October 31, 2017
ippo ippo

Japanese for Beginners: Advice and Guide to Get Started

So you want to learn Japanese? Here are a few tools and advice for learning Japanese efficiently — ようこそ! youkoso!

TheJapanesePage.com Tip

As you see with the above word* nearly all the Japanese found on this site has a recording. Take the time to listen, repeatedly, to each new word/phrase. Try to "shadow" the sounds by first repeating after and then speaking with the speaker.
Go ahead. Try it now with ようこそ youkoso.
Got it? Good. Do that with all the lessons and your pronunciation and vocabulary will improve.

* (youkoso means "welcome" or "nice to see you") 

To learn any language, you need these things:

  1. Motivation Look for new ways to want to learn Japanese and enjoy it.
    • Remember your personal reasons for wanting to learn Japanese. It may be an anime you saw that made you think learning Japanese would be cool. It could be a Japanese person you met. It could be a desire to read a novel or a newspaper in Japanese. Be specific. Make a list of these reasons and remember them often. This will help you get through the dark plateaus when progress seems painfully slow. These are your motivations.
    • Now take a moment to visualize yourself speaking fluent Japanese in Japan to real native speakers. Imagine yourself being interviewed on Japanese TV or ordering a Big Mac at McDonald's. Imagine yourself reading a Japanese newspaper on a shinkansen bullet train. These are your goals.

      Use your motivations (your personal reasons for learning Japanese) to guide you to your goal (visualizing your future self).
  2. Consistency Study every day, even if for only a few minutes. Don't forget to review! I highly recommend using the Anki flashcard software (see below) for daily review.

  3. Humility Embrace mistakes and learn from them. Mistake-making is memory-making if you correct and review your mistakes. "Adults can't learn foreign languages" is simply not true. Adults just have to be child-like in learning. Be inquisitive, try things out, and make corrections as needed.

  4. FocusRemove all distractions and concentrate on what you are learning. i.e. have discipline.

I'm not going to sugar coat it. For a native English speaker, Japanese is hard, harder than learning Spanish, for example. And the sad reality is that most beginners of Japanese forever remain beginners of Japanese. Kanji is an obvious hurdle, but so is the very different grammar, sentence structure, honorifics, etc.

But if you can maintain motivation, create a consistent daily study habit, and embrace learning from your mistakes as you head toward your goal, you will achieve fluency. Along with that, you will have the satisfaction of achieving a difficult goal that pays huge dividends. Now THAT is something to be truly proud of.

The bear above has some good advice. She says, 一歩一歩(いっぽいっぽ ippo ippo which means "one step, one step" or "step by step." Take your language learning journey one step at a time. 

All of the above is important, I can hear you say, but are you ever going to get to the Japanese lessons?

Right. I'll get into some specifics in a moment, but let me repeat myself one last time: a positive mindset and consistent daily practice is critical to your success.

One last thing before we get to the specifics, please consider signing up for our newsletter. It's totally free and you can unsubscribe at any time. Plus, you'll get a few freebies instantly:

Get our Free Newsletter for Lessons and Deals

Limited time offer: We are offering two of our eBooks (with sound files) for no charge if you subscribe (also no charge) to our newsletter. Unsubscribe at any time. Why not sign up now (totally free) and download our hiragana book for free? 

I (Clay) usually send out a few emails a week, and the emails are always educational except when we have a product launch when, well, I talk solely about that new product.


How to Use TheJapanesePage.com + Other Tools

To get to it, here is our suggested path for the absolute beginner. All of these links are absolutely free (except Anki for iPhone, a textbook, and our last two recommendations: our Digital Bundles and Makoto+!)

Learn Hiragana - depending on how much time you put into it, you should be able to learn hiragana in less than two weeks. You will also learn core Japanese pronunciation. Spend plenty of time with both the hiragana and pronunciation. Everything you learn from then on will be based on what you learn here.

Finish reading this page and then come back here to get started with hiragana!

Although not as immediately important, I highly recommend learning katakana right after learning hiragana. The two share some similarities which can make it tricky but also easy to learn while hiragana is fresh on your mind. Click here for our Katakana Master Lesson Page.

One last point. Stay clear of romaji (the writing of Japanese using the alphabet).

This is not how Japanese is actually written, and the worst thing about romaji is it can be a crutch. Why do the hard work of learning hiragana and kanji when you can just use the alphabet? But again, Japanese isn't written with the alphabet. You'll need a little romaji to learn hiragana, but once you have those characters down, throw romaji away and never look back.

While not as bad for your learning as romaji, furigana can also be a crutch once you start learning kanji. Furigana is the small hiragana over kanji to help you with the pronunciation. While useful and sometimes necessary, most native Japanese material does not have furigana. That's why TheJapanesePage.com (and MakotoPlus.com) automatically hides the furigana over all kanji. To see the pronunciation, simply mouse over or tap the kanji. 

Think of this as tough love, but once you learn hiragana, stay clear of romaji, and use furigana sparingly 

Download Anki for your computer and/or your phone.  Anki is the world's most popular spaced repetition flashcard software. That means, it shows cards you don't know well more often than the ones you do know well.

Best of all, it's free! Well, except for the iPhone. The iPhone app is a little expensive but worth it in my opinion.

While you can use any of the many already created decks (all free), I would highly recommend making your main deck your own study deck. Take the time (don't be lazy!) to add an entry every time you encounter a new word or phrase you want to memorize. As you do your daily reading/studying, add unknown phrases to your personal deck. Don't go overboard, but adding 4-5 new words/phrases a day and reviewing past cards should be a big part of your daily study-time.

Clear your deck. Every. Single. Day!

Also, even if you only want to learn a single vocabulary word, I would recommend adding a full phrase or sentence to show context and usage. 

Order a Good Textbook - I define "good" as any textbook that you will actually use on a daily basis.

Textbooks will help keep your learning structured. While you can learn Japanese without one, and theJapanesePage.com will certainly help you along the way, using a textbook will most certainly be a more direct path.

Some popular choices are Genki, Japanese for Busy People, and Japanese from Zero.

We stock Genki here, and we highly recommend Genki, but to be honest, there are cheaper options that are just as good (again, if you use it). Japanese for Busy People is probably the cheapest option (I do not recommend the Romanized version). Japanese from Zero is also very popular now too. If you have used other textbooks, please post your recommendations in the comments below.

There has never been a better time to learn Japanese than now. There are tons of free resources that simply didn't exist twenty years ago, or if it did, it cost big bucks. When I (Clay) started with Japanese in 1998, I bought a very expensive standalone electronic dictionary. Today, there are tons of free online dictionaries with many times the number of entries.

Here are a few free recommendations:

Anki Flashcard App

I already mentioned this above, but I can't stress enough how wonderful this free app is. There may be other apps out there that are prettier or easier to learn, but Anki makes learning words, phrases, and kanji efficient and fast. Repetition is the mother of learning. Anki shows the cards you have trouble with more frequently and the cards you know less frequently.

We have a monthly magazine called Makoto (more on this at the bottom) and most lessons for members include Anki decks often with sound. Also, we are slowly adding Anki decks to our digital bundles. We want our materials to be useful and Anki helps with that greatly.

Hear more of my thoughts on Anki (and Yomichan) by clicking here.


Yomichan is a browser plugin that enables you to easily look up any Japanese word or kanji on the internet. There are other similar browser plug ins, but Yomichan is the one I use, plus it has a pitch accent add-on as well. Regarding pitch accents, as total beginner, I recommend waiting to learn about pitch accents once you've mastered hiragana and katakana, but you can learn about it here.

Hear more of my thoughts on Yomichan (and Anki) by clicking here.

TheJapanesePage.com FREE Podcasts

We produce two weekly podcasts. Nihongo no Tane is more for intermediates, but I would highly recommend subscribing to Beginning Japanese Phrases

Makoto+ members (more on this at the bottom) get podcast extras such as transcripts and other downloads.

FREE TheJapanesePage.com Daily Email Courses 

We have several daily email courses available absolutely free. Click here to sign up for one or more for no charge.

Each email is short and designed to take less than five minutes of your time. If you feel you have the time, consider signing up for the Kanji, Vocabulary, and Grammar email courses. Each day, spend some time copying the kanji and vocabulary on a notepad to help remember. Add any interesting words/kanji to your Anki deck.

One good thing about a daily email reminder is it encourages daily study time. Consistency is very important when learning Japanese.

TheJapanesePage.com Super Pages

We have a growing number of "Super Pages," pages that focus on a singular topic and covers it well with lots of audio practice.

  1. Basic Beginning Japanese Phrases - Once you have learned hiragana, you can begin to familiarize yourself with important phrases that you can use immediately. You can also use our audio-only lessons here to play while you wash the dishes or walk the dog. Don't feel like you have to memorize anything here. Learning vocabulary (and kanji) is like meeting someone. You don't become best friends immediately. It takes time to go from new acquaintances to BFFs.
  2. (Very) Basic Grammar - While you are acquainting yourself with useful phrases, start introducing yourself to these 100 core grammatical points. Don't worry if you don't feel like you get each and every point. Just use the material here to begin familiarizing yourself with Japanese. You can also sign up for our free daily Grammar Email Course here. You can go through the material on the website and then again each day with the email version.
  3. JLPT N5 Pages - We recommend acquainting yourself with kanji early on. Don't feel overwhelmed by it all, but begin to familiarize yourself with the most basic kanji. BTW, in case you don't know JLPT stands for Japanese Language Proficiency Test. This test is held twice a year all around the world and is generally recognized as the standard test for testing your ability. N5 is the easiest level and N1 is the hardest. N5 has about a hundred kanji. If you know (at least the meaning of) these hundred kanji, you will be amazed how much you can read. 
  4. How to Count to a Million - Learn Japanese numbers and how to count.
  5. TJP Podcasts - We have two weekly podcasts for beginners and intermediates. Subscribe for free and go through one or both every week.
  6. Japanese Prefectures - Lastly, language and culture are hard to separate and with Japanese being only spoken (widely) in Japan, learning about Japan is a must. Check out our super page on Japanese prefectures to learn about Japanese geography.
  7. At this point, you know hiragana, basic Japanese grammar (even if only a little), and basic vocabulary (ditto). The best way to improve is to read, read, and read some more. But... reading native texts at your current level is a recipe for frustration. That's why most of our books are stories for beginner to lower intermediates. Here are a few free stories right here on TheJapanesePage.com. If you like that, please consider becoming a Makoto+ member (below). Makoto+ has many, many more stories like that. We also have nearly all our books on sale as digital discounted bundles at TheJapanShop.com here.

TheJapanShop.com's Digital Bundles

Yumi and I (Clay) have dozens of short but targeted books on various Japanese topics. You can find them all as digital eBooks or paperbacks on all major online (and some physical) bookstore. We also sell them bundled together on our sister site TheJapanShop.com at deep discounts.

Not only that, but if you buy any bundle, you get lifetime FREE updates for the bundle. Yes, that includes future volumes added to the bundle. We are slowly adding Anki decks to our bundles, for example. If you buy a bundle, you'll get those decks free of charge as they are released too.

If you are a total beginner, we have a bundle just for you. It's called Beri- Beri- Shoshinsha and it contains tons of total beginner level material to help you quickly master hiragana, katakana, and beginning kanji. Plus, it has a growing number of stories to practice reading beginner-level Japanese.

Once you know hiragana well and you are beginning to have a feel for basic grammar and vocabulary, please consider becoming a Makoto+ member. Not only will you get the monthly Makoto e-zine, but you'll also get several weekly lessons and you'll help support what we are doing here at TheJapanesePage.com.

Makoto+ Samurai Members

Cost: $5 a month

Download and Keep the Latest Makoto Magazine (eBook version)

Download and keep bonus content for TheJapanesePage.com lessons including Anki flashcard decks, printable PDFs, and sound files

Bonus content for all our Podcasts (Transcripts and audio downloads)

Exclusive weekly sentence breakdowns and lessons

More or less monthly freebies - eBook including PDF, ePub, and sound files (plus usually an Anki deck)

Exclusive and Reusable 10% off coupon for anything at TheJapanShop.com

Makoto+ Shogun Members + Lifetime Members

Cost: $10 a month or a one-time payment of $299

Everything in Samurai +

Access to ALL Makoto issues in web format (but not download--members only get to download issues during membership)

Access to ALL past weekly sentence breakdowns and lesson

Access to many exclusive lessons: haiku breakdowns, tongue twisters, and much more

Web versions of many of our books with interactive sound 

Everything else that is found at MakotoPlus.com!

Exclusive and reusable 20% off coupon for anything at TheJapanShop.com

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    Level up your Japanese!


    For Total Beginners

    Japanese for beginners - Beri-Beri Shoshinsha

    This 15-book study guide + worksheets bundle is ON SALE. For just one-time payment only, you will get this bundle for a very low price plus you will get future contents for free (no additional charge).

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    This bundle is perfect for absolute beginners. It's thorough without being wordy, giving you exactly enough information to understand the concepts without overloading you with information. 

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    Makoto+ Membership

    You'll notice many TheJapanesePage.com lessons have bonus content for Makoto+ Members. Well, membership goes well beyond that. Members also get our monthly magazine for learners of Japanese (Beginners to Intermediates), weekly exclusive lessons, Podcast bonus content, and much more.