Is Willpower Now the Most Important Trait for Achieving Japanese Literacy?

We now live in a world where reading and understanding Japanese has become too convenient

Anthony Griffin
Kokoro Media
Published in
4 min readMar 8, 2022

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When I moved to Tokyo in 2009, learning Japanese was an entirely different experience than what we know today. Electronic dictionaries were more common than smartphone apps. Digital flashcards had yet to go mainstream, so tangible ones, homemade or prepackaged, were the primary way to learn kanji characters. Before the prevalence of handwriting recognition and optical character recognition (OCR), looking up one of these characters was an arduous undertaking. Japanese learners had to rely on SKIP codes (pattern identification) and radicals (kanji components) to navigate paperback kanji dictionaries.

Technology evolved over the next few years. The meteoric rise of smartphones ushered in several prominent apps that replaced print and electronic dictionaries. Digital flashcard apps with spaced-repetition algorithms became the default way to drill kanji, vocabulary, and even grammar into our brains. Studying was streamlined and convenient. The digital pipeline that fed us Japanese knowledge was exponentially wider than ever before.

In recent years, cloud computing introduced us to OCR, voice recognition, and AI translations — shiny new tools that we could rely on to understand the world around us. Granted, at this stage, AI translations were often laughable, OCR was frequently unreliable, and voice recognition required pitch-perfect pronunciation. These tools were in the language-learning ballpark, but they certainly weren’t hitting home runs.

Fast forward to the present, and Moore’s Law is in full effect. Machine translation has improved dramatically, best exemplified in the frighteningly accurate translations that DeepL can produce. Through recent iOS updates, Apple has finally joined Google by enabling us to instantly translate almost everything that appears on our smartphone screens, including, websites, text messages, and more. Additionally, the desktop computing environment is no stranger to this convenience. Translation features are built into most web browsers and, with the aid of extensions, eager Japanese learners can easily add furigana to kanji characters on almost any…

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Anthony Griffin
Kokoro Media

Founder and principal consultant (www.consultsaga.com) helping Japan-based organizations market to and communicate with international audiences.