Learn Japanese While Driving: 18 Fun and Efficient Ways to Learn Japanese in Your Car

Whether you commute to work or school, go on frequent road trips or you simply have to drive a lot to get anywhere, time on the road can add up and cut into the time you could be doing something else—like studying Japanese.

Fortunately, there are a myriad of ways to learn Japanese while driving. They mostly involve plugging in Japanese audio lessons to your car’s sound system, but you can also play games that are safe to do while on the road—especially if you have fellow learners or native speakers with you.

At any rate, you can learn new things, practice what you already know and ensure that commuting time doesn’t turn into wasted time with the resources below!


1. Pimsleur


Pimsleur is a bestselling audio course for beginner to intermediate levels. Essentially, the program teaches you Japanese phrases by allowing you to shadow them at a natural pace. The phrases gradually increase in difficulty and complexity, but it’s done in a very intuitive way.

You can download their app to your iOS or Android device, and start blasting out those valuable audio lessons on the go. If you need more information on this program, check out our Pimsleur review.

2. Drive Time Japanese

Drive Time Japanese: Beginner Level

If your car still has a CD player, you can use this program that’s specifically designed to be used while driving.

Created by language experts, this program is aimed at beginners. There’s roughly about an hour worth of lessons on each of the four CDs within. That means if your trip is at least an hour long, this is a perfect companion.

But you’re not just going to be shadowing conversations. You’ll also be treated to a ton of exercises, explanations on the phrases used in the program and more.

If you’re having trouble following along with the audio, no problem—they have a handy guide book to help you out with the bits that may be too difficult to understand. Just make sure you’re not reading and driving at the same time!

3. JapanesePod101 


This program is ideal for beginner, intermediate and advanced learners alike. It features both audio and video material made by professional teachers, and it’s one of the most prolific and consistent language sites in the game.

JapanesePod101 will teach you grammar, vocabulary, everyday conversations, real-life situations and culture. So, basically, you’ve got all your bases covered!

Also, if you want to learn more about JapanesePod101, read this review.

4. Learn Japanese Pod 


Learn Japanese Pod may be “young” compared to many other podcasts (to date, it only has around 50 episodes), but it’s worth a try no matter what level you are in your studies.

Not only will it teach you the finer points of the Japanese language, but you’ll also pick up cool cultural tidbits like the best places to see in Kyoto, the hosts’ favorite anime and interviews with various people who live or have lived in Japan.

You can download the podcast’s free app to your iOS or Android device, or listen to it wherever else you get your podcasts.

5. Utada Hikaru

Genre: pop, contemporary, R&B

If you’re going to improve your Japanese, might as well do it the fun way—like listening to music!

Take Utada Hikaru, for example. She may not be the first J-Pop singer, but she’s probably one of the most well-known artists (if not the most well-known artist) in the genre. She’s been active since 1996, so you won’t have a shortage of songs to listen to from her.

Here’s a video sample of one of her most well-loved songs, “First Love,” which is short, sweet and has relatively simple vocabulary as you can see on her official Spotify track.

6. Bump of Chicken

Genre: alternative rock

As funny as their name sounds, they’re actually one of the longest running bands that are still active in Japan, tracing their beginnings as far back as 1994.

I recommend their song 天体観測 ( てんたい かんそく ) — “Star Gazing” in particular, because the lyrics have a good mixture of easy and intermediate vocabulary. Plus, it’s just a great song!

7. Mr Children

Genre: pop rock, power pop

More affectionately known as ミスチル (みすちる) by their fans, this band kicked off way back in 1989—and they’re still going strong!

To start with, you can try one of their gentler songs くるみ, which (like my last song recommendation) is easy enough to understand for beginners (particularly those who’ve already begun to study kanji), but has enough intermediate vocabulary to challenge you.

8. “Shamisen Song Collection” 

Japanese Traditional Music: Shamisen and Songs - Kokusai Bunka

The 三味線 (しゃみせん) — shamisen is a traditional Japanese instrument that’s like a three-stringed banjo. It’s usually played by striking the strings with a bachi.

If you like the idea of listening to hours of traditional Japanese music, pop this one in your car’s CD player (again, if your car still has one of these). Sometimes, the 三味線 may be accompanied by trained singers, which can be a real treat!

9. “童謡大全集” ( どうよう だいぜんしゅう ) — Nursery Rhymes Complete Works 

nursery rhyme daisenshu

If you’re a complete beginner to Japanese and have a hard time following fast-paced songs, don’t be shy about starting with Japanese nursery rhymes. After all, that’s how children start to pick up their native language—so why can’t adults do the same?

Besides, as you can see from the pictures on the CD cover, some of these nursery rhymes are actually Japanese adaptations of their Western counterparts. That means the meaning of each nursery rhyme may already be familiar to you, making it easier to follow along and just pay attention to the way the Japanese words are strung together.

10. “赤ちゃんのための童謡” ( あかちゃんの ための どうよう ) — Nursery Rhymes for Babies


Whether you have an actual 赤ちゃん (あかちゃん) — baby or not, this is an even more basic version of 童謡大全集.

Because this is aimed at babies, the vocabulary is extremely simple. You may feel silly at the idea of sounding out words like an infant would—but if you think about it, you’re still at the “baby” stages of learning Japanese. So listening to something like this for the sake of learning isn’t anything to be ashamed of!

11. LibriVox


Audiobooks are good for advanced learners who want pure, authentic language input and also enjoy a story—and LibriVox is one of the most well-known repositories of audiobooks in any language.

The best part? LibriVox’s audiobooks are all available for free, making them perfect for people with tight budgets. In fact, here are some recommendations for audiobooks in Japanese—most of them are from LibriVox, but a few are from other sources.

12. Audible


The one downside of legal, open-source audiobook sites like LibriVox is that they hardly have any contemporary Japanese books. If you prefer something more modern (and, let’s be honest, easier to understand), and you have extra room in your budget for one more monthly subscription, Audible might be right up your alley.

Plus, you can download their app to your smartphone or any other compatible device, making it a snap to connect your Audible device to your car’s sound system.

13. Travel With a Native Japanese Speaker or Fellow Learner


Suggest a road trip with someone from Japan or someone else who’s studying Japanese. That way, you can use some of the driving time to speak with them. Make sure you actually want to spend time with them, too!

Also, you can play the games in the following sections with your travel companion.

14. I Spy


Number of people: Two or more.

Rules: One person sees—ahem, spies—something and gives the first letter. The other person (or people) have to try and guess what they’re spying.

In Japanese: There are two ways you can play this game in Japanese. You can stick to the original style and only give the first letter (when romanized). For example, (そら) — sky would begin with “S.” Alternatively, you can use the first Japanese character of the word when written in kana. Hence, 空 could begin with .

15. 20 Questions


Number of people: Ideally two, but more can join in.

Rules: One person thinks of something (it can be anything—countries, everyday items, abstract nouns, etc.). The others must ask questions to narrow down what the answer might be. Usually, they have to guess within 20 questions, but the game can go on longer.

In Japanese: This game gives you the opportunity to learn new words as well as practice asking and answering questions.

Some useful vocabulary for this game:

16. The License Plate Game


Number of people: Two or more (you can also practice this game alone).

Rules: When you see other cars’ license plates, try to think of words or phrases using the letters of the license plate. The more ridiculous the phrase becomes, the funnier it gets.

This can be a fun game to play, especially if there’s a lot of traffic. Depending on your country of residence and the styles of car license plates, this may or may not be playable.

In Japanese: As an example, you might see a license plate with the letters T, G and B. In English, you might say something like “Tickle Gorilla Butt.” In Japanese, you could either come up with a full phrase if you can, or for Japanese practice, simply find a word for each letter.

With T, G and B, you could have 津波 (つなみ) — tsunami, ゴリラ (ごりら) — gorilla and 爆弾 (ばくだん) — bomb. Alternatively, you could also have 手伝う (てつだう) — to help, ガラス (がらす) — glass, ボール (ぼーる) — ball and so on.

17. The Restaurant Race


Number of people: Two or more (the more the better).

Rules: Each person chooses a common chain restaurant, such as Taco Bell, Burger King or McDonald’s if you’re in the USA. Set a time limit (20 minutes is usually good), and count how many of your restaurants you see on your trip. Whoever finds the most wins.

In Japanese: This game is most effective when played in Japan, because you’ll be shouting out restaurant names in Japanese. You can always try to pronounce English restaurant names as they’re pronounced in Japanese, or discuss ordering food from each in Japanese. After all, most of the hugely popular restaurants from the United States are found in Japan, too.

Try to name one item that you could order from each restaurant, and you’ll get tons of food vocabulary practice.

18. Word Chain Game (a.k.a. しりとり , lit. “Taking the Buttocks”)


Number of people: Two or more

Rules: One person says a word, and the next person has to come up with a word beginning with the last letter of that word. In Japanese, you’d use the kana characters that make up the word.

Here’s an example of how the game would work in order. Notice the similarities in the first and last syllables to the word that comes before and after (bolded for you):

A player who plays a word ending in loses the game, as no Japanese word begins with ん. If you want to make the game a little more challenging, try incorporating rules such as “animals only.”


When you learn Japanese while driving, you can pick up new knowledge and skills not only in your free time, but also in the time you’re spending doing other things. With these tips, the hour a week (at least) you spend on the road can be added to your study or practice time.

Have fun out there!

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