There is one reason we all learn Japanese, anime games and, for the intrepid, hentai. Ok, so there are other reasons to learn but that is beside the point. You are most likely here to learn to watch anime without subtitles or to read visual novels/eroge without translations. To do this you need to arrive at stage 2 of 4 at the very least. I have separated the skill levels of Japanese proficiency into 4 levels to make is simpler to gauche progress and set goals. I set this levels by years at a university or college. Japanese year one would be like the semester of Japanese at most colleges. Japanese year two would be like the second semester of Japanese at most colleges. And so on and so forth. To at least enjoy most anime you need to get to at least to the second year of Japanese. The first year is really more of an introductory dip-your-toes-in-the-water stage. With these guidelines that I have learned from personal study I believe that you can reach the second year of Japanese within 6 months.
Yup, with some minor commitment you can watch anime without subs in about 6 months. With some real commitment you can learn to read visual novels within 9 months. That is to say at a level where you won’t understand every word but will grasp the general storyline. You won’t understand any period dramas or such though. That would take more than a year of hardcore studying. But that is not the focus of this article so if that is why you are here look elsewhere. Here I take you through the optimum way of learning enough Japanese to enjoy anime without subtitles or read eroge that is not translated.
Honestly you can get through the first year of Japanese at college all on your own with minimal effort. You will be able to read some children’s stories(barely) and write out super simple sentences. It is for all intents and purposes useless on its own. But! It is the foundation for what will become your portal to the anime and eroge and manga world. You have to learn hiragana, katakana, some vocabulary and basic grammatical concepts.
First find a hiragana(Japanese main syllabary) chart online and memorize it. There are about 46 “symbols”. If you put in ANY effort it should take a week or less. Then repeat the process with a katakana (Syllabary for sounds, emphasis, and foreign words) chart. For the charts, I recommend just copying them over and over. If you really buckle down you can do one in a weekend. Just find some Japanese words like a list of adjectives and copy them over and over in hiragana and you will learn it in 2 days. You will need to keep practicing but in about a week you won’t have to even glance at the chart anymore and you will have learnt a few adjectives as an added bonus. You can do this any time to kill time when you have a pen and paper. I myself filled out well over 20 pages front and back of hiragana practice. I played around with it just writing names and words that came to mind in the free time I had in my classes at school.
Second you will need to memorize some words. Simple I know. If you watch enough anime you should know more than 200 random ones already like love or stupid. For the Vocabulary, there is just no better method than flashcards, or Anki if you prefer digital flashcards. You can get through about 20 a day in about 20 minutes in a month of doing it everyday you can easily get 300 words when you account for review. You can also Look them up write them a few times to memorize proper spelling. Once you get about 300 more useful words like hello and colors and numbers and such you are done with the vocab for year one. You can combine this with hiragana at the same time and do both at once better than individually. I recommend you learn all of the numbers, the basic colors, a list of domestic animals, and household items. The vocab will probably add up to 300~400 words when you add up random words you need.
Third you will need to learn the most basic of grammar. Basically all you do year one is learn particles. You can easily find descriptions of what they do online. I recommend the Tae Kim’s guide. But to be honest at first it makes no differences when you are learning the first few uses for particles.
For the grammar, at first just read a description of what particles are and memorize them. There are only about 5 you need to care about at this level. Understanding perfectly how to use them takes a long looong time. But! Memorizing them takes only about 10 minutes. They are simply 5 of the hiragana symbols you previously memorized.
If you want to be really thorough, you will also have to learn the first year kanji which are about 80. To be honest though at this stage it will only make it harder and 80 kanji are useless anyways. You can focus on kanji a little more once you pass 2nd year Japanese which is verb tenses and a little more grammar mostly. However, that statement is both true and a lie. If all you want to do is watch anime without subs you can forestall your kanji learning with little to no consequences. That said, you will not be able to actually read anything even if you pass level 2. You need kanji if you want to read anything besides children’s books(which occasionally have simple kanji in them). If your objective is not limited to anime only, then learn kanji. The quicker you learn, the better. Do not however put too much importance on the kanji because even if you know 1000 kanji if you don’t know grammar and have a decent vocabulary you still won’t be able to read. I do recommend you learn kanji even if you only want to watch anime because sometimes there are crucial things written down, Kore wa Zombie Desu ka anyone?
A good book to help you out with the whole process but particularly with the grammar is Japanese in Mangaland. The book has textbooks beat because textbooks have one massive flaw, they are textbooks. Textbooks are too stiff and “academic” at explaining things. These books have a much more casual approach that makes them ideal for self-study. In addition they are anime and manga centered so they have pretty relevant vocabulary. The one flaw is that it has somewhat awkward arrangement. The topics are not is the best order for learning but there is no rule that says that you have to read the book in order so it’s ok.
The best flashcards for kanji are without a doubt these at Amazon. Japanese Kanji Flashcards, Series 2 Vol. 1 (Japanese Edition) by White Rabbit Press. Or you can download a deck for Anki if you don’t have the money for these or if you prefer digital.
Congratulations! you are done with year ones of college Japanese. You can learn all of these on your own in about 2~3 months if you put in minimal effort of about 1 hour a day or less. All in all 3 months is a very realistic goal with any motivation. Do not be frustrated when you can’t do anything with what you learnt. That will come in the next step Japanese 2. That is where you will build the framework on the foundation you created with these 3 or so months’ worth of effort. This Japanese learning guide will continue on my next article about getting through level 2 Japanese. Look forward to it and please leave some comments below.