on May 9, 2004
Having been studying Japanese on and off for, oh, nine years now, I have learned that not all educational tools and methods work for everybody. People have their own way to learn languages, and in my case the straight-up textbook approach never entirely succeeded. I lived and studied in Japan for several years, and that helped in conversation and in terms of immersion. I have purchased everything from particle guides and Kanji dictionaries and even children's books to help my study, and all of them help in ways, but it is a very piecemeal way to learn.
And I guess that is how it is when learning languages. Only the true geniuses of language can grasp these things in a ready and total fashion. And unfortunately for me, this piecemeal approach left me missing things from my study of the language. And then Jay Rubin stepped in.
Jay Rubin knows the Japanese language. He teaches it, and is a translator of Japanese literature. (Most famously he translated into English Murakami Haruki's "The Wind-up Bird Chronicle" and "Norwegian Wood", as well as writing a biography of Murakami.) To steal a line from Lawrence of Arabia, "He knows his stuff."
And so it is that Rubin decided to stuff all that stuff into a book for those of us who struggle with the more delicate grammatical issues of the Japanese language. And he does so with brilliance and wit and ease of use that I have yet to have seen surpassed. "Making Sense of Japanese" is indeed a precious little gem in my collection of Japanese learning aids that fills in so many holes in the facade of my shoddy language capacity. For instance:
Wa and Ga - Never before has there been a more thorough and easy to remember explanation of the delicate differences between these two particles. They are a great bane to learners of Japanese, and Rubin dedicates 20 pages to truly making sense of them.
The Myth of the Subjectless Sentence - and how it is a true myth. Which is followed by a really nifty look into the differences in pronoun use in Japanese and English.
Receiving and Giving - and all the verbs that pertain to those actions.
Causitives and Passives - and how they combine at times.
Tame - Rubin succinctly explains the two forms of "tame" and gives examples.
Tsumori - and how it too has a double use.
And so much more! All told in a very lucid style and sharp wit that is sorely missing from most study guides. The final part of the book is dedicated to taking a very complex sentence in Japanese and breaking it apart and showing exactly how it forms a full statement. To some this may seem a little tedious and an over-indulgence in explaining in English what is fundamentally the properties of another language, but I have always felt in my studies that most texts and aids are lacking in easy to understand explanations. If you get frustrated with what seem to be overly simple and/or boring explanations of some very important grammar elements of Japanese, this little book is a marvel. But like any other language guide, these lessons must be studied to have impact. Though Rubin makes it very easy to read these passages over and over.
This book explains the most difficult parts of Japanese grammar in clear and concise English. For example, one of the hardest things to learn is when to use "wa" and when to use "ga." This is sort of like when to use "the" or "a" or no article at all in English. It may come naturally to you, if you are a native English speaker, but it drives everyone else nuts. Unless Japanese is your first language, you almost certainly feel that way about "wa" and "ga," as well as several other concepts, but this book really does help like no other I have found.
All students of Japanese should read this book. The only question is when. My advice is to buy it and read it over quickly as early as possible. You won't follow all of it right away, but that is ok. Just hang onto the book and read it again after you've finished the equivalent of one year's worth of classes. And again after two years, or whenever you get confused.
One word of caution: this is not a text book. It does not have lessons, nor practice exercises, let alone vocabulary. It is a supplement only, but an essential one.
on May 13, 2004
This book is one of the most helpful take on the explaining the Japanese language I've ever read. The humour keeps things interesting and prevents you from putting it away even when you reach a section that is difficult to understand.
However, if you are an Asian and speak your mother tongue fluently, this book has some areas that are probably already obvious to you. Things like invisible subjects are frequently used in Asian languages and you have probably mastered it subconsciously since you were five. That is not to say that the book is not useful, but it is written with English native speakers in mind.
One small complain about the book: I have been reading hiragana and kanji right from the start of learning Japanese, so reading romanji is somewhat of a pain. I had an easier time reading the forewords by the author's Japanese wife than the romanji examples he gave. It will be helpful if the examples can include both hiragana/kanji and romanji versions.
Well despite the tiny flaw, I can say that this book IS going to be necessary. A lot of Japanese teacher make up their own explanations of certain grammar components that might seem logical at first, but later on you will be confused when new things are taught that SEEM to contradict the previous rules. This book will clear up all the things that your teacher WILL mess up. One fine example: my teacher told us that "n-da" is simply to add more emotions to the statement. Well turns out it wasn't that simple.
Get this book. You will need it.
on May 4, 2000
This book by Jay Rubin humorously explains some of the most seemingly esoteric aspects of the Japanese language to the intermediate student of Japanese. Some of the most useful concepts that Rubin explains are ha and ga, giving and receiving, passive, causative, hodo, and many more. After a casual reading of this book I felt that certain aspects of the Japanese language seemed to make more sense than ever before. I would recommend this book to any third year student of Japanese.
on May 2, 2004
This is a precious little book.
Most of what I'd say has been said in reviews above, so I'll just add that the great value of this book turns out so much more if (like me) you're studying Japanese on textbooks written for English-speaking students, but English isn't your own mother tongue.
For sure, the content of the book is very useful by itself, but for me it had the additional benefit of letting me better understand my English-speaking fellow students (and maybe even teachers') common myths and difficulties with the subject!
The point is that those very aspects of the language unavoidably tend to be either less-well- or over-explained in English textbooks, sometimes leaving you wondering what's it all about...
All that imho of course! ;-)
P.S. I'd recommend this book to essentially anyone, not necessariliy "intermediate level" students only like hinted in other reviews. The topics are very general in nature and clearly presented with examples, you can and should read it through at a very early stage in your study!
on July 16, 1998
If you're an intermediate student of Japanese, but haven't yet begun to really understand the language, this book will clear up a lot of your concerns. The author takes a humorous approach to some intimidating topics, and yields new insight on other, easier topics which textbooks often leave vague. The book frequently illustrates these concepts with examples in Japanese literature and journalism. Even examples in speech are explained in-depth. Yet, it remains light-hearted and humorous, relating the mysterious translations and hidden connotations in a way that the English-speaking mind can understand. Most importantly, it debunks many of the myths and misconceptions about Japanese that make Westerners fear it so. It also seemed that the author was subtly trying to prepare the readers to think in Japanese, which as wel all know is a vital step towards fluency.
The title pretty much sums it up when it says "What the Textbooks Don't Tell You." This book ! ! essentially takes the information from your textbooks and makes sense of it. If you study independently, like me, this book should be on your list. If you don't need this book, you probably know someone who does.
on January 4, 2000
When I ordered this book, I hadn't read it, or even seen the cover. I just picked it up because I'm anxious to learn more daily Japanese conversation. While this book didn't teach me the slang and modern speech I'm wanting to learn, I did find it to be extremely useful. I'm not finished yet, but this book has so far been very informative and easy to read. The writing is excellent, and it's entertaining to read. It explains how "subjectless" sentences work and how to use "wa" and "ga" properly, amomg other things of course. If you're a student of Japanese, and you want to actually understand the logic of the language instead of simply memorizing vocabulary, this book is a must-have.
on March 19, 2010
This isn't a very substantial book, so if you're just starting the language and are looking for somewhere to start, I don't particularly recommend it. Rather, it's for people who are already fairly well immersed in the study of Japanese. Essentially what the book does is pick various topics - like subjects in Japanese sentences, or various particles - and examines them in a new way or presents the authors personal take on them. It is frequently humorous and a fairly enjoyable read - it isn't particularly ground-breaking stuff, and it is very light - but it is perfectly worth the low price and short amount of time you'll need to invest in it.
on April 3, 2015
For any student, but intermediate students will get the most from it.