• 10 Best Books to Learn Japanese in the UK 2021- Reviewed by Japanese Language Teacher 1
  • 10 Best Books to Learn Japanese in the UK 2021- Reviewed by Japanese Language Teacher 2
  • 10 Best Books to Learn Japanese in the UK 2021- Reviewed by Japanese Language Teacher 3
  • 10 Best Books to Learn Japanese in the UK 2021- Reviewed by Japanese Language Teacher 4
  • 10 Best Books to Learn Japanese in the UK 2021- Reviewed by Japanese Language Teacher 5

10 Best Books to Learn Japanese in the UK 2021- Reviewed by Japanese Language Teacher

Konnichiwa! (Hello!) Whether your goal is to watch anime without subtitles, speak to locals, or you're just fascinated by Japanese culture, it's always fun to learn a language you're passionate about. With Japanese being one of the most popular foreign languages to learn, there are countless materials available for all levels, from beginner to intermediate and beyond. 


You may have already scoured the bookshops for the right kanji workbook or grammar title, only to find yourself overwhelmed with choice. Fear not, because in this article we'll share both a buying guide and our 10 top titles, including BBC's Talk Japanese and Japanese from Zero!, all of which you can buy from Amazon and eBay.

This post's specialists

Emi Tamai
  • Last updated: 22-11-2021
  • 875 views
Table of Contents

With Specialist Consultation From Japanese Language Teacher Emi Tamai

With Specialist Consultation From Japanese Language Teacher Emi Tamai

Emi Tamai is a renowned Japanese Language teacher and tutor from Fukuoka, Japan. Currently based in Greater Manchester, she has a background in teaching GCSE to A2 Japanese at colleges as well as advanced courses online. Emi is PGCE qualified.


If you are interested in working with Emi either to start your learning in Japanese or looking for someone to check your intermediate or advanced Japanese, you can contact her via Emi's mybest UK creator profile here.

An Introduction to the Japanese Language

An Introduction to the Japanese Language

Did you know that the Japanese language uses a combination of 3 different writing systems? They are hiragana ひらがな, katakana カタカナ and kanji 漢字 (Chinese characters). Both hiragana and katakana use 'syllabograms', which means each symbol represents a different syllable

Hiragana is the most commonly used, as it presents grammatical particles and 'Japanese' words, whereas katakana is used to indicate words that have originated from foreign countries (loan words).


Kanji are Chinese characters, whereby each has a definition and a Japanese pronunciation. There are as many as 2000 kanji that are commonly used within Japanese society, so it's actually rather important for you to learn them! 

How to Choose a Book to Learn Japanese in the UK - Buying Guide

It can be both exciting and scary when learning a new language, and you wouldn't want fear to overtake your determination of learning Japanese. Here are some guidelines for choosing the perfect book to make sure you're all ready to go on this exciting journey!

Always Choose a Book That's Suitable for Your Level

Always Choose a Book That's Suitable for Your Level

The first step is to identify your level of understanding of the language. If you're an absolute beginner, you can basically choose any beginners book and it will teach you the basics from the very start.


For those who have some experience, or even regularly watch anime in Japanese but have never learnt the language properly, you might want to go for advanced beginner books. This way, you won't waste time relearning the basics – instead, you'll build on your knowledge and progress as fast as a rocket.


If you have a decent level of understanding, speaking, or even reading Japanese, you might want to challenge yourself with intermediate level books. That way, you can make sure you're learning newly-introduced language skills all the way. 

Emi Tamai
Japanese Language Specialist
Emi Tamai

Over the twenty years that I have taught Japanese here in the UK, the most common question I have been asked is 'is Japanese difficult?' My answer to that? Japanese is different but not difficult. People always laugh about my response. They must think that it is not difficult for me as I am a native speaker. 


I would like to encourage anyone who is interested in learning Japanese to try it because Japanese grammar is much simpler than the English language in the beginning. For example, there are no articles, singular, or plural verb endings that don’t reflect on the subject of the sentences. Therefore, you can overcome memorising alphabets, it can be very fun to learn Japanese!

Think About Which Aspect of the Language You Want to Focus On

Everyone has different goals when learning, and in this case, you might want to buy a book that focuses on a certain aspect of Japanese or Japan. Below are the main options available to you, and don't forget, you can always go for multiple books to hone each and every skill! 

Choose the Type of Book Based on Your Goals

Choose the Type of Book Based on Your Goals

Though there are many books that combine several different focuses, for those wanting to build a general foundation of the language, it's generally recommended that you pick books that have a good proportion of grammar and vocabulary content.


Similarly, go for a Japanese conversation book if your aim is to communicate with the locals while travelling in Japan, whether just for a holiday or for longer-term stays. 


Meanwhile, opting for a story or vocabulary book (or both, for that matter) will be an invaluable resource if you want to strengthen your understanding of the language and expand your vocabulary beyond the basics.

Emi Tamai
Japanese Language Specialist
Emi Tamai

If you are very much interested in the language or you would like to learn Japanese properly, you must learn two types of alphabets: Hiragana and Katakana. Both alphabets consist of 46 letters each. You may feel that it is a tedious process, but it will help you to understand better, faster, and help you to progress to an intermediate level. 


There are textbooks for beginners where you can learn Hiragana and Katanaka gradually. If you would like to know ‘survival Japanese’ for your holiday, you can manage just memorising useful phrases. Usually, this type of textbook uses Roman letters that use the English alphabet for pronunciation. You can easily increase your vocabulary from your personal interests, too. 


You may not realise it, but there are so many Japanese words adopted into English nowadays. As a few examples how about: karaoke, tsunami, bonsai, koi, teriyaki, katsu, sushi, emoji, futon, umami, and tofu! Why don’t you start from here?

Get a Kanji Exercise Book if You Require Guidance

Get a Kanji Exercise Book if You Require Guidance

It's probably universally agreed that kanji is the most difficult aspect of the Japanese language to learn, as it's not something you can simply remember through spelling, but more by learning every single kanji by heart


To effectively learn to write kanji, especially for beginners, it's best to purchase kanji exercise books. These books specifically teach you the general rules of writing, and the correct order of writing them. 


Plus, you'll have loads of opportunity to practise writing kanji with these books, while being guided by the carefully-demonstrated examples provided. Once you feel confident enough, you won't have to rely on these exercise books, as you'll soon be learning new kanji by yourself!

Emi Tamai
Japanese Language Specialist
Emi Tamai

If you have artistic eyes, you might find Kanji fascinating. Kanji are logographic characters that came from China and each Kanji has its own meaning. Once you have learnt the basic shapes of Kanji, you will start making better sense of other Kanji. 


Perhaps the easiest Kanji to start learning are numbers: 一 one, 二 two, and 三 three. Learning Kanji has nothing to do with learning Japanese grammar, therefore, you can start learning Kanji without knowing the language.

Consider Which Features Will Help You Learn to the Best of Your Abilities

Some of the inclusions below are specific to Japanese learning titles, whilst others are more general, but either way, you'll need to ensure you have the resources you need to succeed. And remember, there isn't a right or wrong way to learn a language, as long as it's the best way for you to achieve your specific goals!

Choose Books Using Furigana to Learn the Pronunciation of Kanji

Choose Books Using Furigana to Learn the Pronunciation of Kanji

What is furigana, you might ask, and is it important? Well, essentially, furigana are small hiragana (or sometimes katakana) that are printed above the kanji to indicate the pronunciation


This can be incredibly useful as a Japanese learner – even if you forget the kanji, as long as you remember the pronunciation, you'll be fine writing and speaking Japanese.

Most books aimed towards beginners include the use of furigana, but some might have romanisation instead. While it has almost no effect on learning the kanji and pronunciation, some people do actually refer to furigana for a better flow of learning, so you may want to check for this.

Emi Tamai
Japanese Language Specialist
Emi Tamai

You may not believe this, but learning Kanji is challenging to native Japanese speakers. We start learning Kanji from year 1 at the age of 6 and complete them by year 3 of junior high school at the age of 16. During this time, we do also rely on furigana with most school textbooks consisting of furigana, as students are still learning Joyo Kanji. 


There were 2136 characters issued in 2010 by the Japanese Ministry of Education. Even when you finish your education, if there are non-Joyo Kanji in newspapers or any documents published, there is usually furigana to provide support for uncommon Kanji vocabulary.

Books With Exercises Will Help You Retain What You've Learnt

Books With Exercises Will Help You Retain What You've Learnt

If you don't want to waste all the effort you've made to learn the various aspects of Japanese, you might want to consider buying a book with plenty of writing exercises


This not only gives you an extra opportunity to write the characters, but it also tests out your knowledge for each chapter, making sure you are keeping up as it progresses. 


Repetition is one of the key factors to learning a language properly, so the more exercises you complete, the more comfortable you'll be speaking the language. Then you won't be too shy to use it in real life situations!

Emi Tamai
Japanese Language Specialist
Emi Tamai

There are different types of learning styles; visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinaesthetic. It is important and useful to know your learning style. However, a lot of people would benefit from learning Kanji from writing. 


The more you write, the easier it gets. I always recommend making Kanji flash cards to my students by hand. There is so much information you have to learn from even one Kanji such as the shape, stroke order and various ways of reading them. Writing them all down by yourself is a valuable exercise to learn Kanji, in my opinion.

For Motivation, Go For Books With Visual Aids or Audio Materials

For Motivation, Go For Books With Visual Aids or Audio Materials

Visual aids and audio materials are especially important for those who have just started learning Japanese, as they can stimulate and motivate you to continue challenging yourself.


Colourful or even simple illustrations make the learning process less formal and more entertaining, which can help you to be inspired by, and most importantly, to enjoy the journey of learning a language.

For those without much experience of watching anime, you might want to look for included audio materials, which give you the opportunity to listen to and learn Japanese pronunciations. It'll help you speak the language like a native as you go!

Emi Tamai
Japanese Language Specialist
Emi Tamai

For visual learners and auditory learners, it is definitely beneficial to seek visual aids or audio materials. If you are not exposed to Japanese speakers in your day to day, it is essential to listen to Japanese from the start of your learning journey


At first, you may think Japanese people speak fast, but that is not the case. I myself used to watch tv programmes from Britain or the USA to improve my listening skills in English and I remember thinking how fast native English speakers spoke. It was impossible for me to understand them. However, that is not the case, as you know being a native English speaker. 


My advice to anyone who wants to learn Japanese is to keep on trying. There are many different types of books and textbooks out. Resilience is the key to improve any language skills. You can try as many as books and styles as you need to. In the end, the energy you put into your study will pay off. Ganbatte kudasai! (Do your best!)

Top 10 Best Books to Learn Japanese in the UK

By now, you're probably excited to get started learning Japanese, and can't wait to see which books we'll recommend. Here we go, our top 10 titles, at least one of which we think will help you to reach your goal of learning Japanese like a pro! 

10

Lynne Strugnell, Yukiko IsonoTalk Japanese: The Ideal Japanese Course for Absolute Beginners

£12.75

LevelComplete beginner
Learning FocusConversation
Teaches Writing KanjiNo
Furigana IncludedNo
Exercises IncludedNo
Audio MaterialsCD Included
Visual AidsNo
9

Aurora CacciapuotiLet's Learn Japanese: First Words for Everyone

£6.99

LevelComplete beginner/beginner
Learning FocusKanji, vocabulary
Teaches Writing KanjiNo
Furigana IncludedYes
Exercises IncludedNo
Audio MaterialsNo
Visual AidsColourful illustrations
8

Lingo Mastery2000 Most Common Japanese Words in Context

£10.76

LevelAdvanced beginner - intermediate
Learning FocusVocabulary
Teaches Writing KanjiNo
Furigana IncludedYes
Exercises IncludedNo
Audio MaterialsNo
Visual AidsNo
7

Yohohama English Japanese Language and Teacher Club50 Japanese Short Stories for Beginners

£19.99

LevelAdvanced beginner - intermediate
Learning FocusReading, vocabulary
Teaches Writing KanjiNo
Furigana IncludedYes
Exercises IncludedNo
Audio MaterialsNo
Visual AidsNo
6

Shin-Ichiro OkajimaJapanese Tutor: Grammar and Vocabulary Workbook

£17.24

LevelAdvanced beginner - intermediate
Learning FocusGrammar, vocabulary
Teaches Writing KanjiNo
Furigana IncludedYes
Exercises IncludedYes
Audio MaterialsNo
Visual AidsNo
5

Wolfgang Hadamitzky, Mark SpahnJapanese Kanji and Kana Workbook

£11.95

LevelComplete beginner - intermediate
Learning FocusKanji
Teaches Writing KanjiYes
Furigana IncludedNo, but accompanied by romanisation
Exercises IncludedYes
Audio MaterialsNo
Visual AidsNo
4

Languages WorldLearn Japanese: 2 Manuscripts

£20.68

LevelComplete beginner - beginner
Learning FocusGrammar, vocabulary
Teaches Writing KanjiNo
Furigana IncludedYes
Exercises IncludedYes
Audio MaterialsNo
Visual AidsNo
3

Eriko SatoLearning Japanese Kanji Practice Book, Volume 2

£8.64

LevelBeginner
Learning FocusKanji, vocabulary
Teaches Writing KanjiYes
Furigana IncludedYes
Exercises IncludedYes
Audio MaterialsNo
Visual AidsNo
2

Anne McNulty et alJapanese Stories for Language Learners: Bilingual Stories in Japanese and English

£10.89

LevelAdvanced beginner - intermediate
Learning FocusReading, vocabulary
Teaches Writing KanjiNo
Furigana IncludedYes, but only for newly-appearing kanji
Exercises IncludedYes
Audio MaterialsYes, CD included
Visual AidsYes, limited
1

George Trombley, Yukari TakenakaJapanese from Zero! Book 1

£19.99

LevelComplete beginner
Learning FocusGrammar, vocabulary
Teaches Writing KanjiNo
Furigana IncludedNo (no kanji used)
Exercises IncludedYes
Audio MaterialsYes, linked YouTube channel
Visual AidsYes

Compare the Best Books to Learn Japanese

Image
1
George Trombley, Yukari Takenaka Japanese from Zero! Book 1 1

George Trombley, Yukari Takenaka

2
Anne McNulty et al Japanese Stories for Language Learners: Bilingual Stories in Japanese and English 1

Anne McNulty et al

3
Eriko Sato Learning Japanese Kanji Practice Book, Volume 2 1

Eriko Sato

4
Languages World Learn Japanese: 2 Manuscripts 1

Languages World

5
Wolfgang Hadamitzky, Mark Spahn Japanese Kanji and Kana Workbook 1

Wolfgang Hadamitzky, Mark Spahn

6
Shin-Ichiro Okajima Japanese Tutor: Grammar and Vocabulary Workbook 1

Shin-Ichiro Okajima

7
Yohohama English Japanese Language and Teacher Club 50 Japanese Short Stories for Beginners 1

Yohohama English Japanese Language and Teacher Club

8
Lingo Mastery 2000 Most Common Japanese Words in Context 1

Lingo Mastery

9
Aurora Cacciapuoti Let's Learn Japanese: First Words for Everyone 1

Aurora Cacciapuoti

10
Lynne Strugnell, Yukiko Isono Talk Japanese: The Ideal Japanese Course for Absolute Beginners 1

Lynne Strugnell, Yukiko Isono

Name

Japanese from Zero! Book 1

Japanese Stories for Language Learners: Bilingual Stories in Japanese and English

Learning Japanese Kanji Practice Book, Volume 2

Learn Japanese: 2 Manuscripts

Japanese Kanji and Kana Workbook

Japanese Tutor: Grammar and Vocabulary Workbook

50 Japanese Short Stories for Beginners

2000 Most Common Japanese Words in Context

Let's Learn Japanese: First Words for Everyone

Talk Japanese: The Ideal Japanese Course for Absolute Beginners

Features

The Perfect Book to Begin Your Japanese Journey

Reading With Famous Modern Japanese Writers

Writing Kanji Stroke By Stroke

Informative, Yet as Concise as a Memo

A Book With a Total of 617 Kanjis

Beginner to Intermediate Level - All in One Book

Challenge Yourself by Reading Fun Stories Written in Japanese

Finish This Book, and You'll Understand Most Japanese Content

Learn Japanese Vocabulary With Your Inner Child

The Quickest Way to Learn to Speak Japanese

Price£19.99£10.89£8.64£20.68£11.95£17.24£19.99£10.76£6.99£12.75
LevelComplete beginnerAdvanced beginner - intermediateBeginnerComplete beginner - beginnerComplete beginner - intermediateAdvanced beginner - intermediate Advanced beginner - intermediateAdvanced beginner - intermediateComplete beginner/beginnerComplete beginner
Learning FocusGrammar, vocabularyReading, vocabularyKanji, vocabularyGrammar, vocabularyKanjiGrammar, vocabularyReading, vocabularyVocabularyKanji, vocabularyConversation
Teaches Writing KanjiNoNoYesNoYesNoNoNoNoNo
Furigana IncludedNo (no kanji used)Yes, but only for newly-appearing kanjiYesYesNo, but accompanied by romanisationYesYesYesYesNo
Exercises IncludedYesYesYesYesYesYesNoNoNoNo
Audio MaterialsYes, linked YouTube channelYes, CD includedNoNoNoNoNoNoNoCD Included
Visual AidsYesYes, limitedNoNoNoNoNoNoColourful illustrationsNo
Link

Looking for Some Stationary Products to Help You Learn?

Looking for Some Stationary Products to Help You Learn?

With your books sorted, we thought these stationary-related products would help you on your journey to mastering the Japanese language! Whether you want to draw cute illustrations with colour pens for visual stimulation, or practice writing kanji with mechanical pens, we've got you covered.

Summary

You'll know all the effort was worth it the moment you realise you understand some Japanese through conversations with locals or watching anime. Let this sense of achievement and your passion be your motivation for learning Japanese! We'd love to see you succeed too!

Author: Angina Chow

Buying Guide Reviewed by Emi Tamai

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  • Top 10 Best LGBTQ Graphic Novels in the UK 2021
    Top 10 Best LGBTQ Graphic Novels in the UK 2021
    Comic books, manga and graphic novels combine storytelling and art in creative and compelling ways. That's why they're the perfect medium for portraying the diverse array of voices, loves and lives from within the LGBTQ+ community. If you've been searching the web for recommendations, you've come to the right place. In this article, we rank the top 10 best LGBTQ+ graphic novels, from award-winning titles to indie favourites and a few hidden gems too. All of our picks are available to buy in the UK on Amazon and eBay, so once you're done with this guide, you can get reading right away!
    Books, CDs, DVDs
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