How to play TRPGs in Japan – Part 1

Help!  I’m stuck in Japan!

Well, ok, I’m not trapped here, but my stay did get elongated unexpectedly.  But it’s ok; it gives me a chance to participate in the backbone of the Japanese TRPG community: the convention.  I have participated in conventions for about a year and a half while I lived in Nagoya, and every time I participated, I learned something new about either the Japanese language or RPGs in general.  I think that it’s a good chance for foreigners to make good nerdfriends and have a fresh rpg experience that could improve their game in their native language.

However, most of the western gamers I know that live here avoid conventions for 2 main reasons: the language barrier and unfamiliarity.  While the former could be a valid excuse, the latter is not, at least not in this digital age.  I’ll discuss the first excuse in this blog post, then give some tips and links that should alleviate the second in another post.

Playing an RPG in a foreign language is a challenge.  Even if you are more or less fluent in conversational Japanese, knowing the words for “paladin”, “ability statistics” or “final attack” is probably unlikely, except for the most dedicated geek.  Unless your Japanese is really good, there will probably be sessions where the rest of the group starts chattering quickly and they leave you behind while they start riffing on some obscure internet joke.  You will probably finally figure out what’s going on, then declare what your character is going to do, only to be told that the scene has already changed.

Even so, it’s still very much possible to have a fulfilling game session.  All the players I’ve ever played with have been more than happy to help me out with words I don’t know.  When I can’t explain fully, I use my knowledge of movies, anime or video games to help describe the atmosphere or action, and this has helped dramatically.  I don’t think I’ve met a Japanese gamer that has a sneering, holier-than-thou attitude, ever.  In fact, every game I’ve ever participated in has always been with enthusiastic people that were very much on board with whatever the game master had planned, and went out of their way to make me feel like part of the group.  And there are quite a few gamers over here that know at least a little English, and are very excited to use it.

I’ve found that if you have passed the Japanese Language Proficiency Test Rank 2 or 1, you are ready to play with a Japanese group.  Those who have passed the JLPT 3 or lower probably should study up a bit before joining, but depending on the group, you might still be able to join in.  It’s very important to keep in mind, though, that if your Japanese isn’t at least conversational, you might end up being a burden on the group, and you should probably try again after studying; study to pass the JLPT 2 or 1, and you should be ready to give it a go.  If you are unsure or aren’t confident about your language ability, then ask if you can sit in on a lesson.  Or find a local wargaming circle and watch the games that are being played.  I found my RPG circle by participating in the local Warhammer club that met once a month (though I didn’t play ANY wargames at the time).  I found that the players there were easy to talk to and were very receptive to playing the games I want to play.

There are a couple of things that you can do to gain confidence and put the control of the language into your hands, too.  First, play quiet characters.  The strong, silent type, or the ‘cat-person from a foreign land that isn’t quite so great at the local language’.  Try to stay away from the ‘angsty sociopathic loner,’ too, as team work is an important part of gaming (no matter what country you’re in).  The second, and most effective, is to become a game master.  This is important and effective because 1) you control the pace and the action, and 2) you control the language being used.  If you hold the reigns, you have the power to slow the party down for a minute to make sure that everyone is on the same page.  You should do your best to make the game run as smoothly as possible, of course, but the ability is there if you need it.  What I mean by controlling the language being used mostly refers to GMs using English games: you’ll be responsible for translating both the rules and the character sheets.  This necessarily forces you to become familiar with the Japanese terms that will be used, and you will also be in control of the translated words.  If your are going to simplify some terms, make sure to do your best to use words that make sense to the Japanese players.

If you are living in Japan, speak at least conversational Japanese and are a gamer, I don’t think you should miss out on an opportunity to check out the Japanese TRPG scene.  It’s not quite as intimidating as it may seem at first, and it can be quite rewarding.  But, how do I find a group or convention? What are all these games that they’re playing..?  Why are only a few of them playing Dungeons and Dragons?  Are those trading cards… for an RPG?  In the next post, I’ll detail how I found my group and local conventions, and a few things to expect.


~ by mattgsanchez on February 23, 2011.

3 Responses to “How to play TRPGs in Japan – Part 1”

  1. Very interesting. I’m eagerly expecting the next part.

  2. […] Part 2 of a series started here. […]

  3. […] 1 is here, part 2 is […]

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