In this post, we will look at how you can use a text hooker called Textractor to learn Japanese from visual novels and other Japanese video games. I’ve been using this free tool to play some visual novels I bought off of Steam, and it is amazing! I wish this was around when I first started learning Japanese.
What is Textractor and why should I care?
When learning Japanese from visual novels or other Japanese video games, there is one major difficulty: you cannot copy-paste game text. When you are learning, you need to be able to copy and paste words into a dictionary. You also need copy-paste functionality to enter sentences into a flashcard app like Anki.
A software package called a “text hooker” solves this problem. A text hooker extracts text from Japanese games and displays it in a form that you can copy and paste. The best text hooker software currently available is Textractor. It is a free software for Windows (sorry Mac and Linux users) that you can download off of Github.
For the rest of this post, we will look at how you can get started with Textractor. We will also look at a workflow you can use when playing Japanese visual novels.
Setting up Textractor is easy, even for complete beginners. After buying a visual novel off of Steam (I bought Danganronpa… it was on sale!), I was able to get Textractor working in less than 10 minutes. It might also help to have a little bit of programming knowledge.
The first thing you will need to do is install Textractor. Here is what you need to do to install:
- Go to the Github page for the software
- Navigate to releases (or just click this link)
- Download the executable and install
- Run Textractor
Then navigate to the folder where you installed Textractor and click the executable inside to run the program. You might want to create a shortcut on your desktop so that it is easily accessible later.
You’re ready to start! Now that we have Textractor running, the next step is to launch our visual novel or game and “attach” Textractor to it.
Attach Textractor to your visual novel or video game
Attaching Textractor to a visual novel is very simple. Here is what you need to do:
- Launch your game
- In Textractor, click “Attach to game”
- Choose the computer process that corresponds to your game
- You’re all set!
In my case, my process for Danganronpa was DR1_us.exe, so I chose that:
Once you have attached it attached, Textractor will hook game text and display it in a form you can copy.
Since Textractor hooks from multiple sources, you want to choose the one that corresponds to Japanese text. Just click through until you see one with Japanese in it.
If you do not see text immediately, you may need to play the game until you reach a portion of it where there are text boxes. Text from menus will not show up, so you need text that is not rendered from images.
If everything goes well, you should get something like this:
Cleaning and adjusting
The text you get may not be perfectly formatted. There may be weird characters in the text. Also, Textractor comes by default with English machine translations from Bing. Since we are learning Japanese, we will want to disable the English.
Let us look at how to do each of these two things (cleaning the text and removing English translations).
Use regex to clean up Japanese text
If you are getting funny characters that you do not need, you can use something called a “Regex filter” to get rid of those funny characters.
For example, when playing Danganronpa, I got weird characters in brackets like this:
Regex is a tool that programmers use to specify particular patterns in text. If you have some programming experience, this should be fairly easy. If you do not, you can either teach yourself Regex now or ask around on some forums somewhere for a solution (try the Visual Novels subreddit). There is usually someone with programming experience willing to give you the solution.
Remove Textractor’s Bing Translate extension
English translations in Textractor come from an extension called Bing Translate. It is enabled by default. To disable it, you need to:
- Click on “Extensions”
- Mouse over the Bing Translate extension
- Press delete
This should get rid of the extension for now. You can always add it back later if you need it, but I think it is best not to rely on translation software when learning a language (it is like watching Japanese anime with English subtitles—it does not help very much).
Using a pop-up dictionary with Textractor
The last thing that I like to do is to set up Textractor so that I can use it with a pop-up dictionary. The software does not have this built in, but there is a little “hack” you can do in Firefox to get the results you want.
Here is how it works:
- By default, Textractor copies text from your visual novel (or video game) to your computer clipboard
- We can install a Firefox extension that grabs this copied text and displays it
- Then, we can use a pop-up dictionary extension for Firefox to read the captured text
- This also makes it easy to export words and sentences to a flashcard app like Anki
Luckily, some kind soul has written the ideal Firefox extension called Nazeka that does exactly what we need. The most popular pop-up Japanese dictionaries are the Rikai-chan and Rikai-kun extensions (for Chrome and Firefox), but these do not come with a clipboard grabber.
Once you have the extension installed, you want to right-click the Nazeka icon in Firefox and choose “Open Reader.”. This will give you a black window that displays the text in your clipboard. You can then mouse over it to get your pop-up definitions.
The window looks like this:
When playing visual novels, I like to organize windows on my monitor so I have the game, the Nazeka window, and my flashcard app (Anki) visible.
Once it all comes together, it looks like this:
It doesn’t look too bad, does it? Notice how I also have an Anki window open to the right. When there is an interesting sentence, I’ll paste it into Anki. Then, I can grab the dictionary definition from Nazeka (use shortcut “m” when highlighting a word to make its definition selectable) and put that into Anki.
When it comes to Japanese learning, I am a big believer in (a) doing things that are fun and (b) reducing friction to make your workflow as easy as possible. Textractor is a great tool for this, and it saves you such much time that you would otherwise have to spend looking up words! Now, you get to spend that time gaming and learning.