Learn to Read

Would you like to learn to read fluently in Japanese?  We have put together a 550-page book titled Learn to Read in Japanese:  A Japanese Reader which is designed to make it easy for you to learn to read 608 basic kanji, plus hiragana and katakana. It includes more than 4,200 authentic Japanese sentences and phrases for reading practice.

What is the Best Way to Learn to Read Japanese?

Reading in Japanese is rather complicated.  In order to get started, you will need to be able to recognize and pronounce 46 hiragana, 46 katakana, and hundreds of kanji characters. You will also need to devote a number of hours to reading practice.

A good strategy for learning to read fluently within a reasonable period of time (months rather than years) is to learn hiragana, katakana and a number of basic kanji quickly (although imperfectly at first) and then to start reading almost immediately.  Our book makes this possible by providing you with 4,200 Japanese sentences written in a large clear font, easily accessible feedback on your reading accuracy, and abundant references, with memory aides, to help you to learn 608 basic kanji as you read.

Although it might seem somewhat impractical to start reading practice before you know Japanese characters very well, this approach is firmly grounded in a study technique known as Active Recall, which can be defined as “learning by answering questions.”  Active Recall is the technique that underlies these Japanese Audio Flashcard Lessons, and it is also the basis of flashcard learning generally.  In addition, the Pimsleur method and the “Learn in Your Car” method, both described here, are based on Active Recall.

When you look at a Japanese word and try to read it unassisted, you are essentially being asked the question, “How is this word pronounced?” This simple question forces your brain to work to recall each character and its pronunciation.  Since there is no penalty for incorrect answers and since the answers to the questions that you are being asked are readily available when you don’t know them, Active Recall is a highly enjoyable way to learn.  When you are able to answer questions correctly, you will experience considerable satisfaction, and your sense of competence will be enhanced.  Studies have shown that, in comparison to more passive study methods, Active Recall is highly effective for building strong memories.

As you read the book, you will find that all of the help that you need is close at hand.  If you relax and read the sentences at your own speed, you will be exposed to the same kanji repeatedly in different situations.  By simply reading and availing yourself of  the feedback and the references that the book provides, you will soon be able to read with confidence.

Where to Buy

The book is available for purchase at Amazon, at Amazon UK, at Barnes and Noble, at the Book Depository in the UK, at Booktopia in Australia, at Amazon Japan, and at many other sites.  Any bookstore can order it from Ingram, our publisher.

You may also purchase the book digitally as three separate PDF files for use on electronic devices.  This digital option is significantly less expensive, but please see the section “Physical Book vs. PDF Files” below and consider the pros and cons of each format before buying.


You can read reviews of this book on Amazon US, Amazon UK, and Amazon Japan.  In addition, there is a review on Tofugu.com (on the Tofugu web page, the review is the 4th item from the top).

Japanese Reader

This book places romaji text and translations of Japanese text in a small font in a separate column on each page, close to the Japanese text but clearly separated from it.  When you don’t want to see romaji equivalents and translations, you will find it easy to ignore them, but they will be readily accessible when you need them.  To see how the two columns of text actually look, please click this link: Sample Chapters 1-3.

The Reader section of the book is divided into 103 chapters, each one containing roughly 40 practice sentences and phrases.  In the first 61 chapters, approximately 10 new kanji are introduced per chapter, and each kanji is used in 3 or more different practice sentences or phrases.

In the last 42 chapters of the Reader, no more new kanji are introduced. You can relax a bit as you practice reading the kanji that you have already learned.

Since this Reader is partly based on the same collection of sentences that was used to create our Japanese Audio Flashcard lessons, students who have studied the lessons will find a great deal of familiar material as they read. Hearing, speaking and reading the same material will create a synergistic learning experience, enhancing these students’ confidence and morale.

Kanji Catalogue

The only kanji that the book asks you to read are 608 carefully selected “target” kanji, and it makes a serious effort to teach these kanji via an informative Kanji Catalogue that divides kanji into groups of characters sharing characteristics in common. In addition to showing pronunciations, meanings and examples of words that are spelled with each kanji, this Catalogue provides memorable descriptions of the kanji as images, focusing on their “radicals,” or subcomponents. Moreover, it provides retrieval cues (or homophones) for all of the pronunciations associated with these 608 kanji.  Retrieval cues (also known as “cues”) are English, or sometimes Japanese, words that are pronounced in the same way that the kanji are pronounced. If you pay close attention to these three kinds of memory aides (kanji groups, descriptions and cues), you will find it easy to remember the kanji.  To see a sample of the Kanji Catalogue, please click this link:  Sample Kanji Catalogue.

Pronunciation Index

The book includes a Kanji Pronunciation Index listing 1590 pronunciations that are associated with the 608 target kanji. When you encounter an unfamiliar kanji in the Reader section of the book, you can determine its pronunciation by referring to its romaji pronunciation in the adjacent column. You can then look up this pronunciation in the Index and identify the kanji’s reference number, which can be used in turn to locate the kanji in the Catalogue.  To see a sample of the Index, please click this link: Sample Index.

How to Use the Book

Please watch this video in order to get some ideas about how to use the book.

Physical Book vs. PDF

The book is available as a physical book and also for download as three separate PDF files which can be used on electronic devices.  These files are the Japanese Reader, the Kanji Catalogue and the Pronunciation Index.  Which format is best for you?

The physical book has the advantages of speed and ease of use.  It’s easy to open the Pronunciation Index at the back of the book to look up a kanji and then turn to the Kanji Catalogue to review the information contained there before returning to the text in the Japanese Reader. Using a physical book is a comfortable experience and feels more intuitive, compared to using an electronic screen.

On the other hand, the PDF files have the following advantages:  1) The three PDF’s are less expensive, costing $9 total, compared to about $25 for the physical book, and there are no shipping charges for the PDF’s.  2) There is no waiting for the PDF’s to arrive in the mail.  3) When viewing the Japanese Reader PDF on your electronic device, you can easily resize the pages so that you only see the Japanese text.  4) If you are in Japan and need to refresh your memory about a kanji that you happen to see, it’s great to be able to reach for the Kanji Catalogue on a device in your pocket. 5) If you are able to print the Kanji Catalogue and Index at home (see instructions below) and use your electronic device primarily to display the Japanese Reader, the PDF option can be equally fast, compared to using the physical book.

How to Use the Book Effectively in the PDF Format

In order to use the book effectively in the PDF format, use a PDF reader, such as the free Adobe Acrobat Reader app, so that you can keep all three PDF documents open at the same time, without losing your place in any of them.  For maximum convenience, you should create a single folder containing only these three PDF files and open it in the Adobe Reader app.

If you are using Adobe Acrobat to read a sentence in the Japanese Reader PDF and you want to look up a kanji, first determine the kanji’s pronunciation by referring to its romaji equivalent on the right side of the page.  For example,  suppose that the kanji is 店.  You  will be able to see from the romaji on the right of the page that this kanji is  pronounced “mise.”  Take a moment to remember what the kanji looks like, and then press the “Back” button in the upper left corner of the screen in the Adobe Reader.  If you have configured the Adobe Reader as described above, you should now see the three PDF files for the “Learn to Read” book.

Touch the “Index” file to open the Pronunciation Index, where you can locate “mise” and determine that its kanji reference number is 493.  Again press the “Back” button to see the three PDF files, and this time open the Kanji Catalogue file.  You can now quickly locate reference number 493 by using the slider on the right side of the screen.  After you have examined the information about  店 that is contained in the Kanji Catalogue, press the “Back” button again and re-open the Japanese Reader file, where you will be able to continue reading from the point where you had stopped.

If you are using the PDF files and want to be able to look up the kanji even more quickly, consider printing the Kanji Catalogue and the Index and binding them together for quick reference (see the photo below).  All together they are 144 pages in length (72 pages if you print on both sides of the pages), and you can easily bind the pages together with an industrial stapler (if you print on both sides of the page), or by using clamps, or by drilling holes near the margins and tying them together with thread.   Then you will be able read the Japanese Reader on your electronic device and quickly refer to the printed Index and Kanji Catalogue when you need more information about a kanji.

In this photo, the Japanese Reader is displayed on the screen of an iPad Mini.   The Kanji Catalogue and Index have been printed on paper for ready access.

When you print the PDF files, be sure to print them as “Actual Size” rather than using printing options like “Fit,” so that you will be able reduce their bulk later by cutting the pages down to a 6.5×9-inch format. Also be sure that your printer is not set to “Flip Pages Up” if you are printing on both sides of the pages.  After printing, and before binding, you can use a paper cutter to reduce the size of the pages.

The following instructions apply only if you have printed the files on both sides of 8.5 x 11-inch paper, without flipping pages up:  Remove 1 inch from the top margin, 1 inch from the left margin, 1 inch from the bottom margin, and 1 inch from the right margin.  This will result in a document that is 6.5 inches wide and 9 inches high, with 0.5 inches of extra space on the left margin, which will give you room for binding.

To Buy the Book as PDF Files

To buy the Japanese Reader PDF, which includes the first 418 pages of the book, please click this link:


To buy the Kanji Catalogue and the Kanji Pronunciation Index PDF’s, please click this link:


To buy the physical book, please see one of these links:  Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble, the Book Depository in the UK, Booktopia in Australia, Amazon Japan.  Any bookstore can order the book from Ingram, our publisher.

Stroke Orders

To acquire the ability to read Japanese characters as they are actually written in Japan, we suggest that you spend some time writing them in accordance with their prescribed stroke orders.  If you become familiar with stroke orders, you will be more likely to recognize the characters when they are written in non-standard fashion, as they often are in Japan. To see the prescribed stroke orders for hiragana, katakana, and the 608 kanji that we teach in the book, please download and save the following files. You may wish to print these documents and refer to them when you practice writing these characters.

Hiragana Stroke Orders

Katakana Stroke Orders

Kanji Stroke Orders

If you have any questions or comments about the book, please write them in the box below.  We will do our best to reply to every message that we receive, and we will post the ones that are of general interest on this page.  If you would rather contact us privately, you may send an email to administrator@japaneseaudiolessons.com.

Next, See our Japanese Grammar Guide

13 thoughts on “Learn to Read

  1. I found your book interesting but I wonder if you’ll have the next level of it. I want to take JLPT N2 so I need books like yours.

    1. Hi Mitsuki,

      Yes, I’m working on Volume 2, in which I hope to teach another 600 kanji or so. I’m about half finished, but I really can’t predict when it might be ready for publication.

  2. As I was viewing your video, I find it so interesting. I can speak Japanese but unlucky I can’t read and write that well.. I would like to have this book

  3. This format looks perfect. I’m wondering if the book is useful for beginner, intermediate, and advanced learners, or if it is catered more to a specific level. Thanks!

    1. Hi Stephanie,

      The book assumes a certain knowledge of the Japanese language, so it would probably be fair to say that it is for intermediate learners. Here is a quote from the Introduction:

      “Our audio lessons are designed to help people learn to speak Japanese by giving them opportunities to translate from spoken English into Japanese, and they also teach a considerable amount of Japanese grammar and vocabulary. In contrast, this book is designed to help people learn to read Japanese by giving them opportunities to translate from Japanese text into English, and it assumes that students already know some Japanese vocabulary and the basics of Japanese grammar.”

      I hope that answers your question.

  4. Hey Roger,

    I came across your website while I was looking for free Japanese online courses. I was fascinated by the approach you and Noriko took and immediately downloaded the first audio lesson. It is an amazingly helpful source, and I truly thank you for this generous offer. I will be purchasing your book as well because I truly trust in your content. I’ve studied Japanese for 3 years now at my university, finished both Genki 1 and 2. They are good books, but the exercises seemed to be dull sometimes. I believe that your approach is something that is missing in many classes in general: interactive learning. I sometimes really feel like giving up. All the hours I spent on the grammar sections, finding out that I still have difficulties in building sentences. Your lesson, however, gave me back confidence, and I realized that there is a lot knowledge in my head: I just have not been using it. Thank you so much, I gained back my power.

    Warm regards from the Netherlands and all the best,

    1. Hi Vanessa,

      It’s good to hear from you. Noriko and I really appreciate your support.

      I understand what you mean about having knowledge and not being able to use it. It’s a great feeling when we discover, as we pursue Active Recall learning, that we are able to answer a question correctly, uncovering otherwise hidden knowledge. This feeling makes learning exciting and gives us the encouragement we need to press on.

  5. Hi Roger,

    I have the book and discovered the audio files via that.
    Just wanted to say thank you for the excellent material.


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