“Minimal Guide to Learning Japanese”

I wrote a short guide titled “Minimal Guide to Learning Japanese” – originally just for some friends who were interested – to explain how I would recommend learning Japanese from scratch. I never intended to share this guide here but figured that I might as well. The design goals are (in order) speed, simplicity, and trustworthiness: (1) the primary goal is to learn as fast as possible; (2) simple and 95% optimal is better than complex and 99% optimal; (3) the method should obviously work (i.e. omit any strategies without extensive empirical evidence).


  • This guide does not recommend any textbooks. This is not because I have any personal vendetta against textbooks. I self-studied Genki and Tobira and am personally inclined to prefer textbooks. I just found that it was possible to cover the same ground faster without them.

  • This guide is only concerned with time cost, not monetary cost. The original target audience of this guide was friends who happen to be relatively well off. That doesn’t mean all of the recommendations are expensive, only that monetary cost was never a consideration.

  • The guide recommends Torii SRS. My personal preference is a highly customized Anki deck with Yomichan integration and several plug-ins, although I opted for a “batteries included” solution that is 90% as good for the purposes of this guide. Wanikani is solid also. I don’t have strong opinions on the particular SRS application.

Feel free to share what you would change.


I’d also recommend the (relatively new) pitch accent dictionary for Yomichan.

Also, I have two questions:

  1. What makes Google’s IME so much better than Microsoft’s? I’ve only used Microsoft’s, but I’ve never had major issues with it.
  2. Why use this Blackship service instead of buying from Amazon Japan or CD Japan? The shipping rates for this service look higher than just buying (books at least) from Amazon directly. I suppose this would allow you to buy a bunch of stuff used so the direct cost of goods are cheaper?

I read one volume of “unexpected stories”, and they weren’t much fun. I wouldn’t recommend that for a first read.
You can check the thread “comparison of book-club picks” to get other suggestions.


Will try the pitch accent dictionary.

  1. Much better auto-complete. That’s it as far as I know.
  2. Please enlighten me. I have not personally ordered a physical item from Amazon Japan. But I did need to have a Japanese address to order Kindle books. Can I use a non-Japanese address for ordering physical items?

Personally, I think the Google IME looks a lot better than the Microsoft one. The Google IME interface as well as the characters are more smooth due to higher resolution which makes things easier to read (especially when I was first learning kana). I wouldn’t say there is much else different if you are already used to the look of the Microsoft IME. Though I remember reading somewhere that unlike the plain dictionary that Microsoft uses, Google does their whole “scanning the web for slang and more accurate frequency rankings with AI” and stuff.

Google IME requires internet?

Not sure. I keep my internet on.
Edit: probably not it’s still a dictionary

I just recently bought some manga there. For the majority of items it ships worldwide, but there were a few that were limited only to japan.


You can get new items sold directly by Amazon shipped all over the world. Every country/region has their own shipping rules, but shipments to the U.S. are 1200 yen per package + a weight-based cost per item (which for manga usually works out to 100-150 yen per item). This recently changed from a flat rate per item (plus a lower per package cost), but the new approach is actually cheaper if you buy at least 3-4 books at a time. Also, you will almost always get your package within a week from when you placed your order.


Yeah, me neither.

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