Genki: The Best Textbook?

We recommend the Genki textbook to our students at Shimaguni. Here, I will explain why I think it is a great resource for serious beginners.

I will also explain how and when we use Genki for our private and group lessons at Shimaguni.

What are the Genki books?

The Genki books form a course in Elementary Japanese. The 2 main textbooks are comprehensive. The 23 chapters in textbooks take you from being an Absolute Beginner, to being able to understand and produce complex expressions and vocabulary.

The textbooks are made for classroom study, but many exercises can be done independently at home. The detailed grammar explanations provide a wordy but excellent resource. A separate workbook can also be purchased for home study.

With the books, you can practice listening, reading, writing and speaking skills as well as learning a huge amount of important beginner vocabulary. Please note the audio files need to be played on a computer or an MP3 player, not a CD player (there are also online sites for listening to the audio).

What do the books cover?

The bulky textbooks cover a lot of material, although the layout can be a little confusing at first. Basically, the dialogues and exercises in the main part of the book are for working on speaking and listening skills. The lessons at the back are for studying reading and writing.  

In the Genki 1 book for example, you can learn 130 Chinese Characters as well as the hiragana and katakana scripts. Along with the grammar introduced in the 12 chapters of the book, this would take students roughly to a level ready to take the N5 exam of the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test).

While the content of Genki is primarily aimed at use in University courses, it is also useful for adults learning “at a school or on their own”. The Genki textbooks have been around since 1999, and they are now in their 3rd edition.

Genki is the closest to a bible of Japanese study. It gets picked apart mainly because it is so popular. This popularity can benefit the learner. If you have a question from Genki, you can almost guarantee someone online has asked the same question before.

Compared to other textbooks, Genki is expensive, especially if you buy the workbook as well. The advantage of Genki over other textbooks is its size; you can learn more, and learn it more efficiently following a proven format.

The vocabulary of Genki

The vocabulary is the heart of any textbook. Genki systematically introduces a lot of language you can rely on. Basically if it is in the book, it is common in conversation. This is really important for the learner.

Common means important – worth learning. If a word is not common, you are much more likely to forget it because you won’t come across it so often.

When I began learning Japanese, I spent far too long learning low frequency words, words only ever used in a specific context. I kept trying to learn advanced vocabulary before I knew the beginner alternative. I was trying to make cranberry sauce before I could boil a potato.

If I had started my Japanese study with a book like Genki, I would have saved myself a lot of time and trouble.

The style of Genki

A common criticism of Genki is the dialogues in Genki do not sound very natural. Some of the expressions do sound a little stiff and unlike how natives speak. I do not necessarily think this is a bad thing though.

Natives acquire language as a child over years of exposure, not by a few months looking at a textbook. The acquisition of a language as a child cannot be imitated in a textbook.

Even if it could, I am not convinced it is always desirable to sound exactly like a native when still a beginner.

The textbook is a tool to help students understand how native speech works, and to learn how to clearly communicate with native speakers. The book teachers common vocabulary and grammar patterns, not high level, native speech.

But, what if you really do want to sound like a native?

Well firstly, you have to consider what kind of native do you want to sound like? In Japan, what language you use can vary enormously depending on your age, your background and your profession.

The difference between formal and informal speech in Japan is much bigger than in English. Understanding both formal and informal speech is crucial for getting by in Japan.

Of course, as an earnest beginner you will always be forgiven for using formal or informal language inappropriately at times. That is one reason why being seen as a beginner rather than as a native can be a major advantage.    

Fortunately, the Genki textbook does cover different social situations, from the ultra-polite keigo form of speech to informal chatter with friends. Using the book for focused study of these forms can help you begin to understand native interactions.

Genki at Shimaguni

Our private classes use Genki if the student has purchased a copy and wishes to use it for study in lessons. In consultation with the student, we can also provide alternative study material for use in class instead.

We do not require our students to buy the Genki book for group lessons. We produce our own material for group classes that does not refer directly to the textbook. Our material does introduce the same grammar points as the Genki textbook, so a copy of Genki can be a very useful reference for pre and post class study.

Please feel free to leave any comments below. You can also email me (Tom) with any questions at

6 Tips for Learning Japanese

Make Japanese a habit Fit Japanese learning into your daily routine. Flick through flashcards while eating your cornflakes, read the language section of the Japan Times after your cornflakes, download Japanese learning apps for your phone for the morning commute, meet Japanese people and people interested in Japan at the pub (by joining Brighton Japan Club), watch Japanese programs on Netflix before bed.

I should clarify you do not need to eat cornflakes to learn Japanese.

Start small The temptation is to start with translating sentences but it’s more motivating and effective to start by building vocabulary. Nouns are a good place to start. Make a flashcard set on your phone (KEITAI) or on paper (KAMI) for everyday vocabulary.

We naturally learn like this. My 18 month year old nephew has begun learning how to identify things he sees. He has already learnt duck (KAMO), this (KORE) and car (KURUMA). Can you catch him up?

  • I should make clear my nephew is not actually learning Japanese at the moment, despite my best efforts to enroll him in our classes.

Use the best study material It sounds simple, but good learning resources can make so much difference, and some of them don’t cost a penny. For example the free MEMORY HINT app for learning HIRAGANA and KATAKANA gets excellent reviews from our Shimaguni students. If you prefer a book, Learning Japanese Hiragana and Katakana for Self Study is also very good. IMI WA is an excellent free Japanese-English dictionary app.

Learn the culture Part of learning Japanese is learning about Japanese culture. You can’t do one without the other. Think how have we all learnt the Japanese words all English speakers already know such as sushi, sake, sumo and karaoke (pronounced kah-rah-oh-kay in Japanese).  We see something unusual and we naturally want to know what it’s called: “here’s a duck, there’s a duck, everywhere’s a duck, duck”.

  • I should say my nephew currently identifies all living creatures (including uncles) as ducks. And who am I to correct him.

Speak Japanese I must admit I am quite mad. I talk to myself on a regular basis. I realised a while ago it was the only way to get regular Japanese speaking practice at a pace I was comfortable with.

You can’t assume just because you really want to speak Japanese, there are people crowds of people who are happy to patiently listen. And we do need to practice making the sounds. A vocal workout is genuine exercise.

So start singing along to Japanese pop songs, read aloud from Japanese textbooks and flashcards sets, even try to start thinking aloud in Japanese.

Just don’t do it in the queue at Co-Op. God, that was embarrassing.  

Join a class (group or private – ideally both) Classes provide structure, motivation and confidence. The structure helps you see how much you are improving. The motivation comes from being with other similar level students and from the constructive feedback provided by the teachers. The confidence comes from gaining real experience communicating in Japanese with other students and the teacher.    

If you would like to know about the private Japanese classes at our Brighton school, or our new group class schedule for July 2019 please email

Please let me know if you have any comments about this post.

病気!A week in a Japanese hospital

Last week I was leading a 10 day walking tour along Shikoku’s famous 88 Temple Pilgrimage Circuit. On a seaside walk, on the way to the remote Muroto Peninsula, we stopped at a cliff top rest-house for a bento lunch. Mine was sushi, bought from the roadside Michi No Eki.

A few hours later I started getting strong stomach pains. It must have been some dodgy sushi I thought, and I tried to carry on with the tour. I was wrong. It wasn’t the sushi that was the problem. 48 hours later an ambulance was racing me across the island for an emergency appendix removal.

Now a week later, I am still in Tokushima Hospital, but a few kilos and an appendix lighter.  Looking back, the 1 hour ambulance ride sirens blazing, the rushed phone-calls to colleagues and all the doctors and nurses crowding around my trolley, all seem like they happened to someone else. Perhaps in some senses they did. The events were certainly enough to make me reassess a few things, and the moments of morphine-induced semi-enlightenment quite suitable for a Buddhist-themed tour.

I was very lucky. The doctors were incredibly professional and efficient. The nurses have also been both attentive and sensitive, constantly asking me いける. This question confused me at first as they seemed to be asking if I was able to go somewhere. At that point I was still attached to a drip, had a white tube up my nose and a yellow tube sticking out of my stomach. Surely they didn’t want me to leave already? Were the beds filling up? But they were actually just asking if I was alright. In this case, いける is KANSAI-BEN (the KANSAI region dialect) and means 大丈夫「だいじょうぶ」 (OK/alright).

The view from my bed on the 9th floor of Tokushima Hospital

On the way to an X-ray, a chatty nurse told me the hospital was built by an architect who used to design hotels. This made sense. At times it has even felt like a Japanese ryokan (traditional inn). I can lounge around all day in a turquoise yukata logged onto my portable Wi-fi with on call staff at a push of a button.  Food and drinks gets served to our rooms (beds). We even get checked on at night, an indescribable thrill I haven’t experienced in over 30 years.

And like a ryokan stay, the option to roll into bed anytime is irresistibly tempting, and utterly guilt free. じゃ、ちょっとよこになるね。(Right, I’m just going to lie down for a bit)

7 Academic and Career related Reasons for Studying Japanese

Have you ever considered learning Japanese? I know its crossed my mind a few times. For me I love meeting new people and making friends from different cultures. The Japanese culture is certainly one I’ve grown to respect and love over many years since I was a child. If I could recommend learning a language Japanese is certainly a language worth learning.

Last time I wrote about 7 Fun Reasons, if you have not read it take a look.


This time I’ll be looking at the top Academic and career related Reasons for Studying Japanese.

1.  It can help you academically in School

Studies have shown that children who learn a complex foreign language, especially at a young age, are better off in terms of development and learning other school subjects.  When you are younger it is easier to learn a foreign language so its best to start of early.

2.  Make new friends in Class

Studying languages at a school like Shimaguni allows you to make a new set of friends outside of school that have the same interest at you. This will make your more likely to continue to study and older students often meet up outside of class and also join the Brighton Japan Cub for Meetups.

3. Strengthen Your Job or University Application

Most UK students learn Spanish, French or German.  But having Japanese on a Job Application or University application can get you some important extra attention and make you stand out from the norm. It shows you are committed and Serious to studying something extra outside of work and school.

4.  Because Japan is Important

Japan is the third largest economy in the world and nowadays, every career involves an international aspect, and every international career involves Japan in some way especially if your working in the technology sector. Being fluent in Japanese and English is a very powerful combination and goes a long way to enhancing your career opportunities.

5.   Improve understanding

Whatever your background, learning Japanese will make you a better person.  It helps to open your eyes to the larger world around us makes us and help to make you a more tolerant and thoughtful person.  You will forever perceive the world in a different, more positive way.

6.   Learning Japanese opens the door to other Languages

While the cultures and languages different in many ways. They do share some similarities when it comes to languages. Learning one of their languages makes learning one of the others a lot easier because of similar grammar structure, politeness rules, and borrow vocabulary. It helps you to improve

7.   It could help you study abroad

Japanese schools have high standards of learning at all levels of education. If you’re interested in studying abroad, Japan is a good place to go.

However studying in a different country is very different and you should ensure that you know the local language very well

There are three Japanese “alphabets” (hiragana, katakana and kanji) that you should familarise yourself with.

As you can see, the reasons behind choosing to learn Japanese are varied. However, it can be a rewarding experience If your interested in learning more about the language, why not contact Shimaguni Language School for more information on lessons if your in the Brighton area of the UK or even around Sussex. If your looking for friends and to learn more about Japanese culture. Why not join us at the Brighton Japan Club.

7 Fun reasons to study Japanese

Have you ever considered learning Japanese? I know it’s crossed my mind a few times. For me I love meeting new people and making friends from different cultures. The Japanese culture is certainly one I’ve grown to respect and love over many years since I was a child. If I could recommend learning a language Japanese is certainly a language worth learning.


Why you may ask? Well let me take you through my top 7 Fun reasons for studying Japanese.

1. Visiting Japan

One day you may want to visit Japan, if you are into Anime, the culture or the food its definitely worth picking up a little of the local language before you visit the place. Its worth learning some key phrases to help you out. Many people do tend to like to self teach themselves or learn online but I think that sometimes you cant beat having a real teacher.

2. You’re a Video Gamer, Anime Fan or Manga reader

I fall in all three in this category. I find that more and more there are new Japanese games coming out, or really good animes and Manga. Unless you want to spend months or even years waiting for it to get translated its better to learn the language so you can read listen and watch things as they are meant to be without questionable dubbing or translations. Also you tend to find that the translated or Dubbed versions are vastly different from how the video game, anime or manga was. A good example would be Yu-gi-oh, it was very different from what we got here.

3. You’re an internet User

This is kind of associated my previous point but quite often if you look something up on the internet, especially if your visiting somewhere the website may appear in another language first. Quite often with Japanese websites your browser wont default to English (if that’s an option). So its really useful. Some friends of mind when in Japan used Naver for directions, restaurant reviews, maps and blogs so it maybe useful for you to know to help you get round and organise your trip if you like to explore outside of package holidays.

4. Restaurant and Bars

Quite often you may find that the Japanese Bar/Restaurant  you visit is actually Japanese owned. This would be a perfect opportunity to converse and order your meal and drink in Japanese. It also helps when your travelling overseas in Japan and want to eat and drink.

5. J-Pop

Ok, if you are like me, you probably sing the intro of your favourite Anime (Dragon Ball Z anyone). Well in recent years, J-Pop has exploded as a cultural phenomenon worldwide thanks to video games and characters like Hatsune Miku a Vocaloid

Baby Metal bands are popping up everywhere, Kawaii culture is popular so it’s a good idea to learn Japanese to understand the music.

6. Japanese friends or family

The world is getting smaller and smaller, you might find your relative is married to someone from Japan, or you might make Japanese friends online or a club like Brighton Japan Club.

This would be a good opportunity to learn Japanese you can practice and improve and also impress your Japanese friend and show them how dedicated you are to the friendship and how much you want to understand them better.

7. Japanese Culture is cool

Japan is an incredible country and full of rich culture and history. They have summer festivals with a cultural meaning, the Tanabata festival, the art, the fashion and everything else. Sure it’s a big reason and pretty broad but if you want to understand more about the culture and travel there the best way to start is through learning about the language and through that the history.

Hopefully you liked my top 7 Fun reasons to study Japanese. Next time Ill take a look at reasons why you should study Japanese in a academic and job related context.

If your interested in learning more about the language, why not contact Shimaguni Language School for more information on lessons if your in the Brighton area of the UK or even around Sussex. If your looking for friends and to learn more about Japanese culture. Why not join us at the Brighton Japan Club.