JAPANESE STUDY MATERIALS - INTRO //
JULY 14, 2022
A few people have expressed an interest in learning Japanese or improving their skills with Japanese to me. A while ago I compiled a document of resources I used to share with a friend and decided to port that over here for a more publicly accessible directory! I hate the grind of memorizing flashcards and similar repetitive methods, which cause me to lose interest in subjects all together, so a majority of these resources take a different approach and involve games, unusual methods, or are otherwise written in a way my short attention span can stay interested in, for whatever reason. I'm also broke as shit and most of the resources here are either free or very affordable.
BEGINNERS START HERE
🔥 The hiragana writing system is the one you’ll end up seeing the most (and needing the most) while learning Japanese. It’s used for native Japanese words, in most dictionaries, and the furigana (kanji pronunciation help in the form of small hiragana over a printed kanji character) so starting with learning hiragana is a good first step.
Tofugu’s mnemonics system and study sheets are amazing. There are study sheets for every vowel set in this article and the way it’s broken down into sections makes it easy to study a few hiragana at a time then coming back to study another set later. I did them with my tablet in an art program, but they can be printed out too:
🔥 Katakana are used for foreign/loan words, manga sound effects, and to add emphasis to Japanese words in printed text (like italicizing/bolding words in English). These might be more useful if you read a lot of manga because, even if it’s been translated into English, a lot of the time the sound effects are left in katakana and you’ll still get a little practice. Katakana shares some characters with hiragana so you’ll already know a few characters for whichever syllabary you decide to learn second!!
= KANA STUDY TOOLS =
🔥 Hiragana + katakana study quiz game - Hosted on Tofugu and includes tools for choosing which kana set, or even individual characters, to study.
🔥 Duolingo - Duolingo’s Japanese course isn’t great but it comes with a really good kana study quiz tool that also teaches a little vocabulary along the way.
🔥 HappyLilac - Haven’t used this site too much but it has a variety of different worksheets meant for Japanese elementary students. Site’s in Japanese. Might be hard to navigate at first…
Honestly just writing the kana out helps with memorization a LOT. I recommend getting a tiny lined notebook, printing out a little guide (that includes the stroke order) for both kana sets, and practicing writing them whenever you have a chance to. Instead of writing out rows and rows of the same kana, try practicing writing out your favorite characters' names, the kana spelling of a series, food, animal, etc. that you enjoy; or maybe even writing your own name. It's ok if you find out you were spelling it wrong later, it's all about getting that stroke order practice and character memorization at this point in learning.
GRIND, GRIND, GRIND
Kanji are the next step. There are a LOT of kanji (2,200+ are needed to read a newspaper) but, thankfully, with computers it’s not too bad if you can at least read the kana. I’ve had the best luck studying with Wanikani but it is only free up until level 3. Those 3 levels are good at giving an idea of how kanji work and teach a good chunk of some of the most common kanji. You will need to know at least hiragana for everything from this point and onward.
🔥 Wanikani - Teaches kanji and radicals, components that make up kanji, with mnemonics. Free up until level 3. There's a subscription option as well as a lifetime permanent license for a one-time purchase. If you decide to get the lifetime license, wait until Black Friday (USA: the day after Thanksgiving) when it goes on sale for something like 50% off. Alternatively, there is an Anki deck that includes all 60 levels of Wanikani. Using this is... ethically dubious... but in this economy? I won't judge.
🔥 Anki - Lets you make your own study decks and works on a spaced repetition system (SRS) that remembers which kanji/words you need to study more and which you have already mastered. You can make your own study deck (or import one someone else has made). There are plenty of Japanese decks, some of which even have audio. There is a smartphone app for Anki that can synchronize with the desktop version. Both versions of Anki are 100% free.
🔥 JPDB.io - A free alternative to Wanikani with unlimited levels/free tools. Not as good as Wanikani, in my opinion, but for free it’s not bad! Also uses a SRS system like Anki and uses mnemonics to help with kanji memorization.
🔥 Yomichan - A browser plug-in that shows you the reading and definition for kanji when you hover over them. I'm ride or die for Yomichan. It's an incredible resource I highly recommend installing if you browse the internet on desktop often.
Since I’ve completed the free levels of Wanikani, I’ve been looking for other ways to study and picking up a physical kanji dictionary then studying kanji from it by writing them seems to be good enough that I haven’t gotten bored of it (yet). The book I use is Kanji & Kana: Handbook and Dictionary of the Japanese Writing System by Wolfgang Hadamitzky and Mark Spahn. It was about $4 total off Thriftbooks.com.
OTHER USEFUL TOOLS
🔥 Tadoku - A website with free books in Japanese of varying difficulty levels. The site is mostly in Japanese with very little English but most of the kanji have furigana and it teaches Japanese through an immersive method. I really liked this book about a puppy. You’ll need to know at least hiragana for these.
🔥 Jisho - Japanese-English dictionary with an English interface. The readings for the kanji are all in kana but the definitions for them are in English. Also has a search option for looking up kanji by radicals.
🔥 JPDB.io - Also a dictionary. I use this in conjunction with Jisho since it’s better at detecting grammatical forms of words than Jisho is but sometimes it goofs and I have to double-check with Jisho.
🔥 IMABI - Free Japanese grammar guide. I've been reading through this one lately and I REALLY enjoy it. It approaches Japanese in a manner I saw someone compare to how a programmer might write a guide for a computer language, and it clicks with my brain VERY well. It might be a little heavy and, as much as I love this site, most people might benefit coming back to it after learning some Japanese basics elsewhere first. If you enjoy programming, then by all means start with your grammar studies here.
🔥 Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese - Free Japanese grammar guide. Tae Kim breaks things down into very digestible bits while also providing some study practice at the end of the lesson. However, you’ll need to know a few kanji as well as the kana for it. There is also a smartphone app that makes a nice pocket guide.
🔥 BOOK*WALKER.jp - Japanese ebook website. I got Guilty Gear Begin (and the other two Guilty Gear light novels) from here. This site is entirely in Japanese (with prices in yen) but you may be able to navigate it without advanced Japanese knowledge based on familiarity of UI icons. Their books have friggin Pentagon-level DRM protection though and can only be read on their app, which is a massive annoyance, but they are the biggest Japanese ebook service. Here are direct links to the 3 Guilty Gear novels:
Begin - Covers Sol's (Frederick's) early lore, including his betrayal by Asuka and being turned into a Gear. Has kind of a cheesy B movie horror vibe that I really enjoyed.
Lightning the Argent - This book features Ky (with some Sol, Raven, That Man, and Faust). I haven't read this one yet.
The Butterfly & Her Gale - A Chipp-focused novel. I haven't read this one yet either, but it covers the early part of his lore, including the death of his sensei, and, I'm pretty sure, recovery from addiction. Erica is in this book, too, which is particularly interesting because she doesn't come back again in the lore until Strive's release almost a decade later!
PHYSICAL ONES, NOT EBOOKS. NO BEEF WITH EBOOKS THOUGH
I really like physical media for studying because I get distracted BAD on my laptop. Here are a few books I’ve found useful:
🔥 Kanji & Kana: Handbook and Dictionary of the Japanese Writing System by Wolfgang Hadamitzky and Mark Spahn - It was about $4 total off Thriftbooks.com. Pretty straightforward dictionary that includes stroke orders, a little history of the Japanese writing systems, and some useful tips for guessing stroke order, radicals, and general memorization/study tips. I really like this book, even if I don't use it very often.
🔥 Genki I: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese (+workbook) - This book starts off from the very beginning of learning Japanese and ending with advanced grammar with a bunch of kanji along the way. A lot of people swear by this series but I feel like it’s missing a classroom/teacher component. The physical books are a bit expensive ($20+) so my workbook copy is digital. I ended up not getting much use from my book after trying several times. Hesitant about recommending this one, to be honest, unless you're using it in a classroom or other group setting.
🔥 Japanese Short Stories for Beginners by LingoMastery (I have volume 2 but volume 1 is also good) - More reading practice like Todoku. It presents the story in full Japanese (with furigana) then breaks it down with an English translation, vocabulary guide, and study questions. Really nice to have a physical copy of. My copy, new, was about $14. Volume 1 is a bit cheaper, ~$12.
🔥 Barron’s Japanese Grammar (2nd E.) by Carl and Nobuo Akiyama - This book is so tiny but I would be so lost without it. Explains everything plainly, with examples, and has plenty of charts and guides within it. Saved my ass many times while working on Begin’s translation. Highly recommend this one once you get to learning grammar components. Only flaw is that it doesn’t use kana or kanji. Used copies are cheap; about $4.
🔥 Japanese Verbs & Essentials of Grammar by Rita L. Lampkin - Not a bad little grammar reference guide. It’s very much a book for beginners and contains no kana or kanji. Kind of boring to read cover to cover but good-ish as a reference material or for opening and reading a section when bored. Barron’s Grammar is better, but this version may be more accessible for casual study reference and less so for heavy translating. Used copies are cheap; about $4.