Recommended Japanese Study Methods

It would be best to study a basic textbook while you take this Japanese audio course.  Although I have used a number of sources while working on these audio lessons, the primary book that I was studying when I began to create them was Professor Susumu Nagara’s Japanese for Everyone. This is an excellent text which teaches Japanese grammar and vocabulary in a thorough, systematic way. It is also quite difficult.

I strongly recommend that you buy a copy of Japanese for Everyone (either the 1990 or the 2008 edition, new or used).  The book has now become available on Amazon again, after being out of print for some time.  Click HERE to see it.  If you study this text carefully, it will help you a lot in completing these lessons. In addition, these audio lessons may help you to understand some of the more difficult Japanese sentences found in the textbook. It’s likely that you will also become somewhat proficient in reading Japanese characters, including some kanji, if you study this book.

You should purchase one or more Japanese-English dictionaries to use for reference during your studies. I’ve found the Random House Japanese-English Dictionary by Seigo Nakao to be perhaps the most useful for everyday use. Kenkyusha’s New Japanese-English Dictionary, edited by Koh Masuda, seems to be the best for very detailed explanations, and Langenscheidt’s Pocket Dictionary Japanese is sufficiently portable to carry with me while walking. There are also some excellent Japanese dictionary apps. The one I use most often on the iPhone and iPad is Japanese, by Taku Kudo, sold by renzo Inc.

If you want to write in Japanese, you should be aware that the rules for doing so are highly confusing.  Many Japanese people seem to have their own personal rules for deciding whether certain words should be written in kanji, or hiragana, or a combination of the two, or in katakana.  Most dictionaries do not bother to explain how words are commonly spelled in everyday Japanese writing.  Instead, they simply provide the kanji, however obscure, for every word.  I have found Samuel E. Martin’s Concise Japanese Dictionary to be a very useful resource, since it clearly shows how words are usually spelled by Japanese people.

You will need an mp3 player, such as an iPod, if you plan to use this Japanese audio course while exercising or commuting. In addition, if you intend to use the lessons while walking, I strongly recommend that you get a clicker, i.e., a remote control for your mp3 player.   A remote control will allow you to pause and resume the lessons with the touch of a button in your hand.  Since some of the English questions are quite long, I suggest that you use the pause button freely, so that you aren’t forced to translate so much material all at once.

Apple makes earphone units with built-in wired controls, but they are not convenient to use while walking, since the buttons that control the portable device are located high on the cord.  One would have to walk around with one hand held up at neck level in order to use one of these units.

Maxell P-1A Wireless Remote Control
Maxell P-1A Wireless Remote Control

If you are using an iPod 3G, 4G, photo, nano, or mini, I recommend the Maxell Wireless Remote, shown on the right.  When I listen to these lessons while walking, I’ve found that my right front pants pocket is a good place to carry my iPod and the attached sensor, with the iPod upside-down, the white sensor attachment on top and the black circular sensor cover pointing away from my body.  In this configuration, when I use the remote control with my right hand, my hand is very close to the sensor.

I have also had luck carrying the iPod in a carrying case on my belt.  In this configuration, the iPod is upright, and I’ve had to enlarge the existing opening in the bottom of the carrying case to accommodate the sensor unit.

Maxell Remote Unit with Cardboard Strips
Maxell Remote Unit with Cardboard Strips

I modified the Maxell remote control unit to make it more useable.  First, I added some pieces of cardboard, as shown here.




Maxell Wireless After Adding Duct Tape
Maxell Wireless After Adding Duct Tape

Next, I used duct tape to attach the pieces of cardboard to the remote control, covering up unneeded buttons that I had often found myself pressing accidentally.  I also used duct tape to connect the sensor unit to the bottom of the iPod, as it was very loose and often became disconnected while I was walking.  Note that it isn’t necessary to remove the duct tape in order to charge the iPod, or to attach it to a car stereo.  The Maxell sensor attachment includes ports for an iPod charger and for a stereo jack.

The Maxell system often fails to respond to clicking when the sensor is exposed to bright sun, apparently because sun can interfere with the infrared signal emitted by the remote control unit.  I discovered that I could improve this problem by covering the sensor with denim cloth from an old pair of blue jeans.  Of course, this step is not necessary if you plan to carry the sensor in your pocket.  Another option is to carry the sensor in such a way that it isn’t exposed to direct sun;  for example, if you are carrying your iPod on your belt, you can switch it to the opposite side of your body to keep it away from the sun.  Even while using the denim cover, I find that it helps to position the hand carrying the remote control in such a way as to cast a shadow over the sensor while clicking, if the sensor is in bright sun.

Holding the Maxell remote control backwards
Holding the Maxell remote control backwards

Finally, I had to learn to carry the Maxell remote control unit backwards, as shown here.  In this configuration, it points directly at the iPod and sensor unit, and it works quite well most of the time.

Unfortunately, the Maxell remote doesn’t work with iPhones.  If you want to use an iPhone to listen to these lessons, I recommend a wired remote control, the Griffin Navigate.  Although this controller is supposed to work with iPods as well, it didn’t work with my iPod Classic (6th generation).  However, it works very well with my iPhone 4S.  No duct tape is necessary!

Another clicker for controlling the iPhoneSatechi with clamp remotely via Bluetooth is the Satechi BT MediaRemote.  This device does a wonderful job controlling my iPhone 4S and iPhone 6.  The Bluetooth connection has the tremendous advantage of not requiring a line-of-sight to the iPhone, so that the phone can stay concealed in one’s pocket.  Unfortunately, like the Maxell clicker described above, this clicker requires modification with duct tape, to prevent the user from accidentally jumping to the previous lesson or the following lesson.

Please note the hose clamp that I used to Satechicover the offending buttons.  It was fairly simple to cut small strips of metal from the hose clamp with a hacksaw, place them over the skip forward and skip backwards buttons, and cover them with duct tape.  When applying the duct tape, I had to be careful not to cover the small light at the top of the front panel and also not to cover the on-off switch at the top left of the clicker.  After the duct tape was applied, the volume up and volume down buttons on the clicker were covered, but they still worked perfectly.


Of course, this Japanese course will seem difficult the first time you hear the lessons. You will naturally want to refer to the transcript and the grammar notes related to each lesson as you study it. Keep in mind that everything will become easier as you repeat the lessons and that, as you get more correct answers, you will start to have more fun and feel more confident. After awhile, your brain will be able to understand how Japanese grammar works, and you may even find yourself starting to think in Japanese!

I think that you should plan to repeat each lesson in this Japanese course about five times before proceeding to the next one, but please do whatever feels most natural to you. After you complete new lessons, you may want to go back and review previous lessons, before going on to the next one. That, at any rate, is what I have done in my studies.


As mentioned previously, a mnemonic is a small story that helps one to remember a new word or phrase. For example, the first mnemonic that you will encounter in the transcript for this Japanese course, near the beginning of Lesson 1, is for the word kankoo, meaning “sightseeing.” The mnemonic is “sightseers will see canned corn.” This mnemonic may or may not work for you. If it doesn’t work, please feel free to ignore it or change it.

I know people who seem to have a photographic memory and who probably don’t need to use memory aides. If you are one of those people, you won’t need to worry about mnemonics.

Vertical StoneHowever, if you are a person with an average memory, you may find mnemonics useful. In the transcripts for these lessons, I haven’t been able to include all of the mnemonics I’ve developed over the years, since a mnemonic is really only a temporary crutch.

My own mnemonics are naturally specific to my own background and experiences. Some of them are in English, some in Spanish (a language that I learned at an early age), and some in Japanese. Some are related to specific experiences or to specific people that I’ve known in my life. It’s only natural that mnemonics that work for me may not work for you. I encourage you to delete or ignore my mnemonics when you find them unhelpful and to create your own.

When you create your own mnemonics, you may want to use an English dictionary. In the example above, if you were trying to find a mnemonic for the word kankoo, you might look for words starting with “kanko” or “canco.” If that didn’t work, you might then look for words starting with “kan” or “can” and words starting with “ko” or “co.”  When I was faced with this problem, the best mnemonic that I was able to invent for kankoo was “sightseers will see canned corn,” but you might be able to think of something better.

It may take time to find the right mnemonic for the occasion. Of course, it’s better not to spend too much time on mnemonics.  They don’t have to be perfect.

If you are using Microsoft Word, you can search the transcript of this Japanese audio course for particular words in English or Japanese, to try to get help with understanding or remembering a new term, or to help you find an old term that you want to check again. Press the F5 key, click on the “Find” tab in the dialogue box, type the word you’re looking for in the space provided, and click on “Find Next” repeatedly to find all of the places in the transcript where the word is used. You may sometimes be able to locate a mnemonic that appears elsewhere in the text by using this technique.

The transcript of this Japanese course is provided in a form that I’ve found useful for printing and carrying with me. You may modify it as you wish, by adding your own mnemonics, for example.

聞き取り (Kikitori)

Temple Complex, Osaka
Temple Complex, Osaka

Kikitoru is a compound Japanese verb, derived from kiku (‘listen’) and toru (‘take’). Kikitori is the noun form of this verb, which can be translated as ‘listen/taking.’  In order to feel comfortable when you visit Japan, at some point you will want to start working on kikitori, or listening skills, in addition to your other studies.  An entertaining way to do this is to watch Japanese TV shows and movies in Japanese, with English subtitles.

Although many Japanese movies and TV shows are available on DVD, you will probably find it easier and less expensive to search YouTube or other internet streaming sites for material to watch.   In my opinion, you will usually hear more useful Japanese if you watch TV shows, as compared to movies.  Just search for “Japanese TV shows with English subtitles.”

Aikurushii is an excellent TV show that was originally broadcast in 2005.  Although the quality of the streaming video on Youtube is poor, the audio quality is decent, except for some relatively brief segments where the sound disappears entirely.

Another TV series that Japanese language students may want to watch is Orange Days.   Although not as interesting as Aikurushii, it is quite accessible, in part because one of the main characters is deaf, and the other characters have to slow down a bit when they talk to her.

The animated Japanese-language DVD’s that I personally own and admire the most are from Studio Ghibli:  Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Whisper of the Heart, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service and Castle in the SkyI’m also quite fond of the four DVD’s in the Haruhi Suzumiya series.  Two other DVD’s from Studio Ghibli, Nausicaa and Princess Mononoke, don’t seem quite as marvelous as the ones mentioned above, in part because they contain some violence that might be frightening for children, but they are still well worth watching.

In addition to the animated DVD’s listed above, I enjoy watching Japanese movies by the director Yasujiroo Ozu.  I have five of his titles, all released between 1956 and 1961:  Early Spring, Tokyo Twilight, Equinox Flower, Late Autumn, and The End of Summer.  These DVD’s are available in one package from Amazon.  They provide intimate views of Japanese family life, feature wonderful actors, and demonstrate many of the fascinating differences between male and female speech and behavior in Japanese culture.

Finally, the Japanese movie Always:  Sunset on 3rd Street and its sequel come with English and Thai subtitles, and the language they employ is fairly simple, with many lines spoken by children.  Admittedly these two movies are overly sentimental, but Japanese people seem to like them and find them funny, due in part to their inclusion of a number of in-jokes and puns involving such things as the Suzuki car company and the Akutagawa writing prize.

Some Notes about Spelling in Romaji

Many reference books, such as dictionaries, use the convention of spelling Japanese words with a long ‘o’ sound as ‘oo’ (or ‘ō’), whereas in Japanese hiragana they are usually spelled おう ou. Words like omou (‘think’), in which the ‘u’ sound can actually be heard, are usually spelled in romaji just as they would be in hiragana, but this word can also be spelled omoo or omō.

A few Japanese words like おおきい ookii (‘big’) and おおさか oosaka (‘Osaka’) don’t cause any spelling problems, as they are also spelled ‘oo’ in hiragana. However, in order to write the word ‘Tokyo,’ you must spell it とうきょう toukyou in hiragana, and the word ひこうき hikooki (‘airport’) must be spelled hikouki. To write ‘let’s buy’ in hiragana, you have to spell it かおう kaou, and ‘let’s go’ has to be spelled いきましょう ikimashou.

Notes about tsu and zu:  if you are using a computer word processor or dictionary, sometimes you must type tu when you mean tsu, or du when you mean zu.  For example, the word tetsuzuki = ‘procedure’ must be typed ‘tetuduki,’ if you want to look it up in an electronic dictionary, or type it in such a way that it will be converted into Japanese text by your computer.  Similary, tsuzuku, an intransitive verb meaning ‘to continue or go on,’ has to be spelled ‘tuduku’ in order to be recognized by an electronic dictionary or be converted to Japanese text by a computer.

If you want to type a lower-case tsu, you must hold down x on the computer keyboard and then type tu.  For example, to spell shutchou (business trip) on a computer keyboard, first type shu;  then hold down x, type tu and release x; and finally type chou.

Note about ji:  ji can be written as a derivative of the character shi  し, or as a derivative of the letter chi  ち.  In other words, it can be written as じ or as ぢ.  When you want to type ぢ, type ‘di.’  For example, in order to spell the word chijimu = ‘to shrink’ on a keyboard, you must type ‘chidimu’

Note about ‘n:  sometimes you will see romaji words written with ‘n in the middle.  For example, gen’in means ’cause, origin or source.’  The purpose of the apostrophe is to indicate that this word is pronounced ‘gen in,’ not ‘ge nin.’  To find this word in an electronic dictionary, you will need to type ‘gennin.’  On the other hand, if you want to type it on a computer and have it converted to Japanese text, you may type either ‘gen’in’ or ‘gennin.’

In the same way, for the words zan’nen = ‘regrettable,’ or ten’nen = ‘natural,’ you must type ‘zannnen’ or ‘tennnen’ in an electronic dictionary.  On a computer keyboard, you may type either ‘zan’nen’ or ‘zannnen,’ or ‘ten’nen’ or ‘tennnen.’

Foreign words are usually written in katakana. When words of foreign origin contain long ‘o’ sounds, the convention is to spell them ‘o-‘ in romaji, but they may also be spelled ‘oo’ (or ‘ō’).  So ‘passport’ is usually spelled パスポート in katakana.  It can be spelled pasupo-to or pasupooto or pasupōto in romaji.

Next, read about Japanese Grammar

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