One of the unfortunate realities of being a fan of Japanese media and culture is that, while there are a lot of options now available for those that speak English, the vast majority of content and information out there is only available in Japanese. I may be wearing my nerdy heart on my sleeve, but I’ll readily admit that the #1 reason I was driven to start studying Japanese in middle school was so I could watch anime that wasn’t getting released in English fast enough to satisfy my rabid fangirl ways. Of course, there are many, many reasons to take up learning a new language, including Japanese, but it’s always great to have the added motivation of a hobby you’re passionate about to spur on your studies!
A lot of people ask me to recommend resources to help them get started learning the language, but honestly, there are so many options available that it’s hard to even know where to begin! Since I personally learned Japanese through school, I’m most comfortable with suggesting textbooks to help you learn the basics, as I think it’s a great way to get a foundation that you can build on from as you get more comfortable with vocabulary, Japanese sentence structure, and reading/writing.
But I more than anyone know that textbooks can be boring and dry, so imagine my excitement when I heard about A Fujoshi’s Guide to Japanese! Published by Otome’s Way with the help of a Kickstarter for the second volume, the two-volume Japanese language textbook series presents Japanese language learning in a way that is fun and interesting for fans of anime and manga, with gorgeous color illustrations and informative manga and tons of audio supplements by professional voice actors!
If you’re unfamiliar with the term “fujoshi,” it’s generally used to describe women who like boys’ love, or yaoi, manga and related media (of course men can be into BL as well, but they’re usually called “fudanshi”). While the series is clearly made with fujoshi in mind, as it features an all-male cast and drawings by BL artist Ai Yusura, from my experience with the second volume there is nothing overtly “BL” about the content, making it great for anyone, not just fujoshi.
Since I was provided volume 2 for the purpose of this review, I unfortunately can’t comment at length on the content of volume 1 if you’re just starting out and want to begin your Japanese studies from square one with this series. From the preview provided on Otome Way’s website and the brief overview of volume 1 that appears in volume 2, it looks to provide a great foundation for further learning by teaching readers pronunciation, how to read and write hiragana and katakana, and some very basic beginner vocabulary and sentences.
Volume 2 builds on the introduction provided by volume 1 by going deeper into sentence structure and grammar while also starting readers down the long road of learning how to read and write kanji. I imagine the double-whammy of diving into more complex grammar such as adjectives, forming questions, and working with verbs along with the addition of kanji is daunting to start, but unfortunately that’s how Japanese study usually is – it’s best to dive in as early as possible, especially with kanji! Luckily, you’re free to take the contents of the book on as quickly or slowly as you feel comfortable, but without the structure of an actual class it may be easy for individual learners to feel too intimidated to press on, so I might suggest making goals such as focusing on mastering one chapter every two weeks and treating it like your own personal course.
Perhaps my favorite part of the Fujoshi’s Guide series are the manga portions that follow protagonist Alexis and his butler Shou that are used to introduce new concepts at the beginning of each chapter. These can be read while listening to accompanying audio of the voice actor’s performing the scenes, and then an English translation is provided so you don’t have to worry if you didn’t understand everything in the first go. The voice actors are really nice to listen to and actually bring life to their respective characters, unlike some of the horrific audio recordings I remember having to put up with back when I was a student! There are over 90 audio files included with volume 2, meaning nearly everything in the textbook is voiced, which is both extremely helpful for learning and fun to listen to at the same time (a rare combination for Japanese textbooks, I’ve found!).
There is also clearly a lot of care put into the structure of the book and making sure that readers learn more than the usual stuffy standard Japanese taught in most textbooks. Japanese teacher Yumiko Akeba is clearly familiar with the areas where English speakers usually experience trouble when learning Japanese, and I appreciated her direct yet informative explanations. One section that particularly stood out for me was an explanation of the particles “ne” and “yo” and their gender differences in Japanese with a variety of illustrated example dialogues. I also really liked the short explanation about natural speech, with examples of how spoken Japanese can often very from what’s taught in textbooks.
For those worried about implementing what they’ve learned in the book, never fear – each chapter has a review section and ample opportunities to practice. Unfortunately, though new vocabulary is introduced in each chapter, there aren’t quizzes, per say, so you have to keep yourself accountable by making sure you spend time learning the vocabulary. I also noticed that the book continues to teach readers new hiragana up through chapter three and then immediately jumps to introducing kanji in chapter 4, but doesn’t stop using romanji in examples until partway through chapter 10. Of course, I don’t profess to have any great understanding of how to teach people Japanese, but I worry by leaving in the romanji for so long, readers won’t push themselves to master hiragana even after they begin to learn kanji, which could make it difficult to retain much of anything. If I could give any advice to someone using the book, it would be to make sure you are diligent about memorising hiragana and katakana, and that you feel confident in reading it without romanji before starting chapter 4 so you can focus on kanji going forward.
Overall, I am extremely happy with A Fujoshi’s Guide to Japanese volume 2 and would highly recommend the series to anyone interested in learning Japanese! The colored illustrations and audio make this already professional and informative book really shine, and it would be the perfect way to make Japanese learning interesting to those who want to be able to watch anime or read manga in its original Japanese. If you already know some basic Japanese, I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t jump into volume 2, but if you want to see all of Alexis and Shou’s adventures, be sure to purchase volume 1, as well!
A copy of the book was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review. All opinions, however, my honest impressions!