If you’re an expat who didn’t major in Japanese during your college days and you’re starting to learn Japanese from scratch here in Japan, it can be daunting to say the least. You’re not alone. Actually, you would be exactly like me when I came. Heck, that's why I decided to do a genki textbook review in the first place.
I didn’t really start studying Japanese until I was several months into the first year of my stay. I had a pretty comfortable, English-teaching position at a nearby 英会話 (eikaiwa – English conversation school). I had a pleasant routine going.
1. Wake up
2. Lift weights or run
4. Eat breakfast
5. Pack myself a lunch
6. Teach English/Speak English
7. Go home
A major problem with the eikaiwa system and arguably one of my biggest reasons for walking away from it was that I seldom had the chance to use Japanese. I felt like I was being coddled a bit. There’s nothing wrong with being coddled (I was quite fond of it as an infant) as the hand-holding can be a great safety net when you first get here.
That’s all blueberries and cream until you actually have to communicate for yourself, in Japanese, away from the shelter of your eikaiwa bubble. What do you do when there’s no staff member to speak for you? Walk away? With this being Japan and all, I figured the time would come to have speak for myself or process Japanese information for myself.
Before I knew about GoRemit (formerly GoLloyd’s) or Seven Bank’s international remittance services, one of the biggest challenges came had to send money home for the first time.
My first couple of transfers were manual. I remember going to the post office and trying it once on my own because I didn’t want keep asking Japanese teachers to go with me every month. Luckily I was able to get money transferred, but it was tough! Doing the charades for “I need to send money home” or “What’s the remittance fee?” is enough to make any Japan Post Office clerk slowly back away from you as if you had a mild case of leprosy. Not to mention I felt really stupid and semi-embarrassed for not know enough Japanese to say what I wanted to say.
I had other reasons for wanting to learn Japanese, too:
There were times when I would get lost on the train or on the street (no iphone at the time) and having trouble even getting basic directions. Or there were other times when another foreign colleague would act like a pompous prick (sorry, it’s true) because they knew more Japanese than me.
I got tired of feeling stupid to be quite frank. I felt like there was so much more happening in my brain than I could say in Japanese. It is one of the most debilitating feelings you can possibly have…
ENTER THE GENKI JAPANESE TEXTBOOK
*When I started on my Japanese journey, I chose this textbook after doing a bit of research. Back in 2008, it was a pleasant surprise to know that several American universities were using the very same book to teach their introductory, Japanese 101 courses. when I saw the book in my local, Japanese bookstore, in plain English, I had to buy it.
A Genki Textbook Review | Level: Beginners
Genki was the first textbook I ever used and it literally took me from knowing almost nothing to being functional.
There are very few textbooks that are and clear and as intuitive as the Genki I textbook.
This is, without a doubt, one of the clearest, easiest-to-understand presentations of elementary Japanese that I've ever seen.
Is Genki One Effective?
Genki is crazy effective at helping you learn polite, 丁寧な日本語 (what I like to term "ます"-style) Japanese.
While this isn't a bad thing, knowing casual Japanese is important, because that's how native speakers on TV, and the natives all around you (if you live in Japan) will speak.
Genki is a great value for a one-off price.
You do have to tack on a little bit for the work book (which I think is ABSOLUTELY necessary should you study with this series).
It falls slightly higher on the price range as far as texbooks go.
But you pay once and benefit many times over.
Not a recurring fee like say, a Japanesepod101
This is the ultimate weakness for one of the ultimate Japanese textbooks.
If you're studying on your own, even when you buy the teacher's manual and have the answers (which I did), you ARE still gonna have questions...
In a classroom that's using Genki, it's no problem because you have a teacher to go to for explanations.
It kinda feels like you're out of luck if you're a Genki self-studier
Please note that this post does contain affiliate links, and I do get commission when you purchase from links on this page.
Even though I am a proud Genki One owner and user, Genki gets no special treatment here...time to pick it apart.
WHAT IS GENKI ONE?
Genki One: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese is a beginner's Japanese textbook from the Japan Times authored by Eri Banno, Yutaka Ohno, Yoko Sakane, and Chikako Shinagawa.
This textbook covers everything from greetings to counters to time, from health to shopping to seasons, and more.
In addition to the textbook, Genki has a supplementary workbook (sold separately) that helps students to drill, reinforce, and cement the concepts they learn in the Genki One Text.
SEVEN REASONS GENKI ONE IS PERFECT FOR BEGINNERS
What makes Genki I such a popular textbook? I could probably create a list a mile-long, but instead let's talk about seven reasons this Japanese Textbook is arguably the best in its class:
- 1. Genki is a Non-Intimidating Intro To Japanese
- 2. Predictable Lesson Structure
- 3. The Yomikakihen Section
- 4. The Genki Workbook
- 5. The CD
- 6. A Book With a Sense of Humor
- 7. Loads of Pictures
...(Click each section below to read more)...
1. Genki Is A Non-Intimidating Intro To Japanese
Why is it that some people who live in Japan choose to scrap learning the language altogether? One major reason is because Japanese can be intimidating as hell! There are symbols you can’t make heads or tails of, and conversations that sound more like you just stepped off an alien mothership than an American Airlines, coach flight with less than ideal service. When I started studying Japanese, Genki was like a book from heaven. It was the first book, after having tried several other phrase-type books, that gave me the training I needed to start producing basic language sourced from my own brain.
2. Predictable Lesson Structure
I like that Genki lessons don’t throw any super-weird curveballs. For the beginner, you know what to expect in each and every lesson. This predictable structure gets improving, and building your Japanese skills step by step, lesson by lesson.
3. The Yomikakihen Section
In addition to the 12 lessons, you have 12 supplementary yomikakihen (読み書き編 /よみかきへん/reading and writing) lessons that go along with each unit. You get to start learning hiragana, katakana, and kanji basics in a way that is useful.
4. The Genki Workbook
This is where I really started to feel like I might be able to improve, that I might have a chance to fully express myself in Japanese someday. The workbook lessons give you an opportunity to write down your thoughts and ideas through simple Japanese exercises. Here’s why the texbook is cool!
- It’s Gets You Writing About You – I REALLY enjoy how this textbook asks you questions that get you thinking about Japanese that’s relevant to your own life.
- The Exercises Don’t Suck Monkey Toes – Nothing turns me off a book more than when the exercises are dry, dull, or lame. Genki’s workbook is actually interesting.
- It’s A Workbook With a Sense of Humor – Any text book that mentions hangovers, breakups, and even cutting class is my kind of book! It’s serious Japanese that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I think the pictures on this page might give you a sense of what I mean:
- Even if you make mistakes, it’s okay! - I can’t tell you how many screw ups I have in this book. Some of them I’ve corrected, some of them I haven’t. The beauty is, when you go back and re-read, you can get a great idea of where your Japanese was, and how much you’ve improved. This workbook allowed me to have fun embracing my mistakes. I still make them to this very day
- Helps You Write Kana/Kanji Over and Over Again – By the time you get to the end of this first workbook, God only knows how many times you’ll write your hirgana, katakana and basic kanji symbols. You don’t realize you’re doing it, but it’s connecting these symbols to your brain through a physical activity (writing).
5. The Genki CD
This is the other part of the course that really stands out to me. The listening on the beginning CD’s gives a voice to many of Genki’s interesting characters. The Japanese is spoken at a speed that beginners can understand without making you feel like a simpleton.
It’s also pretty cool that Genki uses an mp3 CD (would you believe that some Japanese textbooks are using compact discs?!? I kid you not). Being able to quickly and easily get your listening on your smart phone is a essential. Why not listen on the go?
6. A Book With a Sense Of Humor
You know one of my honest-to-goodness pet peeves? Dry teachers! You know, the kind of teacher where even if you take a nap before class, you still feel like your eyes are gonna roll back into your head from boredom. Not cool!
Luckily, Genki is a textbook the keeps lessons and exercises fun and light-hearted. Some of the be picture are giggle-worthy, but sometimes it's the funny stuff that makes the Japanese stick 🙂
7. Genki Is Loaded With Pictures
To some of you reading this, you may be thinking this sounds a bit juvenile, but I have to wholeheartedly disagree with you there. I can't say that I think or dream in big blocks of text. My mind conjures pictures.
In addition, I think the pictures make Japanese so much less intimidating. Save the big blocks of text and super serious reading passages for the upper intermediate and advanced levels.
IS GENKI STARTING TO SOUND PRETTY GOOD TO YOU?
That's good! If it already sounds like a book that will GENUINELY help you improve, then you may want to try it.
THREE THINGS I DON'T LIKE ABOUT THE GENKI ONE
Nobody likes to be negative, but when you're doing a Genki One Textbook Review, it's absolutely necessary to discuss some the book's bad points:
- 1. Needs More "Real-World" Japanese
- 2. Not Enough Kana Practice
- 3. Expected More From The Kanji Section
...(Click each section below to read more)...
1. NEEDS MORE "REAL-WORLD" JAPANESE
While Genki rocks overall, this is one small gripe that I had after having looked at the Nihongo Matome series to prep for a JLPT test. Genki is a bit light on expressions and Japanese that you might hear out in the wild (on a train, in a grocery store). While you will pick up a ton of useful Japanese, there are so natural expression gaps.
2. NOT ENOUGH KANA PRACTICE
Please take this “weakness” with a grain of salt because 1) everyone has a different sense of humor: what I don’t find funny, you might actually enjoy and vice versa. 2) To be quite frank, the times where the dialogue “cheeses out a bit” doesn’t really detract from the course.
No disrespect to anyone on the jpod’s staff, but there are times during the English discussion areas of the audio that sound a bit forced or where jokes fall a bit flat. I think this happens in part because during discussions, you’ll have both native English speakers and Japanese English speakers conversing with one another. It feels like a slight disconnect between the host’s humor and the Japanese, English speakers comprehension of the jokes/comments being said.
However, the actual Japanese lessons themselves are quite amusing and can be genuinely funny at times. It more than makes up for the very small portion of the courses that might be a slice cheesy (see what I did there? Cheese is cut by the slice, soooo…. Okay, I’ll stop with my cheesy jokes, too.)
3. EXPECTED MORE FROM THE KANJI SECTION
The kanji section of this book leaves a lot to be desired, but I think that’s for a reason. If this book focused on everything it would be overkill for a beginner. Besides, Genki also makes a book to help beginners with their kanji. I have that one, too. It’s pretty good stuff:
EVERY GOOD JAPANESE TEXTBOOK HAS NEGATIVES...
Even the popular Genki One Textbook. But if you're just getting started, it still might be the perfect book for you!
WHAT'S A GENKI LESSON LIKE?
A lesson is broken into four parts: 1) A Dialogue, 2) Vocabulary, and 3) Grammar, and 4) Practice
- 1) Dialogue- This 12-lesson textbook has dialogues that build as you go. The early dialogues have full English translations and even kanji with furigana (small hiragana characters written above or below kanji symbols to make reading simpler) to get you used to seeing basic characters.
- 2) Vocabulary- Each lesson has a list of useful, theme-based, vocabulary words. Some of the words come from the dialogue you listen to at the beginning of the unit.
- 3) Grammar – This is where Genki shines in my humble opinion. Genki takes basic Japanese grammar rules, explains them thoroughly, simply, and in plain English you can understand.
There are also straightforward examples of these grammar rules written in plain English. While I can’t say that every point was crystal clear after reading a grammar section (I would have to ask Japanese friends to help on occasion), the vast majority of them were crystal clear.
Sections that explained the conjugation of – “Ru,” “U,” and irregular verbs were pure platinum to me. It’s something that you won’t get from a phrase book, and once you start speaking and hearing Japanese on a regular basis, you’ll encounter conjugated verb forms all the time!
- 4) Practice - There are essentially two areas to practice what you're learning in the instructional sections of Genki. The first one comes immediately after the grammar section of the main textbook. The second (nitty gritty practice) comes from the corresponding unit in the workbook.
THE GENKI ONE TEXTBOOK IS FOR…
- The person who wants to take Japanese classes but can't find a school that offers good ones in your area. Or, you can find classes that match your work schedule.
- COMPLETE Beginners! If you can’t speak a lick of Japanese…and I do mean none!
I mean not a single solitary word, not an “arigatou,” not a “konnichiwa,”
- Semi-Beginners – Maybe you already started learning a little bit but you want to dig a little deeper, go a little further. Genki is that first step to taking your starting knowledge a bit further.
JLPTers- Yes I know many of you out there want to get Japanese certification (I've passed N3 and N4). Genki played a big role in that.
I didn't do all of my test prep with Genki, but I did go through Genki I and II before I ever passed N3. N2? That's a different story...(whistles and walks away)
- Students who learn best by reading and listening.
GENKI ONE TEXTBOOK ISN’T FOR…
- True Blue Tourists- If you are sincerely just visiting and you don’t plan on coming back or doing any extended stays, those Lonely Planet phrasebooks may work better.
Genki is a much more thorough look at Japanese and takes time to digest and internalize.
- Lazy Bums – In my best Mic voice (Rocky’s original trainer before Mr. T pushed him down and killed him): “Don’t be a bum!”
Textbooks don’t read themselves or study themselves.
If you think that just having the Genki book will improve your Japanese, I hate to say it, but you may have your head really hard while you were dreaming.
Genki is work. It can be really fun, but it does effort and regular review.
- Students who love video. While Genki does recommend a textbook companion site that has some video lesson content, the videos pale in comparison to the book's quality and utility.
HOW DOES GENKI MEASURE UP TO OTHER COURSES?
Well, that’s a tough question for me to be a objective about, but this being a review and all…screw it!
If I had to pit Genki against any other popular textbook/software out there, from Pimsleur, to Japanese for Busy People, to Rosetta Stone, or anything in between, here’s what I say:
As an intro to Japanese Genki One would beat or provide serious competition for even the best beginner textbooks on market today. It’s a solid course that delivers.
GENKI TEXTBOOK AMAZON RATING
The second edition of the Genki One Textbook received a strong 4.6 out 5 stars!
That’s a very strong indicator of how much people like the book in general.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
You would think that with all the stuff I’ve said about it, it would cost a fortune, but that’s what so cool about it! It’s cheap!
Total Cost $184.65
In essence you can now get the all of the books and CD files for just five dollars more than what I paid for the box set of CDs several years ago ($180.00). A steal indeed! The cool thing about Genki is if you don’t want to buy everything at once, buying in chunks is just fine, too.
WHERE CAN I BUY GENKI ONE?
Your local bookstore may carry the Genki. For those of you living in Japan, I've seen Genki in nearly every major bookstore chain that I've walked into (usually it's in the test prep area for foreigners).
Or you can Genki click this link and have Genki One sent right to your doorstep via Amazon
IS GENKI THE BEST TEXTBOOK TO LEARN JAPANESE?
Yes, BUT I say this with a huge, glaring caveat! It was the best book for ME to learn Japanese as a complete and utter newbie. I literally knew a few Pimsleur phrases and that was it. It was an incredible way to go from nothing to something in a relatively short period of time (four to six months).
GENKI TEXTBOOK REVIEW: MY FINAL TAKE
If you’re just kicking things off with Japanese. I wish you nothing but the best!
I know learning Japanese can often seem frustrating or even intimidating. No two people have the same study methods, either, so you can end up getting all kinds of conflicting advice when you start out. Yep, I've been there, too.
Despite the cons we discussed earlier, there are very few books that successfully accomplish what Genki does. You get an inexpensive, easy-to-understand intro to Japanese that tells you like it is.
Because the textbook provides value above and beyond what you pay. My final rating falls just below what Amazon rates it at, I give Genki One 4.5 out of 5 stars. This would be 90%. So I'd say in the B+ to A- range if we were giving school grades.
If you’re looking for a solid resource that can make even some of the trickier basic Japanese concepts plain, try Genki I: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese. It’s the ultimate Japanese textbook for beginners.
As of 2017, I still own my Genki One Textbook, and I even refer back to it from time to time. So if after reading this Japanese Textbook Review, you still have questions...the comments section is all yours. Or try the “Contact Me” form in the menu bar at the top of this page.
Happy Japanese Studying...
If Japanese textbooks aren't your thing, another possible option is Japanesepod101.