The Japanino, Introduction

A Beginner's Guide to the Japanino

Gakken's Otona no Kagaku (Adult Science) kit line now includes kit #27 , the Japanino. The Japanino is based on the Arduino micro-controller kit and is pretty much compatible with everything already on the market for Arduino's Duemilanove model . If you already work with the Arduino, then there's nothing new here for you. However, if you're new to both the Arduino and the Japanino, then this guide is intended to help you get started.

Deciding which to get

Keep in mind the following:

1) The Japanino is an import if you buy it in the U.S. It's 3600 yen in Japan ($38 USD), so expect up to $80 from an importer.
2) You can get an advanced Arduino beginner's kit for $115 USD that includes a breadboard, various components and some temperature and/or light sensors.
3) The Japanino comes with the color book (mook) and the P.O.V. It doesn't require a prior knowledge of electronics to get started playing with your first toy and program.
4) A basic beginner's Arduino package has sensors that the Japanino doesn't, but it may take time to build up an equivalent of the P.O.V., kind of restricting what you can do "right out of the box".

If you know some electronics and money is a factor, go to the Maker's Shed site and get the Advanced Starter kit . Otherwise, if you really like the Gakken line and don't mind paying the markup, get the Japanino.


The Japanino is a small circuit board that connects directly to the USB port of your desktop or laptop (Mac or PC) to receive programs.

You write a program, called a "sketch" on your computer either with Notepad or in the Arduino IDE application, compile it in the IDE, and then send it to the Japanino via the USB port. Sketches are written in a simplified version of C++. The Japanino board has two sets of connectors on either side of the board for plugging in secondary electronic circuits, called "shields". You can design your own shields if you like, or buy the ones already on the market. The connectors include some ground and 5V power pins, 14 dedicated digital
input/output pins D0-D13, and 6 analog I/O pins A0-A5. The analog pins can be programmed to act as digital pins as D14-D19. Also on the circuit board is an LED connected to the D13 pin.

If your computer can't support Japanese, or if you want the English menus, just get the software from the Arduino site and follow their instructions.

If your computer can support Japanese applications, then you can download the IDE from the Gakken Japanino website . You'll also need the USB driver from Silicon Labs, also from this site. Copy the IDE software into the folder of your choice, and plug the Japanino into the USB port. Under Windows 7, my computer automatically detected the correct driver, but I ran the Silicon Labs installer anyway. Then go to the directory that you installed the IDE in and run the Arduino.exe.

(Run Screen)

Click on "r" to run the application.

(Startup Screen)

(IDE program, with Toolbar and Workspace.)

("MyCon Board" Selection from the Tools Menu)

(Serial Port selection from the Tools Menu. Only available if you have the Japanino plugged in.)

Under the Tool pull-down, make sure to select the COM port the Japanino is running on (probably Com 3), in the Serial Port option. In the My Card option, select the "Gakken Japanino" board. You may need to restart the computer to get the COM 3 and Japanino options to appear in the menus the first time.

The first time out, it may be easier to practice using the IDE by taking a simple existing sketch and just compiling and sending it. Even if you don't have the Gakken kit in your hands yet, you can still install the IDE and practice writing and compiling programs (you just won't be able to run them).

Check out Arduino's Getting Started page for a picture of the English IDE screen. If you look at the icon buttons, the button on the left is Compile, followed by Stop, New Sketch, Open a Sketch from the Archive, Save Sketch, Send to Japanino, and Open Serial Port Monitor.

For our purposes, Compile , Open and Send are the three most useful buttons. I found that with the Japanese version of the IDE, you need to compile the program before you can send it, although the Arduino site indicates that Sending is supposed to include Compile automatically.

With the Japanino plugged into the USB port and the IDE running:
1) Go to the Up Arrow icon (Open from Archive) and select Digital->Blink

(Blink program loaded. White message in the message box indicates that compiling was successful.)

2) Click on the left most icon (Compile).

3) If there's no problem with the compile phase, a sentence in white will appear in the message box giving the size of the compiled program (as shown above).

Otherwise, an error will appear in red. Hopefully, the IDE will also select the line where the error was detected, to help you narrow down the problem.

4) If there's no error, click on the second icon from the right (send to Japanino).

(Error while trying to send, caused by the auto-compile conflicting with the code already in Send mode.)

If there's an error here, a message will appear in red in the message box, probably saying that the Japanino can not be found. If this happens, go to the Tools pulldown menu and make sure you have the correct serial port checked, and that you selected the Gakken Japanino board from the list.

(Message saying that Send was successful.)

5) If the send step ran correctly, the Japanino will automatically start running your program within 5 seconds. In this case, the onboard LED will start blinking. (The actual amount of time required to send and run a program depends on the program's size.)

Once you have the BLINK sketch running, you can go to the Gakken Japanino page and download the POV sketch. In the IDE, click on the New icon to clear out the work space and use copy-paste to paste in the sketch. Make sure you have the P.O.V. connected to the Japanino. Click on the Compile button, wait until the file size message appears, then click on Send . If the "send complete" message appears, disconnect the Japanino from the PC, turn on the battery pack power, and turn the P.O.V. crank. You should see "I (heart) U". (You can play with the P.O.V. while the Japanino is still plugged into the USB port, but the cable's not all that long.)

If you can get the I (heart) U program running, then try downloading the other sketches from the Gakken site and check them out.

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Understanding the Blink sketch