6 Of The Oldest Japanese Language Learning & Culture Websites

I once complained that there were not enough Japanese learner resources when I started studying in January 2005. Well I was wrong. I am quite interested by how people study Japanese past, present, and future. It shows how while some things change, others don’t, and there are some ideas and methods that really have stood the test of time.

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Towards the end of the 90s the Internet was still fairly new in its wide-spread nature. But there were already websites diving into the Japanese world. Here are some of the innovators of their time (in order from most recent to oldest)

6. Dan in Japan (January 1999)

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You probably have had your share of Japanese culture blogs. Well Dan’s was probably one of the first.

During a time when blogging was new, talking about Japan was new, this is a unique gem that shows the life and impressions of foreigners in Japan in 1999. Funny and worth a read to see how things were quite a bit different then.

5. YesJapan (November 1998 [?])

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You probably have heard of Yes Japan (which in 1998 was referred to as “Trombley Tanaka International”), the popular Japanese lesson site. They are a special case.

Yes Japan has been reviewed on this site, and even I used to watch George Trombley’s fun language/culture videos back in 2005. As they claim on their home page, I would definitely consider his site the longest running Japanese learning website on the internet. While there are other older Japanese learner pages below, they are merely relics of the past. Yes Japan has continually grown and evolved into what it is today.

(*Note: I used the WayBack Archive to get the 11/1998 date, but I would guess it is actually older. If anyone knows it’s true debut date, feel free to add a comment about it)

4. Reiko-Chan’s Japanese for Anime Lovers (July 1998)

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The concept of teaching Japanese through anime is old. Reiko-chan is probably the first website that attempted this. And she does it using YuYu Hakusho, Knights RayEarth and Ruroni Kenshin (Nice choices!)

Amazingly she has 10 weeks of lessons including sound clips that still work.

3. Tumbleweed’s Resources for Learning Japanese (June 1998)

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A Japanese learner’s web portal with techniques, tips, strategies, and links to a lot of Japanese study resources.

You have to love the 90s web page feel. The only thing it’s missing is a web counter!

2. Japanese Dictionary Of Star Trek (April 1997)

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What if you want to learn Japanese through Star Trek? Shinichiro decided it was necessary and set up this early web page to complete this important task.

You’ll learn things like:

スコッティ転送してくれ! Beam me up Scotty
長寿と栄養を!Live long and prosper

1. The New Otaku Purity Test (March 1997)

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100 question quiz to figure out whether you are a Japanese Otaku.

In 1997, I didn’t yet know what anime was, let alone know what otaku meant. While the word dates back much further in Japan, who knew that it was already being used overseas in the 90s?

So it wasn’t so bad learning Japanese in the early days of the Internet?

No it was pretty bad. But it wasn’t hopeless. This is just a small sample. Know of any others to add to the list?

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.


6 Of The Oldest Japanese Language Learning & Culture Websites — 11 Comments

  1. I’m not sure exactly when “otaku” first came into usage among American Anime fans (I’m sure there are interviews with old school anime fans like Tim Eldred or Neil Nadelman where they talk about it, but that requires way too much digging for this time of night). However, I first learned the word in the late nineties thanks to the awesome early Gainax OVA “Otaku No Video”. It turns out that AnimEigo (whose slogan “the best movies you’ll ever read” still tickles me to this day) released Otaku No Video on VHS in 1993. So, the truly hardcore (which you had to be in those days; there was really no way to be a casual anime fan) would have been aware of the show and thus the term. As well as the superior, Mega Evolution form: the Otaking (戦え!戦え!オタキング!)

    Ah, one does not care to acknowledge the mistakes of one’s youth. Now I have to go binge watch Ranma 1/2 on Hulu.jp until the near-lethal levels of nostalgia knock me unconscious.

    • Were those type of videos found in your common video store, or did you have to get them at some kind of specialty place?

      • Some were? Like, my friendly local video rental place had some titles…mostly Central Park Media stuff like Dominion Tank Police and Photon Space Sailer Odin.

        Saturday Matinee was a video store that had a decent selection of titles. It was kind of the FYE of its day (do FYE’s even exist anymore)? Suncoast had a great selection, but there was never one anywhere near me. Usually those were in your local shopping malls and such. The best selection ever was Anime Crash in New York City, which I think was one of the first anime specialty stores. For 11 year old Dragonball and Ranma obsessed me, it was basically mecca.

        The videos were ridiculously expensive though. Most VHS tapes only had two episodes and you had to choose between dubs or subs. The dubs were 20 dollars per tape, and the subs 30.

        I’ve heard the elders of American Otakudom talk about how a lot of anime spread through tape-trading and conventions, especially in the late 80s/early 90s. They said you would often walk into rooms at SciFi conventions and just see 15 VCRs daisy chained together, copying tapes.

        • Yep, I had a large VHS collection of anime just from sharing and copying with friends. The university also had a large anime VHS collection although I was still in middle school so, while I was able to attend the anime club’s Friday night showings (my dad would drop off my friends and I and then pick us back up), I could’t rent any of the videos.

          And wow nostalgia on the store name SunCoast. I remember buying my first legal copy of an anime VHS there because as you said, the tapes were so expensive there was no way I could actually purchase anime there. The synopsis sounded cool and I was so proud of having bought the tape that I immediately brought it to my high school’s (unofficial) anime club. We all agreed to watch it — I hadn’t even watched it yet — and I was so embarrassed upon discovering it contained a lot of hentai-esque scenes, as we watched it together. If I remember right the movie was called Kimera, I think.

  2. I like to imagine the extraordinary set of circumstances that would have lead me to use these sites when they were made. I would have been 2-4 years old trying to learn Japanese. I don’t think I knew about anime, Japan, or even the internet then. Not to mention I wouldn’t be able to read them. Then I would have to use the sites and hope that no one called on the phone and cut the internet.

    • I wasn’t learning Japanese yet, but was watching Totoro dubbed when I was two!

      But I was a little older at the time of these sites. Had my own computer with internet access too. And expressed interest in Japanese! I dabbled with a language learning CD my mom already had around the house (had other languages on it too, Japanese just happened to be on it) and would sing along with anime songs, but wasn’t doing anything like this. I didn’t start seriously learning until high school and then I found AJATT.

      Reiko-chan’s anime class is just awesome!

  3. Can’t forget trying to access Japanese websites back in the day and coming back with jibberish as Japanese fonts were still unreadable back then from foreign computers. Eventually it came to the point where you could start toggling between the different Japanese fonts to see if one of them would work but it was still a huge hit or miss. Typically the webpages just showed little boxes and random symbols.

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