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Basic Info

Title: An Introduction to Modern Japanese
Author(s): Richard Bowring & Haruko Uryuu Laurie
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
ISBN: 052143839X (Hardback) Book 1: Grammar Lessons, Cover Price $100
ISBN: 0521548888 (Paperback) Book 2: Exercises and Word Lists, Cover Price $50
First Printing: 1992
Latest copyright Reviewed: 2002
Best Street Price: $30 for Set/Ebay.


This is a two-book set. The first book contains 52 lessons, the appendices, and the index. The second book contains exercises, word lists, and a Japanese-English/English-Japanese dictionary. Each entry in the dictionary references the sesson each word was first used .
Designed as an intensive one-year course, at the pace of one lesson per week, it seeks to make the Japanese student literate at the fastest rate possible. For this reason, even though verbal communication is covered in passing, most of the exercises and examples are based on proper written Japanese. The stated goal of this course is to enable a student to tackle a short story after 6 months of study and newspaper articles after 1 year. Where other "Read Japanese" books are designed to supplement a regular Japanese language course, essentially providing nothing more than writen samples and kanji lists to learn, Introduction to Modern Japanese is an intensive Japanese course by itself.

Book 1: Grammar Lessons


This section explains what is known about the origins of the Japanese language and many of its idiosyncrasies that set it apart from other Asian languages. Standard sentence order, modifier word order, omitted subjects, humble and respectful forms are all introduced here for the new student. It is here that the authors explain the importance of being constantly aware of social distinctions and the need to be constantly aware of how they affect the language. Each lesson is made to build on the previous one, so students are discouraged from using this book as a regular grammar guide, even though it is formatted so that it can be
The origins of the Japanese writing system are also introduced here as well as detailing how each subset is used in modern life. Both Kunrei and Hepburn romanization systems are introduced, although the emphasis is on the Hepburn because it was the system chosen by the authors. The kana systems are introduced in tables as well as several pages of pencil examples. Kanji are introduced, stroke order patterns are explained, and the importance of learning radicals is explained.
The pronounciation guide does emphasize how certian consonants that are aspirated in English are unaspirated in Japanese, something missing from many textbooks, and standard deviations from the written forms. Mora and Pitch, often unmentioned by many texts, are both mentioned at the very beginning.
Writing style variations for different periods of Japan's history are listed and Chinese influence is emphasized by explaining that words of Chinese origin are far more prevailant in written Japanese than in spoken Japanese.


Each lesson begins with a dialogue written in Japanese. Even the first lesson uses both katakana and hiragana with kanji. In lesson 1 each new noun is introduced with a picture. Later lessons will rarely have pictures or illustrations. In lesson 3, several people are introduced, and these same characters are used throughout the book, as well as other characters, to emphasize the importance of relative status and how it affects the language.
After the dialogue, there is a comment section that explains the dialogue context and its affect on the participants.
The meat of each lesson is the grammar explanations. Each grammar point references a sentence used in the dialogue and details each new grammar point. Although the explanations are not exhaustive, they should normally be sufficient.
At the end of the lesson there is a romanized version of the dialogue followed by a translation.

Appendix I

List the more common kinship terms, with the plain forms on one side and the respectful forms on the other.

Appendix II

Lists several group 1 verbs that sound like group 2 verbs.

Appendix III

Lists the most common number classifiers. Irregular readings are shown.

Book 2: Exercises and Word Lists


The exercises for each lesson average 6 subsections. Writing out the lessons, this book is a writing course after all, averages about 12-20 hours per lesson if writing carefully. If one avoids writing out the exercises, then it only takes an hour or so to do the drills. There is a decent variety in the exercises from lesson to lesson to keep things interesting.

Word Lists

Each word list is organized alphabetically by lesson. It was very easy to get in the habit of studying the word list for a new lesson first, then attempting to read the initial dialoge, rather than depending on the romaji version at the rear of the lesson. Some words in the word list are not used in the opening dialoge but only appear in the exercises. Each lesson averages 60 new words and 24 new kanji each, so by the end of the course the student should know about 3000 words, including place and people names and about 1200 kanji.


This is spit into two sections Japanese=English and English-Japanese and is simply little more than a dictionary for the entire course. Each word is listed in "Romaji - Japanese - Translation - lesson" format where "lesson" is the lesson the word first appeared in. Example: dekiru - 出来る - to be capeable of - 16.


An Introduction to Modern Japanese appears to be the most effective textbook focused on Japanese literacy. Every lesson easily leads into the next one reinforcing learned content as new grammar and vocabulary are introduced. The textbook-workbook combination makes learning straight foward and easy, even if time consuming. The as the stated goal of the textbook is to have students able to tackle short stories after 6 months, the vocabulary and kanji taught are more inline than that used when representing colloquial speech than what is used in newspapers. As early as chapter 3 8th grade kanji are introduced, because they are relatively common in stories.


In spite of its strengths, there are several weaknesses of this text. The first weakness is also the work's strength: the kanji are not introduced in the traditional order. This can be a problem for people that like to use the JLPT level 4 and 3 to measure proficiency as they go along. At the end of Chapter 15, I counted 360 kanji that have been introduced; However, there are still about 10 first grade kanji that have not been introduced by this point and many more second grade kanji that have not been shown yet.
This Text was not designed specifically for the self study. There is no answer key and sometimes the explainations can be a little vague. In spite of this, I did not see the usual stumbling blocks that many textbooks have: simplistic explainations, then practice questions that were significantly more complex, a deliberate bid to confuse the student. Many teachers will claim that this is done to make the student think, but it really comes down to poor teaching, not poor students. However, none of the practice questions were designed to confuse students, and anything that was confusing was easy to clarify on a good Japanese forum, like theJapanesePage
Kanji are not introduced as kanji, they are introduced as words. While this is mostly a good thing, there is one big disadvantage. Initial exposure to a kanji can be either as a name component, as a standalone word, or part of a combination word. This means that the core meaning of a kanji is often not revealed until several chapters later, which can make them harder to remember. This is easily rectified with a good kanji dictionary such as Kodansha's Kanji Learner's Dictionary, or a good kanji reference like Henshall's Guide to Remembering the Kanji.
This text focuses entirely on written Japanese and therefore has no audio component. People that wish to work on pronounciation will need to get a different work, or find a supplement. I found Vocabulearn Japanese to be the perfect supplement, because, unlike most supplements, it did not take away any time spent on the main textbook.
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