Five Must-Have Books for Students of Japanese

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A Dictionary of Basic/Intermediate/Advanced Japanese Grammar

This three-book series is absolutely mandatory if you want to get ahead in your Japanese studies. They cover every grammar point you will ever encounter, and also a lot of antiquated and unusual ones that you will only find in certain contexts or situations. With each grammar point you will find the following:

  • A short explanation
  • A translation
  • Related entries or synonyms
  • One or more Key Sentences which show how the grammar can be used
  • Information on the construction and usage
  • Several Example Sentences
  • A list of related Expressions with explanations
  • Other notes and hints

All sentences are written in Japanese and translated into English. The back of the book contains both English and Japanese indices, so you can always find what you need. You can consult them when you stumble across an unfamiliar grammatical pattern, or you can go through them systematically to expand your knowledge, the books really work both ways. They are structured very clearly too, so you will always find what you need within seconds. These three books are really a must have for any serious student of Japanese; personally, I wouldn't know what to do without them. They may seem a bit pricey, but trust me: They're absolutely worth it.

Note: HubPages can't display the link to the Intermediate volume below for some reason.

Japanese Core Words and Phrases - Things You Can't Find in a Dictionary

This book certainly delivers on what it promises. If you have a little experience with Japanese, you will probably have noticed that real, natural Japanese often does not conform to the rules and explanations given in grammar books and dictionaries. Words are often used in contexts where you would not expect to find them, and take on a wholly different meaning in the process than you have learned. It's the same with grammar - grammatical structures get combined, shortened and modified so that they can almost seem utterly alien and nonsensical at times to someone who is only used to Japanese as described in college books. And then there are those phrases that actually defy any grammar, because they're idiomatic expressions that wormed their way into general use over time. Enter Japanese Core Words and Phrases. As the title promises, this book focuses on the words and phrases that you usually cannot find in a dictionary. The entires are sorted alphabetically and there is also an index in the back, so you should always be able to find what you're looking for. The entries themselves are accompanied by explanations and several example sentences in Kana/Kanji as well as in Rômaji and translated into English. The book is small and light, which makes it perfect for carrying around. Why waste those precious minutes waiting for the bus when you could quickly learn one or two Japanese expressions instead?

If you're an intermediate student of Japanese and lately have gotten the feeling that you're not really making much progress, get this book. It is perfect for learning the intricacies of the language and will help you communicate more fluently and naturally, as well as enable you to understand texts that had you stumped before. And with a price this low there's really no excuse.

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Remembering the Kanji

Ah, the classic, the legend, the book among books...when it comes to Kanji. Heisig's Remembering the Kanji is the book for anyone struggling with those pesky Chinese characters that always seem to escape your memory as soon as you turn away. The author forgoes the traditional method of sorting Kanji according to their frequency of use and instead organizes them according to their component parts. Each of those parts gets assigned with a keyword, that will help you construct more complex Kanji consisting of several components. But instead of explaining it all in theory, let me give you an example:

旧 is a character meaning "olden times". It is comprised of two component parts: 日 "day" and | "walking stick". When you have recognized the components, it's now easy to deduce the meaning of the whole Kanji: When a day is in need of a walking stick, he is probably old. Hence: "olden times".

The whole book works like this; every character gets a little amusing or weird story based on its component parts which makes it really easy to remember it. This book covers all the Jôyô-Kanji and even a little more, which are mainly used in proper names. One thing to keep in mind though, is that this first volume doesn't teach you the readings of the characters. While you may be thinking now "What's the point then?" let me tell you, it makes things a lot easier if you don't learn everything about a Kanji all at once. Remembering the Kanji 1 gives you a great foundation to build on and it won't take long to learn the readings afterwards.

If you keep at it, you will have them all memorized in a matter of months. It's hard to do this book justice - you just have to try it for yourself. You will not regret it. This book will serve you for a lifetime.

UPDATE: There is a free sample containing the first 200 Kanji online. You can get it here.

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Comments 5 comments

Rising Caren profile image

Rising Caren 5 years ago from New York

I've considered using Remember the Kanji but right now I have my own method. I used imported DS kanji games for kids as well as imported workbooks for young Japanese students.

That Japanese Core Book looks really good though (and cheap).


Drejification profile image

Drejification 5 years ago Author

I use my DS as well, as well as Anki on my computer. But Remember the Kanji doesn't really replace, but supplement these solutions. It basically enables you to remember the Kanji faster and more easily. If you can find it in a bookstore or something, I'd say give it a look.


Blue Shoe 5 years ago

I have one of the grammar dictionaries, though I have opened it maybe three times since I bought it two years ago. I've heard good things about Heisig, but I'm not sure I want to spend the time on it when you eventually have to go back and learn all the readings for the kanji anyway. Haven't heard of the other book, but looks like it could be useful for beginners.


Drejification profile image

Drejification 5 years ago Author

@Blue Show

Core Words And Phrases isn't actually suited for total beginners, I think. It's more for intermediate students who want to deepen their knowledge.

As for Heisig...I can understand your reservations and to be honest, it took me three tries to get through the book myself. I kept thinking "you're wasting your time, you'll have to do it all again anyway" but it really does help.

By the way, I just noticed there is a 200 page sample online, which I've added to the end of my review.


Drejification profile image

Drejification 5 years ago Author

@Blue Shoe

Sorry, I misspelled your name and noticed too late to change it.

Do I have to apologize to myself for the double post now, I wonder?

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