Which Japanese Textbook Should You Use?

As someone who has studied Japanese for over 8 years, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say I’ve gone through around 30 textbooks. While finding intermediate level textbooks is comparatively easy, useful beginner and advanced level textbooks, in my experience, were a bit of a hit and miss situation. Let me give you my recommendation for what I believe is the best textbook for each skill level, based on my own personal 8 years studying Japanese. 
 
 
I did say I went through around 30 textbooks, after all… 
 
 
These are the textbooks I discuss in this article:
 

The Best Textbook for beginners

 

It can be overwhelming starting the long journey that is Japanese language learning.

Native English speakers fluent in Japanese tend to have a healthy sense of pride attached to their Japanese language abilities. Japanese, after all, is one of the most difficult and strenuous languages to learn as a native English speaker. On top of this, the nature of social media has encouraged people to produce copious amounts of clickbait with YouTube titles and thumbnails containing quotes like the following;
“Japanese has three alphabets!”
 
“You need to memorize over 3000 Kanji to be able to read Japanese.
 
“Here are the top 20 Japanese mistakes you SHOULDN’T MAKE! 
 
Etc, etc. While I can’t willingly ignore these points as a fluent speaker myself, but i can remember a time when I felt like learning Japanese, or any other language for that matter was “impossible.”
 
Well, it’s not impossible. Here is where you can start. 

Genki 1: The crème de la crème, the divine, and your new friend.

Since I started studying Japanese, my unconditional love and admiration for the magic that is Genki 1 has become somewhat of an inside joke in my circle of friends, and fellow Japanese language-learning friends. There aren’t enough words in the English language (or Japanese language for that matter) to convey the perfection and warm feelings the mere sight of a Genki 1 textbook can muster.

Genki 1 is love, Genki 1 is life.

And here’s why…

The biggest danger when embarking on your Japanese-linguistics studies are intial feelings of hopelessness. This is true for any new skill really, but it is especially dangerous when starting out with Japanese. The reality, is that learning Japanese is a lifetime endeavor. Your journey on this train truly never ends, and there are no designated stops. Genki 1 eases you into Japanese’s main 3 alphabets (4 if you count romaji) over a spaced-out interval of time. Simply speaking, it gently nudges you into the necessary level of proficiency without discouraging you from moving forward. Before you know it, with a little effort you will be progressing through the increasingly complex texts in Genki 1, as the texts slowly progress in both their demand and complexity through forcing you to use more and more Japanese characters form each alphabet. While you certainly won’t be even close to fluent when you finish this textbook, it will teach you the mindset you will need to master to continue teaching yourself Japanese now and in the future. Also, it has this really adorable story about Tanaka-san and Mary-san’s love romance story that is just soooo *smooching sound* mmm tasty and engrossing!

The Best Textbook for Intermediate Learners

You may be wondering, “What about Genki 2?” Well, I must be honest, Genki 2 is a pretty reasonable textbook to use as a continuation of Genki 1, but in my personal experience, compared to it’s predecessor it’s chock full of impractical grammar and a comparatively strange order in which it introduces new vocabulary words. My recommendation for making the transition from beginner to intermediate Japanese is to master the contents of Genki 1 (seriously, just spend a whole year mastering Genki 1), and then move onto ‘Chuukyuu he ikou” (Lit. means “let’s move onto the intermediate level.”) The passages included inside are slightly more difficult than the Genki series, offering texts that contain more dense clusters of Kanji characters, and more natural-sounding grammar. This textbook is short-on-content when compared to the Genki series, but presents a very natural and clear passage to mastery from the upper-beginner level of Japanese learning, and a mid-intermediate level of Japanese.

The Best Textbook for Advanced Learners

At this point as an advanced Japanese speaker, you will mostly be searching for ways to supplement self-study, rather than textbooks that will guide you through each individual step. Thus, my recommendation is the Shinkanzen Master series as a whole. These textbooks are divided into several categories such as Kanji (shown above), vocabulary, grammar, listening, and writing. The think that I truly appreciate about this series is how streamlined and barebones the content is. Far too many mid-advanced level Japanese textbooks are filled to the brim with useless exercises, tacky illustrations, and entire chapters for grammar that I have still yet to use in everyday life. When I was at the height of my Japanese-study career as a university student here in Japan, on top of my textbooks, I would carry a Japanese textbook with me everywhere I went.

Essentially, weight and portability became a factor for me.

I recall loving the contents of another advanced-level textbook, but that particular book was filled with so much useless filler information and general fluff that the book ended up being over 500 pages long! When I was going through the contents of that book, in order to realistically carry it with me everyday, I actually cut out (as in actually cut out, with scissors) all of the unnecessary pages. Suddenly, a 500 page book that I would have to always flip through to find what I was looking for, suddenly became a 350 page book that was much more streamlined, and much easier on my shoulders when I was lugging it around.

The point i’m making is, the Shinkanzen Master series is the ‘meal prep service’ equivalent for a Japanese textbook. It has everything you need, and is easy to cater to your individual needs. Of course, you will have to end up buying several textbooks, and all in all end up spending close to ¥10,000 (around $100 US), but I think they’re worth it. The Shinkanzen Master series textbooks aren’t really that remarkable, but what they will enable you to do is become more efficient and consistent in the way that you study everyday.

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