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

4.17  ·  Rating Details ·  351 Ratings  ·  58 Reviews
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."
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Paperback, 144 pages
Published March 1st 2002 by Kodansha (first published 1992)
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Oh, this book. OH, THIS BOOK.

You see, when I read the reviews where everyone was praising this book, saying how useful and funny it was, I was slightly sceptical. Sure, I like Rubin's translations. Sure, he knows his Japanese. But I don't trust non-fiction/selfhelp/reference works to keep me interested. I always get bored reading them, I just don't have the patience. And this book is funny? Yeah, right.

Good job, Rubin, proving me wrong. I really enjoyed this book for so many reasons. For one, it
Nov 02, 2010 Sasha rated it really liked it
This book was recommended to me by my favorite professor ever, who taught Japanese translation at university. And it was definitely a great recommendation. This book is useful to me not just as a translator, but more as a Japanese teacher. The issue of Wa and Ga and endless modifiers is always a tough one to explain, and I feel better equipped to deal with the kids' questions.

Mr. Rubin, though. What a character. He makes me think of a dad or an uncle who jokes with the waitresses and laughs too
Jun 11, 2011 Melissa rated it really liked it
I went into it expecting a good read, and I wasn't disappointed. Jay Rubin's love of and enthusiasm for the Japanese language clearly comes across and transfers to the reader by the way he explains things. The book is fairly small and only 120+ entertaining pages, short enough to be a weekend read (in just one session even, and not many grammar books can be enjoyed cover-to-cover like that!). Looking at the table of contents, one might be lead to believe that this is a book for beginners, and in ...more
Apr 05, 2017 Eri rated it it was amazing
Shelves: japanese
It was like reading a textbook except this one had several really funny parts. It, reexplaines some old grammar, mentiones new things and teaches interesting approach to translation of long sentences from Japanese to English at the very end. Certainly handy.

Also, the subconscious 'Look, Mum, I'm reading Japanese/Russian/English!!!' explains so much about why I love some books more than their Czech equivalents, but why would I ever give up this joy?
Jan 02, 2016 Tanuki rated it really liked it
Jay Rubin is the biographer and main English translator of the works of Haruki Murakami. He also seems to relish in mocking academia, despite being an academic himself. Perhaps it's just linguistics he likes to jeer, which does make sense. I vaguely remember the silly turf wars within a university. Anyway, despite his rebellious streak, "What the Textbooks Don't Tell You" was probably just a "what THEY don't want you to know!" marketing tack-on from the publisher. It does reinforce that this is ...more
Oct 20, 2009 Joe rated it it was amazing
Shelves: japanese
I discovered Jay Rubin as one of Murakami Haruki's translators, and had been meaning to pick up this for some time. I'm glad I finally did. It's not exactly a text book, not exactly a humourous discussion of the Japanese language, but something in between.

Essentially split into two halves, the first is a long and fairly involved discussion of the differences between 'wa' and 'ga', and Rubin's idea of a 'the invisible pronoun' in Japanese grammar. The latter half is a collection of much shorter e
Jul 25, 2013 Ivy rated it it was ok
His passion for the language really comes through but it's a little too long-winded for someone like me. I probably wouldn't have dedicated 18 pages to distinguish "wa" from "ga", for example.

I'm an impatient learner who just wants to cut to the chase and figure out what potential pitfalls I need to look out for. But as I flipped through the pages hoping for him to illuminate me on something I've not already identified as a problem area, I was disappointed almost every step of the way. The "aha!
A very very good essay. It's nicely written and quite witty. The author clarifies a certain number of points in Japanese language that often appears vague to the students. It's the kind of book that you read once in its entirety and then you come back to it when you think about the Japanese language and you want to clarify.

The last part where the author explains how he actively understand a long Japanese sentence by anticipation is very clever and interesting to follow.

After reading, I really
Feb 09, 2015 Julie rated it really liked it
Shelves: japanese
A great little collection of funny, useful essays about various Japanese grammar points. I think this book deserves a space on most Japanese learners' bookshelf because it is easy to read, unlike many grammar books out there (not that these aren't necessary as well). It's a different way to approach some of the troublesome aspects of the language and may help one reach the hah-ah moment they were waiting for.

Losing one star only due to the examples being in romaji and therefore quite hard to rea
Nikolay Dyulgerov
Jun 09, 2015 Nikolay Dyulgerov rated it really liked it
An enjoyable read, though not so detailed. Still it's helpful for translators with its pointing out some interesting and problematic issues.
You can also find interesting mentions of Japanese authors and pieces of literature. I particularly enjoyed the one about Dazai Osamu and Mishima Yukio.
Dec 30, 2014 Jenne rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
So helpful and also fun to read! I totally cracked up at one of the footnotes to the point of drawing stares in the staff lunch room.
I also discovered that I've been kind of using "morau" incorrectly. GOOD TO KNOW.
May 08, 2017 Ash rated it liked it
Docking a star for misogyny and general douche-baggery.
Nov 17, 2015 Brendan rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Intermediate Japanese Language Learning
Recommended to Brendan by: NYPL
"The more I struggled to find English equivalents for it's journalistic hyperboles, its catchy neologisms intended to startle and stun, the more convinced I became that the Japanese read their own language the same way we do."

You could almost read this one just for the humor. Rubin, has freed himself in this book of not needing to teach the whole scope of the language nor write some dry essay nor even write something typically academic. He had some great points for understanding japanese, he too
Feb 26, 2015 Steve rated it it was amazing
This is very good. Jay Rubin translates a lot of Japanese literature in to English, and in particular Haruki Murakami, of whom he is a bit of a fan.

This book however talks about, in a witty way, about some of the pitfalls around understanding Japanese, and in particular correctly translating it. It is not, alas, a text book for learning Japanese, but a collection of essays about the use of an the translation of Japanese.

Frankly large sections I did not understand at all, but I am still very much
Maron Anrow
Aug 06, 2016 Maron Anrow rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
This book is probably best for students of Japanese who are a bit above my current level (I've only finished Genki 1, but through self-teaching I also know some vocab and grammar beyond that level). Even so, I gained a lot from reading this and I'll absolutely refer to it again in the future. Like many other reviewers said, it did make me laugh out loud a few times.

My only complaint is the use of roomaji throughout. I thought it might have been a typographical issue, but he uses kanji and kana w
Jan 27, 2009 Keith rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: 日本語の学生
Jay Rubin translated Wind-Up Bird, so I already knew he was amazing/brilliant/etc. What I didn't know is that he's also hilarious. Nice surprise, that.

The subtitle of this book is a little misleading. "What the Textbooks Don't Tell You" brings to mind a guide to Japanese slang or curse words or something (at least that's what I thought of), but really it's more about nuance. Little shades of meaning that usually aren't mentioned in textbooks simply because the textbooks are too busy trying to te
Jun 10, 2015 Mary rated it really liked it
This is an excellent reference for intermediate learners of Japanese once they cover essential grammar in class. I expected nothing less from Jay Rubin, whose translations I've read include Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and after the quake.

In this book, Rubin attempts to dispel the prevailing misperception that "Japanese is vague" as he stresses context analysis and dissects grammar points that had beleaguered my peers and me in the classroom. What is the difference between the p
Albara Alohali
Jun 15, 2014 Albara Alohali rated it liked it
This book helped me understand why some Japanese expressions or grammatical compositions were constructed the way they are. It also helped me better understand when a non-fluent Japanese is trying speak english while thinking in Japanese (and vice versa). For me at my current stage, I find the book a bit difficult in some parts, so I believe it is perfect for people already advanced in Japanese and are into "Japanese Translating". I just wished That the author wrote the example sentences in Japa ...more
D.C. Palter
May 19, 2014 D.C. Palter rated it it was amazing
I've never had so much fun reading a textbook. Here's a typical line:

"This construction [kara da] shows up in situations in which someone is evaluating or judging or preaching, and in positive statements there is a strong presumption that the speaker or writer has a better grasp of objective reality than the listener.. Here are a couple of examples of kara da from essays by the novelist Yukio Mishima, who was always convinced of his rightness and who used the form so frequently that he finally l
Nov 24, 2008 Fatma rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those already finished beginner Japanese
I bought the book because of the back sleeve promoted how it could help you how to make sense Japanese (especially for those fluent in english). And it did help by first crumbling the concepts I had on Japanese tenses (which I learned using my native language) to learning it through English.
It helps me understanding the predicate-only sentences and off course the particle "ga" which I found really confusing. This helps a lot if you read it along with your Japanese course books.
Nevertheless, I
May 23, 2009 Brian rated it really liked it
This was my second time through this gem. Great read -- a rarity among foreign-language instructional texts in that it's actually fun as well as instructive. I found Rubin's advice on understanding Japanese on its own terms invaluable. He discusses only what he's found to be "problem" aspects of the language for English learners, but he treats his topics in novel and illuminative ways. He also provides copious helpful examples, albeit at a vocabulary level somewhat higher than I was comfortable ...more
Naomi Williams
Dec 19, 2014 Naomi Williams rated it really liked it
This is a great, short, funny, informative read for the intermediate-advanced student of Japanese. I spent years studying Japanese, and Rubin's explanation of wa and ga is probably the clearest (and by far the wittiest) I've ever read. His examples come from "real" sources -- newspapers and books (lots of quotes from Murakami novels -- not surprising, as Rubin is one of Murakami's translators) -- rather than the stiff example sentences that are standard fare in so many textbooks. I wish the book ...more
Duncan Bay
Jul 09, 2014 Duncan Bay rated it really liked it
Recommended to Duncan by: Albara Alohali
Rather illuminating material emphasised with entertaining anecdotes.

The stories really help cement the intended use of the grammatical constructs covered in the book. Most language learners achieve this naturally through their own mistakes; I once asked my host's mother to violate me in the morning, whilst originally intending to ask her to wake me. His examples are equally memorable and afford the same effect of preventing a similar future faux pas (過ち) when using the language.

This only missed
Efe Saydam
Feb 09, 2014 Efe Saydam rated it really liked it
A funny, wry and insightful series of essays on the more ephemeral, nuanced yet far -too-common-to-ignore aspects of the Japanese language that cause so much head-scratching and headache among learners of the language. Also goes briefly into how some aspects of the language reflect the cultural traits of the Japanese themselves, such as indirectness and deference, as language and culture are inextricably linked. It is indeed much more difficult to understand concepts of a foreign language if the ...more
Mar 01, 2010 Haengbok92 rated it it was amazing
This book is excellent. Not only did it help me sort out HODO, but it also offers useful insight into the WA/GA differences in usage, how to properly understand TSUMORI, and KARA/NO DESU etc. My only complaint with the book is the dependence on solely Romanji as opposed to a mix of Hiragana and Kanji. The lack of Kanji (with Furigana) especially makes it difficult to parse out some of his examples, as the abundance of homonyms in Japanese makes Kanji an essential element of meaning transmission. ...more
Nov 01, 2015 Jakub rated it it was amazing
Shelves: top-top-top
What a brilliant book!

Facts first: this book consists of short to medium articles about different gotchas of Japanese language. Good chunk of those were above my level, and I could only vaguely judge their value - but the ones that I was familiar with were brilliant. Really good explanation of difference between は and が, very illustrative description "giving/receiving" verbs, and an awesome story about translations of passive forms to/from English. I can see myself re-reading this book again whe
Feb 20, 2011 cuifen rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011
One of those books I would give a 4.5 star rating to if half stars existed - not only incredibly useful for intermediate Japanese learners, but a really fun read to boot. It loses its (half) star due to the annoying use of Romaji throughout, which made it near impossible for me to parse sentences. However, this book is worth a read just for its explanations of Wa vs Ga, the zero pronoun, and the Johnny Carson Hodo. Other bits I found particularly useful was the mini-essay on Tsumori and Passive/ ...more
Nov 14, 2010 Yupa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Libello molto utile per chiarirsi diverse cosette sulla lingua giapponese e su come approcciarla.
Apprezzabile soprattutto perché l'autore non ammannisce i soliti luoghi comuni sul giapponese "ambiguo e impenetrabile": è una lingua come le altre, difficile per chi proviene da un ambiente linguistico molto lontano, ma non per questo radicalmente aliena.
Il volume è agile, scritto in maniera molto user friendly (a volte anche un po' troppo...), consigliabile a chi ha già delle nozioni di medio l
Trevor Kew
Mar 15, 2016 Trevor Kew rated it it was amazing
Shelves: kewjapan, kew-f
Great resource, especially for those who have been learning Japanese for a while, as it returns to some of the most difficult fundamental problems that foreigners face when learning the language. Rubin's examples and explanations are useful but also entertaining (sometimes hilarious) and he does not dumb things down at all, using source material from works by Murakami Haruki and others. Rubin's experience as a top translator really make this a unique and inspiring book to read in one's quest to ...more
Will E
Dec 08, 2014 Will E rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays, non-fiction
Extremely readable, extremely informative! Although to credit my Japanese teacher, a lot of the strategies and reminders written about here were taught to me back in the day, but now that I'm a slightly more confident reader of texts not intended to be educational (and therefore rigged), I got a lot out of this, and am excited to apply this knowledge in the future. ESSENTIAL for any student of Japanese.

My only critique is the use of romaji instead of kana/kanji, which actually made it harder for
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Jay Rubin is an American academic and translator. He is most notable for being one of the main translators into English of the works of the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. He has also written a guide to Japanese, Making Sense of Japanese, and a biographical literary analysis of Murakami.
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“Be as vigilantly on guard against translating such a sentence into the passive voice as you would against committing murder.” 2 likes
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