Where to Go After Genki: The Way to Continue Leveling Up

Where do you go after Genki? There are several options, and it can be a challenge to identify the right path forward. It can even be a challenge to know what questions to ask to know what the options are.

You are not a beginner anymore. You want to choose a resource that provides the right amount of challenge without being too easy or too difficult, and you want to maximize your return on investment. Among the options, there is a clear standout.

Tobira is the best resource to use after Genki. It is the top intermediate textbook used by English speaking learners of Japanese. With a main goal of helping learners work through the intermediate Japanese level, Tobira is a rich resource that builds on learners’ foundation to elevate their abilities.

After Genki you graduate to the intermediate level of Japanese language learning. You are ready for a new challenge and a new experience. At the intermediate level and beyond, challenging yourself becomes very important for continued to improvement. Learning from material slightly above your current level is the best way to improve. Tobira: Gateway to Advanced Japanese, will provide you with the challenge you need to make gains.

Tobira: The Best Intermediate Japanese Textbook

As an intermediate learner, you will need to take much more control and self-direction in your studies. Utilizing other materials to supplement your main textbook will be helpful. But I recommend having one textbook as your mainstay. I made the mistake of switching around between various resources. This slowed me down. Consistency is the key. It takes a bit of a leap to get from Genki to Tobira, but if you persevere, it will be your best investment.  

The intermediate level is all about building on top of the foundation you made at the beginner level. Practically speaking, this means acquiring substantially more vocabulary and grammar, and exposure to a variety of reading and listening material directly in Japanese with less reliance on English translations. Volume is what will increase your ability to comprehend and communicate in Japanese. And in Tobira, there is plenty of volume.

Tobira is well thought out both in what material is presented and how it is presented to the learner. A major strength of Tobira is its superior content. A wide variety of topics are covered going well beyond everyday life. The creators made a deliberate effort to select topics with an aim to satisfy learners’ intellectual interests. A higher volume of practice exercises and several features to support self-learning (as opposed to classroom learning), really make Tobira a stand-out choice. A particularly unique feature of Tobira which I quite enjoyed is its integration with online resources through the companion website.

I really like Tobira. I wrote some more detailed strategies on how to use it as a self-learner here. If you are interested in how Tobira is structured and the fine details of the content, I also wrote a review of Tobira here.

The Next Best Intermediate Japanese Textbook Option

In terms of alternatives to Tobira, some reasonable ones exist which you will undoubtedly come across. We can start with the main alternative: An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese. This textbook comes from the same publishers as Genki and offers a gentler transition from the beginner to intermediate textbook.

An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese is the option most similar in structure and presentation to Genki among intermediate Japanese textbooks. Especially for learners who completed beginner level Japanese with Genki, it can be a logical next step, but does have limitations for self-learners.

Compared with Genki, An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese’s (IAIJ) layout, the way the material is presented, and the use of likable characters throughout the textbook are all quite similar. And, at least with the edition that I used, it even feels like Genki, both in terms of the aesthetics such as the fonts used and the actual tactile feel of it. This may be comforting for some learners who started their journey with Genki. It was for me anyway.

For a more detailed look at IAIJ, how to use it as a self-learner and its overall structure, I wrote a review of it here.

Tobira vs. An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese

Both Tobira and An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese focus on the four language abilities: listening, speaking, reading, and writing, with a goal of building on your foundation to extend your abilities. Trying to choose between them is a common quandary, but having used them both, I can make a recommendation.

Tobira is the best choice when considering Tobira vs. An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese. Tobira is more widely used in higher education Japanese programs, more suitable for self-learners, and covers a richer variety of topics with more content that will extend learners’ knowledge and abilities.

Both textbooks are good, but there are a few key points to consider which are:

  • Learning curve when transitioning from a beginner textbook such as Genki
  • Variety of content which extends your sphere of knowledge and communication ability
  • Return on Investment
  • Ease of use for self-learning

Learning Curve When Transitioning to an Intermediate Japanese Textbook

With Genki, you are gently guided along in the process of learning beginner Japanese. Plenty of English translations and explanations are used. This is necessary at the beginner level because you are building a foundation starting from nothing. Intermediate Japanese will be a different experience. Both Tobira and IAIJ are a step up from Genki and will require a bit of patience and perseverance at first to get over the initial learning curve. The biggest challenge will be the longer reading passages and dialogues that contain more advanced Japanese that you will not have seen before, and there are no side-by-side English translations.

The goal is to read something in Japanese and to try to understand it in its native form without translation. This is a critical element of the intermediate level and necessary for the transition to the advanced level. But it is challenging and can be a jarring change from Genki. It can be tempting to want to understand absolutely everything right away, and it can be frustrating and discouraging when this does not happen, but don’t let it get you down. You do not necessarily need 100% comprehension right in the moment when you are first exposed to new material. The point is to be exposed to new material which is just above your current level. You might have to come back to it a few times on different days to get a grip on it, or it may just take more time and exposure to the language for things that you may not have quite understood at first to become clear. It’s all ok. It’s part of the process. 

Before getting started, Tobira calls for about 250-300 hours of prior beginner level study. IAIJ calls for about 240 hours. This slight gap along with some other factors makes IAIJ a bit more approachable and an easier transition from Genki. As mentioned, it is quite similar in terms of structure, content, and characters. Tobira is a bit different in structure, although still similar enough in that every chapter contains a reading passage, dialogues, grammar, vocabulary, etc. The difference with Tobira is that the content is more challenging, but it is richer and more varied which, if you put in the extra effort, you will reap a bigger reward.

Content That Extends Your Knowledge and Abilities

In Tobira, you are presented with topics such as Japanese technology, Japanese pop culture, and Japanese government to name a few. The content is not fictitious. It is based on real Japanese history and current happenings in Japan. Several chapters even link out to Japanese corporate websites. As you work through the book you will be doing practical research looking at native content websites such as Family Mart, Honda, and Pioneer. Very little of Tobira has to do with university life and being an exchange student in Japan. By contrast, the content of IAIJ really centers on these themes and as such is more suited as a classroom textbook.

Tobira has not just richer, but more content as well. The main Tobira textbook has roughly 20% more content than IAIJ. In terms of workbooks, Tobira has roughly 280% more content. The bulk of Tobira’s additional content is in the form of practice exercises. A big key to success in learning Japanese is practice. Just reading the textbook will give you more knowledge of the Japanese language, but by doing the practice, you will build the skills needed to use it. You will be doing yourself a big favor if you invest in the workbooks to use alongside the main textbook.

Return on Investment

In terms of investment, at the time of writing, the cost of the IAIJ textbook and workbook is about $60 USD. The cost for the Tobira main textbook, grammar workbook, kanji workbook and teacher’s guide is about $145 USD. IAIJ is much less at first glance, but let’s consider cost per content. We’ll just use pages as a proxy, and we’ll call the online content a bonus. The results are close but with Tobira’s richer content and bonus online resources, I think it is a clear winner in terms of return on investment.

Return on Investment: Tobira vs. An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese

 Tobira: Gateway to Advanced JapaneseAn Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese
Cost$145 USD$60 USD
Number of pages1224 pages501 pages
Cost per page$0.118/page$0.119/page

Ease of Use for Self-Learners

Starting with online content, Tobira has a lot to offer, especially for self-learners. On the companion website you’ll find things such as: accompanying audio files, topic specific video files, Anki flashcard decks of vocabulary, and additional practice exercises. One thing that I found especially unique was Language Partner Online. These are video files meant to simulate a role play in which you take an active role in the conversation. Although it’s a bit clunky to use, it’s a thoughtful feature for self-learners. IAIJ does have a few things online, like some kanji quizzes and scripts of the listening practice exercises, but the content is quite thin otherwise.

Tobira wins in a couple other areas as well. English translations of Tobira’s content are in fact available in the Teacher’s Guide. Answers for many (but not all) of the exercises in the grammar and kanji workbooks are available at the back of the respective books. This is advantageous for self-learners who may get stuck or want to check their answers. However, there is no answer key available for the exercises in the main textbook. With IAIJ, the situation is tougher yet. There are no translations or answer keys available for anything.

In fairness, both textbooks are lacking in terms of providing answers to the practice exercises. Getting feedback on how you are doing and being able to correct your mistakes along the way is important. So, whichever textbook you choose you will need to supplement your learning. The textbook is your guide, but it’s up to you to supplement it.

Supplementing Your Intermediate Japanese Textbook

You will get stuck and have questions. When this happens, use resources such as Japanese Stack Exchange and HiNative. For extra help with grammar, there are websites like Maggie Sensei and Nihongo no Mori’s YouTube channel. But a private tutor is the best option as they are not only someone to practice with, but they will give you real time support to correct any mistakes and help you formulate sentences and express thoughts that you struggle with.

Besides a tutor, Japanesepod101.com is perhaps the best supplement. In fact, I would say that Japanesepod101.com (Jpod) was one of cornerstones of building my Japanese language abilities. I started using Jpod after I finished Genki, even before getting started with IAIJ and Tobira. I love Jpod and highly recommend it. The content is so engaging and its really fun to learn with! For me, it’s a must for supplementing textbook learning, and you might even be able to use it as an alternative to textbooks altogether.

As mentioned, intermediate textbooks are lacking in terms of providing answers to practices exercises. This is where you can make use of Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) preparation materials, namely the Sou Matome and Shin Kanzen Master series. They are packed with review material, practice exercises and answers with explanations! Answers and explanations about the reason a particular answer is correct is so helpful for self-learners. Shin Kanzen Master is the more content rich of the two options, and the N3 level books could possibly even be used an alternative to an intermediate textbook. However, I would recommend working through your intermediate textbook first and then using JLPT N3 level materials afterward to supplement and solidify your learning. In fact, once you finish your intermediate textbook, work through the Sou Matome N3 level books and go write the JLPT N3 exam.

Colten Dumonceau

My goal is to provide information that will help you learn Japanese as quickly and effectively as possible. I have spent more than ten years learning Japanese, mostly self-taught, from absolute beginner to an advanced level. I believe its possible to go much faster than I did. Please let me share with you the best learning strategies I have uncovered.

Recent Posts