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Reviews by Ben Bullock

Lonely Planet Japanese phrasebook (1st edition)

This phrasebook is written by someone who barely knows Japanese, and it is riddled with mistakes both trivial and dire, most notably in the printing of Japanese characters where many mistakes have been made. Avoid using this book.

A second edition, written in correct Japanese, has now been published.

Lonely Planet Japanese phrasebook (2nd edition)

A new and greatly improved edition of this phrasebook. Comprehensive and, unlike @book@Lonely Planet Japanese phrasebook (1st edition)@the first edition@, written in correct Japanese. This edition can certainly be recommended.

Japanese Travel Pack

Cassette and phrase book pack.

Japanese Language and People

This is a very low level course designed to teach about Japan as much as teach the language. It is nicely designed and readable but does not take you very far in terms of learning the language. This is more like a `taster' than anything else. It accompanies a BBC television programme made in the early 90s.

Mangajin's basic Japanese through comics

Several columns taken from the Mangajin magazine. This book is meant to be a supplement to Japanese learning rather than a textbook.

Do-it-yourself Japanese Through Comics

This book looks a bit like the Mangajin series of books, but it uses newly drawn cartoons to illustrate various points whereas the Mangajin books use ones taken from Japanese comics.

Nihongo nouryoku shiken shutsudai kijun

(translation of book name: Japanese language proficiency test question setting criteria)

This book gives in detail the criteria used for constructing the Japanese language proficiency test, for example the tables of kanji, vocabulary, and grammatical points required of the testee at each level

The book is almost entirely in Japanese except for some introductory material in English.

goukaku doriru / zen 400 dai Title in English: preparation for the Japanese language proficiency test Level 1, 2

This book is far more clearly based on the actual tests than the many other practice books I have seen. It states in its introduction that it is based on exhaustive studying of three years of past exam papers.

It is a dark blue coloured book with various bits of chopped up kanji decorating the cover, and with the titles in a white box.

Effective Japanese Usage Guide

From the book jacket:

302 comparisons of 708 synonymous terms,

Explains words and phrases that seem similar but have very different uses.

Sample sentences in romanized and standard Japanese script with furigana, followed by the English translation.

Three easy-to-use ... read more

Japanese Words and Their Uses

Despite apparently being written by a Japanese native speaker, the information in this book does not seem to be completely trustworthy. For instance the author suggests that "tomodachi" is a word that should almost never be used except for an extremely close friend of the same age one has gone to school with. This opinion of the author is not supported by either my own experience or by any Japanese person I have asked.

The Japanese Language

Foreigners can read this to find out some of the odd ideas that Japanese have got about themselves and their language under the name "Nihonjinron".


A magazine now defunct which taught Japanese using authentic manga (Japanese comics). The comics used in the magazine covered a variety of different situations and helped to understand colloquial Japanese.

Mangajin CD-ROM

NEWBOOK An Introduction to Newspaper Japanese AUTHOR Nobuko Mizutani/Osamu Mizutani PUBLISHER Japan times ISBN 4789601504 4-7890-0150-4 PRICE 3602 yen PRIVATE ...


A book that aims to teach you to read Japanese newspapers

Long lists of kanji and vocabulary to be learnt will keep you busy. More interesting once it starts on the actual practice newspaper articles, and goes on to give you more and more reading matter.

Cultural Keys- The History of Japanese Words and Phrases

A paperback book about the etymology of various Japanese words and phrases, including all the old chestnuts that Japanese books love to explain, such as "abura wo uru" and "mujun".

Japanese in Action

The author Jack Seward's advice on learning Japanese mixed with his recollections of life in Japan. Because Seward thinks that other textbooks don't cover them, it is heavy on things like slang and insults. Like Seward's Outrageous Japanese book, (which is basically just a copy of one of the ... read more

AI (Japan Through John Lennon's Eyes - A Personal Sketchbook)

This book consists of a page with one word or simple sentence in Japanese, with an English translation, accompanied on the facing page by one of John Lennon's sketches which incorporates the word (mostly in romaji) with a humorous drawing. The sketches are nice, but the Japanese is very elementary, so as Yoko Ono herself says in the introduction this may be more for John Lennon's fans than for people who seriously want to learn Japanese. However, it is certainly more fun and memorable than a standard textbook or phrasebook.

Womansword: What Japanese Words Say About Women

One well-known feature of Japanese is that women's language differs from men's in various ways.

This book gives a list of words with feminine connotations annotated with the author's interpretation of what they imply about Japanese women.

Japanese Newspaper Compounds

This reference contains, in order of descending frequency, the 1000 most important character compounds appearing in Japanese newspapers.

Not much more than a list of the compounds, I borrowed this from the library but did not have enough energy to work through it. This book is probably too boring for all but the most dedicated students of Japanese.

Reading Japanese Financial Newspapers

From the back of the book:

Basic reading materials incorporated with a glossary and exercises to bridge the gap between general Japanese and specialized Japanese

Examples from actual newspaper articles that prepare students for direct use of Japanese financial publications

18 ... read more

Nihongo notes series

Small but expensive books dealing with various subtleties of Japanese usage, mostly use and misuse of respect language. Each chapter is taken from an old Japan Times newspaper column, and consists of a two page story about Mr. Lerner and some blunder or mistake that he makes when trying to speak Japanese.

A Programmed Course on Respect Language in Modern Japanese

This programmed course is designed to teach basic and correct forms of the language, and then goes on to see how respect is expressed in special forms of speech. The book consists of a series of some text followed by fairly easy questions and answers to teach you the basics of respect language.

"Body" Language

This book details various idioms that use parts of the body and categorizes them by body part. It provides sample sentences but unfortunately does not explain how the phrase came to be used as an idiom. Examples in kanji/romaji.

I found this book uninspired, not much more than just a list of the idioms with one example sentence attached.

Japanese Street Slang

The explanations in English in this book are not very accurate. Some of them are wrong. Peter Constantine misses so much common slang out that one wonders whether he really knows what he is talking about.

Japanese Slang Uncensored

Strangely for a book with a different name, the contents are in fact almost identical to those of the other Constantine book.

Outrageous Japanese - Slang, Curses and Epithets

Silly and often very obscure insults, many of which were probably invented by Seward himself. A lot of the material in this book is identical to that in Seward's Japanese in action book.


Yet another `learn Japanese slang book', this time aimed at foreign men trying to pick up Japanese women. It's clear that the author's knowledge of Japanese is limited. The book is a strange mix of elementary Japanese and rude words.

Kansai Japanese

Teaches the dialect of the 21 million people in the Kansai region of Japan. Levels of politeness, men's and women's speech and minor regional differences are covered.

Similarly to Jeffrey Garrison's body language book, I found this book a somewhat lifeless list of words and example sentences. Many of the author's views about what is and is not "eastern" and "western" Japanese are questionable, making this book untrustworthy.

An Illustrated Dictionary of Japanese Onomatopoeic Expressions

About 200 Japanese "repeated words" such as "pera pera", "giri giri" etc. are given an illustrative black-and-white cartoon by Japanese children's book author Gomi Taro, plus short explanations in English and Japanese.

The book is fun, but seems slightly overpriced.

A Students' Guide to Japanese Grammar

From the book's cover: `` A Student's Guide to Japanese Grammar offers in-depth explications of selected problem areas in Japanese grammar as seen in errors frequently made by English-speaking students of Japanese The book focuses on similar constructions involving temporal expressions, ... read more

Gone Fishin': New angles on perennial problems

This book, by a professor of Japanese literature, aims to teach a few difficult to understand parts of Japanese grammar such as the "sasete itadakimasu" form, the difference between "wa" and "ga", past tense of verb + tsumori and so forth.

I remember after reading the book "Gone fishin'" I made ... read more

Handbook of Modern Japanese Grammar

Brief coverage of a very large variety of grammar topics, especially verb endings. Lots of things in the book, but the one-line explanations are not comprehensive enough to really grasp the usage.

This book has been useful several times in looking up things that I couldn't find elsewhere. It also has a list of colloquial contractions quite similar to the one in the AFAQ. There is a lot of useful reference stuff in this book.

A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar

Particles and verb constructions, good explanations with lots of examples in kana-kanji and romaji. This book lists a great number of forms and particles and has a wonderful appendix. It's in dictionary format so it's easy to look things up and it not only provides detailed explanations with ... read more

A Reference Grammar of Japanese

This is a hard-to-read and hard-to-use book. It is written by a linguist for linguists in linguistic jargon. It also suffers from a confusing index and poorly designed page layout. The author uses Kunrei romanisation with phonetic symbols to write the Japanese.


In Japanese. Basically about all those objects that come at the end of the sentence, such as "sou", "wake", "mono", etc. Lots of exercises and problems.

A good book, well worth a look.

Suru, shita, shite iru

In Japanese.

This book is about the use of the different tenses of Japanese verbs. It will be useful and interesting to any advanced learner of Japanese.

The Complete Japanese Verb Guide

A book consisting of a list of verbs and their conjugations, which is largely redundant because most Japanese verbs have regular conjugations.

Wa to ga

In Japanese.

This book is part of Kuroshio's "Self-Master" series of self-study Japanese language textbooks.

With this book almost any intermediate or advanced learner can master the differentiation of these two particles. Lots of easy-to-read explanations, examples of correct and incorrect usage, and lots of exercises to test and reinforce your knowledge.


Advanced book about use of particles. Difficult to understand the explanations in places but still a useful book.


In Japanese. Divided into a chapter of example sentences for each particle, and a chapter for explanation of the particles, and a chapter of tests. A very useful, if slightly oddly arranged, book on particles (joshi in Japanese). Contains extensive exercises and a book of answers to the exercises.

Japanese kana workbook

This is the book I used for learning hiragana and katakana. It teaches by writing in small boxes provided in the book, and with lots of tests of reading and writing simple words. This book can be used for self-study. I thought it was useful, as were P.G. O'Neill's other books at a later stage.

Kana Pict-o-Graphix

This tiny book is a visual guide to the two basic kana syllabaries used in Japanese. Combining clever drawings and text memory aids, it teaches the beginning student the shapes and pronunciations of these essential written characters.

Michael Rowley is also author of Kanji Pict-o-Graphix

Write Your Name in Kanji

Contains a list of common English first names, both male and female, with suggested ways to write them in kanji. It also contains a list of characters that could be used to write last names. May be fun and useful for those who want to make their own characters for a hanko (Japanese seal used as signatures are used in the West) or just for fun, but who are intimidated by a kanji dictionary.

Essential Kanji

Kanji learning book covering the Jouyou and some of the jinmei kanji sets with a total of about 2000 characters. Gives both modern and old-fashioned handwritten forms and printed forms with some compounds. The choice of compounds is deliberately obscure in order to increase the student's ... read more

Remembering the Kanji I

I owned this book and found it almost completely useless. Many of the meanings, perhaps 10% or so, given by Heisig to the kanji are wrong or obscure, most of the mnemonics are not at all memorable, the indexing of the book is extremely shoddy, the ordering of the kanji makes the book useless for ... read more

Remembering the Kanji III

Teaches 1000 more characters than the first two books, based on the "level one" JIS computer character code set, minus the already "learnt" Jouyou kanji . Written not by Heisig but by Tanya Sienko

A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters

Covers all of the Jouyou kanji. The main feature is a very scholarly explanation of the development of the character. There is also a mnemonic. Every kanji is given in handwritten form, but without stroke order. There are also three or four compound words for each kanji.

The explanations of the derivation of the character are very detailed. Good for those who want this kind of thing.

A Guide to Reading and Writing Japanese

This is a `list of kanji' book quite similar to 's book@Essential kanji@ in appearance.

The front cover of this book says 当用漢字 (touyou kanji) which is an old system now superceded by the ``jouyou kanji'' (see this AFAQ page for more details). This suggests that the book is somewhat out of date.

A reader of handwritten Japanese

Maybe the only book in English which teaches reading of handwritten Japanese, using 100 letters sent to the author by various Japanese people with both readable and unreadable handwriting. It is graded from easy to hard, with accompanying notes on correct writing style for letters and common handwritten abbreviations of kanji and kanas.

Japan Style Sheet

This book gives lots of details about how to represent Japanese names, addresses, and so forth, in English.

It is well worth consulting for anyone who needs to get details about how to romanize Japanese, etc.

The Chicago Manual of Style

This book has a short section on how to write Japanese words, etc. in English. For more details, see the SWET Japan Style Sheet.

Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary

A huge dictionary, this one is by far the most comprehensive of all the Japanese to English dictionaries I have seen

This book is known to some as "the Green Giant" because of its large size and dark green coloured cover. This is the only dictionary I can really recommend to all serious Japanese learners.

Kenkyusha's Furigana English-Japanese Dictionary

For each entry in English, it presents one or more entries in Japanese. Each kanji has furigana. Covers some slang, famous people's names and technical words. Some people dislike the lack of context of the word in the examples, which makes it difficult to discover which is the correct translation when the word in English has more than one translation in Japanese.

The Oxford-Duden Pictorial Japanese and English dictionary

A dictionary which uses pictures cross-referenced by numbers to their English and Japanese meanings. This is a good idea but unfortunately for learners of Japanese the Japanese words are in kanji without furigana to aid reading.

The Modern Reader's Japanese-English Character Dictionary (2nd Revised Edition)

About 6000 characters covered, this book is useful but has some problems, for instance:

Kanji which have kun-yomi (native Japanese readings) the same but different meanings are often bundled by Nelson into just one place with no information on differentiation of meaning.

A lot of ... read more

New Japanese-English Character Dictionary

Easy indexing, core meanings, compounds, synonyms, homophones, indication of usage, stroke order. various indexes Jouyou, frequency, synonym groups, on/kun readings)

More like a kanji study book than a dictionary, this is a very interesting book but a little too short on actual kanji words to be used to read Japanese. Spends many pages explaining the "skip" kanji classification system invented by Halpern.

Japanese Names

This book covers about 33,000 Japanese personal and place names. Character to pronunciation lookup via stroke count, and romaji to kanji lookup, are both possible.

Reikai Kokugo Jiten

This dictionary gets a mention in this FAQ books list mostly because it is the reference work I used when writing several sections of the FAQ.

A book that is slanted towards high school students and even foreigners, this may be the closest thing to a learner's dictionary for students of Japanese. Contains also a useful list of colours, and lots of explanations and examples of usage which make it easier to use and understand than the standard kokuko jiten.


A big and famous Japanese dictionary with 220,000 words. Has some pictures to illustrate various words. This book does not contain much about etymologies of words. This book has been pretty useful to me over the years but mostly for looking up things which were too obscure to be in the other dictionaries.

Daikanwa Jiten

The Dai kan-wa jiten is a fourteen volume set of encyclopedia-sized books containing probably every single Chinese character ever created. May be the most authoritative book on kanji in the world.

Gotai Jirui

A classic Japanese calligraphy dictionary containing the five calligraphic forms, kaisho, gyousho, sousho, tensho and reisho with examples from famous Chinese and Japanese calligraphers.

Boxed copies in good condition can be found in many second-hand bookshops in Japan for one or two thousand yen.

Japanese Pronunciation guide for English Speakers

The ISBN could not be found in the book

This book covers every aspect of Japanese pronunciation, in four sections on vowels, consonants, devoiced vowels, and accent

It has a huge range of examples and detailed explanations with diagrams of the mouth and tongue positions for each sound. A very useful book if you also have a native speaker to copy the pronunciation from.

Answering Foreign Students' Questions

A translation of the first of the Nihongo Notes series of books into Japanese.

Shin Nihongo no Kiso series

I used these books in one of my Japanese classes. They are meant for people from all over the world which means that they have translations into many languages, in particular into South-East Asian languages like Thai and Indonesian.

The books are heavy on exercises and cover the fundamentals of Japanese grammar rather thoroughly.

Shimizu shin kan-wa jiten

The kanji dictionary I usually use is a pocket Japanese dictionary which I bought several years ago. I don't think that this particular dictionary is exceptional for anything except that it is smaller than the other ones on the market (that's why I chose it). You only need to be able to read ... read more

PHYSICS (Butsurigaku)

A glossary of physics terms. Usually has about 40-50% of the terms I need to look up. Useful to have. Written in kunrei style romaji, kanji and English.

70 Japanese gestures

Lots of partly-out-of-focus photos of an ojisan figure making various hand gestures. How useful is it really? I'm not sure whether many of these gestures are going to be very useful for learners of Japanese.

Designing with Kanji

A basic introduction to the various typefaces used in Japanese and some kanji messages using them. The intention seems to be to help people who want to get kanji tattoos. In my opinion the best advice might be to not get a tattoo in a language you don't understand.

I also have some quibbles with ... read more

English-Japanese business dictionary

Basically a large glossary. The English entries are grouped by subject rather than in alphabetical order. At the back there is a Japanese index so that words can be looked up both ways.

The book has no example sentences and does not explain the differences between the various terms. The English entries have the flavour of coming from a book of translations of the Japanese terms into English rather than English and thus may be difficult to refer to when used in practice.

An Introduction to Modern Japanese series

The text used in my Japanese course at university. Very expensive. Uses kanji right from the start. I'm not sure whether the book really goes into enough detail to be understandable to the average student.

Nan demo jiten series

Manga style books about various topics including language.


A manga-style dictionary of gairaigo or foreign loan words, concentrating on words not from English and wasei eigo. Contains definitions and examples of use of each word as well as a description of the origin of each word.

Jiten Nihon no moji

A fairly comprehensive book about the Japanese writing system.

Design series

A series of about fifty books containing collections of kanji in various typefaces, one typeface to each book, to be used in graphic design. Some of the fonts are quite old-fashioned now. These are the books I copied for use in the sci.lang.japan FAQ articles about shotai.

Gojira no hon

A book of deliberate kanji mistakes designed to trick the viewer into looking like real kanji by graphic designer Yuji Baba. For example, strokes are misarranged or small details such as the lengths of lines are altered. Each page features one jukugo consisting of two kanjis, and the reader ... read more

Kokuji no jiten

A dictionary of kokuji, kanji which were invented in Japan. It contains a lot of characters, many of which have no current printed form, and thus contains only handwritten representations of them. The book aims for accuracy and includes the sources of the research into the characters.

Nihongo wa ikani tsukurareta ka?

A book about the origins of the Japanese language written for a general audience.

For questions, comments, or if you would like to add your review to the above list, please email Ben Bullock <> or use the discussion group for this web site.