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

4.12 of 5 stars 4.12  ·  rating details  ·  160 ratings  ·  32 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."

To conv...more
Paperback, 144 pages
Published May 1st 2002 by Kodansha Europe (first published 1992)
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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...more
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...more
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
Albara Alohali
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
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...more
Efe Saydam
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
Jul 09, 2014 Duncan rated it 4 of 5 stars
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...more
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!...more
Jan 29, 2009 Keith rated it 5 of 5 stars
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...more
Nov 24, 2008 Fatma rated it 4 of 5 stars
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...more
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
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
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...more
Feb 21, 2011 cuifen rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
This little book, by translator Jay Rubin (most well known for his English translations of Murakami Haruki's novels), would have been SO helpful to me when I was in the thick of my Japanese study. I regret I didn't read it earlier! Rubin tackles numerous grammatical frustrations and mysteries of Japanese--particularly the wa/ga particle conundrum and the "backwards" nature of Japanese syntax--with humor and clarity. Highly recommended to any serious student of the Japanese language.
James York
I really liked this book when I was studying Japanese and recommend it to my students now.
Morgan Catha
I wish I had this book fifteen years ago. Highly recommended.
A helpful tool that encourages you to use some of the trickier grammar points of Japanese written by (in my opinion the best) one of Haruki Murakami's translators. There are a few good laughs (and several more groaners), but Rubin definitely has an excellent grasp on teaching this kind of stuff. Good for people at an intermediate level. Not recommended for anyone studying Portugese.
Brief, humorous, and useful guide to some sticky problems in comprehending written Japanese. Rubin provides some useful notes on what to pay attention to when reading. The one problem with this book is that it uses extensive passages of Japanese text in Romaji> instead of kana and kanji. Not sure why the publisher couldn't be bothered to print the Japanese.
Warnie B.
This is a pretty helpful book with sorting out certain things in Japanese that are difficult for English speakers to wrap their minds around. I haven't learned about several topics covered here yet, so some sections weren't terribly useful to me at this point, but I'll definitely pull this back out again once I get to those things in class.
Diana Welsch
Mar 18, 2009 Diana Welsch rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: intermediate students of Japanese
Recommended to Diana by: the internets
This was an interlibrary loan, so I had to turn it in before I was done, but this was a highly entertaining book. When I get a little farther with the Japanese, I'll probably buy it.

I wish I could take this guy's class. He's so sassy and delightful. It's a rare teacher that makes learning a language a hilarious experience.
A concise examination of some of the conundrums of understanding Japanese from a language learner's perspective. This book begins by debunking the myth that Japanese is the "language of the infinite" and too difficult to learn, then provides strategies for getting through some of the most common difficulties of the language.
Kyle Muntz
This is a really good book, though about half of it was actually above my proficiency level, so I'm going to have to go back to it later on to really get everything. When I saw something like this from one of Murakami's translators I just couldn't resist.
This book is amazing. I recommend this book to ANYONE interested in Japanese.

I would also recommend it to anyone interested in Language in General. It provides some interesting insight to the English language from the Japanese Language perspective.
Aug 28, 2008 Torerling rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people that hate kanji, people that likes grammar
Well, the book started off good and interesting, but as the time passed it seemed to be more and more repetitive.
And one thing, why use romaji in such a intermediate book? That really doesn't make any sense whatsoever.
Good book for intermediate learners of Japanese. I'm a beginner but I still found it helpful (although some stuff was beyond my level). This book explains a lot of the subtleties of Japanese and explains many common pitfalls.
Nathan Glenn
A must read for ANY serious studier and because it's so entertaining may be a good read for any that are interested in languages in general.
Jake Baker
An entertainingly written and insightful book; an easy read, but I did not feel it added substantially to my understanding of Japanese.
Sep 24, 2009 Anne is currently reading it
This is a really fun read! Who knew? I am just starting, but think I might even buy my own copy... maybe.
Mélanie D.
Excellent guidebook for japanese learning.
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Born 1941.

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.
More about Jay Rubin...
Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words Modern Japanese Writers Alehouse #4 Poetry on Tap Injurious to Public Morals: Writers and the Meiji State Alehouse No. 2 2008

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