Japanese for Busy People by the Japanese Association of Language Teachers


Japanese for Busy People (Books 1&2 and Kana Workbook)
Japanese Association of Language Teachers
(Book 1 - Oxford University Press, USA: 1995; Book 2 - Fitzhenry & Whiteside: 1996)

Read: from May 2005 onward (I still use Book 2 regularly)

When I first started wanting to learn Japanese over a year ago, Randal lent me his old text, Japanese for Busy People (Book 1), that he'd used when he'd started Japanese lessons many years before. So I was quite pleased when the Japanese course that I took at Algonquin turned out to use the same text as well!

Book 1 is really well-organized. It has short, concise lessons that introduce a few grammar points and some vocabulary, then many exercises to get you using, learning and really remembering what you have learnt. Book 2 is slightly more unwieldy, but still good. It has more grammar and vocab in each lesson, and I find the order in which it is all introduced - thematically (eg., At Work, At the Health Club, etc.) rather than by grammar topic - to not always be intuitive. Plus, I bought the kana version, which is good for practicing my hiragana and katakana practice, of course, but makes reading slow! That will improve with practice, I know.

I also picked up, somewhere along the way, the Kana Workbook for the Japanese for Busy People series. It was VERY useful for practicing katakana and hiragana and really getting them to stick in my head. Now if only they produced a book to teach me, equally simply and painlessly, the 1,945 kanji designated necessary by the Japanese government.

Watership Down by Richard Adams

Watership Down
Richard Adams
(Avon, New York: 1975)

READ: May-July 2006

This is one of those books that it felt like everyone else read in high school (or saw the movie of) except for me (that, and The Hobbit). I borrowed the book from Randal's endless bookshelf.

If you've only seen the movie and have not read the book, READ THE BOOK. It is wonderful. It is the story of Hazel and his brother Fiver and some other rabbits from his warren who strike off on their own into the unknown larger world after Fiver, who has a sense for these sorts of things, feels impending danger coming to the warren.

Definitely not a book just for children, Watership Down is a larger tale of environmental destruction and a study of societies. It's very, very good.

Tokyo: A Certain Style by Kyoichi Tsuzuki

Tokyo: A Certain Style
Kyoichi Tsuzuki
(Chronicle Books, 1999)

Karin Goodwin is often listed as the author. Perhaps she translated? (Original photos and text are Tsuzuki's.)

READ: March-July 2006 (intermittent)

What a fascinating little book. We found it on one of the bargain shelves at Chapters, and it quickly became a permanent fixture in the washroom (only the best books are reserved for the "throne" at our place). This is a long way from Zen gardens and stripped-down, bare interiors. Instead, Kyoichi Tsuzuki took many candid shots of people's apartments in order to show how Tokyoites really lived. And how do they live, you may ask? Well, according to this book, they live in tiny little spaces sometimes barely deserving of the word "room", and they fill these spaces with stuff, stuff, and more stuff. It was just insane to see how some of these places were just filled to the rafters - and beyond! To be fair, many of the people whose places were profiled were artists and other such occupations in which much "stuff" is often accumulated. But it's a crazy read, loads of fun, and really really really interesting to see.

Quirky sidenote: I don't have the book handy* so I can't give you an exact quote, but in Wrong About Japan, Peter Carey makes a reference to a book showing how Tokyoites fill their homes with stuff. He describes the book at some length, without actually mentioning it by name. But there is no doubt that this is the book he meant!

* It's sitting in a storage locker in Ottawa, halfway across the world from where I am currently writing this. That excuse should hopefully be good enough.

The World's Greatest Art: Asian Art by Michael Kerrigan

The World's Greatest Art: Asian Art
Michael Kerrigan
(Konecky & Konecky: 2005)

READ: May-July 2006 (intermittent)

Another great "throne" book. This small but thick volume has a few hundred pictures of some of the greatest Asian art with descriptions and some history. Much of the art (includes paintings, sculptures, pottery, etc.) is from China and Japan, but there is also a decent selection from other Southeast Asian countries: Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, and so on. It's a nice overview of some of the most beautiful art there is.

The Cook's Encyclopedia of Japanese Cooking by Emi Kazuko

The Cook's Encyclopedia of Japanese Cooking
Emi Kazuko
(Barnes & Noble Books: 2003)

READ: April-July 2006 (ongoing)

A book I sorely wanted to bring with me to Japan, but couldn't spare the space for. But I look oh-so-forward to using it when I return home to Canada - it will help me recreate some of the Japanese meals I have eaten here and loved! It's a really nice cookbook. There is a whole first section explaining various Japanese meats, vegetables, noodles, and cooking utensils. Then many, many recipes organized by type. Some of these seem somewhat complicated, but others quite simple. Plus, if you've ever wanted to find out the difference between all those kinds of tofu sitting on the shelf at the grocery store, this book will surely be able to tell you.