Books on Japan: Japan Language Books
Professor Miller was one of the first to note the Japanese obsession with its language and its supposed uniqueness.
This sociolinguistic look at "nihongo" (the Japanese language) and how Japanese perceive it makes for fascinating reading. Miller outlines how the myth of Japanese-as-unique developed; then he goes on to skewer this and the flimsy logic upon which it is based. An especially interesting section is on the conflation of race and language, which recalls Nazi Germany's assertion that only true Germans could speak the German language.
The language and words we use reflect basic assumptions about how our reality is structured. In a sense the words we think create our world; "In the beginning was the word". As our understanding of the world changes, this is reflected in changes to the language. Witness the changes in the English language brought about in recent years by the rise of feminist consciousness.... we now say Chairperson instead of Chairman, and some feminists prefer "wimmin" to women. This little book explores how wimmin are represented in the Japanese language, and along the way we learn much about Japanese society and history. The author (authoress?) takes 80 words or phrases connected with wimmin such as okusan, usually translated as "wife" but actually meaning Mrs. Interior, or kai which means "shellfish" but is used to refer to female genitalia, organizes them into 7 categories such as Married Life, and Sexuality and then writes a short essay on each word packed with insight and a dash of humor, exploring the usage and history of the words.
What I found most interesting was learning about the Kanji (Chinese ideograms) used for various words, for instance the word for "rape" (gokan), is formed by the ideogram for "coerce" followed by the character built of three women (kan), which means wickedness or seduction. What is not really covered in any depth in the book is "woman's language", that version of Japanese that is more "polite" but which Japanese feminists point out is really subservient. If you are interested in gender issues, then there is a lot of information here that will cause you to reflect upon your own use of language, or, if you are learning the Japanese language you will be fascinated by the literal meanings of many commonly-used words.
500 pages + illustrations
At last, the melding of two of Japan's greatest exports: manga and the study of the Japanese language. Not exactly at last - others have trod this path before, notably the magazine Mangajin - but in book form Japanese the Manga Way is setting a precedent.
Author Wayne Lammers grew up in Japan and has written a "real manga, real Japanese" text and study aid that will benefit the many students struggling with nihongo. The text begins with basic pronunciation and works its way onwards and upwards, throughout supplemented with topical and humorous selections from Japanese graphic novels and comics.
Even for someone who has spent the better part of ten years studying Japanese, the format in which the material is presented in Japanese the Manga Way is refreshing and easy to understand. Lammers does an excellent job in explaining the use of Japanese particles, the bane of many a student. Another section that merits mention is that on giving and receiving - so crucial to life in Japan - that suddenly set off a light bulb in this reviewer's often dim brain.
Highly recommended for both beginners and even those with a lot of classroom time under their belts.
Originally published by Kodansha as Flip, Slither and Bang: Japanese Sound and Action Words as part of their Power Japanese series, this volume has undergone a makeover for the 21st century. Fukuda has added a useful overview introduction, and revision quizzes, both of which should help key Japanese onomatopoeia stick in your head.
And there's a lot to remember. While Japanese has appropriated Chinese script for most of its conceptual words, and promiscuously borrowed from English and other languages for more recent phenomena such as computers, it can be proud of the homegrown nature of its pervasive onomatopoeia - not to mention their expressive 'punch'. While in English, such words are often associated with animal noises and children's tales, Japanese uses onomatopoeia widely, in anything from literature to everyday adult conversations, and to express everything from a simple sound to a complex emotional state. What English often uses metaphor to express, Japanese gets across with onomatopoeia. Wanwan may indeed be the sound of a Japanese doggy, but mukamuka means seriously cheesed off, gennari means worn out, and sesseto means as regular as clockwork. Adult enough for you?
Fukuda's introduction helps the learner contextualise the different forms and uses of Japanese onomatopoeia. This, along with an overall book structure based around situational dialogues, creates a fairly structured learning approach. As usual with a book focusing on one aspect of language, there is the temptation to pack in as many target expressions as possible until the dialogues become a bit buyobuyo (bloated). But apart from this, the language is very natural (in fact, "too" natural for the beginner, who should first be learning standard Japanese verb forms, for instance). The dialogues are followed by clear explanations of the target onomatopoeia and example sentences. All text is provided in original Japanese (with furigana readings) plus an English translation, while the dialogues also come in a romanised form for the less able reader. Helpful cultural notes are also scattered throughout the text.
The quizzes at the end of each section review the onomatopoeia, and the handy indexes allow you to find both Japanese and English definitions, so you can locate a particular expression you have heard in Japanese, or find an equivalent for the English concept you want to get across, independently of the dialogue contexts. Note though that this book is not a substitute for a dictionary of onomatopoeia, as it chooses to be selectively detailed rather than comprehensive.
Jazz Up Your Japanese with Onomatopoeia is subtitled For All Levels, which I think is a little ambitious, as much of the material would be overwhelming for neophytes. But this very density of information is a boon for the more advanced student. It will reward close study by significantly enhancing your knowledge of an underemphasised aspect of Japanese language that in many ways embodies the Japanese mindset.
by Taeko Kamiya
Add this to your Japanese-language textbook collection--but no need to keep it on the shelf. Unlike a lot of "final word" type books on the zen of Japanese language, this text is actually useful. Taeko Kamiya spent twenty-five years teaching at the Monterrey Institute of International Studies--where US diplomats and spies hone their language skills--perfecting her art. And it shows.
The text is divided nicely into two parts. Part One uses tables to explain how verbs in Japanese are categorized, conjugated, and combined with auxiliaries and the all-important transitive and intransitive verbs. Tables aid any student in comprehension and review.
Part Two delves further into Part One with model sentences. At the end of the text, there are appendices that offer a guide to looking up words, including a Japanese-English dictionary. A great resource.
by Giles Murray
Breaking into Japanese literature seems like the linguistic equivalent of busting out of Alcatraz: there are three layers of alphabet to hurdle, no helpful gaps between words to slip your mind through, and those thousands of kanji with all their strokes can seem like iron bars blocking the way to freedom of comprehension. Well, Giles Murray has done his level best to provide a map to guide you through all the barriers - and you may even end up enjoying yourself on the way!
Breaking into Japanese Literature is definitely not for beginners, but is accessible for those with intermediate Japanese ability or above. (A good knowledge of hiragana is assumed.) This compact volume doesn't stint either on genuine Japanese literary classics or ways to help you appreciate them. It begins with easier, but not easy, super-short stories by Natsume Soseki, and ends with Akutagawa's daunting "Rashomon", on which Kurosawa's eponymous film is based. The fact that each is presented unabridged and in its original form has the drawback that there are many archaic kanji to negotiate, which may turn off some people. Occasionally, a middle-level reader might be sent into a verbal cul-de-sac by the use of a character that in modern times has been replaced by another. However, the so-called zero-emission dictionary at the bottom of every page provides instant look-up of pronunciation and meanings for virtually every term, and this is backed up by a parallel English translation on each facing page, making it great for budding translators.
Murray also provides biographical information on the authors and a brief bibliography, and there are atmospheric illustrations throughout. But the most innovative feature is perhaps the MP3 sound files, available to download from the Internet, in which professional actors read all the stories. This is a great aid in perceiving the emotional dimension of the tales.
If you have a little staying power, you're sure to find Breaking into Japanese Literature a rich and rewarding experience that should propel you into further reading.
by Naoko Chino
A common sight in the gaijin ghettoes of Tokyo, Kyoto, and elsewhere is the half-crazed foreigner late at night ranting at the moon over the "mystery" of #!"&% Japanese particles. Fear not; help is on the way. Naoko Chino's How to Tell the Difference Between Japanese Particles may sound just the thing for those with sleeping disorders; however, au contraire, it is just the thing to clarify the nuances in a language that is governed by "ha," "ga," "ni," "wo." There are rules and patterns; all is not random.
Chino groups the particles by function, defines them, and gives examples. Each section is then followed by a quiz that allows the student to practice and refine her knowledge. This will make a nice edition to anyone's language book collection.
by Jay Rubin
Jay Rubin, Professor of Japanese Literature at Harvard University and best known for his translations of many of Murakami Haruki's novels, has produced an interesting, witty and compact book explaining some of the more difficult to grasp grammatical concepts for learners of Japanese. He tackles the always-complex problem of wa and ga usage, verbs dealing with giving (kudasaru, ageru, etc.), the difference between know and understand (shiru and wakaru) and a whole host of grammatical stumbling blocks such as aru, de aru, kimeru, kimaru and so on. He does this not in the dry manner that most textbooks approach this difficult topic, but with humor and a fair amount of examples to illustrate his point. He also quotes in Japanese (and then translates into English) short passages from a wide variety of sources, including the works of Mishima Yukio, the aforementioned Murakami Haruki and various other sources such as the rules for Japanese high school students studying in America (!) as well as regular sentences in order to explain certain grammatical terms. A number of points regarding stress and nuance are brought up, points that are often overlooked or not even taught in many Japanese-language courses, pointing the way for the reader to have a better grasp of nuance in the Japanese language as well as speaking a more natural Japanese. This is a fine book for those who are serious about reaching a high level of fluency in Japanese.
by Yoshi Abe
Visitors to Japan often note that even the tiniest smattering of Japanese can go a long way. Here, a simple "excuse me" in the native tongue can get a chorus of approval. This 3rd edition of Lonely Planet's Japanese Phrasebook certainly gives you more than enough to get by on a short stay and make that all important good first impression. The first half of this pocket volume is divided logically into sections on the basics (accommodation, getting around), the fun stuff (shopping, eating, making conversation, etc.) and emergencies. Tabs and chapter names are printed down the side of the page for easy access to the section you need and subsections are clearly marked at the top, making it about as accessible as you could hope for in such an all-encompassing tome. The second half of the book consists of an extensive two-way dictionary, the Japanese-English section of which is organised according to the pronunciation of Japanese words in the roman alphabet. The text is printed in a two-colour format that conveniently separates English from romanised Japanese. And for those occasions when you really can't get the message across, equivalents in Japanese script are always on hand for you to point to. From "pleased to meet you" to "I want a lawyer who speaks English", this little gem has pretty much everything you could wish for on a short stay and, with a quick guide to grammar and the Japanese alphabets thrown in, it may even be just what you need to start you off on the long road to fluency.
by Janet Ashby
Reading the written word presents one of the greatest challenges to any student of the Japanese language. Finding intermediate level reading material can be a matter of trawling through literature aimed at children which can often be unsatisfying for the adult learner. For those looking for a stimulating way to expand their knowledge of the Japanese language as it is really used, this volume will be a welcome relief from textbooks and translated newspaper articles.
Read Real Japanese is a collection of eight short stories and essays written by contemporary authors presented in their original, un-simplified form. The Japanese text is presented as originally published for a Japanese audience which means that furigana readings do not accompany the kanji. Instead, phrase by phrase commentary in a combination of English and romaji is continuously provided on the same page as the original material. Every phrase is given a clear and largely un-interpretative translation and sometimes also a transliteration where this is revealing about the nature of the phrase in Japanese usage. Points of style and tone are also explained, giving the reader a rich interpretation of the work should it be needed.
Featuring works by internationally-renowned authors such as Haruki Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto, Read Real Japanese is essential reading for intermediate to advanced students of Japanese who are looking for some living, breathing literature to get stuck in to.
The Making Out In Japanese books have proved to be extremely popular, despite being pooh-poohed by expats in Japan. I think the reason for this is fairly obvious,... if you are young, free, & single, (or even none of the above) and moving to a foreign country, one of the thing uppermost in your mind is how to communicate with the opposite sex. When, as a young lad of 18, I moved to Germany, the first 2 German sentences I memorized were "Will you sleep with me?" and "Are you on the pill?" Most guidebooks or language books teach you the correct, formal language, but that is rarely what people speak, especially young people.
Asking a policeman for directions is one thing, chatting to girls in a bar quite another. Making Out gives you the colloquial and slang language that will enable you to be understood in social situations. The first book includes a lot of general chat phrases, and ends with some "bad words", lover's language, and phrases for breaking up. The second book concentrates more on communication between the sexes, with chapters on kissing, petting, making love, as well as marriage& health. Both books include information on Japanese social practices and tips. Even if you don't end up succeeding in making the connection you dream of (I never did get to use my first 2 German sentences), along the way you will have picked up some useful phrases. Not least of all the books make it clear that in Japan, men and women speak 2 different languages. If, as a male, you use feminine Japanese you will come across as feminine, and if a female uses male speech she will appear "rough".
by Taeko Kamiya
This is another gem from Taeko Kamiya. Japanese Sentence Patterns presents 142 essential sentence patterns for everyday conversation and use. These will encompass almost all the patterns that you will need in any social sitution.
The patterns give the basic building blocks of sophisticated speech, and what are need to be mastered by all intermediate students. Each is given in the form of an English sentence. There is then a Japanese translation, followed by short, precise explanation, several example sentences.
With practice these become second nature. A great resource for intermediate learners, a great review for those who need to brush up.
This is a gem of a book that aids the learner of Japanese to build useful vocabulary by focusing on the most common vocabulary used in certain key areas: ideas & theories, philosophy and religion, politics and government, fine arts, humanities and social sciences, science and technology, law and justice, and finally business and economics.
Each chapter gives key vocabulary and concepts set out with example sentences and some very informative explanations. The book is an easy read rather than a dry textbook and so is highly recommended to those who wish to increase vocabulary and to do it in an enjoyable manner.
Kodansha's Communicative English-Japanese Dictionary: A practical and comprehensive reference for learners at all levels.
by Peter Sharpe
Sixteen years in the making, Kodansha's Communicative English-Japanese Dictionary is, as the sub-title states, a learner's dictionary. What sets it apart from most other English-Japanese dictionaries is that it is for English speakers, native or otherwise, studying Japanese, rather than for Japanese people studying English. Therefore, all kanji come with furigana, and the appendices are in English and consist of notes about Japanese grammar, addressing letters in Japan, a list of common Japanese surnames, Japanese era conversion, national holidays, Japanese government ministries and agencies, and prefectures and their capital cities. The 'comprehensive' of the subtitle is attested to by the dictionary's word count which, at 22,000 headwords, is much bigger than anything available so far.
As would be expected of a learner's dictionary, the format is clear and uncluttered. All the various meanings of a word, including all the variations afforded by phrasal verbs as well as idioms, are instantly identifiable by means of a list under the headword, which is then expanded on per item by a further list beneath it made up of example sentences.
Every few pages is a Kanji Bridge text box giving useful combinations of key kanji, e.g. 'kan' meaning 'feeling' or 'sense' (fuankan: feeling of apprehension, kuufukukan: feelings of hunger, gimukan: sense of duty, etc.) There are also occasional text boxes that give guidance on functional aspects of language such as expressing agreement, or giving orders.
This is not a picture dictionary, but illustrations are by no means scarce. Here, too, the 'comprehensive' boast is backed up the occasional addition of cultural information to the bare nouns being identified, e.g. the note over the illustration for 'seal' that seals are used instead of signatures in Japan.
This is a handy dictionary, at slightly less than A5 size, though at over 1,100 pages, it is not slim. Kodansha has no plans to make it available in electronic form, which, with electronic dictionaries having virtually replaced paper ones in the typical classroom, may be seen as problematic. However, the author defends the traditional book format mainly on cognition-related grounds.
Professor Sharpe believes that all-too-convenient electronic dictionaries require so little effort to look up a word that, once found and used, the word has not had time to find a proper foothold in the learner's memory; but the act of locating a word on a page creates physical associations that make the word more likely to stick. Also, a paper dictionary is more conducive to exploration and the workings of curiosity, creating a kind of networking between lexical items that would not be established with the all-too-specific search function of an electronic one. In short, the paper dictionary offers the added dimension of "depth between foreground and background", as the author puts it, that "plays a very important cognitive role in perception".
This dictionary is a welcome addition to the Japanese-language studies field and a valuable new tool for anyone seeking to master Japanese, beginner or advanced.
by Association for Japanese-Language Teaching (AJALT)
In the 22 years since its publication, Japanese for Busy People has won acclaim worldwide as an effective, easy-to-understand textbook, either for classroom use or for independent study. Now, in its first revision in more than a decade, the series is being redesigned, updated, and consolidated to meet the needs of today's students and business people who want to learn natural, spoken Japanese as effectively as possible in a limited amount of time.
This edition contains a few new features. Each of the book's 25 lessons has been broken down into units based around a theme. Each comes with culture notes, and there is a free CD. Moreover, the text comes with more than 300 illustrations.
The series also comes in a Roman letter version:
by Jack Seward
Originally published in 1991, Outrageous Japanese: Slang, Curses, and Epithets has been brought out in a revised edition for a new generation of Japanese learners. All of whom should be warned: very few of the expressions, words, or sayings are currently used in Japan.
Author Jack Seward arrived in Japan with the US Occupation in 1946. He clearly has a very strong grasp of Japanese - language and people - but of the 1950s and 1960s variety. Having spent more than ten years in Japan, I was befuddled by many of the terms, and had that sinking feeling that I had better get back to my slang texts - or, better yet, to a bar.
However, in a preemptive move, I tried out many of the expressions on a wide variety of age groups of Japanese. Those under 40 had heard almost none of them; people in their 50s reacted with a natsukashi! (a word used to express nostalgia) when they recognized a phrase or two.
In addition, there are typos littered throughout the book. Some are simple misspellings, others are just plain wrong. In a book that advertises itself on the cover as a "revised edition," one would hope for better editing.
Perhaps the best (only?) recommendation one can give the book is that it is a peep into a bygone era - when American soldiers in Japan had great purchasing power and respect, when Japanese women truly were second class citizens, and when few Japanese spoke English. If you want to know the slang of Roppongi bars and its denizens circa 1961, this is the book for you.
The Tuttle Japanese Business Dictionary is a welcome addition to the Japanese - English business dictionary field.
It features 4,000 key business terms. The terms are listed alphabetically, with both the Romanized pronunciation and the Japanese script, followed by an English explanation.
Example sentences are also included for some of the words to demonstrate the proper usage.
The book also comes with useful information about Japanese business etiquette and common Japanese expressions.
The introduction is easy to read and very good for those about to move to recently landed in Japan.
Boye Lafayette De Mente is an old Japan hand, having spent nearly 40 years in country. He is a prolific writer, lecturer, and businessman.
A very useful work.
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