Japanese Learning Podcasts

Podcasts can be a useful source for learning Japanese. Some of them are great for practicing your listening comprehension or for shadowing. Others try to “teach” you things, through explanations of grammar or vocabulary. I’m really not a fan of this “teaching” type of podcast, as I prefer to learn things like grammar through a textbook or web site where I can see things written down and take it at my own pace. But, I can understand that some people might be interested in that sort of thing.

I think a big problem with Japanese learning podcasts is that it seems to be rather difficult to make material that is interesting enough that you actually enjoy listening to it. There are a lot of podcasts that I feel have some nice content, but I find that I have stopped paying attention a few minutes in. If you aren’t really paying attention to what you are listening to, then it’s not going to be of much help. I realize that this is a totally subjective thing though, so some of the podcasts that would put me to sleep might actually be fairly interesting to someone else.

Here, I’ll introduce you to some of my favorite podcasts, ranked according to how entertaining I personally find them to be!

GoGoエイブ会話

GoGo Eibukaiwa is a casual, mixed English-Japanese conversation podcast. It’s just two dudes chillin’ and talking about stuff. One guy speaks in English and the other guy speaks in Japanese. The main reason that I love this podcast is that it is actually entertaining to listen to. A lot of other podcasts feel so boring, but this one is often funny and interesting. The guy speaking English keeps you from ever feeling lost, so it doesn’t require a lot of mental effort to listen to this one. The only downside I would say, is that its really more of an English-focused podcast than a Japanese-focused one. There are over 200 episodes as of this posting.

JapanesePod101

There is a lot of content here. They have been around for over a decade and are still putting out new lessons on a weekly basis. You can always get the newest lessons through their free podcast feed. If you pay for a premium subscription (or opt for a free trial) you can access the whole back catalogue of lessons, download the dialogues seperately from the lesson audio, get supplemental materials like vocabulary lists and transcripts, and access their “line by line audio” tool. Some of their lessons are pretty great, and some are pretty awful. I have written an article a while back on what lessons I think are most worth your time (I really need to go back and update this some time). They cater heavily to beginners but also have some content for intermediate and advanced learners. I still regularly listen to some of the older dialogues for listening practice.

LearnJapanesePod

I remember trying this a few years ago and not liking it much. I decided to give it another shot recently, and I like it a lot better now! It looks like it improved a lot when they started “Season 2”. They only put out about 1 podcast month, but the content is both useful and interesting, and you can download the dialogues separately for listening practice.

News in Slow Japanese

In theory, this is a great idea for a podcast. Listen to a short news article in both slow and normal-speed Japanese. The website also includes transcripts and vocabulary lists. There are over 300 free articles to listen to! There are additional lessons for premium subscribers. A lot of people seem to like this, so I don’t want to be too hard on it, but I honestly don’t think I could choose more boring articles if I tried! I wouldn’t even bother reading most of these articles if they were in English. I would love this podcast if it just had stories that were half-way interesting.

NHK Easy Japanese

This set of 48 lessons aims to teach basic Japanese. It all comes across very clinical and boring, basically reading out an explanation of every word from a dialogue and then talking about some grammar points. The website does have a lot of good supplemental content and the lessons are available in 17 different languages. They have recently begun a new series called “Easy Japanese: Step-up” which is being broadcast on NHK World television.

Where to find free Japanese Manga

I have recently been looking for websites where I can read manga in Japanese for free (legally), and I have managed to find quite a few! Manga is great for reading practice because the pictures can really help give you additional context about what is happening in the story. If you live in Japan, its pretty easy to find cheap manga all over the place, but for people living elsewhere, it has traditionally been both difficult to get and expensive. So knowing that there are so many online sources now is fantastic!

Some of the manga websites below will let you read titles in their entirity for free, and some will only let you read a few chapters for free, and encourage you to either purchase the rest or subscribe to their service. I have not subscribed to any of these services, so I’m not sure what difficulties you might face if trying to do so outside of Japan. However, there are so many different titles available, there is enough free content to last you for ages!

ComicWalker

Featuring titles from Kadokawa publishing, you can find some famous classics here, such as Evangelion and Lucky Star, as well as the often-recommended manga for Japanese beginners, Yotsubato! There are typically several free chapters available for each manga, including the first few chapters and the latest few chapters.

Shonen Jump+

I think almost everyone knows of Shonen Jump, due to their mega hits like Dragon Ball and One Piece. It looks like they make certain titles available for free in their entirity on certain days of the week.

pixiv comic

Pixiv features a lot of works from amateur artists, but it looks like they also carry titles that were published in popular magazines as well. Many of the titles here only feature a few chapters for free, but I have seen some titles that have every chapter available!

S-MANGA

S-Manga is run by Shueisha publishing, which is the parent company of Shonen Jump, so you can find many Jump titles here in addition to others. For each volume or book of a series, you can typically read the first chapter online for free.

MangaZ

Formerly known as J-comi, according to Wikipedia, this site was created to make out-of-print manga available online. You can read titles in their entirity for free. It includes some classics like Love Hina, but it looks like a lot of the most popular items on here are erotic titles.

eBookJapan

They want you to buy the full books, but select titles will let you read several entire volumes for free! If you just want to buy books in electronic form, it seems that you can find almost any popular title on here.

Sai-Zen-Sen

I think the most interesting parts of this site are the Twitter 4-koma and the 4Pages sections.  These are particularly nice for beginners because they are so short, so its much easier to read a bit whenever you get some free time. The Twitter 4-koma section has several manga where each chapter consists of just 4 panels. There are links to allow you to go back and read each one from the very beginning. The 4pages section is similar, but each chapter is 4 pages long, and they all seem to be in full color, which is nice.

Are there any other good sites that I missed? Let me know!

Japanese Is Easy grammar series by CureDolly

I thought I would take a moment to recommend a series of Japanese grammar videos that I have been enjoying for quite some time now. I find them to be extremely valuable, but it seems like the kind of thing that a lot of people might easily skip over if they come across it, so I thought it was worth highlighting. Some of the concepts might be a bit controversial because they go against the grain of what people are normally taught, but if you give it a chance, I think you would find that it makes Japanese grammar much simpler and more logical overall.

The videos are hosted by a somewhat scary looking CG character by the name of Cure Dolly from the website KawaJapa. The basic idea behind these videos is that textbooks and classrooms generally teach Japanese all wrong, introducing a lot of misconceptions and causing things to be needlessly confusing.

For example, one of the core ideas put forth is that the が particle exists in every sentence, although it is frequently just implied rather than actually existing in the sentence. The が particle also just performs one function – it marks the subject of the sentence. This in itself has huge implications for other aspects of Japanese grammar–and in every case, makes things easier and more logical. If you try to study about the が and は particles anywhere else, you will find this huge laundry list of situations and exceptions where you might use one or the other. Situations like if you are trying to show contrast betwen things, trying to emphasize something, if you are introducing new information, if you are using question words… they just go on and on! But it turns out that learning all these weird rules is completely unnecessary when you simply understand what the core function of the particle is. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. You’ll also learn about how Japanese doesn’t actually have conjugations, everything that you thought about “passive” form has been a lie, what です actually means, and much more.

I first became interested in Cure Dolly’s thoughts on Japanese grammar when I picked up her book “Unlocking Japanese“, which laid out a lot of the same things that are covered in the video series. However, the videos go deeper, cover more topics, and present things in a better way. I recommend watching all of the videos in order, since they build on each other, and just jumping into later lessons will likely be confusing.

I could keep trying to sell you on it, but, just watch it. It’s free and worth your time. That’s really all that needs to be said.

PNG2SRT (tool to OCR image subtitles)

Download on Github

This is a tool that can perform OCR (optical character recognition) on XML/PNG subtitles and output the result as an SRT file. This can be used for subtitles obtained from DVD, Blu-ray, and Netflix. The Google Cloud Vision API is used for the OCR, and it has very good accuracy. This program is based on a python script originally posted by zx573 on the kanji koohii forums.

Before using this program, you may need to get your subtitles into the XML/PNG format. I have previously written a guide on extracting Netflix subtitles here.

For DVD or Blu-ray, I’m not going to write a detailed guide on ripping subtitles from the disc, as there are plenty of other guides out there on the internet. It is assumed that you can figure out how to obtain your subtitles as SUB/IDX or SUP format. From there, I recommend using a Windows program called Subtitle Edit to convert them into XML/PNG format. There may be other software that can do this, but Subtitle Edit is the one I am most familiar with.

Using Subtitle Edit to convert DVD or Blu-ray subs to XML/PNG

The File menu in Subtitle Edit has several options to import your Subtitles that are in SUB/IDX or SUP format. Just choose the appropriate one, and then you will come to an import screen. From here, you just need to right-click on one of the subtitle lines, then select Export > BDN xml/png.

Then on the next screen then comes up, you just want to select “export all lines”, and select a folder to save to.

Now you should have a folder containing a bunch of PNG images and an XML file. The next step is to create an API key on the Google Cloud Platform.

Create an API Key for Google Cloud Vision API

Google’s OCR is by far the most accurate I have seen, and works quite well. It is also free for a limited amount of use each month. According to their current pricing structure, you can OCR up to 1,000 items per month for free. My program can batch several PNG images into a single item, so you should be able to do several episodes or movies in a single month without having to pay anything. Google also offers a great trial offer (at least at the time I write this). You can get $300 of free credit when you sign up, and you have no obligation pay anything or continue using the service.

If you sign up for the Google Cloud Platform, then after logging in, you need to enable the Cloud Vision API and generate an API key.

  1. In the left hand menu, select APIs & Services > Dashboard
  2. Select Enable APIs & Services
  3. In the search box, type “vision”, and then select Google Cloud Vision API.
  4. Select Enable. It may walk you through setting up a billing profile at this point if one has not been created already. Again, there is no obligation to actually pay anything, as you can use this API a certain amount for free each month, and you may get free credits when signing up.
  5. Back at the APIs & Services Dashboard, select Credentials > Create Credentials > API Key.
  6. Once you have generated the API key, be sure to copy it or keep it open in your browser so you can access it later.

Use PNG2SRT to OCR the images

Now, we can use PNG2SRT to send the subtitle images through the Cloud Vision API.

Download

Version 1.0.1 – May 12, 2018

Download on Github

Download the appropriate version for your computer, and then extract the archive.

Next, you need to paste your API Key into a text file named API_KEY.txt located in the same folder as the application (the file should contain ONLY your API key, and no other text).

When you run the application, it should look like this:

First, you need to make sure that your API Key is displayed correctly in the top area. If not, make sure you did the previous step correctly.

Then, you just select a folder containing XML/PNG files, which is what will be converted to SRT.

Note: You may get an error if the folder name contains unicode characters. In that case, please rename the folder to use English characters.

There is also an option to select the language that you want Google to recognize. It defaults to Japanese, because that is what I use, but you can select whichever language you need. You can find a full list of language codes here.

The only other option is the chunk size. The default of 15 is usually fine. If you press the start button, and the program appears to begin working but then gives you an error message part way through, you might need to decrease the chunk size to a smaller value like 10 or even 5. I had previously stated that higher values here will use less of your credit/money on Google; this was false, I apoligize for the confusion.

After you press start, if all goes well, the program should run and it will output an SRT file inside your input folder.

NES/SNES Classic Manuals

If you are a fan of classic Nintendo games like I am, then you might be interested in reading the original game manuals in Japanese!

The SNES Classic was released today, and along with it Nintendo has posted up the original manuals for all of the games included on it, in multiple languages! And of course, the manuals from the NES Classic are all available as well. It can be a lot of fun to compare the Japanese manuals with the English versions as well!

NES/Famicom manuals

SNES/Super Famicom manuals

Language selection is in the Top-Right corner of the page.