Review: Talking About Japan

1 Feb

Japanese: 英語で話す日本 Q&A
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Format: Reference book
Publisher: Kodansha International

Talking About Japan is a bilingual Japanese-English book that covers a wide range of topics from Japanese history and geography to the economy, government and society. This book is great for improving reading comprehension as it’s printed in Japanese on the left-hand page and in English on the right.

At approximately 300 pages the book isn’t a light read. However remembering that half of Talking About Japan is printed English, it really isn’t that huge and as each chapter covers a particular topic about Japan it’s easy to pick up and put down without losing ‘reading momentum’. Topics covered include geography, history, government and the economy, way of life and society, culture, clothing and housing, and Japanese customs.

Kodansha first published this book in 1996, so figures on the economy and population, for example, are now out-dated. Despite this you will still find the vocabulary and terminology used in these chapters useful, particularly if you have limited exposure to materials that concern more specific areas  like taxation, exports and natural resources, the political system, and the constitution for instance.

The chapters on culture, customs, food and daily life in Japan makes for an interesting read. Luckily for us Japan is very traditional in these areas so the information presented here is still relevant, even in more recent times.

Each chapter contains a range of questions and are answered in about half a page. We feel this is an appropriate length since the answers can be detailed enough without becoming long-winded and over complicated. Some questions discussed in the book include, ‘How many volcanoes are there in Japan?’, ‘What kind of crimes are the most common in Japan?’, ‘What is Zen?’, ‘What is a common wedding ceremony in Japan like?’ and ‘What is the correct way of bowing?’. There really is quite an extensive list of topics being covered here.

Like other books we have reviewed from Kodansha (see our review of Konna Eigo ga Wakaranai!?) this book has been written for native Japanese speakers. Kanji is frequent and furigana is limited unless the name of a person or location is being discussed. This means the book might be out of reach for learners who are not at an upper intermediate or JLPT N2/N1 level. The grammar used in the book averages around the N2 level.

If your Japanese comprehension is around this level then we can see this book becoming a useful resource. Talking About Japan will definitely strengthen your vocabulary given the native-level Japanese it contains and the wide range of topics it covers. If you are preparing to take the JLPT, this book would be especially useful with improving your reading speed for the short and medium length questions. On the other hand, if you aren’t sitting for the JLPT and would just like to read up on Japan and all aspects of its culture and people then you too will find this book interesting

Overall we think the best thing about Talking About Japan is the ability to read the text in either Japanese or English. Once you’ve tried reading the Japanese text you can read the English translation for extra clarification, or if you vocabulary is lacking in a particular area, you can focus on reading those chapters first. We do recommend having a kanji or electronic dictionary beside you, however, to look up the readings of unfamiliar words given the lack of furigana.

SCORE: 7/10


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