After buying too many Japanese books I’ve finally settled on one. It’s called Minna no Nihongo (みんなの日本語 – Japanese for Everyone).
The publisher thinks their book is pretty great too:Minna no Nihongo is a great book for learning Japanese.
…Making the most of Kiso’s teaching method – short-term intensive study, easy-to-understand language presentation, cast of characters in practical conversational settings, etc. – these books guarantee that the learner is able to make conversation in everyday life in the shortest time possible.
While I generally agree Minna no Nihongo is however, not the cheapest option. To get the most from the book you need to get the main text and a separate book with the translations and grammar notes. The main textbook is entirely in Japanese with some furigana (a kind of cheat sheet for the simple kanji used in the book). My first thought was this was a way to milk Japanese learners, but then I realized that it is because not everyone learning Japanese speaks English. There are, in fact, Translation and Grammar Notes books in a variety of languages.
Of course there are additional materials as well. You can get the extra work book, a set of CD’s to practice listening, some reading exercises, and a few other books that seem less useful. While these extra materials will help they aren’t necessary.
The books are not really designed for self-study. Of course you can use them for that, but language study from any book will only get you so far. I take a weekly lesson using the book. If I stopped taking lessons I would still use the book and learn from it, but I’d have to look elsewhere for answers to the things I want to know that book doesn’t cover. For me that source of help would be a co-worker, but there are also website discussion boards with people ready to help for those not living in Japan or without a Japanese friend.
Japanese is an amazing language— it’s difficult, but interesting and fun. 日本語はとてもすごい言語です。にほんごは難しがおもしろいと楽しい言語です。