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Making Sense of Japanese : What the Textbooks Don't Tell You Paperback – May, 1998

4.4 out of 5 stars 75 customer reviews

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Paperback, May, 1998
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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." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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.

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Product Details

  • Series: Power Japanese Series
  • Paperback: 140 pages
  • Publisher: Kodansha Amer Inc; 2nd edition edition (May 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 4770023103
  • ISBN-13: 978-4770023100
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 4.2 x 7.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,649,805 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By B. M. Chapman on May 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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