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How to Read Visual Novels in Japanese in 2 years time (or 1 year if you are fast) ― learn to read through VN or anime

How to Read Visual Novels in Japanese in 2 years time (step by step guide). Learn to read visual novels through reading visual novels or watching anime.

If you happen to have come here from the future, be aware that I had to censor a decent bit of pirate/torrent links out of this when we went legit. Not much I can do about it. I was also a bit lazy to find replacements for dead links – you can try this for hiragana/katakana, I guess (click forward once if you can’t stand the explanatory page of text…)  -Zakamutt (1/3/2015)

Introduction
Nowadays learning Japanese has become much easier thanks to the advent of text-hooking software. ITH (Interactive Text Hooker V3) can extract the Japanese text displayed in the game and copy it in real-time onto your clipboard. Then using software like Translation Aggregator you can parse this text through an electronic dictionary or Google translate. The meanings of the words pop up on the screen as soon as they appear in the game. No need to go looking up physical dictionaries (No need to Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V either). JParser highlights syntax for you, a huge reading advantage for beginners. Most dialogue in visual novels are voiced. This is a great to those people who grew up watching fansubbed Anime.

Learn to read by watching Anime
In fact ITH is not limited to just visual novels. You can use it for Anime with Japanese subtitles too! (or even Jdrama + movies) Unfortunately very few anime released in Japan on DVD or Blu-ray come with a subtitles option (although funny enough it is available when it’s being aired on TV). Please see step 4 – anime alternative.

 

The Kanji Factor (the greatest challenge)
If you want to learn to read Japanese, you must tackle 2000 Kanji. (updated to 2136 kanji in Nov 2010.) To do this – use Heisig’s Remember The Kanji method, the single most effective method in existence. (see kanji.koohii.com). The mechanic is: Mnemonics + SRS but the true challenge is your discipline.

Note: The methods documented in this article only teach you how to read. It does almost nothing for your hearing, speaking or listening skills. The objective is to fast-track your reading skills, enabling you to enjoy over 90% of all video games produced in Japan.

 


Step One
1) Learn 46 Hiragana and 50 Katakana. Use mnemonics. This will take 7 to 21 days.

Step Two 2) Learn 2000 2136 Kanji. This will take 100 to 365 days

  • 2A) Download Anki
  • http://ankisrs.net/ Notice that there are two versions, Anki 1 and Anki 2, Anki 2 is better but smartphone versions are not 100% complete yet. If it’s important for you to have the phone app, I would suggest using anki 1 and updating later.
  • 2B) (Anki 1) Open it up, click on File > Download > Shared Deck. Or (Anki 2) Open it up, click Shared decks (this will open your browser)
  • 2C) Search “Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji 1+3 with 2010 joyo kanji”, select it and click OK (This deck contains the right order with the new 2010 kanji, you have to use RTK and the RTK supplement pdf with it.) The kanji from the supplement in the deck comes with the
    letter A beside the kanji number. Like: 45A instead of 45.
  • 2C2) (Anki 2) After downloading it, open the file (If it didn’t do so automatically) click Add deck.

Depending on which version you choose, you have to edit the deck slighty differently. Follow the guide to the appropriate version you chose. For Anki 1.2.8

  • 2D) Open the deck then click Settings > Deck Properties > then press the Edit button > then Card Layout.
  • 2E) Delete the contents of the top box (the question box), Copy paste This into it:
  • <span style=”font-family: Arial; font-size: 20px; color: #000000; white-space: pre-wrap;”>{{Kanji}}</span>
  • 2F)Delete the contents of the bottom box (the answer box), copy paste this into it:
  • <span style=”font-family: Arial; font-size: 20px; color: #000000; white-space: pre-wrap;”><a href=”http://kanji.koohii.com/study/?framenum={{text:HeisigNumber}}”>{{{Keyword}}}</a></span> <br>Nr: {{{HeisigNumber}}}</span>
  • 2G) The deck is now ready. well done.

For Anki 2

  • 2D) Open the deck, click >Browse>Current deck>Cards…
  • 2E) Delete the contents of the Top box (The front template) and paste this into the Top box:
  • <span style=”font-family: Arial; font-size: 100px; color: #000000; white-space: pre-wrap;”>{{Kanji}}</span>

  • 2F)Delete the contents of the last box (The back template) and paste this into the last box:
  • <span style=”font-family: Arial; font-size: 20px; color: #000000; white-space: pre-wrap;”><a href=”http://kanji.koohii.com/study/?framenum={{text:HeisigNumber}}”>{{{Keyword}}}</a></span> <br>Nr: {{{HeisigNumber}}}</span>
  • 2G) The deck is now ready. well done.

2H) Register a new account at the Koohii website. This site lets you read other people’s mnemonics! Absolutely indispensable.
2I) Find yourself a copy of Heisig Remember the Kanji 1.
2J) Read the Introduction (you must read the introduction!).
2K) Start reviewing. I recommend using the definitions provided on kanji.koohii.com and the user generated mnemonics over Heisig’s because some of Heisig’s definitions are obsolete or incorrect. If you select 20 new Kanji cards per day, it will take you over 100 days to memorize all 2200 kanji. Adjust the speed of your learning to your own preference. You cannot take breaks. If you do, you will have wasted all your time. You must review at least once a day. When you reach 2200 Kanji, stop (but keep reviewing).

Step Three 3) Read all of Tae Kim’s Japanese Grammar guide. This will take about 2~ weeks.

Step Four 4) Start reading visual novels. Reading is ongoing. This will take the rest of your life.

  • 4A) Pick a visual novel with extremely simple language such as anything developed by Union Shift: Blossom (i.e. Flyable Heart, Nanatsuiro Drops, Da Capo I to III). Visual Novels by Language Difficulty Start with something that has been fan translated and the English scripts have been made available somewhere online (such as on TLWiki). Alternatively if you have two computers, you can install one copy on each, one that has been English-patched, the other in raw Japanese.
    Next, Acquire the game and install it. Make sure you set your PC to Japanese Locale.
  • 4B) Download ITH (Link)
  • Hook the visual novel up to ITH.
  • 4C) Download Translation Aggregator (Link)
  • Set up JParser. (See instructions here)
  • 4D) Create a new deck in Anki and give it a name.
  • 4E) Start reading and everytime you come across a word you don’t know, add it to Anki. (Which should basically be every single word when you first start)

Step Four Anime Alternative
4) Alternatively, you can start reading your Anime. There are four ways to acquire Japanese subtitles for anime.
4A)  First download ITH (Link).
4B)  Then download Translation Aggregator (Link).
4C)  Set up JParser. (See instructions here)

  • Method 1
    Visit anidb.net and search for a series you are interested in.
    – Look for a group that fansubbed it into Japanese. For example, Lucky Star had 4 groups that releases their anime with Japanese subtitles in it. (or use the Advanced search feature and indicate Japanese fan-subtitled shows only)
    – Download the anime.
  • Method 2
    – Visit http://kitsunekko.net/subtitles/japanese/
    – Look for a .srt or .ass for a title you are interested in. (limited selection)
    – Download the corresponding anime in raw or fansubbed (doesn’t matter as long as it is not hardsubbed)
    – File > Load Subtitle.
    – If the subtitle is mistimed, use Aegisub.
  • Method 3
    – Visit http://npo-masc.org/db/
    – This is a database of all DVDs and Blu-rays that have Japanese subtitles.
    – Search for a title that you are interested in. For example, Clannad Blu-ray box has Japanese subtitles.
    – Acquire the title.
  • Method 4
    – See this incredible list of JP subtitle files: http://captions.pettanko.eu/

And Finally:
4D) Open ITH.
4E) Make sure: Options > Auto copy to clipboard is ticked.
4F) Process > choose: mpc-hc.exe > Attach > OK  (using media player classic).
4G) Run the video player until the first one/two lines of Japanese text has appeared.
4H) Click the large dropdown bar that should say OxFFFFFFFF:ConsoleOutput and change it to TextOutW.
4I) 
Every time you come across a word you don’t know, add it to Anki.

Summary This guide is designed to fast-track you to a point where you can read a game. Reading is important. If you have 30 minutes of study time, I would prioritize reading over anything else. If Anki is taking too much time I would suggest cutting back on adding new words and just go read. Read and read and read until the cows come home! In 2 years time (or 1 year if you are fast), you should be able to understand 90% of what is being said in a simple visual novel. You won’t be able to read everything. You won’t be able to read Rui wa Tomo or Oretachi ni Tsubasa wa nai for example. Also, you will reach a certain point where reading will grant you diminishing returns. Unfortunately Tae Kim’s will only take you so far. From here on you will need to find your own way to acquire more grammar. Jgram.org and Renshuu.org are places I found quite useful. Also scurry through all the resource found on Koohii forums. Good English explanations for all particles here.
FINAL NOTE It doesn’t matter what age you are, as long as you can understand how to use this guide and can understand how to use mnemonics you will do fine. It only takes a person to be a human being in order to learn how to read Japanese. There are no other requirements.

Update: For the 2136 Kanji RTK method, the reason why we do it this way with mnemonics is because it is the most efficient way to learn 10,000+ odd bits of very simple pieces of information. The Heisig method follows two golden rules: 1. Simple is key (easy to remember) 2. It gets SRS’d  (it goes into long-term memory)  Feel free to suggest anything else you have found helpful.

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63 Comments

  • I have loooooots of free time, so maybe I’ll give it a go c: although I already tried, and I had a lot of trouble learning xD (I’m too lazy, so that condemned me) but I’ll try again 😀

  • I am currently learning two languages. Korean and Japanese. Korean b/c it’s a fascinating language and japanese b/c well, EROGE!!!
    I can’t speak or write one speck of Japanese :(

    나는 지금 언어 두개를 배우고있슴니다. 한국어랑 일본어. 한국어를 배우는 이유는, 한국어가 매혹적이니가 배움니다. 일본어를 배우는 이유는, 애로개 때문임니다 ㅋㅋㅋ

    일본어를 하나도 못함니다. ㅠㅠㅠㅠ

  • I’ve been studying Kenji for a few days…I do not know how to differentiate between words that have 1 kenji and words that have 2 kenji tied together. There are spaces in the English language where as there isn’t usually in the Japanese language.

    Basically how do kenji tie into each other? I’ve tried looking at guidebooks but I get stuck between the kenji individual meanings and the sentences.

  • If you have translator aggregator and installed JParser onto it, it will show you how the kanji separate and it will even give you the definitions when you mouse over. it does this for anything in your clipboard

  • Ok thanks…and as far as Anki goes, I can’t find Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji 1+3 with 2010 joyo kanji deck. Is it no long available?

  • When you said learn tha Hiragana and Katakana first, do you mean when you remember ka in your mind, you would automatically see ka as the alphabet KA, か or カ. Or when you see the symbol か or カ on a writing then you remember the word ka. Just like the alphabet B, when you remember the alphabet B in your mind, you will see B. Um, do you understand what I’m trying to say here?

  • Another option for those who are too lazy (like myself) is to go to a regular course. It probably isn’t available to everyone for various reasons, but if it is, just go ahead and do it. It’s not an easy language to learn alone, and you’ll very probably get demotivated as you try to learn kanjis (even more if you try to hurry, as you’ll notice how you’re not able to learn them all that easily), but attending to a course helps you to keep a steady pace while learning progressively each side of the language (reading, writing, speaking).
    Whichever path you take, don’t give up. It might prove useful beyond being able to read VNs, and learning is not something one regrets.

  • my goal is to read VNs without use machine translator..
    so how many years it take?
    if it’s how to read VN, even now i use it to read and already finished 2 jap VN.. (understand 60-75% of the story, not every text).. but i dont like it.. the translation is suck.. luckily, i understand some basic romawi..

    • At least 9 months for moe-ge stuffs. (Assume that you learn vocab & grammar everyday after 3 months of learning kanjis).
      Two years and more then you can read almost anything in general.

  • No pain, no gain. Now that I took the first step I realize how hard it’s gonna be, but it’s a challenge I’ll face head on. Thank you very much for the tips and hints on this.

  • I’ve spent a couple of hours now looking over the methods in the article and comparing them to other methods.

    I think that this method is very good for learning to -write- kanji as opposed to learning to -read- and -understand- Japanese. While the introduction in the RTK books tries to say that you don’t need to learn the pronunciation of these kanji, I think that knowledge of how to speak the language properly is invaluable when trying to understand it.

    I’m personally going to keep trying the Japanese lessons at http://www.memrise.com. I’ve so far learnt hiragana in a easy and relaxed way, so i’m going to move on to the Katakana and Kanji after that. Memrise is good because it emails you when you need to revise what you’ve learnt and changes the revision times based on your performance (much like Anki), as well as providing a way for users to submit mnemonics and pictures to help you remember everything (eliminating the need to visit multiple websites). It’s apparently free (I haven’t had to pay anything so far, and all the lessons are community-written), so i’ll probably continue on with that.

    Of course, you can’t learn the grammar that way either, so that will come after.

  • Aaeru, your guide motivated to learn Japanese again!
    Is it okay if I ask for help? Is there any deck exactly like Heisig’s RTK 1+3 with 2010 joyo kanji EXCEPT it included some way of reading it? Such as furigana or romanization? For now I’m using “Japanese coreplus” and I customized the front template but I don’t know if I should really be using this deck.
    My eventual goal is actually to read ore tachi wa tsubasa wa nai or more recently tsuriotsu, or even more recently otome riron!

    Thanks for the guide and the css formatting! ヽ(*≧ω≦)ノ

  • I haven’t looking because I don’t have much free time but I have a question
    for most japanese visual novels, which one is used mostly? hiragana? katakana? kanji? or all of them equally?

    • Yes you do have time. Do not lie to yourself an hour a day studying is fine you do have that time. Hirigana and Kanji is used most of as they are for japanese words. Katakana is for non japanese words like “pen, computer. Matt smith” etc… Learn them all though

  • This is the dumbest and most misleading article I’ve ever seen.

    One of the biggest and most annoying problems with the Japanese learning community is people claiming they can learn Japanese from anime. That’s basically bullshit. You need to build from ground up. Trying to interpret and mimic anime dialogues just by watching and inferring from subtitles is cringeworthy.

    The only way to start learning is to get a textbook and continue from there. A strong foundation and understanding of Japanese grammar is vital. Kanji isn’t everything, although it is probably one of the most intimidating aspects of the language. Master your 2k+ kanji and you would still be far from the level of a Chinese person who has no knowledge of Japanese (i.e. close to nothing).

    A generally recommended textbook is Genki. Tae Kim’s guide is good, but it can only be used as a supplement material. You would still need a proper textbook if you’re serious about learning. Even better if you can get a teacher to tutor you. But self studying is still possible if you’re dedicated enough.

    Please, please, please, don’t go believing that you can learn from anime. People who do this are the worst because you don’t realise how exaggerate some anime speech are. You won’t be able to understand the appropriate use of formal and polite speech like that. You have no idea how people look down at you when you do that.

    • Just to clarify:

      Anime and other Japanese media can be a great and fun way to learn, but only after you have the basics nailed down. Not saying you should avoid anime forever. They have been my main source of motivation and I’ve personally learnt *a lot* from anime and manga and various other stuff like that. But you cannot benefit from it until you’re ready for it.

      Until then, just try to enjoy anime and manga for the content.

    • You didn’t read it at all, it says how to learn to read Japanese (forgoing everything else including writing/speaking). it’s just a fast track method to being able to read and play japanese video games or manga in the shortest time possible. because sometimes that’s the only thing that people want to do.

  • Is there a guide to making custom ITH hooks somewhere? Because I couldn’t find one, and ITH doesn’t want to grab any text from DCIII. :/

  • Thanks! I got the basic understanding of Japanese from anime, eroge and a friend of mine. I can understand a teeny-little bit but I can’t read yet. I’ll try this. Got loads of novels to play anyway..

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  • I learned to speak japanese completely fluently just by watching tonnes of anime when I was a teen. Also learning all hiragana and katakana only took 3 days with KanaTrainer back then.

    Since then I’ve just watched animes, but altely picked up visual novels in japanese. First I had to check most of the kanji that came up in the text, but soon I could read the msot common ones.
    Now it’s just read read read and check some of the kanji!

    Honestly no need for strange methods of learning like Heisig’s method. Mine has been a more fun way with next to zero real effort put in.

  • A GREAT TIP:
    I found an app called Obenkyo (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.Obenkyo).
    It lets you practice writing Kanji (also Hiragana and Katakana) with writing recognition!
    This is great because you can:
    a) practice writing kanji and not just reading – this way you remember better + know how to write the kanji
    b) since this is a mobile app you can practice practically anywhere

    It supports RTK kanji order, and, like anki, features a mechanism to show you more often kanji you don’t remember well.
    And if that’s not enough, it even has Tae Kim guide to japanese embedded.

    Use it! I practically jumped a while staircase of the learning curve (yeah..) with this.

  • For those looking for kana mnemonics. I used this for Hiragana:

    http://www.tofugu.com/japanese-resources-old/hiragana42/
    for Katakana, I used a paid app for Android, tho I know there are better free alternatives. It includes hiragana too but I already finished tofugu’s by the time I saw this and not to mention the app doesn’t have the dakuten and handakuten for both kana.

    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.muko.paid

    I’m moving on to kanji now while reading Tae Kim’s guide. Hope I don’t slack off >< Tons of otome and eroge games await!

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  • Hmm. For some reason, the ITH is translating like 30seconds + ahead than the actual character speaking. The Anime and the subtitle are in sync, but not the ITH for some reason. How do i fixed that?

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  • This is a great guide, and hits on the basic points of learning written Japanese, but there is one more thing you should do that will make it a lot easier: create goals.

    I don’t mean “Learn all the kanji”, or “Be able to read this visual novel”. If you create tangible, reachable milestones, it becomes a lot easier.

    For example, my timeline looks like this:

    1/1 – 1/4 – kanji 1-40 (10/day)
    1/5 – REVIEW 1-40
    1/6 – 1/9 – kanji 41-80 (10/day)
    1/10 – REVIEW 41-80
    1/11 – 1/14 – kanji 81-120 (10/day)
    1/15 – REVIEW 81-120… etc.
    1/26 – 1/31 – REVIEW WEEK (1-200)

    2/1 – 2/28 – kanji 201-400
    3/1 – 3/31 – kanji 401-600…

    And so on, and so on. Looking at your goals in tangible lengths of time, like 5-day increments, will keep you motivated and disciplined in your studies. I also like to give little rewards for sticking to my schedule, such as allowing myself to buy some manga every two weeks I stay on track.

    Good luck studying, and remember that all 2136 general-use kanji seems daunting, but stay disciplined and take it one step at a time.

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