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Using the Nintendo DS to Study Japanese

Nintendo DS as a Japanese Language learning tool

First let me say, the Nintendo DS is simply awesome.

  • Having a Stylus not only makes game play more interesting, it also makes kanji training software possible
  • Two screens (albeit not the highest resolution) are better than one
  • Inexpensive
  • Large software library (not just games)
  • Not just games! Kanji study software; brain training software; educational software; and much more
  • REGION FREE - This means you can play Japanese software on a US Nintendo DS. I use my American DS all the time with Japanese software without any problems. (I have heard the only DS you cannot use Japanese software with is the Chinese DS. I am not sure why)
  • Small enough to fit in a pocket; closing the shell pauses the "game." This makes the DS both portable and available for the spare minute you may have throughout the day

If you don't have a DS and want one, please consider buying one through this Amazon link:
Nintendo DS Game Systems
(it helps support this site!)

Nintendo DS imageIt isn't perfect--I'd like to see a higher resolution for example--but what a great device for playing games AND studying Japanese.

There are many sites where you can learn about great DS games but for our purposes, we will talk about software for learning or practicing Japanese. Basically there are games that can be used for Japanese practice and there is software made specifically for learning Japanese. Unfortunately in the latter group, most software is made for native Japanese speakers to improve their Japanese. As a result, there isn't anything great for early beginners.

DS Software for Studying Japanese

These software/games are made specifically for native Japanese to improve their Japanese or kanji. It would be better for beginners to wait until basic Japanese grammar and vocabulary is mastered before buying any Japanese software for the DS.

My Japanese Coach My Japanese Coach

From Alexdal: It's the first real japanese course for foreigner! Very good and very big (but you have to start from beginner even if you know a lot of words)

Read this post from Phreadom detailing a few errors in the program--Must Reading for those interested in the game.

LEVEL: Beginner+

Kanji Sonomama Rakubiki Jiten 漢字そのままDS楽引辞典
Buy from Amazon Play Asia
This is perhaps the most popular Japanese DS 'game' for studying Japanese. It basically turns your Nintendo DS into a Japanese electronic dictionary. Let me say first, this makes a poor denshi jisho compared to the top of the line dictionaries out there, but, hey, it is much cheaper. It uses the small (but decent) Genius J-E and E-J; has no kanji dictionary (despite the name); and unlike stand-alone dictionaries, the DS isn't made to be a dictionary per se. But for the price one can hardly complain! It certainly gets the job done.
NEW! If you have this software, check out JohtoKen's In-depth Tour on 漢字そのままDS楽引辞典 - Introductory Fundamentals and Looking Up Words blog post for clues to get the most out of your software.
More on my blog... and here is a simple video I made of it.

LEVEL: Upper Beginner+

250 mannin no kanken 250万人の漢検+常用漢字辞典+四字熟語辞典 2,500,000 People’s Kanji Test + Joyo Kanji Dictionary + 4 kanji compound Dictionary
Buy from Amazon Play Asia
(note the Amazon link is to an earlier version 200mannin--but I believe the shippers will ship the newest version)

This is probably my favorite of the bunch. Again, it isn't great for beginners or even upper beginners because of the vocabulary needed to use it effectively, but it can be a great way to practice writing kanji or for learning the readings.

LEVEL: Intermediate+

shikakui atama o maruku suru DS kanji no sho シカクイアタマをマルクするDS漢字の章 shikakui atama o maruku suru DS kanji no sho Make your square head into a round one: the Kanji Chapter 漢字の章
Play Asia

This game is made for Japanese children preparing for the Junior High School kanji entrance exam. This software not only reviews kanji, but it fully explains (in simple Japanese) each problem.

LEVEL: Upper Beginner+

The following are games made for practicing kanji or Japanese in general but I haven't tried them enough to comment just yet:

Mojipittan DS game ことばのパズル・もじぴったんDS
kotoba no pazuru moji pittan DS
Buy from Amazon Play Asia

I haven't played this (I intend to soon), but here is the description from Amazon:

Mojipittan DS is a fun and adorable Japanese word game for Nintendo DS. Practice and test your Japanese skill with Mojipittan--works with any DS. Recommended for Intermediate and Advanced learners of Japanese language.

LEVEL: Intermediate+

nihongo kentei DS 日本語検定DS nihongo kentei DS Japanese Test
I haven't tried this, but it is an all-around Japanese trainer: kanji, grammar, vocabulary, expressions, etc.
Play Asia
More later!

LEVEL: Intermediate+

Kanken DS 2 漢検DS2+常用漢字辞kanken DS 2 + jouyou kanji jiten - Kanji Test DS 2 + Joyo Kanji Dictionary
I haven't played with this enough to comment or to know how it differs from the above 250万人 software... Will update--or maybe someone can comment?
Play Asia

There are 'games' like the next one that try to trick you into learning kanji. I'm not sure. I think I would prefer something more on the line of the 250 mannin no kanken.

Hissatsu Kung-Fu - Kanji Dragon 必殺カンフー漢字ドラゴン hissatsu kanfu- kanji doragon - Deadly Kung fu Kanji Dragon (sounds very friendly, huh?)
Play Asia

Games for Practicing Japanese

And then there are DS Japanese games/software that are made purely for enjoyment in the Japanese market but can be an excellent way for those learning Japanese to practice their reading skills.

日本文学100選 nihon bungaku hyaku sen 100 Japanese e-Books
Play Asia
This is a neat idea. Take 100 out of copyright books and sell them as e-books for the DS. If the DS screen resolution was a little better, I would LOVE this. Even still, it is readable (although complicated kanji often look like a solid block) and very enjoyable. Furigana is given for difficult kanji. 'Easy' kanji has no furigana so I'd say it is best for those who know about 1000 kanji.

Awesome selection of Japanese classics! Every student should be familiar with many--if not all--of these books.

LEVEL: Intermediate+

bimoji 美文字トレーニング bimoji tore-ningu Calligraphy Training
Play Asia
This is another neat idea. With computers being everywhere, many Japanese have neglected the art of writing. This software trains the use to write 'beautiful letters.' It even comes with a brush-stylus.

I haven't tried this yet, but I suspect it would be great for all levels of learners--especially beginners.

LEVEL: Beginner+?

zeruda no densetsu - mugen no sunadokei ゼルダの伝説: 夢幻の砂時計 zeruda no densetsu: mugen no sunadokei Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
Play Asia
This was a game I picked up the other day and have enjoyed it greatly. One really nice feature (for learners of Japanese), is tapping any kanji will make furigana appear. There is a lot of text to read which makes this a good and fun learning game.

Please see my blog for screenshots showing the furigana.

LEVEL: Beginner+

JohtoKen wrote a very detailed review of なぞっておぼえる 大人の漢字練習 完全版 in a blog post here. It looks like a very good DS software. Check it out.

This is a work in progress. There are of course many, many games I haven't mentioned. If you know of something else or have an opinion on any games listed, please leave a comment. I'll try to add comments to the page as we go along.

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pauro03's picture

Does this

Does something like this exist in the PSP? Thanks!

ScribeOrigins, MKD 「先生のことが」

Kanji trainers on PSP

I just tried two for PSP. Kanji Trainer Portable and Simple series 2500 Dokodemo Kanji Quiz. They are useful to me, and I'll go through them both until mastered, but WHY oh WHY would they make the instructions/online diologue/menus so much harder to read than the material covered in the tests and games?

Nintendo DS + Windows Learning Suite

The following is a screenshot of the applications I've been using to compliment my study sessions while at my desktop, or a laptop:

Taigani Jisho (Dictionary/Flash Cards/Stroke Order): http://www.tagaini.net
Tegaki (Character Input Recognition): http://tegaki.org/
WaKan (Kanji Lookup/Dictionary): http://wakan.manga.cz/
Verbix (Verb Conjugation): http://www.verbix.com/

Since I don't have 2 Nintendo DS systems, I use these desktop applications while playing a Japanese DS game or learning application. Hopefully this might help others who need to fill certain gaps in their studying as they have for me.

Other tools I use --
Android: Obenkyo *absolutely wonderful and completely free. This application was my entire successful bootstrapping process of finally sitting down and learning Japanese* Hiragana/Katakana/Kanji (with or without kana readings)/Vocabulary/Flash Cards/Definitions/Stroke Order/Particles/Grammar/Tests/Sort by JLPT or grade level

Anki (many platforms): I'm sure this application has already been covered numerous times, but it needs mentioning anyways.

Nintendo DS + Windows Learning Suite

Sorry for the double post :< I didn't realize that there would be a delay!


I still have my nintendo ds and I like to learn japanese. Thanks for this.

A fun Alternative to Art Academy :)

There's this interesting one like Bimoji Training called Kokoro ni Shimiru: Mouhitsu de Kaku: Aida Mitsuo DS which is a game that's like Art Academy but with calligraphy and drawing. Aida Mitsuo is a well-regarded Japanese artist and master calligrapher.

Also on a smaller note, sorry for lack of activity. Just busy with college and other issues.

Correction: Kakikomi Shiki actually is a game geared toward young women that teaches the readings of Buddhist scripture and is beyond the scope of learning Japanese considering you need to know a good bit to even touch this one.

phreadom's picture

No need to apologize. :)

No need to apologize. :) We all have our "real lives". ^_^

Thanks for the information!


software to learn Japanese

It is true that ds is really good to learn,
This soft is nice

lots of great stuff here too

I have a question

I don't own a ds.. But i'm planning to buy one.. I just want to ask if i could play those games in 3ds..

Just started.. Wishing to be able to make it a 'long-term memory'
Any suggestions how?

Hiragana : 45/46
Katakana : 45/46

(why do i always forget 1 kana character?)

I only know japanese kanji character from 1-10 and the kanji for "person" 人 and

phreadom's picture


From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regional_lockout#Nintendo

"First model of Nintendo DS is not region-locked. Its redesign, called Nintendo DSi, is region-locked, but only in terms of its downloadable games. Physical DS game cards will play on it regardless of region or origin (DSi-only and even DSi-enhanced games are region-locked though). All Nintendo 3DS hardware and software is region-locked, however original DS software is not affected."

You can't play Japanese 3DS games on a US or UK 3DS.
You CAN play Japanese DS games on a US or UK 3DS.

Does that answer your question? If you need more clarification, please ask. :)


i'm sorry to ask again but..

can you tell me your opinion, please? should i buy a US region of 3ds or a Japanese one? I live in Philippines.. here.. almost all of the games they sell for ps3s are region 1 and 3(mostly hong kong based because some of the writing are in chinese). but i never had a nintendo ds before.. if i buy a US one, i can buy many games here.. if i buy a japanese one, i will have to import the games..(i can buy them in play asia right?) but my very reason for buying a "ds" is for japanese learning.. but i want to buy a "3ds" for just a single game.. that is "tales of the abyss" i have a copy of the game for the ps2 console (english and Undub*i downloaded it from the internet because i so love the game*).. what do you think? should i buy a japanese one or a US one?.. also.. i'm not good with japanese now.. i'm sorry for the trouble.. i really just.. don't know what to buy..

Just started.. Wishing to be able to make it a 'long-term memory'
Any suggestions how?

Hiragana : 45/46
Katakana : 45/46

(why do i always forget 1 kana character?)

I only know japanese kanji character from 1-10 and the kanji for "person" 人 and

phreadom's picture

Well, if you just want to

Well, if you just want to play all those old Japanese DS games on for learning Japanese, but also want to Tales of the Abyss... I'd probably get a US 3DS for Tales of the Abyss and other non-Japanese 3DS games you might want to play on it.

If later on your Japanese really improves and you start wanting to try Japanese 3DS games, then you can always consider picking up a Japanese 3DS at that point.

At least that's what I'd probably do. :)


That helped a lot!!!

Thanks!! That hit the BIG QUESTION MARK in my head :) that means i'm free to buy a 3ds and still play those games (that i'll probably/definitly import) properly.. :)

Just started.. Wishing to be able to make it a 'long-term memory'
Any suggestions how?

Hiragana : 45/46
Katakana : 45/46

(why do i always forget 1 kana character?)

I only know japanese kanji character from 1-10 and the kanji for "person" 人 and

phreadom's picture

No problem. :) Just remember,

No problem. :) Just remember also that the "DSi-only and even DSi-enhanced games are region-locked", so those won't work either. Just the original DS games like you see listed on this page. :)

So if you buy a US/UK 3DS and want to play Japanese import games on it:
Will 日本 DS games work on your US/UK 3DS? YES.
Will 日本 DSi games work on your US/UK 3DS? No.
Will 日本 3DS games work on your US/UK 3DS? No.
And for example if you had a US/UK DSi and you wanted to play Japanese important games on it:
Will 日本 DS games work on your US/UK DSi? YES.
Will 日本 DSi games work on your US/UK DSi? No.
Will 日本 3DS games work on your US/UK DSi? No. (not only because of the region difference, but because older systems can't play games from the newer systems)

And of course an original DS would be able to play original DS games from any region since there was no region locking on those systems/games. (but of course, again, it wouldn't be able to play DSi or 3DS games at all, no matter where they were from)

Sorry for beating a dead horse... just trying to make it extra clear for everyone. ^_^;


you've been a great help!!

for the very clear and immediate reply,
thank you very much..(arigatou gozaimasu)!!!now i know the pros and cons about buying a nintendo 3ds of any region :) you really helped me there!! now all i have to do is think very hard of what you just said and decide what's best for me :)
i'll definitely buy those softwares/games(stated above) as they can be played with any nintendo ds or 3ds..
again.. thank you!!

"kono saito wa daisuki" I love this site!! (is this right?)

thank God for having people like you here :) thanks and more power!!

Just started.. Wishing to be able to make it a 'long-term memory'
Any suggestions how?

Hiragana : 45/46
Katakana : 45/46

(why do i always forget 1 kana character?)

I only know japanese kanji character from 1-10 and the kanji for "person" 人 and

Kanzen Ban & Kaitei Ban

Nazotte Oboeru - Otona no Kanji Renshuu - Kanzen Ban is the 2nd of 3 DS games by the same company ShoPro. This game has a lot more than it's predecessor of the same name minus the Kanzen Ban. This game adds about double what the first game had plus more practice options. Awesome for the intermediate crowd.

Kaitei Ban is the last game in the series and really add few features to an already packed series. I've not played it but I've seen it on the official ShoPro site.

DS Bimoji Training is awesome

DS Bimoji Training is awesome for learning Kanji, Katakana, and Hiragana. It also has a dictionary concerning the evolution and history of the system as a whole. I use it all the time. As far as learning level goes, I'd say Beginner to Intermediate.

Very Beginner games

Recently I bought Dore Kana. It is a super beginner game working through hiragana, katakana and the 1st grade kanji. I already know my hiragana, but this is great for practice and picking up my katakana. The daily lesson runs through 2-3 kana and then 2 new words. Some of the mini games are playable right away. (make sure to choose easy mode! The top choice.) You can see the kana stroke order, practice writing it and reading it.

I also looked at the anpanman beginner game..... but the robot cat lured me from Mr. Bread Head (my anpanman nickname)

One note is Doraemon's voice is a little bit silly, but I figure most kids characters would be that way. It's really only in the menus and such. In game there is great voicing for the kana and kanji.
I highly recommend for absolute beginner to beginner.
I picked this up on Jlist

I also have japanese coach and I have seen some of those errors. Much happier with the open choices in this game.


Thanks for these reviews, I just recently bought a DS and I'm hoping to place an order soon. I won't be buying the Japanese Coach though since it has quite a few errors with the hiragana and katakana, so thanks again. :)



Could you make a similar list for Windows Phone 7 apps?

Learn Japanese the fun way - NihongoUp
Japanese language & culture forum
Japanese language & culture blog

kurisuchina's picture

Nintendo DS

I was new to this site which was recommended by a friend. Im thrilled to read about Nintendo DS and I really like to try learning nihongo through it. This is a great help, the reviews are great too. I am going to try it myself.

"What you think, you become." - Buddha

I own an American DS

Will this prevent me from playing some of the Japanese DS games?

Nope. There's no region lock.

Nope. There's no region lock.

phreadom's picture

As it says above in the

As it says above in the article,

REGION FREE - This means you can play Japanese software on a US Nintendo DS. I use my American DS all the time with Japanese software without any problems. (I have heard the only DS you cannot use Japanese software with is the Chinese DS. I am not sure why)

Further information can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nintendo_DS#Regional_division

which goes on to explain why the Chinese DS games are handled differently as well;

Regional division
The Nintendo DS is region free in the sense that any console will run a Nintendo DS game purchased anywhere in the world; however, the Chinese version games can only be played on the Chinese iQue DS, whose larger firmware chip contains the required Chinese character glyph images. Although the Nintendo DS of other regions cannot play the Chinese games, the iQue DS can play games of other regions. Also, as with Game Boy games, some games that require both players to have a Nintendo DS game card for multiplayer play will not necessarily work together if the games are from different regions (e.g. a Japanese Nintendo DS game may not work with a North American Nintendo DS game, even though some titles, such as Mario Kart DS and Pokémon Diamond and Pearl versions are mutually compatible). With the addition of the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, certain games can be played over the Internet with users of a different region game.
Some Wi-Fi enabled games (e.g. Mario Kart DS) allow the selection of opponents by region. The options are "Regional" ("Continent" in Europe) and "Worldwide", as well as two non-location specific settings. This allows the player to limit competitors to only those opponents based in the same geographical area. This is based on the region code of the game in use.[citation needed]
The Nintendo DSi, however, will have region block for the DSiWare downloadable games, and perhaps DSi-specific cartridges. It will still run normal DS games of any region, however.

Hopefully that answers your question. :)


My Japanese Coach

I currently use a Nintendo DS to learn Japanese. The Game I learn is My Japanese Coach.
Does anyone know a better game ?

JPKid's picture

No, Lol!

I currently use My Japanese Coach for the DS as well, and I must say, it IS THE BEST! You're not going to find a better game out there. Even if you look to the Rosetta Stone, it's awful! This is WAY BETTER!

ダヴィダ ROCKS! 日本が好きです日本!

phreadom's picture

I think you may want to read

I think you may want to read our thread on the forum about the problems with My Japanese Coach before promoting it so strongly. ;) (no offense meant, as I still own and use the game myself, but you really need to be aware of the errors in it to avoid learning incorrect things)


I wrote a few posts in a thread on the forum back when I first got My Japanese Coach detailing just some of the numerous glaring and serious errors in the 'game'. Mind you I still use it for things like vocabulary drilling etc... but it's essentially worthless when it comes to stroke order for kanji and even the basic kana, because you don't know which ones are wrong and which ones aren't... so you can't be sure you're not being taught incorrectly. :(

Also, My Japanese Coach and Rosetta Stone Japanese approach the issue in two completely different ways. My Japanese Coach teaches you kana, kanji, and vocabulary by giving you the definitions in English and giving you examples etc, and then quizzing you on them. Rosetta Stone forces you to learn by problem solving without teaching you any of the material in your native language. They simply show you pictures and give you words or sentences in the target language and you're supposed to figure it out by trial and error and the recognition of patterns and context etc, mimicking the way we naturally acquire language.

"The Rosetta Stone software uses a combination of images, text, and sound, with difficulty levels increasing as the student progresses, in order to teach various vocabulary terms and grammatical functions intuitively, without drills or translation. They call this the "Dynamic Immersion method". According to the company, the software is designed to teach languages the way first languages are learned. However, the refusal of Rosetta Stone to use the first language to establish meaning gives a product that is of variable utility, depending on how accurately the student can guess what the foreign language utterance really means based on pictures that can be imprecise or even reused to convey a different meaning."

(From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosetta_Stone_(software) )

Note the part where it clarifies that Rosetta Stone refuses to use one's "first language" (native language) to establish the meanings and forces you to intuitively guess them from the presentation. This is fundamentally completely different from how My Japanese Coach presents the material, which is in a much more traditional format with lessons being introduced in English with explanations of grammar, vocabulary definitions, etc. (although customized to be more game like, with timed question/answer drills, word find puzzles, word order drag and drop puzzles, etc.)

I'm not even really including the kanji section of My Japanese Coach in this discussion because I've never really used it after finding out how seriously flawed it was, as I don't want to mistakenly learn incorrect stroke order because it's a rather vital aspect of written Japanese (both writing and reading, and even things like looking up kanji in a dictionary which rely on stroke count etc).

Again, I'm not trying to offend you. :) I was rather upset myself when I first learned about all the errors in My Japanese Coach, but I think it's important to be informed of them rather than accidentally go forward learning things incorrectly because we didn't know about the errors.


Jetsi's picture

Using My Japanese Coach

I just finished lesson 29 on My Japanese Coach. I knew most of the material up to this point and have progressed quite faster than my wife and kids who are also using it. For the beginner I think it is a great program to use.

Insert some witty and relevant quip here.

tōkai devotee's picture

Nitendo DS for Japanese practice

These sound great!! I'd love them all!!
But I'm wondering if they are available in Australia? Or would we have to order them from Japan?
I asked in Toys'R'us but they don't have any. Never heard of them!!

I'd like to see them before I chose which one to buy, as I'm not sure which one would suit me.

clay's picture

Most of the games mentioned

Most of the games mentioned here are only released in Japan, but places like Play-Asia stock them and sell them worldwide. But you should be able to get My Japanese Coach just about anywhere, I believe.

TheJapanShop.com- Japanese language learning materials
Checkout our iPhone apps: TheJapanesePage.com/iPhone

Nintendo DS for 3 kyuu

Dear all!

I am also going to buy Nintendo DS to use JApanese Coach. Which game is appropriate for the level of 3kyuu? Has anybody got any experience? Thanks.

My Japanese Coach

I've been looking for a DS game IN ENGLISH to start learning japanese. I know my hiragana ok but i haven't started katakana yet. When i saw MJC out, it was the first thing i grabbed of the shelves, and it was worth it. 2 weeks of learning and i can already make out quite a bit. The minigame idea is quite fun and the way the lessons are set out is great.

You can listen to the word, practice writing it on the screen, and even record your own pronounciation. It's great and very easy to follow.

If anyone knows about other games like this, it'd be great to let me know. Hope my little explanation helped^^


one day, you asked me to choose between you and my life, i chose my life, and you went away.
But what you didn't know, is that my life is you

Kenitai's picture

I'll surely try My Japanese

I'll surely try My Japanese Coach! It looks interesting seeing from the screenshots.

The most addictive and effective way, to read & learn Kanji... Visit Readthekanji.com


I think that you have to insert also:

-My Japanese Coach (unisoft) It's the first real japanese course for foreigner! Very good and very big (but you have to start from beginner also if you know a lot of words)

-Mind Your Japanese (virgin) It will be out next month it will be be the second software for foreigner

-Kageyama Method - Dennou Hanpuku: Tadashii Kanji Kaki to Rikun
-Kageyama Method: Tadashii Kanji Kakitori-Kun - Kondo wa Kanken Taidaku Dayo!
The first is for people of elementary school the second has all 1945 kanji.
But both are good the learn kanji and words and readings also for beginners

-Zaidanhoujin Nippon Kanji Nouryoku Kentei Kounin: KanKen DS
-KanKen DS 2 + Jouyou Kanji Jiten
both For experts with 40000 questions

-Kodomo no Tame no yomi 1/2/3/4/5/6
Story for childrean read and wrote in kana (and english) very good for beginners

-Maru Kaite DonDon Oboeru
Kanji game for expert

-Ds bunga kuzenjuu
A lot of books for people can read japanese very well

questions (i think)

clay's picture

Thanks! One of these days,

Thanks! One of these days, I'll hunt down pictures and add these titles to the main body. I'm sure some of these games are very useful.

TheJapanShop.com- Japanese language learning materials
Checkout our iPhone apps: TheJapanesePage.com/iPhone


This is one game I didn't see covered and probably the game I've used most in trying to learn kanji.
There is also a second version out now that covers all of the 常用漢字; the first version only went up to 小学校6年生.
The only lacking aspect of this game is that it doesn't teach you 音読み or 訓読み up front - but they're easy to pick up in the quizzes and tests. The 熟語 quizzes are especially nice as they give you a lot of the most commonly used combinations, which helps you to associate both readings with the kanji.
The little mini-sensei in the game is also a hidden blessing, he gets awfully mad if you don't come learn with him everyday, so it motivates you to be consistent with daily study.

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