One aspect of studying Japanese that has greatly frustrated me is my university's lack of writing classes. Learning kanji, vocab, grammar and an academic or other style is important, but Japanese rhetoric at its core is also structured differently than that of English.

For example, I remember learning how to write an essay in English for the first time. The teacher showed us that formula everyone knows: introductory paragraph with a thesis, supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion that restates the thesis.

Formulaic writing like this gets old, of course, but the basic idea is adhered to pretty well in English writing. State your thesis and support it. The first time I read an essay in Japanese, it was from some 社会学 study thing from a 東大 professor. It was designed to help Japanese students pass entrance exams. It was useful in some ways, but it was also very frustrating. I was frustrated because the author would say things like "I hope you found the thesis. It was right there, in that third paragraph. There's something wrong if you couldn't find it." I'd reread the passage over and over again but it was always difficult for me to understand the structure of the writing. "Of course I couldn't find it. Why is it in the third paragraph?!"

A Japanese person told me once that they structure their rhetoric opposite ours, saying that we put the thesis first and they put the thesis last. I think that is probably an oversimplification. My wife has been doing some interesting cultural studies and has led me to field of contrastive rhetoric; this article for example looks like a promising help to understanding. All three of the listed Japanese rhetorical structures would be very difficult for an English reader to understand.

I want to know some good resources to polish my writing skills in Japanese. It would be nice if there were something in English, similar to this Korean textbook, simply because it would be able to highlight the contrastive structure between English/Japanese writing styles. But something in Japanese is great, too (I remember seeing writing books at The Daiso, but something else would be nice). Perhaps there is a popular kokugo textbook for college/high school students?


If you are looking for a structured approach to become familiar with different writing styles, common ways of constructing/planning essays, technical writing, newspapers, novels etc then I would suggest working your way through some 読解 text books for the JLPT. The written section which makes up 1/3 of marks but takes up 1/2 the time is a series of comprehension questions similar to those you probably took in your English language classes at school. Doing the questions will force you to take an active approach and let you know if you really understand what you are reading.

There is a plethora of JLPT books but I would suggest starting with the 総まとめ series and then moving on to 新完全マスター. Both present the styles in a structured fashion. The former are easier to digest because they are less intense and try to give materials that are fun/interesting to read. I treated them as a primer for the latter which are less interesting and more intense but will take to a higher level. You could practise what you have learned from either series (ie increase you familiarity with the styles) by doing questions in other textbooks.

I should not be too proud to start at level N3, even if you think you are a higher level, you'll just fly through it in a few days! (I passed N1 last July but need to find a way to improve my skills of composition. I am now getting tremendous value out of reviewing the fundamentals of grammar with 新完全マスターN3.)

  • I may look into that. I'm a little wary though because I passed level 1 a while back and still want more information. I need something that teaches how to write, which they don't test on the JLPT (at least last I checked). – Nate Glenn Oct 9 '12 at 19:27
  • As I said, I just passed N1 (and I passed 2-kyuu many years ago) but passing does not mean your are competent in all areas. I need to improve my creative abilities too but before I can do that I think I need to actively read and think about how to use the language. – Tim Oct 9 '12 at 22:39

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