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How to play Japanese games on your PS4

Summertime is associated with beaches, family vacations, and big action movies, but it’s traditionally something of a desert for major video game releases. So if you’re dying for something new to play while you wait for No Man’s Sky and Deus Ex, why not take this opportunity to explore the Japanese catalog on the PS4?

Games like Phantasy Star Online 2 and Dragon’s Dogma Online aren’t available on the US PlayStation Store, and some titles like Puyo Puyo Tetris will likely never be officially released in the US because of licensing conflicts. To sidestep those issues, this post will walk you through the basics of machine translation, acquiring free-to-play games, and purchasing imports.

iPhone Translate

Before we do anything, we need to address the translation issue. When you’re using a Web browser on a PC, this process is relatively simple. Google Chrome has built-in page translation, and other browsers can take advantage of similar functionality through add-ons.

Signing up for Japanese accounts is typically pain-free thanks to machine translation, but there’s a catch. Just like English-based online services, spammers and other ne’er-do-wells try to ruin everyone’s good time. As such, Japanese anti-spam implementations can make signing up for some accounts particularly challenging for those of us with little-to-no experience with Japanese characters. Sadly, there’s no bypassing these little headaches, but we can tackle them with help from the Google Translate app.

To translate text that can’t be easily copied into the Google Translate website, launch the Google Translate app on your smartphone or tablet. Configure it to translate Japanese to English, and then tap the camera icon. Hold the device up to the text you need translated, snap a photo in the app, and then rub your finger over the applicable text. If the image is clear enough, Google’s optical character recognition (OCR) engine will be able to understand the Japanese text, and then convert it to English for you.

If you happen to find yourself stuck at a CAPTCHA with Japanese characters that are too obscured to work with OCR, your best bet is to use Google Translate‘s Japanese hand-writing recognition. Simply draw the characters as you see them, and then copy the converted text into the CAPTCHA. Just remember that your best results will probably come from using touchscreens or digital pens. You can certainly try drawing the characters with a mouse, but I find it to be more than a little challenging.

Japanese PSN

Now that we can deal with Japanese text, let’s create a Japanese Sony Entertainment Network (SEN) account. Head over to the account creation page, and choose “Japan” from the dropdown of countries. This will reload the page with Japanese text, so it’s time to enable your translation tools. Fill out the form to the best of your ability, and then click the reCAPTCHA checkbox. From here, you’ll likely have to manually copy the CAPTCHA instructions into Google Translate. Click the photos that best fit the description, agree to the terms of service, and submit the form.

Once you’ve submitted the form and passed the CAPTCHA, you’ll need to verify your email. You should quickly get an email from Sony with a confirmation link. Click it, and you’ll be verified. Next, you’ll need to go into your profile, and assign a username for PSN. From there, enter your name, and button through. You’ll need to fill in a valid Japanese address, but starting out with a postal code, and then using the blue “Address search” button will fill in much of the rest of the form. Continue on, decline to add a credit card, and you should be ready to go.

Free to Play

Log into your Japanese account on the PlayStation Store, and use Google Translate to find the section that roughly translates to “Basic free-to-play.” In this menu, you can filter out any PS3 or Vita games by selecting the “PS4” checkbox on the left-hand side.

From this point, it should be easy to identify the game you’re searching for by looking at the icons. In fact, many titles already have English words in them, so deciphering this shouldn’t be difficult. When you click the “add to cart” icon, a new menu will pop up. The light grey button lets you continue browsing, and the dark grey button takes you to your cart.

Once you’ve finished adding the games to your cart, click the cart icon in the upper right, and you’ll be able to checkout. Click the light grey button that more or less translates to “Advance to purchase procedure.” You’ll see that the cost is 0 YEN, so click the light grey “Purchase” button. You’ll get a confirmation screen, and access to those games will be added to your account.

Japanese PlayStation Store Card

If you’re not content only playing the free games on the Japanese PlayStation Store, your easiest path forward is with imported PlayStation Store cards. Of course, you’ll find that credit cards and PayPal are valid options in your payment settings, but you’ll need to have legit payment credentials from Japan itself. American payment methods need not apply.

If you look on eBay, the US Amazon storefront, or import-focused sites like YesAsia, you’ll easily find Japanese PlayStation Store cards ranging from 1000 YEN to 10,000 YEN. The prices will be marked up, but that’s par for the course.

Once you’ve acquired your PlayStation Store card, log into SEN with your Japanese account. If you’re using Google Translate to translate the page, find the “Account” tab. Under that, you’ll find a section that Google translates to “The input of the code number,” and that’s what you’ll need to click. From there, you can enter your code, and click “Next.” Once the prepaid card has been applied to your account, you’ll now be able to buy games on the Japanese PlayStation Store.

Physical Disc

Because PS4 games are region-free, you can simply buy discs from other countries, insert them into your console, and start playing. If you search for foreign games on the US version of Amazon, it’s commonplace to see imports available. For example, you can find physical copies of Puyo Puyo Tetris and Dead of Alive Xtreme 3 for a small premium, and some imports are even Prime-eligible.

If you can’t find the specific title you’re looking for, consider searching the Japanese Amazon site. With built-in machine translation and new global shipping options, this is an easy way to get Japanese goods.

Of course, you can always search eBay or Japanese Yahoo Auctions. Just keep in mind that prices, shipping, and the customs process can vary wildly. And since you might be purchasing games from someone who speaks Japanese, communication about delays or payment problems could be challenging because of the language barrier.

PS4 Primary

If you care at all about trophies or your friends list, you’ll want to play your newly acquired games on your US account — not your Japanese account. Thankfully, Sony makes this relatively easy.

First, log into your PS4 with your Japanese account. Download the games you’re interested in playing, and then head to the PS4’s settings tab. Scroll down to the “PlayStation Network/Account Management” section, and button through. Select “Activate as your Primary PS4,” and then pick “Activate.” Now, you’re free to switch back to your main account, and play the games acquired by your Japanese account.

Already have your main PlayStation account activated? No problem! You can keep the same console activated as the primary device for both accounts. Your US account can play Japanese games, and vice versa. And if you’re only playing physical games, none of this is necessary. Just put in the disc, play on any account you wish, and you shouldn’t have any problem getting trophies regardless of which region your account is from.

Check out our ExtremeTech Explains series for more in-depth coverage of today’s hottest tech topics.

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