-directed study.

Is a social network of language learners that revolves around writing journal entries in the language that you're studying. People who speak that language natively will then correct and comment on your writing. In turn, you are able to assist people who are learning the language you already know.

When I am writing something important like a letter or a blog post in Japanese, I post it on Lang-8 first. Almost immediately, native Japanese speakers will correct my mistakes in spelling and grammar, making my writing more accurate and overall more natural sounding. I am always surprised how quick and generous the users are on this site. Also, anyone can lend a hand because we're all native speakers of some language. Let's help each other learn.

I am using this primarily to study kanji and practice the vocabulary I've already learned, but don't know 100%. There are many existing vocabulary lists and users can contribute lists of their own. Lately, I've been making my own lessons, tailored to my method of learning. Let's practice together.

Unfortunately, I am unable to endorse the smart.fm platform. They've decide to shutdown the free service, exploit user-generated content, and charge an unreasonable monthly fee. I suggest everyone to stay away from any future releases from Cerego.

A good tool for learning vocabulary, basic grammar, and to practice pronunciation. It takes a well balance approach and I appreciate that I does not rely on English to teach new material. Although, I find it lacking the human interaction of a traditional Japanese language class.

Conversation group
A place to practice the things you've learned and actually put them to use. It's helpful for understanding practical Japanese and for getting over the anxiety of speaking; it's ok to make mistakes. It also acts as a support group, good for camaraderie and for keeping each other inspired. It's hard to toil away, learning a language on ones own; get out, make some friends and have a good time.


One Thousand Items

I have finally studied 1,000 words in Japanese on Smart.fm. It has been about 2 and a half years of studying Japanese and I have sure come a long way, far more than 1,000 words could ever begin to express. I think this is a great opportunity for me to reflect on what I've learned and where I've been.

The beginning:
To be honest, like many other Japanese learners, anime got me into Japanese. When in middle school, I watched Dragon Ball Z and Gundam Wing, everyday. It was dubbed in English and I knew it came from Japan, but back then I was more interested in anime than where it came from.

In high school, anything that was animated was clearly uncool. It was just time to grow out of "cartoons".

Some years later, after starting college, I decided to return home for the summer and, bored out of my wits, Naruto happened to be airing on television. It reminded me of the action and dynamics of DBZ, with a whole lot less charging up. Once the reruns kicked in, I wanted more and the only way to get more was to watch them in Japanese.

The subtitles picked my interest and I began trying to match the English text with the Japanese audio. And what are the easiest words to learn? Curse words! When character makes a short exclamation, it's easy to pick words out and gather their meaning. My first words in Japanese? Sugoi, baka, and Ikuzo... valuable to this day. Luckily, it got me into bigger and better things.

I came to college to study graphic design and I have a passion for the visual arts. With this new found interest in Japan and the language, it only made sense to combine the two. Japan has some incredibly stunning graphic work, and even though I still watch anime from time to time, it is graphic design that enabled me to visit Japan and what keeps my interest in the language.

My school has an exchange program with a design school in Osaka, so I applied and I got accepted. The semester prior to leaving, an introductory language course was required, and I am sure glad I took it. I had unsuccessfully taken Spanish classes in high school and didn't learn a thing, but this on the other hand, was the best educational experience I've ever had. I learned that when one has the will and purpose for learning, they can learn anything. The class gave me the framework that I would later put to use in Japan, making all the difference in the world.

During the spring and summer of 2010, I started school in Osaka. All my courses were taught in Japanese, the students and staff spoke Japanese, my host family spoke Japanese. There were very few people who spoke enough English to have a conversation or even help me when I needed it. With that consideration, I spoke Japanese. I wasn't good or particularly sophisticated, but I could be understood and to my surprise, I could even have entire conversations in Japanese. It is the most satisfying experience to chat with a new person, only to realize afterwards, that you hadn't even used a word of English.

Now that I am back in the States, I have continued my study of Japanese. To prepare for going to Japan, I focused on survival. Now, I have the time to invest into the long-term study of the language. Thus, I've been dedicating time to reading Japanese and learning the kanji, which takes time. In addition, I've established a group to keep up my spoken aptitudes; something that's hard to do outside of Japan. And luckily, a friend I made in Osaka was able to experience the exchange the following semester, at the school I attend in the States. She's been instrumental in keeping up my studies, because she's the only one who's native language is Japanese; like a little piece of Japan, far away from home.

In the future:
I hope to return to Japan one day, and now that graduation is looming, those decisions will soon have to be made. I've met a few people who've had good experience with JET and although it is a consideration, that's not my goal at the moment.

On the other hand, I am using my design skills to create work using the Japanese language. What I've been studying in college is something that could make a path to Japan, either professionally or to continue my studies in grad school.

But lately, I have been expanding my interest in Japanese graphic design and turning it into more formal research (a blog called Gurafiku). A professor of mine was able to conduct research in Japan on a Fulbright scholarship and that is an opportunity I would love to work towards.

Either way, this is only the beginning. I'll make it back one day, on my own terms, when the time is right. Here's to the future and to many thousand new words and new experiences. Banzai!

Wired Kanji - Kyōiku Grade 1

The Japanese Ministry of Education developed a list of kanji called the Kyōiku kanji, divided into six grades, that children should learn during elementary school. I was familiar with the Jōyō kanji, for high schoolers, but always found it to be way overwhelming. It turns out that the Kyōiku kanji is the foundation that they add characters on, to make the Jōyō kanji list. The Kyōiku list is comprise of many commonly used and basic kanji that are good to know when reading and writing. Since it's an elementary level list, it makes a good place to begin learning kanji.

I looked through the list and found that I already knew many of them. To practice, I made a list of the grade 1 kanji and decided to include other common words that use the same basic kanji; ones that I might run into while reading.

Here are the grade 1 Kyōiku kanji and my own helpful additions.

 ー いち ー One 
 ー に ー Two
 ー さん ー Three
 ー し ー Four
 ー ご ー Five
 ー ろく ー Six
 ー しち ー Seven
 ー はち ー Eight
 ー きゅう ー Nine
 ー じゅう ー Ten
 ー ひゃく ー Hundred
 ー せん ー Thousand
 ー うえ ー Above
 ー した ー Below
 ー ひだり ー Left
 ー みぎ ー Right
 ー なか ー Inside
中国 ー ちゅうごく ー China
大きい ー おおきい ー Large
大好き ー 大好き ー Like a lot
小さい ー ちさい ー Small
 ー つき ー Month, Moon
#月 ー がつ ー # Month
 ー ひ ー Day
#日 ー にち ー # Day
 ー とし  ー Year
#年 ー ねん  ー # Year
早い ー はやい ー Quick
早く ー はやく ー Hurry!
 ー き ー Tree
木の葉 ー このは ー Foliage
木曜日 ー もくようび ー Thursday
 ー はやし ー Woods
 ー やま ー Mountain
 ー かわ ー River
 ー つち ー Soil
お土産 ー おみやげ ー Souviner
土曜日 ー どようび ー Saturday
 ー そら ー Sky
空手 ー からて ー Karate
空気 ー くうき ー Air
 ー た ー Rice Paddy
稲田 ー いなだ ー Rice Field
田舎 ー いなか ー Country side
 ー てん ー Heavens
天気 ー てんき ー Weather
 ー なま ー Raw
生きる ー いきる ー to live
生む ー うむ ー to give birth
 ー はな ー Flower
花火 ー はなび ー Fireworks
 ー くさ ー Grass
 ー むし ー Bug
 ー いぬ ー Dog
 ー ひと ー Person
〜人 ー 〜じん ー Denotes nationality
#人 ー #にん ー Number of people
人生 ー じんせい ー Life
人間 ー にんげん ー Human
人類 ー じんるい ー Humanity
 ー な ー Name
名前 ー なまえ ー Given name
名字 ー みょうじ ー Family name
名刺 ー めいし ー Business card
名詞 ー めいし ー Noun
 ー おんな ー Woman
女の子 ー おんなのこ ー Girl
女らしい ー おんならしい ー Feminine
 ー おとこ ー Man
男の子 ー おとこのこ ー Boy
男らしい ー おとこらしい ー Masculine
 ー こ ー Child
子供 ー こども ー Child
 ー め ー Eye
 ー みみ ー Ear
 ー くち ー Mouth
 ー て ー Hand
手首 ー てくび ー Wrist
手紙 ー てがみ ー Letter
手製 ー てせい ー Handmade
 ー あし ー Leg/Foot
足首 ー あしくび ー Ankle
足す ー たす ー to add
見る ー みる ー to see
見解 ー けんかい ー Opinion
 ー おん ー Sound
音楽 ー おんがく ー Music
音量 ー おんりょう ー Volumn
 ー ちから ー Power
力強い ー ちからつよい ー Powerful
 ー き ー Spirit
気持ち ー きもち ー Feeling
気難しい ー きむずかしい ー Hard to please
 ー えん ー Yen
入る ー はいる ー to enter
入れ墨 ー いれずみ ー tattoo
出る ー でる ー to exit
立つ ー たつ ー to stand
休む ー やすむ ー to rest
休み ー やすみ ー Vacation
休業 ー きゅうぎょう ー Closed
 ー さき ー Previous
先祖 ー せんぞ ー Ancestors
先生 ー せんせい ー Teacher
 ー ゆう ー Evening
夕焼け ー ゆうやけ ー Sunset
 ー ほん ー Book
本屋 ー ほんや ー Bookstore
 ー ふみ ー Writing
文字 ー もじ ー Letter (alphabet)
文学 ー ぶんがく ー Literature
 ー じ ー Character
字幕 ー じまく ー Subtitle
字体 ー じたい ー Typography
学ぶ ー まなぶ ー to study
 ー こう ー School
校長 ー こうちょう ー Principal
 ー むら ー Village
 ー まち ー City
 ー もり ー Forest
正しい ー ただしい ー Correct
 ー みず ー Water
 ー ひ ー Fire
 ー たま ー Ball
珠玉 ー しゅぎょく ー Jewel
王様 ー おうさま ー King
 ー いし ー Stone
 ー たけ ー Bamboo
 ー いと ー Thread
 ー かい ー Shellfish
 ー くるま ー Car
 ー きん ー Gold
お金 ー おかね ー Money
 ー あめ ー Rain
赤い ー あかい ー Red
青い ー あおい ー Blue
白い ー しろい ー White

For a more interactive lesson, try practicing them on Smart.fm.

Looking for more Kanji lessons?
Try the other Wired Kanji lessons

Still working on Hiragana/Katakana?