Gaming is an Underrated Japanese Language Guide

Published April 17th, 2020

Let’s face it, we’ve all played a type of video game at least once in our lives. And better yet, we enjoyed it. Would you believe if someone told you that video games can be an extremely useful tool in studying Japanese? You better believe it, because it is! Those who have mastered hiragana and katakana along with basic grammar could easily use video games as a Japanese language guide. While it is not for the ultimate beginners, it is still good to take note of your future usage. Having to sit down with a Japanese textbook after a long day of school or work might not be the number one thing you would want to do. Instead, grab your controller pad or computer for some Japanese learning fun! This is your ultimate guide to making the best out of gaming as a Japanese language guide!

Gaming Culture in Japan

It’s quite common knowledge that Japan has one of the largest, most successful gaming industries in the world! I bet we didn’t even know we were playing a Japanese video game when we were little. The Japanese market is the second largest in the whole world in terms of the game software. Everything from Nintendo and Sony Entertainment to smaller yet influential gaming companies has taken not only Japan but the entire world by storm. Japan is flooded with gaming arcades owned by the major gaming companies — Taito and Sega are just to name a few. Compared to the US where there are only 4,000 gaming arcades, Japan has over 20,000! There are also cafes specially made for video gaming and are just as easily found all around the country. From game consoles like the PlayStation to standard computer video games, there’s no denying that Japan has it all and is dominating the scene effortlessly.

How Can Gaming Help with Learning Japanese?

You might be wondering how something so fun can be used to learn Japanese. Well, it can! Even though most mainstream video games have been translated to English for the mass audience from overseas, the original version always exists! It might be easier to just switch to English out of convenience, but try out the original language for a change — you’ll be surprised at just how useful it can be in multiple ways, and how much better your Japanese language skill got! Here are some of the ways gaming can help as a Japanese language guide:

1. Specially-made language games

While this might be the most straight-forward way that gaming can help with learning Japanese, it is a good stepping stone to take to learning Japanese the fun way. There are some games that are made for learning languages, particularly the Japanese language. One example is My Japanese Coach and it was made for the Nintendo DS, released back in 2008. This game is from a series called My Coach which includes everything from language learning to quitting habits like smoking or even losing weight. The game teaches beginner Japanese like the writing systems, basic grammar and vocabulary words to start you off with your Japanese language learning. It truly is a game that’s a Japanese language guide — and there are more just like it out there!

2. Improve your listening skills

Like mentioned before, even though the game comes in English, there might be a possibility that there’s also the original Japanese language option. Especially if the game is made by a Japanese company, there’s a higher chance of that being the case. Instead of playing the game with English audio, why not test your listening skills by having Japanese audio instead? When there aren’t any other language crutches to help you while you play your game, you’ll automatically pay closer attention to the words the game is saying. With this constant practice, you’ll definitely improve your Japanese listening skills at the end of every day — all while still enjoying your intense (or not) game.

3. Repetitive words and phrases

Even in English video games, there are bound to be words and phrases that are repeated throughout the game. If you start a new round of a game, words like “start” or “end” will always appear, and phrases like “let’s go!” are common as well. It’s the same in Japanese video games — if anything, they have more repetitive words and phrases! As the same things are being mentioned a couple of times, it’s easier for our brains to absorb and process them with their meanings. Because of this, gaming makes a great Japanese language guide.

4. Visual learning by reading

If you’re not that confident in solely depending on Japanese audio, why not try using Japanese subtitles with English audio? Games are surprisingly more about reading (and doing things) than it is listening. Not only will this method boost your reading speed but you’ll be able to recognise the Japanese characters more quickly. It’s better than listening to Japanese audio with English subtitles because you tend to be more engrossed in the English subtitle instead. With the roles reversed, your brain catches the English audio as you link the meaning to the Japanese subtitles.

Recommended Games to Boost Your Japanese Language Ability

The gaming industry is huge, so it might be a bit overwhelming to choose a few to be the Japanese language guides. Depending on your level of Japanese, some might not be as ideal as it can be too difficult or too easy. We’ve listed out a few video games of various levels: beginner, moderate and hard.

1. Pokémon (Beginner Level)

Who doesn’t like Pokémon? It’s perfect for people of every age and gender! This video game franchise is arguably the most popular one ever! It started off as just a hand-held gaming system back in the ‘90s but has since expanded to other video gaming systems. Pokémon is so popular that it even has animated movies and TV shows bases on the characters. The aim of the Pokémon games is as simple as it gets — you have to catch them all. Pokémon is perfect for beginners because everything about the game is written with small kids in mind. Hence, all the characters’ names are written in simple katakana, and the language used is basic and easy to follow with the hiragana.

2. Ni No Kuni (Moderate Level)

This video game is extremely known for its wonderful animation for a role-playing game. Ni No Kuni is a collaboration between Studio Ghibli and Level-5, a game design company, and the whole vibe is exactly what the Japanese are into — kawaii (かわいい, meaning cute) aesthetics mixed with a bit of challenge. Ni No Kuni is perfect for those looking to improve their Japanese conversations as this game has more than a few casual conversations to follow. It uses everyday words that are useful for anyone looking to improve their Japanese language ability, making it the perfect Japanese language guide. On top of that, Ni No Kuni has a few no-risk reading comprehension that can be of use to up your Japanese reading ability.

3. Final Fantasy (Hard Level)

If you have not heard of Final Fantasy, then you must have been living under a rock. This video game franchise started off as a simple role-playing game on a small Nintendo gaming system back in the late ‘80s. It has since then boomed into a world so famous that it has multiple spin-offs and sequels as well as movies based on the game. Final Fantasy is perfect for those who are confident in their Japanese ability skill but just want a bit of fun revision here and there while leaving room for improvement. The characters in this game each have their own unique personality that is visible in their Japanese language. With all the slang words and accents, you’ll be more exposed to the varieties of the Japanese language and essentially decide which one you’d want for yours. Don’t be scared of Final Fantasy as a Japanese language guide, though. The dialogues all have subtitles, so if you feel stuck or overwhelmed, that language crutch is there for you!

Tips and Tricks to Getting Started

You might still be a bit hesitant or unsure about how to go about using gaming as a Japanese language guide. That’s normal — anything new can be quite scary. Especially with gaming, you might end up getting sucked into the game rather than balancing out the gaming and learning. Stick to our tips and tricks to getting started and you’ll be on your way to being guided for the Japanese language using games!

1. Pick a familiar game

The first thing is to pick a familiar game to start off. It’s definitely not recommended to get into a new game as everything can be unfamiliar and a little scary. You’ll end up being more stressed over not getting the game right, and on top of it all, you won’t be able to focus on the learning aspect. Try picking a game where you’ve nailed down how to maneuver around so the game can be more of use as a Japanese language guide.

2. Pick a game you like

At the end of the day, this is supposed to be a fun way of learning. Why trouble yourself by picking a game that you have no interest in? Decide on a game that you like and enjoy so the learning aspect can be enjoyable as well. If it’s a game that you don’t particularly like, you might end up getting bored of it too quickly, and eventually getting stressed rather than having fun. It is still a game, after all.

3. Make online friends

Everything is more fun with more people. Try making some friends on the game you’re playing and take advantage of the benefit of immersion. Plug in your headset and turn on your microphone. Take a step further by conversing with Japanese native speakers even if you’re not that fluent in the language just yet. Over time, with the right vocabulary for your game, you’ll definitely improve your Japanese at least a level up.

4. Take notes

Keep a notebook next to you. You don’t have to jot down every single thing, but it’s a great habit to have. Write down words or expressions that you don’t know or have never heard before and look it up after the game. This is a great way to build up your vocabulary list. What’s more, the game is quite likely to use the same words and phrases again.

5. Say out loud

To fully benefit gaming as a Japanese language guide, you should use it to practice your verbal communication skills as well. On top of just listening and reading, try adding in the third method as well by reading sentences out loud and copy what some characters are saying. Through this, you’ll be able to pick up on the various intonations, tones and emotions in the words. That’s an extremely great skill to have in the long run!

Japanese Gaming Words to Start You Off

Before you set off on your fun Japanese learning adventure, it might be good to have a few gaming vocabulary words under your belt. There are some that appear in almost every game. Here’s a short and brief list of Japanese gaming vocabulary words to start you off:

Menu — menyuu (メニュー)

Level — reberu (レベル)

Select — sentaku (選択)

Settings — settei (設定) Start — kaishi (開始)

Save — sebu (セーブ)

Continue — tsuzuki (続き)

Quit — shuuryou (終了)

Music — ongaku (音楽)

Character — jinbutsu (人物)

World — sekai (世界)

Strength — chikara ()

Health — tairyoku (体力)


While gaming can be used as a Japanese language guide, it’s important to remember that this is supposedly a fun way to learn and study Japanese. Hence, it shouldn’t be a chore in any way! Even if you’re a huge gamer who would want to marathon a couple of hours straight, it’s best to pace yourself so you’ll remember what you actually picked up during the gaming session. Regardless, once you get the hang of it, you’ll be using gaming of various video games as an essential Japanese language guide to your Japanese language learning journey!