Japanese For Busy People I

Review by Javantea
Sept 9, 2021

Japanese for Busy People I cover

Made for beginners, this 1995 book by AJALT is boring, formal, and slow. The fact that is uses hiragana and katakana instead of kanji is a major limitation. Compared to courses made since 2010, this is more historically valuable than the price of the book. I finished this textbook despite being far beyond its material level in a matter of months of podcasts because I wanted the easy stuff to be very solid in my head -- listen, read, and think. Because it has to start at such a low level, it might be good for people who have trouble with the alternatives. But to get a substantial handle on Japanese, one will need more than this book can teach. What does it teach?

  • Lesson 1: First sentences
  • Lesson 2: Address, telephone number
    Numbers from 0 to 9 999 999 999 999.
  • Lesson 3: Date and Time 時間 から と まで
  • Lesson 4: いくら と も と これ と それ と あれ
  • Lesson 5: Counting
  • Lesson 6: 行きます と 来ます と 帰ります and past tense
  • Lesson 7: mode of transport with で
  • Lesson 8: あります と います
  • Lesson 9: 所 と ありますね
  • Lesson 10: 日曜日に友達と歌舞伎をみます。 Verbs present, past, and negative
  • Lesson 11: Review
  • Lesson 12: ではまた後で電話をします。
  • Lesson 13: きれいなお菓子 い and な Adjectives
  • Lesson 14: Adjectives
  • Lesson 15: 上げます と 貰いました
  • Lesson 16: 一緒に行きませんか。行きましょう。
  • Lesson 17: Party
  • Lesson 18: 映画の切符が2枚有ります。
  • Lesson 19: て-form, た-form, conditional, and volitional
  • Lesson 20: ビールを20本持って来てください。
  • Lesson 21: 次の信号を右に曲がって、まっすぐ行ってください。
  • Lesson 22: バスに乗ります、バスを降ります、出ます、着きます
  • Lesson 23: このテレビを付けてもいいですか。
  • Lesson 24: 禁止 と 止めないでください
  • Lesson 25: 会議をしていますか。
  • Lesson 26: Review
  • Lesson 27: Where someone is, was and will be
  • Lesson 28: 日本の古い家具が好きです。買いたいです。
  • Lesson 29: しゃぶしゃぶがいいです。
  • Lesson 30: Review


  • A. Particles
  • B. Interrogatives
  • C. Sentence Patterns
  • D. Adjectives
  • E. Verb Conjugation
  • F. こ-そ-あ-ど
  • G. Country, Nationality, Language
  • H. Common Japanese Names
  • I. Counters
  • J. Extent, Frequency, Quantity
  • K. Time Expressions
  • L. Parts of the Face and Body
  • M. Kanji
  • Japanese-English Glossary
  • English-Japanese Glossary

The audio for the lessons is available for free on the book's website so download that if you want to learn a bit of Japanese for free -- without the book they are a bit more difficult for a beginner. Note that the version available (3rd edition) is not the version I read, the first edition.

There are a handful of typos in the first edition. I'm actually impressed that they didn't catch these in proofreading.

When people (usually selling a new learning tool) criticize book learning, this and similar books are what they are criticizing. If you are bored by the content, you will have difficulty putting the necessary time into the language to gain function. Without function, you can't participate. Without participation, you can't learn the language to an advanced level. Assuming you aren't bored by it the content is all keigo, which is bad news for anyone who is aged 年上 or has friends 友達. Because of the polite speech in Japan being such a high priority, keigo (ます-form and です) is an absolute must for business, strangers, and speaking to those older than you. But for other situations (talking with friends, family, and those younger than you), informal speech is necessary. This book doesn't teach informal speech. It plainly pretends that it does not exist. I realize that having even one lesson dedicated to friends talking informally would be a huge problem for the writer of a book, but it isn't a problem with any online course.

How does one speak informally? It isn't actually that difficult. Instead of the ます-form, you use dictionary form. So instead of 食べます, it's 食べる. Instead of 来ます it's 来る. Instead of 書きます, it's 書く. Similarly, polite words such as お手紙 can be replaced with informal words: 手紙. For です, you use だ. Instead of スミスです, you use スミスだ. To make a command informal, remove the 下さい, so instead of 止めて下さい you can say 止めて. Note how keigo makes everything a bit longer but doesn't increase the complexity a lot. ます-form is actually used in Japanese for non-formal conjugations, so it isn't an extra thing to learn. In informal speech, it's common to drop particles. Particles are a major source of error in beginner speech, especially when thinking about を vs が. But this is not as important.

So this book will start someone out if they are able to spend the ~15-30 hours to complete it. But why spend 15-30 hours with a book and audio files? For the price of this book, a person can probably learn 4x as much with multimedia online learning. There is often the mistaken bias to optimize one's learning either time-wise or money-wise. If you want to optimize this book out, you are probably alright. From my perspective the $25 price tag on this book is perfect for it's value. $25 is dwarfed by the value of a person's time and if you regret as easily as I do, there's no reason to skip putting this book on your shelf. That's right, 180° turn around from everything that I've said up until this point. That is to say that learning Japanese will cost you tens of thousands of dollars in time, hundreds of dollars in books, online classes, in-person classes, plane tickets, lodging, and of course taking friends out to dinner. If you don't have the money and you have the time, this book will serve you well. If you have the money but you don't have the time, you can afford this book, it will absolutely serve as a beacon upon your bookshelf.

When I visited Japan I just started reading this book. Unfortunately I was nowhere near where I needed to be in the book. So I went to the appendices and found the first three to be very helpful. I actually asked a few people questions in Japanese when I was in Japan. Almost all spoke to me in excellent English.

After having read this book, it is still valuable as a dictionary (being far more prioritized than other dictionaries I have), a reference, and a tool to learn the language. I don't expect I'll spend much time in it, but I'll look to give it away to someone who wants to learn. I might scan/digitize a few pages since they do give a concise list of things. I've already digitized their verb conjugation list.

Thanks for reading.


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