[KanGenius: Exclusive Interview for Sanctuary of Mana]
“You can make kanji the most fun part of learning Japanese and kill aliens in the process!”
Sanctuary of Mana pops up, into the heart of the summer, with another project completed. The specific project gave SOM special feelings since its everything we love connected somehow.. I got the honor to present to you the creator of KanGenius, an arcade game for facebook , android and IOS that helps Japanese learners or just irrelevant with japanese people, to memorize Kanji along with gaming and fun methods.
I asked KanGenius or else Rajay, to open this interview with a small line. This is what they told Sanctuary of Mana:
‘’… one of my big goals is to bridge the gap between the East and West. If we eliminate that literacy barrier, we can have a more peaceful world full of more mutual understanding and respect. Everything we do now involves language in one form or another so it is very powerful!’’
Lets see what they have to say !
1) Who is the creator of KanGenius? Please introduce yourself and your Idea about the game.
I am! My name is Rajay Kumar and I came up with the idea. I first became interested in the Japanese language in 2001 when my oldest brother and I took a Japanese course at a local community college. I did it on a whim — kind of to see if I could do it! In fact, when I would see kanji or Chinese characters before that, I would think to myself, “There’s no way I’ll ever learn that.” I ended up loving the class and taking more! In an effort to learn more and more kanji, I sought out some books to help and found James Heisig’s “Remembering the Kanji, vol. 1,” a book that helps you learn kanji by making a story from their parts! I ended up making the game all by myself with some advice from friends here and there.
My goal was to make learning fun but also to make kanji less intimidating. You start out with a space ship and it’s in a space hangar. You assemble the ship in part one where you are introduced to the five kanji you will learn in your lesson. For each one, you learn how to assemble it from its pieces. Now, I could have stopped there, but I included a story that ties together all the parts so they start to make sense.
For instance, we have the kanji for utensil: 器. It is made up of five parts: 口, 口, 大, 口, and 口. 口 means mouth and 大 means big. The story that ties them all together is, “Imagine a big fork utensil in the middle of a table being used to feed four hungry bird mouths some worms!” It’s a little crazy, but it works! You also learn the words in which the kanji is used. (There is also an advanced mode where you can learn how to pronounce the kanji and learn all the auxiliary meanings and pronunciations for the advanced users)
Next, your ship takes off and starts to battle some aliens called Ignoramoids! You have to take the knowledge of the five kanji you gained in the first part and make some kanji from their parts. You get bonuses if you have it match the meaning or character presented. You can also rack up combos if you consistently create more and more kanji! But watch out, the Ignormaoids will attack if the parts don’t make a kanji. And I want to give a hint to your readers — you can actually make some kanji you haven’t learned yet here. You are never penalized for making a correct kanji, even if it is one you haven’t learned yet!
In the third stage, you have 30 seconds to answer some questions about the kanji. For instance, you may be given the parts of a kanji and have to find the one they correspond to. And in the fourth and final stage, you get to use your knowledge to increase your vocabulary by answering questions about Japanese words made from the kanji you have already learned!
In this way, you have a very straightforward way to not just learn kanji from their parts, but to also learn Japanese words at the same time! You can learn all the kanji in Japanese this way and once you do, you’ll be presented with the ending where you get a special secret message from me and a cool little animation sequence! There’s a screen shot of it below. :D
2) What can people do with this game? How does this game helps people in learning?
People can at the very least, learn some basic kanji. And they learn it by assembling kanji from their parts, just like Legos or building blocks. It’s a very intuitive way to approach kanji, especially for Western audiences.
I wanted something entertaining since flashcards or review systems can be pretty boring in my opinion. I have actually worked with a very talented musician, Kid Moxie, and feature her music in the game! You can learn more about her music at https://twitter.com/KIDMOXIEMUSIC and https://soundcloud.com/kidmoxie.
She’s actually Greek and was gracious enough to host me at her island summer home once! That is such a beautiful country that I would love to re-visit.
Note from Author: Nicely suprised here, hehe.
They can also learn Japanese words based on the kanji they learn. That is, they can directly apply their knowledge to expand their knowledge of Japanese. Also, there are built-in dictionaries to look up kanji using a variety of methods, including by their parts.
The best part is, ANYONE can use KanGenius to learn kanji. It doesn’t matter your previous skill level or understanding of Japanese! The app’s tutorial teaches you what you need to know interactively and you’re on your way! And if you have a lot of prior kanji knowledge, you can go into Advanced Mode (Menu Tab in top center, then Help) and learn how kanji are pronounced. You can also go into the Inventory (Menu Tab in the top center, then Inventory) and warp to kanji you want to learn, thereby skipping ones you already know! You can also choose to learn kanji just for the JLPT exam.
- What more could i add to this? Except that my readers should try it out after finishing this interview? Lets become a little bit more personal:
3) Have you been to Japan? Is there any memorable experience?
Yes, I have been three times and want to go back again! My most memorable experience is meeting my friend’s dad at a brief homestay I did on my first trip. He spoke limited English and I had only studied Japanese for a few months, but we were able to communicate and have a great time laughing and enjoying amazingly entertaining Japanese television. :D You could say this was the first time I really understood the power of language — how it can bind us together and make us understand one another in much deeper ways than we could have ever imagined.
On that trip, I was able to see Mount Fuji for the first time. You can’t help but gasp when you see it. It’s that breathtakingly beautiful.
4) How did you start studying Japanese and how did you came up with an idea connected to old arcade games?
My brother spent the good part of a year in Japan teaching English. The summer after he returned, he asked me if I wanted to take a Japanese class with him and I had nothing to lose and wanted to spend time with him, so I did it. It was kind of a magical summer because I worked with my other brother during the day and met him at night. I found out later that this brother wanted to learn Japanese because he made a girlfriend in Japan and wanted to impress her! They ended up getting married and having two kids who I am very close to.
Note from Author: Love can go a long way hehe, sweet!
…i ended up taking more Japanese classes in grad school where I researched nanotechnology. Since Japan does a lot of nanotechnology research, I was able to study Japanese. I ended up making a lot of great friends and we even made a movie called “Zero”! You can watch it here:
I was really happy to learn Japanese because it has enriched my life and let me help people. I once had some visitors from Japan come to the US and they unfortunately became very sick and had to be hospitalized. Their English was not great, so I was able to translate for the staff at the hospital and help them out.
As for video games, I’ve been playing them practically my whole life. I was fortunate enough to grow up with a computer in the house and some of the first programs I used were for learning. I remember we had this old Apple IIe with just green and black graphics where I learned my ABCs in Sticky Bear’s ABCs and also improved my memory playing this matching game called Picadilly Pair. We bought a Nintendo on December 31, 1986. I’ll never forget that date! I really couldn’t believe we were getting one. From then on, I was hooked. I ended up getting a Super Nintendo and that is still my favorite console. So, in a way, old arcade games are still kind of rattling around in my mind and they are what I love! Also, I did a big redesign of the game after going through an arcade in Akihabara in Tokyo and seeing some arcade games there and just kind of saw a picture in my mind of what I wanted KanGenius to look like. :)
Note from Author: …damn , right in the kokoro hehe..
5) So you are a gamer! Whats your favorite games?
I am, but mostly Super Nintendo games. My favorite game of all time is The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for Super Nintendo.
I just loved how it was real-time and you were able to cast magic, get cool weapons and gadgets, and just interact with basically everything. The plot and ability to switch worlds were just mind-blowing to me and I couldn’t believe such a large world fit onto such a small cartridge. I still play it every so often.
Note from Author: I wonder if we got more Zelda fans in our readers! Please post your experience in the comments! Back to the questions & a different subject:
6) How much time do you think a starter needs to master higarana katakana and the first N5 level kanji?
A few months, to be honest. Playing KanGenius, I show hiragana, katakana, and their English pronunciations in many places. There are a lot of tools out there and I just want to focus on kanji. I’m interested in working with some hiragana and katakana app developers for a cross-promotion campaign to create a pretty intense learning suite.
As for the N5 kanji, with KanGenius, you’ll learn them pretty quickly. Perhaps faster than the kana, which you can learn in small chunks on a daily basis with drills and flashcards.
I see.. uhmm..
7) Which one is your favorite kanji and why?
My favorite kanji is 電 den which means electricity. I majored in electrical engineering in college and just loved that kanji. It looked like power lines over an electrical grid when I first started learning it, so it was really intriguing. I found out later that the top part means rain and the bottom part is referred to as an eel, so one can think of an electric eel getting charged by a lightning strike in a storm!
I was fortunate enough to be able to write one in Japanese calligraphy at Keio University during my second trip to Japan back in 2007! I hang it up on my wall at home:
Note from Author: Thats an honor to share this with us.
8) Except the game what other resources do you offer for students?
I also have a blog at http://www.kangenius.com where students can see kanji in video games, movies, TV, and a few other places! I like to talk about them and talk about stuff I find funny in media.
I also have a Twitter blog at http://www.twitter.com/kangeniusgame where I have a kanji of the day where I give its component parts, its pronunciation, and show a large custom image of the kanji so its easy to see how it is written. I interact a lot with my users and am growing a great community full of my awesome fans! If my users have a cool Japanese-related piece of art they made, I try to share it. I also field questions regarding translation and Japanese words! I’m really happy to improve the lives of my fans and they really drive me to make a high-quality product, so thank you all!
9) Whats your plans about kangenius?
Right now, I’m continuing to make sure the game works well on iPhones, iPads, Android devices, and the web! I just added some new features, like the ability to skip ahead to kanji you already know if you come in with some knowledge and to narrow down the list of kanji to JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) kanji that you may be studying. You can even re-learn kanji you feel like you need to brush up on! Just press the tab at the top of the screen and then press “Inventory” — then you can look at any kanji and pick ones you want to warp to!
I’m also working with other developers to put the kanji used in KanGenius and their unique breakdown and stories into other games! Anyone who wants to make a game where you put kanji parts together to make a new one, let me know at email@example.com!
And I’m working on my really cool dream project where you can learn all the kanji in context. It’s a little crazy and I’m just starting to code it up, but I think it’ll be really fun. I’m working on improving my coding style by adopting programming design patterns, so it’s exciting to improve my craft. In the end, the user gets a better experience and more content!
10) We would like a special kanji from you to get dedicated to our blog readers. If so, which one would you choose?
I would dedicate 望 to your readers. It means “ambition” and is pronounced as ボウ (BOU). Using the unique kanji breakdown method of KanGenius, we would think of it this way:
望 (ambition) = 亡 (deceased/perished) + 月 (month/moon) + 王 (king)
So, it has those three parts and we would make a story to tie them all together:
“The story of ambition talks of a king walking under the perishing (or ‘waning’) moon dreaming great dreams about his kingdom.”
I think it takes ambition to learn Japanese and that’s a good thing! It means you want to improve yourself. But in Japanese, the kanji for ambition is a little dark, which I think goes really well for your readers who have an awesome Gothic aesthetic. Think of an old medieval Japanese kingdom in a forest under the moonlight of a crescent moon and a king walking around with hands clasped behind his back, realizing to rule the entire kingdom, he will have to sacrifice the immediate peace for a violent revolution. Now, not all ambition has to be so dramatic, but it takes a strong force of will which I think your readers definitely have.
So, find your ambition and its power will lead you to amazing places!
11)I return to ask again because its interesting, how did you came up with the idea to split the kanji and create from differrent images , one — full meaning — kanji? Is it your own patent? or some collaboration?
When I first encountered kanji, I, being an engineer, wanted to know how all the parts worked together. It was a real mystery. I thought perhaps someone could figure out the meaning of a kanji they had never seen before by studying the parts. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. However, I looked for a book to teach kanji using that approach and found Remembering the Kanji, vol. 1 by James Heisig. I knew that this method was the best way to learn because in addition to giving the parts of a kanji, Heisig gives a story that ties all the parts together! I knew that this method was the most effective.
Though I came up with and trademarked the name KanGenius on my own — remarkably while watching The Social Network movie — I approached the great folks at The University of Hawaii Press and we came up with an agreement where I could use their content legally and we would all be happy. :)
Note from Author: And it came out great!
One Last Question before we say good bye… ( i did not want this to end)
I did not forgot the connection to Mana, with all my interviews, of course!!!
12) Sanctuary of mana is dedicated to Mana , the japanese gothic musician and talent. Could you please desrcibe him and his love for all kind of video games with a single kanji?
闇 yami — “darkness”
Its parts are 門 (mon — “gate”) and 音 (oto — “sound”). I chose this kanji because he has an amazing dark style and makes music and is a trendsetter! So, this kanji embodies all three elements — darkness, sound, and gate, since it reminds me of the dark gate in Full Metal Alchemist — the gate that separates life from death, a somewhat dark concept.
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…oh trust me we love it too!
I wanna thank from the bottom of my heart KanGenius for this amazing chance to participate in our project! Do not forget to download the game, start learning and have fun with Kanji, with Rajays cool methods! Its tested and it really works.
You can find Kangenius on social media, everything is collected in their site, bookmark it and have an awesome weekend, my fellow readers!
See you soon! #SanctuaryIsNotDead