Looking for the best books to learn Japanese? Generally interested in reading about Japan and Japanese culture?
I’ve read over 100 books on Japanese and Japan but most have been a waste of time. When you’re looking to learn working Japanese you’ll hear about Mina no Nihongo or Genki no doubt. These famous titles are not included and offer little value to true polymaths and linguists looking to go beyond light mental exertion in the form of college courses.
What I have listed is a list of books that will give you a deep understanding of the subject in the way solid programming reference books will teach you the ins and outs of operating in the language. Every book is a book I still own and have read cover to cover.
“Study your whole life, stay young your whole life.” -Mitsuo Aida
The first year of your study should be dedicated to these three books: The Holy Trinity by The Japan Times. These will not lead you astray. Through mastery you shall not falter and reach Japanese enlightenment and eternal proficiency.
The Holy Trinity of Dictionary of Japanese Grammar by The Japan Times
Seriously though, I’ve owned the trinity below for over ten years, having re-bought them two to three times each as they literally fell apart after much use in Japanese university life, water damage from the typhoons of Okinawa and constant reference (even today). If there were ever a Wikipedia of the Japanese language, these books would constitute the majority of it.
For those who know why I began studying Japanese, you might laugh when I call this “The Bible”. But it is truly the best and first book that you should read if you’re serious about learning how to speak Japanese. There’s no better book for the first six months of your study and if you aim is to become conversationally fluent, this will breakdown the essentials in an easy to understand format. Whether it’s the sheer basics of the language, or the fine nuances between fundamental grammar, you’ll get it in this book.
What do you get in the next logical progression from A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar? Well for starters, the training wheels that are romaji get ripped off, forcing you to get to grips with kana and kanji. Mastery of this helps in passing the JLPT N2/2kyu with ease.
This is the red-headed stepchild of the Holy Trinity. Besides literally being red, I’d prefer to call it the necessary sequel to A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar. It covers politeness in written and spoken language as well as grammar that’s fairly common in conversation such as に決まっている, ことに, and いわゆる. This will not prepare you for JLPT N1/1kyu.