Answering Questions: Aged white miso, plus Japanese for beginners

I get asked a lot of questions by email, Twitter and on Facebook (as well as on Quora, although I am taking an extended break from that at the moment). Sometimes the answers may be of interest to a broader audience, like two I received recently. I've taken out any personal details and so on in the questions.

Question: Is it possible to buy a long-aged white miso?


The person asking this question was interested in miso that had been aged for an extended period, since she had read that aged miso is healthier.

The answer to this is: not really. A long-aged miso - say something that is 2 years old or more - is almost always dark in color due to the Maillard reaction. It also has more salt than light colored misos to allow it continue to age and acquire character without going bad. The increased amount of salt may lessen the overall healthiness of miso, despite it possibly having more beneficial flora due to the prolonged period of fermentation.

If you're incorporating miso into your diet for health reasons, you may want to either explore using miso in more ways, or look in to adding more fermented foods to your diet. (I'll be talking more about fermented foods in a little while.)

See also: Miso Primer.

Question: What is a good book or other learning material for someone just starting to learn Japanese?

Assuming that taking Japanese lessons is not an option, one textbook that I have heard good things about is called __GENKI: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese__. It's not cheap, but comes with a CD-ROM which is probably essential for self-learning. There is also workbook to go with it.

Beyond that though, since I did not learn Japanese as a second language and I'm not a teacher, I don't know what other options are out there really. So, I'm opening this up to everyone - if you have a Japanese language learning for beginners course, book, website or anything else you recommend, please let us know in the comments!

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I used Minna No Nihongo in my first year at university (Netherlands). It's a very good book, although I'm not quite sure if it's suited for self-study, as the main textbook and workbook are all in hiragana (the grammar and explanation are in English).
I liked using it though, and I think it's definitely a good method, so I just wanted to mention it here :)

Another good thing about Minna no nihongo is that the grammar book is available in several languages (e.g. German, Spanish, Chinese, Korean,...). So you can read about the grammar in your native language. Additional learning material is available as well, like reading comprehension and practice questions books, CDs for listening comprehension, ...

The Genki course is what the non-credit courses I took used, and it seems appropriate. Each book is about 12 chapters of material, suitable for learning well in about a week of fairly intensive study (15-20 hours each seemed about right). My impression at the end is that it left the student at about reading and speaking level of about a bright ten-year-old. It's not going to give *fluency* as such, but enough of a basis for further study or to enable travel without getting oneself too lost. is an excellent all round learning website with downloadable audio pod casts and lots of resources you can pay for via a monthly membership. is free and great fun. It has a TON of courses created by individuals and makes use of the science of how we learn to make it efficient and fun.

I've been using to learn Japanese, and the audio/video lessons are very helpful. They run the range from absolute beginner to pretty advanced, both language and culture lessons. They do require a membership to access all those lessons, but the basic membership fee is only $4 a month, so it won't break the bank. You can pay more for extra stuff, but so far the basic has been more than sufficient for me.

No one offers Japanese classes in my town, but I have found this to be an excellent alternative -- perhaps even better, since I can study around my schedule.

For self-study, I highly recommend Textfugu for learning the language and Wanikani (from the same people) for learning kanji. I've been using Wanikani since October and have learned a shocking number of kanji -- it's a really great site. It's free for the first two "levels," and it's just a few bucks a month after that. And Textfugu works under the same model -- try out the first bit for free, then subscribe or buy to keep going.

I know I sound like an ad, but I'm totally not, I swear! Just a girl who derives way too much joy from doing her Wanikani reviews!

[quote=Shannon]For self-study, I highly recommend Textfugu for learning the language and Wanikani (from the same people) for learning kanji. I've been using Wanikani since October and have learned a shocking number of kanji -- it's a really great site. It's free for the first two "levels," and it's just a few bucks a month after that. And Textfugu works under the same model -- try out the first bit for free, then subscribe or buy to keep going.

I know I sound like an ad, but I'm totally not, I swear! Just a girl who derives way too much joy from doing her Wanikani reviews![/quote]

I just came to say the same thing...I have tried just about everything else...these are the best11

I was a Japanese major in college and tried out (either in class or on my own) the Nakama series, Japanese for Busy People series, and Genki series. If you're serious about learning Japanese, I recommend Genki hands-down. More casual courses use the Japanese for Busy People books. I also really like the JapanesePod101 website, which offers free educational podcasts, and their subscription service, which teaches writing and additional grammar, vocab, and other stuff via downloadable pdf. Of course, I'm not self-motivated enough to make the subscription service worthwile... XD I always forget I have it. But I do recommend using the free podcasts in conjunction with whatever book you choose, so you can practice speaking and listening comprehension.

I would agree that Genki is probably the best textbook for learning Japanese (from my perspective as a Japanese language learner.) The website TextFugu is also a fun way to introduce the language, although a bit basic. And then WaniKani, which is in beta but shouldn't be too hard to get into, is fantastic for learning kanji.

I learned Japanese as a second language from the 9th grade until 1st year University, when I didn't have the time to keep up with memorizing 10 kanji a day anymore ^^;

I used a number of textbooks in my time, including the Genki I and Genki II textbooks mentioned in the post.

When I was still in high school learning Japanese (we were lucky and had a high school which taught French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese and German as second languages! When I was leaving they were considering adding classes in Punjabi and Korean, too!) we used a different textbook/workbook combination, called Adventures in Japanese. When I moved into university-level Japanese we used the Genki books.

Personally I'd recommend the Adventures in Japanese books. The Genki I/II books are published by the Japan Times, and I found their instruction a bit less opaque. I get the impression they were geared more towards older people living in Japan semi-permanently for business, though they are the standard in university-level Japanese education.

The Adventures in Japanaese books are, like the Genki, a workbook/textbook/CD combination (here's the first-level textbook). They're based out of Austrailia though, and are definitely aimed at a little-to-no-knowledge Japanese learner. I'd start with the Adventures in Japanese books, and then move onto the Genki personally. However, eventually, if you're serious about the language you'll need to have classroom instruction. It's more or less impossible to self-asses whether you're pronouncing things right/speaking in a natural way otherwise.

Hope that helps any potential Japanese students :)

Another vote for JapanesePod101! Excellent podcasts and accompanying material, ranging from beginner to advanced. Very well thought-out and presented lessons.

I learned Japanese weirdly -- first by living and working there, then later going to advanced classes, so I don't really have a good text to recommend for beginners since I sort of skipped that. Whatever text she chooses, it's important that they use kana and not romaji. The romaji will just slow her progress in learning the kana and eventually the kanji.

Another useful site for more intermediate and beyond learners: Rikai. It has news stories in Japanese with popups for vocab

I second Shannon - Textfugu and Wanikani are great learning tools. They take the hard parts seriously (you'll get nowhere if you don't learn kana and kanji, you have to learn grammar and vocabulary before learning sentences etc.), while still focusing on making things as easy (or perhaps rather efficient) as possible, through unconventional mnemonics, memory techniques and so on. I like how everything is balanced out - many other learning tools seem to either take the "easy" approach, which is a waste of time, or the "school" approach, which often makes things too boring and/or complicated. TF and WK avoid both pitfalls. Might not suit everyone, but they're absolutely worth a look.

I love the Genki series and I used Anki (computer program) to study vocab and such. I'd highly recommend both as they were (and Anki still is) great study tools for me - currently an intermediate learner :)

A guy named Koichi created a online text book that includes tips and motivation to self study at I just started a couple of days ago and at least got hiragana down. In the textbook there are links to free online products that help aid the study process.

I use genki as a textbook. However I also have an android tablet and I was able to download some free apps from google play. My favourites are Kana Draw and Kanji Draw, and Obenkyo, all of which make you practice stroke order. Obenkyo also has grammar, kana and kanji. I also downloaded a good dictionary, JED. Luckily, even though I live in the back end of beond, I have a Japanese friend tutoring me which helps my pronunciation (I'm severely deaf and I need someone to listen to my speech and correct it). I love learning Japanese. :-)

When I was trying to learn Japanese (too much to worry about right now), I found Guide to Japanese quite useful.

!!! How has no one mentioned Tae Kim's Grammar Guide yet?! There are lots of resources to learn basic hiragana and katakana, but short of getting textbook programs, I've found few solid online grammar resources for those teaching themselves.

  • He covers so much, and in a logical progression. I HIGHLY recommend it.

    I've also just started using

  • too... it's more focused on vocabulary and learning kanji, but it seems to also offer reading practice, options to make your own vocab decks, and other things. It's more motivating than other sites because it tracks your progress and you can see yourself leveling up.

    Of course, installing Rikaichan

  • for Firefox is also immensely helpful; it's a pop-up Japanese dictionary that'll translate kanji and words.

    So, in summary:

    ★Tae Kim's Grammar Guide: 

  • ★JapaneseClass:

  • ★Rikaichan:

  • Thank you to everyone who responded to best resources to learn Japanese!

    I also suggest: Erin's Challenge I can speak Japanese. It's a free website that centers on a video series about a girl that comes to study abroad in Japan. The videos have subtitles in multiple languages and Japanese subtitles (Kanji, kana and romaji), cultural lessons (videos) and interactive activities.
    Here's the link:

    You should use Japanese: The Spoken Language by Elanor Harz Jordan and Mari Noda. It's the best product for Japanese learning and 80s nostalgia.

    Once done (approx. 4 weeks) shiro miso will keep in the fridge for some time but, it will develop some alcoholic content. Some people might find this bad, but I don't mind. However, for another miso that's low on salt,the shinshu miso is interesting. Takes between 6 and 12 months to mature.

    Genki is indeed quite good. My approach was to first learn both kana, then start Genki. Japan Times also publishes a kanji learner's book and workbook (512 kanji, each with a 'funny' mnemonic picture. On youtube there's Gimmeaflakeman (with Tomoko) and yesjapan, both for casual and faster-paced dialogues.