Category Archives: Power Tools

Rikaisama is Dead. It’s Yomichan vs Rikaichamp – the review

Yomichan in action: making the Japanese Web readable

Rikaisama has finally passed away, but Yomichan and Rikaichamp are waiting in the wings to take over the crown.

You will still be able to read unknown kanji and get instant definitions and deconjugations on almost any web-page.

And fortunately, just like Rikaisama before them, they are both free.

We always recommended Rikaisama on this site. Its amazing functionality – especially its ability to seamlessly create Anki cards with one click, made it far and away the best contender for the serious learner of Japanese. So it is with regret that we report that the application no longer works with the latest Firefox upgrade (it was always Firefox-only and by itself made Firefox the browser of choice for serious Japanese immersionists).

The new Rikaisama alternatives are Yomichan and Rikaichamp. The more modestly named Yomichan is clearly the more powerful of the two. It does most of the things Rikaisama did and a few that it didn’t.


Rikaichamp is essentially Rikaichan, which we strongly recommended before Rikaisama appeared, minus a few bells and whistles – but a bit faster as a result (though Rikaichan was already pretty fast).

Which Rikaisama alternative is best for you? Rikaichamp is the simpler of the two. If you were a Rikaichan user and Rikaichan was adequate for your needs, then Rikaichamp will give you a seamless transition to an almost identical experience.

You won’t have the lookup bar (assuming you ever used it) and there is less customization (you are stuck with the pop-up window in blue, for example).

However, these are minor issues and if you want to continue with Rikaichan then Rikaichamp is the way to go.


However, if you need the functionality of Rikaisama you really have only one choice. Yomichan.

Yomichan does almost everything Rikaisama did. The interface is more modern and more robust. It can create Anki cards just like Rikaisama (by using a button in the definition window rather than a keypress, which is an improvement). It can send a sample sentence into your Anki card in much the same way Rikaisama did. It has sound readings of the words which can also be imported to Anki as with Rikaisama.

So all in all, Yomichan is a sleeker and more robust version of Rikaisama. We are very lucky to have it waiting in the wings just as our beloved Rikaisama goes down. So what’s not to like?

Frankly, I think most people are going to be 100% happy with Yomichan.

However, I miss Rikaisama and I know that a number of other serious Japanese immersionists feel the same.

Why? It’s not just sentiment. There are a few of Rikaisama’s features that Yomichan doesn’t have, and one of them is a serious blow for me (and not only me).

That feature is Rikaisama’s Sanseido mode, which allowed one to get Japanese–Japanese definitions taken from Sanseido’s simplified online dictionary. When in Sanseido mode one’s automatic Anki cards had J–J definitions.

Can anything like this be done with Yomichan? Well, yes. Like Rikaisama, Yomichan allows the import of selected J–J EPwing dictionaries (and unlike Rikaisama it actually works).

There are two problems here. The first is that EPwing dictionaries are not very easy to get hold of. Yomichan doesn’t include them in its downloadable dictionaries as they are proprietary products.

The second problem is that even having solved the first problem, I found the definitions much less satisfactory than the simple Sanseido ones. For an Anki deck I prefer a brief  to-the-point definition, which I then turn into audio with the Anki TTS plugin.

In fact, I sometimes end up pasting in a definition from the Sanseido site, which slightly undermines the whole automation concept.

I have had some discussion with Yomichan’s developer on the subject. He says that the “web scraping” involved in the Sanseido mode is technically difficult and inherently unstable. I am sure he is right. Rikaisama’s Sanseido mode could certainly be flaky and not always available. But it worked most of the time.

He also is of the opinion that only “hard core” learners use J–J definitions. Here I have to disagree. I think any serious immersion learner will graduate to J–J definitions at some point. And it can be done in less drastic ways that make the transition painless.

In short, I think J–J definitions were part of the core functionality of Rikaisama. I know beginners don’t need them. I also know that a lot of more advanced learners never graduate to them, but that is part of what is wrong with the whole non-organic non-immersionist “studying not living the language” approach. In my humble opinion.

So should you be using Yomichan? If you are a serious immersionist, absolutely you should.

If you were happy with Rikaichan, then Rikaichamp will serve your needs near-perfectly. However, if you use Anki you might still want to take a serious look at Yomichan.

If J–J definitions don’t matter to you, then Yomichan is a step up from Rikaisama. Not a vast step up. Most of its functionality is pretty much the same, but it does everything more robustly and generally it is a polished, high-class piece of software.

Despite my criticism on that one point, I want to go on record as both congratulating and thanking Foosoft for a truly splendid creation.

Without Yomichan, the life of the serious, slightly-advanced immersionist would have become significantly harder with the loss of Rikaisama.

As it is, it has become just a little bit harder.

And the life of the pre-J–J immersionist has become just a little bit easier.

Finally, whether you are installing Yomichan or Rikaichamp, I recommend doing it through Firefox’s add-ons management system (just go to Add-ons and search what you want to install). Almost all once-reliable download services like Softpedia and Softonic have sold out and now often include unwanted bits of nasty that don’t do your computer any good. So please always download via your browser’s add-on manager or from the actual developer’s site.

Firefox Multi-Account Containers as a Japanese Immersion Tool (even for non-geeks)

Containers in action. Note the green underlined tabs for English activity (click to expand image)

If you are serious about Japanese immersion, you will have noticed something. Japanese content starts popping up unasked on your computer.

It’s a fact of life that your online life is tracked by various agents in various ways. If you use Japanese a lot, if your YouTube account is with YouTube JP rather than your local one (it should be, and it’s easy to do), if you use Japanese-Japanese online dictionaries and read NHK News Easy (to take a few examples), you start getting Japanese ads and other content served to you whether you wanted them or not.

This is obviously a good thing for immersion. You want things to be this way. You want to keep your Japanese bubble as complete as possible. However, if you sometimes browse in English you will get more English language content served to you. The more you use Japanese the more Japanese content you get and vice versa. If you exclusively browse in Japanese and use Japanese services your Japanese unsought content will become dominant.

But you may have to use quite a lot of English. Or at least a certain amount. This is where Multi-Account Containers for the new Firefox comes in.

To be honest, I have been using this technique for a long time and I did it by using different browsers. I use Chrome for English webbing (for example, writing this article) and Firefox for my everyday Japanese immersion life.

This works and you can use this method if you like. However, Firefox Multi-Account Containers let you run as many accounts as you like without switching browsers. The cookies generated by one account are boxed off from the others so there is no spillover from one set of activities to another.

A geeky (and well-organized) friend of mine has her different activities all neatly packaged up with multi-account containers. I will never be that well organized. However, one can also do it in a very simple way.

What I do is this:

At the simplest, just make an English container. Any English browsing/consuming/creating you do, you do in an English container tab (the tab itself will be color-coded so you can keep track easily).

That’s all. For my general Japanese online life I don’t even need to use a container. Just make sure the English stuff is packed away in a box where it doesn’t affect everything else.

Make the English container your default container and then when you visit an English site check “always open in default container” in the Containers toolbar. From then on that site will always open in your English box and won’t contaminate your Japanese immersion life.

You may also want to make a separate box for financials (PayPal etc) to make them a bit less vulnerable to hacking from all the strange sites you visit. But that’s another question.

Happy immersion!

How to Add Sample Sentences to Anki Automatically

Having a sample Japanese sentence to back up Anki’s definition of a word is often invaluable.

But if you are making your own immersion-experience-based deck rather than using pre-made decks (and you should be), you have to add them yourself. Isn’t this a bit mendokusai (Japanese for pain in the pinky)?

Luckily there is a way to automate this part of the card-making process too. It’s a bit obscure, but once you set it up, it looks after itself.

Important: Rikaisama is no longer functional, but the same direct -to Anki and sentence-capturing functionality can now be found in Yomichan (actually more easily). Since the functionality is essentially the same the rest of this article (after the screenshot below) is still relevant.

This article assumes that you are already using Rikaisama’s Real-time Anki function to make your cards with a single keypress. If you aren’t, this article will tell you how.

When I first noticed that there  is a token for adding sentences in Rikaisama’s Real-time (direct-to-Anki) setup I was a little puzzled. Does Rikaisama contain a database of sentences as well as a dictionary and audio database? How does this work?

Click to enlarge

So I shrugged and  set it up to put the sentences into my Audio folder as shown above, (the last $t moves the focus to my last field, which is Audio – I do audio for my sentences, but that’s for a future article).

Then I typed a word and Rikai’d it (my usual way of adding a word to Anki), hit R (the one-button card-maker) and – nothing.

I had my card made in a single keypress, of course. But there was no sample sentence.

I wasn’t entirely surprised – where were these sample sentences supposed to come from anyway? I didn’t really believe there was a database of sentences, even though there is one of  native-spoken audio for nearly every word which can be added with that same keypress (and which you should be using).

So this is one of the more obscure features of Rikaisama. Actually it isn’t so obscure if you are using Rikai the way Rikai thinks you are. That is, reading something online and using Rikai to give instant furigana plus definitions if you want them.

But that isn’t how I mostly use Rikaisama, and I suspect that is true of most people using it as part of a self-immersion deck-building process. I type in the word, which may have come from a novel or an anime, (usually into an online dictionary, though I don’t actually press Enter to get the dictionary’s definition unless I need some elaboration on Rikaisama’s answer). I hover over it to get the Rikai box, hit the R key and pring! I have a new card.

What the sentence function actually does (and it really is very clever) is import the sentence you were reading into Anki and drop it into whatever field you told it to in the save format (see picture above).

So obviously this kind of breaks down if you weren’t reading a sentence online.

The answer is simple. If you want a sample sentence for your word, you need to

  1. Find the sentence you want
  2. Hover over your target word inside the sentence you just found
  3. Hit R

And that’s it. You will have a new Anki card with all the usual features plus your sample sentence wherever you specified in the format.

Here is an example of the back of an Anki card with an automatically added sentence. Of course you can have your own format (mine are a bit ugly and functional, I’m afraid), and you can have the definition in English (and an English translation of the sentence) if you want to:

click to enlarge

As you see, my setup (which is the one on the first screenshot on this page) has the kanji from the front plus the reading in hiragana, the definition and the sample sentence.

If you are getting your sentences from online reading the process is fully automatic: one keypress for everything. If you are using Rikaisama as an Anki-helper to add words you found elsewhere, you need to go find your own sample sentence. There are plenty of ways to do this. You can use DenshiJisho’s sentence function or the very extensive Weblio sentence database (both of which have English translations) or you can just Google for a sentence. And of course you can always type in the sentence from your book or anime (or copy from the subs file) if you want to use the sentence in which you originally found the word.

The advantage of this is that you can choose a sentence that you think exemplifies how the word is used or perhaps clarifies something not made clear by the definition.

You don’t need a sentence for every word. You can use your own judgment to decide which words would benefit from having an example sentence.

For most of us using Anki as an immersion assistant, this is more like semi-automation than the full automation of the rest of the Rikaisama-to-Anki card-making process, but it still streamlines the procedure and makes adding sample sentences a lot quicker  and easier – and therefore makes one rather likelier to do it!

And it is worth doing because when a sample sentence is needed, it can be a huge help in understanding the word.

Part of the Anki for self-immersionists Master-Class series

Rikai for Android! Substitutes for Rikaisama / Rikaichan / Rikaikun

The biggest problem of doing anything Japanese related on Android is the lack of Rikaisama.

Not only can’t you instantly look up words as you browse the Web the way you can with Rikaichan, but you can’t turn new words into Anki cards with a single keypress the way you can with Rikaisama. Ok, we’re spoiled by the Rikai family, but we’d like to stay spoiled, even on Android.

Enter the Popup Japanese Dictionary  by Nifty Gnomes which was kindly introduced to me by Sadolit-san (see comments below).

This little-known free app amazingly brings Rikai-like functionality to your Android device – and not only in your browser. Wherever you can use the copy function you can use the Popup Dictionary for on-the-fly kanji-readings and word definitions.

Like Rikai it deconjugates words for you, though apparently this function is a bit hit-or-miss.

The biggest problem for me is that there are no Japanese-Japanese definitions and neither can you turn off definitions. As I like to stay in all-Japanese as much as possible this is a drawback, but for a lot of users it should be ideal

What it doesn’t have, however, is the  the Rikaisama direct-to-Anki function.

But it is possible to get something close to it with a free app named simply Jisho. For those wanting a J-E dictionary this is just about perfect. It has everything you might need including kanji lookup.

And for Anki you just need to press and hold a definition and it gives you the option to export it to Ankidroid (so long as that is on your device too). Select that option and you’re done. You have an Anki card ready-made.

So why do I say it is only “close to” the Rikaisama function? Well, for one thing there are no sound files, and more importantly, this is only a Japanese-to-English dictionary.

If your Anki set-up does not extensively use sound (mine does) and if your definitions aren’t primarily Japanese to Japanese (mine are) this Android dictionary app probably covers all your Japanese dictionary needs – at no cost! However J-J Dolly is still pining for her pasokon!

The app just goes by the generic name of “Jisho” so I am reproducing the logo here, to make sure  that you can find the right one.

For Japanese-to-Japanese dictionaries, the best free one I have so far found is the Weblio app. Not as good as Jisho and of course does not have the direct-to-Anki function or the on-page pop-up function, but is a usable and free J-J dictionary.

Android Text-to-Speech in Japanese

Since typing on Android and other mobile devices is a pain in the petunia, I have also been experimenting with Google Speech-to-Text. I am finding that it works fairly well.

Actually it is very clever. Most of the time it knows when I am speaking English and when I am speaking Japanese and transliterates my speech accordingly. However, in both languages it does make quite a few mistakes. It probably is fairly good for training one to speak clear Japanese (and clear English, come to that!)

An interesting note for those who still pronounce katakana-ized from-English words half-way as if they were still English words and think that is ok. On Android’s Google Search function I tried the experiment of saying:

“Smile Precure”

It correctly transcribed the words and then popped up a page of English-language results about Glitter Force (the unfortunate English language version of Smile Precure), introduced by an English-speaking synthesized voice.

I then tried saying.

(Sumairu Purikyua)

Google search correctly transcribed the words in katakana and popped up a page of Japanese results about the real Smile Precure introduced by a synthesized Japanese voice.

So yes. Speaking katakana correctly does matter. Even an Android can tell the difference.

KawaJapa Japanese Learners’ Line App Group

japanese-learners-line-groupWe are happy to announce that we have a new group on the Line messaging application for readers of this blog, members of the KawaJapa Forums and Japanese learners in general.

We engage in casual text conversation, sometimes real-time, sometimes not, and some of us play online Japanese games like Pigg Party or synchronize meetings in Doubutsu no Mori.

We are happy to welcome new members. The only rules are, be polite and courteous and only use Japanese.

This is not a group for beginners. You must be able to function at least minimally in Japanese. It is a kind, supportive group, so it’s fine if you are a long way from perfect (none of us is perfect), but if you need to use English for some things, you need a different group.

There are endless resources online for people who want to “play Japanese” in English, and very, very little for people who actually want to use Japanese (it seems not many people do!), so we try to fill that gap.

The Line group is one way of expanding your “Japanese life” in a supportive group that is perhaps a gentler entry-point than native Japanese online locations.

If you want to join, please contact me, Cure Dolly, via the KawaJapa Forums, or the Dollygram (my address is on all Dollygrams, including the introductory one. Just hit Reply).

Or you can just use the comment box below.

Please write in Japanese. There is no test to join the group other than that, but if you can’t write a little note in Japanese, the group would not be of much use to you. Don’t worry, it isn’t an essay – a one-line yoroshiku will be fine!

Once in the group, you are free to interact as you like or just watch. The only reasons we would ever eject anyone is for being rude or unkind to other members, expressing hentai, cruel or hateful things, or using English.

Looking forward to hearing from you and making a new Line friend!

Interview on Line App group and Japanese communication in general→

The Key to Kanji Learning

There aren’t many shortcuts to learning Japanese. But there is at least one, and we want to share it with you!

People say that there is no Golden Key to the kanji. You just have to learn them. Preferably as words, bit by bit, organically.

But while there is no Golden Key, there is a Silver Key that can help enormously.

You can get it right here. The cost is – free, ’cause Dolly loves you!

It can help you to recognize kanji you only half-know. It can help you to guess the pronunciation of kanji you don’t know at all. It can help you with words where you know the sound but are very vague on the appearance of the kanji, and conversely it can help you with words where you know the kanji but don’t remember the pronunciation.

number-one-kanji-hackYou can get it right here. The cost is – free, ’cause Dolly loves you!

It can help you learn the kanji in the first place, and it can help tie together the triplicity of sound, meaning and appearance. It even talks to you (audio on every card).

The secret of this kanji hack is that there are a number – something under 100 – of kanji elements that pretty regularly indicate the on-reading of a kanji (the one usually used in two-or-more-kanji words, which make up the majority of Japanese words). I introduced an important selection of them in my Sound-Sisters article. I have now made a Complete Sound Sisters Anki deck with all the main Sound Sisters (including many not in the article).

I am not a fan of learning kanji in the abstract. I am especially not a fan of trying to learn kanji readings in the abstract. However, the leverage involved in learning the full Sound Sister set is so huge that (pragmatist as I am) I make an exception in this case.

For the investment of mastering a very small set of kanji elements and their sounds (the main part of it will take a week or so at a few minutes a day), one has in one’s hand a key that will make kanji much, much easier. It affects many thousands of words and a substantial proportion of all the Joyo kanji.

key-to-learning-kanjiYou can get it right here. The cost is – free, ’cause Dolly loves you!

This deck includes the fundamental 90 most common and regular Sound-Sisters elements, main examples of the kanji they appear in, audio and mnemonics for each of them, and other notes where appropriate.

Using the Deck

The deck is designed to be used in conjunction with the Sound Sisters article, which groups together similar sounds with mnemonic narrative. It helps you to learn the elements there and a large number of others.

Download the deck, unzip it (your computer will likely do that for you automatically) and add it to your Anki.

Pro tips:

Use the deck in conjunction with the Sound Sisters page. Remember that you will only need the mnemonics for a short time.

Remember that sounds may sometimes appear as their voiced variants – ひょう as びょう, さい as ざい etc.

You will “finish” the deck quite shortly as it is a small deck by Anki standards. After that, either keep it in your deck-list and run through it when reviews appear, or merge it with your main deck (but don’t do that until the reviews have dropped off to zero or very few most days).

Apply what you’ve learned. Use it to help you learn kanji as words. Also do some Sister-spotting while reviewing words, even with kanji you already know. This gets you used to the Sisters and helps to cement the whole process. You will also be using it to firm up still-learning words where you are a bit shaky on the appearance and/or pronunciation.

You can get it right here. The cost is – free, ’cause Dolly loves you!


Another importance of knowing the Sound Sisters is that working with them helps one to be more aware of the many other sound-connections in kanji.

There are a lot of Sound Half-Sisters: that is, sound relationships that are not regular enough to be included in the deck, but certainly very useful. Rather than learning them in the abstract it is best to become aware of them in an organic manner. But the use of the regular Sound Sisters is excellent training for spotting and using the Half-Sisters.

For example, the hyou/byou of 平等 byoudou is found in 評価 hyouka and 評判 hyouban and we will find it in other places too. 忍 and 認 are nin most of the time (the nin of 忍者 ninja).

Such examples are either not regular enough or do not govern enough kanji to be full Sound Sisters, but once we become attuned to these links by using the main Sound Sisters we will find this sort of thing quite often and it is very useful.

斉, sei on her own, is sai/zai often enough (剤, 済, 斎) that I almost included her as a full Sound Sister*. I may do so in a future edition of the deck (of course subscribers will receive any updates as they come along).

This really shows how fluid the situation is, and how getting a feel for the sound-associations of kanji elements can help so enormously.

Some of this really has to work organically, by reading, making friends with kanji, and getting used to Japanese.

But with a set of nearly 100 reasonably regular Sound Sisters that are easily assimilated, we can give the organic process a huge kick-start.

You can get it right here. The cost is – free, ’cause Dolly loves you!

* We did eventually includein the deck.

HabitRPG – New Features

I have now been using HabitRPG for almost a year now, and it continues to be useful for me in my Japanese studies and in general. Some recent changes have made HabitRPG even more useful than it was before. We have written various articles about HabitRPG on this site, and Cure Dolly has previously written a very helpful article explaining this application.

Habit RPG QuestOne of the most important of these changes is that there is a Japanese translation available now. Of course, switching over to Japanese gives us the usual advantages of having one’s computer and applications in Japanese.  Because HabitRPG is a role-playing game as well as a productivity application, this also gives many of the advantages of playing games in Japanese. Many of the Quests are written in Japanese, and all of the pets, mounts, food, equipment and other items are listed in Japanese. This is excellent for reinforcing important vocabulary on a daily basis. For example, from feeding Pets in my Japanese HabitRPG, I now can recognize the word じゃがいも as potato, a word I frequently failed in my Anki.

Another very useful change is that Habits now count for damage against Quest Bosses. Previously, only Dailies and Todos would do damage to Quest Bosses. While it is certainly helpful to make immersion activities such as listening, reading, and watching Anime into Dailies, for many of these activities, one really wants to do as much as possible. With a Daily, once it is checked off, it is checked off for the day; one can not get credit for doing more than is required by the Daily. Habits can be clicked as many times a day as they are done. Of course, one always received Experience and Gold from Habits, I (and my party mates) have found that doing damage against a Quest Boss is extremely motivating, so having Habits “count” is a really wonderful change.

Habits are also good for immersion activities that are important but should not become a chore. HabitRPG punishes us for undone Dailies by dealing damage at our cron (the time we set for the beginning of the new day). When we are on a Boss Quest, the Boss does damage to the entire party, so it particularly important to do the Dailies on those days. For myself, there are certain immersion activities that I want to keep as optional, so that they psychologically remain leisure activities. For myself, some of those examples are reading novels, reading manga, and playing games. Now that Habits “count” against Bosses, I have more incentive to do those できるだけ (as much as possible).

Another exciting new feature is the Enchanted Armoire, which solved a huge difficulty with HabitRPG for long term use. The difficulty was that eventually one would buy up all of the available equipment, and Gold would become meaningless. One could forestall that trouble for a time by switching classes and buying up the equipment for all of the classes; however, sooner or later, one would reach the point of Gold losing its motivational value. Now, the developers created the Enchanted Armoire, which for 100 Gold Pieces randomly gives special items, experience points, or food.

My party donning items obtained from the Enchanted Armoire

Another wonderful change is the brand new option of creating Dailies which will become due in a certain number of days. Before one could only create Dailies that were due on specific days of the week. While the “number of days” option is not specifically useful to me with respect to my Japanese studies, it is useful for my other responsibilities, such as paying the rent and other bills, which are due on a monthly basis.

Oh yes, and the Japanese Deep Cave Adventures’ Guild is still going strong, and we are still playing Shiritori.

Rikaisama Review

rikaisamaWe have written extensively about Rikaichan because in our view it is one of the most important tools in the arsenal (if you’ll excuse the mildly mixed metaphor) of an online Japanese learner.

Now Rikaichan has a big sister: Rikaisama. Not even Rikaisan. Sounds like a very big sister, doesn’t she? How does she measure up?

Rikaisama is essentially Rikaichan Mk 2. Still the Japanese dictionary add-on for Firefox that works the same way and keeps all your Rikaichan settings (in a few places she still refers to herself as Rikaichan) and looks just the same. Nothing has actually changed, but several things have been added.

2018 UPDATE: Rikaisama is no longer available but you can get most of its functionality (depending on which parts are important to you) from either Rikaichamp or Yomichan. See the comparative article linked here.

Among these new additions, the most important are: direct on‐the‐fly addition to Anki, human voice pronunciation of words, Sanseido mode (optional Japanese definitions instead of English), pitch information, and new frequency information.

The direct‐to‐Anki feature is a blessing. You need to install the associated Anki add-on, but once you’ve done that, a single keypress while hovering over a word will create a card for it with the kanji on the front, kana‐reading and meaning on the back. You also have the  option of putting the kana on the front. This is really useful and saves a lot of time. Apparently you can also add the sound of the word, but…

Actual native‐voiced audio readings are another important new feature of Rikaisama, but that has been rather disappointing to this doll as they just don’t seem to work with the Mac OS. Actually no OSX installation instructions for Rikaisama are given at all. I just followed the Windows instructions and it worked fine. There are special instructions for getting the voices on Linux, but it seems that on a Mac there is no way. Consequently I can’t review the sound. If anyone wants to add something on that, please feel free to use the comment section below. [By the way, Mac owners should not feel too short‐changed in the voiced‐Japanese department ‐ you still have the best Japanese voice synthesizer available].

Update: The current Rikaisama now supports recent OS X versions correctly.

Sanseido mode is very useful, I think. It allows access to the Sanseido (that big chain bookstore you see everywhere in Japan) dictionary. You were always able to turn definitions on and off, so you just got interactive furigana, but now you can also get a J‐J definition. You can switch between the three (E‐definition, J‐definition, and no definition) with a keypress. The only small drawback is that you can’t download the Sanseido dictionary, so there is a (usually very) small delay while it downloads the definition each time (and it won’t work at all offline).

You can also install Epwing dictionaries, but I am afraid they don’t work on Mac either, and I have no experience of them.

An important point is that if you are in Sanseido mode (and presumably in J-J epwing mode) when you do use the direct-to-Anki feature, you get J-J (Japanese word with Japanese definition) cards.

Whether you’re using J-J or J-E definitions, you can harness Rikaisama’s huge database of native-speaker recordings of the words and set up Rikaisama and Anki so that the spoken word is placed on the back (or if you want to make an audio-recognition deck, on the front). This is a truly wonderful feature, but unfortunately it is not at all obvious how to use it, so we have given full instructions in this article.

In addition to the old (P) used to indicate if a word is common (it is still there—Rikaisama hasn’t taken anything away from her little sister), there is more kuwashii frequency information in the form of a number that tells you how many words are more frequent than the one you are looking at (so 5 would be a very common word and 10000 would be a rare one). The number is also color‐coded: Green=very common, dull greeny-yellow=common, orange=less common, pink=relatively rare.

This more detailed Rikaisama frequency information is also taken from a different source from the (P) classification. Rather than newspapers, it is distilled from 5000+ novels. I find that reassuring as I don’t really find newspaper‐language all that useful. I don’t bother with the news even in English. This also allows a very rough cross‐check between two frequency assessments, which is also useful.

I have heard some folks say that since one aims to learn all Japanese words anyway, why worry about frequency?

The answer, in my view at least for those who are learning Japanese by self-immersion is this: The less skilled you are at Japanese, the slower you can imbibe Japanese media. Your aim should be to increase this speed as quickly and efficiently as possible. You learn words best when they are reinforced by real encounters with them (not just Anki encounters, wonderful as Anki is).

So, since you can only learn so many words per day, you should be concentrating on the ones you are most likely to re‐encounter relatively often. This keeps cementing your vocabulary base as it increases. No harm learning a few rare words (we all do it). But your overall strategy is best served by learning well‐used words first and slowly moving to lower‐frequency ones as your base grows. This way you are not only absorbing vocabulary, but equipping yourself to absorb more by increasing your ease of exposure to Japanese as efficiently as possible.

As your speed and volume of media consumption increases, your chances of re‐encountering less common words grows proportionately (at first it is very low because your consumption is so slow and limited). So tackling words (very roughly) in order of frequency makes good strategic sense.

Now I am not suggesting that you should be slavishly bound by frequency numbers, but they are definitely useful information to have and bear in mind. So this addition in Rikaisama is very welcome.

There are a few more additions, including pitch accent information, which the main online dictionaries do not supply.

One more clever addition is the ability to click the Heisig number of a kanji (usually from the Rikaichan toolbar or the more streamlined search‐box addition to your regular toolbar) and go to the Heisig mnemonic page. You have to be a member of the site to do that (it’s free). I joined just because of the Rikaisama functionality. I am not a major Heisig fan, but this is definitely a function that is worth having available.

All in all, I would say that the promotion from “chan” to “sama” is justified. This is not really a new Rikai; it is decidedly Rikaichan with several more tricks up her sleeve. But they are valuable tricks that really take an already valuable application to a whole new level. The direct‐to‐Anki function is worth the installation alone.

You need to uninstall your current Rikaichan in order to install Rikaisama, but don’t let that put you off. You won’t lose anything and you will gain quite a lot. And if you use Anki for vocabulary, I strongly recommend that you install the Anki add-on too.

If you don’t understand the full power of Rikai, I suggest you read our Rikaichan review. It was far more than just a quick way to furiganize kanji and look up words even before the new features were added. Because of the way it is structured it can answer many of your basic grammar questions on the fly, and is an invaluable tool for proofreading your Japanese writing. It is as much a writing tool as a reading tool.

And if you were starting to think you had outgrown J-E, Rikaichan just grew with you!

Hajimemashite, Rikaisama. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.

Using Rikaisama’s auto-Anki-card function to turbo-charge your learning


How to Write Kanji—a free kanji tutor (for people who don’t write kanji)

how-to-write-kanjiKanji Recognizer as a self-teaching tool

How to write kanji is a question that Cure Dolly would precede with another question, namely whether to write kanji. As a matter of fact, I am largely of her school. Like Cure Dolly, I hand-write maybe two dozen words a year in English. So why do I want to learn to do in Japanese what I don’t even do in English?

The arguments over whether you need to learn how to write kanji in order to learn kanji at all are discussed by Cure Dolly, and I am broadly in agreement. It depends on who you are, what your needs are, and how you learn best.

But let’s say you are like Cure Dolly (and I am). Let’s say you don’t need to write kanji (for exams or whatever) and you only need to recognize them for purposes of both reading and (electronically) writing. Is there any need to learn to write them at all?

I really don’t see any value in sitting down to write kanji hundreds of times. I have heard people complain about doing this and still finding the kanji to be strangers to them in a week or so.

I actually am learning a tiny bit to write kanji, but none of them are strangers to me. I know the kanji. I am familiar with their components. That isn’t the point of writing them to me. So what is it?

One thing I have realized is that while my recognition is reasonably good, my ability to picture shapes is (perhaps abnormally) terrible. I can read hiragana with no problem, but I recently realized that I could no longer write several of them. I did learn them in the beginning and could write them easily. I found that a year or so later, even though I had no trouble at all recognizing them and reading them, I don’t actually remember how they are made up. I can’t picture them in my head. I only know them when I see them.

I am not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. Personally I don’t want to lose my ability to hand-write kana, so I did a little practice with a kana-writing app just to get it back. If I wrote anything by hand—shopping lists, anything—I would do it in Japanese just to keep my hand in. But I don’t. I am a near-total non-writer.

However, kana is not the point here. The point is kanji. What I have found there is similar. Since I didn’t know how to write kanji, I didn’t really know how they were made up. I didn’t really know the difference between 家 and 象, for example. I tended to recognize them by context rather than their actual differences. I don’t think learning to write kanji is the only way to overcome this problem. One could just familiarize oneself more firmly with the components of each and make up little stories around them, which is how I learned them in the first place.

One of my problems with writing is a pathological fear of paper. I really can’t manage the stuff. If you start allowing it into the house it gets everywhere—but you can never find the bit you want. I really can’t start toodling around with bits of paper. For me it would open the door to nameless chaos.

But I did start to feel it would be worthwhile to write kanji. Not hundreds of times—just a few times each. Not in order to learn them—the kanji I write I already know by sight—but simply in order to clarify my mind on their exact composition.

And it works. But you really need the right tool. Fortunately I found it. It is called Kanji Recognizer. It is an Android app. You can write the kanji with a stylus on your tablet or keitai. Although this is not the purpose of the software, what it does is both allow you to write kanji (without all that scary paper) and act as an instant tutor at the same time.

Let me show you how:


You write the kanji freely, and as you can see, Kanji Recognizer tries to work out what you wrote and places its top ten guesses along the top. The higher you come in the top ten, the more accurately you have written the kanji. This in itself is very, very useful.

The software also numbers your strokes, so you are able to check your stroke order. It puts the number at the start of each stroke so you can also check the stroke direction (this comes into its own later as you will see).

The two buttons ringed in mizuiro (pale blue—I don’t know why there isn’t an English word for the “pink” of blue, but there isn’t) are 画削除 kakusakujo (delete stroke) and クリア (clear). 画削除 is very nice as it allows you to get rid of strokes you messed up. Paper is just mean about that sort of thing.

The app is free, though ad-supported. If you have your device in Japanese (and you should) the ads will tend to be Japanese too, as you can see at the bottom of the screenshots.

Once you have written your kanji, you can tap the correct one at the top to get a screen of information about it:

how-to-write-kani-2This, of course, is immediately useful for making sure the kanji is what you thought it was! The most important thing here for our purpose is the button we have ringed: 書き順 kakijun (writing order—or stroke order, as they tend to say in English). This gives you, as you might expect, an image of the kanji (written with an enviably steady hand) with its correct stroke order marked:


However, the really useful thing here is the (ringed) button labeled 動画 douga (animation). Press this and the app will clear the kanji and re-draw it for you, so you can watch it forming stroke by stroke and see how it is done.

You can then click the home button (ringed) which will take you back to the page where you wrote the kanji originally. It will still be there, just as you wrote it, so you can check whether you had the stroke order and direction right. If you didn’t make number one in the top ten, you can hit クリア and try again.

If you have an idea of the general rules for stroke order, you will get it right a lot of the time. The surprises will tend to impress themselves on your mind. The animation is particularly useful for this, I find. What you will also start to find instinctively is a lot of kanji-order sub-rules. They aren’t taught and rightly so, as they are fiddly and have exceptions, but they do start to make a kind of sense in practice, I find.

I am still not really trying to learn how to write kanji. I know hand-writing is never going to be a part of my real life. Actually, I would like to learn Japanese calligraphy one day, but that is something of another matter. What I am finding is that this gives me a better feeling for how the kanji work, how they hang together.

My method is perhaps unusual. I have never in my life “learned a kanji”. I learn words as I go along, and I make friends with the kanji that form them. People have occasionally asked “how many kanji do you know?”. I have no idea how to answer. How would I know? Maybe some people go through a book from Kanji 0001 to Kanji 2500, but I really wouldn’t even know how to do that, and I am sure it wouldn’t stick that way.

When I write kanji on my little slate, I am already friends with those kanji. I have known them for some time. Now I am taking tea with them and learning their funny little ways. I am a horribly inattentive friend, and there are so many things about them I never noticed. I love them so I want to learn.

If you love something, you should pet it. Kanji recognizer was essentially made to be a dictionary, not a tutor. It works as a tutor, and (for me at least) as something else too. It is my favorite Virtual Pet game!

Keeping Up Studies During the Holidays (or other Busy Times)

Like many people this time of year, I am busy with holiday preparations.  I am much further behind on my gift knitting/crocheting than I would like to be, and we are hosting the family holiday dinner this year.  I have started decorating, but there is still quite a bit of decorating (and cleaning) to do.  With all of this going on, it is tempting to back off on my Japanese studies during this time.

vlcsnap-2014-04-15-11h31m26s209This being said, I think that this is a temptation to avoid.  I have gotten into a rhythm with my studies that I do not want to interrupt.  Also, with language learning, I think that it is really easy to lose ground.  I have noticed that even after one day using mostly English, my Japanese is worse the next day.  I can only imagine what would happen if I interrupted my studies for a few weeks.

Still, there is only so much time in a day, and holiday preparations are important.  Luckily though, there are ways to adjust my study schedule to accommodate the holidays.  While I have less time for active study, I have many more opportunities for passive learning.  It is quite easy to knit and crochet while watching Anime, and I can listen to Japanese while I am cooking, cleaning, and decorating.

For myself, I find that it is extremely important to use a time management tool, especially busy times.  I continue to use HabitRPG as my tool.  Without such a tool, I find it too easy to get distracted by my 気分 (kibun, or feeling or mood).  As is so clearly illustrated in the kanji, one’s mood is often the spirit (気) of the moment (分).  During busy times, my spirit of the moment is usually stress and nervousness, making it a really bad time to be making decisions about what I should be doing when.  Without a time management tool, I find myself running about in circles feeling busy, but often not really accomplishing anything.  It is quite likely that in the spirit of the moment, my Japanese studies would be the first tasks to get lost.

Instead, with the advice and guidance of my senpai, I made decisions about my goals during this season of busy-ness, which I then recorded on my HabitRPG.  This way the decisions are already made, and I do not have to worry about them while I am stressed and busy.  I can simply follow the schedule that has already been set.

HabitRPG is set up in such a way as to make it quite easy to readjust my schedule during this time.  I chose not to eliminate any of my active study dailies; however, I did make many of them due fewer days of the week.  I increased my daily minimum for passive study tasks, such as Anime watching and listening.  I used the checklist feature to do this.  I also increased my daily minimum for handcrafting (knitting and crocheting).  I have positive Habits of extra watching, listening, and handcrafting.  This makes a nice combination as handcrafting and watching/listening go well together as multitasking activities.  If there are times when I have met my handcrafting requirement but still need to do more watching/listening, I might do extra handcrafting while watching/listening (and vice versa).

Because of the added listening requirement, I spend time listening to Japanese, rather than holiday music in English.  On my HabitRPG, listening to music in English is a reward that I have to pay for.  I considered relaxing that during the holiday season, but I chose not to.  I am working on keeping my mind in Japanese, and the last thing I need is catchy holiday music (in English) crowding out the Japanese.  I have not yet found Japanese holiday music (although I would like to).  I did borrow some holiday music in Swedish from my grandmother, and my spouse found music in Latin for me, which I can listen to if I have met my Japanese listening requirement for the day.  While it is not Japanese, my Japanese is far better than my Swedish (of which, at best, I know a few words and phrases), and I do not know any Latin at all.  As a result, neither of those languages are likely to crowd out Japanese, like English would.

I hope that some of these ideas are helpful, and please feel free to comment on your own strategies for maintaining your studies during busy times, such as the holiday season.