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Making Sense of Japanese: What the Textbooks Don't Tell You [Paperback]

by Jay Rubin
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)

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Making Sense of Japanese: What the Textbooks Don't Tell You Making Sense of Japanese: What the Textbooks Don't Tell You 4.6 out of 5 stars (49)
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Book Description

March 1, 2002 4770028024 978-4770028020
Making Sense of Japanese is the fruit of one foolhardy American's thirty-year struggle to learn and teach the Language of the Infinite. Previously known as Gone Fishin', this book has brought Jay Rubin more feedback than any of his literary translations or scholarly tomes, "even if," he says, "you discount the hate mail from spin-casters and the stray gill-netter."

To convey his conviction that "the Japanese language is not vague," Rubin has dared to explain how some of the most challenging Japanese grammatical forms work in terms of everyday English. Reached recently at a recuperative center in the hills north of Kyoto, Rubin declared, "I'm still pretty sure that Japanese is not vague. Or at least, it's not as vague as it used to be. Probably."

The notorious "subjectless sentence" of Japanese comes under close scrutiny in Part One. A sentence can't be a sentence without a subject, so even in cases where the subject seems to be lost or hiding, the author provides the tools to help you find it. Some attention is paid as well to the rest of the sentence, known technically to grammarians as "the rest of the sentence."

Part Two tackles a number of expressions that have baffled students of Japanese over the decades, and concludes with Rubin's patented technique of analyzing upside-down Japanese sentences right-side up, which, he claims, is "far more restful" than the traditional way, inside-out.

"The scholar," according to the great Japanese novelist Soseki Natsume, is "one who specializes in making the comprehensible incomprehensible." Despite his best scholarly efforts, Rubin seems to have done just the opposite.

Previously published in the Power Japanese series under the same title and originally as Gone Fishin' in the same series.

Editorial Reviews


"Brief, wittily written essays that gamely attempt to explain some of the most frustrating hurdles [of Japanese]...It can be read and enjoyed by students at any level."

About the Author

JAY RUBIN is a professor of Japanese literature at Harvard University, where he has employed the pedagogical techniques contained in Making Sense of Japanese "as infrequently as possible." He has authored Injurious to Public Morals: Writers and the Meiji State and Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, edited Modern Japanese Writers, and translated Soseki Natsume's Sanshiro and The Miner and Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Norwegian Wood, and After the Quake (Knopf and Harvill, 2002).

Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Kodansha USA (March 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 4770028024
  • ISBN-13: 978-4770028020
  • Product Dimensions: 7.2 x 5.2 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #645,460 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jay Rubin is a professor of Japanese literature at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He has written on prewar literary censorship, No drama, and the authors Natsume Soseki and Murakami Haruki. His translation of Soseki's Sanshiro was included in Kodansha's English Library. His other books include Injurious to Public Morals: Writers and the Meiji State. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1984; The Miner, by Natsume Soseki. Translation and study of Kofu. Stanford University Press, 1988; The Elephant Vanishes. Translation of 8 of 17 stories by Murakami Haruki. New York: Knopf, 1993; The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Translation of Murakami Haruki's Nejimakidori kuronikuru. New York: Knopf, 1997; Norwegian Wood. Translation of Murakami Haruki's Noruwei no mori. New York: Vintage, 2000; and Modern Japanese Writers. Edited volume. New York: Scribner's, 2001.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
174 of 174 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great treasure for intermediate students. 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.
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125 of 125 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
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.
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61 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Totally deserving of these 5 stars January 4, 2000
By Tim
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.
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42 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The only one that... March 23, 2006
I own numerous fantastic Japanese grammar reference volumes on Japanese (most of which are available through amazon.) All of them allude to the points that Rubin tackles in this deceivingly slender yet startlingly informative volume. Despite avid interest in grammar and having studied countless hours huddled over cup after cup of espresso, I had questions to which I could not seem to find adequate answers. That changed when I finally tracked down a copy of this book.

If it is credibility you're looking for, Jay Rubin has it: besides a position as a professor of Japanese at an ivy league, he is a famous translator whose works read like English rather than an attempt to superimpose foreign syntax upon each sentence. In other words, this is someone who is comfortable with Japanese and can explain it both as an expert and as one who at one time studied it in school (and struggled, as he explains briefly.)

As for content, the book is concise, funny (I laughed out loud a dozen times,) and incredibly helpful. The content is focused upon the greatest ills of English-speaking students of the Japanese language. The book begins with a fun introduction in which Rubin assaults the myth that Japanese is somehow vague or alien in comparison to other languages of the world. He begins by debunking the tale oft-perpetuated by well-meaning Japanese instructors. You know what I'm talking about: the subjectless sentence. In actuality, these are NOT subjectless anymore than an English sentence using a pronoun or demonstrative is subjectless. Rubin spends time warning the reader to re-evaluate his/her understanding of what it means to have a passive/intransitive verb versus one with an agent and helps to once and for all expell the confusion.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Not for serious Japanese students
I ordered this book because of the high praise that people were giving it. However, I was disappointed to find that it doesn't really tell the reader anything specific. Read more
Published 16 days ago by Cherie
5.0 out of 5 stars unique resource
Bought this for my teenage son who has decided to teach himself Japanese. This book seems to be one-of -a-kind and a great complement/supplement to the usual dictionaries and... Read more
Published 1 month ago by me
1.0 out of 5 stars still foreign
why can't any of this books be more simplistic to understand instead they start one end which is from some point and the other part is still in their mind because it makes... Read more
Published 1 month ago by bRS
5.0 out of 5 stars easy and amazing!
Clarifies a lot of things (though not all) in a very nice writing style. The way Jay writes makes it seem like he is sitting across the tatami from you while you both take tea. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Syaoran-Lover
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!
The book is well written and explains things in a clear and concise way. I frequently check it for reference!
Published 2 months ago by Riley Skains
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful demystification of Japanese grammar misconceptions
After having a few years of Japanese study under my belt, I began reading this book. It changed how I viewed Japanese sentence structure, the role of different particles (WA (ha)... Read more
Published 4 months ago by James D.
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative AND funny!
The best combo! It is very informative and straightforward, but peppered with wit and humor, which, for someone like me, helps to make that knowledge actually stick! Read more
Published 6 months ago by Amanda May
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating
Though I have not had time to really get into this book quite yet, it is honestly the most interesting way to understand how Japanese people think.
Published 7 months ago by Nikolaos Paterakis
4.0 out of 5 stars It is good for someone learning to speak.
I'm helping a young boy who would like to learn to read/write and speak Japanese. The hard part of doing so is I am Japanese but never really learn how to. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Reiko Stewart
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book.
I bought this as a gift for a 21 year old. He has learned a lot from this. Very easy to understand and I would highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn anything... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Skittles
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Topic From this Discussion
Please, drop romaji and create a Kana & Kanji version
They're "romaji," not "romanji." You ought to be able to name what you condemn.
Aug 1, 2009 by Casey |  See all 6 posts
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