There seems to be this public consensus that you cannot learn Japanese using anime.
That is simply not true.
Anime is a great way to learn Japanese vocabulary, get used to hearing colloquial speech patterns, and pick up on verbs used in casual everyday speech.
How Long Does it Take the Average Person to Learn Japanese?
According to the US Department of State, it can take an estimated 88 weeks, or 2200 hours of class time for any given native English-speaking individual to learn Japanese. This does not include natural aptitude or affinity for language learning, or any polyglot who decide to take on the “super-hard language” as a challenge.
How Long Would It Take to Learn Japanese to Understand Anime?
In theory, the amount of time it would take you to learn and understand Japanese as a beginner is highly dependent on the number of hours you put into study.
Aside from complete immersion in an environment where you are interacting with Japanese non-stop, you can also do passive things like: watch anime in Japanese with Japanese subtitles, read language textbooks, listen to podcasts or YouTube videos about language or culture, and even read manga with furigana and hiragana to improve your proficiency little by little each day.
Which Japanese Alphabet is Most Used?
Hiragana is the easiest, most used of the three Japanese alphabet systems, and the most beneficial. School children in Japan first learn their vocabulary and reading skills using hiragana before moving on to katakana and eventually kanji.
Appearing anywhere from newspapers, film and tv subtitles, and even manga with furigana (or hiragana characters next to kanji), it is best to study and learn the fundamentals of hiragana before proceeding to learn anything else about the written Japanese language.
Should You Learn Katakana or Hiragana First?
It would be an easier experience for you if you learned hiragana first, then katakana – leaving the Chinese logographic characters now known as Kanji in Japanese for last.
Is Learning Katakana Necessary?
In the Japanese language, katakana is mainly used for emphasis on certain words, Japanese onomatopoeia with ‘hard sounds’, and to write down foreign words.
For instance, in a manga you can usually find the word ‘baka’ (translated to ‘idiot’) in the katakana バカ rather than the hiragana ばか writing of the word.
Learning katakana is necessary so that you understand the same words you otherwise would be able to normally read, such as the name of a restaurant or company on a sign or advertisement, for instance – had they been written in the other Japanese alphabet systems like hiragana or kanji.
Is Shirokuma Cafe Good for Learning Japanese?
Shirokuma Cafe ( しろくまカフェ) is a very laid-back and slow-paced slice of life anime series that uses colloquial speech – making it perfect learning material for beginners.
The manga series is especially useful in learning tons of katakana words and phrases along with homophones to boost your Japanese vocabulary, grammar, and understanding of the culture.
How To Learn Japanese with Easy to Understand Slice of Life Anime
Today we’ll use Shirokuma Café, or Polar Bear Café as an example.
Shirokuma Café premiered in 2012 and ran a whopping fifty episodes before the series ended almost a year later in 2013.
It’s a lovely little series following a Polar Bear who owns a café and serves both humans and other animals in a world where the two species coexist peacefully.
How To Learn Japanese Vocabulary by Watching Anime
Shirokuma Café is a great anime to watch for beginners learning Japanese because the anime uses the literal names of real-life animals for the characters. This is helpful for building a basic vocabulary most Native Japanese would have in elementary school.
Examples Using the Animal Character Names:
Shirokuma – 白熊
しろ Shiro means white くま kuma means bear
So shiro kuma is white bear, or polar bear.
Shirokuma is written in katakana as シロクマ in the manga series.
Katakana is the Japanese syllabary, or alphabet system used for many foreign loan words or to denote emphasis.
The manga series uses Katakana a lot for humor to accentuate the Japanese homophones, gags, and bad puns Shirokuma often makes.
Mr. Penguin – ペンギンさん
The Romanized Japanese “pengin” sounds a lot like the English animal name for penguin.
Panda-Kun – パンダくん
As with Penguin, Panda in Japanese sounds almost identical to the English word for this animal.
Mr.Llama – ラマさん
Due to the Japanese syllabary alphabet having no words for ‘L’, it is often pronounced with an “R”. So, llama becomes “ra-ma”.
Mr. Alpaca – アルパカ
Alpaca is pronounced almost the same in English as Japanese, with the exception of the “L” being replaced as an “R”. Becoming “arupaka”.
By watching anime, you now know how to say polar bear, penguin, panda, llama, and alpaca in Japanese.
You may have also noticed –kun and –san at the end of certain animal names.
Japanese Honorifics Commonly Heard in Anime
The suffix is also added after the name of each animal to denote their relationships, and allow the watcher to understand the social hierarchy of their friendships.
If you are unfamiliar, here are the basic suffix honorifics (formal and informal) most often used in anime:
A neutral term which closely resembles “Mister/Miss” in the English language. A great politeness marker and general term to use if you are unfamiliar or unsure of your relationship standing with someone.
Chan basically is used to denote young women or girls, children of either gender, babies, the elderly (remember how Naruto kept calling Tsundade, “Tsunade oba-chan“? Or “Granny Tsundade”) or even for something you just find cute.
Ex: using chan suffix to denote something cute
Ah ~ neko-chan !
“Oh, a cat!”
Chan would not be a suffix, however, to use with those you are not close with. Unless you want an extremely awkward social situation or misunderstanding on your hands.
A suffix often seen as masculine and prominently used in Shonen anime.
Used for teenage boys, young men, and very rarely young women in work-related or other unique situations by a male superior.
When used by an older person in speech (say a teacher speaking to his student) this would denote that the student has lower status. Likewise, if two boys of similar age use -kun it could denote closeness and equality in status.
Have you ever heard the phrase “Hime-sama” in an anime?
This suffix is reserved for those who have very high social status, or for one you respect greatly. Most often heard in period drama anime or those with nobility, in ordinary Japanese life the word ‘sama’ is used to refer to deities.
Such as “kami-sama[神様]”, or God of great respect.
Hearing Colloquial Speech Patterns Using Anime
So, do you remember how we went over the Japanese honorific ‘sama‘?
Well, this can also be applied to customer service in Japan.
One phrase you may hear to refer to a customer is ‘okyakusama‘ [お客様] [おきゃくさま ] which is a formal way to refer to patrons.
In anime (or even video games like Persona or Yakuza) you may have noticed convenience or department store employees bow and enthusiastically shout [いらっしゃいませ], or the formal Keigo “Irasshaimase” used to greet customers (okyakusama) entering the establishment.
Since the customer is considered “king” and there are no tips to incentivize good service, guests of businesses and other establishments are always prioritized and shown respect.
Picking up on Japanese Verbs and Putting it All Together
To Review, you have just learned:
5 Different names for animals in Japanese
4 Common Honorific suffixes used in Japanese anime
And at least 10 different vocabulary variations.
So, what can you do with this information? How do you actually learn Japanese from anime?
How to Make Sentences in Japanese
Well, you can start by making simple sentences with words and phrases from anime.
Literal translation: Everyday Panda-kun goes to Shirokuma’s Café on foot.
Colloquial translation: Everyday, Panda-kun walks to visit Shirokuma’s café.
The new verbs added to make up the sentence were 毎日, 歩い, and 行 along with the particle markers は and へ.
毎日 まいにち means Every Day
歩く あるく means To Walk
行く いく means To Go, To Move, or To Walk (to a destination)
は is a particle marker that denotes the “topic marker” of the sentence.
(So in this sentence, the topic marker could be Panda-kun, since he is visiting the cafe.)
へ is a particle marker that denotes direction or goal; “to, towards”.
Watching anime can be a fun, and memorable experience to learn Japanese.
Of course, formal instruction would be best to fully grasp the language, but there are many options to self-study and practice Japanese in this day and age.
What is your favorite anime to watch and learn Japanese with?
Let us know in the comment section below, along with any tips or suggestions you may have.
We wrote a free ebook to learn Japanese with a brief expansion of the topics covered in this blog post, along with some fun resources – including a free legal Japanese textbook pdf along with hiragana and katakana practice worksheets – that will help make your language learning journey easy and productive.
Download Learn Simple Japanese Watching Anime ebook and start improving your Japanese study habits today!
☆ In Asian Spaces