Welcome back to a segment that I began in 2018 called Japanese Journals, but ultimately, I had to shelf it due to unforeseen circumstances. I started this series as a means to chatting about resources and materials that I have been using, via trial and error, to self-teach myself the Japanese language until I could find the monetary means to acquire professional lessons. I’m proud to announce that I am finally returning to this segment and it will be a regular series on most Sundays following the Self-Care posts. Sometimes the articles will consist of nothing more than candid musings on how my progress is going, including any frustrations or setbacks that may occur. If you’d like to read the full details for it, you can do so in the Introduction here.
I shall be doing a progress post sometime in the following weeks, which will explain how my personal learning has been going and what my current plans are for continuing with educating myself. In the meantime, I do have a couple of reviews for resources that I’ve used that I believe will be helpful for people interested in learning Japanese themselves, particularly if you have different ways of learning. For the month of September, I shall focus entirely on materials for learning the foundation of Japanese, the Kana alphabets, which consist of Hiragana and Katakana.
I hope you shall join me on these learning escapades, and hopefully find some good resources to help you with your own journey in learning Japanese.
One of my favourite methods for learning a language, any language at all, are flashcards. They are excellent tools for proficient and efficient mnemonic learning; plus it’s just a marvellous way to strengthen your memory synapses. Today, I’m going to be reviewing a set of flashcards that I acquired quiet a while ago and why I think it would be a good resource for individuals wanting to acquaint themselves with the Japanese Kana system, particularly if they are visual learners.
Moekana （もえかな）are Hiragana learning cards. The flashcards feature characters from a television series and an associated website that is produced by a dude named Danny Choo, and that franchise is called Culture Japan. Three individuals run Culture Japan: Mirai Suenaga (末永みらい), Haruka Suenaga（末永はるか）, and Kanata Hoshikawa (星河かなた).
I picked these up on one of CrunchyRoll’s Daily Deals a few years ago when they were offered at an introductory price. Since then, Culture Japan has released a set of basic Kanji flashcards and a second edition of the Moekana cards that include both Kana alphabets. However, today I shall only be talking about the Hiragana set.
What’s in the Box?
There are fifty (50) cards total in the box. Forty-six (46) cards are for each of the Hiragana characters, or syllables. There’s one (1) reference card with a full list of all the syllables, in order on one side and a small snippet about Moekana on the other. Lastly, there are three (3) cards with information about the people who make up Culture Japan. The first side of their cards include the first Hiragana character of their given name, the Hiragana spelling of it, and a chibi avatar representing them. The back side has information about them as individuals that allows the learner to better understand the minds behind the creation of this resource.
The first thing I noticed when I took them out of the box was the texture of the cards. They are glossy cardstock with a vibrant orange ombrè scheme to it. It matches the box’s outer colour perfectly and is very eye-catching. The cards are also one-sided rather than being double-sided, which is usually the more traditional for language or vocabulary flashcards. I found this to be disappointing when I first opened it up, however, after using them for about fifteen to twenty minutes, I got used to the single-sided nature and came to appreciate it’s unique set-up for what it was.
The front side of the card has the Hiragana syllable in the top left corner with an associated vocabulary word in the top right corner. Then there is a chibi character in the centre of the card with the English translation of the vocabulary word beneath it. The Romanised spelling of both the Hiragana syllable and the associated vocabulary word are in the bottom corners respectively. The back side has the Moekana logo and name in Hiragana.
Having all of the information on one side only can be both good and challenging. I liked having all of the pertinent data in a simple and easy to understand means, however, I would have preferred if the Romanisation and the English translation were on the back side. This would have made it more accessible when practising with them for mnemonics. During my second run through with the cards, I ended up cutting sticky notes into strips to cover up all of the English. This way I could memorise the characters in Hiragana and help train my brain to read in Hiragana as well. I wanted to be able to see a syllable and immediately know what it is, similarly, to seeing the word “cat” and being able to conjure it’s meaning, spelling, and pronunciation without an ounce of effort. However, that is my personal learning style and it may be easier for other learners to have everything on a single side rather than dual-sided. This will most-definitely depend on the person using the cards.
From a technical standpoint, speaking as a visual learner, I loved the vibrancy of these cards. The cards have bright colours, yet they aren’t so flamboyant as to be distracting. The colours popped just enough to give them a bit of cuteness and charm. The focus of the vocabulary words was also depicted clearly in the pictures, which gave me an ocular reference to associate specific syllables to. More specifically, drawings left a good imprint in my brain that helped me to correlate the specific word and syllables, which then made it easier for me to retain them and for them to feel a lot more natural with each practise session.
For example, かたな (katana, or Japanese sword) is shown prominently and not drowned out by the character or backgrounds. Another example is the word えんぴつ (enpitsu, or pencil), which is shown as the main focus in the picture clearly and the drawing pulls the attention to the pencil specifically rather than the chibi girl holding it.
Different Ways to Use Them
For memory-specific learning, I found two methods to play around with. The first one is something I already mentioned earlier. I’d place a thin strip of sticky notes on the Romanised portions of the card and then shuffle them so that I could practise reading the Hiragana out of order. This is a great method of getting acclimated to reading Japanese, which will become extremely beneficial when moving on to full sentences and grammar practise later. Once I became very comfortable with the syllables, I would then time myself to speed up my reading abilities.
The second method is for people who may have trouble memorising the correct syllable order for Hiragana (あ、い、う、え、お, …). I laid them facedown and tried to guess the characters and their order before flipping them back over. For example, I would lay the first line down vertically (typically how it’s read in Japanese, from right to left; if it’s horizontal then it’s read left to right) and then say them out loud as I flipped them over. If I got one wrong, I would either keep going, or start over so that I could strengthen my memory a bit.
With the Second Edition set, which comes with the Katakana cards as well as the Hiragana cards, I would play a matching game where I match the hiragana syllables to their respective katakana counterparts (あ、ア、い、イ、う、ウ, …), which helps expediate the process of learning both alphabets. This is also a phenomenal way to train your brain to flawlessly read between the two sets in a more natural manner without getting cofnused, as you will see them used together quite often.
A couple of other things you can do with these cards includes simply shuffling them and using the vocabulary to create your own cards. As mentioned above, learning to read them out of order is the best way to become fluent in reading and recognising, so shuffling them and randomly pulling out the cards from the deck (with the Romanised portions still covered) is a neat technique. Then there is using the vocabulary words to create your very own flashcards with just the vocabulary. Or taking a vocabulary word and cutting it into sections to recognise what those syllables look like individually, or to decipher which row they may come from. For example かたなhas three characters か, た, な. What syllable comes after なin its row? Or, what row comes before/after な? Things like that; just random ways to play with the syllables in order to make the learning process less humdrum.
Overall, I loved the Moekana cards for what they are. They are a great way to hold attention and to make learning Kana more interesting. The colours and chibi characters are fun and work well with mnemonic part of learning the syllables and vocabulary. They are also sturdy and should last a long time. Plus, the glossiness makes it easy to use tape or sticky notes and not having to worry about there being gross residue in its wake. If there’s anything I would improve, it would be to separate the English from the Japanese, and I’d also provide a couple of extra vocabulary word per syllable to help strengthen the reading part of learning Kana. As it stands, I recommend them for anyone who is a super beginner and interested in starting the learning process for Japanese.