Japanese Step by Step: Book Review

Japanese Step by Step

When I first started learning Japanese I decided to put together a core collection of books that I thought would cover me pretty well. One of the first books I picked up was Japanese Step by Step: An Innovative Approach to Speaking and Reading Japanese.

The book came highly recommended from Amazon, so I was pretty sure it would be a winner. When the book arrived I started into it immediately. Since then I’ve started and restarted the book several times, never making it past 92.

Here’s why…

The Premise

The author of Japanese Step by Step, Gene Nishi, is a computer engineer. That means he thinks in a very logical, mathematical way. The book is laid out to teach you Japanese sentence construction with a building block approach, so the approach comes off very mathematical with plenty of flow charts.

It’s not going to be everyones cup of tea, but if you like a very logical approach to learning, this style will probably suit you well.

The Shortfalls

Where Japanese Step by Step starts to fall short is it’s almost complete lack of kana used for pronunciation.

When I started to learn conversational Japanese I thought I could do it without learning hiragana or katakana, so I relied heavily on romaji (an English approximation of a Japanese word). As the book has plenty of romaji, I thought it would be the easiest way to quickly learn the language.

However, as any serious student of Japanese will tell you, you can’t properly learn the language without learning how to read the language. So what I found myself doing was adding in the kana over top the romaji, which was taking a lot of time and ended up being pretty cumbersome.

Also, Gene seems to push you into the deep end pretty quickly. By page 77 you are given over 7 pages of verbs without any structured method other than – here they are, now go learn them.


For its obvious lack of kana and its steep learning curve, I don’t think I can recommend this book to new students of Japanese. While I believe that it can serve well as a reference to sentence construction, it really doesn’t hold its own as a stand alone book.

Although the book promises to teach you how to “construct Japanese sentences” and “learn to speak and read formal Japanese”, it only really delivers on the sentence construction promise.

So what are your thoughts? We’d love to hear your book recommendations in your comments!

3 Responses to “Japanese Step by Step: Book Review”

  1. Darren  on July 9th, 2010

    I’ve only been using ‘Japanese For Busy People’.
    That and ‘Making Out in Japanese’. Which I got because of Bill Murray on the Lost In Translation dvd.

  2. Travis  on July 12th, 2010

    Thanks for the suggestions Darren. I’ll have to add those to my read list.

    I’m currently working my way through ‘Japanese Demystified’. It’s proving to be a good book for learning Japanese particles in sentence construction.

  3. Ravi  on December 17th, 2016

    I’m going to be studying this book and I already got the Hepburn alphabet romanization down though it takes some work

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