Once you’re in Japan, you’ll be surrounded by, well… Japanese. There’s no beating living in the native country itself when studying a language, as you’ll be immersed to an incredible level you won’t find anywhere else.
That said, it doesn’t hurt to keep studying on your own to fully retain what you’ll be exposed to during your time in Japan. Here are three of our favorite resources for studying Japanese. (Not yet ready for the big leagues? No biggie! Check out our beginner Japanese alphabet recommendation at the bottom of the story!)
One of the indisputably most difficult parts of Japanese (for those without experience with certain East Asian languages, anyway) is the kanji characters. Wani Kani is essentially an automated kanji flashcard system designed intentionally to help raise the retention of the linguistic symbols. Created by Tofugu (we’re big fans of that soy-based sakana), and based on proven methods, this particular implementation of the spaced repetition system prompts you to respond to a flashcard with either the translation or reading of the symbol/word/radical. Once you’ve learned and responded to the flashcards, they’ll get gradually spaced out for you to answer again and again at a later time, incorporating that information into your knowledge more permanently.
The first three levels of Wani Kani are free to try out for as long as you want, and if you find that you enjoy this learning style, and want to grow that vocabulary of yours, a subscription costs as little as $9 (USD) per month.
(Fun fact: the name Wani Kani is based on the Japanese words for alligator and crab. It makes quite an absurd mascot creature if you ask us.)
Need some help putting all those words into a sentence? Bunpro has your back. Bunpro uses very similar SRS methodologies, only focusing on sentence construction and grammar, useful for studying up for the JLPT! Like Wani Kani, Bunpro also has a community discussion board to help better understand and talk about various grammar points and other topics. If you’re studying Japanese with some of the more popular textbooks such as the Genki series, you can also customize your study path to match.
Bunpro starts you off with a 30-day trial of the premium features (i.e., the SRS flashcards, among other things), but also has a free tier for those just looking to read through some grammar points. The premium features start at $3 (USD) per month and will increase to $5/month as they add more grammar points and continue developing the website.
Japanese Alphabets: Hiragana & Katakana
If you’re not ready to learn kanji or grammar, and first just want to nail down the phonetic characters used in Japanese, you should turn back to those folks at Tofugu for help. They’ve got a comprehensive guide for learning hiragana and katakana, both of which have helped people learn the entire sets in as little as one day! You got this. ✨
If visual/auditory learning is more your style, be sure to check out Nihongo No Mori on YouTube. They offer hundreds (they’re almost to their thousandth!) of Japanese lesson videos for beginning all the way up to advanced levels! And of course, because it’s all on YouTube, the lessons are free. They also recently introduced a phone app called 日本語人 (Nihongo-jin) to help Japanese speakers and learners meet each other for Japanese conversation and travel (iOS / Android)!