Gone Fishin’: for a human approach to Japanese – An interview with Brian Rak of Human Japanese


Today I’m here with Brian Rak of Human Japanese. His app, Human Japanese, is on a mission to help you “get” Japanese in an engaging and human way.

This is definitely one program anyone learning Japanese will want to try out (especially self-learners). I know teachers and tutors will love it too. The introduction to hiragana (with the history of man’yougana) is amazing, as is the comparison of the quantity of English vs. Japanese sounds.  But enough of my talk, let’s hear from Brian!

JapanTree: What is the mission/vision of your app? What is Human Japanese all about?
Brian: Our apps teach the Japanese language from square one.


JapanTree: What motivated you to start it?
Brian: The thing that really got the ball rolling for me was Jay Rubin’s amazing book Gone Fishin’: New Angles on Perennial Problems, which I discovered as a teenager in Japan. This book blew my eyeballs right out of their sockets. The way Rubin broke down the language — his combination of humor and clarity — was a revelation to me. I remember reading the book on the train and laughing out loud out from the sheer delight of feeling the pieces click into place.I wanted to share that feeling with others. But Rubin’s book was not appropriate for beginners. It assumed a relatively healthy pre-existing knowledge of Japanese. I gradually began thinking that perhaps I could write a textbook in Rubin’s style but which started from square one. This was way back in the early days of the web. I started writing about Japanese grammar on a free Geocities web site. The site was a collection of short articles, each of which answered a single question, for example, the correct use of the particle yo. To my surprise, people started emailing me and thanking me, saying they had understood some concept for the first time as a result of my articles. That was really fulfilling. Those emails made me believe that maybe I really could write something that would help people.


JapanTree: What part of running your app do you like the best?

Brian: What I like best is when people write to tell us how the apps have touched their lives. One example was a student attending a high school where Japanese was not offered. He was in love with Japan and wanted to go on a foreign exchange, but he had no good resources to learn Japanese. He found our app, studied his heart out, and demonstrated his Japanese to the people in charge of the exchange program, and they let him in. Knowing that we had a part in helping him fulfill his dream was immensely satisfying.


JapanTree: Where do you see your app going in the future?

Brian: We want to continue creating high-quality resources. My driver is always, “What do I wish I had when I was at an earlier stage of my studies? How do I wish someone had explained this concept to me?” We do our best to give people what they truly need on their journey, not merely what is expedient to develop.


JapanTree: What projects/etc. are you working on?

Brian: We’ve got a couple projects brewing but I shouldn’t talk about them yet. Stay tuned. 🙂


JapanTree: How can others contribute to your project?

Brian: There are so many language resources out there these days, it’s hard to stand out from the crowd. If you like our app, please rate it on your favorite app store, tell others about, link to us on your blog, and so on. Little things like that make a huge difference in helping us to continue on our mission.


JapanTree: What makes your app unique and how can readers get the most from it?

Brian: Most other Japanese apps out there are basically flashcard systems. Don’t get me wrong — vocabulary is important and there are certainly fantastic apps out there for that. Where Human Japanese comes in is at the level of, how do these words go together to form actual sentences? We present the core engine of the language in a way that teaches you all the important nuts-and-bolts but is also fun and exciting. In fact, it’s my view that it’s fun and exciting precisely because it teaches the nuts-and-bolts. The moment of getting something, of feeling that click in your brain, that aha! moment of clarity — that’s one of the best feelings a human being can experience. We want our users to feel that from chapter to chapter as the pieces fall into place.

(I know I have always felt elated during my eureka moments with Japanese. And knowing now as a teacher how it feels to help a student “get it,” I’m sure it must be fulfilling to help an army of users to have eureka moments!)

JapanTree: What content is your favourite?

Brian: I’m very happy with both our apps, but Human Japanese Intermediate contains some of the best content I’ve ever been a part of. Everyone on the team just poured their hearts into this thing. From the graphic design to the programing internals to the photography to the main content itself, it was a true labor of love, and we hope that comes through.


There you have it.
If you haven’t already, skip on over to download the app. Windows tablet people (like me) will be happy to know it is available for Windows PC and tablet, Mac, iPhone/iPad, and Android.
Thanks again to Brian for the interview!
Brian was also nice enough to contribute to a survey JapanTree is conducting on Japanese language learning.
Stay tuned for that!
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