How I’m Learning Japanese to Play Otome Games

Let me preface this post with a few disclaimers.

I’m not an expert in language learning and make no claims to be one, nor do I have a guaranteed road map to get you from where I started to where I am now. I’m still learning this language, but I’ve made significant progress and have even translated an otome game on my own for practice. Lastly, how I’ve been learning this language may not work for everyone.

This post will detail what I did to get as far as I have with Japanese and what worked for me. Links are affiliate links. There’s absolutely no pressure to use them. 

Starting out:

I would suggest first learning hiragana and katakana, the two syllabaries of the written Japanese language, before anything else. Each syllabary has a different function and both are necessary to read Japanese. I printed off a sheet of each set from google images and practiced writing them until I could remember them. Here’s a look at one of my old journals in which I did exactly that (apologies for my chicken scratch):

kana notes

You do not have to rewrite each one as many times as I did—this simply worked best for me. As for Romaji, the alphabetized version of the Japanese language, I would suggest ditching that entirely and pretending it doesn’t even exist. Japanese has its own writing system and romaji is not a part of it. Romaji can only hinder your studies, though some might argue against this. Do whatever you feel works best. These are simply my suggestions.

The first textbook I used was Japanese From Zero. I no longer have a copy of this text as I borrowed it from my library, but I remember thinking it was a smooth introduction to the language at the time. Here are some notes I took from it:

grammar

I also watched its accompanying youtube channel for further practice. I had been watching anime for years too, which helped me become familiar with how the language sounded. I believe all of this helped to create a good foundation for when I eventually joined a class.

I really recommend building a strong understanding of the fundamentals. I didn’t put in enough work to understand the particles when I was starting out, and I’ve continuously paid the price for this. My class also didn’t emphasize the importance of learning kanji or katakana in the beginning. We focused instead on memorizing vocabulary, grammar concepts and conjugating verbs.

This hindered my ability to read without constantly consulting a dictionary. By the time we had to “memorize” the kanji in order to pass our exams, it was an up-hill battle. I was constantly forgetting how to write and read them. We had never been introduced to the concept of radicals and were told only to memorize the kanji. Had things been different, it would’ve saved me so many tears. Katakana is also indispensable, so please don’t skimp out on them.

Thankfully, there’s an abundance of resources that can be found online for free. It’s entirely possible to learn this same information online at no cost and without the need for a class. Some free websites I have used and can recommend are Tofugu, Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese, Maggie Sensei, and Imabi. I learned a lot from these sites and thought they were fantastic resources.

There are pros and cons to both self-studying and a classroom setting, however. I personally struggle with time-management and I get caught up in questions when I don’t understand a concept. While self-studying worked for me initially, joining a class personally worked much better for my learning style. If you can’t join a class, don’t worry! There are many forums you can use to ask for help, like stackexchange. Do whatever works best for you!

Textbook Resources:

From here on out, I’m going to briefly summarize what my classes used and my thoughts on each one. I also picked up additional texts to further my studies, which I’ll talk about in this section. I personally felt as though what I learned in class wasn’t enough to progress in the language. If I don’t talk about a certain textbook, that’s because I have not used it and therefore can’t give an opinion on it.

I used the Genki textbooks for the first two years. If I recall correctly, my professor said they’re the equivalent of having learned most—but not all—of the information needed to pass the N4 of the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test). Of course, I could be wrong so please feel free to correct me in the comments below. The Genki series unfortunately won’t get you very far. I tried to play an otome game right after I finished the series, but I was never fully able to get through one until only recently. (Please excuse my wrist gel-support. I needed a paperweight.)

genki frontgenki chapter

The Genki books are very easy to understand, even without a teacher. However, there are a lot of exercises throughout the books that asks for you to participate with a partner, as in the photo above. Each chapter begins with a spread of two pages filled with vocabulary terms. Directly after that is a small portion of dialogue containing some of those new words and some of the new grammar concepts you will learn in that chapter. After that, the text gives you several pages of exercises to practice what you learned. Genki also includes things like Culture Notes, where they discuss some aspects of Japanese culture, and Expression Notes, which discusses how you can and can’t use certain grammatical concepts.

All in all, the Genki series is a very beginner-friendly textbook for anyone wanting to learn Japanese. While you may not be able to dive right into a game or light novel after finishing these, you’ll have a decent grasp of the basics. Genki also has some workbooks you can buy. I thought these were fantastic supplementary practice books to help cement the kanji and grammar you learned.

After I finished these, I worked on this practice test book for the N5. I never took the N5, but I wanted to see where I was at. I thought it was decent enough. If you are curious about the test, I’d recommend instead checking out the site. It includes free sample questions. I just don’t think spending money on an N5 book is worth it unless you either want to take the test or you feel like Genki didn’t give you enough exercises.

N5 bookN5 problem

In addition to this practice booklet, I purchased Shadowing and one of the Japanese Graded Readers. Shadowing: Let’s Speak Japanese! comes with a CD. The goal is to repeat every sentence after the speaker until you can do so easily. It was very challenging for me at first, but I got the hang of it after a few months. I would listen to this on the drive up to school and attempt to repeat the same sentences. I chose to get this because my class barely spent any time on speaking practice.

shadowingshadowing2

As for the Japanese Graded Readers, I think they’re alright but are pretty pricey for what you actually get. I chose level 0, which is the easiest level. It comes with an audio CD to help you follow along as you read. The six stories included in level 0 are very, very short. I never bought any more just because I thought these weren’t as useful compared to other materials—especially because it’s just so darned expensive. If you’re looking for free, short Japanese stories to try, there are a lot available online.

graded readergraded reader 2

Now let’s talk about my favorite textbook that I’ve studied so far. Tobira: Gateway to Advanced Japanese Learning Through Content and Multimedia. As the title says, this textbook is for advanced levels. It’s a big leap from the Genki books and I think you’ll want to be able to ask someone for help with Tobira if you can. The structure can seem intimating at first but it’s really easy to get the hang of.

tobira covertobira grammartobira passage

My advanced classes consisted of a mixture of Tobira, Sou Matome and Kanzen Master. We never finished Tobira, mainly because of how dense the material is compared to Genki. My professor also had never used this text before, so our class was essentially a test-run for this book. I used what time I had after work to study what we did not in class. Overall, I found this textbook really fun. I guess it worked well with my study habits. However, this textbook was the make-it-or-break-it for a lot of my peers. With each passing semester, more and more people dropped the class. By the time I had reached the last Japanese class at my university, there were only about eight other students.

We studied Kanzen Master and translated select passages from Japanese literature. To be completely transparent, I had a tough time with the Kanzen Master series. They’re essential to fine-tuning your grammar comprehension. Grammar is the bane of my existence, and Kanzen was ruthless. If not for my professor, most of the nuances and answers would’ve flown right over my head. I know a lot of people love this series, but I struggled immensely with them.

kanzen coverkanzen example

The translation exercises from passages of literature were a lot of fun, though. I had an equally rough time with them. This was from about two years ago? God, when did Covid start? When did I finish these classes? The original passage on the left had to be flipped to fit on the page. The right page is my attempt at a translation. Please forgive my awful handwriting once again.

literature translation

Books, Manga and Games

When I wasn’t doing assignments or at work, I was practicing the language on my own time. With these two trusty dictionaries open on separate tabs, Jisho and Weblio, I was able to get through so much material. While I began at a snail’s crawl, I quickly became more accustomed to the language and over time I even began to understand what I was reading without needing a dictionary every five seconds. I worked on translating one of the Studio Ghibli picture books I purchased second-hand on amazon during the semester. I asked my professor for her opinion whenever she was available. In retrospect, I really could’ve tried to study with a pencil as opposed to pen… These were from about a year before I started the advanced classes.

howl bookhowl passagehowl translation I picked up some shojo manga titles that were supposed to be easy to read from CDJapan. All of them were very easy to understand, albeit I did need a dictionary. The first one is called, Ohisama ni Kissu. The second is called, Kimi to Wonderland. (The first is sold out on CDJapan right now.)

お姫様にキス君とワンダ-ランド

As for novels, I picked up a copy of the novelization of the live action film of Ao Haru Ride. This was a difficult book to get through. I struggled with it a lot, but I managed to finish it in around a year’s time. I pick it up every now and again to see if I’ve improved. The book starts off in first-person perspective, then shifts to third.

ao haru ride novel

These are just some of the many manga and novels I’ve powered through. My biggest accomplishment to date, however, is my translation of an otome game. I primarily created this blog in order to review titles from this niche genre of visual novels, but as my studies progressed, so too did my motivation to complete one in Japanese. And after several months, I did it. You can find my work under the translation tab. All of this was done strictly for study-purposes only. Included in each post are notes and cries for help regarding sentences I struggled with. Perhaps it can also serve as motivation for anyone out there who has similar goals. The title I translated is called, Beastmaster and Prince: Flower and Snow. You can pick it up on the Switch too, and it comes with both the first game and its sequel.

beastmaster game

Unfortunately, the regular edition for the switch is completely sold out. The Vita version is also sold out. The Limited Edition is still available for purchase though. I thought this otome game was one of the easiest I’ve ever tried to play in Japanese. Considering I completely translated the first game, I think it’s a great option for anyone wanting to try it out. My translations are available to compare your own with too, if that helps. I still have a very long way to go, but I’ve managed to come so far in only five years. I couldn’t even read Japanese a few years ago and now I’m playing games—albeit slowly. It takes consistent practice, but you can absolutely get there too! You got this!


What textbooks or materials have helped you in your language learning journey?


12 thoughts on “How I’m Learning Japanese to Play Otome Games

  1. nefferinthia

    This is so interesting! I’ve actually never worked with a textbook in my life, most of my Japanese knowledge comes from immersion, anki decks and attempting to read things while looking up words. Sometimes I feel like I want to try a textbook to up my level, but it’s really hard to gauge what level the textbooks are at and whether it wouldn’t be either too easy or too hard.

    I’ve also found that Diabolik Lovers is really easy in Japanese, primarily because there’s not a ton of overarching plot and it’s mostly separate scenarios, the only problem is that I don’t actually like most of the boys lol

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Leafさんの夢が。。。 Post author

      Thanks for reading, nefferinthia! That’s so cool! I wish I could learn from Anki like you! Can I ask how long it took you to be able to read your first visual novel?

      Since you’re able to read Diabolik Lovers just fine, I’d say you’re well above the level of most of the textbooks that are available! xD That’s really inspirational! (Though I feel you on the love interests in DL lol. I liked about 2 of them?) If you’re ever curious about your level, I’d try out the sample questions available on JLPT website rather than buying a textbook. I wouldn’t be able to to say which book could be a good fit for you if you were interested since you already got this far xD

      Thanks again for dropping by! I’m sure your experience will be very inspirational for many who aren’t interested in the traditional textbook route!

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  2. Eu

    I wish I had this list when I was starting out. 😆 I also started learning Japanese to play otoge (coughTMGScough), but I was too impatient and dived head first to Okashi no Shima no Peter Pan while studying the basics lmao. Grammar is still my weakness. I find it hard to study it effectively alone as I never took a Jpn class before. Having a study/game burnout didnt help.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Leafさんの夢が。。。 Post author

      Hey, major kudos to you for just diving in like that xD Sometimes you just gotta go for it. TMGS was an experience lol. What did you think of Okashi no Shima no Peter Pan? I’ve had it on my shelf for ages but am so worried the language is too advanced rofl.

      I hope you find a way to overcome the grammar monster too! Studying alone is definitely hard, but I think once you get used to doing a little bit everyday it becomes a habit that’s hard to break. Burnouts are pretty demotivating for sure though. I hope you’re doing better with it!

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      1. Eu

        I loved it! Though, in hindsight, it’s not the best choice when you were starting on your studies 😅. Quin Rose was known for their walls of texts, and I didnt take it seriously before lol. Compared to me before, you’ve been studying for a while now so many it’ll be easier for you. 😁

        How do you practice the grammar points? Do you have advice for that?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Leafさんの夢が。。。 Post author

        Oh wow I def hadn’t heard of that about Quin Rose xD Hopefully the new Alice games aren’t like that since it’s (I believe) a different company now. But that’s really impressive you still went for it 🙂

        As for grammar, I wish I knew a better way haha. The only thing that has worked for me was to rewrite example sentences, then create my own and hope I encountered them in other material. If I couldn’t get a sentence right away, I’d go back to the basics to see where I went wrong. Hope that helps!!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Eu

        Yeah, it is xD;;; Too tiring for a beginner student lol. I hope so! The Alice games seem good.

        Oh, that’s actually a good point. I think I was too lazy to do shadowing hence my slow improvement in grammar. Thank you! ^_^

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Leafさんの夢が。。。 Post author

        We all learn in different ways 🙂 but I’m sure you’ll get the hang of grammar in no time! You got this! I grabbed Shadowing because my classes had presentations and speaking exams every semester and we got marked on our pronunciation, grammar and how natural we could speak. It was either you found a way or you died xD

        Liked by 1 person

  3. minbento

    Loved this! It was a great post explaining your journey and how you came to the level you are right now. I’ll be definitely taking a look into the Kanzen series as they seem very helpful.

    My journey of Japanese is a bit similar, starting off with the Genki series into Tobira. Although I’m still stuck in Tobira and have put a pause on my learning due to school taking over. I think the biggest thing for me when it came to Japanese was my vocabulary. I was missing so much words that I could only read about 30-50% without looking up stuff in a dictionary. I completely agree with the radicals when it comes to Kanji and have been practicing that aspect with WaniKani.

    Overall I hope we can both achieve our goals that we set out this year! Mine is to finally break into N3 territory and clean out my backlog of games waiting to be played T_T

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Leafさんの夢が。。。 Post author

      Hey there, minbento! Hope you’ve been well and thanks for reading! That’s so cool that you’re practicing the radicals on your own. You’re definitely right about the lack of vocabulary. The textbooks don’t really give a lot to work with when it comes to reading additional materials haha. I’m still looking up new words all the time and wondering if I’ll ever get past that. Thanks for sharing your own journey, I’m sure it will be very helpful for everyone!

      Kanzen Master is a great series. They can be frustrating if you get caught up in the details, though. I hope they work for you!

      That’s so sweet ❤ I'll be rooting for you to overcome N3! You've made it this far so you can definitely achieve your goals!! Good luck with your backlog too and take care out there!

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

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