Setting your computer, smartphone, and tablet to Japanese is a great way to expand your vocabulary in a natural way, using words in context instead of a dry vocabulary list. This means both the OS itself, as well as the applications or games you are using (sometimes the setting of these things is linked, sometimes not).
In this post I’d like to briefly review the mobile app “Kitty Collector”, called ”ねこあつめ” (neko atsume) in Japanese. “ねこ” (猫）means “cat” and ”あつめる” (集める) is a verb which means to collect, so strictly speaking the title would translate to “Cat collection”, though “Kitty collector” sounds much better. This is one of the many cases where a literal translation of a title isn’t the best translation (see my article related to this topic here).
In this game, you manage a small space outside of your house where cats can hang out. Fundamentally, the gameplay is about buying things like food and cat items (there is a large amount of variety for both), laying these out in a few predefined spaces, and then waiting for cats to come to eat and play. This isn’t one of those games where you stare at the screen at hours without blinking, but instead involves closing, or at least bringing the app to the background, and checking back at a later point.
When you check back, there is a chance that one or more cute cats have come to play, and then eventually you will start getting gifts from them. Of course you’ll want to use this money to buy more food and cat items, lay them out, and hope more cats come back. If you save up enough money you can even buy the ultimate “expansion” (拡張) item which give you a bigger space to work with.
There isn’t much more to the basic gameplay, although there is a bit of trial-and-error to figure out how to get each of the 40+ cats to come and play in your backyard. Each time a cat comes you can take a screenshot to show your friends, and also there is a “Catbook” which saves the cat’s faces, names, and dates of arrival(?) in something like a scrapbook.
This app is good for beginners learning Japanese because much of the UI is rendered with hiragana (ex: かいもの) or katakana (ex: グッズ) words, though many of the items use Kanji (ex: 高級かりかり). It’s good because even if you don’t know what the words mean, you can generally understand what is going on just from the pictures.
Another advantage of this app is that the version available on the regular U.S. Apple app store supports both English and Japanese, and can be set independently of whatever your OS is set to (you are prompted when you first start the game, and can change the language later in the settings/せってい screen later). Other games may require you to set your OS to Japanese, or even change to the Japanese app store which can be pain because you’ll have to create a separate account.
The game is free on both app stores. While the game does have in-app purchases (the only ones seem to be buying groups of in-game cash in different increments), it doesn’t seem to force you to use these. While I have only used this game a little myself personally, I think with a little time and experimentation, you can gather up a good amount of money and enjoy some happy time with your cats without spending a cent of real money. Just a warning–I have seen people become quickly addicted to this game regardless of (perhaps because of) its simplicity.
I just found out about Kitty Collector recently, but it seems it has been around for a few years now. Ironically, the first place I heard about this game was in a Barnes & Noble bookstore where they had a section of plush animals from the game.
If you are into “collection” games (the similarity to Pokemon is no accident), cats, or just want to practice your basic Japanese reading skills, I definitely recommend trying this out. If you do it for Japanese, just be aware that some of the words which are expressed in Hiragana (ex: せってい) are more commonly expressed in Kanji in everyday Japanese (ex: 設定).