japanese language

Best Books to Learn Japanese

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Learning an additional language can have its benefits for you in contemporary times. To get started on the journey, perhaps the best way is to pick a textbook and learn the basics of vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar and listening out of them. Given the popularity of Japanese, there are plenty of books which can be helpful in your pursuits.

With heaps of books out there, you must lookout for the most useful books to learn Japanese. This list will help you out!

7 Best Books to Learn Japanese & Reviews

1. GENKI I: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese

Author: Eri Banno and Yoko Ikeda

Publisher: Japan Times

Pages: 382

This is perhaps one of those books which are highly recommended even at the university level if you are taking classes in Japanese. For beginners, this is the best book that you can lay your hands on. The book includes useful material from the beginning to the end in a methodical manner.

The authors have taken care to structure it well. But even then, there is no way you may use this book as a short cut. For comprehensive knowledge, you will have to learn the material in this book well. Also, if a user has some basic knowledge of grammar, vocabulary, katakana, hiragana and kanji, it might be easier for them to consume the information in this book.

Readers will appreciate the division made in the book for easier understanding because it makes it easier for them to grasp the content. In one part, the authors lay down the basics of conversation and grammar and in the other part, they lay focus on reading and writing.

Admittedly, this is one of the best books for beginners to start with Japanese. Each chapter in this book includes basic exercises at the end because that helps a student assess his understanding. There is perhaps one notable feature of this book which stands out. Sometimes, the book does not go for 100% presentation of concepts logically. For example, it will teach you the names of five colours but leave out the rest.

Summary: Reading this book will give a user a fair share of vocabulary in Japanese. However, it does miss out on a few things such as using a stroke order for kanji, which feels incomplete.

2. A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar

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Author: Seiichi Makino and Michio Tsutsui

Publisher: The Japan Times

Pages: 636

It will not be surprising if you find someone calling this textbook the bible of Japanese language learning. Popular as the ‘yellow book’, there is a reason why the book has made it to the top ranks of learning resources for the Japanese language.

Readers will discover that the book is quite clear and thorough and that the author has included ample examples to clarify the learning areas. It has some of the best example sentences out there which can truly help a student. Surprisingly, the authors offer a blue and red level book for advanced learners in the same series.

The book includes thorough and comprehensive coverage of concepts. Each grammar related point is explained with clarity and aided by definitive examples. Further, the best part of the book is when it highlights the common points of confusion where grammar points are often mistaken by the students.

Also, the structure of the book, as per its titles is quite relevant and structured. Readers shall have no problem in understanding the main points of grammar in this book.

Summary: This dictionary is a treasure trove for avid learners. But it is not really a textbook and is structured more like a dictionary, as its name suggests.

3. Remembering the Kanji

Author: James W. Heisig

Publisher: Univ of Hawaii 

Pages: 460

When it comes to mastering the kanji, there is no other book is recommended as much as this one. This book is invaluable in its substance because of the tenacity with which the author states his facts. If you are serious about learning Japanese, perhaps this book will be of much use to you.

There are many main points in this book which give it an edge over other similar books. It is these that help a student ace in the preparation of the Japanese language. The author lays down a major focus on clarifying the main parts which add up to kanji because there are so many characters in the language that it can be difficult to remember them all. This book gives you a way to do just that by taking no pain. In a way, this book is self sufficient to understand many aspects of kanji.

However, the book does not come without a few pain points as well. The author has chosen some very rare keywords to describe English words because they are really unusual. Instead, their simpler counterparts could have been chosen. Also, this book will help you gain knowledge of the basic level of kanji. If you want to be able to read Japanese kanji and make use of compound words in your vocabulary, you will have to go for advanced version textbooks to do so. This book alone might prove to be insufficient for your purpose.

Summary: To start the learning process, this book is really helpful. However, it leaves room for improvement, which is what the reader will feel while going through this book.

4. JLPT Study Guide: The Comprehensive Guide to the JLPT Level N5 Exam

Author: Clayton MacKnight

Publisher: Tuttle Publishing

Pages: 288

If you are looking for a learning resource in the Japanese language as a student, this is what you should pick. This book proves to be excellent for someone who is merely a  beginner or sparsely versed in the Japanese language and is also preparing to appear for the N5 examination.

This book will be highly appreciated by students if they are simply starting on their journey to learning Japanese or even if they seek a book to refresh what they have learnt. The book contains several startling points, which prove to be useful for a student. Not only does it have a friendly layout and a great pattern to elucidate the text but the expansive illustrations of the book along with the insightful coverage make it a great option.

Among the best features of this book is the fact that a student will have no problem in keeping pace with the flow of the book. This book offers a sufficient variety of practice questions to the readers to practice their knowledge. It has a very practical approach when it comes to testing and preparing a student for the examination level. This is why the book is highly recommended for anyone who is preparing for the N5 exams.

So if you are someone who barely has enough knowledge to appear for this exam, you can pick this book. The book also offers a horde of practice questions which prove to be helpful to test your learning. In fact, there are 3 different demo tests provided with the book as well. So students will find this book extremely useful for their test preparation.

Summary: This book will be appreciated by students most of all for its context. The author has generously included dialogues and illustrations to keep things interesting for the students.

5. Read Real Japanese: All You Need to Enjoy Eight Contemporary Writers

Author: Janet Ashby

Publisher: Kodansha USA

Pages: 176

While there are many books for basic beginners out there, there aren’t enough like this one. Once you have grasped the basics of Japanese, you would sure want to jump to the intermediate level. And from there, to the advanced level. There are many books for each of these levels but none like this one.

This book gives you the stepping stone on which you can make the jump from intermediate to advance level. It is highly possible for you to read Japanese online with the help of many tools but this is a book which offers explanations for each phrase and sentence, which makes your learning experience rewarding.

Included in the textbooks are various essays as well by several Japanese authors. The vocabulary explanations in the book include the major use of romaji. This is perhaps the only part of the book which the reader may find queer to some extent.

Nevertheless, the book is interesting to read and quite informative as well. So it really fulfils its purpose to a large extent. Readers will greatly appreciate the seamless jump that they can make from basic to the advanced level reading experience.

Summary: Perhaps the only point of the problem is that the book lacks translation of sentences. In fact, some advanced level students might find the material insufficient for their use.

6. Read Real Japanese Fiction: Short Stories by Contemporary Writers

Author: Michael Emmerich

Publisher: Kodansha International

Pages: 256

This book is a collection of short works by different Japanese writers. This is an excellent book to read in Japanese fiction if you are trying to learn how to do it well. Each page contains accurate translations of the text so that it is helpful for the reader to understand the text and also to learn Japanese. The textbook is like a built in dictionary for English and Japanese learner’s.

The authors have gone on to include various notes in the text, which highlight the usage and grammatical aspects of the stories. Moreover, the selection of these stories from some of the most renowned authors of the Japanese language gives some credit to the relevance of this book. The readers will likely have no problem comprehending the text of the book.

The book is also accompanied by a CD in which the stories have been narrated. This will really help someone who is trying to understand the language from scratch. However, the book lacks a complete translation of every sentence.

Summary: The readers will appreciate this light reading material on the Japanese language. However, the lack of organisation takes a toll on the readers’ morale in this book. It might be counter productive and refrain some readers from evolving.


Author: Various Artists

Publisher: 3A Corporation

The authors have written this book in the Japanese language entirely. Students claim that this book, along with the others in this series is quite helpful for learning. Available in a series is the same book with its English translations. So this can be really useful for students who seek to hone their Japanese speaking skills. While it looks like a pain point at first, it is not really so. By reading the Japanese script from the book, you will sharpen your reading skills and at the same time, get exposure to an all Japanese text which will improve your language quicker than reading an English translation at the same time.

The extra step involved in the process will actually deter you from checking the translation over and over again. This will be better for your skill development. So this is why many readers will find this book extremely impressive to polish their Japanese speaking skills and reading skills as well.

This book is an impressive aid to improve your grammar, vocabulary and reading skills in Japanese. So, students of a beginner, as well as advanced stages, will find this book extremely useful for learning. The reader must be well versed with the knowledge of hiragana and Katakana before starting with this book, to gain better understanding. 

Summary: When studied together with its English companion, the duo proves to be an excellent way to read and learn Japanese.  The simple structure of this book will be highly appreciated by the readers. 

In Conclusion

Learning the Japanese language can be quite tricky and painful. However, with the use of the right textbooks, it can be a no brainer task for you. We hope that this selection of books will prove to be useful for your purpose and aid you in learning the Japanese language. Let us know if you have another such book in mind. 

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