Reading in Japanese is crucial for increasing your language skills. Especially if you are looking to study towards the JLPT, reading in Japanese on a regular basis is an essential habit. Reading speed for the JLPT becomes even more important at the higher levels, where being able to read quickly and pick out the key points is necessary to score highly.
Therefore as an avid reader, I was immediately drawn to the concept of tadoku (多読) when I happened across it some months ago. Developed in Japan as a way of improving English skills for non-native speakers, tadoku focuses on reading as much material as possible. Importantly, you read without getting hung up on unfamiliar words and phrases.
There are four golden rules for tadoku:
Read something at your level
Don’t use your dictionary
Skip over the words and phrases you don’t understand
If something is too difficult, stop reading it and read something else
Why is tadoku effective?
After a while, the context of the text you are reading helps to fill in the meaning of the words. Often we want to look up a word in a dictionary, and then work out what it means by reading the next sentence or two. Generally, 80% comprehension is enough to understand the remaining 20% through context.
You get a feel for what words and phrases appear more naturally in everyday language. Similarly, you learn common vocabulary when you read extensively in a specialist field.
Most importantly though, tadoku is supposed to be fun because you only read texts that you are motivated to finish.
Initially, I was skeptical of the idea of not needing to look up every word I did not know. However I decided to choose materials that were easy enough for me to follow but also things that I was genuinely interested in reading. That shift in thinking was enough for me to want to give tadoku a try.
Armed with a couple of really useful reading apps, I started looking for things to read. I mostly read novels, but I also enjoy reading manga from time to time. I often write about easy manga recommendations on the blog too.
Finding Japanese reading materials
My first thought was to look for reading materials where I already knew the story. Many people prefer translations of stories they are familiar with in English. With this in mind, I picked up translations of ‘Little Women’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’ from Aozora Bunko.
I recommend Aozora Bunko if you are looking for stories in Japanese to read for free, and I will be writing a follow-up post on how to make the most of this amazing resource. As great as Aozora Bunko is, the website is more than a little dauting for Japanese learners. I have written a few Author Spotlight posts which tend to feature authors whose works are on Aozora and are appropriate for Japanese learners.
However what has been most effective for me is to read books relating to films/ dramas I have watched. Examples of texts I have read include Nodame Cantabile, 1 Litre of Tears and A Silent Voice.
I’ve done a few posts on free online resources for Japanese reading which might help:
The magic of tadoku is that you can read anything you want to read. If you want to read Harry Potter in Japanese, go ahead and order it!
Being in Japan certainly helps keep the costs down as second hand books can be bought online on from Book-Off very cheaply.
If you are outside of Japan like me, it’s a little bit more difficult. In terms of physical books, I normally look out for books on eBay or Amazon in my home country where possible for used books.
I know that CDJapan, Amazon.jp and honto.jp ship internationally, although due to fairly high shipping costs it is advisable to buy in bulk to get the best value for money.
Buying digital books/ eBooks
If you prefer digital books, you have two book reading websites with companion apps at your disposal: ebookJapan and Bookwalker. I personally use both and can vouch for the convenience of being able to buy digital books and manga from outside Japan. You can pay with international cards on both websites, and with Bookwalker you can navigate both the website and the app in English.
If you are based in Japan, I would look into getting a Kindle ebook reader to read Japanese books digitally. I bought a Kobo reader in Japan and can buy ebooks for the device via the Rakuten Kobo store (I was living in Japan at the time, so I am not sure if this would work for others who are not in the country).
The best thing about these two websites above is that you can try before you buy, by making use of the 立ち読み button. This allows you to read a sample of the book. I definitely recommend spending some time doing this before buying anything. You can save yourself a bit of money by first assessing the registers and the style of language used to see if it is appropriate for your language level.
Keep an eye out for my Manga Recommendation posts which may give you ideas of what you might like to read depending on your current level.
Tracking your reading in Japanese
If you are using an ebook reader, you will already be able to check your stats on how much you have read. However, if you are reading physical books, you may find using a website like Bookmeter helpful.
Bookmeter is basically the Japanese version of Goodreads. You can put together lists of books you are reading or would like to read and post reviews. As you register more books, you get recommendations on books based on what you have already read and enjoyed. The website is all in Japanese so I would recommend this website more for intermediate to advanced learners.
There are tadoku contests if you are planning on trying to read extensively and would like to compete against others.
How have I been getting on so far?
Initially my focus was to try and read as far as I could get on my train journey to work. At first, it was quite difficult, having started a new book (死神の制度 by Isaka Kotaro) and progress was slow. After a few days, I had sped up considerably. I felt like I was enjoying the book for its content rather than stressing about reading a book in Japanese!
For me, the best thing about trying this method has been to remind me of how far I’ve come with my language learning. Tadoku also gets you to enjoy native language materials without getting bogged down in the finer details of the language. After all, that’s why I started studying Japanese in the first place! My main goal in the short term is to keep reading regularly. Writing about what books I have read on the blog is also a good way to stay accountable.
Have you tried the tadoku technique? Are there any texts or resources you have found particularly useful for boosting your reading skills? Let me know in the comments.
Both spoken and written forms of Japanese contain lots of onomatopoeia. Despite this, few textbooks spend much time explaining Japanese onomatopoeia in detail. I highly advise learners dedicate time to study this fascinating part of the language.
Using onomatopoeia helps to vividly describe an action or state. Take the verb 笑(わら)う warau for example; this can mean to smile or laugh depending on the context. By adding different onomatopoeia we can change the nuance of this verb:
ニヤニヤ笑う niyaniya warau to grin, smirk
クスクス笑うkusukusu warau to giggle, chuckle
ゲラゲラ笑う geragera warau to burst into laughter, crack up
We Japanese learners can often guess the meaning of some words in context. However Japanese people tend to use onomatopoeia in a much broader sense.
Types of Onomatopoeia in Japanese
There are three Japanese terms that fall under the umbrella of onomatopoeia (オノマトペ):
Giongo mimics a sound – think of ‘bang’ or ‘crash’ in English
ざあざあ (zaazaa) = sound of pouring rain/ rushing water
雨がざあざあ降っている ame ga zaazaa futteiru
The rain is pouring down
がちゃん (gachan) = slamming or clanging sound
花瓶が床に落ちてがちゃんと割った kabin ga yuka ni ochite gachan to watta
The vase crashed to the floor
Giseigo mimics a voice (usually of an animal) – think of ‘woof’ or ‘meow’ in English
わんわん (wanwan) = a dog’s bark
犬がわんわん吠えている inu ga wanwan hoeteiru
The dog is barking
おぎゃー(ogya) = a baby’s cry
赤ちゃんがおぎゃーおぎゃーと泣く akachan ga ogyaa ogyaa to naku
The baby is crying
Japanese uses gitaigo to mimic a state. This is pretty uncommon in English; there are terms like higgledy-piggledy (meaning ‘in a messy state’) which have a similar feel.
We can break gitaigo into three categories:
Firstly, words that indicate a state or condition, e.g.
きらきら (kirakira) = sparkling, glittering
星が空にきらきらと輝いている hoshi ga sora ni kirakira to kagayaiteiru
The stars are sparkling in the sky
つるつる (tsurutsuru) = smooth
ラーメンをつるつるとすする raamen wo tsurutsuru to susuru
I slurp the noodles
Secondly, words that describe how an action is being performed, e.g.
My older sister is fluent in Spanish because she lived in Spain for 5 years
のろのろ (noronoro) = slow, sluggish
彼は亀のようにのろのろ歩いた kare wa kame no you ni noronoro aruita
He walked as slow as a snail
Lastly, words that indicate feelings or emotions, e.g.
イライラする (iraira suru) = to be irritated
私は食事をしないとイライラする人だ watashi wa shokuji wo shinai to iraira suru hito da
I’m a person who gets annoyed when I haven’t eaten
びっくりする (bikkuri suru) = to be surprised
そのニュースを聞いてびっくりした sono nyuusu wo kiite bikkuri shita
I was shocked to hear the news
Slightly changing the sound of the onomatopoeia can also add further nuance, for example:
ドアをトントン叩(たた)くdoa wo tonton tataku to knock/ tap on the door
ドアをドンドン叩(たた)く doa wo dondon tataku to bang on the door
How I study Japanese onomatopoeia
If I come across a new onomatopoeia, I look it up in a dictionary or ask a friend to confirm the meaning. Then I make a note of it in my vocabulary notebook. When I do this, I always write it down as a phrase or in the context of a sentence rather than the word on its own.
Since these words are often hard to translate into English, having example sentences or phrases are essential. Studying them in the context of sentences will be helpful for not only memorising onomatopoeia but also using them naturally in conversation. This is especially true for gitaigo which is less intuitive to English speakers.
Onomatopoeia is very frequently used with specific verbs. Others are formed into verbs by adding する, so remembering the onomatopoeia as a verb means you will know the meaning of it even when it appears without する.
わんわん –> わんわん吠(ほ)える wanwan hoeru = to bark
にこにこ –> にこにこ笑( わら)う nikoniko warau = to smile
You’ll notice in some of the examples in this post that some onomatopoeia can take the particle と, often when with a verb. There isn’t a specific rule on when to use と. My recoomendation is to make a note of which words use it in your example sentences or phrases.
Resources for learning Japanese onomatopoeia
Referring to a decent Japanese-English dictionary is fine for giving an idea of a rough meaning, although you may find that there is not a direct English translation.
I’ve listed a few sites below that might help your studies:
There is a great website called the Onomato Project which lets you practice onomatopoeia in the form of online quizzes. Each word is accompanied by illustrations and example sentences. If you use Anki, you might find the shared Onomatoproject Anki deck a better choice for studying on the go.
However, if you are an intermediate learner, then I fully recommend going straight to a Japanese resource called Sura Sura, which is an online Japanese onomatopoeia dictionary. It may not have every word you are looking for, but for the onomatopoeia that is on the site, you will find a simple explanation in Japanese, accompanied by a photo which helps illuminate the meaning.
Each onomatopoeia also has example sentences and notes on things like the etymology of the word and how it differs to others with a similar meaning. Best of all, each page has a link to Twitter showing tweets from native speakers using the word you are looking up.
I also recommend the マンガを読もう section of the NINJAL website above which has some extremely helpful comic illustrations.
The above websites show just how useful it is to have visual context for learning how onomatopoeia is actually used. Therefore pictures, manga, and TV are especially good places to see these words in context. Sometimes I will draw a picture (despite being terrible at drawing!) alongside new onomatopoeia in my notebook.
PS. Think you’re pretty good with onomatopoeia in Japanese? Check out this video below and see if you can spot them all!
Do you have any special tricks for learning onomatopoeia? Let me know in the comments!
Youtube is an amazing resource for language learning, especially Japanese. So amazing, in fact, that it can be a bit difficult to know where to start.
Whether you are looking for another resource to help explain a tricky grammar point, or are looking for short clips of people speaking real Japanese, there should be something to help you learn you on Youtube. I’ve introduced four Youtube channels below that are great for Japanese language learners:
Chika is a Japanese-American who produces Japanese and English language learning videos. Her main channel is aimed at Japanese speakers learning English, but I have found it to be a really good resource for picking up differences in language usage between English and Japanese. Chika is really engaging and I always find that I can learn something new from her videos.
She also has a separate channel for her Japanese language lessons and vlogs called Japanagos which is also a fun and educational channel. I recommend checking out Japanagos if you are new to Japanese, and moving on to her main Bilingirl channel if you are at intermediate level. She is often travelling so both channels are good if you would like to follow her vlogs.
The Easy Languages Youtube channel covers a lot of different languages with a series of videos interviewing speakers of each language about different aspects of that language and the cultures connected to it. The Japanese series has 19 videos which are all about 5-6 minutes long.
I like this series as each video is fairly short, contains natural language and each video has Japanese (both kana and romaji) and English subtitles.
The Basic Japanese series is really helpful for clear and informative explanations of key grammar points for beginners.
If you are looking to take the JLPT N3 or above, this channel is full of great videos for you as well. There are videos aimed at the JLPT levels N3, N2 and N1 with each focusing on a different aspect of the JLPT test (reading, listening, grammar and vocabulary). A lot of the lessons cover differences between similar looking grammar points, which is particularly useful for those pesky multiple choice questions.
What if you could make your Netflix sessions more effective by learning Japanese at the same time? I’ve recently joined Netflix and it is turning out to be a pretty good resource for studying Japanese, even though I am not in Japan currently.
It turns out that there are quite a few Japanese TV dramas, anime series and films available internationally, with the list of Japanese language content increasing every week – great news for language learners!
How can Netflix be used for Japanese study?
The Japanese content on Netflix is a good way of working on your Japanese comprehension, as you can choose whether to have the English language subtitles on or off.
Changing the subtitles for shows on Netflix is simple: just look for the speech bubble icon in the bottom right corner of the play menu which will allow you to change the language of the subtitles displayed, or change the language of the show if there is more than one available.
As you can see from the above, my Netflix is in Japanese, so the list of languages under 音声 (おんせい) refers to the audio language and 字幕(じまく) shows the language subtitle options.
Setting your home country to Japan changes the language of the interface to Japanese, but also gives you access to a greater number of Western shows with Japanese subtitles too.
The best ones to watch in terms of Japanese study are the Netflix originals (known as Netflixオリジナル作品) as you more often than not have the option to choose Japanese subtitles or Japanese closed caption (CC).
Here are a couple of ideas on how you can incorporate watching Netflix into your study routine (depending on your language level of course!):
You could watch a series that you already have watched inEnglish and then rewatch with the Japanese subtitles. This helps you focus on how much of the language you can understand without looking anything up, as you are already familiar with the characters and story. The main advantage of using Japanese subtitles is that it will be much easier to pause and look up new words or phrases in the dictionary as and when you encounter them.
Watch using Japanese subtitles only, or try watching without any subtitles to really test your listening comprehension skills. Whilst this seems the most difficult and scary to do, the nature of TV will help fill in a lot of the important context of what is happening. It is also the best way to get used to the language being spoken at a natural speed (rather than at a slow speed as it tends to be in most language study materials).
Watch with dual subtitles. Chrome Extensions such as LLN: Language Learning with Netflixallow you to watch Netflix with two lots of subtitles. This gives you the opportunity to compare the two languages as you watch – the best of both worlds!
Whilst I don’t always watch things more than once, I find that rewatching a series allows you to more accurately identify what aspects of the language you need to focus on (ie. is it vocabulary that is hindering your comprehension or is it grammar?) as you do not need to pay attention to the storyline as much. If it is not vocabulary or grammar, then it is often your listening comprehension letting you down.
What I find most useful about Netflix is that some videos can now be downloaded for offline viewing on the app which now makes it much easier to study on the go. The main downside with Netflix at the moment, however, is that there is not much in the way of variety: rom-com and food lovers, in particular, are likely to find something to enjoy here, but others may struggle.
I hope that more Japanese language content is to be added in the future; fortunately, there has been a steady stream of new content over the last few months. Netflix will notify you when content that relates to your interests is added.
One thing I’ve noticed which I hope will get fixed is that the subtitles are in white, which can be a bit tricky to see depending on the scene.
List of Japanese language content currently streaming on Netflix UK
I’ve compiled a list of Japanese language TV shows, films and anime that I’ve found on Netflix UK below (those that have options for Japanese/English or no language subtitles are given in brackets). I try to update this on a weekly basis!
NB: this does not include content that has been dubbed into English (eg. Pokemon X & Y, Yugi-oh!).
Dramas & TV
Ainori (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Atelier (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Blazing Transfer Students (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Erased (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Good Morning Call [Seasons 1 & 2] (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Hibana: Spark (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Japanese Style Originator (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Jimmy: The True Story of a True Idiot (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Kakegurui [Live Action] (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Love and Fortune (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Love and Hong Kong (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
My Little Lover (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Million Yen Women (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Mob Psycho 100 (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Playful Kiss Season 1 (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Playful Kiss Season 2 (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
REA(L) OVE (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Re:Mind (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Samurai Gourmet (Japanese/ Japanese audio description/ English/ no subs)
Saboriman Kantarou (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Smoking [Season 1] (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Spiritual House (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Switched (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Terrace House: Boys and Girls in the City (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Terrace House: Aloha State (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Terrace House: Opening New Doors (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
The Could’ve-Gone-All-the-Way Committee (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
The Many Faces of Ito (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
009 RE: Cyborg (English/ no subs)
A.I.C.O Incarnation (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Aggretsuko Season 1 (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Aggrestsuko: We Wish You a Metal Christmas (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Ajin: Demi Human (English/ no subs)
Aldnoah Zero (English/ no subs)
Angel Beats (English/ no subs)
Attack on Titan (English/ no subs)
Back Street Girls Gokudols (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Baki (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Batman Ninja (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Black Butler [Season 3] (English/ no subs)
Black Lagoon (English/ no subs)
Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail (English/ no subs)
Bleach [Seasons 1-3] (English/ no subs)
Blood Lad (English/ no subs)
Blue Exorcist (English/ no subs)
B: The Beginning (Japanese / English/ no subs)
Case Closed (English/ no subs)
Children of the Whales (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Code Geass : Lelouch of the Rebellion (English/ no subs)
Cowboy Bebop (English/ no subs)
Cyborg 009: Call of Justice (Japanese audio description/ English/ no subs)
Cyborg 009 vs Devil Man (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Death Note (English/ no subs)
Devilman Crybaby [Season 1] (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Dragon Pilot (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Durarara!! (English/ no subs)
Elfen Lied (English/ no subs)
Erased (English/ no subs)
Eureka Seven Seasons 1 & 2 (English/ no subs)
Fate/ Apocrypha (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Fate/ EXTRA Last Encore Season 1 (Japanese CC/ English /no subs)
Fate/ Stay Night (English/ no subs)
Fate/ Stay Night unlimited Blade Works (English/ no subs)
Forest of Piano (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Fullmetal Alchemist (English/ no subs)
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (English/ no subs)
Gunslinger Girl (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Gunslinger Girl –Il teatrino- (English/ no subs)
Gurren Lagann (English/ no subs)
Hero Mask (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Hi Score Girl (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Hunter X Hunter (English/ no subs)
ID-0 (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Kakegurui (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Kill la Kill (English/no subs)
Knights of Sidonia (English/ no subs)
Kuromukuro (Japanese/English/ no subs)
Last Hope [Parts 1 & 2] (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Little Witch Academia (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Lost Song (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Magi Adventure of Sinbad (Japanese/English/ no subs)
Mobile Suit Gundam UC (English/ no subs)
Mushi-shi (English/ no subs)
One Punch Man (English/ no subs)
Rurouni Kenshin (English/no subs)
Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Samurai Champloo (English/ no subs)
Samurai Flamenco (English/ no subs)
Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign (English/ no subs)
Sirius the Jaeger (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Space Dandy [Seasons 1 & 2] (English/ no subs)
Steins Gate [Season 1] (English/ no subs)
Sword Art Online (English/ no subs)
Sword Art Online II (English/ no subs)
Sword Gai (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Terror in Resonance (English/ no subs)
The Asterisk War Season 1 (English/ no subs)
The Disastrous Life of Saiki K Season 1 & 2 (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
The Seven Deadly Sins (English/ no subs)
Tokyo Ghoul (English/ no subs)
Trigun (English/ no subs)
Vampire Knight Season 1 & 2 (English/ no subs)
Violet Evergarden (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Your Lie in April (English/ no subs)
Yuki Yuna is a Hero (English/ no subs)
A Silent Voice (English/ no subs)
Battle Royale (English/ no subs)
BLAME! (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Bleach [Live Action] (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Blue Exorcist: The Movie (English/ no subs)
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods (English/ no subs)
Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F (English/ no subs)
Fairy Tail: Dragon Cry (English/ no subs)
Fairy Tail: Phoenix Priestess (English/ no subs)
Fate/ Grand Order (English/ no subs)
Flavors of Youth: International Version (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Full Metal Alchemist [live action] (English/ no subs)
Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos (English/ no subs)
Garden of Words (English/ no subs)
Gantz: 0 (Japanese/English/ no subs)
Ghost Pain (English/ no subs)
Godzilla (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Godzilla The Planet Eater (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Halo Legends (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Harlock Space Pirate (English/ no subs)
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (English/ no subs)
Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Lupin III: The Castle of Caligostro (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Magi: The Labrinth of Magic (English/ no subs)
Manhunt (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Persona 3 the Movie: #2 Midsummer Knights Dream (English/ no subs)
Steamboy (English/ no subs)
Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale (English/ no subs)
The Birth of Sake (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
The Eternal Zero (English/ no subs)
The Many Faces of Ito [Live Action Movie] (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
The Seven Deadly Sins the Movie (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Tokyo Ghoul: Jack (English/ no subs)
Tokyo Ghoul: Pinto (English/ no subs)
So is Netflix worth it for Japanese learners?
At this stage, there is not quite enough content for me to recommend subscribing purely for learning Japanese (there appears to be a good selection of Korean and Taiwanese dramas compared to Japanese content), but if you already have a subscription I definitely recommend checking the Japanese language stuff out.
Of the content I’ve watched, some of my favourites from the above list are Midnight Diner, My Little Lover and Jiro Dreams of Sushi. If you are interested in reading more about Japanese content on Netflix, check out this post where I write in greater depth about my top 8 TV shows, anime and films.
However, my absolute favourite TV show on Netflix, especially in terms of learning about Japanese language and culture is ‘Japanese Style Originator’ as each episode focuses on different aspects of traditional Japanese culture. There are 54 episodes, some of which are up to 2 hours long so there is plenty to get your teeth stuck into!
What would be your recommendation for something to watch on Netflix? Have I missed anything from the above list? Let me know in the comments!