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…
*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.
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.
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:
...(Click each section below to read more)...
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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 🙂
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.
That's good! If it already sounds like a book that will GENUINELY help you improve, then you may want to try it.
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:
...(Click each section below to read more)...
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.
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.)
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:
Even the popular Genki One Textbook. But if you're just getting started, it still might be the perfect book for you!
A lesson is broken into four parts: 1) A Dialogue, 2) Vocabulary, and 3) Grammar, and 4) Practice
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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).
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.
I've created a free, Genki One - 5 Essential Skills Checklist just for you! This should give you a little more insight into Genki One (beyond this review). It's better to have as a clear a picture as possible before spending your hard-earned money. Click on the book cover, enter your name and email & get your free checklist delivered right to your inbox!
Textbooks ain't your thing? Another great option to get started learning Japanese is Japanesepod101.