In the first of my reviews of iPhone apps for students of Japanese I looked at dictionaries. In this article, I’ll be recommending four fairly simple apps from independent developers.


[$4.99 iTunes | Nihongo Up Website]

The iPhone version of the Adobe Air app, allowing users to improve kana reading speed, review JLPT kanji and vocabulary, and learn Japanese grammar in context.

It’s a pretty straightforward game. These are the instructions:

Here, the ballons are gradually floating down from the top of the screen – touch the correct balloon before they hit the ground!

This is one of those apps that just does one thing, but does it extremely well. Made by award-winning new media developer and designer Philip Seyfi, this app is a pleasure to use. The interface is beautiful and the games easy to get to grips with. Certainly stands out from the crowd. Check out the free trial of the desktop app to get a feel for it.

Note that like many other apps, this groups kanji by the 4 old JLPT levels due to the fact that lists for the 5 new levels have not yet been published, thus at this stage any attempt to classify them by the new levels would have to be based on guesswork.

Next up we have a couple of apps from

Japanese 101: Particles

[$5.99 iTunes]

As the app name suggests, Japanese 101: Particles looks to develop your knowledge of those little elements of the Japanese language that tie everything else together (は、を、に、で etc).

From the iTunes description:

When using the Study Mode the front of the Study Card shows a sentence in Japanese with a key particle removed. The card also auto-plays audio of a native Japanese speaker reading the sentence leaving a blank at the missing particle. Touch the card to flip it over and see the sentence with the correct particle used, the romaji, and the English translation. You can also press the notes section to see a grammatical explanation of the particle usage.

This way you can SEE the Japanese, HEAR the Japanese, and READ the romaji and translation to ensure that you UNDERSTAND, and also check the notes section to STUDY the fundamental rules on particle usage.

It does what it’s designed to do pretty well, although beginners who are not yet proficient in the kanji required for levels N4 and N5 of the new Japanese Language Proficiency Test may struggle, due to the fact that kanji are used on the front of the flashcards.

A good tool for reviewing / revising particle knowledge once you’ve learn the basics with you textbooks.

Japanese 101: Numbers

[$2.99 iTunes]

The second app from JapanNewbie helps you reinforce your knowledge of Japanese numbers. The interface and use is essentially the same as in Particles. From the iTunes App Store description:

When using the Study Mode the front of the Study Card shows a number. The card also auto-plays audio of a native Japanese speaker reading the number. Touch the card to flip it over and see the number in Japanese Kanji, the romaji, and the English translation.

This application currently covers the numbers 1-100, and than a random selection of numbers from 100 to 9,999,999.

This app is good not only for beginner-level students or people coming to Japan for a vacation, but also for those of us who’ve been in Japan for some time and still find it difficult to get our heads around 7-digit numbers!

More apps from Japan Newbie.

Kanji Box

[$3.99 iTunes – iPhone | $4.99 iTunes – iPad | Kanjibox Website]

One of the better apps for practising kanji, covering the following areas of study:

  • Kana (hiragana and katakana)
  • Kanji (over 6,000 kanji)
  • Vocabulary (over 20,000 words)

I quite enjoyed using this app. It’s very straightforward, has a Scores section to help you keep track of your studies, and a timed quiz mode with which to prove that you know more kanji than that annoying person who insists on asking everyone how many kanji they know.

Check out their Website for more info, and for a demo video featured a rather alarming severed hand and funky soundtrack.

Note that like many other apps, this groups kanji by the 4 old JLPT levels due to the fact that lists for the 5 new levels have not yet been published.

That’s it for now. If there’s a Japanese language learning app that you think deserves attention, do get in touch.

In the year or so since I last reviewed iPhone apps for Japanese language learners, there’s been an explosion in the number and variety available. Look in the iTunes App store today and you’ll find a wealth of vocabulary builders, apps to teach you how to write in hiragana and katakana, kanji flashcard programs, pronunciation guides and powerful dictionaries.

I asked a few Japanese language teachers and Japanese language learners for their recommendation. The result was a list far too long to cover in a single article, so I’ll be breaking them down into several groups, starting off today with Japanese-English dictionaries.

Whilst not the sexiest of apps, dictionaries can (literally) be lifesavers for non-Japanese in Japan – don’t leave the house without one! Whilst there are a huge number of English-Japanese dictionaries in the App Store, for a long time now there have been two clear leaders, Kotoba! and Japanese, and it’s these two that I’m focusing on here.


Free: iTunes | Website (currently no iPad version).

This app has progressed a great deal in the past year, with a range of new features having been added to turn it into a force to be reckoned with.

The main database was created with files from the JMdict project (which in turn was based on Jim Breen’s EDICT), resulting in it containing over 130,000 Japanese / English entries. Version 2 saw the addition of example sentences, and a more recent update an astonishing 6,500 stroke order diagrams added. Aside from the English translations, there’s also partial support for French, German, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian – accounting for another 100,000 translations.

There are several ways to look up a character, making it almost impossible to not find what you’re looking for. The search function accepts romaji, kana or kanji input – and kanji input can of course be done using your finger to trace the character (go to your iPhone’s keyboard settings panel to enable the Simplified Chinese Handwriting keyboard).

If you don’t know the reading of the kanji there are also a number of pre-defined lists to work from, including the SKIP index (used in the popular Kanji Learner’s Dictionary), Radicals and JLPT levels.

A note on JLPT levels: in most Japanese language learning apps you’ll find that the JLPT lists have yet to be updated from the old four levels to the new five levels (N1~N5). There’s a simple reason for this: the organisation behind the test is refusing to make the new kanji lists public, thus at this stage any attempt to classify them by the new levels would have to be based on guesswork.

Having found the character or word you’re looking for you’ll be presented with a wealth of information, including the reading, meanings, all verb conjugations, kanji compounds and a staggering number of example sentences. You can add individual words or entire sentences to personalised lists, copy them to the iPhone clipboard or append them to the clipboard – meaning that if you’re wanting to paste a string of kanji into an email you don’t have to go back-and-forth between the dictionary and your mail app between kanji. Cross-reference numbers are also provided for about 19 other kanji lists including Heisig, Nelson and Halpern.

But better than being able to share entries via the iPhone clipboard is the export feature. Simply go to your chosen list and send it via email as text or a CSV file.

Overall, revisiting Kotoba! after a year of not using it, I was pretty blown away by how comprehensive it is – although at times I must admit that I felt a little overwhelmed and lost in all the options – what other app do you know that has over 40 options to toggle in the settings panel?!


$15.99: iTunes | codefromtokyo Website (iPad version available soon as a free update)

This was one of those apps that I loved right from the start. I bought it on the recommendation of a friend, prior to even owning a iPhone to run it on. I’ve used it consistently since, and it remains one of my favourite (and most expensive) apps. It was definitely worth it.

With over 150,000 Japanese entries and about 12,000 kanji, it’s a truly comprehensive dictionary. There are many similarities with Kotoba!, including word lookup by romaji/ kana / kanji / handwriting, kanji lists, multiple example sentences, personal vocabulary lists and cross-references for other kanji resources.

However, it has a number of other features that set it apart from the Kotoba!, and make it feel like more than just an interface for the JMdict database.

Firstly, the search function activates as soon as you start typing, with suggestions appearing below. When you tap on the word you’re looking for, along with translations and example sentences you’ll find popular compounds and conjugations – no need to dig deeper into the sub-menus.

Also, should you enter a long phrase into the search box, the search engine will try to break it down into individual elements (see image below). Numbers can also be transcribed – just enter the digits and out comes the kanji & reading.

Similar Kanji are another feature, helping avoid confusion with lookalike characters, whilst the recent addition of furigana (little hiragana characters above the kanji) show you the readings of individual characters in search results.

Adding words to your personal lists just takes two taps- you also have the ability to apply self-defined color labels.

Integration of Spaced Reptiton flashcards

The killer feature for this app, and the one that really sets it apart from Kotoba!, is the integrated Spaced Repetition flashcard function. This can be used with any word list within the app – not just those that you create yourself. Pre-loaded lists include JLPT (pre-2010 for reasons explained above), expressions, proverbs, interjections, nouns, verbs, adjectives, particles, a huge array of subject categories such as Art, Chemistry, Food etc …and many more.

What this means for the student then is that there’s no need to export your lists to import to a similar SRS such as Anki – although should you wish to you can share lists as text-emails for import – let’s hope that CSV exports are on the cards for a future update.

Another feature that makes this app stand out from the crowd in the ability to import vocabulary lists – provided they are in the same format as when exported – just copy and paste from the email app into a new list.

A nice little touch is the ability to change the color of the app; personally I’ve gone for purple now.

A video demo of the app can be found at


So there we have it – two powerful dictionary apps for Japanese language learners. Considering the price tag (free), Kotoba! is an incredible resource, and for those who just need a dictionary and are not actively studying Japanese, it makes sense to choose it over Japanese.

For serious students of Japanese however, the integrated SRS makes Japanese a better choice. It has some really handy extra features, and I find it to be a more ‘beautiful’, iPhone-esque app – little things like that instant search function, the smoother kanji stroke animations, the text styles used.

Whilst some may think the price tag a little high, it compares well with many other major dictionary apps, and in my view is well worth the investment.

Code from Tokyo is also due to release an iPad version soon – look forward to seeing that in the app store.

aratanisuAs reported by Black Tokyo earlier today, three major Japanese newspapers have teamed up to create an iPhone / iPod touch app featuring the latest news from Japan.

The app, あらたにす (Allatanys) [iTunes, free, Japanese only] allows users to access the headlines, editorials and business sections of the Nikkei, Asahi, and Yomiuri newspapers, as seen at, a site created by the big three in November 2007 to in response to changes in people’s reading habits.

The app also features a photo tab – click on any image to be taken to the accompanying story.

Having downloaded the app, it’s clear that it’s been made in  strict accordance with Japanese website design guidelines, in that, it’s a bit of a mess.

It’s unfortunate that it’s completely lacking in iPhone sexiness, and were it not for the menu bar at the bottom of the screen one could be mistaken for assuming it was just a standard Japanese website being viewed in mobile Safari.

As other users have commented, the characters are too small to read, and should you choose to view the whole story (by clicking on it), a warning message is thrown up asking you if it’s OK to switch to mobile safari, i.e. no in-app browser.

The photo option also leaves a lot to be desired. The images appear to part of a single large image that is about twice the size of the iPhone screen that you flick around – only limited zooming is permitted, with the individual images maxing out when they only fill a quarter of the screen. A single tap on any one image will take you to an extract of the accompanying story, a further tap will close the app and launch the story in Safari.

I found it was only too easy to accidentally tap on a story when navigating the app prompting the switch-to-Safari warning.

Whilst of course it’s good news that the papers are starting to accept that they need to start to cater for other platforms, it’s a shame that three such big heavyweights were not able to put a bit more funding into this project so as to make it something worth talking about (not like here, where I’m not talking about it).

Until it’s updated, あらたにす will be going the way of 振り向き美人 (Furimuki Bijin – a beautiful girl when she turns around), which I was forced to download for review purposes [iTunes, Free], but having discovered just how silly it is then decided to not do a whole blog about it but instead to mention it at the end of another blog post at some point.

Kotoba!Diego over on ディエゴの日々 has posted an excellent review of Kotoba! [app website] [iTunes store], the multilingual Japanese Dictionary app for the iPhone and iPod touch.

“Kotoba! is a multilingual Japanese dictionary app that draws on the massive lexical database developed under the JMDict Project. It’s a fairly space-heavy app, with the current release (version 1.2) tipping the scales at 62.7MB, but that’s all for the best because the entire database resides on your iPod Touch/iPhone – meaning that no internet connection is required for the app to function properly

Check out the complete review here.

iPhone-owning students of Japanese (or of anything else that require memorisation) may be familiar with Anki, but perhaps may not be so familiar with iAnki, the mobile version.

As with Anki itself, iAnki is a work in progress, and prospective users shouldn’t expect an all-singing all-dancing iPhone App. What there is though is pretty solid, and does what it needs to do.

iAnki is not a traditional stand-alone iPhone App. Rather than installing it via iTunes, it works through Safari. Installation is pretty simple: having opened Anki on your computer start up the plugin “iAnki server” on your computer; this can be accessed over local wifi networks (i.e. your home wifi network) by local devices (such as your iPhone). Next, simply connect your device to that server by browsing to the IP address given, typically – then click on Sync.

I must admit to have had a few teething troubles to get it to sync, but once it’s done it once, it seems to work fine. You now have a copy of your iAnki cards on you iPhone (or other mobile device) – perfect for when riding the subway and unable to access Anki’s web-based version.

I’m looking forward to seeing future incarnations of iAnki – someone throw some money at the developer!