Saturday, March 29, 2014

Books for Studying Japanese at the Advanced Level

A few people have asked me for my suggestions for books to use to study Japanese, particularly at the Advanced level. As you may know, I hold a Bachelor's Degree in Japanese and lived with a Japanese host family for a year when I studied abroad. I've never taken the JLPT before but when we took a mock JLPT N2 test last year, I scored 97% (only 50 or 60% is needed to pass), so I'm planning to take the N1 level this July. These are the books I'm currently using to study. 

日本語能力試験対策N1文法総まとめ (Grammar Study Book for the JLPT N1): Amazon Japan //
日本語能力試験ターゲット2000N1単語 (Vocabulary Study Book for the JLPT N1): Amazon Japan //

Here are some sample shots from each of the books. First is the Grammar book, then the vocabulary book.

The Grammar book is set up for 9 5-day study weeks. Each day's lesson has 4-5 grammar points with explanations in English and Japanese, notes about the proper way to conjugate the new grammar, model sentences, and a short text at the end. My only complaint with this book is that I wish there were more model sentences. One is not enough for me!


  1. Hi Incarus. I'm interested in learning Japanese recently (speaking and reading, at least), thanks to finding out that a 'visual novel' is not something like a full-colour manga, but a game. I want it to be casual/self-taught at my own pace, using online resources and books.
    I have been listening to Japanese for more than 5 years (anime and anime music). I was born in China, but didn't attended school there - I speak "broken Mandarin" (i.e. English sentence structure but in Mandarin).
    I was going to learn Chinese first, before Japanese, since the very first Japanese actually migrated from China. But, I gave up on that because I'm never going to use it.
    Do you know some good online sources and books? But, not so much the rope-learning style, if possible.

    1. Hi JJ, Icarusbride probably will give lots of better information. She also she posted a link a while back to some great online dictionaries and resources that I didn't even know about! But I thought I'd share my experience too. I have a degree in Japanese, though mine focused more on culture and literature than on language. There were two tracks at my college, so I only had to take three years of Japanese instead of 4 or 5 for the other track. Fast track 9 years and I'm retaking Japanese because I've forgotten so much. I work in the science field utilizing my other degree, so don't get too much time to practice.

      I suggest looking at icarusbride's posts a while back on Japanese stuff. Tofugu also has a really good resource page on online resources too. However, at some point you probably will feel the need to crack open a book and just do some rote-style exercises. It's a little boring, but it really helps understand grammar. So I've listed the "rope-learning style" stuff for below, as reference.

      For textbooks, I've tried Yookoso!, Genki, and Japanese for Busy People. I'd say of the three, Yookoso! and Genki are the two best. Japanese for Busy People isn't as good as explaining things, but the thing about the other two, is they focus on how to communicate if you're a college student. Japanese for Busy People starts off more in a business type of atmosphere. I've really found that no one book is the "bible", but with a combination you get good results.

      I also have a copy of A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar. It's a pretty good resource book for basic grammar. Though, I've found it pairs better with a textbook.

      Kanji: Everyone has a different process for learning kanji. I have an incredibly boring, and rote series of books called "Basic Kanji Book" from Bojinsha. For me, it works. But it's incredibly boring. In each chapter you learn about 10 kanji or so, then do a bunch of exercises. I've found this to work for me. There are a bunch of kanji apps out there, I've found them to be good for lookup, but not all that helpful for memorization.

      In the end it takes practice and dedication. Find someone to practice Japanese with. Try to find a class to take if you can, it makes things a lot easier for both learning and practicing. Consider practicing every single day. On any given day you'll speak the language you speak the most almost 100 percent. So, its hard to keep another language without practicing. Practicing doesn't have to be hard though!

    2. This was a great answer Geowhocooks! I knew you could speak Japanese but I didn't know you also majored in it :D We are 仲間ね!

      JJ, in school I used these books in order: Genki 1, Genki 2, Tobira Gateway to Advanced Japanese, and Nihon Shakai Tanken. I liked them all but the last one; it was just a bunch of boring readings. After this point we just used regular newspapers and news videos in class to study instead of textbooks.

      If you are looking for something other than a textbook to study from there is also a manga series that teaches Japanese grammar. Its called Japanese the Manga Way. I've never used this book myself, so I don't know how good it is, but you might like it! Here's the amazon link:

      Here is the link to the post I made before, about online Japanese language resources:

    3. Icarus, which of the Genki books? Do you mean both the textbook and workbook?
      'Tobira Gateway to Advanced Japanese' is all in Japanese, right?
      And, I didn't get any results on amazon for 'Nihon Shakai Tanken'.
      I won't buy it from amazon. I use it mainly for the reviews, information on the books, etc.

      I usually buy my books from bookdepository, but would you recommend I get from YesAsia, or one of the other online stores that you mentioned? Where would I find a good price?

    4. Geowhocooks, which of the Yookoso! books did you mean? Can you give me an amazon link?!

    5. JJ - Yookoso! An Invitation to Contemporary Japanese, Third Edition is the one you want. It's kind of an expensive book though, maybe there is a library near you that you could look at the different Japanese texbooks? Or, what you could do, is go to the websites for these different textbook names and check out samples. You might find what you like best. I don't want to point you into a direction where you spend tons of money and it's a waste.

      Icarusbride: Haha I guess we are! Though your Japanese is way way way better than my Japanese, even at my peak :D


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