Reviewed by Elijah Zupancic
Student at the University of Washington (USA), Japanese major, currently studying in Japan
"Let's Learn Kanji" starts out with the normal introduction of the history of Chinese characters that all Kanji books seem to have. However, what sets it apart from many of the Japanese character workbooks that I have used is the quick introduction of bushu (radicals). Not only does the book introduce all the basic bushu, it also gives the Japanese names for each bushu and bushu position. The book expects students to learn the principles of writing all of the bushu before actually moving on to multi-bushu characters.
Regarding this approach, when compared to the approaches of other workbooks, I feel that it is quite idealistic. "Let's Learn Kanji" expects students (who were just shocked by having to learn hiragana and katakana) to learn the 250 or so bushu that often do not appear independently in most reading materials. Furthermore, this approach does not enable the student to read or write immediately. I feel that this is the reason why relatively few Japanese language textbooks take this approach to introducing Kanji. (I have, however, seen a number of Chinese language textbooks that do).
Thus, it is my feeling that "Let's Learn Kanji" is more valuable for students who have already learned approximately 100+ characters, because it will provide them with the basic principles of writing Kanji that well educated Japanese people know (e.g.: bushu names, names of the position of the bushu, and Kanji etymology).
Furthermore, I cannot stress enough how important it is for students to be able to recognize each of the component parts of a character, because when they want to be able to read and write over 1,500 characters they will find out that just memorizing "pictures" is insufficient. Actually, it is because of the attention given to bushu in this book that I recommend it to every beginning student of Japanese I meet.
However, I do have to say that some of the recognition exercises and reading exercises in the book might be quite difficult for a student starting with a limited vocabulary and experience with Kanji compounds. I almost feel that students should just skip these parts and start trying to apply the Kanji they learned in "Let's Read Kanji" to reading exercises in another book. Nevertheless, I am sure if students have enough patience, they can learn a great deal from the exercises in this book.
With regard to the presentation of the characters, all characters are shown with stroke order, a breakdown of the component bushu, example compounds, glosses, and practice bubbles. With regard to what it is lacking, I feel that the biggest gap in this book is the complete lack of handwritten examples, because people actually write characters quite stylistically different from the printed forms.
Overall, I think "Let's Learn Kanji" is as good an introduction to Kanji as you can find. Since there are so many Kanji to learn and so many issues involved in reading and writing them, it might take you a number of years to get fully accustomed to all of the issues involved. This book is a good start as you begin many years of studying Chinese characters.
Note: "Let's Learn Kanji" is followed by "Let's Learn More Kanji: Family Groups, Learning Strategies, and 300 Complex Kanji," by Richard Glenn Covington, Joyce Yumi Mitamura, and Yasuko Kosaka Mitamura." (Kodansha International, ISBN 4-7700-2069-4)