The Nintendo DS Lite is a beautiful creature which can get you all hot and bothered just by looking at it, but without software you have little more than a sexy, expensive paperweight. Enter もっと脳を鍛える. Developed by Dr Ryuta Kawashima, a neuroscientist and author of the bestseller "Train Your Brain: 60 Days To A Better Brain", もっと脳を鍛える is marketed as a series of exercises aimed at stimulating the brain to keep you mentally young. The game is referred to as Dr. Kawashima's Brain Training 2 in Europe & Australia and Brain Age 2 in the USA (did someone think the word "training" would put Americans off? ) but since these versions are in English they are useless as Japanese study materials and I offer them only by way of interest and because I wanted to be a pedantic wanker and point out that while the American translation does retain assonance, Brain Training is both a better translation of 脳を鍛える and it rhymes.
Observant readers will note that the inclusion of the word もっと (more) in the software title (the number 2 in the English language versions) implies that there is an original version in existence - and yes, you are correct, 脳を鍛える (Brain Training) exists, but もっと脳を鍛える looked more interesting so I bought it first.
Fire up the program and you are greeted with an animated Dr Kawashima head on the left and a menu on the right. You can take a trial run お手軽版, do your daily training 毎日トレーニング or 'download play', ie connect wirelessly to other DS users within range and share data.
Dr Kawashima's head is very helpful and offers lots of advice during the course of your brain training. His advice is of course in Japanese, and this is where your Japanese reading starts to get a small workout. It is possible to ignore what the head says and just hit the 次へ button but that would be a waste of an excellent chance to learn some new kanji, right? 記録済み? You have already finished today's training and your results recorded.
There are a whole bunch of training exercises including simple maths calculations at high speed and musical note recognition but let's take a look at the meat and potatoes - kanji.
The first kanji test consists of various kanji radicals floating around - your job is to draw the kanji they make up. Nice and easy at first. If you can't put two trees together you probably aren't ready for もっと脳を鍛える. I'm not being cruel - the challenges get difficult real soon.
After having my arse served to me on a plate I took great pleasure in watching Japanese friends struggle to put some of the kanji back together. The super-awesome-wonder feature is that you can go back and redo every test as many times as you want - until you can draw every kanji - real mastery learning. Great for learning radicals and good writing practice.
The second kanji check gives you a sentence in Japanese with one of the kanji replaced by katakana - your job is to draw the kanji. Trickier than the radical check because you don't have the components in front of you - pretty much a case of you know it or you don't. 10 basic (I won't say easy) problems and one 難しい (ie a real bastard you are unlikely to have ever seen before) kanji per level. For example, my first daily training included 罷. Again, the ability to keep going back and redoing the quiz means that you can learn a lot of readings.
The brain workout for each day is set and once you have completed it you receive a hanko mark showing that you trained your brain on that day. If you don't train every day Dr Kawashima's head tells you off.
As you progress new tests are introduced - and when I get to that stage I will write another post.
The verdict - although according to the DS I have the brain of a 54 year old man I can say that I have achieved 2 things by using this software:
1. I know a fair few more kanji than I did a week ago.
2. I had a good time doing so.