Top 5 iPad apps for learning Japanese

Last year’s school exchange to Okayama prefecture in Japan inspired me to once again start learning Japanese.

But where to start?

Our South Australian state library  ‘One Card’ online booking system threw up some useful book resources but I needed more. So off to the Apple app store I went. And found…

Rather a lot.

So here, out of the dozens I trialled, are my top five.

1. Mirai Japanese

Mirai Japanese

This app really has it all.

  • It’s structured into bite-sized lessons. I take between 10 and 15 minutes to complete each one
  • It has two native-language speakers (Takako and Daiki) to demonstrate each phrase.
  • The lessons build and reinforce each other.
  • Pronunciation, grammar and writing are all covered.
  • It’s fresh, engaging, and a joy to navigate.
  • Lots of quizzes.
  • And more!

Mirai has formed the basis of my Japanese learning. I’ve finished lessons 1 through 20 (out of a possible 70) and have started reviewing them all again.

Because stuff takes a long tome to sink into my head.

Which is my fault, not Mirai’s!

2. Dr Moku’s Hiragana

Dr Moku's Hiragana app

I started learning the Hiragana syllabary first.

I highly recommend Dr. Moku’s mnemonic approach to remembering the symbols.

Super Sumo (‘su’), the Kneeling Ninja (‘ni’) and  Meep meep (‘mi’) (amongst others), all made memorising a reasonably quick process.

The app has pronunciation guides, quizzes (ah, the feeling the first time I scored 46/46 on the ‘Master’ quiz!’), stroke guides and a quick reference lookup.

The app’s website has lots of extras too, including pdfs, games and memory cards.

3. Dr Moku’s Katakana

Dr Moku's Katakana app

This is the sister app to the Dr. Moku’s Hiragana app.

It takes a similar approach, using mnemonics to learn the Katakana syllabary.

Several similar looking symbols are linked together (the ‘shi – so – tsu – no – n’ story sequence is a little risqué!) to further help with memorisation.

This app has more extensive background notes but also includes quizzes, stroke orders and a quick reference.

4.  Learn Japanese by Mindsnacks


The app is free, with fifty Japanese lessons costing you around $5 through an in-app purchase.

The app is built around learning phrases and words through games (such as ‘Swell’. ‘Chipper’, ‘Belly’ and ‘Bloon’).

The gameification is excellent, with tricky words being repeated more often and your mastery of lessons presented numerically.

There are quests to undertake, experience points to earn and the app is slick, slick, slick.

Despite my protestations of incompetency, the app pushed me onto new lessons when I still felt I needed extra work. Mastered words are added to a new list, so I found practising a new set difficult. To this end I logged on as a new user (for another $5, money well spent I thought). Then I discovered you can ‘un-master’ a lesson by resetting your progress. Clever, but … sigh.

This app really is brilliant and a great way to while away even two or three minutes.

5. Kanji Spy


This one’s a bit different .

Publisher Russell Willis has taken photographs of street signs around Hiroo in Tokyo.

The gorgeous full-screen shots show typical street scenes then zoom in on Kanji-rich signs and explain their meaning and pronunciation.

The app is simple-as – you scroll and read!

But it’s well set out, a menu option will read the sign to you and you can bookmark favourite pages. It’s simply a great way to explore a Japanese suburb with a helpful guide.

Lots of fun!

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