Site Review: Studying Basic Kanji with Phantom Thief Nekopy

“Kaitou Nekopi” (怪盗ねこぴー), Phantom Thief Nekopy, is a Japanese website designed to help elementary school children have fun while studying. It’s full of games related to all their school subjects: including math, science, social studies, English and kokugo– Japanese. But just because you aren’t wearing a randoseru backpack and yellow cap to school everyday doesn’t mean you can’t use their fun games and worksheets to practice for your school tests! It can be also be a great resource for teachers to recommend to their low level or intermediate students.

What you can find on Nekopy

Nekopy has many games and worksheets for practicing all the main school subjects. For Japanese, they host games for kanji 漢字, hiragana ひらがな, kotowaza ことわざ (expressions) and yojijukugo 四字熟語(four character compounds) study.

The Japanese (kokugo 国語) heading is where all kanji character related games are located. There are six sections to choose from. The first section is “Kanji Land” (かん字ランド), which has stroke order guides and games for all the first through sixth grade required characters. Each character set has six possible games– you can practice putting the characters together based on their radicals, matching the character to their reading, matching the character to its possible hiragana ending, creating compound words, memorizing characters in order for a quiz or doing crossword puzzles. With this selection, you can focus your studies on practicing readings, endings or radicals depending on what game you choose. The games also allow you to practice the same characters without seeming too repetitive, if you grow tired of one game you can try another. And of course, if a game seems too hard you can work on an easier one until you become more familiar with the character set for that grade level.

The second section is a “Daily Question” (今日のもんだい) category. Here you can find printable worksheets for practicing character writing and reading which are updated daily. Similarly, the third section has printable worksheets on words that use multiple characters.

The fourth and fifth sections are games to practice kotowaza and yojijukugo. In the first, they introduce 108 kotowaza. Kotowaza are expressions in Japanese such as “killing two birds with one stone” (issekinichou 一石二鳥) or “even monkeys fall from trees” (saru mo ki kara ochiru 猿も木から落ちる). The 108 kotowaza introduced on Nekopy can be practiced through an online game or print out illustrated cards for you to drill on your own. The yojijukugo section contains an unscrambling game to quiz your yojijukugo knowledge.

The sixth section contains submissions from students who have written stories and poetry. Although these are of course not professional work, they can be an easy and interesting way to try and start reading in Japanese.

Beginning level Japanese students also might be interested in the hiragana related practice. Under the main subject selection is another category with orange buttons which is targeted at children in kindergarten or soon-to-be elementary schoolers. Here Nekopy hosts printable hiragana worksheets under the “Hiragana wo oboeyou” (ひらがなおぼえよう)section and a puzzle game in the “Hiragana bara bara” (ひらがなばらばら) section. The “Hiragana bara bara” game features a broken hiragana making robot. Users drag and drop strokes to recreate the hiragana the robot broke. If successful, the characters will spell a simple Japanese word and an image will display based on that word.

Using Nekopy as a Study Tool – Pros and Cons

There are many approaches to studying the Chinese characters, kanji, that are used in Japanese. Students who are goal oriented often chose to study based on The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) levels, training themselves on the characters likely to appear on the level they hope to take next. Some students use a method which focuses on learning the English meaning of the characters first and going back to learn the Japanese readings later. Another approach is to try and learn the characters the way Japanese school children do, basing one’s studies on the characters required for each primary and secondary school grade level (kyoiku kanji 教育漢字).

As Nekopy’s target audience is Japanese school children, the game levels (divided by grades) cater best to students studying in the last method mentioned above. You cannot pick and chose what characters to be included in the games or make your own personalized worksheets to print. Everything is preset based on the first through sixth grade required school characters.

Another downside to the site is that it is quite childish, for obvious reasons. However the same cutesy animations and dialogue that keep young children entertained may be a turn off to those looking for serious study. It is also worth noting that there is no English option, which means beginner level students may feel a bit lost trying to navigate the site and read game instructions. There are also of course no English definitions for the characters introduced, so a dictionary may be needed when challenging a new set of characters for the first time.

But overall, regardless of your method of study, Nekopy can be a fun way to review and practice. Between first and sixth grade Japanese children learn approximately 1,006 characters, which means both beginner and intermediate students of Japanese should be able to find a level that is challenging for them. The wide selection of games helps keep practice feeling fresh and is a nice change of pace from flashcard drilling sites. The kotowaza and yojijukugo games can also provide a nice addition to your studies by helping you memorize the character in a full word or sentence instead of by itself.

So, how do your kanji skills stack up? Are you smarter than a Japanese third grader?

– Laura

Images of Kaitou Nekopi copyright(C) 2002 Jun Egusa/子供向けサイト「怪盗ねこぴー」

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