Japanese, Japanese Resources, Textbook Experiences

Textbook Experience: Tobira (Gateway to Advanced Japanese)

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Greetings everybody! I finally finished my Tobira textbook last week (more than a year after purchasing it OTL), so as promised, here is a post regarding my experience with the book. I hope that you guys will find this helpful and / or interesting in guiding your own Japanese studies. I have also written a bit about comparisons between Tobira and An Integrated Approach, in case you wish to know more about that. If you can’t be bothered to slog through all this, just head to the bottom of this post.

Contents

The book has 15 chapters. My photos of the contents page turned out a bit crappy and unclear, so I will just list the topics here instead:

  1. 日本の地理
  2. 日本語のスピーチスタイル
  3. 日本のテクノロジー
  4. 日本のスポーツ
  5. 日本の食べ物
  6. 日本人と宗教
  7. 日本のポップカルチャー
  8. 日本の伝統芸能
  9. 日本の教育
  10. 日本の便利な店
  11. 日本の歴史
  12. 日本の伝統工芸
  13. 日本人と自然
  14. 日本の政治
  15. 世界と私の国の未来

The book also has 17 sections dedicated to language notes and 10 notes on culture. You can see photos of these further on in the post. As you can see, the book covers a diverse range of topics. Some of the earlier chapters deal with pretty stock-standard ‘Japanese textbook’ subject matter (e.g. food, sports and recreation etc), but I still enjoyed these nonetheless. I thought that the chapter topics were well-chosen and engaging (except maybe for Chapter 2, that was a bit dry but hopefully you can get past that lol). I learnt a lot about aspects of Japan and Japanese culture that I hadn’t really bothered to explore, such as its traditional arts. I have even started listening to podcasts about Japanese history, it’s that bad O.O The later chapters about politics and the environment also had lots of specialist vocabulary that would be useful if you’re transitioning to more authentic and difficult texts such as newspaper articles, or the articles that often appear in the JLPT N2 reading.

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Pre-reading activities

Each chapter has a little activity that can be done before actually beginning the chapter. It gives you an idea about what you’ll be learning about, and useful context for the reading passages. As there were no similar pre-reading activities in AIATIJ, this was a first for me. Some activities link you to pages compiled on Tobira’s website (more on that later), while some just have vocabulary or discussion activities meant to be done without the Internet. I didn’t do the discussion activities because I was learning by myself but I did the other research activities. It was a good way for me to have a handle on reading vocabulary so that I didn’t have to consult the glossary later, and in some cases, especially for topics I didn’t know much about (like Japanese history), good background information. Thumbs up from me!

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Reading Passages

Here is an example of a Tobira reading passage. This is from Chapter 5 (food!) so it’s not that long, but the passages in the second half of the book definitely get longer. There is a mix of horizontal and vertical writing (but mostly horizontal) and 1-3 passages per chapter. There are kanji readings at the bottom of each page if you need, and a vocab list if you need on the next page. The book doesn’t have a CD, but all of the passage audio files can be found on the Tobira website (details on how to login are found in the book :D).

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Vocabulary

As mentioned before, a typical vocabulary list (as well as a snippet of a 言語ノート). You can download Anki decks of all the Tobira vocabulary from their website if flashcards are your thing.

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Edit147Dialogue

There are usually 1-2 dialogues per chapter. These are a mix of formal and informal language. As with the reading passages, you can listen to them if you download the tracks from the Tobira site. The book also comes with some pairwork activities and a sort of “fill in the blank, make your own conversation based on the dialogue you’ve just read” exercises, which are probably more for a classroom environment? idk.

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Comprehension Questions

Test your understanding of the dialogues and reading passages here. There are also expansion questions aka questions based on the general topic of the passages but not the exact content, so a good way to test your active skills of writing and / or speaking.

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Grammar

There are quite a lot of grammar points introduced in each lesson (10+), but some of these aren’t so much grammar points, as phrases or expressions, which makes things less strenuous. Some of the points were also already covered in AIATIJ. There are no English translations for sample sentences, but it’s good to get rid of the crutch I think. At this level, translation shouldn’t be too hard. But it is hard to think about the best way to translate some of the harder, very Japanese language-specific structures.

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Language and Cultural Notes

Each chapter has at least one language and / or cultural note. These are a nice touch, with interesting points on nuance or further cultural knowledge. The language notes are particularly important because you want to use this book to transition to a more advanced level right? So it’s getting these little mistakes and knowing the subtle differences in language usage that will help to make the difference.

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The Tobira site / Tobira’s aim of ‘multimedia’ learning

You can see on the little disclaimer on the front of the book that Tobira aims to distinguish itself from other textbooks by taking a multimedia approach to learning. In this day and age, this is pretty appropriate. So this is where the Tobira website comes in. You can download kanji practice sheets, kanji exercises, grammar exercises, watch (grainy) cultural videos (the book is from 2008 I think so no HD here guys…), Anki decks, listen to the audio of the book’s passages and find the links used in the pre-reading activities etc. The site makes for an interesting and useful companion, but I question how they will go about updating everything when a new version of the book comes out. However, the sheets that you can find online mean that you can probably do without Tobira’s companion kanji and grammar workbook I reckon.

In Conclusion:

PROS:

-engaging content with lots of cultural information

-self-learner friendly

-lots of resources available on the Tobira website

-pretty decent grammar explanations (that can be supplemented with a grammar dictionary if you want) and lots of sample sentences

CONS: 

-err…in AIATIJ they would point out when new grammar points were being introduced in the reading passages. I personally would have found it useful if they did this as well in Tobira because sometimes I couldn’t remember whether I’d learnt it already or not (lots of Japanese grammar points are so similar >.<) and I’d just get confused, and my translation would get a bit funky.

-I don’t think there are answers to the worksheets available on the website…?

So…Tobira or An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese?

I’m just going to put this out there now that I personally found Tobira more engaging and less dry than AIATIJ. I was also eternally grateful that the Tobira content was much broader in context, and not just limited to university student-centric topics (e.g. letters of recommendation, awkward homestay situations). That aspect of AIATIJ literally drove me up the wall, I wanted to tear my hair out sometimes. It seems to me that Tobira is less well-known than AIATIJ, probably because the former is newer, but I enjoyed learning from Tobira more, I’m going to say this upfront.

In terms of difficulty…I would say that Tobira is a bit harder than AIATIJ? Well, the titles do say ‘a gateway to advanced Japanese’ and ‘intermediate Japanese’ respectively so….yeah. There is overlap between the grammar points covered in the two books though, so I don’t know if it’s so much of an investment to buy both books. I had initially only bought Tobira, but then I had to buy AIATIJ to take with me to university Japanese classes. There are downloads of AIATIJ floating around on the net, so what I would perhaps recommend is get the PDF and purchase Tobira, if you indeed have language learner fear of missing out. Otherwise, just buy one and use a grammar dictionary (PDFs floating around on the net too). Learning is pretty individual after all so the choice is yours! Edit: A reader has drawn my attention to the fact that not paying for language resources hurts their creators, and by extension, the language learning community. I acknowledge that this is true, and am embarrassed that I did not think of this at time of writing. All creators should be remunerated for their works, and I apologise for the callousness of these comments. 

So here ends my textbook experience with Tobira. If you have any thoughts and questions, please feel free to leave a comment ^^

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19 thoughts on “Textbook Experience: Tobira (Gateway to Advanced Japanese)

  1. Hannah says:

    At my uni we use Tobira in third year, last year my class only got through eight chapters though. Nearly done with self-studying the rest~! XD I absolutely agree, Tobira is really comprehensive! Have you looked at the Kanji and Grammar books?

    • I’m jealous – my uni uses AIATIJ and it’s just so…dry T.T (esp when coupled with unengaging professors…). and no, i didn’t look at the kanji and grammar books, i couldn’t really afford to. i don’t buy workbooks in general :((( but the Tobira website has lots of kanji and grammar resources, so i just used those instead ^^ are they any good??

      • Hannah says:

        I got them with christmas money and thought I would use them during the year, didn’t but I found that the Kanji one was a bit more in depth than the sheets. I think the best accompanying resource is the downloadable audio files which have the passages, vocab lists and conversations ^^

  2. Hey! I’ve been searching for resources to learn Japanese. I’ve been using Genki lately. Do you have any other recommendations for textbooks/online grammar resources?^^

    • Hello there!

      Hmm…well it depends on your Japanese learning goals. If you’re planning to sit JLPT and want to learn more grammar for that specifically, Kanzen Master is pretty good (if a little in dry, esp in comparison with the general all-purpose textbooks). Its grammar is very thorough and would still be relevant to learning Japanese in general.

      If you’re talking about learning Japanese in general, Genki is already a pretty good start! From there, you can advance to An Integrated Approach or Tobira. There are plenty of textbook downloads floating around the Net for An Integrated Approach and Kanzen but haven’t found one for Tobira. Tae Kim’s guide to Japanese grammar is very good, as well as Maggie Sensei’s blog – her explanations are fantastic.

      This is all I can think of from the top of my head :/ I hope it helps, but if you have more questions, please feel free to ask ^^

  3. michelle says:

    We used Tobira in my 3rd year Japanese level courses, and my only gripe about it is that sometimes the grammar explanations don’t explain the grammar concepts clearly, so I tend to get confused a lot. And since there’s no English translations underneath the sample sentences, I’m often left thinking, “is this sentence saying what I think it’s saying, or am I translating the sentence wrong in my head?”

    • This is a fair comment – I find that most textbooks don’t really have enough space to explain grammar points super thoroughly, since Japanese grammar can sometimes just turn into a massive can of worms. I did have to supplement my grammar study from Tobira with grammar dictionaries which I downloaded online or grammar websites if I wasn’t 100% sure. I also found this was the case with An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese.
      Thank you for sharing your experience with the book! ^^

  4. Dai Flu says:

    I wish I had read this comparison before I ended up buying AIATIJ. But anyway, I might buy Tobira next time too. Any other more advanced books you can suggest? Thanks.

  5. Declan says:

    About your suggestions to download (illegal) PDF copies of textbooks…

    You might think that this doesn’t hurt anyone, but a little thinking should make it clear that:

    1. This hurts the authors directly
    2. This hurts the Japanese language learning community indirectly.

    Point 2 follows from point 1. It takes a lot of time and effort to produce textbooks that work for the reader. Learning Japanese as a language is a very niche subject, so the return on investment for the authors is much less than, say, writing a popular cookery book or whatever. With fewer expert (and engaging) authors willing to devote the time to produce works of value, ALL Japanese learners suffer.

    • Hi Declan,
      Thanks for your comment.
      I wrote this post two years ago, and I reading it retrospectively, I realise how callous and immature it appears to “recommend” illegal downloading. As you can see from my reviews and photos, I make an effort to purchase my resources but not everybody has the means to do so. At the same time, making sure authors are properly remunerated for their works does ensure the long term health of the language learning community, and as an avid language learner, I should most certainly know the value of quality learning resources. I apologise for the thoughtlessness of my words, and have also edited the post. Thanks again for opening the discussion, and cheers.

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