Japanese publishers of EFL textbooks and materials
Charles Jannuzi, University of Fukui, Japan
Most 'western' publishers do not actually develop and produce textbooks and materials for the EFL market in Japan. Rather, they produce a lot of generic courses and supplementary material that they label 'communicative' and for 'false beginners' and hope EFL teachers here will adopt and adapt them to their classrooms.
There are some problems with this approach to mass market publishing. First, many of the western publishers are not very reliable in providing support to the teachers who use their textbooks. For example, many of these publishers are reluctant to provide free teachers' manuals/answer keys and CDs/DVDs (such as for listening courses). Second, if their books are not in stock with the distributors that university bookstores use, it can be a very long time to get the textbooks--and the prices can be quite inflated. Third, using such materials is a bit like making delicious 'stone' soup: the publishers give you a stone, and you, the EFL teacher, have to go find a lot of delicious vegetables, legumes, herbs and spices to make the delicious soup. Fourth, many of the materials are mono-lingual English only, and this is a big issue when your students can not understand the instructions or the tasks.
It used to be that foreign nationals working as EFL teachers at the post-secondary level were typically assigned speaking/conversation classes, and Japanese publishers were weak at publishing these. Now, however, foreign nationals teach a wider variety of classes (but still heavy on conversation/speaking, listening, as well as writing/composition and 'cross-cultural understanding'). On the other hand, Japanese nationals who taught EFL classes would often concentrate on traditional 'reading' classes (which looked pretty much like 'grammar-translation', especially when such courses overlapped with literature), but nowadays Japanese EFL teachers might well be tasked with classes that are supposed to emphasize other EFL skills.
Japanese publishers have responded to the EFL market in Japan by producing a variety of course books for both foreign nationals and for Japanese EFL teachers. These are often written by both types of teachers and reflect far more teaching experience in EFL in Japan than most of the materials produced by western publishers. They are also quite ready to provide you with many samples. Examining samples is advised, since the quality of these titles can vary and many might not match your own teaching styles. Since textbooks here and overseas tend to be produced with a template in mind, if you choose a book that really goes against your own ideas of teaching and learning, it can truly fatigue you to use it for 90 minutes per class over 16 weeks. I personally wish they would ban the 'cloze listening' exercises from ALL textbooks here because this type of task has been so overdone. Even if I use such a task, I almost always have to adapt it to make it more appropriate to the level of learner I am teaching. And some writers have clearly overdone the cloze listening type task, with far too many blanks in each exercise.
Also, if you find you are having trouble ordering titles published overseas, there are three possibilities to try in order to get the books supplied to you in Japan: One, some overseas titles are distributed through the Japanese publishers (although in some cases, as special bi-lingual editions, such as grammar handbooks). Two, try online booksellers such as Amazon Japan or the ones at Rakuten (if you can navigate their mostly Japanese language site). Three, go through a good bookstore in Japan, such as Asano Books in Nagoya (they are a 'bricks-and-mortar' bookseller that also does online mailorder).
Here follows a partial list of publishers and links to useful pages at their sites (in alphabetical order):
Eichosha Phoenix and Nanundo Phoenix (merged entity)
Seibido Publishing Co., Ltd.
Shohakusha Publishing Co., Ltd.
Japanese Publishers of English Textbooks (homepage with a lot more information)
Association of English Textbook Publishers
The next time we look at publishers, we will look at publishers who produce materials for Japanese learners of English, such as books with CDs and DVDs designed for self-study. Such titles can be adapted to EFL classes, and the chapters you do not cover in class can become self-study material for the more keen students.