The Kanji City Project began as an exploration of hypertext and hypermedia as a new environment for language education and training. Traditional learning materials usually consist of various separate resources such as textbooks, videotapes, audiocassettes, and occasionally CALL (computer assisted language learning) software. Unlike these conventional materials, hypermedia programs are electronic and can incorporate and orchestrate various types of resources such as text, graphics, digitized and synthesized sound, animation, and video. In order to train students to recognize kanji (or Chinese characters), the Kanji City Project has produced a “shell” consisting centrally of a transportation module that mimics the public transportation system of Tokyo.
In both controlled and free environments, the language learner negotiates through the transportation system by buying tickets, getting on the train, and making various stops. To navigate efficiently through the system, the user must be able to read the names of places and establishments that s/he encounters — otherwise it may take longer to reach a destination and perform an activity. Conversion into kana or into romanization is possible, but at a cost. Various modules can be added to the transportation system; for example, the learner may get off at a pachinko parlor, with a slot-machine style game based on the combinatrics of Japanese grammar. There is also a restaurant, a school, a temple where calligraphy may be practiced, and a disco, each of which includes several types of learning (channeled activity) or recreational activities.