Available online, 30 issues of Mangajin!
July 5, 2012 10:04 PM   Subscribe

Mangajin was created in the early 90's as a monthly English publication for students of the Japanese language. Unlike most text books that focused solely on teaching people Japanese through boring text, Mangajin was different in that it focused on showing readers a page of manga and then a page of English translations. As great of an idea that this sounds today, it didn't catch on in the 90's and Mangajin ended in 1996. Now manga in America is as popular as ever, which is why I have decided to put Mangajin onto this web site. Fans of Japanese manga and who are looking to learn Japanese will undoubtedly find Mangajin very useful!
posted by KokuRyu (32 comments total) 77 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks, this is great.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:37 PM on July 5, 2012


posted by mule98J at 10:51 PM on July 5, 2012

Cool resource. Thanks KokuRyu!
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 11:24 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Great!... or should I say sugoi!!!

I love the little disclaimer at the bottom of the page:

"do not laugh at all the MS DOS and 3.5" hard disk ads in there - that's what we used to use!"
posted by littlesq at 11:24 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a handful of issues in a box somewhere. I owe the entirety of my extremely limited Japanese vocabulary to Mangajin. Thanks, KokuRyu.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:43 PM on July 5, 2012

Thanks, KokuRyu!!
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 12:03 AM on July 6, 2012

Browsing through these old issues of Mangajin evokes incredible feelings of nostalgia, for when I was just learning Japanese.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:09 AM on July 6, 2012

I remember Mangajin as an excellent resource both for Japanese language and culture. A pity that it's main audience was otakus who weren't interested in the type of manga that mangajin featured.
posted by happyroach at 12:20 AM on July 6, 2012

Woot! I hope this stays low enough under the radar to survive a while. These and the similar Japanese the Manga Way: An Illustrated Guide to Grammar & Structure are full of awesome. I was sad when I moved from LA to BFE Kansas and couldn't find them in the bookstores anymore. ありがとうございました。
posted by zengargoyle at 12:26 AM on July 6, 2012

Man, I used to have a subscription to Mangajin. I'd forgotten all about it.
posted by Bugbread at 1:20 AM on July 6, 2012

I own and have recommended both "Basic Japanese through Comics" books. Omg city.

Time to re-expose myself to moderately famous Japanese comics of the '80s and '90s I guess, as though there's any other option available at this point.
posted by DoctorFedora at 1:36 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Time to re-expose myself to moderately famous Japanese comics of the '80s and '90s I guess, as though there's any other option available at this point.

I'm picturing you turning to a big stack of City Hunter, face etched with unimaginable world-weariness. My enemy, my fate..., you think. Your roommate comes to the door.

"Hey, DoctorFedora, do you want to go out for some... oh."

He trails off as he sees what you are doing. You look towards him, suffering leavened with determination in your eyes.

"I can't."

"Right, City Hunter. Okay. Maybe some other time."

"There will be no other time."

Your friend looks away, uncomfortable. "You know, I hear that Sakamichi no Apollon is pretty good, it won all these awards—"

"Leave me."

"—or we could go hiking, there's a great trail just—"

"Leave me!"

You hear the door close. The silence returns, weighing you down like a shock of Tenchi Muyo! hair. You pick up volume 1 of City Hunter and begin your work.
posted by No-sword at 1:48 AM on July 6, 2012 [7 favorites]

I was lucky. 7th grade was bad enough that my parents applied to the magnet school in the hopes that it would get better, which fed me into the magnet high school -- probably one of the only high schools in the state that offered Japanese.

I wasn't interested in learning Japanese yet. But I got bitten by the Sailor Moon bug the summer before tenth grade, and started studying on my own, with whatever the public library had available -- a Berlitz tape and Japanese for Everyone.

It so happened that my tenth grade English teacher was also the school's Japanese teacher. It so happened that she had, in her room, a stack of Mangajins and a handful of other manga, and I got in the habit of stealing a minute or two before class to read a Mangajin for a bit. And I remember, bit by bit, painfully, making the connections between what was happening in the panel and the translation below. I had manga to read, and I had textbooks to read, but without Mangajin I think I would have had nothing to capture all the little nuances of casual Japanese that you couldn't look up in a dictionary -- the way "sugoi" becomes "suggee" and "janai" becomes "janee."

The next year I took Japanese 3 at my high school. The year after that, they wanted to send me to the local state college, not knowing what else to do with me. I got told that as an otaku I was by definition a bad Japanese student; maybe I kept going out of a perverse desire to contradict the people who told me that.

This year I've been reading Mori Eto and Ogawa Youko and Dazai Osamu and not a lot of manga. But I think back to those days in high school, scrounging for every bit of Japanese that I could find, and I remember Mangajin with incredible fondness.
posted by Jeanne at 3:28 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Picking up some (very) elementary Japanese this way has been on my eternal long-term project list for some time now. The last time around, I managed to get some materials and dip my toe in before life interfered.

Of note:

Japanese in MangaLand by Marc Bernabe references Mangajin in its introduction, calling itself "a largely improved compilation of the contents in the magazine."

Mentioned upthread, Japanese the Manga Way also "has its roots in Mangajin," according to its introduction. The author, Wayne P. Lammers, was a translator, annotator and contributor to the magazine (as well as an instructor in Japanese at the University of Wisconsin).

Slime Forest Adventure is a 8-bit JPRPG style video game that looks like Dragon Warrior, but teaches katakana, hiragana and kanji. [The dev log has some notes on the project's direction.]
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:44 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hey, great. Fills in the gaps in my collection, never saw those early issues (except for the extracts in the Basic Japanese Through Comics) . You could still order back issues up until a couple years ago at mangajin.com but it looks like that site's gone away.
posted by Rash at 8:58 AM on July 6, 2012

I blame Mangajin for the destruction of Japanese language instruction.

Back in the 90s, Japanese pedagogy was in transition. Commonly used textbooks like Jorden were obsolete, and new theories of pedagogy were developing. The old guard of instructors were retiring and dying off, many of them were men who got their degrees under the GI Bill, after being in Japan during the WWII occupation. Those instructors never expected their students to be interested in using Japanese as a living language and living in Japan. They expected students to become scholars and translate Classical Japanese texts.

But when the Bubble popped, a new class of instructors developed. These were mostly Japanese women who had higher expectations of independent careers, but got dropped when the economy went sour. So many of them became Japanese instructors, and some went into professional pedagogy, developing new a new curriculum, most notably the new "4 skills" method, which actually expected students to develop language skills as they would be used in everyday life as a foreigner in Japan.

When I started college studies in Japanese language, the students were mostly interested in active involvement with Japan, either living there, or working with Japanese companies. They were mostly International Business majors, Asian Studies majors, and the few oddball martial arts people, and some dharma bums like me. I had a long history of working with Japanese corporations before I went back to college, but I still mostly wanted to be able to read Japanese buddhist scriptures that had not been translated. It wasn't until I had completed 4 years of study, as I began studying Classical Japanese, that I made any attempt to read them, and I discovered they were written in Chinese. Oops! Anyway, almost every single person from my class, the last pre-manga era class, lived in Japan for at least some time and all of us attained high levels of fluency. Our teachesr said we were the best class that ever went through our department, but alas, it was the end of an era.

But anyway, by the end of my 4 years of basic studies, the new classes were almost entirely manga and anime fans. None of them had the slightest interest in actually living in Japan, they were only interested in being able to understand their anime and manga. Many of them were, how shall I say this, outside the social norms. Total geeks. Their interest in Japanese things made them feel exotic and special. I watched as they all consistently failed at their studies. I worked with students after I graduated, and none of them ever attained any level of fluency, except one. After I graduated, I my old teachers asked me to mentor one student, a manga otaku who was failing but the teachers decided she had potential. I told her that she was interested in video games, so maybe she ought to focus on language skills that would help her become part of the Japanese gaming industry, rather than just playing games. She managed to become a programmer, doing localization of Japanese games into English. Out of the hundreds of students I knew, she is the only person from the manga generation that I ever saw attain any serious level of fluency. And only then, after I helped her direct her energies into something productive.

This wave of strange students lead to a backlash of sorts. There was a famous essay entitled "Japanese Is Impossible" that complained that Japanese classes were now full of students that wanted to learn vocabulary like "Crystal Tiara," and that due to products like Mangajin, they believed they were actually learning Japanese language and culture, when they were just reading comic books. I also tried to tell these students, they should not draw conclusions about Japanese culture from comic books, because you're only seeing it from the point of view of a comics author, who generally produced very eccentric interpretations of their culture, which were intended for native Japanese who already knew the culture.

Teachers had to accommodate the influx of new manga-addled students, since it drew more funding, turning their departments from the status of "infrequently taught language" into the hot new thing. But the teachers were kind of disgusted. My school had a program in Japanese Film Studies that was widely considered the best in the country. But suddenly they were under pressure to produce more popular courses, like "Anime in the 20th Century," instead of the the Film Studies programs that made their reputation. It drove away the best teachers, who went to schools that were more exclusive and would take them more seriously. Also, programs like Classical Japanese, that had no interest to the bulk of students, had their teachers driven away to more exclusive programs. Of course, there are no manga written in Classical Japanese.. except the hundreds of years of ukiyo-e and e-maki that I was specifically studying as part of my art major. The Japanese Ministry of Culture actually sent scholars to the US, to help redevelop the old subjects, even arguing to the manga-heads that they ought to learn this stuff since it was the origin of their modern manga. But it was a losing battle. There was nothing that could be done to stop the tsunami of students that were only interested in Sailor Moon, Pokemon, and their ilk.

Mangajin seized on that moment in time, commercialized it, dressed up some cheap comics in the trade dress of Japanese language instruction, and convinced a generation of students that studying comics was a legitimate way to study the language. Everyone who believed this, failed. Even Mangajin failed. When the tsunami receded, Japanese language departments were devastated, everything they had worked for was washed away.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:42 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Everyone who believed this, failed.

You know, the first time you told me that was probably in 1999. And I kept on reading manga and I kept on studying Japanese in about eight different ways including reading manga, and I went on to take literature classes with native speakers at a (not particularly elite) Japanese university, and went on to read Soseki and Tanizaki and Mori Ougai.

So, if that's failing, it's a pretty good way to fail.

One of my favorite professors in undergrad, incidentally, was the one who wrote both Uncovering Heian Japan: An Archaeology of Sensation and Inscription and The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation.
posted by Jeanne at 10:58 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

It appears that at some point, perhaps even with the advice of your senpai, you realized you needed to focus on proper language instruction instead of reading comics.

BTW, what's the Japanese phrase for "Crystal Tiara?" I never did learn that.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:11 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mangajin seized on that moment in time, commercialized it, dressed up some cheap comics in the trade dress of Japanese language instruction, and convinced a generation of students that studying comics was a legitimate way to study the language. Everyone who believed this, failed.

Wait, what? It worked for me, so much so that I became a translator. Mangajin was really, really good for teaching useful, colloquial Japanese that you couldn't learn anywhere else - this was pre-Internet, after all.

There was nothing else out there that taught conversational Japanese as effectively.

There are quite a lot of "Serious" Japanese manga out there that any Japanese language department with half a clue could pick up on and teach, notably Kasahara Kazuo's excellent Japanese history series, or Hirokane Kenshi's great social realist stuff.

For language studies, manga is an incredibly good gateway to learning the language (it worked well for me), but like anything else the people who really want to gain proficiency are going to progress to more sophisticated and varied learning tools and strategies.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:23 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

you realized you needed to focus on proper language instruction instead of reading comics.

Not instead of reading comics. It's important that I went to class and studied textbooks, and it's important that I studied kanji, and read novels, and read newspapers, and watched TV, and read comics. I don't think that some of those were Proper Language Instruction and some of them were a waste of time.

I was way ahead of the rest of my high school class when I wasn't doing anything but doing the same homework as they were, reading the same textbook as they were, and reading a ton of manga on the side. So, either I'm a language genius, or the manga actually helped.

Reading those Mangajin back issues just now reminded me of a time when I had to spend hours downloading buggy freeware just to get Japanese input on my computer, when all I had was an allowance and a second-rate suburban public library. Back then, manga were one of the only sources I had for Japanese. And the only source that presented conversational, informal Japanese, or even the kind of Japanese that wasn't written specifically for a textbook.
posted by Jeanne at 11:44 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

There was nothing else out there that taught conversational Japanese as effectively.


I personally found it very effective to learn conversational Japanese by conversation in Japanese.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:08 PM on July 6, 2012

Yeah but a) Jeanne mentioned she was living in a place where there was likely no connection to Japanese culture and b) it's pretty useful to be armed with relevant vocab when speaking with Japanese folk. It's way more effective than running around with a notepad.

Sure, there were textbooks out there in the 90s, but they rarely if ever touched on colloquial Japanese, so beginning speakers had to rely on stilted desu/masu forms. Mangajin was a real revelation.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:55 PM on July 6, 2012

Yeah, there were some instructional materials out there, but you had to look for them. Even today, most systems still start with the desu/masu forms, my teachers said you'd "develop bad habits" if you started colloquially and it would impede your development. They thought you should develop some baseline skills so you'd be better able to interpret the different levels of politeness. I can't really disagree with them.

One of the problems with the older programs was that you talked a lot about grammar so you ended up with a lot of linguistics vocabulary, instead of stuff that was useful in daily life. Most of the instructional materials had lots of conversational material, but then we'd talk about them in class using the linguistics terms. But their idea was that you wouldn't really get the hang of conversation until you were immersed in the native language environment, when you lived in Japan. I still laugh at some of my conversations in Japanese. Someone once asked me "where'd you learn to talk like that?" I said, jokingly, "from a textbook." They said, "oh, well you talk like a university professor." LOL. I suppose that is OK because I probably sound like a university professor when I talk in English.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:06 PM on July 6, 2012

I blame Mangajin for the destruction of Japanese language instruction.

Would you like a cane to shake at those kids on your lawn, granddad?

You're missing the forest for the trees. What happened to Japanes language instruction is that Japanese was seized upon as the Language of the Future and Our Children need to learn it to be able to compete in a Japanese Dominated World and top dollars will be paid for anybody who knows how to spell konnichi wai correctly (not me), so everybody who didn't know what to do at uni but knew they did want a top job afterwards went for it. And then of course it turned out Japanese was actually "useless", the Japanese economy collapsed and that was that, nobody wanted to learn the language anymore.

It's the same thing that has happened to IT studies repeatedly and what will probably happen to Chinese language studies as well in a decade or so; that's still in the startup phase.

Nothing to do with manga or otaku or Mangajin.

And obviously the best way to learn any language, ie the way I learned to speak English good, is to get both that formal instruction through school or whatever and read, speak, write and listen to it in more informal settings. Comics and sf paperbacks taught me English as much as my teachers did; perhaps even more.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:08 PM on July 6, 2012

Outside of Japan, only self-directed students with a serious interest in learning Japanese for its own sake learn the language. This is true whether students originally wanted to learn it because of Rumiko Takahashi, because of Akio Morita, or because of the Buddha. The fact that so many of the anime/manga kids fail is a direct result of the fact that so damned many of them sign up for Japanese... and then subsequently discover that they have no such interest, just as most people don't. This does not suggest that anime or manga are inherently poisonous to language development. I think the fact that so many more students are interested in the language is an obvious positive: even if only a tiny percentage go on to any degree of fluency, that's still a larger percentage than were seriously interested in Japanese before.

As for Japanese departments being "devastated" by hordes of kids with pikachu backpacks writing "uguu~" on their notebooks: if this actually happened, then it's nobody's fault but the department. Anime and manga can easily be a part of serious language study, especially beginning study, and it's also a real motivator for some of these kids; if Japanese departments were unable (or unwilling, which I see much more of in your narrative) to make language-learning hay out of that, then I don't see how that's the fault of anime or manga.
posted by vorfeed at 1:49 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is lovely. I studied Japanese on my own for three years or so, and have been out of the loop for a while. This is a nice way to get back into it. I've always been curious about Mangajin but never read it.
posted by tatma at 4:37 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Guys, all these trashy American TV dramas and sitcoms are stilling the Englisg acquisition of European kids! Something Ought To Be Done!

Mangajin was guilty only of its fans, not its intentions. Review the work and not the audience, and so on. If it weren't for their Basic Japanese through Comics, I wonder how any non-native speaker would hope to grasp the real usage of things like よろしくお願いします from just a textbook, because there's literally no way to actually say that in English. Same goes for a lot of the other stuff they wisely chose to focus on, like まいった or さすが.

It's cool if you wanted to study Ancient Japanese in your university days, but don't teach me Latin and insist it's Italian. It's a bit short-sighted and perhaps even selfish to complain that English-language teaching of Japanese outgrew the lack of communicative focus that now plagues Japan's English pedagogy.
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:49 PM on July 6, 2012

WTF are you talking about? We learned how to do jikoshoukai and say yoroshiku onegaishimasu in our first month in first year Japanese. I think it was right after our first lesson, which I still recall: "Ima nanji desu ka?" Those classes were absolutely clear on their "communicative focus" that you seem to think was missing.

I think you guys have misunderstood what I said and gotten it completely backwards. Our new era of Japanese native speakers as instructors was the group that the old guard WWII GI Bill students thought were unworthy, and wanted them to get off of their lawn. Their programs were strictly passive recognition, mostly reading, since it was expected their students would never encounter a native Japanese speaker, they would only encounter Japanese in books, and work as a translator.

We were all using the newly developed "4 skills" pedagogy, which specifically focused on paired skills of active and passive, reading-writing and listening-speaking. And then the manga people came along and all they wanted was passive skills in reading and listening, a throwback to the old guard, maybe even worse, since they mostly wanted to learn passive recognition of spoken language in print form.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:55 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another former Mangajin reader and current permanent Japanese resident and full-time translator here.

The manga people may have been the problem, but Mangajin itself was not. It was a great resource for folks who wanted to learn colloquial Japanese, to which classrooms provided quite limited exposure. Blaming Mangajin for their failure is like blaming a guitar manufacturer for the fact that so many people start learning to play guitar but never get very good.
posted by Bugbread at 11:54 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay, I must have misinterpreted then. That aside, if you think that よろしくお願いします is limited in its utility to self-introductions, you've got some studying up to do. ; )
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:22 AM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Of course not. That's just the first time I was taught it, in about the second week of classes I ever took.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:24 AM on July 7, 2012

I remember this! I had at least one issue a while ago. Thanks for the post.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 4:01 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

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