Making Sense of Japanese

What the Textbooks Don't Tell You

  • Jay Rubin
Making Sense of Japanese

Size: 182×130 mm, 160 g
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 144
Previously published in the Power Japanese
series as Gone Fishin’ and under the same title.
ISBN10: 1-56836-492-X
ISBN13: 978-1-56836-492-6
Release date: Jan. 18, 2013

List price: $16.00

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Making Sense of Japanese is the fruit of one foolhardy American's thirty-year struggle to learn and teach the Language of the Infinite. Previously known as Gone Fishin', this book has brought Jay Rubin more feedback than any of his literary translations or scholarly tomes, “even if,” he says, “you discount the hate mail from spin-casters and the stray gill-netter.”

To convey his conviction that “the Japanese language is not vague,” Rubin has dared to explain how some of the most challenging Japanese grammatical forms work in terms of everyday English. Reached recently at a recuperative center in the hills north of Kyoto, Rubin declared, “I’m still pretty sure that Japanese is not vague. Or at least, it's not as vague as it used to be. Probably.”

The notorious “subjectless sentence” of Japanese comes under close scrutiny in Part One. A sentence can’t be a sentence without a subject, so even in cases where the subject seems to be lost or hiding, the author provides the tools to help you find it. Some attention is paid as well to the rest of the sentence, known technically to grammarians as “the rest of the sentence.”

Part Two tackles a number of expressions that have baffled students of Japanese over the decades, and concludes with Rubin’s patented technique of analyzing upside-down Japanese sentences right-side up, which, he claims, is “far more restful” than the traditional way, inside-out.

“The scholar,” according to the great Japanese novelist Soseki Natsume, is “one who specializes in making the comprehensible incomprehensible.” Despite his best scholarly efforts, Rubin seems to have done just the opposite.

Previously published in the Power Japanese series under the same title and originally as Gone Fishin’ in the same series.


“It is safe to say that Making Sense of Japanese is probably the best money you could invest in your quest to master Japanese.”
Tokyo Today

“Brief, wittily written essays that gamely attempt to explain some of the more frustrating hurdles [of Japanese].... They can be read and enjoyed by students at any level.”
Asahi Evening News

Readers’ Comments

“A while ago, I came across Making Sense of Japanese without realizing what a pearl I had found . . . Now, many good laughs later, I just want to thank you for sharing this with a larger audience. I teach translation from Japanese to English at [the university level], and already find myself shamelessly recycling your jokes (and recommending that the students get your book!).”

“I just finished reading your book and wanted to drop you a line to tell you how useful it is. I’ve been studying Japanese since coming to Japan three and a half years ago, and had seemed to be hitting a bit of a wall, but your book has got me going again. I especially appreciated the stuff on passive and causative, since I have been dodging using them for a food long while now, and getting away with it!”

About the author

JAY RUBIN is a professor of Japanese literature at Harvard University, where he has employed the pedagogical techniques contained in Making Sense of Japanese “as infrequently as possible.” He has authored Injurious to Public Morals: Writers and the Meiji State and Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, edited Modern Japanese Writers, and translated Soseki Natsume’s Sanshiro and The Miner and Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Norwegian Wood, and After the Quake (Knopf and Harvill, 2002).