So, You Want to Read Japanese RPGs...
  • My main hobby since Junior High School has been playing/running RPGs. In college, I began to study Japanese (as a minor), and even managed to travel to Japan for a semester. After college I lived in Japan for several years. I picked up most of my reading skill by watching TV, reading manga, and buying and reading Japanese RPGs: Basically, stick with something you love, pick up those materials, and you'll find yourself reading them with interest.

    Anyway, in this discussion I'd like to offer a roundup of things that have helped me progress in Japanese immensely, and chime in for others to do the same as well.

    First off: If you're learning Japanese by yourself, without going to classes... good luck? Personally, I didn't have the drive to teach myself, and failed a few times until I took it in college. However, recently there's been apparently good language computer-based training materials and the like. Hopefully others can comment on those.

    My resources are more for people who have had like at least a semester or year of directed Japanese classroom study. To those folks, I highly recommend the following:

    Japanese for Busy People, Kana edition:
    If you're learning to speak the language only, the Romaji(roman) edition is ok. But the Kana version is essential to learning to read from early on. Also, JfBP is a class-A textbook. Back in my day, I used a shitty textbook that was not interesting, nor was it particularly useful. But it was the best we had at the time. The mid and late 90s were a Renaissance for Japanese textbooks: It's like three companies sat down and said, "Hey, I bet we could make money by making a generic, interesting, useful textbook that adults or teens could use". MINDBLOWING. But Japanese for Busy People (and other resources, below) were a direct result of this movement.

    Kodansha Wins. Game Over. (at least, in my book). I have some Shueisha dictionaries from Japan as real references for "hard" words, but in everyday use words I find the Kodansha dictionaries second to none:
    E-J/J-E Furigana Dictionary
    J-E Furigana Dictionary
    E-J Furigana Dictionary
    And heck, the Romanized J-E dictionary is pretty good too, if you need (I still use mine):
    Weirdness: I just realized that Kodansha rebranded their dictionaries as "part of the Japanese for Busy People" line. Huh. I didn't know those textbooks were made by Kodansha, or if they were acquired later. That's an interesting development.

    Again, Kodansha for the Win. I've got the 10-pound baby-killer that lists a jillion kanji that aren't in use anymore, but for day to day Jouyou Kanji (the 2000 most used characters) and combinations, for the English learner there's only one:
    The Kodansha Kanji Learner's Dictionary
    The recommendation here is solid: Basically, if you are learning kanji, you don't know all the bizarre secret shit yet. Like in English, people know that an E at the end of a word is Silent. Stuff like that. In Japanese, frex, the kanji for Heart is 心, 4 strokes. The particle for heart is 忄, which appears on the left side of kanji like satori (悟) and has only 3 strokes. Thing is, if you look this up in a Japanese or traditional method Kanji dictionary and you don't know the pronunciation, you'll see that element as three strokes, and basically go out of your mind trying to find it in the wrong section. Meanwhile Japanese folks are all "Oh, yeah, that's the Heart-radical. Look it up under 4, not 3", and sure enough there it is.
    The Kanji Learner's dictionary is all, "Fuck that!", and creates a new methodology for looking up kanji aimed at the learner. Splitting up kanji between left and right elements, up and down elements, encircled elements, etc. So if I look up a kanji in this dictionary, the time required (given a hard one) drops from 5-10 minutes down to under a minute. That's right, it reduced the time of lookups down to 1/5 or 1/10. Now, it doesn't have ALL the kanji in the world, but it's got most of the Jouyou kanji. And out of all my books I have, this one I have two copies of (one at work, one at home) for use

    The Basic Kanji Book, Vols1-4
    Don't get trigger happy and buy them all, you'll probably only need the first two for years (unless you really have nothing else to do other than learn kanji). 3 and 4 represent a significant jump in difficulty: From Beginner/Intermediate to "OK, so now you're reading Financial Business Newspapers".
    But the fact that it has drills; it divides the kanji in a logical learning progression; it includes common combinations as part of the learning process; it has exercises and tests... It is hands-down the best Kanji practice guide for the serious self-studier.

    Jim Breen's J-Dict site.
    This is a HOTLINK for anyone who regularly translates Japanese. Between the word lookup and kanji lookup features, it's second to none for electronic references. When Jim Breen dies, I'm flying to Australia to enshrine him, perhaps building a statue with my own hands.'s E->J/J->E auto-translator.
    Google has one, Babelfish has one, other sites have one that looks the same as Google or Babelfish. But's translator is *different*. It stands a head above all others. It will never give you a perfect translation, but their translation is better than any other you will find.

    I can't come out and flat-out recommend some games to buy to learn Japanese: Everyone has different tastes, so I can't aim at everyone like I can with the above stuff. I'll think about some good general games and game books and post about them later in this thread.

    Hopefully this is helpful. I invite others to post their personal recommendations even despite my own hyperbole (*slams fist on table* "Kodansha is the Only True Way!!!!!" etc). (^.^)
  • For kanji dictionaries, I have to wholeheartedly agree. Nothing else even comes close to the Kodansha learner's dictionary, except for its epic hardback big brother. It makes it far, far easier to look things up.

    In college I was subjected to all four volumes of Learn Japanese, an older textbook series from the University of Hawaii. Thankfully, the schools that used to use these are starting to phase them out, but I'd like to heartily recommend avoiding them. They're not horrible, but they are definitely out of date. One of the linguistics professors at SFSU likes to trot out the line "Shinju-san, bifuteki wo kudadai" from the book in graduate seminars, and everyone has a good chuckle about it.

    Also, you might want to look into investing in an electronic dictionary at some point. They're not all that useful to a beginner (especially since you need to be able to work with kana to actually use one), but they can be invaluable at times, and having several dictionaries in such a small package is really convenient too. I'm overdue to replace my aging Canon Wordtank, but it still works fine and I don't have money to drop on a better one. They start at around $200 new (which kinda' sucks, considering that, for example, a decent electronic Spanish dictionary can be had for $40 or so), and I'm not sufficiently up on the subject to give recommendations.

    There is a dictionary cartridge for Nintendo DS (it's called "Kanji Rakubiki Jiten" or somesuch IIRC), which is nice in some ways (you can draw kanji to look them up), but it lacks a proper jump function, so if (for example) you look up an English word, you may not be able to easily figure out how to read the kanji of the Japanese equivalents it gives.

    Lastly, for Jim Breen's WWWJDIC, when I'm going full steam with translating, rather than using a kanji dictionary (electronic or otherwise), I'll draw the kanji with Windows' IME Pad (I have a Wacom tablet partly for that purpose), and put them into WWWJDIC. It saves a heck of a lot of time.

    Also, since my Eee PC runs Linux, I wound up installing a program call Gjiten, which turns out to be a surprisingly good implementation of EDICT. The really nice thing about it is that you can search for words that begin with, end with, contain, or are an exact match for your search string.
  • Since I'm German I can't really recommend english textbooks and such, but we use the Nelson Kanji Dictionary here (don't know if that's the one you refered to as the baby-killer).

    When it comes to online ditionaries Jim Breem's page is the holy grail, but if you want to have it a bit more comfortable you should take a look at this page:
    It's a dictionary tool that uses the edict (or others), that incorporates ma lot of great functions; just take a look at the feature section of that page and you will see it's greatness.

    Very helpfull grammar books are the Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar and the Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar (both Kodansha). But they are kinda expensive, so you should only by them when you're serious about it:
    A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar
    A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar

    If you need some information on wordtanks, just ask me. It also possible to use a Palm or PDA as a dictionary. You can "japanize" them (especially Windows bases PDAs) so that you can use the dictionries from Jim Breem on them. If you already have one and want to know more...another good thing about them is, that you can install the Windows IME-Pad and then use it by writing with the stylus. Modern wordtanks have this function, too.
  • Another very useful tool I've discovered recently is KanjiOCR. As the name implies, it's an OCR program for Japanese. It only accepts black & white/line art scans, so in my experience you have to scan at 600+ dpi for the OCR to work properly. But when it works it's surprisingly accurate.

    There's a free trial you can use for 14 days or 20 times. If I had the money I'd probably get Readiris Asian instead, but I don't have the $99 for registering KanjiOCR, much less the $150-200 for buying Readiris. Anyway.

    * KanjiOCR can also accept TIFF and BMP files. When I do stuff with it with Photoshop, I save as TIFF files.

    * Things like gray shading in the background (very often used in RPGs) really, really mess it up. What I've taken to doing is scanning the text into Photoshop as 600dpi grayscale with descreen on the scanner (so that the gray shows up as gray rather than a pattern of dots). From there I use Levels to get rid of the gray and darken the text a little, and convert it to a 1200 dpi bitmap with the 50% threshold setting, and save as a tiff.

    * OCR software can't really distinguish line breaks for you, so for Japanese text I wind up going through and pressing the delete key a whole lot

    * When translating from OCR'ed text, I can shove the text through WWWJDIC or similar, but I find it's very helpful to still have the original book handy for when I need to double-check something.

    * For some bizarre reason な gives KanjiOCR an amazing amount of trouble. Also 一 (ichi) often becomes a straight line, ロ (katakana 'ro') becomes 口 (kanji 'kuchi'), all of which will throw off your dictionary.
  • Hey, this discussion caught my eye and I thought I'd add my $.02. I've been using Kanji Kit and Kanji OCR for years and it's worked great for me. Not perfect of course but what do you expect. A demo of Kanji OCR can be found here-

    Kanji Kit is the program that allows you to display Kanji on your pc. It's no longer online but you can get it's predecessor Asian Suite x2 here-

    Kanji OCR isn't supported any more and I hear you can use Omnipage Pro 16 or Readaris Asian 11 for Kanji scanning but I haven't heard anybody say if either of those are any good and who has the $150 to do that? If anybody has any recommendations let me know, I see Omnipage Pro 16 for sale at Fry's electronics for $100 with $50 rebate which is almost reasonable.

    The other thing that I was wondering about is Japanese Language learning softwares? Does that Rosetta Stone software work?
  • I learned from this old book called Mastering Japanese. It's 20 years old now and out of print, but the structure is EXCELLENT for learning the basics. I have JPLT 1, so make of that what you will.

    As for dictionaries, the denki jisho website rocks. I use it when doing translation jobbies.

    Hope that helps!
  • I used Jim Breen's WWWJDIC while I was in college, but I found a pretty nice interface here:

    It's a more polished site with the same great features, as far as I can tell.

    - Dennis

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