Essential Japanese Grammar Review

Ok, the last book Tuttle Publishing sent me for review is Essential Japanese Grammar: A Comprehensive Guide to Contemporary Usage so let’s dig into it.


According to the book’s Preface, this book is “intended to be a thorough grammar reference and self-study guide for language learners who wish to study Japanese seriously or refresh their understanding of the language”. It’s split into two major parts, the first being an overview of Japanese grammar while the second goes into a more detailed look into the usage of particular words.

Part one

The first part goes over various aspects of Japanese grammar. For example, it goes over Accents, then goes over Adjectival Nouns, followed by Adjectives, and so on and so forth. The information is pretty solid though it does tend to use a lot of grammar terminology such as “Sentence-conjunctional words”. It has lots of example sentences and is generally understandable once you wade through the linguistics jargon. I especially like that they cover accents and accurately describe word order. Many books about Japanese incorrectly describe Japanese sentence order as SOV. This book doesn’t fall into that trap and gives a good explanation.

In general, the information in this book is detailed and doesn’t try to “baby you” like other books do by using only romaji and ignoring the dictionary form. My only complaint about this section is that it’s organized like a dictionary, not an overview. The topics are arranged in alphabetical order and feels disjointed if you read it from beginning to end. For example, it covers “Honorofics” before “Verbs” only because well “h” comes before “v” but it certainly isn’t the order you want to learn them! Really, you should look at the table of contents first and choose a topic that interests you instead of reading it in order.

Part two

Part two is simply a dictionary of various grammatical phrases such as 「らしい」 or 「つもりだ」. Honestly, the two parts do not mesh together AT ALL. For example, the first part has a completely unhelpful two-page section on “Requests” that says here are some ways to make requests with some examples. It doesn’t have any explanation on when to use 「くれる」、「もらう」、 and 「あげる」. Then the second section starts by describing 「あげる」 (because it starts with an “a”) and has a note “(→ See kureru and morau.)” Essentially, the topic of requests is completely broken up into 4 sections scattered throughout the book.

Yet another example is the section on “Comparisons” in part one with notes to see 「方」 and 「どちら」 in part two. In general, this book is filled with these “(→ See XYZ)” notes which force you to flip around the book to even learn about a single topic.


Overall, the actual information in this book is very thorough and informative. Unlike the other two books Tuttle sent me for review, this book isn’t made up of mostly filler material as each page has lots of information and examples. However, I find that this book has a kind of identity crisis. The grammar topics are covered in alphabetical order and overlapping topics are split between parts one and two. In my opinion, this book should have either stuck with being a grammar reference such as “A dictionary of basic Japanese grammar” or focused on comprehensively covering each aspect of Japanese grammar.

What purpose does this book serve? I think if you are already using something else to learn Japanese and you want to learn a bit more information about a certain topic, you can’t go wrong with this book. If you can get past the linguistic mumbo-jumbo, the explanations are pretty detailed with plenty of examples. However, you may have to skip around a bit between part one and two. For example, take a look at how the book describes 「なら」.

Nara can directly follow (adjectival) nouns (with particles), but it also follows a clause followed by no or n. (→ See nara for more details.)

The authors are very knowledgeable but I think they took the wrong approach in organizing this book. If you want a detailed and a bit technical reference guide to Japanese grammar, this book is not bad. It’s certainly a great book if you want to learn about grammatical terms such as “Conjunctional particle for clauses”. Perhaps you’re a Japanese linguistics major. In conclusion, I think there’s lots of great information here, it just needs to be organized better. The preface claims it’s a “thorough grammar reference and self-study guide”. It might be a grammar reference but it’s definitely NOT a self-study guide and I think it hurts the reference part by trying to be both.

600 Basic Japanese Verbs review

Tuttle Publishing sent me 600 Basic Japanese Verbs: The Essential Reference Guide for review so here we go again.


The book’s introduction starts by saying, “Fluency in a language cannot be attained without a solid understanding of that language’s verbs and their usages”. According to the book, the introduction is used to “help students learn both the conjugation and the usage of Japanese verbs”. For a fairly short introduction, it does a good job of going over the various verb forms. It tells you how to separate the verb into 3 groups and the conjugation rules for various forms such as the volitional and conditional with plenty of examples. After the short introduction, we go into what makes up the bulk of the book.

The verb list

The rest of the book lists one verb on each page with various conjugations and example sentences.

Much like the “Japanese Kanji and Kana” book I reviewed previously, I really don’t understand the purpose of this portion. The rules for verb conjugation are not as complicated as other languages that have a TON of irregular verbs such as Spanish. So really, a simple computer program can do what this book does for any number of verbs not just 600. In fact, there happens to be just such a tool online at WWWJDIC. Just look up a verb in the dictionary and click the [V] link. Not only is it free, it’s far more complete compared to the book and works for almost any verb you’ll ever learn not just 600. Also, this book doesn’t even reach 400 pages including the introduction. I didn’t count each verb to verify but if my math is correct and each verb takes up one page, how in the world does this book have 600 verbs?

Conjugation Chart

WWWJDIC conjugation chart

The tool impressively even conjugates obscure exceptions such as 「問う」 and 「請う」 correctly. Neither of these verbs are even in the book. The only verb so far the tool doesn’t conjugate is 「ある」 because the negative for 「ある」 is an exception to the regular conjugation rule. This brings me to the core flaw in this book.

Memorize the dictionary approach

While the first 28 pages describing various conjugations are informative, it is far from comprehensive. It doesn’t cover tricky conjugations such as 「なさそう」 and it doesn’t highlight important exceptions such as the negative form of 「ある」. It also completely ignores the fact that Japanese is unique in that while the state-of-being is not technically a verb; nouns and adjectives are conjugated just like verbs to express state of being. You are missing a huge chunk of Japanese grammar if you don’t cover state-of-being. In fact, it doesn’t even cover the conjugation rules for the negative, past, or negative-past for any verb. Instead, it only describes a slight change for negative of verbs that end in “u” without actually talking about what the regular rule is. I’ve looked and I can’t find it anywhere.

The book’s introduction is not nearly enough to fully teach you how to conjugate any verb. I get the sense that it only tries to give you a rough idea of how to conjugate and instead expects you to use the rest of the book to look up each individual verb as you encounter them. This approach might work fine for some languages that have tons of irregular verb conjugations such as Spanish but is ill-suited for Japanese. It would have been much more effective to fully teach you the regular conjugation rules and highlight the small number of verbs that have exceptions. In other words, the two sections of the book should have been reversed with the verb lists being 28 pages and the rest of the 350 pages devoted to explanations.

Otherwise, you’re just looking up the conjugation per each verb when the rules are the same over and over again. Also, it’s hardly likely that the verb you’re looking for will be in this extremely short list of 600 or I’m sorry, ummm… 305? verb list. And then when you hit a crucial verb that have exceptions such as ある, you just have to know to pay attention somehow.


Let’s consider these two questions once again for this book.

1) What purpose does it serve?
2) Can something else do it better and/or cheaper?

This book’s purpose seems to be for giving you a general idea of verb conjugation. It tries to fill in the holes with a list of individual verb conjugations and plenty of example sentences. While I like that there’s lots of examples, I just don’t agree with this methodology. Let’s say you see a new verb you’re not familiar with. First, you need to look up how to read it using dictionaries NOT in this book. Once you figure out the reading, you need to convert it to romaji to find it in this alphabetized list of verbs. Finally, there are 3 possible outcomes. The first most likely outcome is that the verb won’t be in this short list. The second is that it’s in the book but it follows the same conjugation rules as every other verb in the language. The 3rd is that it’s a verb with a rare exception that you have to notice even though the book doesn’t highlight it at all.

Either way, the critical flaw of this book is that it doesn’t really teach you how to conjugate verbs yourself. The book’s introduction describing verb forms should have taken up most of the book with a small list of verbs that highlight important exceptions to take note of. And then perhaps exercises to help you practice conjugation. Now that would be a book I would recommend though there is a free website that already does this (you might have heard of it if you’re reading this blog). As it is, this book lists out conjugations for verb after verb that follow the same rules, something a simple and free computer program can already do online.

Unless you can’t use the internet, I would not recommend buying this book. Ironically, most of the introduction, which I see as the only valuable part of this book, is available to preview on Amazon. The rest of the book is not very useful.

My first book of Japanese words review

Tuttle Publishing sent me My First Book of Japanese Words: An ABC Rhyming Book by Michelle Haney Brown for review so let’s take a look.

Author’s Preface

The author’s stated goal of this children’s book is to “introduce young children to Japanese language and culture through simple everyday words”. I’m not a children’s book expert but the pictures and content look pretty good. My two year-old wasn’t really into it but I can never tell what she’s going to like or not and why.

Don’t use it for its Japanese

If this book gets parents and kids remotely interested in the Japanese language, great. But the book itself won’t teach you much about Japanese. For some reason, the author decided to use the English alphabet instead of the Japanese syllabary. This means some pages with no words such as “X” have an awkward, “Japanese doesn’t have this sound so here’s the Japanese word for Xylophone”. Also, I have some nitpicks like ライオン for 獅子, which people might mistake as the actual reading and かっこう for 学校 which looks like a misprint.

As for how to pronounce the Japanese words, it has a short pronunciation guide for the five vowel sounds and G, R, and F. Not exactly the most comprehensive but it also says to go to to listen to the words in Japanese. That’s the main website for the entire publishing company and I can’t find what they’re talking about. Can’t they put at least a more specific link or maybe even a CD?


You can look inside the book on Amazon to check out the pictures. If it looks good to you as a children’s book, I would say go for it. But don’t expect to teach your kid any Japanese. Personally, I would recommend ショコラちゃんのあいうえお or any of the tons of あいうえお children’s book, none of which are sold here in the States. I wish somebody would publish a real book to teach kids あいうえお here instead of this…

Japanese Kanji and Kana review

Tuttle Publishing sent me four books to review so without further ado, here we go. The first one on the list is Japanese Kanji and Kana by Wolfgang Hadamitzky & Mark Spahn.

According to the preface, this book is useful as “both a textbook and a reference work” and it “serves beginners as well as those who want to look up individual kanji”. So let’s take a look at what purpose this book serves.

Introductory Chapters

The first 68 pages have some interesting information about the Japanese writing system. It describes various aspects of Kana, Kanji, and punctuation. I found this to be the most helpful and informative part of the book. In particular, the 17 structures of Kanji and the rules for writing Kanji were particularly helpful.

It also has all the information you need to teach yourself Hiragana and Katakana. However, I wouldn’t recommend using this book to learn Kana because it has no audio resources to hear the pronunciations. In addition, there are so many better tools online to learn Kana for free, that you don’t really need to get a book anymore to learn it.

You can actually check out most of this information yourself by looking inside the book on Amazon although there currently appears to be an issue with all the Japanese showing up as dots.

Jouyou Kanji List

The bulk of this book from pages 71-376 contain the list of Jouyou Kanji. Each character has the stroke order, radicals, readings, meanings, example words, you know, the usual stuff. This edition has the complete list that was recently revised and even kept some of the really useless ones that were removed such as “pig iron” (銑). (Why???) This brings me to my major complaint. What is the point of this book?

Is this a textbook or dictionary?

If this is a textbook, how am I supposed to use this to learn kana and kanji? There are no pronunciation for Kana, no practice sheets to write with, and no reading material to learn Kanji in context. There are a few tips on exactly two pages such as “Learn the kanji in order”, “Learn compounds with known kanji”, and “Review, and train yourself to read quickly”. However, I don’t see how the contents of this book really help accomplish those goals. And really, learn the kanji in order? Are you kidding me? Might as well start telling people to start learning by memorizing the dictionary. I don’t see how this books helps with learning kanji except as an incomplete and functionally obsolete kanji dictionary. Which brings me to my next point.

The end of this book has 3 indexes to look up Kanji with: radicals, stroke order, and reading (in romaji, ugh). This is how we used to learn Kanji back in the old days when I had to go to school uphill both ways. If you ran into a word you didn’t know, you needed to take EACH character in the word and look it up in a Kanji dictionary by going through a long list of Kanji with the same stroke order or guess which radical was picked to be THE radical. Then try different combinations of multiple on and kun readings in a regular dictionary and hope you got lucky. Basically, for words like 仲人, you didn’t stand a chance in hell of figuring out how to read the word or what it meant.

In today’s world where you can get FREE kanji dictionaries that can do combined multiple radical lookups, stroke order ranges, and even handwriting recognition on any number of devices such as your phone, computer, tablet, and even a Nintendo DS, there is really NO point in having a paper Kanji dictionary. This is especially true for one as inferior as this one with only 2,141 characters. I’ve already written about the trap of “Learner dictionaries” and how the Jouyou Kanji list completely undermines the importance of Kanji outside the list. This dictionary falls into both categories and is likely to fail you pretty early in your studies as soon as you run into a non-Jouyou Kanji and you frantically try to find the missing character and then realizing you need to buy ANOTHER REAL dictionary or silly you, there’s a bunch of free tools online that’s way better and you just wasted your money.


In reviewing any book, I ask myself the following two questions.

1) What purpose does it serve?
2) Can something else do it better and/or cheaper?

This book can be used to teach yourself Kana and act as a Kanji dictionary. However, both of these tasks can be done with superior tools that are free such as and kana courses on I assume you have some device that can browse the internet because you’re reading this. If so, chances are, there are better tools out there for your device than what’s offered in this book. The first 68 pages have some useful information but you can also find it elsewhere online for free such as Wikipedia or even my website.

If you want to enjoy the pains of learning Japanese back in the day when we had nothing better, then go for it. Otherwise, I would suggest saving your money. Unless you’re going to a place with no internet and electricity and feel like learning some Japanese. I suppose that’s always a possibility…

Anki 2 review

So since I did a review of Anki, it seems only fair that I revisit it now that Anki 2 is out. I’ve been using it for the past few weeks and my overall impression is that things have improved significantly.

Overall, the look and usability have been greatly improved. There is no longer a popup per deck, which is great because popups SUCK. Though browsing a deck is still a popup, it’s not as annoying as Anki 1. AnkiDroid is much better as well in that it’s actually usable now. Before, it would crash on my phone at least once basically every time I’ve used it. In addition, Synch can now actually SYNCH (ie “synchronize” not just whack one set of changes with another).

I would highly recommend upgrading though the upgrade process hosed all my old decks (don’t know if this is just me or a common issue). It’s much better once you get everything setup. However, I must warn you that getting setup initially is very confusing. The UI can still use a lot of improvement in that regard.

  1. No menu option to login. You do this by synching for the first time, which also doesn’t have a menu option. You have to use the icon on the top-right. Not very obvious.
  2. Do not use the Default deck! It disappears when you add another deck. As you can see, the Default deck is nowhere in the desktop app even though it appears in AnkiDroid.

    Anki 2 Screen Shot

    AnkiDroid 2

  3. “Full synch” is a misnomer. What it means is basically, scrap everything I have locally, and replace it with what’s online. This caused me to lose my changes several times before I realized what was going on. This should be called “Reset”.

Once you get over the initial confusion and get all your decks setup and ready to go, it’s not too bad.

You may be wondering, didn’t I recommend against using SRS? Well, while I still think it’s an inferior way to memorize things, I have to admit, it’s nice to have something to study when I’m waiting in line at the grocery story or whatever. I don’t have much time nowadays to sit down with a book or watch a show so it’s a convenient way to review something when I have a few minutes to spare. Also, I was previously using iGoogle, which is going away, so it’s also a convenient way to store interesting words to share on twitter or facebook later.

By the way, my main deck had only one side and it completely failed to migrate over to Anki 2. Obviously, I’m not using it like most people. 🙂

Rocket Japanese review (Updated)

Update: Ok, these guys are now spamming my youtube channel with obvious and obnoxious spam. DO NOT BUY FROM THESE A**HOLES! Hopefully, this post ranks #1 for any search related to Rocket Japanese so that people are aware of their shady business practices.

I was asked to review Rocket Japanese several months ago and totally forgot about it. So before I forget about it some more, here it is.

My first impression was wow, there’s a lot of marketing and no clear picture of what products are available at what price. You have to scroll through various links and pages of marketing to even see what’s for sale. A simple product matrix would be nice.

Signing up for a free trial shows a checkbox: “YES! I want to try Rocket Japanese for free!”. Ok, why would I want to uncheck that? Anyway, once you’re in, there are 5 major sections, parts of which are inaccessible in a trial.

Interactive Audio Lessons

I could only force myself to listen to the first few lessons. Overall, it’s a nice introduction to some useful Japanese phrases but Kenny’s pronunciation is so bad, it’s really a mystery why anyone would want to learn Japanese from him. Unfortunately, he drives the lessons instead of the native speaker. JapanesePod101 had the same problem in the beginning but they now have much better hosts on their staff. (I should do a review of JapanesePod101, they’ve come a long way.)

The grammar explanations are useless and creating your own sentences from these lessons is impossible. For example, they mention things like the stem or te-form but offer no explanation on how one would go about conjugating a verb to these forms. The explanations also sound like they came out of a 20 year-old Japanese textbook including instructions on how to bow and the overuse of 「あなた」. Let’s review the definition of 「あなた」.

From 大辞泉:
1 対等または目下の者に対して、丁寧に、または親しみをこめていう。「―の考えを教えてください」
2 妻が夫に対して、軽い敬意や親しみをこめていう。「―、今日のお帰りは何時ですか」


1. Address someone of equal or lower social status politely and/or with familiarity.
2. Wife addressing husband with light respect and/or familiarity.

*In modern Japanese, the level of politeness is low so it’s not preferred for student or young people to address a teacher or elder (with あなた).


  1. Exposure to Japanese phrases


  1. Kenny’s pronunciation is terrible
  2. Quizzes use romaji
  3. Grammatical explanations are terrible
  4. Cultural notes are outdated
  5. Kenny

Basically, if you want to get some exposure to Japanese and get to repeat some phrases, ignore everything Kenny says and you might get some value out of it.

Language & Culture Lessons

Once again, there’s no real explanation of how the example sentences are constructed so you won’t be able to make your own sentences but you can hear the pronunciation of the sentences that are there. Some of the culture notes are informative but romaji is used in quite a few places including most of the quizzes.


  1. A smattering of words/sentences with audio you can use to practice listening and pronunciation
  2. Some informative culture notes


  1. Frequent use of romaji
  2. Grammatical explanations are nonexistent


There are tons of websites that teach Hiragana and Katakana because it’s an easy thing to learn and teach. Rocket Japanese’s version has nice videos for the stroke order though it only covers up to 「な、に、ぬ、ね、の」 in the trial. I also don’t see any mention of long vowel sounds in the menu (though I can’t verify). It’s a very important and often overlooked part of Japanese pronunciation. Considering how many free resources there are for learning kana such as Memrise‘s innovative approach, it’s surprising that you get so little with the trial.


The games are really cool! But it uses romaji. Darn. I haven’t progressed far enough to know if they switch to kana/kanji at a higher level.


On the left nav panel, there’s a section called “My community” which is basically an online forum and “My motivation”, which has some good learning tips worth perusing.


It’s not clear which of the five sections on the top I should start with and when to go from one to the next. Replace Kenny, teach the full kana in the trial, kill the romaji, and make the navigation and progression clearer and you might have a decent package for practicing and learning phrases. However, if you want to learn grammar and how to construct complex sentences from scratch, you won’t get it with their teaching methodology, which basically consists of translating bits and pieces of pre-constructed sentences.

To sum up: Rocket Japanese is a confusing mishmash of audio lessons, culture notes, writing lessons, and unhelpful quizzes with no clear ordering or curriculum covered up by a mountain of marketing. You can find some useful learning tips and nuggets of good audio phrases buried in a confusing interface, romaji, and Kenny’s horrible pronunciation.

Verdict: Try out the trial if you’re really bored but keep your money.

Review of Anki & SRS

I use iGoogle everyday so I was shocked and bummed to hear it was going to be shutdown. I have a bunch of new vocab sitting in my notes in iGoogle that I go through for my #JWOTD. Sure, the shutdown isn’t happening for another year but I thought it was a good excuse to finally try Anki and this whole SRS thing for myself. So below are my impressions and opinions on Anki specifically and SRS in general.

Anki Review

The user interface is pretty clunky especially for the Android version. For example, I have to download a deck for every client. If I synch, why won’t it grab all my decks? What’s the harm? Also “synch” is not an accurate term because if it detects changes on both sides, it forces me to pick one even if I just added cards on the PC and only reviewed it on the phone. There doesn’t seem to be a concept of merging. AnkiWeb is also missing a lot of pretty basic functionality such as browsing your deck. Given the advances of modern webapps, I personally would ditch the desktop client and focus purely on the web and mobile apps. It’s silly to have to install the program on every computer and launch it every time. I would much rather have a richer and interactive web version always open in my browser with tab synch on every machine.

Overall, gets the job done but a LOT of room for improvement.

SRS Review

So I discovered this SRS thing is not for me at all. First of all, it takes way too long to make the cards. Eventually, I just imported all my words using only one side. There’s really no point to filling the other side because I usually read whole web pages and articles to fully get the nuance of new words as people following my twitter account know. At this point, simple words like “car” and “doctor” are not really on my list.

Second, the whole review thing seems backwards to me. If I review a word that’s completely new, I pick “Hard” and then it shows up again right away. For me, seeing a word I don’t know over and over again does not help me. I need new words to bake over time. If I know the word, I want to delete it, and if I don’t know it at all, I pick “Easy”. If the word looks familiar to me, I pick “Hard” so that I can see if I want to delete it the next time.

If you are just starting out, given all new words you would need to learn (and quickly), I would not recommend SRS. Given the additional time it takes to make the cards and the time wasted reviewing words you already know, it’s not worth it. If you know a word, you don’t want to hide it so that it comes back in 8 days. You want to get rid of it and move on. You have thousands of new words waiting for you to waste any more time on ones you already learned.

I personally recommend the “firehose” method of dumping your brain with TONS of interesting content. This means plowing through pages of books and manga, hours of dialogue, and conversation practice forgetting more words than remembering them. Don’t sit around wasting time entering and reviewing what you’ve already seen, just get more, more, and MORE STUFF!!! You’ll be surprised at how much just seems to stick somehow like osmosis. Some people feel this is not effective because they end up forgetting so much stuff. They don’t realize that the fact that they even remember forgetting it means they’re learning it.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just weird…