Kindle updates

[For Kindle users only]

Summary: Amazon pushed the updates, so your content should be updated if your auto update setting is enabled.

Dear Graded Reading Sets Kindle users,

I contacted Amazon to find out why the book updates were not being pushed out.

Amazon replied, “At this time, customers who bought your Kindle book aren’t able to download updates automatically. Sending customers an update may erase notes or highlights they entered. That means the improvements must outweigh the disadvantages. Our technical team is working on improving this process.”

Although their website describes the Automatic Updates process and gives instructions on how to enable it, they do not mention that this function is in fact blocked behind the scenes, and that the author has to send in a special request to un-block it, complete with justifications and examples. The author’s content updating interface lets you send updated content, but doesn’t mention that the update gets ignored unless you follow up with a special email request.

After I sent such a request, Amazon confirmed that they pushed out the updates, so you should have received the updates if you have the “Automatic Book Update” setting enabled on your “Manage Your Content and Devices” page on the Amazon website ( See detailed instructions below.

The quickest way to tell whether your content has been updated is to check the color of the covers. In the original versions, the covers for the first three volumes (and the combined v1-3 set) all had the same brick red color. In the updated versions, the combined set is brown, v1 is sort of a plum red, v2 is orange, and v3 is yellowish. For a full list of the edits you should see updated, please see (use that to check updates on v4 and v5, which had the varied colors from the start).

The root cause of the problem is that Amazon has designed its ebook system in such a way that updates erase users’ annotations unless they have been backed up. As far as I know, this technical design flaw does not exist on iBooks.

To automatically update your Kindle content without losing any annotations you have made, please follow these instructions given by Amazon:


Turn on the Annotations Backup* for your Kindle device or Kindle reading app. This will sync your notes, highlights, eBookmarks, and furthest page read 

  • Go to the Manage Your Content and Devices page (
  • Select “Automatic Book Update” under the Settings tab
  • Select “On” from the dropdown menu

Note: The Automatic Book Update feature might not be available for markets outside of the U.S. [Amazon is less globalized than Apple, so sometimes the local Amazon companies do things their own way]

*The devices listed below automatically enable the Annotations Backup. As a result, you won’t be able turn off the Backup. 

Fire HD
Fire HDX
Kindle for Android
Kindle for Windows 8
Kindle for BlackBerry 10


Troubleshooting: If the above does not work, please try deleting the original book from your Kindle device or Kindle app, then select your book(s) on the “Your Content” tab at, then select “Deliver”.

If anyone prefers to just do things the old-fashioned way using a simple revisions log, I have provided one on this page:

Thank you very much for your kind patience with this process.

Warm regards,


Volume 5 Release & Discount (KLC Graded Reading Sets)

We have just released Volume 5 of the KLC Graded Reading Sets on iBooks and Kindle!  Volume 5 contains 4,671 exercises covering KLC kanji 701-1000. Thank you very much for your patience while we were preparing this volume.

Book updates

We have uploaded new versions of Volumes 1-3 to incorporate a number of edits. You will know that your book has been updated when the cover changes to the new (variegated) color scheme. If your previously purchased book has not already been updated, please see the instructions on the website.

If you downloaded Volume 1 as a free PDF, you can download the updated version here.

A list of significant edits is available here.

A couple of edit suggestions came in after we made the updates. These will be included in the next round of updates. Many thanks to everyone who suggested one or more edits.

Volume 4 Release & Discount (KLC Graded Reading Sets)

We have just released Volume 4 of the KLC Graded Reading Sets on iBooks and Kindle! Volume 4 consists of 3,966 exercises containing over 23,000 kanji. Thank you very much for your patience while we were preparing this volume.

Automatic book updates

Many thanks everyone who provided feedback on volumes 1-3. In the next few days I will upload new versions of these volumes to incorporate a number of edits. To make sure you receive all the updates to any volumes you have already purchased, please see these instructions.

Missing spaces in Kindle versions

Kindle users may notice an occasional missing space in the English text, such as the missing space between “form” and “of” in 136-9. Unfortunately this is caused by Kindle’s data processing system, which for some reason fails to read spaces in a few places. I tried compensating by using a double space in these spots, but then Kindle correctly read those as a double spaces, resulting in the opposite error. In the end, I decided to submit my data to Kindle with no spacing errors, report the issue to them, and hope that they will sort it out. I apologize for the inconvenience. Many thanks to Jim Zorn for bringing this issue to my attention.

If you have access to the iBooks version, their system is much better and does not generate such errors. It also has Scrolling View (iOS only), which allows you to display the unglossed Japanese text of each exercise before displaying its phonetic guide and English equivalent.

Release of KLC Graded Reading Sets!

Dear friends,

I am pleased to announce that I have (finally!) begun releasing the Kanji Learner’s Course Graded Reading Sets, and welcome you to download Volume 1 for free as noted below. Thank you very much for so patiently waiting for this series to come out.

Freebies and discounts

Volume 1 of the Graded Reading sets is available for free from this site, and from the iBooks Store. I have tried to make it free on Amazon Kindle as well, but the best I could get was $0.99 (without surrending my right to release on non-Amazon platforms). If you are a Kindle user, please feel free to use the free pdf for Volume 1, then purchase other volumes from Amazon Kindle. To the extent possible given the particular constraints of iBooks and Kindle, the price for Vols. 2-9 will be nearly or exactly the same on both platforms.

Also, if you are learning kana, or could use a little more information on the fine points of this surprisingly complex subject, please feel free to download my Kana Crash Course. Naturally the back matter is chock full of ads for the various supplementary products I sell to try to make ends meet!

Sign up here to receive a notification when additional volumes are released, and to hear about occasional discounts.

Series structure

The series consists of 30,000+ exercises covering all 2,300 KLC kanji and containing over a quarter million total kanji. On average, the nine volumes provide 432 reading exercises (containing over 3,600 kanji) per US dollar, based on the US price without discounts. If you get through it all, you will be a certified kanjisseur and fluent reader of Japanese!

In accordance with the cumulative nature of this series, each volume contains more practice content than the last. The series thus adapts automatically to your evolving needs as a learner, providing relatively little practice at the early stages (when your priority should be to learn more kanji and grammar patterns), and increasing the volume of practice later on (as your priority shifts toward applying and reinforcing the kanji and vocabulary you have already learned).

The best way to quantify the progressive development of this series is to calculate the average “kanji content” of each volume:

Kanji content for Volumes 1-9
 (click to enlarge)

With a series whose English portion alone is the length of 17 copies of Macbeth, I had to strike a balance between having too many volumes and having too much length per volume. Already the combined volume for kanji 1-400 weighs in at 948 pages (as Kindle calculates it), and by this measure, the most advanced volumes will surpass 2,000 or even 3,000 pages! While bundling the series into nine volumes makes some of the volumes incredibly long and somewhat unwieldy to navigate, at least you will only have to deal with nine volumes — or only seven, if you download the combined set for Vols. 1-3. This set, covering the first 400 kanji in the course, consists of 4,060 exercises containing over 20,000 kanji.

Scrolling View

I am releasing the GRS on both Amazon Kindle and the iBooks Store. Users with iOS devices can use the Kindle app for iOS, but should seriously consider opting for the iBooks version instead, due to its Scrolling View feature. This feature allows you to display each practice item without displaying its phonetic and English glosses. Both Kindle and iBooks for MacOS currently lack this feature, and require you to advance by page-by-page, rather than scrolling one line at a time.

Facebook group

I love communicating with users one-on-one. Still, this group would be better off being able to communicate as a group and share different perspectives and experiences. I have created a public Facebook group that I hope everyone will join and use to share information. Please share your news with us and help us build the best source of information on learning Japanese.

Using this Keys to Japanese (KTJ) site

In addition to the Facebook group, I warmly invite you to use this site to track your progress with the KLC, form study groups, ask questions, etc. I have created the public Facebook group because I feel it will have a wider reach and be the best approach for sharing information publicly. But KTJ is a better fit for forum discussions on particular topics and for creating study groups. As soon as the next version of the MyCred plugin comes out, KTJ will also enjoy some great new features for tracking stats on your kanji learning. Please join us here as well as on Facebook, thank you!

Please send your feedback

While I have done some initial testing and fixing with a small group, I would be very grateful indeed if you would let me know of any kinks you might discover (especially any display issues), and any advice you might have on how to improve the series. In particular, I would like to ask your advice on how I can get the word out about the series. Please contact me at, thank you!

Delay and improvements

I sincerely apologize to those of you who have been waiting a very long time for this release. Needless to say, the process of creating these books has taken me far longer than I anticipated.

I owe you a brief explanation.  Chief among the causes of this delay were the countless obstacles that I encountered, many related to displaying the Japanese and furigana properly across different platforms and devices. Then there was my decision to include a very large volume and variety of practice material, drawing examples from over a hundred sources (many of which required editing), in addition to writing thousands of exercises myself to ensure that you would get sufficient practice with each character. Finally, there was my characteristic tendency keep making improvements and adding more features, the most time-consuming of which were adding the grammar support and switching to a “flowable” text format.

I sincerely hope that the result of this process will be helpful to you and will justify the long wait. Although adding the grammar support took a very long time, I felt it was important to give you extra help with the countless grammar structures that randomly appear in the exercises. Depending on your grammar level, many of the tips may be unnecessary (especially at the beginning). Please just ignore them until you start needing them.

Converting to a “flowable” text format (i.e., no fixed layout) required a complete do-over after having completed one volume using an entirely different system for producing and displaying the furigana (phonetic guides). Displaying furigana in a flowable format required discarding the “ruby” and displaying the phonetic guides parenthetically. The result is a product that will allow you to display the text in any point size without having to manually zoom in and out, and which provides word division (in the phonetic gloss) as an additional learning aid. I would like to thank Alistair Kerr for timely feedback that led me to make this important improvement to the series.


Thank you

Thank you very much for your support for the KLC and your incredible patience waiting for the Graded Reading Sets. Good luck, and see you on KTJ & Facebook!

Warmly yours,
Andrew Scott Conning

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Exploring the Japanese Writing System

“BEWARE: Brown bear tracks identified, 26 October 2009. City of Sapporo.” By 野鳥大好き (熊出没注意) [CC BY 2.1 jp], via Wikimedia Commons.

Japanese is a rich and fascinating language. Among its many extraordinary qualities is its uniquely complex script, which combines two parallel phonetic syllabaries (kana) with Roman letters (rômaji), Arabic numerals (Arabia sûji), and of course Chinese characters (kanji). With five scripts used simultaneously, Japanese is often called the world’s most difficult writing system. As some wit said about his demanding Japanese teacher, “OK class, now you’ve learned Chinese characters. On to page 2!”

Does this mean that visitors to Japan must resign themselves to becoming lost amid a sea of unintelligible print? Not quite. For one thing, anyone reading this has already mastered two of the script systems listed above! Indeed, the kinds of things that foreign travelers need to read – menus, tickets, street signs, and so forth – are most likely to be bilingual, and prices are written in Arabic numerals more often than not. Moreover, it is possible to gain basic proficiency in both kana syllabaries in perhaps 8-10 hours of study. In another 20 hours or so, one can master 100 kanji and 300 kanji-based words. And of course, thanks to Google, one can always point one’s smartphone camera at Japanese text and translate it instantly!

If you are able, it is well worth taking some time to become familiar with kana and some kanji before setting off for Japan. With that in mind, I offer below a brief introduction to the writing system, and recommendations on where to go to learn more.


The earliest effort to write the Japanese language used imported Chinese characters, irrespective of their meaning, as phonetic symbols for similar native syllables. This first, seventh century attempt at a Japanese syllabic script (or kana) was known as the man’yôgana.

As these complex Chinese ideographs proved unsuitable for transcribing a polysyllabic tongue, the Japanese soon invented a pair of purely phonetic kana symbols: the relatively curvy hiragana (adapted from cursive man’yôgana), and the more angular katakana (adapted from fragments of man’yôgana). These derivations, offering a window into the earliest development of Japanese writing, can be seen here.

Though the Japanese stopped using Chinese characters (kanji) for phonetic writing,  they retained them for the countless words they borrowed from Chinese, or invented on the Chinese pattern. They also began using kanji to denote native Japanese words of similar meaning, this time without regard to phonetic similarity, so that many kanji came to have both a Chinese-derived pronunciation (the on-yomi, used in reading words borrowed from China) and an unrelated native pronunciation (the kun-yomi, used in reading native words). Having thus become associated primarily with meanings rather than sounds, kanji could be used to represent the stem of a polysyllabic Japanese verb or adjective, whose inflected portion could be represented by kana. In this way Japanese came to be written in a mixture of kana and kanji.

Today kanji are used mainly for Chinese-derived nouns, proper nouns, and the stems of native verbs and adjectives. Hiragana are used for all types of native words not written in kanji, and for the inflected endings following a kanji stem, known as okurigana (for example, the く in 巻く). Katakana are used mainly for Western loanwords, scientific names (such as names of species, like ヒグマ in the photo above), sound-mimicking words, and emphasis (like italics). In modern Japanese, most numbers are written in Arabic numerals (except in vertical text), and rômaji appear fairly frequently, primarily in alphabetical abbreviations (like “NHK”) and foreign names.

Picking up the basics

If you have some spare time, there’s no reason you can’t learn kana and some kanji before visiting Japan. Given the prevalence of Western loanwords in Japanese, it makes sense for foreign travelers to prioritize katakana. Knowing katakana makes it possible to sound out many useful words such as タクシー (taxi), バス (bus), and ホテル (hotel), and provides a kind of key for comprehending the many loanwords used in Japanese speech. Unlike words written in hiragana, most words written in katakana are likely to be intelligible to English-speaking travelers who have learned to read the individual katakana characters.

If you are embarking on serious language study, simply learn the kana scripts in whatever order they are taught in your textbook. Thoroughly mastering kana will be your essential first step, meriting top priority so that you can study the other aspects of the language by means of kana, rather than via the ill-advised expedient of rômaji transliteration.

To learn the kana, please take full advantage of the Kana Learner’s Course mobile app (the free version is very thorough but excludes tests).

To try your hand at some kanji for travel, I recommend Read Japanese Today by Len Walsh (Tuttle, 2008). Don’t take the title literally. If you interpret “Read Japanese” to mean “Be Able to Make Sense of Some of the Chinese Characters Used in Japanese”, you won’t be disappointed.

For those planning to study Japanese in earnest, I recommend you go straight to my much more comprehensive Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Course, and its companion volume, the Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary (both Kodansha USA, 2013). Both are appropriate for learners from novice through advanced levels. Warning: These hefty books are not suitable for light packing!

If you have any questions at all about learning kana or kanji, feel free to post them via the forums on this website. To learn more about how to make the very most of your trip to Japan, be sure to get yourself a copy of our favorite guidebook to Japan (or anywhere else for that matter!), Gateway to Japan!

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