Vocabulary Learning Books?

Do you know of any good books to learn Japanese vocabulary (even if it’s without kanji)?

Considering Japanese started out without a writing system, there would have to be a way to build vocabulary from one another in a way similar to but separate from kanji that would be more efficient from classical approaches. At least that makes sense to me.

Bonus points if it features pitch accents.

there’s these:

The series divides itself up by jlpt level and each of those by subject. It comes with a red sheet that hides or reveals the vocabulary words. It has kanji but each one has furigana. Everyone here in Japan seems to use the English version of books that look quite similar (just lists with short sentences and a red sheet). I haven’t had much success studying in this cram-style fashion so I can’t vouch for them personally. But I have looked through them before and they are very cleanly laid out and straight forward vocabulary books. :smile_cat:

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Yeah, there are plenty of vocab resources out there. Some of the ones I have…

I’m not sure I get what you mean here though. Kanji have been incorporated into Japanese for like 1300 years. The Japanese from before kanji entered the picture would be largely incomprehensible to a typical modern Japanese person. So I’m not too sure what the connection would be.


Well consider that most of the spoken Japanese isn’t Chinese in origin, and that pretty much worldwide the literacy rate was at under 1 in 5 around 5 centuries ago.

Chinese dialects and kanji generally have a reading to symbol ratio close to 1. For Japanese, this ratio is over 6 (including archaic readings, excluding those I don’t doubt that the ratio would be closer to 4, still the point is clear).

To me it’s a sign that the Japanese language wasn’t adapted to the kanji, but rather that the kanji were adapted to the already separately developed Japanese language.

So similarly to how etymology is used in European languages, due to sound symbolism the same could be done with Japanese, and so separately from the writing system.

I guess said shortly, what I’d be looking for is an etymological approach to learning Japanese vocabulary. I am well aware that I would also be reading through archaic old as shit Japanese as well as a consequence, but that’s the goal.

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Not sure I can help with that, but hope it works out for you.


Are you sure about that Mr. “Hit me with all the most obscure kanji you can find so that I can make an hour long video trying to read them in practice for a test that most Japanese people don’t pass”?


Most of the words that use the kanjis’ 音読み have the etymology correctly represented via kanji. And the ones with 訓読み mostly have the etymology uknown since we don’t have anything before the 7th writing (which used Kanji) except a single 3rd century Chinese book talking about Japan that has small handful of Japanese words.

I take an etymological approach as well (particularly for grammar), but Kanji is needed for that. For example, ありがとう has kanji form 有り難う. This used to be 有り難く (a form of 有り難い), but then the “k” dropped to get 有り難う, but the 難 was still pronounced がた. Then あう, as it often does in Japanese, became おう over time.

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Seconding this one. There are anki decks that have been put together that include the native audio. I’ve used N5, N4, and I’m currently working on N3. I’ve enjoyed them a lot as it has high quality material and native audio. I highly recommend it. Also, the books are pretty cheap.

I don’t see why kanji would be needed for it. Because the way I see it, here you just end up with an additional potential reading for 難 from がた to がと over time.

It makes sense that a kanji chosen for its meaning once assigned to a term would retain the same kanji for derivative forms of the previous term because as a general rule, the new form also retains the meaning of the original, at least enough that it shouldn’t warrant a different kanji.

If kanji were needed for etymology, I’d expect that the readings would stay consistent over time, but at least in the example given that doesn’t seem to be the case.

So we’re back at the conclusion of kanji being stuck to vocabulary for its meaning and not the other way around. An additional, different example of displaying this would be 明日 pronounced either あす or あした or みょうにち. If we were to rely on kanji for the etymology, what are we to do with all the different readings for the same term?

Cases of the same readings and kanji appearing in different vocabulary to me doesn’t suggest that kanji is central to the etymology either, but rather that as in other languages, these words are attained through combinations of the same terms carrying the same meaning (and so the same kanji is applicable).

If you want to learn vocabulary without Kanji, you can do so aurally.

This assumption is tripping you up for everything else though.

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Well, yes, that’s the ありがとう example (あり+がたう basically). But then again the kanji will help highlight the units of meaning.
Or are you talking about stuff like 承る that can be decomposed further into 受け賜る (even though the meaning of those words is actually different in modern Japanese)?


This assumption holds true for Japanese-origin vocabulary which constitutes the majority of day-to-day Japanese.

Both. All cases of “similar pronunciation carries similar meaning”, not excluding that I’m aware there are cases where similar pronunciation carry different meaning and have different etymology.

Anything that could be narrowed down to the same etymology is what I’m interested in, which by default would exclude loanwords I suppose, I’m aware this approach can’t be applied to the whole language, but I believe it is applicable to most of the commonly used Japanese (non-technical, non-academic, etc).

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