I’ve seen on twitter many people struggling with kanji, so I’ve decided to share my personal experience in learning japanese… I hope my story can inspire or help someone!
My interest in Japan started when I was about 12 years old and I was literally obsessed with Dragon ball Z: I spent hours everyday talking about it with my friends, and I also searched online for spoilers and news. One day, I listened to the japanese opening song, and it was immediate love: the language felt so cool to me, so I’ve started looking for all the other songs I could find (and Dragon ball has really a huge amount… 50? 100? even more?) I wished I could sing along too, but obviously I couldn’t even understand a single word: that’s why I’ve started to look for lyrics and translations.
I didn’t learn much back then, just a few words, but it was my first approach to the language. This continued for a few years: I kept watching anime, reading manga and listening to music, but I’ve never really studied until I was about 18.
One day, I’ve randomly discovered about idols, because I was watching the drama adaptation of a manga I really loved, Hana kimi: that’s how I got interested in idol music and fell in love with Arashi really hard. I wanted to understand their lyrics, but it was annoying to search translations online every time; so I decided to finally put some effort and actually learn the language.
I bought my first grammar book and dictionary, and I’ve started memorizing basic words and how the sentences worked; I was also comparing the lyrics of the songs I loved the most with their translations, because I’ve realized immediately that if I kept listening songs I could remember more easily the meanings.
At that time, learning kanji didn’t interest me: I just wanted to understand right away what I was listening to, so reading was not important at all.
Everything changed one day, while I was watching Brothers conflict anime: I fell in love with a character, Tsubaki, and I’ve started searching online all I could find about him. Can you imagine my happiness when I realized that a game existed? And I could actually date him?
When I discovered it was completely in japanese, that didn’t bother me too much: I was quite confident in my listening skills, and I thought it could be more than enough to play.
But there was a huge problem: the heroine was not voiced, so I couldn’t understand anything at all. Poor Tsubaki, I felt like he was just talking to himself, because I had no idea about what the heroine was replying to him!
At first, I thought I could simply rely on other people translations: there are so many in various blogs, some are so detailed, that I could obviously pull it off; but it wasn’t enough. I wanted to enjoy the game on my own.
So I went back to my grammar book, and so many years after my first approach to the language, I’ve finally started to learn hiragana and katakana.
I was really satisfied, when I realized that I was slowly learning how to read a few words: Brocon is an easy game, without many kanji, so it didn’t took very long to me before I actually started to read on my own at least short sentences.
I made a list of the most basic kanji, searching for simple words like: eat, sleep, talk, cry, drink, look… the verbs you can use the most, when you’re having a normal conversation.
Those kanji, plus the hiragana, allowed me to understand at least something of the heroine’s reply, and seeing myself constantly improving gave me a lot of motivation to go on and keep studying more. My love for otoge really helped me a lot, but obviously I had to make wise choices.
At that point, I could not play difficult games, but I had to start from the easiest ones: Starry sky and Storm lover really helped me a lot to learn basic kanji and to understand simple conversations. I’ve also played Amnesia and Diabolik lovers, but I still had to rely heavily on other people’s translations: there were too many unknown kanji for me.
My first year in otoge world went by like this, with a great desire to improve and finally being able to enjoy the games I wanted the most on my own… and it was exciting, never tiring or stressful!
I think I kept studying like that for another year: whenever I saw a kanji I didn’t know, I looked for the meaning; I still wasn’t able to play without problems, but I was slowly getting better.
One day, I randomly decided that I was ready: I still remember which game it was, Diabolik Lovers More Blood.
At first, I was afraid that the language might be too difficult, but at the same time I wanted to test myself and see how much I had improved since the first game. I was so surprised, when I realized that I could actually understand most of it: I finally could be free and play on my own.
From that day, I stopped relying on others and trust only myself! \(^o^)/ what a great feeling!
My japanese is obviously not perfect at all, but it’s still enough for me to play, and that was my main goal from the beginning; that’s why, if you want to study japanese, I suggest you to decide first which level are you aiming to reach:
Do you want to watch anime without subs? Focus on your listening skills.
Do you want to play otoge? Learn hiragana and basic kanji first.
Do you want to live and work in Japan? then you have to master every aspect of the language.
I think many people give up on studying because they set their expectations too high in the beginning and get depressed if they cannot reach that level soon: being perfect at japanese will take you years of hard studying, are you sure you need to learn everything?
I’m not ashamed to say I can’t write at all, because I don’t need it: I don’t plan on living in Japan, and obviously otoge for me are just an hobby, that’s why I’ve learned only what allowed to play.
Focus on your main goal, but don’t forget that you need to take slow and constant steps to reach it: you won’t be able to learn japanese overnight, so don’t get discouraged if you can’t understand as fast as you imagined.
If your goal is to play otoge, I can give you a few tips that helped me:
start from learning hiragana and katakana;
learn basic kanji of the most used verbs and words;
start from a simple otoge, and don’t be afraid to rely on translations; but at the same time, don’t be lazy and try to read as much as you can on your own;
try to play a simple otoge on your own; when you see a kanji you don’t know, search the meaning and try to memorize it;
play a more serious otoge, with a real plot; don’t be ashamed if you need to go back and check translations, because you’re obviously going to see many new kanji; but don’t give up, keep trying to understand on your own first!
now you should be able to play a “normal” otoge; keep looking for unknown kanji, but don’t overdo it: if they are too many, you probably won’t be able to remember all of them, but the most important thing is to keep improving.
in the end, you will be able to play also difficult otoge, like the historical ones; but don’t worry if you’ll meet tons of new kanji and you’ll feel like you can’t read japanese anymore!
At least, that’s what I’ve done, and it worked for me.
Everyone uses a different method to learn, and I don’t think there’s one better than others: you just need to find out what’s the best for you, and don’t give up if you don’t see great results immediately. Being constantly exposed to the language will help you a lot to memorize, so playing games or learning a few kanji everyday it’s really important, to keep your mind always focused.
Remember that you’re studying because it will help you to reach something you love: if you see it as a burden and hope it will end soon, you won’t go anywhere.
I hope this post can help someone, I loved so much to share my experience and opinions with you! If you have questions, or want me to write about anything else, don’t be afraid to ask! \(^o^)/