Hey there! If you wish to learn Japanese from scratch by yourself or improve your Japanese skills, choosing the right Japanese textbook from the beginning is one of the most important decisions you can make.
But with so many choices at hand, it can be overwhelming to choose the best one.
In this blog post, we will introduce to you 6 best Japanese textbooks from beginner to advanced level. We’ll also show you the pros and cons of each one so you can decide which one is the best for yourself!
Criteria for Choosing the Best Japanese Textbooks
Here are some criteria to keep in mind when selecting a good Japanese textbook:
First and foremost, look for clear explanations and examples. A textbook that uses overly complex language or doesn’t explain things clearly is going to be frustrating and difficult to learn from. Look for a book that breaks down grammar concepts and vocabulary in an easy-to-understand way, with plenty of examples to help you grasp the material.
Another important factor to consider is whether the textbook emphasizes practical language use. While it’s great to learn academic or formal Japanese, you’ll want a textbook that includes plenty of everyday phrases and conversations you can use in real-life situations. This way you can truly put what you’ve learned into practice and feel more confident when communicating with native speakers.
It’s also helpful to have audio and visual aids available. Being able to hear how native speakers pronounce words and phrases is essential to practicing speaking and listening skills right from the beginning.
Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of the layout. A textbook with a cluttered or confusing design can quickly become overwhelming, making it difficult to focus on the material. Choose a textbook with a layout you are comfortable with, so you are more likely to stick to it.
Top Recommended Beginner-level Japanese Textbooks
Genki: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese is a comprehensive textbook series designed to teach beginner-level Japanese. The series was originally developed by experienced Japanese language instructors at the Japan Times, and has been widely adopted by universities and language schools around the world.
The Genki textbooks are divided into two main volumes – Genki 1 and Genki 2 – each of which consists of several chapters that cover Japanese grammar, vocabulary, reading comprehension, listening skills, and cultural knowledge.
- Comprehensive Content: The Genki textbooks cover all fundamental aspects of learning Japanese from basic grammar rules to everyday conversational phrases.
- Engaging Presentation: With colorful illustrations and photos throughout its pages; it is easy to read and makes learning fun.
- Clear Explanations: Grammar points are explained clearly with examples easy to understand.
- Varied Exercises: There are a variety of exercises provided for each chapter, including reading comprehension, writing, listening practice, and speaking activities.
- Supplementary Materials: Audio CDs and online supplementary resources are available for reinforcement.
- Genki books are more suitable for classroom learning with teacher’s instructions. There are many teamwork exercises in the book designed for group learning.
- Answers to exercises are written in Japanese with no English translation.
“Minna no Nihongo” is a popular Japanese textbook published by 3A Corporation. It’s designed for beginners and covers all four language skills (reading, writing, speaking, listening) with difficult grammar aspects explained in English to make them easier to understand.
- Comes with CDs for listening practice
- Provides detailed explanations of grammar points
- Includes plenty of exercises and activities for practice
- Has a separate workbook available for extra practice
- Has a strong emphasis on using Japanese from the very beginning
- The vocabulary taught may not be as practical for daily conversation as some other textbooks
- Some users find the layout and design to be a bit dated
- The book is entirely in Japanese, so it may be challenging for self-learners without prior knowledge of the language.
Japanese from Zero is a popular Japanese language textbook series that aims to teach beginners Japanese. It was created by George Trombley and Yukari Takenaka and has been widely used both in the classroom and for self-study.
Overall, Japanese from Zero is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to learn Japanese from scratch. The series is thorough and engaging, making it a great option for beginners who wish to build a solid foundation in Japanese.
- Focuses on the basics of Japanese language
- Covers hiragana, katakana, basic grammar and vocabulary
- Includes plenty of exercises and activities to reinforce learning
- Each chapter ends with a review section
- Visually appealing with helpful illustrations and clear explanations
- May not be as useful for more advanced learners
- Only goes up to intermediate-level Japanese (Book 5)
This Japanese textbook is also designed for complete beginners who want to learn Japanese. It is written by Seiichi Makino and Yukiko Abe Hatasa and published by Cengage Learning. It also has a following textbook Nakama 2 for more advanced learners.
Nakama 1 focuses on teaching the basics of Japanese communication along with cultural context that help you understand Japanese language in a more comprehensive way. The book comes with various resources like audio CDs, workbook, online learning center and more.
- Emphasizes practical communication and interaction
- Fosters the development of all four language skills and cultural awareness
- Lack of Visuals
- A relatively higher price
Top Recommended Japanese Textbooks Intermediate to Advanced Level Learners:
Tobira is a popular textbook series used in many universities and language schools across the world. It’s aimed at students who have already completed an introductory course in Japanese and want to continue their studies towards more complex grammar structures and vocabulary. The book covers various topics such as culture, society, history, daily life situations etc., which makes it not only great for learning the language but also gaining insights into Japan’s way of life.
- Structured Content – Tobira has 15 chapters with each chapter focusing on specific themes related to Japanese culture or social issues. This helps keep your learning organized without getting overwhelmed by too much information at once.
- Comprehensive Grammar Explanations – The book provides clear explanations of grammar points with plenty of examples and exercises that help you understand how to use them properly in real-life situations.
- Authentic Materials – Tobira uses a variety of authentic materials such as newspaper articles, advertisements, and dialogues between native speakers. This exposes students to realistic examples of Japanese language usage and helps them improve their listening and reading skills.
- Multifaceted Approach – The book not only teaches the language but also covers various aspects of Japanese culture, history, and society. This approach makes learning more engaging and meaningful for students who are interested in Japan beyond just its language.
- Supplementary Resources – Tobira comes with a comprehensive set of supplementary resources including audio recordings, workbooks, teacher’s manuals etc., which make the learning process more interactive and practical.
- Price – Tobira is relatively expensive compared to other textbooks in the market. However, it’s worth investing if you’re serious about advancing your Japanese proficiency level.
- Lack of Romaji – Unlike some other textbooks that provide romaji (romanized Japanese) alongside hiragana and katakana, Tobira uses only the Japanese scripts from the beginning. This can be challenging for beginners who are not yet familiar with reading Japanese characters.
- Limited Vocabulary – Although Tobira covers a wide range of topics and language structures, the vocabulary is limited compared to other textbooks. This may make it difficult for students to express themselves fully in certain situations.
- Heavy Emphasis on Grammar – Some learners may find that Tobira places too much emphasis on grammar rules, which can be overwhelming and discouraging if they struggle with this aspect of language learning.
An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese is a popular textbook written by Akira Miura and Naomi Hanaoka McGloin. The book was designed for students who have already completed introductory courses in the Japanese language, and it aims to help them improve their skills to an intermediate level.
- Clear explanations: The authors provide clear explanations of complex grammatical structures and other concepts that can be difficult for learners.
- Useful exercises: The book contains numerous exercises that are designed to reinforce what you’ve learned.
- Cultural insights: An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese also provides cultural insights into Japan’s customs and traditions which helps readers understand more about the country itself.
- Limited speaking practices: While the textbook covers all aspects of the language, it may not have enough emphasis on developing spoken communication skills.
- Lack of interactive activities: The book is primarily focused on individual study and may lack interactive activities that are essential for improving communication skills.
The Handbook of Japanese Verbs by Taeko Kamiya is a comprehensive guide to Japanese verbs. The book covers over 300 commonly used verbs and provides detailed explanations on their various forms, meanings, and usages. It also includes practice exercises.
- Useful examples: The textbook includes practical examples that illustrate each verb’s usage in context, making it easier to understand when and how to use them correctly.
- Plenty of Practice exercises: Intermediate and advanced Japanese learners can also use this book as a source for practicing verb conjugation and usage.
- Limited vocabulary coverage: While this textbook covers over 300 commonly used verbs, it may not be enough for learners who want to expand their vocabulary beyond the basics.
- Dense content: Some learners may find the book’s dense content overwhelming or difficult to digest, making it less accessible for beginners.
Japanese Sentence Patterns for Effective Communication by Taeko Kamiya is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to further improve their Japanese language skills by themselves. The well-structured lessons, ample examples, practical exercises and useful reference materials make it both a great textbook and reference guide.
While some sections may be challenging for beginners or intermediate learners due to complex vocabulary, the book’s overall content is accessible and beneficial for all levels of proficiency.
- Well-structured lessons: The book is divided into different chapters covering various sentence patterns that are essential in everyday conversations.
- Ample examples: Each lesson comes with several examples that help you understand sentence patterns in context.
- Practical exercises: The book has plenty of exercises for practice at the end of each chapter.
- Useful reference material: The back of the book contains an index and glossary, making it easy for learners to find specific information quickly.
- Challenging vocabulary: Some sections may contain complex vocabulary that could be difficult for beginners or intermediate learners.
- Limited audio resources: There are no accompanying audio materials included with this textbook.
- High price: This textbook costs over 100 dollars.
Japanese Textbooks for JLPT
If you are preparing for the JLPT, here are some textbooks designed specially for the test.
Nihongo So- Matome (日本語総まとめ)
The Nihongo So-Matome textbooks are created for passing the JLPT. Each book concentrates on a different level, from N5 to N1. The textbooks offer plenty of exercises to improve your grammar and vocabulary, as well as reading and listening skills. While it can be helpful for JLPT test takers, the textbooks are not intended to teach the Japanese language comprehensively and may lack interactive learning material.
Shin Kanzen Master (新完全マスター)
The Shin Kanzen Master series is another set of books designed for the JLPT. The series tackles all the language skills necessary for passing the test, together with clear explanations and plenty of exercises. Whether you’re focusing on vocabulary, grammar, kanji, reading, or listening comprehension, this series has got you covered!
TRY! The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (TRY！ 日本語能力試験)
The TRY! series takes a different approach to teaching Japanese grammar, emphasizing its use in everyday communication. This set of textbooks helps you practice the fundamentals and apply grammar concepts to daily use. In addition, the TRY! series covers all the JLPT levels, making it a top choice among Japanese learners for improving their language skills in a practical way.
Japanese Textbooks vs Other Resources
Thanks for reading till the end our best Japanese textbooks recommendation. Hopefully, by now you have find1 or 2 textbooks that fit your learning goals. Before you go, we wish to remind you that while Japanese textbooks are a great place to start learning the language, they may not be the only resource you need. There are things that you can and can’t get from textbooks.
What can you get from Japanese textbooks
What you (probably) can’t get from Japanese textbooks
Depending on your learning style and goals, you may find other resources such as online courses, apps, or language exchange programs more effective for interaction and feedback.
LingoDeer is a great Japanese learning app that offers textbook-like structured content together with interactive features like speaking practices with feedback. It can be used as a standalone learning source or a supplement to your main learning source. Give it a try for free today!
It’s also worth considering supplementing your textbook learning with authentic materials like movies, shows, or podcasts to expose yourself to real-life usage of the language. Ultimately it all comes down to finding what works best for you and creating a learning routine that best suits you.