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.

Ultimate Genki Textbook Review

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.

Learning Japanese Out Of Necessity

One instance of this, way before I knew about Transferwise, was sending 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 doesn't get any
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

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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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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 textbook 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:
Genki Japanese Workbook Page

These pictures are a mild of example of the tone that the Genki takes. Super informative, but in a fun & interesting way.

  • Mistakes Are 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

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5. The Genki MP3 Audio

This is the other part of the course that really stands out to me. The listening on the beginning audio files give 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 still using compact discs?!? Yes...in 2019! 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?

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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 pictures are giggle-worthy.  But it's the funny stuff that makes the Japanese stick 🙂

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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

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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.

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2. NOT ENOUGH EMPHASIS ON KANA

This is one of the biggest takeaways you should be able to pull from a beginning Japanese resource. Kana are such a big part of being able to propel your Japanese.  But, I think not focusing on kana allows the textbook to focus on other important parts of the language.  So this con definitely isn't a deal-breaker for me.

While I do feel like the textbook didn't place a large emphasis on the kana symbols you DO get to make up for it in the workbook.  You'll write answers to so many questions using hiragana, katakana, and basic kanji symbols. By the time you finish the workbook, you'll be better than you think.

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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 – “る,” “う,” 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.

Genki One 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.

JLPT Takers
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. 

COMPLETE Beginners!
If you can’t speak a lick of Japanese…and I do mean none!   Not a single solitary word, not an “arigatou,” not a “konnichiwa,” 

Students who learn best by reading and listening.

Semi-Beginners 
Maybe you started learning a little but you want to dig deeper. Genki is that first step to taking that beginner's curiosity a bit further.

Genki One 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 Mick voice
(Rocky’s original trainer):
“Don’t be a bum!”

Textbooks don’t read or study themselves.  Unless you have a power I don't know about, just having the book ​won't make you better.

Genki is work.  Yes, it can be fun, but it requires effort & regular review.

Students Who Love Video

At the time of this writing, Genki does recommend a textbook companion site that does have some video lesson content.

However, those videos absolutely pale in comparison to the textbook'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

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.

GENKI ONE REVIEW: THE WRAP UP

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.  


Want To Learn More About Genki One?

Do  Genki One Demo Lesson

Genki I Demo Lesson

Still need to see a bit more before deciding if Genki is the right fit for you? Here's a demo lesson. Click the button, enter your name & email

Genki One Video Review

Video Review

Prefer video reviews over written ones? Click the button below to see my full video review of Genki I: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese.

Textbooks ain't your thing?  Another great option to get started learning Japanese is  Japanesepod101.

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About the Author

Donald Ash is an Atlanta, Georgia-born, American expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last eleven years. While in that time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator of thejapanguy.com blog. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.

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