Like nearly everyone, I had a difficult time learning Japanese. I got to Tokyo and despite years of study I could pick out maybe three spoken words a minute. It was a painful experience, so when I got back I started thinking of ways to solve that problem. Over seven years, I developed this game that simplifies Japanese by making its most confusing concepts (sentence structure and particles) into a simple card game!
Earlier this year, Japanese: The Game had its public debut right here on Kickstarter. Now over 10,000 decks have been printed and thousands of people are learning Japanese by playing a card game. Japanese has a reputation for being difficult to learn because of its differences from English. But when you learn the language from its own perspective, it's relatively simple, logical, and consistent. Japanese: The Game lets that simplicity shine. And it's fun to play!
I believe strongly in bringing the world together. With tools like Japanese: The Game, I think we can make a better effort. The Tokyo Edition Core Deck and the Expansion Decks on this page teach the basics of Japanese grammar and a lot of vocabulary in a way that helps students have fun learning. If you've ever wanted to learn Japanese, or you know someone who does, I invite you to join in the fun!
Most cards in Japanese: The Game are actual Japanese words, like mizu meaning Water or nomu meaning Drink. You play the cards by following a color pattern explained in the instructions (and an Easy Reference Card) that makes your sentence automatically grammatically correct. Here's an example from the Japanese Food Expansion (of the first Kickstarter):
When you put these cards together they form a grammatically correct sentence.
In this case we have a sentence meaning "(I) drink water." But you could play a different red-topped card, like sell, to sell water instead.
The cards have English letters, Japanese phonetic letters (hiragana and katakana), and Japanese Kanji so you can improve your Japanese no matter your current level, even if it's your first encounter with the language. A mobile app is also available on Android (and soon iOS) that will scan the bar code at the bottom and pronounce the word for you in Japanese so you know you're getting it right!
If you want to see a demo of the game being played, here's a video of the competitive play mode. You can get a good feel for the gameplay even if you only watch the first two or three minutes.
There are also solo and collaborative modes, so you can learn on your own or in a non-competitive group setting.
This Kickstarter introduces the new Tokyo Edition Core Deck, themed after my favorite city in the world! It contains a selection of simple words from the various parts of speech (nouns, verbs, etc.) that will help you learn vocabulary at the same time as Japanese sentence structure. The backgrounds of the cards will be photographs of the city and many words in the deck will be of a Tokyo-specific flavor. The words in the Tokyo Edition will be different from the Original Core produced earlier this year so you can increase your vocabulary whether or not you have the Original.
A Core Deck has 72 cards--enough for two players. Either Core is sufficient to play the game and get comfortable with Japanese sentence structure and grammar. You need at least one Core Deck to play the game. Either a Tokyo Edition Core or an Original Core will do, or you can use them both in the same game. Expansion Decks usually have 36 cards, which is enough to add another player. (More detailed explanations of how these decks work together are in the FAQ at the bottom of the page.)
Expansion Decks follow a specific theme or concept. The first Kickstarter project included: a Business Expansion with office vocabulary and photography by Travis Feldman, an Anime Expansion with words common to anime and art by WickedAlucard, and a Monsters (Kaiju) Expansion with classic movie monsters and art by Micah Hornung. It also had Expansions for Travel, Japanese Food, and an Intermediate-level Expansion for Conjugations. These are still available as options if your Backer Level includes Expansions, or as add-ons, by increasing you pledge by $10 per Expansion.
Art sample from first Kickstarter
So the last Kickstarter had these six Expansions:
This time around we're going to have a whole new set of expansions to help you learn new vocabulary and concepts!
About a hundred people have asked me for a deck about animals, so we're totally doing an Animals Expansion. A lot of people don't know how awesome and complete the Japanese list of animal sounds is. Rabbits, dragonflies, and foxes actually say something in Japanese, and their sounds will be on the cards!
For those interested in the beauty of the language, we'll have the first Advanced Expansion: Calligraphy with brushwork by the amazing Japanese calligrapher Yamasaki Sho with cards that will look like this:
This deck will help players learn Japanese kanji and gain points by building words made up of several characters. The kanji's meaning and dictionary-style examples of each character will be in the rules document, as will many word-building options and the bar codes to scan for pronunciation. So the cards will have full functionality, and will definitely still be usable by less advanced learners with some effort, but the card faces will be minimalist, focused on the beautiful art of written Japanese.
Speaking to children requires a kind of Japanese that is both loving and authoritative. The Children Expansion will teach you words you don't use when talking to adults... unless they're acting like children (which happens). It will also help you tell them to sit still, play nice, take turns, and brush their teeth.
People love learning vocabulary that's easy to remember, which is why one of the most requested decks is a Household Items Expansion. You'll learn the words for things you see every day so you can repeat them in your head. You could even place the Fridge card on the fridge with a magnet. But don't put the waste basket card in the waste basket.
The Martial Arts: White Belt Expansion is also rolling out with this Kickstarter. Words valuable in martial arts will be included for study and hilarity. Mixing and matching it with other expansions can result in glorious sentences like "If Godzilla attacks, our honorable grandfather will roundhouse kick him into an office building."
Japanese culture has a strong social structure that is reflected in their language. You use different pronouns and verbs when referring to people of a higher or lower social level. The Intermediate Expansion: Respect will include names, titles, and verbs with varying degrees of respect to help you speak appropriately in different situations. And you can even be in it! See pledge levels to the right.
The surprise SLANG EXPANSION is an amazing deck. In a survey during the original Kickstarter it was the second-most requested but the one wanted most emphatically. It is now available as an option for Backers at Gakusha Level and up, and is FREE for all backers at the Samurai Level ($80) and above!!
Because we hit $46,000 in funding, we also get the Fantasy Expansion! With artwork by Alice Bessoni, this expansion will help you learn how to make sentences like "The young warrior defeats the evil wizard." Here's a sample of her art (or see this link for more information):
The Fantasy Expansion will feature Western-style fantasy art. You can look forward to a Japanese-style Fantasy deck called the "Storytelling Supercore" next year.
The Counting Expansion was unlocked when we reached our $80,000 stretch goal! Counting is a little different in Japanese and this Expansion Deck will help you learn your numbers and how to count people, cards, bikes, books, and other every-day objects!
If we reach the $90,000 Stretch Goal, we'll also get an Anatomy Expansion with nouns like Arm, Shoulder, Leg, Neck, and verbs like Turn, Reach, and Point. This is very useful vocabulary and the explanations and example sentences will help you make sure you're using them properly.
Here's a helpful table of the reward levels available:
JUST UNLOCKED: THE COUNTING EXPANSION! See "Decks" section above for details!
And now a new Add-on is available--a wooden Double Box! This black-stained wooden box will hold up to four Core Decks plus 12-14 Expansion Decks. It has a divider running the length inside and is sized to accommodate sleeved cards. The red Japanese: The Game logo is screen-printed on top. It is available as an add-on for $28.
If you have any questions about these backer levels, please feel free to message me at any time!
FIRST STRETCH GOAL UNLOCKED: Now we can have the beautiful art for a much-requested Fantasy Expansion! It will be available to anyone as an add-on for backers under the Samurai Level, but from Samurai Level up, it will be included at no charge!! So when you share the project, let everyone know that certain tiers get all the new Expansions, because I've got a feeling it's not going to stop here!!!
SECOND STRETCH GOAL UNLOCKED: There are a whole lot of backers who are going to want a box large enough for both the previous Kickstarter and the current one. When we reached 500 backers we unlocked a Double Box with enough room for 4 Core Decks and 12-14 Expansion Decks! This is now available as a $15 add-on.
THIRD STRETCH GOAL UNLOCKED: At $65,000 we bumped up the Martial Arts: White Belt Expansion to be an Expansion and a half!! Instead of the standard 36 cards, it will have 54 cards. That's 50% more punch, kick, and throw in Japanese!
FOURTH STRETCH GOAL UNLOCKED: At $80,000 we earned the Counting Expansion, which will not only teach you how to count in Japanese, but also to count objects. Every time you count things in Japanese you use a "counter." This expansion teaches a very important skill a lot of English speakers have a hard time picking up, so congratulation on unlocking this one!
FIFTH STRETCH GOAL UNLOCKED: At 1,000 backers, the Tokyo Edition Core Deck got a Wild Card! If you're playing and your hand is one noun away from an amazing combo or one particle away from an amazing, game-changing sentence, this card will hit the spot automatically. I think you're going to love the little twist this gives the game.
SIXTH STRETCH GOAL: If we reach $90,000 we'll get the Anatomy Expansion! It will contain nouns like Arm, Shoulder, Leg, Neck, and verbs like Turn, Reach, and Point. This is very useful vocabulary and the explanations and example sentences will help you make sure you're using them properly. I hope we can break this barrier because that would be AWESOME!
Japanese: The Game is helping people learn Japanese in 45 countries already, but this is just the beginning. More target languages like Korean and Mandarin are in the works, and producing the game in more home languages like German and French will allow all millions of people to enjoy greater understanding.
But in the near future, I'd like to put some free study games on JapaneseTheGame.com. I also want to roll out a Lost Words Expansion with some words I really wish I could have included in the Original Core and the Original Expansions, as well as a handful of others.
If you like what's happening with this project, I invite you to back it and share it. If you're in a board gaming group or a Japanese class or an anime club or you know people who are, I'm sure they'll at least be interested to know this exists. There's a Share button right below the main video at the top!
Thanks for your support! Let's change the world!
Risks and challenges
The first Kickstarter for Japanese: The Game had a much greater than anticipated response, funding at over 2200% of the campaign goal. That made every bump and hiccup in the process much more consequential, and the expected three- and four-month delivery dates ran all the way to 8 months. Almost 10% of the original backers are still waiting for their cards, which have been printed but are bound up in distribution complications. I've chosen a new distribution contractor for this project.
Since then I've rearranged my life to dedicate full time to Japanese: The Game. I've also stretched the delivery dates to six months even though I have more time every month to work on it. This should decrease the chances of late delivery, but one cannot predict everything.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (21 days)