Jimi’s Book of Japanese by Takahashi & Toka

9 / 10
designed for children but useful to adults as well; colorful presentation of all the kana in two small, thin volumes; every character printed large with written strokes counted and stroke direction indicated; strong way to visualize the basic syllabaries of the written language; sample vocabulary words using each character; a cartoon monkey gives each character’s pronunciation; cultural information on each page gives some depth to the vocabulary words; vocab glossary, kana chart & numbers in appendix; low price

doesn’t offer the kind of intensive writing practice found in a good kana workbook; must buy two books to learn both hiragana & katakana

Jimi’s Book of Japanese: A Motivating Method to Learn Japanese comes in two small volumes, one for each of the syllable writing systems. The main thrust here is to teach you all the basic Japanese “letters” (syllables) in both hiragana (Jimi’s orange book) and katakana (Jimi’s blue book). Filled with colorful anime illustrations, sample vocabulary words for each character, and paragraphs of cultural information about Japan, this book aims for children, but is readily accessible to anyone starting to learn how to write Japanese. If you’re not yet familiar with the Japanese writing system, you can learn a bit more in my introduction to Japanese writing, pronunciation and grammar

The books’ format is straightforward and simple. On each page, you’ll see one hiragana or katakana symbols printed large in the a white bubble at the center of the page. Arrows and numbers show you how to write each stroke of the symbol. The symbol/character/”letter” is surrounded by 1) a cartoon monkey face showing how to pronounce the symbol, 2) an example word using that letter, with the character in question highlighted, and 3) a few vocabulary words using that same letter in the colored border areas, accompanied by small illustrations of the vocab words.

At the bottom of each page, you’ll also read a short paragraph relating the words you’re learning to Japanese culture. These simple notes span a variety of topics, from travel to language use to TV to getting around town. The cultural notes may distract some readers and prove too tedious for certain students, especially younger kids.

The books don’t depart from that colorful, animated pattern, which makes them ideal for a kind of “show-and-tell” of all the kana symbols. A few extras also appear in the back of the book, including a table summarizing all the kana characters learned, a list of numbers, and a brief vocabulary glossary.

Jimi’s Book of Japanese has a lot to love, and it’s a good small companion that can help you learn to visualize the Japanese kana by reading the symbols in the context of simple words, whatever your age. If you’re looking for a more practical writing manual with drills and exercises, I recommend checking out something like Let’s Learn Hiragana and Let’s Learn Katakana (as you can see, many courses divide katakana and hiragana into two books). You don’t have to forgo Jimi’s, but my recommendation is that you supplement this visual trip through the kana with the kind of real practice you’ll find in those other beginner books.

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