Book Review: A Guide to Reading and Writing Japanese


As anyone who has started studying Japanese will know, reading is really, really hard. With 3 different writing systems and thousands of tiny and complicated kanji to learn, it’s easy to view reading Japanese as too high of a mountain to climb.

Today we’re going to quickly review a guide that will hopefully make that climb a little easier.

Any proper Japanese learning library should include a kanji dictionary. The only problem is, most of these dictionary are large and confusing. While I’ve learned to use, and love my Kanji Learners dictionary, it did take me a while to understand how to look up every elusive kanji.

Tuttle’s Guide to Reading and Writing Japanese takes away a lot of that initial dictionary confusion by trying to make things as simple as possible. The guide breaks things down by going into detail with only the first 1,006 kanji that will make up the beginning six years of elementary school.

The book also displays the entire 2,136 general everyday use kanji, but wont give you their stroke order or much details on them.

What’s Inside

The book contains stroke order illustrations, romaji readings and example uses for the first 1,006 kanji. As mentioned, the full 2,136 everyday kanji are also listed in Section Two of the guide, but little material is devoted to them.

There is also a radical index at the back which will allow you to look up kanji by their primary radical, and an index of readings rounds out the guide, which allows you to look up a kanji by their on or kun readings.


Noticeably missing is any hiragana. While each kanji has the romaji (Englishized Japanese) reading provided, I feel the lack of hiragana reduces the guide’s effectiveness in providing accurate pronunciation.

The oversight seems deliberate, perhaps as an attempt to make the guide attractive to first time learners who haven’t learned hiragana yet. But considering that learning hiragana is typically quick and painless, and is an absolute necessity if you want to read Japanese or even pronounce words correctly, it’s an unfortunate omission.

Where I think this guide shines is in it’s use for learning stroke orders. But even in that, I found looking up a kanji by number of strokes alone, actually took more time than the somewhat more complex, but ultimately more effective method of my more complete Kanji Learners dictionary.

a guide to r and w in japanese 5

Overall I think the guide provides a good look at what you’re in store for when you start trying to read and write Japanese, but the features that are lacking make it hard to recommend it as a must have tool in your Japanese learning library.

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