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.
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.
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 (fewer in the early chapters, more in the later ones). 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.
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.
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.
Physical Book vs. PDF Files
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 to 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 cost about $16 total, compared to about $25 for the physical book. 2) There are no shipping charges for the PDF’s. 3) There is no waiting for the PDF’s to arrive in the mail. 4) When viewing the Japanese Reader PDF on your electronic device, you can easily resize the page so that you only see the Japanese text. 5) A portable electronic device is lighter and less bulky, compared to the physical book. 6) 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. 7) Finally, 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 is 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, it’s important to use a PDF reader, such as the free Adobe Acrobat Reader app, so that you can easily 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.
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 only 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, we suggest that you print the Kanji Catalogue and the Index and bind 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, which we strongly recommend), and you can easily bind the pages together with an industrial stapler (if you print on both sides), 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.
When you print the PDF files, be sure to print them as “Actual Size” rather than using printing options like “Fit,” so that you can reduce their bulk 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.” After printing, and before binding, you can then 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 the pages, without flipping pages up, and if odd pages (e.g., 1, 3, 5, etc.) are face up in the paper cutter. If you have printed the files on 8.5 x 11-inch paper, as an example, you should 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 plenty of 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:
In order 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.
What is the Best Way to Learn Kanji?
I have experimented with various methods for learning kanji, including making my own kanji flashcards. In my experience, kanji flashcards drills become tedious, and they don’t allow students to learn kanji in the context of meaningful words and sentences. When one mixes up a kanji with another similar one, as happens frequently, there is no convenient way to reference the two kanji and compare them side-by-side.
I own a number of textbooks that try to teach kanji to Westerners, and I have found that, while they concentrate on teaching kanji as images with meanings, they pay relatively little attention to their students’ need to learn all of each kanji’s pronunciations. Their authors may not feel confident that students will be able to associate the kanji reliably with all of their possible pronunciations, and so they focus on relatively few. In addition, they do not provide very many sentences for reading practice.
The best way to learn to read kanji, based on my experiences, is to practice reading them in the context of a large number of Japanese sentences and thus to be gradually exposed to all of their possible pronunciations. If that is so, then there is a great need for Japanese reading textbooks. However, when I have searched for such books, I have not found very many, and those that I have found fail to provide romaji pronunciation equivalents in a way that is conducive to reading practice. If romaji is provided, it is sometimes placed far away from the Japanese text, making it awkward for the reader to verify whether or not he or she has read the text correctly. On the other hand, in some books, romaji may be placed directly over the Japanese text, making it nearly impossible for students to avoid seeing it when they are trying to read in Japanese.
Sometimes Japanese educational books provide small furigana (written in hiragana) just above certain kanji, in order to help students who don’t know the kanji well. Unfortunately, furigana, like romaji text in plain sight, actually prevent people who may already partly know kanji from reading them unassisted, and thus they interfere with reading practice. In order to use Japanese textbooks effectively for reading practice, I have had to go through several of my Japanese textbooks and cover up their furigana characters with pencil marks, so that I could challenge myself and read Japanese text without this unwanted assistance.
As I see it, the best way to help English-speaking people learn to read in Japanese is to provide an adequate number of sentences written in Japanese, without furigana or prominent romaji. This is the procedure that we have followed in preparing our book. See Sample Chapters 1-3.
Regarding the multiple pronunciations that are often associated with each kanji, I think that it’s best to teach these pronunciations by making them readily available to students as they read. One way that we teach kanji pronunciations is by providing romaji equivalents on the same page as the Japanese text. In addition, we furnish a Pronunciation Index and a Kanji Catalogue. Using the Index, which includes virtually all of each kanji’s pronunciations, students are able to locate kanji in the Catalogue, where they find descriptions and cues. Students who pay attention to these descriptions and cues as they read will soon learn to associate correct pronunciations with each kanji.
In order 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.
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