Our 10 best books for learning Japanese

In the 6 years of Japanese study we have bought many many books always looking for the one to rule them all. It became almost a weekly habit and an obsession, so after all that here is what we think are the best ones we would recommend to others starting the journey.

A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar

There’s a reason why this book is known as the “Yellow Book” or “The Bible” among Japan expats. It is probably the best Japanese learning resource I have ever come across. Clearly and thoroughly written with great example sentences. If you are at a more advanced level, check out the “Blue” and “Red” books by the same authors.

Kodansha’s Furigana Japanese Dictionary

Best Japanese-English dictionary out there. Lots of example sentences.

Pimsleur Japanese

Not strictly a book, but it’s a great audio course for starting out in Japanese. Gets a bit too corporate for my liking towards the end of the 3rd series, but you will remember and be able to use what you learn with Pimsleur.

Remembering the Kanji, Volume 1: A Complete Course on How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Japanese Characters

An invaluable book for mastering the kanji. Required reading for all serious learners of Japanese. I haven’t used books 2 or 3 much but some people seem to like those too.

Kanji Study Cards

Kanji study cards that accompany James Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji (above). It is definitely nice having all 2048 kanji with their readings in one set and it saves you the effort of making the cards/notes yourself. If you’re lazy like me it’s a no-brainer!

Kanji in Context

Wow..I guess I have a lot of kanji-related books! This book allows you to build a strong vocabulary after using Heisig’s book. Might be hard to get outside Japan, but I also recommend the accompanying workbook.

The Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary

Great kanji reference. Used this so much it brings back good memories of my first stint in Japan.

Remembering the Kana: A Guide to Reading and Writing the Japanese Syllabaries in 3 Hours Each

In this book James Heisig applies his mnemonics method to learning to read and write the Hiragana and Katakana. I found it helpful when I was starting out.

How to Sound Intelligent in Japanese: A Vocabulary Builder

This is a very useful Vocabulary Builder but more importantly, just owning it makes me feel smarter :)

Making Out in Japanese
Had a lot of fun with this book! Not a serious one but definitely had a lot of laughs with it.

So there you have it. There are probably more (I have spent $$$s on Japanese books over the years) but those are the books that stood out for me. Enjoy!

Update: We have since posted up some more helpful books for studying Japanese. Check them out here.

FF 5.0 Update

Man FF is annoying, they do a point release without adding any new features but still decide to have it break all the extensions. Anyways, the dictionary files are updated, but since mozilla is taking forever to allow the dictionary files to be added to their mozilla extension site allowing automatic update, you need to manually reinstall the dictionary files below to have Perapera work on FF5.0. The plugin itself should not need any kind of reinstall.

Japanese-English Dictionary

Chinese-English Dictionary

Chinese-German Dictionary

Firefox 4.0 Dictionary Files

***Update: Japanese dictionaries dont work now because the people who maintain those decided to change the dictionary format to a completely new format which requires rewritting the whole thing just to make it use this format, so for now only Chinese is functioning.

Just a reminder, but here are the links to the dictionary files needed for Firefox 4.0.

Chinese-English Dictionary
Chinese-German Dictionary

If you are having problems, try removing the add-on and reinstalling it from the Mozilla add-ons page:

Perapera-kun Add-on Page

Perapera-kun 2.1 Released

Here are the updates for 2.1:

  • Added a checkbox to change to an alternate flag for Chinese in the “Chinese” tab in the add-on’s options dialog
  • Added one click to toggle on/off if only 1 language is installed
  • Added toolbar icons (right click on the toolbar, click ‘customize’ and you can drag them from here to the toolbar)
  • Added a ‘Perapera-kun’ entry to the right-click popup menu, and to the ‘Tools’ menu
  • Fixed issue where all of the Chinese definition wasnt being displayed from the CC-CEDICT
  • Fixed issue where some incorrect meanings were displayed due to some Simplified hanzi having a different meaning in the Traditional character set
  • Tweaked the logo a little bit

I uploaded it to Mozilla today and it usually takes about 2 weeks before it will update everyones automatically so if you don’t want to wait until then, you can get it here:

http://downloads.mozdev.org/peraperakun/Peraperakun2.1.xpi

*Note: Since there were 2 versions existing before I unified Japanese and Chinese in 2.0, if you installed the Chinese version from the addons.mozilla.org site, installing from the above link will cause 2 versions to be installed at once. Simply remove the old one and all will be fine.

Perapera-kun 2.0 Now Live on Mozilla!

Mozilla has finally got around to approving the new version after sitting 2 weeks in the queue. So for those who haven’t yet, here is the link the pages on the mozilla add-ons site where you can download and install the latest version. Although the Japanese and Chinese versions have now become 1 plugin, I left them both up on separate pages so people who already had them installed would get the update automatically.

I have already been working on the next release, so look for that to appear in the box.net download section on this blog soon (alot sooner than the time between the last update, I promise!! hehe) Since it takes mozilla around 2 weeks to approve, you’ll have it that much sooner from here. Enjoy!

Perapera-kun 2.0:
https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/3343 or
https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/3349

How to install and use

http://perapera.wordpress.com/perapera-kun
http://perapera.wordpress.com/chinese/

Perapera-kun 2.0 Live

Well its finally released. Here is the new version of Perapera-kun for Firefox. Took a bit longer than I was hoping but I am now happy with what is released. I submitted it to Firefox but they always take forever to actually update it on their site so it is available here first for anyone who wants to try it out. You can find it in the download box in the left or find the direct links to the file at the end of this post. Here are the new features:

  • Wordlist Sidebar: Press ‘S’ while displaying an entry to save it to the wordlist. (Also is a “Grab Entries!” button, but more about that in a later post. Stay tuned.) You can add, delete, and export these entries to a file whenever you want.
  • Japanese and Chinese united: Now both Japanese and Chinese are handled in 1 plug-in by adding the dictionaries you want.
  • Korean support coming very soon! Currenty it will display the romanized pronunciation but I dont have a dictionary to use yet. Can anyone help?
  • StatusBar Icon: Now everything is easily controlled via the Perapera-kun status bar icon. Enable multiple languages with one click, options dialog, and more.
  • New Chinese-English Dictionary: I now use the open public CCEDICT to feed the entries for Chinese-English. This should fix alot of the inconsistencies the previous dictionary had.
  • Chinese-German Dictionary: Uses the HanDeDict open public dictionary for Chinese-German. Please only install 1 Chinese dictionary at a time.
  • Supports Japanese to English, French, German, and Russian dictionaries along with the Japanese Names dictionary compiled by polarcloud.com
  • Redeigned options dialog that is cleaner and easier to use.
  • New icon for the add-on

After you download the add-on you will need to install the dictionary add-on for the language you want to use.  For Japanese, visit polarcloud.com to install one of those dictionaries and for Chinese, download the English or German dictionary in my download box or in the links below. Thanks for using and I look forward to your feedback.

**LINKS UPDATED: The following links will now download from Mozilla.

Perapera-kun 2.0
Chinese-English Dictionary
Chinese-German Dictionary
Japanese Dictionaries at Polarcloud.com

Temporary Update

In the Box.net applet on the left I uploaded versions that will install and work on Firefox 3.5 but without any of the new features, so this is just a temporary fix until the real version is released.

Now In Japan

Well I survived the smoother than expected move to Japan and am now up and running with my internet and all is good. Just getting settled down today to start my sprint of working on some of my development work, of which Perapera-kun is at the top of the list. I got some emails from Mozilla about the 3.5 version of Firefox getting close to dropping so, if all goes as planned I will have the next version ready by the launch of 3.5 and there wont be any gap in releases.

Rolling the dice…

Well it’s official now. Found sometime to take over my apartment lease, cancelled all my utilities, put a deposit down on a  place in Tokyo, bought the ticket, and just put in my notice at work.  I’m moving back to Japan.

Has been a really conflicted last 3 weeks with lots of mixed feelings and philosophical discussions in my head, along with reading  ‘The Alchemist’ to help psyche me into making the leap. But I made the decision and am giving up a well paid job in the midst of economic depression to roll the dice on starting my own little dev group.

So #1 on my todo list is the redesign of Perakun with all the features I have always thought it should have had. So that will be my job for the next few weeks. I appreciate everyones feedback and donations as always and look forward to making even more useful and powerful language learning tools.