This post was adapted from the handout that was used during my presentation about “Studying Japanese in Fukushima” at the Fukushima Newcomers Orientation in Fukushima City, Fukushima Prefecture, 2012.
A couple of disclaimers before I get started properly: firstly, this post is primarily geared towards JET participants who want to either start or continue their studies in Japan. I say this because some of the courses I’m going to mention are only available for ALTs and CIRs employed under the JET Programme. However, most of the other resources in this post are available to anyone, so hopefully they’ll still be useful to you even if you aren’t living in Japan as a JET participant. And secondly, the information in this post is primarily geared towards studying on your own. If you’re looking for a tutor or Japanese classes in your local area, your best bet is to ask other JET participants or foreigners around you for their advice. And so that ends the disclaimers – let’s get started!
Being in Japan is an excellent opportunity to either pick up or improve your Japanese skills. At the very least, it’s a good way to fill up any downtime you might have when you’re at work. (Believe me, it’s very likely you’ll have some free time, and studying looks so much better than trawling the internet!) You might want to check however with other ALTs in your area as to whether or not studying at work is acceptable with your own Board of Education.
Of course, everyone’s Japanese is at a different level. You might have never studied a word of Japanese before coming to Japan, or perhaps you majored in Japanese Studies at your university. Everyone also has their own goals when it comes to their Japanese Language study; such as wanting to pass a particular level on the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), or to wishing to speak in Japanese with their co-workers, or they simply want to be able to read their favourite manga in Japanese. Whatever your background, I definitely feel the important things are to have a specific goal to work towards and to figure out what studying techniques work for you. To that end, the Area Support Leaders in Fukushima Prefecture and I put together the information in this post to show you a few different tools and textbooks you can use to help with your studies.
JET Programme Japanese Language Course
This section – as the heading would suggest – is really only relevant to current or soon-to-be JET participants. CLAIR offers several different correspondence courses for JET Participants: a Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced course, along with a Translation/Interpreting and Linguistics/Pedagogy course (for 2nd Year ALTs and April arrivals only). The first three are funded by CLAIR, so you should have no problems taking them. The latter two require your Board of Education to fund a training seminar in Shiga Prefecture, so you will have to ask your supervisor’s permission to apply for these. Also, you will need to take a placement test for the Translation/Interpreting and Linguistics/Pedagogy courses. For more information, please visit the JET Language Course homepage.
Textbooks – Where and What To Buy
There are countless textbook series out there to help with studying Japanese. Tracking down Japanese textbooks if you are living in mainly rural prefecture such as Fukushima can be difficult, but it is possible. Senior ALTs in your area will probably be able to point out bookshops near you which stock studying materials. For example – and speaking my personal experience of living in Fukushima Prefecture – if you are near Fukushima City or Motomiya, the Iwase Bookstore chain stocks Japanese textbooks, as does the main Yamani Bookstore in Iwaki.
Amazon is also a good option, especially if you know which books you are after. The best (and most dangerous) feature of the Japanese Amazon site is that you can choose to pay for your order at your local convenience store or pay when your order is delivered (cash-on-delivery or COD). Helpfully, you can browse the site in English and (usually) use your existing Amazon account, if you have one.
If you are looking for recommendations for textbooks to use, here are the names of a few standalone textbooks and series that have been recommended by the Area Support Leaders in Fukushima Prefecture, divided up by purpose. I’ve also included Amazon links to make tracking them down easier.
BANNO, Eri et al.: Genki Series – An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese, Tokyo: The Japan Times.
HEISIG, James W.: Remembering the Kanji, Volume 1: A Complete Course on How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Japanese Characters, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press (Free preview and links to related iOS apps available here.)
MIURA, Akira and McGLOIN, Naomi: An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese, Tokyo: The Japan Times.
Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT)
MATSUMOTO, Setsuko, et al.: 実力アップ!日本語能力試験 – The Preparatory Course for The Japanese Language Proficiency Test Series, Japan: Unicom. (N1-N5)
SASAKI, Hitoko et al.: 日本語総まとめ (Nihongo So Matome Series), Tokyo: ASK Publishing (Levels N1-N3)
TOMOMATSU, Etsuko et al.: どんな時どう使う 日本語表現文型500―日本語能力試験1・2級対応, Tokyo: ALC. (Levels N1-N2)
MAKINO, Seiichi and TSUTSUI, Michio: A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar, Tokyo: The Japan Times. (Intermediate and Advanced Grammar Dictionaries are also available.)
TOMOMATSU, Etsuko et al.: どんなときどう使う日本語表現文型辞典, Tokyo: ALC.
There are many resources out there on the internet which are geared towards studying Japanese. Here are a few ones you might either know already or be interested in using:
Reviewing The Kanji (Works with the Heisig method of memorising kanji)
Memrise (Web-based flashcard system)
Anki (Multi-platform flashcard program)
Renshuu (Studying support for JLPT, Kanji Kentei, etc.)
There are many applications out there for Apple, Android and Windows Smartphone users. I’m unfortunately only familiar with the iOS ones, but if anyone has any recommendations for Android and/or Windows ones, please let me know about them! These are the two apps that I use regularly when I’m studying or using Japanese:
Imiwa? – This free app is basically the Smartphone version of Jim Breen’s WWWJDIC. I find it very useful when I’m away from my main computer, and as a bonus the multi-radical kanji lookup is much easier to use on a touch screen.
Sticky Study – This is a paid app (£5.49 in the UK at the time of writing this post) and is a flashcard app similar to Anki and Memrise. It’s considerably cheaper than the Anki iOS app and is a good budget option if you don’t want to spend that much on a single app.
Finally, I would like to say a big thank you to the Area Support Leaders and other JET Participants in Fukushima Prefecture for their textbook, website and studying recommendations! If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have been able to put this post together.
If you have any personal suggestions for good materials for studying Japan while you’re in Japan, please do let me know in the comments.