Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

I decided to log in to Japan Q&A today after (too) many months. It’s been so long that I couldn’t even remember some of my posts. So, as you can imagine, I was surprised to see all the inspiring comments readers have posted in my absence. I was truly touched, thank you.

For almost one year – probably one of the most difficult years of my life – I wrote blogs about Japan, my life here, my experiences, and my insights. I posted mostly for myself, to give myself a positive outlet for feelings I was not ready to deal with. When I grew healthy in mind and body, I left my blog behind, a beautiful reminder of how I was able to move on.

But, I have yet to share the most meaningful experiences I’ve had here in Japan, and the most interesting observations I’ve made. Something I had not realized up until this moment was that, by keeping this blog I was able to piece together memoirs of a Japan that I see only through my eyes and that exists only in my mind.

Someday I’d like to write a book, maybe a tale. A coming of age story of a girl who slowly discovers Japan, compares the culture to her own, but instead of contrasting the two, she learns to love both. Let me write about my experiences once again, to piece together the plot for this story. I no longer need a creative outlet for unspent energy, but I do need to remember the unending joy, the loneliness, and even the fear that I have experienced while living in Japan.

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A friend of mine and I often find ourselves spending too much money every time we visit the bookstore. We sometimes go together with the intention of stopping each other from buying more than we should, but we still end up buying a lot of stuff. Tonight we again went to the bookstore. Instead of just hanging around the Japanese language learning section, however, I showed her this section that I visit often: the Kids’ Book Section.

My first Japanese teacher was really good. He used to let me read Japanese kids’ books so I discovered early on that reading Japanese kids’ books was not only interesting it was also a good way to develop my reading skills. There’s actually a Doraemon comic book series that aids in school learning. There are Kanji dictionaries for first to sixth graders, kotowaza and yoji-jukugo books, and even Japan travel guides in the series. In addition to the really beautiful pictures in Japanese kids’ books, the language and the Kanji are also really easy to read. Most books have furigana, and easy explanations of things in Japanese. The best part is these books cost a lot less than Japanese language textbooks. The yoji-jukugo book cost me ¥630.

So, after buying four textbooks too many… my friend also bought kids’ books about World History and Kanji. Some book-buying-controller friend I turned out to be… Sorry G :-)!

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For those looking to take the JLPT this year, I’d like to suggest an early start. Last year, I started to study in about June, and very quickly regretted it. There were too many things to study, and there was too little time. I tried to study as much as I could, but as it turned out, I didn’t even have time to complete my JLPT reviewer, my reading comprehension and vocabulary book. I’ll still be reviewing stuff in them, but mostly in preparation for the next level of the exam.

I made the cut, and consider myself quite lucky, although I really did study hard. There are a few books I used that I found were very useful and would like to recommend:

1. Kanzen Master 2kyu Nihongo Noryoku Shiken Bunpo Mondai Taisaku (完全マスター2級 日本語能力試験文法問題対策)

This grammar compilation book was really useful for me. It did not provide me with English translations for the different grammar patterns but I found that more helpful actually. It had a lot of useful sample sentences.

2. Shin Kijun Taiou Nihongoso Matome Mondaishu 2kyu Goi (新基準対応 日本語総まとめ問題集 2級 語彙編)

I used this book for reviewing vocabulary words. It has a very comprehensive list of words that appeared in the test.

3. The Preparatory Course The Japanese Language Proficiency Test 読解編 実力アップ 2級 Reading Comprehension Text

This book prepared me well for the Reading Comprehension portion of the exam. A lot of the exam problems were similar to those found in this book. A lot of the stories are also quite interesting and I learned a lot from it. There is an accompanying grammar pattern book that could also be helpful but I did not own one.

4. ALC 予想と対策 日本語能力試験 2級受験問題集 A Compilation of Questions from the JLPT

I wasn’t able to complete this reviewer due to lack of time. I did review some of the Kanji and Vocabulary Questions and they were similar to those that came out in the test. I’d say any reviewer is good, though.

A lot of these books are in my Amazon aStore and you could purchase them from there (when it’s ready).

Preparing for the JLPT was really difficult. I spent a lot of time studying and I hardly left home on weekends, just reviewing everything I could, and cramming on grammar patterns and other things I did not even know about yet. I tried to watch as much Japanese TV as I could, mostly the more informative documentaries and news programs. Then I practiced on online mock tests as much as I could. I spent an average of 3 hours daily reviewing. These hours included studying with a teacher online as well. What I’d say is the most important is still Kanji. If you can master as much as you can, it would really help you a lot. Without Kanji, it would be very difficult to pass the exam.

With regards to levels and hours of study required, see the chart below.


Hours of Study Completed

Kanji Mastered

Vocabulary Mastered






Advanced Level





Intermediate Level





High Beginner Level





Beginner Level

Good luck! 皆さん、頑張って下さい!

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One fact I have never been able to confirm about Japanese history, particularly about the Edo Period, was the prohibition of the use of wheels. In the book Gaijin, James Clavell writes about policies enacted by either Toyotomi Hideyoshi or Tokugawa Ieyasu. Included in the ban of guns and gunpowder, was a ban on people other than samurai from owning swords. What really interested me though was that to stunt progress, one of them (it isn’t clear who because it was a historical fiction novel and the characters were merged) prohibited the use of wheels. It would be really ironic, if it were true, seeing as Japan is now one of the leading automobile manufacturers in the world. Wheels are so important in Japan, from the carts the old ladies push to bicycles people take everywhere. Clavell writes that if any of the country folk wished to travel, they walked.

The walking part is totally true, however, as everyone I’ve asked has agreed, without contest. One of my history buff friends told me about how in the Edo Period, there was a domestic travel boom. Town people all contributed money to a town travel fund. They all paid the same amount of money, and every year 10 or 15 people were chosen to go on the trip. The delegation actually walked to that year’s travel destination. They then noted differences and stuff, reported what they saw to the other town peoples. Japanese people walked all over Japan. They made it from Kanto all the way to Kansai, and back, all on foot.

Even in a popular anime I watched, the Meiji Period characters walked the Tokaido. In those days, it must’ve taken days or even weeks – a trip that now takes a little over 3 hours by Shinkansen (新幹線, the high speed railways). But it really amazes me how, despite the abundance of escalators, elevators, walking escalators, bicycles, and other wheels, Japanese people still walk. Where I come from, people don’t really walk up escalators, we just stand on them.

My boss told me he walked his dogs an average of three hours a day. He walks through the city park, to another park, then half across town then back again. He said he loved walking because it was more beneficial to his health than any other sport. I have to admit that since I’ve been in Japan, I’ve been walking a lot more. Mostly out of necessity, though, since taxi fare is crazy expensive, and buses are hard to catch. I’ve walked through rainstorms and windstorms. I’ve walked all over Tokyo, and sometimes through little towns in the outskirts of Tokyo. Long distance walking is just so much a part of Japanese culture that anyone who lives in or visits Japan has to experience it.

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I like studying Kanji. It reminds me of my college drawing class, where we had to balance letterings and drawings, make them fit into boxes and stuff. When I started to learn Japanese, my teacher told me that if I wanted to be respected by the Japanese, I had to write Kanji (and Hiragana and Katakana of course) like a Japanese. He then drew a box, and made me balance the Kanji 日(read as にち nichi, ひ hi or bi, に, ni and じつ jitsu, which means sun or day) in the box for several minutes until I got it right. He’d been quite strict, and for that I am thankful. After his initial instructions, he left me to study Kanji by myself.

Since that time, all I used to study Kanji was my Basic Kanji 500, then later my Intermediate Kanji Book. I’ve stayed faithful to this series, I don’t believe in switching books or styles or all that. I don’t recommend jumping from book to book, because for one, Japanese books are costly. Another reason is you’ll accumulate too many books, there are literally dozens of books on Kanji. I’ve never really written on my textbooks, only on my workbooks and only in pencil. I always use notebooks, word cards and writing pads. I’d suggest though that if you were really serious about learning Kanji, you have to stick to what you’re used to, if it works.

Also, I took the Kanji Kentei this year, and I plan to do so again early next year. Preparing for it has helped me a lot in my understanding of Kanji. For this, you need to practice a lot, write, write, write, and write again. When I was studying for it though, I wasn’t looking up English meanings and all that, I was purely studying the stroke orders, Kanji word combinations, readings and radicals. Then when I went back to my Japanese studies, it seemed so much easier.

On a related note, there have been quite a few blog entries about the Kanji of the Year, 偽 (read as にせ, nise, meaning fake). These are the links to those posts:

Japan Probe: 2007 Kanji of the Year

3Yen: “Fake” best describes Japan this year

What Japan Thinks: Kanji of the Year 2007

Asian Offbeat: ‘Nise’ (Fake) Chosen as Japan’s Kanji Character of the Year

GlobalTalk 21: Do you know what the No.5 Kanji is in this year’s countdown?

Photo via: 3Yen.com

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I relied on these books for a long time. I used to study by myself at home after work and sometimes on weekends. They’ve been a great help!


These were the books I started learning with. What I did was, I outlined all these textbooks in separate notebooks, that way I practiced writing the sentences, too. Then I looked up the vocabulary in the English Translation Book, then outlined those, too. Then, I answered all the questions in my notebook. I compared my answers to the examples in the textbook to double-check. If I was in the mood, I’d read the sentences aloud.

みんなの日本語シリーズ - Minna no Nihongo Series

This set of books was basically written by for Engineering Trainees. The book is based on the Japanese adventures of a group of trainees. Students learn basic grammar patterns beginning with self-introductions and moving on to simple day-to-day conversations, then to letter writing, and so on. I found the lessons to be extremely helpful, especially when I just got to Japan. The entire textbook is written in Japanese. You can purchase an accompanying workbook, a Kanji book, listening CDs and cassettes, and most importantly a translation book in English, all separately. There are translation books in other languages, as well. I’ve seen German, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, Korean and even Bahasa Indonesian.

新日本語基礎シリーズ - Shin no Nihongo Kiso Series

Similar to the Minna no Nihongo Series, the lessons are almost all in the same order. I really liked this series, which talked about Rao(ラオさん), an Indian Engineering trainee in Japan. He had friends from many other countries, and he went to a Language Center somewhere in the Tokyo Area. Actually, I did Book I of this series and Book II of Minna no Nihongo. I didn’t have any problems jumping from one textbook to the other. Both textbook sets have additional study materials so I didn’t have to look for any other textbooks.


新日本語の中級 - Shin no Nihongo Chukyu Series

This series is a continuation of the Shin no Nihongo Kiso Series. This time the focus is on Lee (リーさん), a Chinese trainee in Japan. A lot of new patterns are introduced, and many of the basic patterns from Books I and II are reviewed. This textbook also comes with an English translation book and a grammatical notes book. A lot of the basic conversation situations in this book were great. If you master them, you’ll wow all your Japanese friends and colleagues.

I haven’t finished this series, yet. I’m half-way done though. I’ve been studying the same way I did with the Beginner I and II books. To most people I’ve recommended these methods to, I’ve only heard one excuse: “I’m too lazy to try.” Well, I don’t have anything to say to that…

To the rest of you, Good Luck studying!

For Kanji (漢字, Chinese characters used in Japanese), I used additional textbooks. I will talk about that in another post.

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