Kanzen N3 or Tobira


I know there are threads discussing Kanzen vs. Tobira, and I checked Reddit as well, but I haven’t really reached any conclusions.

I’m thinking of starting Tobira or Kanzen N3 (grammar+reading comprehension), but, since neither is available in my country and shipping takes forever and is expensive, I really don’t want to make the wrong decision. There is no way I can have a look at them, short of downloading pirated copies.

I’m mostly interested in reading Japanese. I won’t be taking the JLPT in the foreseeable future and I’m ok leaving listening for later. I’m interested in grammar explanations, example sentences, and reading material, so I was drawn to the Kanzen series, but I can’t have a look at it before I buy, and it seems to be focused on the JLPT exam, so I’m afraid it would be mostly drilling and example questions. I want to be able to read books in Japanese, so I’m wondering which of the two is the best option - or if it’s something else entirely.


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I think you’ve already made good choices in narrowing it down to those two options - both are great. From your description of what you want, I think I’d have to say Tobira would be better.

I’ve used a few Kanzen books and they are absolutely excellent. However, they are JLPT prep books and the readings are in the style of JLPT exam passages. Tobira includes most grammar points you’ll need for N3 (and slightly beyond, I believe), plus its readings are longer and include a fair amount of variety - conversations as well as straight up articles. It’s also all contained in one volume so if shipping’s an issue, that might be important. And, even though you’re not concerned about listening for now, Tobira includes it anyway while Kanzen requires another separate volume.


By the way, a quick google search lead me to this page. It’s a review of Tobira with tons of pictures of the content, so you get a better look.

I used the kanzen master grammar book for N2, but, as @riccyjay mentioned, their style is a bit dry. I would not really recommend it without other inputs for grammar (to get extra explanations). Well, there’s the whole internet…

By the way, if you honestly plan to buy the book, I feel downloading a pirated version before hand isn’t bad. On one hand, it becomes legal for you to have it once you bought the book. On the other hand, if you don’t like it, just delete the file. Problem solved.


I own both books (although Kanzen N2 and N1 rather than N3) and in your case, I would most probably recommend Tobira. Definitely take the advice of the posters above.

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Thanks guys, I’ll go with Tobira then. Not only it seems like the better option, but while reading your opinions I found on Google a tiny bookshop in São Paulo with a really old website that listed Tobira. I just called and talked to an elderly Japanese lady, who took down my address and gave me her bank details. It was actually more expensive than buying with international shipping (and I’m really hoping for the best, here, seeing that there’s no paper trail at all), but at least I can have it within 3 days.

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Have you considered the Nihongo So Matome books as well? I have the reading comprehension books for N3, N2 and N1 and I really like them.

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That is not necessarily true, depending on the country. Morally acceptable is not the same as legal.

Actually, in my country, having a copy of a book for personal use is not considered a crime at all.

Lucky you. :slight_smile: Not that anyone does anything about it in the United States even though it’s technically illegal.

Well, legality and morality aside, printing out poorly scanned textbooks is not the best anyway.

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I think you made the right choice. I was going to post and recommend Tobira over the Kanzen N3 (grammar+reading comprehension), but it looks like you’ve already decided the same. :slight_smile:

I have all three books. Tobira is a bit easier, and also a bit more enjoyable. The best part of the Kanzen N3 is the part where they explain some of the differences between written and spoken Japanese. Tobira is great because it has a lot of different types of writing, from casual to somewhat formal, and even advertising like text in parts. Plus it is a beautiful book and crammed with more content than the Kanzen N3. I also find it easier to read, because the size of the kanji in the Kanzen is pretty small and the printing is not as nice as Tobira.

An additional benefit is that Tobira includes the website material. I haven’t used that much, but I have used it a bit and it helps. Enjoy!


I just looked into it and the Anki decks for vocab seem interesting. Grammar exercises that don’t include Mary and Takeshi are also a plus.


I see you mentioned Sao Paolo? If you are in Brazil you are most definitely able to get this kind of Japanese stuff.

But anyway, I’ll just say that if you’re going with Tobira, even if you don’t use the grammar Shin Kanzen book (I went through both sets of books), the reading comprehension Shin Kanzen Master book is highly recommended. I don’t think any book did more for my actual reading comprehension than those books.

I am in Brazil, but I’ve only found this one place that sold Tobira (there might be more, but not online), and I’ve only found a couple of mentions of the Kanzen books in Brazilian pages, and only in blog posts. I’ll see how I feel after Tobira, but I’m definitely interested in the reading comprehension books.

Does Amazon.com not ship internationally?

They do, it’s just you have to wait like 30 days for delivery, plus however long it takes to clear customs. So, doable, but you don’t want to wait that long and find out the book’s not really what you needed.

Actually, I checked to make sure, but it’s not illegal in the US either.
It’s not EXPLICITLY legal either, as they made the law vague on purpose.
I had a class on copyright laws 5 years ago so my knowledge might be outdated though. (Although Wikipedia confirms it).
You can always move to Canada (or, say, Japan), where it’s explicitly legal :slight_smile:

Tobira is great for grammar and reading comprehension; it sucks if you try to self assess your exercises. I find the Kanzen a bit cryptic sometimes, but I think it’s better, more complete, than the Soumatome series in the end, another JLPT preparation book.

I would recommend you to check the Try! series. They are JLPT preparation books but the difference with Kanzen and Soumatome is they are more textbook like. They introduce some related subjects at the beginning of every chapter through a common theme and then delve deeper into the grammar points, with easy to self assess exercises at the end of every point. It also comes with a CD and an answer key at the end.

Just dropping by to say how it turned out for me, in case someone else has this same question in the future:

I just finished chapter 4 on Tobira and I couldn’t be happier about having bought it. It’s absolutely excellent for reading comprehension, and I really like the grammar notes sections.

Being on the mid-30’s of WaniKani, there are hardly any kanji I don’t know, and perhaps 10 or 15 unknown words per chapter, meaning I can focus on grammar and comprehension without being distracted by looking up words all the time.

I’m skipping the excercises entirely. Since I don’t have a teacher to correct my mistakes, I’d rather not pick up any bad habits. Since my immediate goal is reading comprehension, that’s not much of a problem.

Whenever I start a new chapter, I can generally understand the main text, but a few points or sentence structures are not clear. After reading the dialogues and the grammar notes, I go back to the main text and find I can understand it completely.

Hope this helps someone.


Exceptionally helpful. I actually have two copies of Tobira: it’s “beta” print and the current print. Current print maybe has things laid out a bit more intuitively. Only have a beta print because my Japanese 301 class was one of the experimental classrooms immediately prior to its mass publication. But 301 is when my Japanese motivation frizzled out and I remember only feeling angry and disengaged, not any of the content. I wasn’t sure if that frustration was just life events at the time (it was one of my worst years), or actual difficulty of the content. This gives me hope that maybe when I’m done reviewing Genki II I can just jump into Tobira and not dish out on the whole Kanzen 3 series. Perhaps save that for Kanzen 2 and Intermediate/Advanced Dictionary of Japanese Grammar?