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Japanese Language Resources for Graphic Designers

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It may be a surprise (not so much if you ever look at my bookshelves), but I graduated Witt with a minor in Japanese. Funnily enough, I do still use what I learned from my time in language classes, but I remember more of the method than the meanings themselves. If you’re a game or graphic designer looking to add a little extra authenticity and flair to your samurai products or supplements, here are some links you might enjoy.

Easy Breezy Japanesey

Typing in Japanese on modern operating systems is easier than you thought! Alternatively, once you have the language pack installed, you can tag-team two English-Japanese dictionaries for more Gaijin mileage.

On Windows 7

To install East Asian fonts on your laptop you don’t even need the OS’ CD anymore. Follow these steps and select the IME keyboard when prompted (hasn’t given me any trouble). After that, in the start menu, change EN to JP in the lower right hand corner and select Hiragana 90% of the time, or Katakana if the words you’re typing aren’t in the dictionary. You need but type in the phonetic romaji of the word you’re looking for, e.g. watashi for わたし, or copy/paste the Kanji from dictionaries directly. Press spacebar when you’re done with a word or string of words to automatically convert them into kanji, and you’ll get something like 私. Much easier than writing them out by hand.

Alc.co.jp

This online English-Japanese gives the best context and examples but is not nearly as easy to use. Copy the kanji into the box or type the english word and hit enter. You may want to pass the search result’s url through popjisho.com first to be able to hover over the kanji if you’re going from English to Japanese.

Popjisho.com

This is by far my favorite Kanji dictionary online. The ability to see the meanings of both kanji in a word allow you to understand the nuance of a work, and to distinguish, say, between gakkou and ryuuha, both of which are translated as “school” in English, but really mean school as in place and school as in tradition respectively. The former, when using popjisho to hovered over the different kanji, denotes learning and officer, wheras the ladder signifies influence/drift and branch/sect. Then, when you want to cross-reference to be sure, you use the below dictionary.

Fonts, Fonts, Fonts

After installing the language pack, Windows automatically includes the MS Mincho and Gothic fonts, but they are as hideous as Times New Roman and Comic Sans MS, to me anyway. You’ll want to get ahead with the following resources for Japanese or Japanesey fonts.

The EPSON Suite

Free through I love EPSON. It’s a .exe but extraction will result in a folder with all the fonts, virus-free. I used these fonts in amending the Blood & Honor character sheets for my own hack of the game, Sasarindō. Yes, epgyobld.ttf is the one Wick uses for the Kanji in his book and on his character sheets.

The L5R Fonts

If you have been meaning to make your own fan-supplements for Legend of the Five Rings, these official fonts (credit: mistralCeleste) will be invaluable. Treefrog.ttf for your titles, the various OLDS*.ttf’s for subtitles, and Kudasai.ttf for headings.

What’s In a Name?

Wiktionary.org

My go-to translator for everything (since Google Translate is okay but not perfect), you have to do more legwork yourself but again, the inclusion of context (like the difference between the “spiteful woman” meaning of bitch and the “female dog” one) is a huge help.

I also use it for deciding on the Kanji for names when I come up with the sound first and decide on a meaning after. I’ll put the phonetic components, such as “Shi,” “Ho, “Shiho, “Se, “Ki, “Seki” and “Hoseki” into Pop Jisho and experiment until I come up with something I like. For example, I’ve typed in Shi to the English searchbar and my first result seems to include a lot of kanji in the description. Navigating there, I see that there are 103 character that contain shi as part of their pronunciation, and many of the meanings are already laid out for me. You’ll want to navigate to each page and look at the on and kun’yomi. Those are the Chinese and Japanese pronunciations, respectively, but both are used in Japan–you’ll usually want the former as it comprises the compound pronunciation of words.

For instance, 行 has an on’yomi of kou and a kun’yomi of i. 行 appears in the word for airplane, 飛行機, as the middle syllable, hikouki, while the latter is for one-character words or with other kana, 行く iku, to go. You can use kou as part of a name.

Last Thoughts

Fianlly, if I were GM’ing an L5R game, I’d sprinkle in a few words and phrases here and there for flavor, maybe change them for samurai-usage, and probably adopt anime-style voices depending on the character (strangely, I can’t seem to adapt that into my English-speaking NPC’s). Okay, my friends might make fun of me a little, but when you wield supreme power over them as a GM you do have to make concessions occasionally.

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