Want to kiss study boredom goodbye—forever?
To never again feel like a flashcard-mumbling zombie or a textbook-regurgitating nerd while learning Japanese?
Then you’ll want to hear my secret.
A secret that involves video games.
This learning hack will open you up to an entirely new realm of language learning—one that is not only fun and addictive, but also extraordinarily immersive and beneficial.
And it’s not a tip or trick you’ve heard before, like using social media or mnemonic devices in your routine study sessions.
Are you ready for it?
This incredibly fun way to learn Japanese is with a Japanese 3DS.
First released globally in 2011, the Nintendo 3DS is a handheld gaming system, which allows gamers to play video games in 3D without the use of 3D glasses. Today the system offers a range of genres—from adventure and fantasy to puzzle and simulation—to appeal to its widespread audience of both children and adults.
Maybe you’ve already bought a 3DS. If so, great.
But if it’s not a 3DS from Japan, it’s going to do little to improve your Japanese.
So why spend the extra money on a Japanese 3DS? Is it really worth the cost?
The answer is yes. And here’s why.
Learn the Fun Way: 4 Reasons You’ll Love Having a Japanese 3DS
If you enjoy learning with the 3DS (and you will!), you’ll also enjoy the fun and interactive learning method of FluentU.
You also get access to interactive flashcards and vocab lists, annotated subtitles and personalized quizzes that evolve as you learn.
The game-like learning program will help you learn those tricky kanji, useful vocabulary and key grammar points!
1. It’s the only 3DS with a Japanese language option.
It’s probably no surprise considering the country in which it’s made, but the Japanese 3DS is the only 3DS to contain a Japanese language option.
And not just that—Japanese is, in fact, the only language it offers. (Sorry folks, but you can’t rely on your English crutch when it comes to this gizmo!)
While the North American 3DS offers English, French, Spanish and Portuguese; and the European 3DS offers major European languages, neither of these versions offers Japanese. In that sense, a Japanese 3DS is worth the investment purely because it’s one of the only video game systems out there with a Japanese language option and sprawling library of Japanese games. (And, for comparison, a 3DS is way cheaper than a Japanese Wii or Wii U.)
Literally everything on the 3DS is in Japanese (apart from the buttons, which are all oddly in English), from the menu and settings to the instructions and loading screens. The best part is you’re guaranteed to come into contact with an array of vocabulary depending on what types of games you play.
For example, adventure- and fantasy-based games will have some of the most extensive vocabularies due to more intricate plotlines, while games based on popular anime or manga will introduce you to slang and casual speech.
Naturally, the Japanese 3DS can only play 3DS games made in Japan, so if you’re hoping to play an imported game on your North American 3DS, think again. The systems are region locked, meaning you can only play Japanese 3DS games on a Japanese 3DS, and North American 3DS games on a North American 3DS.
However, there is an easy way around this if you’re okay with opting for older DS games. Unlike 3DS games, DS games are not region locked, meaning you can freely play a Japanese DS game on any Nintendo DS or 3DS system!
So if you already own a Nintendo DS or 3DS system, here are some Japanese DS games you could play on it.
Recommended Japanese DS games:
- “Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day! / Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training: How Old Is Your Brain?” (脳を鍛える大人のDSトレーニング/のうをきたえる おとなのDSとれーにんぐ)
2. It has loads of kanji and furigana.
As the old man said to Link in “The Legend of Zelda,” “It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.”
For the sake of this list, let’s say he was referring to furigana.
Reading kanji alone is perhaps one of the most intimidating aspects of the Japanese language. Though beautiful, kanji can also be an enormous hindrance to learners—which is why the Japanese 3DS’s inclusion of furigana is seriously helpful.
Most kid-friendly 3DS games have furigana above difficult kanji and sometimes over all kanji. As a general rule of thumb, the younger the game’s audience, the more furigana (and katakana and hiragana) there will be. These games are the easiest to figure out how to play, even if you only have a basic understanding of Japanese characters.
If you find yourself overwhelmed with the dialogue in, let’s say, “Kingdom Hearts 3D” (キングダムハーツ3D/きんぐだむ はーつ3D), consider easing into Japanese gameplay with more simplistic games containing easier-to-follow progression, such as “Yoshi’s New Island” (ヨッシーNewアイランド/よっしー にゅー あいらんど) or “New Super Mario Bros. 2” (New スーパーマリオブラザーズ2/にゅー すーぱーまりお ぶらざーず2).
If you’re up for a challenge, adventure and simulation series, such as previously mentioned “The Legend of Zelda” (ゼルダの伝説/ぜるだの でんせつ) or popular farm-based game “Harvest Moon” (牧場物語/ぼくじょう ものがたり), are your best bet for loads of kanji (with the occasional furigana).
To really make sure you’re studying the language as you play, make a side game out of the language itself: Look up every unfamiliar word on a dialogue or exposition screen, and read and reread it until you’ve comprehended the basic meaning behind the sentences.
Don’t be tempted to just press A and move on. Not only will this impede your language learning, but it might also prevent you from knowing what you’re supposed to do next in the game!
3. The menu has a lot of useful kanji and vocabulary.
Sure, games are great for learning new words and kanji, but the menu screen is likely the place you’ll be visiting the most, so let’s give it some appreciation, shall we?
Like any other video game system, in the beginning you have to go through a series of steps to set up your 3DS. Whatever you do, don’t let the plethora of Japanese overwhelm you. Once you get through the initial setup, the menu will become a lot easier to navigate and will ultimately function as a convenient vocabulary refresher.
You’ll see a huge variety of options in the home menu, most written in a mix of katakana, hiragana and intermediate-level kanji.
Before beginning a game, make sure you’ve got a decent idea of the ins and outs of the menu. Do you know how to access the Internet browser? How to add friends to your friend list? How to enable parental controls?
If not, make it a habit to refresh your memory every time you load a game by messing around on the home screen.
Before starting your game, go through the menu and click on random links to see if you can comprehend their titles and content. There’s no shame in grabbing a dictionary to help you out, and you can take all the time you need!
Some of the most common words and phrases you’ll see in the menu, loading screens and options tabs include the following (as they appear on the 3DS):
- close — とじる
- finish — おわる
- start/begin — はじめる
- change — 変える (かえる)
- instructions — 説明書 (せつめいしょ)
- settings — 本体設定 (ほんたい せってい)
- please wait a moment — しばらく おまちください
- preparing — 準備をしています (じゅんびをしています)
- software was added — ソフトが追加されました (そふとが ついかされました)
- a new message/announcement has arrived — 新しいおしらせが届きました (あたらしい おしらせが とどきました)
4. It has access to kanji-based learning games.
Some gamers prefer more intellectually stimulating fun, but don’t think the Japanese 3DS is only about mindless button mashing.
The system provides access to a multitude of Japan-only learning materials as well as learning-based games from the DS era (which, as mentioned previously, are playable on any DS or 3DS system regardless of region).
If you’re studying for the 日本漢字能力検定 (にほん かんじ のうりょく けんてい – Japan Kanji Aptitude Test) in particular, the Japanese 3DS is a great aid to help you get there, as it has special access to all Japanese DS and 3DS kanji-oriented games.
Recent 3DS releases include the 2015 ドラもじのび太の漢字大作戦 (どらもじ のびたの かんじ だいさくせん – “Doramoji: Nobita’s Kanji Battle”) and the 2014 漢字トレーニング (かんじ とれーにんぐ – “Kanji Training”).
Not satisfied with those two choices? Opt for DS games, and you’ll find a more expansive selection of kanji games (and dictionaries) for learners of all ages and levels.
Some highly rated games are 漢検DS3デラックス (かんけんDS3でらっくす – “Kanken DS3 Deluxe”) and 漢字そのままDS楽引辞典 (かんじ そのままDSらくびき じてん – “Kanji DS Dictionary”), which functions similarly to an electronic dictionary.
A recommended game for beginners is 正しい漢字かきとりくん (ただしい かんじ かきとりくん – “Correct Kanji Dictation”), which teaches you to memorize and master the stroke order of 1,000+ elementary-level kanji.
How Can I Buy a Japanese 3DS and Games?
In order to play any of the above-mentioned games and reap the full benefits of a Japanese 3DS, you’ll naturally need to buy one!
But as you may have noticed, the system is sold exclusively in Japan. And while the easiest way to obtain one would be to vacation, study or reside in Japan, that’s probably not a feasible option for most people reading this.
Luckily, other options exist!
The most convenient way for those living outside Japan to obtain a Japanese 3DS and 3DS/DS games is through Amazon. (Occasionally Amazon Japan may also be used, but this depends on what products are eligible for international shipping.)
Amazon has a wide variety of 3DS colors and import games at reasonable prices. To locate a Japanese 3DS or game, simply search for the item’s title plus “Japan import,” “Japanese import,” “Japanese version” or “Japanese imported version.” As an added bonus, shipping is usually reduced for Amazon Prime members, making Amazon more cost-effective compared to regular import stores.
Other possibilities for importing 3DS-related gadgets include eBay (usually for secondhand copies), 日本屋さん (にっぽんやさん – Nippon-Ya san) and あみあみ (AmiAmi).
If you’ve grown exhausted trying to cram kanji and vocabulary into your brain, a Japanese 3DS is an exciting alternative to traditional study techniques and definitely worth the investment.
So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and press start!
Hannah Muniz is a freelance writer and translator in the greater Houston area.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Japanese with real-world videos.