An Interview with Koichi of Tofugu

By Koichi | Interviews


1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself

I’m just this guy, you know?


2.  When exactly did Tofugu start? 

In University I ran out of Japanese classes to take, so I somehow convinced one of the teachers to let me set up an independent study where I wrote a blog in Japanese (about American culture). Sometimes I would write in English about Japanese culture/language, and those articles did way better. Noticing this, I branched off into making Tofugu and after many ups and downs it became what it is today.

3. What were you doing before Tofugu?

I was mainly in school. I also spent a year working for a startup called EduFire which was kind of like the Ebay for live online classes.

4. How and why did Tofugu start?

When I graduated from university, I thought it would be cool to make a living blogging. That was short lived when I found out how little money one can make blogging full time (unless you’re one of the big guys), so I found a job. After being let go, I had to do something. This time I made a product to sell along with Tofugu (TextFugu, our Japanese textbook). That did a lot better than advertising did so we’ve stuck with that since.

5. Who are the current members of the Tofugu Crew?

Full time staff is myself, Viet (Engineer), and Aya (Artist). We have a couple of other contractors who do a ton for us as well, like John (writer) and Mami (research). Then there’s the ex-interns Sarah and Rachel, and soon several more writers. It’s a motley crew.

6. Who on earth comes up with all those weird animals?

So far it’s just been me coming up with them, I think.

7. What is your favorite post you’ve ever written on the Tofugu site?

I like all the baseball ones. They also happen to be the least successful articles that we write. But, it’s not like I write my articles for everyone, you know?

8. How do you manage to stay motivated? How do you keep Tofugu so fresh and creative day after day after day?

I just do things that I want to see, learn about, hear, or do. It’s a terribly selfish company where I do things for myself and hope other people like it too.

I have to admit that Tofugu is one of the blogs that truly inspires me to be better.

9.  Are there any bloggers who inspire you? Do you have any other heroes?

I don’t know if I have too many heroes. Douglas Adams comes to mind. Also anyone who does teaching for a living. Those people are amazing.

Japan Guy Side Note: If you’re not familiar with Douglas Adams, he’s the writer/humorist who wrote “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”



Tofugu is so much more than a blog that’s chock-full of interesting articles and great art (your pictures kick a$$, Aya!).  I know that Tofugu is also big on educating anyone who wants to learn more about Japanese.  I’ve seen some great posts of yours recommending different Japanese learning applications, useful supplementary apps, etc.

A Wanikani!!

Wani-kani: a creative, web-based app designed to teach you kanji and Japanese vocab. It’s so simple, you’ll be able to learn Japanese in a “snap.” Get it? A crab has pincers that “sna…ahh, never mind. Just be sure to check it out, LOL.

10. What is one Japanese application that no Japanese student should be without?

I’m biased, but WaniKani is one of the most important things out there for Japanese learning right now. At the speed the internet goes at, it will surely be overtaken by something soon, though, so publish this article quickly.

*Japan Guy Side note: I actually had a chance to check out the beta version of Wani Kani for myself, and it’s truly useful! I enjoyed how it breaks a rather complex topic (freakin’ Kanji) into something that much simpler to understand.  Sorry, Koichi, back to the questions.

11.  Are Wanikanis dangerous?  I mean they are alligator-crabs right??

Half-crab, half-alligator. Some say crabigator. Others say allicrab.

In terms of what Wanikani does, it’s a way to learn kanji and vocabulary as quickly and efficiently as possible. We have people who finish the program (~1700 kanji, ~5000 vocabulary words) in around a year, which is unheard of when you’re talking about these things normally. It’s all thanks to a combination of fancy sounding things like mnemonics, SRS, radicals, and gamification.

12. Is Textfugu some kind of weird martial art?

It’s the textbook I wish I had back in the day. It basically teaches Japanese to a younger version of myself. I’m hoping that other people think the same way as I do. For the people who do, it works really well.

13. For those who are interested, what’s the best way to use Textfugu? (as a stand alone resource, in conjunction with other books?) How about WaniKani?

I think all resources should be used with other resources. That’s how I learn, usually, no matter what I’m studying. I’ll go through one resource, understand the concept half-way. Then, I’ll go through a completely new resource that covers the same thing and learn it the rest of the way. The more resources you have access to the more explanations you’ll receive. No one resource explains things perfectly for every individual, so grab a few that you like and power through them, TextFugu included. I like the idea of TextFugu, WaniKani, Tae Kim, and Genki mixed together. I think they’re complimentary for the most part.

Textfugu by Tofugu

Textfugu, Tofugu’s flagship, online textbook

14. What do you think is the biggest roadblock that people encounter when learning Japanese?

Not knowing how to learn. That’s something kids don’t learn, pretty much anywhere. They learn what they should learn, but they never learn the best ways to learn. We’d have a lot more “geniuses” if school systems did this. That’s one thing I try to tackle in TextFugu as well. While you learn Japanese, you also learnhow to learn Japanese, and that helps bundles.

15. What was your inspiration behind Textfugu? Wanikani?

Like I mentioned before. I make these things for myself. Then, I see if anyone else wants to try it.

16. If you could give a beginning Japanese student 3 tips to starting their studies the right way, what would they be?

1. Enjoy yourself. 2. Find a resource that really jives with how you learn. 3. Make sure you know how you learn.




17. Any interesting Tofugu projects in the works that you care to share?  World domination, perhaps?

Sorry, not today.

18. In the last few years, Tofugu has become one of (if not the) premiere, go-to blog for just about all things Japanese.  How would you summarize the next step for Tofugu?

We have to keep getting better and better. I think we have, but there’s still so far to go in terms of writing better, more useful content for people out there. I like to think we’re just scratching the surface, though how much better we can get will depend on my (currently) very poor managerial skills.

Japan Guy Thought moment: Poor managerial skills? Donald has a crazy suspicion that Koichi has a Wanikani chained to a desk at the Tofugu office to “encourage” the team.

19. For those who are interested in learning more about you, your business, and your educational items, where can they go?

Thank you!


20. *If a Tofugu and a Wani Kani got into a fight, who would win?

I think the claws and teeth answer that question.


A Big Japan Guy Thank You To Koichi!!Thank you soooo much for talking with us, Koichi.  

Got Questions for Koichi

To all of you reading out there, I don’t know if Koichi will have time to answer questions (he’s a pretty busy dude).  If you have comments or questions for Koichi or the Tofugu team, please leave them in the comments section below and maybe they’ll at least have the chance to see them (fingers crossed).

If you haven’t already be sure to check out the Tofugu blog and if you’re learning kanji, check out WaniKani.

Thanks for reading everybody!


About the Author

  • zoomingjapan says:

    Woah! I think that’s the first interview with Koichi I’ve ever seen.
    Quite interesting and funny. Thanks a lot! ^__^

  • koichi says:

    Thanks for the interview! Now that I look, sorry some of my answers were so quick and to the point! :p

    • Musouka says:

      Yeah, it felt like you were a killjoy in some of these 😛

    • thejapanguy says:

      My pleasure, Koichi. Thanks for doing it, bro!
      No worries about the short answers, it keeps you mysterious in a Bruce Wayne, garbled-voice Batman kinda way.
      Besides, I know people will have more questions for you here in the comments section, soon (cough, cough, elbow jab to anyone reading 😀 ).

  • Ken Seeroi says:

    That was an good interview. Tofugu has grown to be one of the biggest resources for people interested in Japan, and I’ve always wondered about the people behind it. Thanks for shedding some light on the mysterious Koichi.

    Also, thanks for your comment over on my site! Keep up the good writing.

    • thejapanguy says:

      Yeah, Tofugu is a pretty awesome blog, right?!? Wani Kani is bad ass, too. I remember coming across Koichi’s blog when I was just getting started blogging. I would look at his blog then look at mine and just hang my head at my keyboard, hahaha. I wanted to know more about him myself.

      いいえ、こちらこそ。 That post of yours was a classic. I’ll definitely have to stop by yours again, soon.

      Likewise, Ken!

  • Mwani says:

    I learned a lot from this interview cool..I wasn’t aware of what exactly textfugu or wanikani were about although I have read several articles on tofugu since discovering them a few weeks ago. I think this was insightful and makes me intrigued to actually try using it or at least learn more about what it’s about. True things about learning how to learn, I think you have to learn your own personal style and what motivates you, to learn better. It’s also interesting to know more about how tofugu got started. Thanks for the interview!

    This is my first day on this site as well, I got here from the comments on a tofugu article. I’m really enjoying it so far. thank you 🙂

  • Yuta Aoki says:

    Very interesting interview. I’m always curious to hear other bloggers’ stories. It’s also interesting that Ken and Jasmine are commenting here 🙂

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