The Ultimate Genki Textbook Review: Is It Any Good?

By Donald Ash | Genki One Textbook Review

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
3. Shower
4. Eat breakfast
5. Pack myself a lunch
6. Teach English/Speak English
7. Go home
8. Repeat

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.

Ultimate Genki Textbook Review

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.

Ultimate Genki Textbook Review: Workbook

Ahh yes, my old faithful Genki textbook. We've been through a lot together. This book was mana from heaven when I was getting started.

Ultimate Genki Textbook Review: Workbook

The perfect supplement to the Genki I textbook. This workbook gave me a chance to start expressing myself in basic Japanese. USEFUL!

Ultimate Genki Textbook Review

I went Genki crazy when I was getting started. I bought the teaching manual, too! I wanted to understand inside and out.

Ultimate Genki Textbook Review

The original, full set of student and teacher CDs cost me right at about $180.00 back in 2008! I was crushed when Genki discontinued the expensive CD set for a WAaaay more affordable mp3 CD version. I could’ve saved so much money that way. You guys have it good! Looking back, though, it was still money well spent.

A Genki Textbook Review | Level: Beginners

CLARITY

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.

EFFECTIVENESS

Is Genki One Effective?
Sort of...

 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. 

PRICE

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

SUPPORT

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

2. Predictable Lesson Structure

3. The Yomikakihen Section

4. The Genki Workbook

5. The Genki CD

6. A Book With a Sense Of Humor

7. Genki Is Loaded With Pictures

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

2. NOT ENOUGH KANA PRACTICE

3. EXPECTED MORE FROM THE KANJI SECTION

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

On Amazon, 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 the good thing is...it's crazy reasonable!

$49.98 Genki Japanese I Textbook and Companion CDs
$24.99 Genki Japanese I Workbook
$67.99 Genki Japanese I Teacher’s Manual and CDs
$41.69 Genki Picture Cards on CD Rom

Keep in mind, that Genki has discontinued the physical CDs in favor of a mp3 disc that's far cheaper.  It's the same great educational content at a fraction of the price. 

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.


QUESTIONS? CONCERNS?

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.

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Donald Ash is an ATLien expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last six years. While in aforesaid time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator, writer, designer, editor, programmer, and occasional bad artist of thejapanguy.com blog (that's just way too many hats, dude). Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
  • DeathToBakla

    Genki blows. Elementary Japanese by Yoko Hasegawa is a way better course. FYI.

    • No way! Genki doesn’t blow. Genki is an awesome textbook for beginners. We’re gonna have to agree to disagree on that one.

      I can’t claim to have read Yoko Hasegawa’s “Elementary Japanese,” it very well may be a good book…

      But I stand behind the Genki Textbook because I learned so much from it when I knew first got here, when I knew absolutely nothing.

      I do appreciate you sharing your thoughts, though.

      • Wolfgang

        How old were you when you got to Japan? Genki is geared towards a middle-school audience. So It is really hard to use if you are over 12.

        • Angelica Chavez

          a middle school audience? i think that’s why it’s for COMPLETE beginners, weird how that works out. cause i guess foreigners learning english in the states just get thrown with shakespeare from the get-go.

          • I’m gonna agree with you, Angelica. Why overcomplicate things if you don’t have to. I think simple helps things to stick, especially when you’re starting out. I like Genki and I’m sticking by it because it gave me a start when I knew nothing.

        • I didn’t think so, Wolfgang. I appreciate your point of view, but I really don’t think it was made for middle schoolers. When I started studying on my own, I did my research to see what some of the best U.S. Colleges were using as a 101 intro to Japanese and some of the best schools (even some of the Ivy Leagues) were using this book. I don’t know who’s using what, now, but I honestly found it effective.

  • Claire

    I use this book in my college course. My only complaint with it so far really isn’t its fault at all. I used the Adventures in Japanese books for 3 years in high school, and the class I’m taking now uses this instead, and they don’t line up very well. So one page might be too hard for me, but the next one is too easy.
    Last week, we actually did that activity on the page you posted! Even the teacher was making fun of the pictures.

    • I appreciate you posting about your experience with Genki. I really love it’s sense of humor. It makes a difficult subject so much more easy to stomach.

  • Victoria

    I’m finishing up the first Genki textbook in college. Mary San, Takeshi San and Yamashita sensei haunt my dreams! But it is amazing to look back at the beginning and realize how far it’s taken me. Good review!

    • Hahahah! I could see how that could happen. Gotta love Mary, Takeshi and Yamashita san. It makes a huge difference, right?!? I gotta second you on that, the book is amazing. Thanks for sharing, Victoria!

  • Louise

    Thank you for your post! I lived in Japan for over 6 months and was in the same situation as you: using English at work, hanging out with English speakers… I came back and couldn’t speak a word!
    I felt guilty but Genki’s giving me hope again haha 🙂
    As you said the text book is a great tool, it gives me a lot of motivation when I see I can actually make sentences (almost) by myself.

    • Really and truly my pleasure, Louise!!
      I thought so, too. If only for the foundational basics, it was effective in getting me started. It’s kinda up to me what I do with that knowledge now, though. Just actively have to keep studying and keep training. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Louise. So glad to hear you found it useful!

  • Honor

    Hi I was looking for a Japanese text book and found this blog. I was wondering if you could answer a couple of questions:
    Was buying the teachers guide nessasery or can you get buy with just the text books?
    Also what do you think about the second text book after this one? Is that worth getting to?
    Many thanks!

    • Donnie

      So sorry for the late reply! I don’t know why I’m just seeing this. No, the teacher’s guide isn’t necessary and you’ll still get a solid foundation. Yes the second textbook is worth getting. The 1st book in the series is a little stronger, but the second one is good, too. I’ll make sure to review the second book, too (and show all the positives and negatives). I hope that helps. Happy studying.

    • I am so sorry I’m just seeing this. I bought the teachers guides, but I don’t think they’re absolutely necessary. If you have the answer keys…that can be enough. I genuninely like Genki 2, too! It’s harder, but it should be. Yes, it’s absoluely worth buying.

  • MexicanYakuza84

    Yo Ash! (I still love pokemon even though I was a little too old 4 it
    back in 98). Your review for Genki is awesome & elaboate. I used
    Genki II for my last semester of Japanese. Very informative indeed. Even though my Japanese is mechanical, I still review. I can Read, Write & speak but not understand yet. Nevertheless great review & thanks for posting!

    • Thanks you for the kind words. Japanse is like that isn’t it? You almost have to review it often or you get dull with certain aspects of it (namely grammar and kanji for this guy)

  • MexicanYakuza84

    I uised Yokoso for my 2nd & 3rd semesters. I used Learn Japanese by Dr. Okane & Dr. Young. My brother & his wife work in Japan. My sister in law is great with kana. My bro said he blows at kana so I recommended him Learn Japanese by Young & Okane since it’s romanized. My bro said it would of made his life in Japan so much easier.

  • Tony

    This was very insightful thank you for that. I was told that after genki 2. You should be on a B1 level of sorts. Would you agree?

    • Hey Tony. Hmm…Genki 2 is significantly more challenging than Genki 1 especially in the mid to late units. However, I don’t think Genki 1 and Genki 2 are enough to get you to N1 level (even if you know it cold…backwards and forwards). But it will give you a crazy, solid foundation to build on.

  • ThunderFlame2230

    Was reading the Genki book a daily thing for you? Or like, a lesson/week kinda thing?
    Did you ever have those days when you felt like procrastinating? If so, what was your motivation?

    • Oh my gosh, ThunderFlame! Great questions. Honestly, frustration motivates me like you wouldn’t believe. I had several happenings that made me frustrated enough to study (even if only a littel) every day for about 6 months-ish. After that point, you start seeing/recognizing more around you and those a-ha moments become motivation, too. I won’t say I was perfect, though. YES, I had moments of procrastination. When it hits, I give myself a break…do something I REALLY love doing (martial arts or training in my case). Usually that helps. If it doesn’t I lighten my load a bit. Most times procrastination hits me when I’m overwhelmed in the rest of my life. Hope that helps, my friend.

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