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.