Table of contents
- Japanese In Video Games
- Learn the Vocabulary
- Grammar Resources Online
- Learn Kanji
- Japanese IME (Input Method Editor)
- Japanese Text Editor
- Finding Kanji
- Japanese OCR
- Drawing Out Kanji in Browser
- Browser Extension
- Word Search
- Radical Search Method
- Kanji Radical Composition Search
- Stroke Count Method
- SKIP Search
- Verb Conjugation
- Relative Clauses
- Not Fluent Japanese
- Misspelling (?)
- Onomatopoeia AKA Sounds as Words
- Formal/Honorific Japanese
- Nearly Obsolete Japanese Characters
- Classical Japanese
- Text Parsers/Glossing
- Translation Tools
- Bad Translations
Japanese In Video Games
This is not intended to be a start to finish guide to Japanese. This is supposed to be more of an outline for those who wish to play Japanese video games and are starting out in Japanese. These individuals will need lots of resources to get them to the point of understanding Japanese in video games. I also want to include a section showing some interesting quotes. This might push some to create a TAS for some Japanese games they would not otherwise attempt.
If there is a question about translation for a small part in a game that would be acceptable as well. Do not ask for complete translations for games. Try posting in forum.
Learn the Vocabulary
Understanding the vocabulary will make understanding the sentence much faster. When first starting out a large portion of time will probably be devoted to simply looking up words. The more Kanji you learn the more words you will be able to understand or make an educated guess on its meaning. 戦車 has the Kanji for war and car and the word means tank. While the meaning is not exactly the same you can at least see the resemblance. However there are a few words that seem that the Kanji parts were simply chosen for their reading like 風呂 【ふろ】 (n) bath, (P). 風 is wind, and 呂 for spine so the word definition of bath cannot be understood from its parts.
Katakana, Hiragana, and Kanji are the three scripts used in Japanese.
Katakana is easy to identify mostly since the strokes tend to be more jagged, and abrupt, while Hiragana are more curved. Katagana is used for loan words from other languages. In video games it is used commonly for fantastical objects such are monsters, weapons, items, etc. If you are not sure what word the Katakana means, try saying it aloud in a couple different ways. The Japanese do not have a lot of sounds that English/French/German/Russians have and sometimes the Katakana for the word is a REALLY bad bastardization of the foreign word. The worst cases I have seen are some French words. In some hard cases continue with the story until you can see it used more and get more context for it.
Depending on the game's target audience, you can expect to see more or less Kanji. In games aimed towards younger children you may see next to no Kanji. Words that are usually written in Kanji will be written in Hiragana.
Romanization is the result of methods linguists created over the years to write Japanese letters into Roman alphabet (English characters). The most common method is Hepburn. Linguists use Revised Hepburn and while it seems superior, I have no idea how I would write out some of these characters on an English keyboard like a "o" with a line on top of it. Probably why the standard Hepburn is used more widely. Use the Hepburn version for romanization.
Nice resource that parses the sentence and separates out the parts.
Similar resource as above.
More information about romanization.
Below are several resources to vocabulary. I am going to try and create a resource for common words in video games as part of an ongoing list that will be linked below. Also another section below on how to find Japanese words in video games.
Japanese sentence parser. These types of tools are extremely useful.
Kanji Search. The options are extensive and well thought out.
Grammar Resources Online
There are many, some that are more focused than others that may be more useful to what you are looking for.
Tae-Kim Learn Japanese. Covers basic topics. Not terribly in depth and missing a lot of topics.
Imabi. Large amount of lessons, and has a more thorough technical approach.
This is a more focused resource, but while looking through it this seems good. In anime manga you can see characters, their actions, and the objects they are intereacting and usually have a good understanding of their motivations. Also overlaps with games a bit.
This section will be a bit long since I want to explain about how I approached this.
Learning Kanji will help massively in understanding new concepts or words you have not encountered. Japanese Kanji each can have several meanings but there is usually one or two main ones. Japanese words in Kanji are 1-3 in length. There are "words" with longer amount of Kanji, but usually they have some other Kanji in there to modify the meaning. If you see 1-3 Kanji between particles that is probably a single word. 4 or more are multiple words.
Kanji information online
Common Kanji taught through Japanese schools
Nice resources for Kanji definitions stroke info , radicals, etc.
Japanese IME (Input Method Editor)
Write Japanese Text without a Japanese keyboard and on English systems.
Japanese Text Editor
Notepad++ allows for Japanese text support. May need to specifically select encoding. In program Menu select Encoding -> Character sets -> Japanese -> Shift-JIS.
JWPCE is an old free program, but made by and for English users. Main site seems to be down. At this point it has no unique functionality.
There are several ways of finding Kanji. Depending on the medium finding Kanji can be more or less difficult. if you are reading direct text on say the internet it can be as easy and a copy and paste then search in a search engine to find it. But if you are playing a game you cannot usually just copy and paste. So what are good ways of finding these Kanji you do not know?
This is the only Japanese OCR site that has impressed me. Good find trying to see if OCR was useful for this post. I remember years ago trying various ones and being disappointed.
To get a snapshot of the game you could use ShareX. A program that will take a screen capture with various options then upload it as a sharable link.
Alternatively you could use the basic Snippet Tool that comes with Windows.
Drawing Out Kanji in Browser
This is a new one to me. Years ago I remember trying it, but all of them were really bad. Stroke order is typically top the bottom, left to right. Or alternatively outside to inside if the Kanji has some Enclosing/Semi-Enclosing object.
On this resource the trick to select the option "Ignore Stroke order". After my drawing with the mouse I selected that option and both Kanji in 戦車 came up as the first ones in the list. Very nice.
Google's Handwritting Tool is very low key. Go to the Google Translate page. Select the Japanese language. On on the left side box there is a small down arrow. CLick that then on the text popup select "Japanese Handwrite". This tool is very similar to the slifaq tool with the "Ignore Stroke order" selected. Good tool.
Jisho.org is much more difficult to use since this uses the stroke order. Drawing out the same Kanji in different ways will most likely not find it. Especially if you put in more or less strokes than the Kanji normally has.
Text needs to be in the browser so maybe for webgames or for help on Japanese pages. This site below has more information regarding it.
Yomichan Chrome and Firefox
After installation you need to install the dictionaries from their site. Hold Shift while moving your mouse over Japanese text to display word definition data. Does identify verb conjugations. Even has a voice icon that will say the word for you. You can even copy from the popup that the tool creates. Excellent tool.
Below page has all the information you would need.
Quite a good extension for Firefox. Does not need any configuration. Install, make sure the extension is enabled and it will pop up definitions.
Rikaichamp Firefox Extension
Never used this one. Rikaichan was obsoleted due to Firefox updates.
Rikaikun Chrome Extension
Use this one sometimes since it can be good.
Used in a word you already know. Ex: 戦車. You may recognize the first Kanji as being for battle but may not know the next one. You have a couple options here, but I would do these.
- You recognize the first Kanji, but let's say you don't have it handy.
- Go Jim Breen's wwwJDIC's site for the page Word Search\Home here: http://nihongo.monash.edu/cgi-bin/wwwjdic?1C
- Select the option "search using romanized Japanese". "Romanized Japanese" means you are going to search using Roman characters "abcdefg...etc...xyz". This will work to find a word that has a specific spelling OR pronunciation.
- Note that the search on Jim Breen's WWWJDIC site will accept either roman characters or the Japanese characters. I have noticed that it will accept some non common romanizations of Japanese letters. Most common romanization for つ is "tsu", but this site will accept "tu". So tsuyoi and tuyoi will both find 強い 【つよい】 (adj) strong, powerful, mighty, potent, (P).
- You could search for the actual spelling for the word ikusa いくさ or a pronunciation like sen せん.
- Type in "sen" in the text box for this example. And then search.
- Look through the list until you find the kanji 戦. You may have to go through a couple pages. Go to next page by clicking "More Results".
- Copy the Kanji 戦.
- Look below on that page and you should see a section for "New Keyword" and paste 戦 into the textbox. In the options select the "Starting Kanji" and "Common words". Starting Kanji because 戦車 has the Kanji for battle at the start. "Common words" option, because most the time the words you are looking for are common, but if you still cannot find it remove that option.
- Look through the list until you find the word. In this case it is on the second page. 戦車 【せんしゃ】 (n) (1) tank (military vehicle);
- So now you can copy the Kanji 車 and look that up. On this site you could go to the "Kanji Lookup" page: http://nihongo.monash.edu/cgi-bin/wwwjdic?1B
Then search it there.
Radical Search Method
Searching via radicals is typically the best way of finding unknown Kanji. Radicals are pieces that make up Kanji. Radicals should not be considered to have meaning. Kanji that have meaning that are included in other Kanji are a far better measure for determining meaning. There are some bizarre Kanji that are simply extremely difficult to find using this method. Common sense rules do not seem to apply. But those are the exception. Linking lots of potential sites to search for these since, some may or may not display right, and this will be the most important tool to identify Kanji.
Single or Multi Radical Search.
Another Single or Multi Radical Search.
Single or Multi Radical Search. Radicals are a little small on page, but the results are well displayed.
More in depth.
To find 車 I would maybe look at the center piece. Let's see how that works....nope. square, square with two lines, vertical, horizontal lines all fail to find the Kanji. After finding the Kanji another way I found that the radical for the Kanji...IS the Kanji, Which also happens and a possibility I overlooked since I did not recognize it as a radical.
So let's try finding 戦 via radicals. Going to try use either the right or left side of this Kanji, since this is a Kanji that looks separated down the middle. The right part is more simple so I will use that. The right side turns out to be a 4 stroke radical. That then brings up a list of possible Kanji. Then 戦 looks like it has 13 strokes. I look in the results for the Kanji with 13 strokes and it is indeed in there.
So for 戦 the radical search took seconds, and radical search for 車 could potentially be near instant if you considered that the Kanji could be the radical.
Kanji Radical Composition Search
Kanji often share radicals. This can be used to find a different Kanji from one you already know. One fairly unique thing that this tool does is Radical Decomposition of Kanji. Also can use multiple radicals to find Kanji.
Ex: 軍陣 This word was chosen to use knowledge of radicals to identify kanji from one to another. 軍陣【ぐんじん】 (n) camp, battlefield
- Paste 軍
- Select "Do Decomposition".
- Select "Jouyou + Jinmeiyou" for the most common results. "Found in media" can give a lot of uncommon results.
- Click Search
- It gives the Radicals as below. Notice how 車 is now a radical in 軍? The second Kanji in the word 戦車.
Now let's find 陣 from the radical 車.
- Click Clear
- Paste in 車
- Uncheck "Do Composition"
- Select "Jouyou + Jinmeiyou" for the most common results.
- Click Search
- Under 9 strokes you can see that the fourth result is the Kanji we were attempting to find.
To find 陣 using radicals.
- Click the button "clear" to remove previous results.
- Click the 3 stroke radical 阝on the right side of the page in the radicals list.
- Click the 7 stroke radical 車.
- You should have found the exact 9 stroke Kanji 陣
Stroke Count Method
Quick find for kanji of certain stroke counts
Explanation of writing some Kanji.
Strokes are counted by how they are WRITTEN in Japanese. Japanese writing has squares as 3 strokes so keep that in mind. Also Kanji characters with objects inside it that look like greater ">" than or less than "<" symbols are most likely 1 stroke except when they are two. Since it can be difficult to exactly guess the stroke count, Stroke Count Searches typically have the ability to search a stroke range, ex: 10-12 strokes as a search. Note that searching Kanji with low stroke counts can results in dozens to hundreds of results, so I try to avoid stroke count searches with less than around 15 strokes.
For the Kanji 車, this is how I would break it down.
- There is an obvious square in the middle. 3 strokes.
- Two horizontal strokes on top and bottom. 2 strokes.
- Horizontal stroke in the middle of the square. 1 stroke.
- Then on Long vertical stroke through the middle. 1 stroke.
- So 7 strokes.
- Go to http://www.japaneseverbconjugator.com/KanjiByStrokes.asp?Strokes=7 and go through the list until you find it.
- OR in Jim Breen's Kanji Lookup http://nihongo.monash.edu/cgi-bin/wwwjdic?1B
- In the Kanji lookup page, select the dropdown and select "Stroke count".
- In the Textbox type in 7.
- Search until you find 車.
I have not used SKIP in years to find Kanji, but looking at this anew the Type 4 for solid and the sub-types might actually be very useful. Far more so than just relying on a stroke count and getting excess amount of results. The idea is that Kanji usually have certain classifications based on how it looks. Some Kanji are just one large character. Others seem to have two separate parts divided horizontally or vertically. Others have enclosing squares around the entire Kanji, and others have large sections with only small objects on the top or bottom. Use this link to follow along for 戦車.
Explanation. Type 4 is the most complicated the one that will need explanation.
- Type 1 - Split in half vertically. SKIP format 1-<LeftSideStrokeCount>-<RightSideStrokeCount>.
- Type 2 - Split in half horizontally. SKIP format 2-<TopStrokeCount>-<BottomStrokeCount>.Ex:花 2-3-4.
- Type 3 - Enclosed, or semi-enclosed types. A bit nonintuitive at least to me. SKIP format 3-<EnclosingStrokeCount>-<InsideStrokeCount>. Ex: 医 3-2-5
- Type 4 - Solid type. Cannot be classified into the above types. Has 4 subtypes. The search SKIP count for this type will look like 4-<StrokeCount>-<SubType>.
- SubType1 - Top Line
- SubType2 - Bottom Line
- SubType3 - Through line. Vertical or Horizontal line through middle.
- SubType4 - Others that don't fit so nicely.
- 戦 is going to be Type 1, since it is split down the middle.
- Click the split box down the middle to get Past 1 = 1. Or type that in.
- Part 2 is going to be the stroke count for the left section. In this case 9 strokes.
- Part 3 is going to be the stroke count for the right section. In this case 4 strokes.
- In the +/- sections just put 0 since we know for certain the stroke counts.
- Click "Get matching kanji" and the list will have 戦. Skip will be 1-9-4. https://jisho.org/search/%23kanji%20%23skip%3A1-9-4
- 車 is going to be Type 4 since there are no obvious splits.
- Stroke count will be 7.
- Sub type is going to be 3 since there is a nice vertical line in the middle.
- The resulting code will be 4-7-3
- We could use jisho.org to search for it by modiying the url below. *https://jisho.org/search/%23kanji%20%23skip:4-3-7
- If you want to use WWWJDIC for Skip go here http://nihongo.monash.edu/cgi-bin/wwwjdic?1B.
- Use the Selection Type "SKIP Code".
- Type in 1-9-4 as the SKIP Code.
- If it is a common word (most likely), then check the option "Limit to Jouyou/Jinmeiyou kanji".
- And then search.
Click the voice icon. Then click "Japanese". You can then say the word you are looking for. Of course you have to know how to say it. However this could be very useful if you know what it is, but just want the Kanji.
Google's Japanese Voice to Text works. Click the Microphone icon and say the Japanase word to have it attempt to convert that the text.
Japanese is a very contextual heavy language. Knowing context leads to understanding meaning. Interestingly in Japanese just by understanding vocabulary it is possible to make an educated guess about the actual meaning of the sentence.
Verbs can be easy under certain circumstances. If you have the Kanji that helps dramatically, but many games use Hiragana due to the target audience potentially not knowing the Kanji. But that also means that the meaning is probably very common and not some obscure thing. Context here is very important so you can probably guess the meaning. Verbs can be difficult especially for a beginner since there so many verbs spelled exactly the same way. There are also some conjugations that result in exactly the same word and even now I struggle with those. Context again helps to differentiating between these. One example would be ふれる. Is it the potential tense conjugation of ふる (降る or 振る), or is the present tense of 触れる or 振れる?
One takeaway is that the LESS Hiragana and Katakana there is, the easier it is pick apart and get a clearer meaning.
Japanese Verb Conjugator is a very useful tool to help identify the verb conjugation.
Ren’youkei + te (て) This can be used to create subordinate clauses and is used so often it is important to understand.
Rentaikei Form and its uses. All the various uses. I should really review these as well since a couple I forgot.
The -Te form of verbs is one of the most varied with the most potential uses in combination with particles and other clauses.
Linking this page specifically since I had a hard time grasping the passive, the causative, and then the passive-causative forms.
Particles have many uses in a sentence, from the topic marker (subject), to the object marker, to many other uses. The "many other" uses being key. You really need to have some sort of particle reference handy until you have more confidence and even then you may encounter something puzzling. The various possible meanings of particles are too varied for a basic grammar book to cover so I can kind of understand, but I wish those would be more explicit about there being more to them, and also there being a lot more of them.
は、が、に, も being ones with many potential uses. However there are a dozens of particles that are less covered that come up too like たり, し, まま, and the famous/infamous ね to name a few.
I highly recommend this particle book as a reference. My one gripe is that it does not explain which possible uses of particles are the most common. *https://www.amazon.com/Dictionary-Japanese-Particles-Sue-Kawashima/dp/156836542X
Example of many particles:
The key to being able to read actual Japanese outside of simple examples.
Excellent article on conjuctions to create compound sentences. Has a video on link as well.
Clauses linked with verbs and particles. Good article.
Another good article on clauses.
Ren’youkei + te (て) This can be used to create subordniante clauses and is used so often it is important to understand.
Personally I find these to be the most difficult aspect of Japanese. Essentially what is, is a clause/section/unit within the sentence that modifies another section in the sentence. Japanese clauses also tend to modify each recursively as well if you have multiple in a row so if you are translating to English you are actually working backwards.
A good post that explains this better than I can:
Another good resource.
I find dialects hard, but thankfully characters that speak in those dialects usually do not have essential information. There are also Fukui-ben and Hakata-ben, but that seems rare. If they do have info they are not too much different from standard Japanese. Also characters that speak in that dialect seem to be like caricatures of the typical person of those regions so they seem to all use typical phrases and such. I am pretty sure there are games written mainly in some dialect, but I am not aware of them.
This resource should be good enough for more cases for Kansai-ben aka Osaka-ben. Most common dialect in games.
Hakata-ben I have seen a couple phrases in games.
Rarely ever see Fukai anywhere.
Not Fluent Japanese
There is this fake USA American/Japanese way of speaking I can really only call a trope. You see it usually with white blonde USA women or with black USA citizens in Japan or even "half Japanese", because, well, you know. Both of these types are almost always denoted speaking with broken Japanese with lots of broken English in it. In any case these tropes have no language they are actually fluent in. In the case of the black guy (99% a black dude), they sometimes have some sort of rap angle or something like it. Some words may be in actual English characters.
As a beginner these completely suck. You won't find them in dictionaries for the most part. What I do is this.
- Isolate what you think is slang.
- Go into couple and paste it in.
- After the slang word paste in "とは". This will indicate you want to find a definition. Then examples should come up in the search.
- If it still does not come up then try to trim the word you think is slang. Get rid of repeated characters or things that might actually be particles at the end and try again.
- Ask someone if that does not work.
Japanese has a tendency to remove parts of speech. Subjects/topics, nouns, objects, particles, and verbs can all be omitted. My favorite "sentence" when I was starting out consisted of a single particle that by itself does not really mean anything. So it's meaning is all about the context.
"Ne (ね) is used when the speaker is seeking the listener’s agreement, confirming a fact, or to create a sense of togetherness." Saw this with some female seeking agreement from one of her friends.
Good explanation of how normal people like to omit certain things like particles and verbs in sentence creation.
A list of common slang. Nothing too wild here.
Internet slang seems by FAR the toughest of the bunch since it seems to be ever evolving. Cutting edge slang may not even have anything written on it. But any blurbs (because you probably won't get anything more than that) on it will almost certainly be in Japanese.
This DOES happen as you would expect. If you are reading something not unedited too well. Very common errors are:
- Incorrect Kanji. Japanese has so many words that are written the same so this is understandable.
- Incorrect Hiragana or Katakana.
- Incorrect word. An item may actually be something completely different. You see this on occasion in minor RPGs every so often.
Not quite sure what this is called. This is where they use some unusual way of writing something to achieve a disconcerting effect or to cause emphasis. Very common. Could not find any guides for the various ways of expressing this.
- Deliberately writing words or ALL words in a sentence in only Hiragana or Katakana. I see this when they are trying to show that the speaker is not really fluent. In games common speakers that might be shown in this way are : foreigners, monsters, small children.
- Having an annoyingly long vowel end usually done while screaming or yelling. Ex:
- Writing stuff in English/German because they "sound cool" even though it would probably make more sense if they were in Japanese. Usually some form of broken English/German.
- Dots over the words for emphasis. The least annoying of the bunch that actually looks good. Similar to if an English speaker had something in bold or italicized.
- Using half characters for the vowel type sound after a word. Aka 死ねぇ!
- 〜 I have seen this character to be before and after some kind of title.
- っ This small character can be used for extra emphasis. Can be added in the middle of words that don't usually have them. Side note that this can even be a full "sentence" that can express surprise.
Onomatopoeia AKA Sounds as Words
Years ago I wish I had known about this page. It really does seem like a definitive guide. It would have saved me lots of trouble at guessing what some sounds were. Typically they are repeating sequences of letters that denote a sound that is occurring. Such as leaves rustling, some animal sounds, or some kind of banging noise. Sometimes these Onomatopoeia can be used within sentences as verbs or adverbs as well.
Good grammatical explanations. http://www.imabi.net/onomatopoeia.htm
Sometimes in games they will introduce concepts and items with long complicated names. Like in English they will abbreviate them. Usually by taking one or more Japanese letters from the main words of the larger word.
ファミリーコンピューター becomes ファミコン. Pocket Monsters becomes ポケモン
Formal Japanese can be seen in some "royal" setting in games. Formal Japanese can use certain verbs otherwise not seen elsewhere, and the sentences are often embellished. Favorite way of speaking for kings, court officials, demon lords...and also some cats. Not really that different from normal Japanese grammatically so with a dictionary you can figure it out.
Nearly Obsolete Japanese Characters
Rarely I encounter some old text with characters that are not really used anymore in modern Japanese as letters. They are ゐ,ゑ,を. The final one is used in modern Japanese, but now as a particle to denote an object.
Never seen anything like it in games so don't worry about it. Even though a setting might BE in ancient times the language is not. Would probably hurt sales if most of the Japanese buyers could not even understand it. This stuff is incomprehensible to me so you are on your own if it does show up.
These tools can help parse a sentence and make it more manageable. These can be very useful.
Below link has some great options. "No repeated translations" "Skip Katakana" "Skip Hiragana" "Skip Names". So you can paste in a Japanese text and it will display a list of words and their definitions.
Just found this nicely parsing tool and it even works with verb conjugations. Very nice.
Bare bones as far as options, but the results are nice.
Typically with Japanese the automatic translators are not good for actual Japanese. They are good for small example sentences, but if you throw anything out of the ordinary at them they start spitting out some very strange translations. These tools are good for if you have no idea and are trying to start somewhere.
Some games will have parts that are just badly translated, but better than nothing.
- Lazy - Removed sentences.
- Incompetance - Completely wrong translation. Did they even read the sentence?
- Foreign Speaker Translating to English - This is more amusing than anything.
Exhibit A: "All your base are belong to us."
Exhibit B: "X-Men! Welcome to Die!"
Exhibit C (dozens of older game endings): Congraturation!