I’ve posted before about keeping a journal in your target language as a way of practicing your writing skills. However, I’ve always struggled to think of things to write about in my journal. This struggle was the inspiration behind the Writing Challenge I did last November.
Fortunately, there is another language learning challenge that helps solve this problem: the NVA challenge!
What is the NVA challenge?
NVA stands for Noun-Verb-Adjective: each day, the challenge provides you with one noun, one verb and one adjective to write a text with. The words are normally of a similar theme or complement each other in some way, which makes it easy to think of at least one sentence. In addition, the words used are words you would commonly use.
My experiences with the NVA challenge so far
I’ve been doing the challenge myself for a few weeks and have found it very useful for building a daily writing habit.
I find that once I’ve actually written one sentence, it is much easier to write a couple more sentences. Even on days when I am busy, I have been able to write down at least one sentence. It’s become part of my daily routine to write just before I go to bed, which I find quite relaxing!
I certainly recommend this writing challenge, as I think it is very accessible no matter what your language level is. You might not find a word in your target language which corresponds directly to English, but that shouldn’t be your main focus.
With Japanese, I don’t force myself to use the exact translation of the words given in the challenge. Instead, I normally try to use a word which has a similar meaning. This also has the benefit of focusing your time on actually writing rather than looking up lots of lots of words in the dictionary.
Make sure to get your writing corrected
You can always get your sentences corrected on language exchange apps and websites such as Hello Talk, HiNative or Lang-8.Hello Talk and HiNative are best suited for sentences or short paragraphs. Lang-8 is better for longer texts (sadly Lang-8 is not accepting new memberships).
As I did in the last Tadoku Tuesday post, I am going to write about two books I have read recently or am reading. I’ll also include any new additions to my book collection. Both of the novels I focus on here happen to be by two famous contemporary Japanese authors, Banana Yoshimoto and Kotaro Isaka.
The Novel I’m Reading: 「アムリタ」 Amrita by Banana Yoshimoto
It’s a little bit difficult to give an overview of the plot for this novel, but I have tried my best!
Sakumi is dealing with two major events in her life; memory loss caused by an accident as well as the death of her younger sister Mayu. Prior to the accident Sakumi had been making ends meet with a part time job, but then realises that she wants to pursue a career in writing. Her little half-brother Yoshio then develops telepathic abilities. As her memories begin to resurface little by little, she begins to come to terms with the circumstances of her sister’s death and gains the courage to work towards what she truly desires in life.
I’ve previously written about another of Yoshimoto’s novels before, which had not been translated into English. This time I thought I would try reading one of her more famous novels, which on the whole has been well received.
I wouldn’t say that the plot is particularly enthralling, although there are some interesting characters which help keep the narrative engaging. There are lots of dream like passages, which give the novel a mystic feel and are vividly depicted. Despite this, Sakumi as a narrator feels very grounded and relatable, even though situation she finds herself in is not.
This is a fairly long novel that has been split into two parts. I have finished the first half of the book and enjoying it so far, but knowing that there is another 200+ pages to read I do wonder what developments are going to occur which will keep me interested.
If I had to estimate the book’s difficulty in terms of language I would probably put it at JLPT N2 level. Banana Yoshimoto’s writing style is on the whole quite straightforward, although at times there can be long rambling sentences that might take a bit of careful reading.
The Novel I Recently Finished: 「神様の制度」 Kamisama no Seido by Kotaro Isaka
This novel is actually a compilation of several short stories, which all involve the same narrator. Our narrator is only known as Chiba and works as a agent of death (a Grim Reaper of sorts). As an agent of death, his task is to spend time with the person he is assigned to, and decide within seven days if that person should die.
This is the first novel I have read by Kotaro Isaka, and I really enjoyed it. Like Amrita, this novel also looks at the themes of life and death. Having said that, the tone of this novel is completely different. Isaka has written stories spanning many genres, and elements of this come into play in the novel. He somehow manages to infuse the variety of short stories with suspense and comedic moments in a very satisfying way.
Being a death god, there are a lot of ‘fish out of water’ moments where he is trying to understand human feelings and motivations. This provided a lot of humour that I was not expecting. There is a wide variety of characters presented in the stories and through the narrator’s eyes, we get to learn a lot about the people he is assigned to. I found it very easy to get engrossed in each of the stories.
In terms of language level I’d probably recommend this for JLPT N3 level learners. I think this would make an ideal choice for someone looking to read their first novel in Japanese!
I find Isaka’s writing style easy to follow; he tends to write in shorter sentences that still manage to convey a lot of information. Being a series of short stories, it is much easier to digest than attempting to read a longer novel in one go.
There is a sequel called 神様の浮力 “The Buoyancy of Death” which was released a few years ago. I would like to read this in the future, although the novel seems to have more mixed reviews from fans of the original.
I will certainly be reading more of his works in the future, although with such a large catalogue to choose from I will struggle to decide what to read next!
Books added to my To Be Read pile:
I am trying my hardest not to amass too many books (because then it gets even harder to decide what to read next!) and have only added one book to my collection recently:
「舟を編む」 Fune wo Amu / The Great Passage by Shion Miura
Mitsuya Majime is an introverted man with a passion for reading. He takes the opportunity to transfer from the sales division to the dictionary department, where he is under the guidance of the highly regarded editor Kohei Araki. Araki’s team is undertaking the task of completing a dictionary called “The Great Passage”. The book follows the team’s pursuit of making the very best Japanese dictionary.
This has been on my wishlist for a long time, so I was super happy to finally buy this book! Given the subject matter, this could be a bit of a tough read in Japanese. Fortunately, I also purchased the ebook version of its English translation (“The Great Passage”) which I can use to help me with any tricky parts. I haven’t yet decided whether to try and read both versions in parallel or not.
There’s also an anime adaptation and a live action film, so I think starting with one of these two to give me a grounding in the plot and characters will make reading the novel a little bit easier.
So that’s it for today’s post – you can take a look at アムリタ and 神様の制度 on the Amazon JP website and read the first couple of pages if you are interested in checking them out.
What are you reading at the moment (in Japanese or otherwise)? Do you have any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments!
Knowing where to start with Japanese music can be a bit of a minefield. On top of that, finding songs you can study Japanese with is even harder. Or perhaps you often go to karaoke, but never know what songs to sing? Look no further – here is a list of 15 easy Japanese songs to get you started!
The songs on this list have been chosen because they are popular songs which also have simple Japanese lyrics. Similarly, I’ve tried to include a mix of older and newer songs.
I wanted to write this post to show the wide range of Japanese music. Sometimes I worry that it can be hard to see past the idol music sometimes! I hope that this list will be a helpful starting point for discovering all sorts of Japanese music.
1. 上を向いて歩こう by 坂本九 // Ue wo Muite Arukou by Kyu Sakamoto
This is the oldest song on the list but a definite classic. Known as “Sukiyaki” in English, this is one of the best selling singles of all time. I’m not sure why this is because it has no connection to the lyrics!
It is also one of the few foreign language songs to reach the top of the US Billboard Top 100 chart.
The upbeat sound of the song contrasts with the sadness of the lyrics. The song tells the story of a man who looks up and whistles to stop tears from falling. The lyrics are simple and repetitive, which makes it a great Japanese song to study with!
2. 世界に一つだけの花 by SMAP // Sekai ni Hitotsu Dake no Hana by SMAP
The recently disbanded boy band SMAP were very much a national institution, having a career spanning almost three decades. Besides music, the band’s members expanded into acting and hosted one of the most popular variety shows of all time, SMAPxSMAP.
Their biggest song (The One and Only Flower in the World) was released in 2003. It was an instant hit, selling over a million copies. The song’s simple lyrics and pacing make it a karaoke favourite even today.
3.手紙〜拝啓十五の君へ by アンジェラ・アキ // Tegami ~ Haikei juugo no kimi e by Angela Aki
This single by singer-songwriter Angela Aki was released in 2008. Originally featured in a NHK documentary, it became popular again after the March 11 tsunami disaster and is still heard at graduation time today.
I think it perfectly encapsulates what a lot of us would write a letter to our younger selves. It’s a song with a great message and certainly one to listen to when you’re feeling a bit down.
By the way, 拝啓 (はいけい/ haikei) is how you traditionally start off a letter in Japanese.
4. First Love by 宇多田ヒカル // Utada Hikaru – First Love
Utada Hikaru is one is Japan’s most famous contemporary artists – it was tricky to pick a song from her many albums.
First Love was Utada’s third single, taken from the album of the same name which went on to over seven million copies in Japan. That’s not bad considering she was just 16 years old at the time! This easy Japanese ballad has a mix of Japanese and English, and is likely to be a karaoke favourite.
5. PONPONPON by きゃりーぱみゅぱみゅ // PONPONPON by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is the stage name of Kiriko Takemura. Takemura started as a blogger and model before entering the music industry. Her 2011 single PONPONPON was the first of her singles to become a viral hit.
The catchy beat is the invention of famed producer Yasutaka Nakata, who is also the creative force behind pop trio Perfume. The song and music video are the epitome of cute. Together with the simple lyrics, this is a very easy song to get stuck in your head (you have been warned!).
6. ありがとう by いきものがかり // Arigatou by Ikimonogakari
Ikimonogakari are a pop-rock band that have been around since 1999, although they are currently on hiatus. The band’s name refers to the group of children assigned the task of looking after plants and animals in Japanese primary schools.
Arigatou is a song they released in 2010 and is about treasuring a loved one. The lyrics are very sweet, and the tempo of the song makes it a good choice for singing at karaoke!
7. ORION by 中島美嘉 // Orion by Mika Nakashima
Mika Nakashima is a singer and actress from Kagoshima prefecture who debuted in 2001. As an actress, she is probably most famous for her role in the live-action adaptation of the shojo manga Nana.
Her single Orion was released in 2008 and is one of her many popular singles. In this song, Mika sings wistfully about a past love. The lyrics here are slow and not too difficult which makes it a nice song for Japanese learners.
8. リンダリンダ by ザ・ブルーハーツ // Linda Lindaby The Blue Hearts
The Blue Hearts were a punk rock band popular in the 80s and 90s. Linda Linda is one of their most popular singles and remains a karaoke favourite.
Originally released in 1987, the song was a key part of the film Linda Linda Linda (2005), where 4 high school girls form a band which covered several songs by The Blue Hearts.
9. 恋に落ちたら by Crystal Kay // Koi ni Ochitara by Crystal Kay
Crystal Kay is a singer hailing from Yokohama, who released her debut single at just 13 years old. Koi ni Ochitara was her seventeenth single released in 2005 and was the theme song for a drama of the same name. This pop ballad is probably the least well known on the list, but it has simple but sweet lyrics perfect for karaoke!
10. 涙そうそう by 夏川りみ // Nada Sou Sou by Rimi Natsukawa
Nada Sou Sou is an Okinawan phrase which means “large tears are falling”. In standard Japanese this would be 涙がポロポロこぼれ落ちる/ namida ga poroporokobore ochiru. The song tells the story of someone looking through a photo album of someone who has died.
The original song was performed by Ryoko Moriyama, but it is Rimi Natsukawa’s version released in 2001 that steadily became a hit. It was so popular that broadcaster TBS made two dramas and a film between 2005 and 2006. The song is sad but beautiful and certainly a Japanese song worth knowing about.
11. KARATE by BABYMETAL
Babymetal have a unique blend of metal and idol style music (now known as “kawaii metal”). Babymetal formed in 2010 and consists of three members: Suzuka and Moa. Since their formation, they have performed in many places around the world.
The group’s 2016 song Karate is from their second album Metal Resistance and is all about never giving up in difficult times. A lot of the main phrases are repeated and overall the lyrics are not too tricky. This is a definite crowd pleaser at karaoke!
12. Monster by 嵐// Monster by Arashi
I don’t think it is possible to escape Arashi, the five-piece boyband who have been together since 1999. Like SMAP, each member is involved in TV hosting and acting.
Released in 2010, Monster was the theme song for the drama adaptation of the manga Kaibutsu-kunwhich starred member Satoshi Ohno. The lyrics are straightforward – if you are in the mood for a Halloween pop song then this is for you.
13. Best Friend by Kiroro
Kiroro are a duo who released their first single in 1998. Both members Chiharu and Ayano are from Okinawa. However, the name of the band was actually inspired by words in the Ainu language after visiting Hokkaido.
The song Best Friend was released in 2001, and was the theme song for a drama called Churasan. It is a popular song to sing at graduations, as the song relate to appreciating close friends.
14. キセキ by Greeeen // Kiseki by Greeeen
Greeeen (the 4 e’s represent the four members of the group) are a pop-rock band originating from Fukushima prefecture. Kiseki was released in 2008 as the theme song for the baseball drama Rookies, and quickly became a bestseller.
The title kiseki has the dual meaning of 奇跡 (meaning “miracle”) and 軌跡 (meaning “path, track”), which is why it is written in katakana rather than kanji! The lyrics aren’t too difficult and emphasise how important it is to treasure each moment and to keep moving forward.
15. 恋するフォーチュンクッキー by AKB48 // Koi Suru Fortune Cookie by AKB48
[Note: there are options to have Japanese or English subtitles on the video!]
AKB48 are a massive girl group with several best-selling songs to their name. Named after the area in Tokyo where the group are based (Akihabara), the idol group is split into teams that hold performances there every day.
Released in 2013, the message of Koi Suru Fortune Cookie is to try positive about the future, because you never know what will happen tomorrow. I am not the biggest AKB48 fan but you cannot deny that this song is incredibly catchy, upbeat and has a fun dance to learn too!
So this turned out to be a very long post! It’s always good to have a shortlist of songs when going to karaoke. Hopefully this post has given you a few ideas (it was certainly fun writing this post). If in doubt, you can’t really go wrong with good old Disney songs in Japanese!
What is your favourite Japanese song? Let me know in the comments!
Today’s manga recommendation for Japanese learners is ‘Let’s Dance a Waltz’ / Warutsu no Ojikan (ワルツのお時間), a manga series created by Natsumi Ando.
Author: Natsumi Ando (安藤なつみ)
Genre: Romance, slice of life
No. of volumes: 3
Recommended for: JLPT N4/ upper beginner
Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: No
Tango Minami is a high school student whose family run a ballroom dance studio. Having danced from a young age, he teaches at the studio to earn pocket money but keeps his connection to the dance studio a secret from his school friends.
One day, a girl turns up looking for a trial lesson. The girl, Hime Makimura, is a shy student who is looking for a way to break out of her shell. Hime falls with love with dancing from the very first lesson, but Tango realises that they are both in the same class at school! Can Tango manage to keep his ballroom dancing a secret, whilst helping Hime to become a better dancer?
Why do I recommend the manga?
First things first, this is in many ways a typical shojo manga – the female protagonist is a shy girl who learns to find confidence in herself, assisted by the charismatic and popular male lead. The plot develops pretty much exactly as you would expect from this genre of manga. Having said that, the ballroom dance aspect helps to keep the narrative feeling fresh.
Hime (meaning ‘princess’) really hates her name as she feels she could never be a princess in anyone’s eyes. Therefore it is heartwarming to see her find a natural talent and passion for ballroom dancing. Whilst this is a ballroom manga, the manga is more focused on the emotional impact dance has for Hime. Tango also grows as a person through his interactions with Hime, which helps him feel like a more rounded character by the end.
At just three volumes, this manga is a short but enjoyable read.
Recommended Japanese language level
I consider this manga to be appropriate for JLPT N4 or upper beginner level and above. You may be surprised to learn that the vocabulary used in this dance-themed manga is not too difficult. There are a few terms that are specific to dance, and these terms tend to feature a lot of English loanwords. As the main protagonists are high school students, there is a bit of slang used but if you are used to manga slang conventions, this should not pose too much of a problem.
As always, you can read a sample of this manga on the EbookJapan website to get a feel for its difficulty by clicking the blue ‘無料立ち読み’ button.
If you do try reading any of the recommendations, please let me know how you get on the comments. I am always on the hunt for beginner friendly manga, so if you have any suggestions please let me know!
If you do like this recommendation, you might also like:
At the moment, Japan (as well as a lot of other countries) is experiencing extremely high summer temperatures. Aside from the all too common 暑いですね (あついですね; It’shot, isn’t it?), you might be struggling with ways to talk about the warmest season.
Japan is well known for its 蒸し暑い (むしあつい; hot and humid) summers. The first group of words relate to the uncomfortable feeling of dealing with the heat.
The first, べたべた is generally used to refer to something sticky or gooey. It is a common word used in the summertime to describe the icky feeling of being sweaty and your clothes stick to you. You could also use the onomatopoeia だらだら, which when used with 汗 (あせ; sweat) has the meaning of sweating profusely:
Eg. だらだら汗(あせ)が出(で)る sweat is pouring out
Another common phrase you might hear is 夏バテ (なつバテ), which is a combination of 夏(なつ) meaning summer and ばてる, meaning to be tired/ exhausted. It is used to describe that feeling of fatigue and lethargy you get when it it constantly hot outside. This SavvyTokyo article has some great tips on do’s and don’ts when coping with 夏バテ!
Staying cool as a cucumber?
With the heat and humidity, keeping cool by any means possible is essential. The word ひんやり can be used to talk about something which feels nice and cold, especially on a hot day. This covers things like cooler pads that you put on your bed or pillowcase, or the feeling of a cool breeze on a hot day, as well as food and drink.
There’s nothing better than a cold glass of juice or a bottle of beer on a summer’s day. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to describe that feeling with onomatopoeia in Japanese.
For instance, キンキン refers to a shrill sound, but it can also be used to describe something that is cold and refreshing.
Eg. キンキンに冷(ひ)えたジュース ice cold juice
To stay cool, it is highly likely you would be regularly tucking into something しゃりしゃり or ガリガリ. しゃりしゃり indicates something is crunchy; summer foods often have a crunchy texture due to ice or crunchy vegetables – think of a slushie, a salad, a sorbet or かき氷 (かきごおり, kakigoori). Kakigoori is shaved ice topped with a flavoured syrup and sometimes condensed milk. Popular flavours include melon, strawberry and the Blue Hawaii (usually soda or ramune).
ガリガリ is often for someone who looks very skinny, but is also used for something that is hard and crunchy, eg. an ice lolly. There is a brand of ice lollies called ガリガリ君 (Garigari kun) which are a cheap treat and have been popular for decades!
Sights and sounds of summer
The last couple of onomatopoeia are those that really help to encapsulate summer in Japan.
Unfortunately, summer means plenty of bugs to contend with. The insect most strongly associated with summer in Japan has got to be the cicada (known as 蝉・せみ).
If you’ve been to Japan or watched any TV show/ film/ anime that is set during the summer months, the みーんみーん sound of a cicada is probably very familiar. The video below talks about cicadas in more detail:
Another iconic sound of summer in Japan is the sound of 花火 (はなび; fireworks).
A lot of festivals take place during the summer months, where there are lots of opportunities to play games and eat street food from a variety of stalls. Along with this, there are often 花火大会 (はなびたいかい; firework displays) which take place in the evening.
Fireworks have a long tradition in Japan and were originally used as a way to help ward off bad spirits. If you are in Japan in the summer, seeing fireworks is a must! The onomatopoeia どんどん or ドーン can be used to describe the sound of fireworks in Japanese.
This post could very easily have been much longer – onomatopoeia is such an interesting part of the Japanese language.
What is your favourite summer word (in Japanese or any other language)? Please tell me in the comments section!
Today’s podcast recommendation is the Manga Sensei podcast, a podcast that offers great Japanese lessons in just 5 minutes each episode!
The podcast is hosted by John, the titular Manga Sensei.
About the Manga Sensei Podcast
Most of the Manga Sensei episodes are language-focused. Each of these episodes are short and focus on a different grammar point. Language focused episodes will provide an explanation of the grammar point, how to conjugate it and when it used. There are plenty of example sentences too.
In addition, the Manga Sensei podcast also has interviews with people who regularly use Japanese. Normally, the interviewees are people who live in Japan and/or write about Japan and the Japanese language. Previous guests include Youtuber Kemushichan and Tofugu.
Every now and then, John hosts episodes that focus on helpful language learning tips for Japanese (or any language). One of the episodes I particularly enjoyed is “Bridging the Gap between Intermediate and Advanced” (an episode from May 14, 2018).
Why I like the Manga Sensei podcast
One of the best things about the podcast is how much John sensei manages to cover in 5 minutes. I am impressed how each episode has detailed information on how grammar points are used, without it feeling too overwhelming.
With over 250 episodes, there is plenty of content to listen to. New episodes are also uploaded on a near daily basis!
The type of Japanese covered in the grammar episodes includes more informal speech. It is more natural than what you might get from a textbook.
In every episode, John comes across as an enthusiastic teacher who really wants everyone to do the very best with Japanese study. The Manga Sensei ethos is all about knowing you’ll make mistakes and doing it anyway, which I think is the best way to approach languages.
I find the interview episodes are really fun and perfect for when I need some study motivation!
One thing to note: the episodes have not been produced in order of grammar difficulty. You may find yourself searching around for a little while if there is a particular grammar point you are stuck on. Fortunately, if you are a beginner to intermediate Japanese learner, he has most likely covered the grammar point in an episode already.
Who I recommend the podcast for
I think that this podcast is good for anyone studying Japanese, as the grammar points covered range from the basics up to more sophisticated aspects of the language.
It is a great resource to complement Japanese classes or self-study. Hearing about the same grammar points explained in different ways helps to really deepen your understanding.
Where to find the podcast
You can find the episodes on the Manga Sensei website, or via any podcasting app, Spotify, iTunes or Soundcloud (just search for “Manga Sensei”).
The Manga Sensei website itself is a helpful resource
I definitely suggest checking out The Manga Sensei site. Short manga in Japanese is posted on the website each week.
I’d probably recommend these short manga to upper beginners (JLPT N4) as there is no furigana on the manga itself. However each panel comes with a vocabulary list and helpful notes on the Japanese used. If you are intending to read manga in Japanese at some point, these notes are pretty useful.
Aside from that, the website’s blog has a number of posts on the Japanese language and culture. These posts expand upon a lot of the topics covered in the grammar episodes.
Have you tried this podcast? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!
Finding material in Japanese that is just right for you as a beginner to the language can be pretty tough. Fortunately, children’s stories are a good place to start learning from in any language and Japanese is no different.
Why use children’s stories to study Japanese?
Children’s stories are normally recommended for beginner language learners because:
The vocabulary and grammar used are limited and therefore simple.
Stories are designed to be fun and engaging without being too difficult to follow.
There are plenty of pictures to assist with the understanding of the story.
Sentences to be repetitive, which helps learners to identify common sentence structures.
They are short and therefore relatively quick to read.
On the other hand, there can be some unexpected difficulty with children’s stories. A lot of books for children have fantastical elements and are often not as straightforward as they seem. With Japanese, a lot of the children’s stories I have tried reading had lots of onomatopoeia. This is something rarely covered in beginner’s Japanese classes in my experience.
In addition, having sentences entirely in hiragana might look easier to tackle, but actually parsing the sentence can be tricky. Beginner’s Japanese textbooks are likely to put spaces in between hiragana words to avoid this issue. However, Japanese children’s books beyond those aimed at younger children will not have spaces.
Despite the potential difficulty, I still recommend children’s stories as the best way to get reading in Japanese. Children’s stories are widely available online for free, and there is bound to be a story that you enjoy.
Should I study Japanese stories or stories from other parts of the world?
In my opinion, the answer to this question is to study both!
It is easier to start off learning stories that you are already familiar with. You will be able to fill in any gaps in your language knowledge from context. Japanese versions of popular children’s stories such as Little Red Riding Hood (Japanese title: 赤ずきん) and Cinderella (Japanese title: シンデレラ) available to read through the resources listed further on in this post.
On the other hand, some of the most popular Japanese children’s stories include:
かぐやひめ/ kaguyahime – Princess Kaguya
いっすんぼうし/ issunboushi – The One Inch Samurai
ももたろう/ momotarou – Peach Boy Momotaro
Without prior knowledge of the stories, these will be harder to follow for Japanese learners. I recommend trying to read these stories (in Japanese or otherwise) if you can in any case. They provide an interesting insight into Japanese history and folklore and are often referenced in TV shows and other media.
I’ve put together a list of some of the best (mostly online) resources Japanese learners can use to study children’s stories below.
Listening resources for Japanese children’s stories
There’s a huge amount of Japanese children’s stories on Youtube. Searching terms related to children’s stories such as:
童話 どうわ/ Douwa – children’s stories
絵本 えほん/ Ehon – picture books
昔話 むかしばなし/ Mukashibanashi – folktales
おとぎ話 おとぎばなし/ Otogibanashi – fairytales
…will bring up children’s picture books and stories in Japanese.
One of my favourite youtube channels for Japanese children’s stories is called キッズボンボンTV (Kizzu Bon Bon TV). THis channel has many many videos covering popular stories with Japanese subtitles. There are no English subtitles but there are English versions available for most stories and relevant links are always in the description box.
There’s also a channel called Japanese Fairy Tales, which has Japanese audio and English subtitles on its selection of stories.
Beelinguapp is an audiobook app that has lots of traditional children’s stories from around the world in many languages including Japanese. The app highlights the sentence being read, which makes it easy to follow the audio.
I wouldn’t consider it to be the best resource for intensively reading children’s stories in Japanese. On the other hand, I do think that it works pretty well as an audiobook app. I’ve written a separate post reviewing this app if you are interested in learning more. Speaking of audiobooks…
Most children’s stories are available in the public domain, which means there are audiobooks available for free. Librivox is a website where you can get free audiobooks in many languages as well as Japanese. These audiobooks tend to be stories for which you can find the texts on Aozora Bunko.
Google Play has recently added a small selection of Japanese audiobooks for children to its catalogue. Examples of the audiobooks I have found include a series called いっしょに楽しむ にほんむかしばなし (issho ni tanoshimu nihon mukashibanashi), a series called エルマーのぼうけん (erumaa no bouken) and あなうさピータ (anausa piita – ie. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter in Japanese).
I haven’t been able to try any of these out for myself yet. I have listened to the free samples and they appear to be of pretty good quality. Costs range between £4 and £8 per audiobook.
Reading Resources for Japanese children’s stories
You can buy physical Japanese books from a variety of online stores, most of which I have outlined in my Tadoku post. The below list is focused on places to read Japanese stories online.
Tom has translated some of the most famous Japanese children’s stories as part of his own Japanese studies. Luckily for us, he shared them on his website for other Japanese learners to make use of. I recommend this site as it gives the furigana for any kanji used, has a vocabulary list for key phrases and breaks down the translation of each sentence.
There aren’t any English translations, so it is a good idea to start off with a story you are already familiar with. I recommend reading Hukumusume stories through the wonderful TangoRisto app, which makes looking up unknown words a breeze.
Aozora is a well known free resource that has a huge catalogue of children’s stories in Japanese. In order to find them on the website you need to click on 分野別リスト on the main page and then look for ”童話書” (children’s stories). From this page you can select ”９ 文学” to find the list of children’s literature, split by country of origin.
If you are looking for Japanese versions of a story you are familiar with, it is best to search for it in Wikipedia and then switch the page language to Japanese in order to find the Japanese title.
Obviously, there are many more Japanese stories that international ones on this website. I have written before about children’s stories by famous Japanese authors such as Niimi Nankichi, Ogawa Mimei and Yumeno Kyusaku which are particularly great choices for Japanese learners to use.
Amazon Kindle Store
I’ve singled out the Amazon Kindle store in this particular post as I have found the Amazon Kindle store in my country (the UK) has a collection of children’s books in Japanese, which can be purchased and read without any need to sign up to an Amazon JP account.
From the Kindle Store homepage in Amazon, go to ebooks in foreign languages section and select Japanese.
The Amazon UK store also has a children’s book section, making things even easier! Not all of the results tend to be 100% relevant so make sure to take advantage of any reviews you can find. Most books are £1-£3 each so are pretty cheap. Take advantage of reading a sample so that you can assess the quality of the ebook before making any purchases.
Graded readers aimed at Japanese schoolchildren are available which tend to cover popular stories, but may also be focused on non-fiction topics. These books are normally divided into difficulty according to elementary school years and come with furigana readings for any kanji used.
Popular series include １０分で読めるお話 (juppun de yomeru ohanashi) for fiction and なぜ？どうして？(naze? doushite?) which covers non-fiction topics.
I have the 2年生 version of １０分で読めるお話 as pictured above, which is a mixture of Japanese stories, non-Japanese stories and even a couple of poems. In addition to furigana, there are spaces between words and pictures every few pages to make the stories more manageable. This makes them good choices for those studying Japanese, even if it might take you a bit longer than 10 minutes to finish!
I would start with the 1年生 (ichinensei) stories aimed at Japanese children in their first year of elementary school. You can then work your way upfrom there if that is too easy for you. These books are available in both ebook and physical book format from places like Amazon and eBookJapan.
PIBO touts itself as an ‘all you can read’ app for Japanese children’s picture books. The app is entirely in Japanese but is super easy to use even if you do not know much Japanese yet.
From the main page of the app, you get a choice of a selection of children’s books which change on a daily basis. The free version of the app gives you access to read up to 3 books per day. These books range from children’s classics to contemporary stories.
PIBO promises high-quality picture books and this is certainly the case. Colours are vivid and bright, even on my mobile phone (it would be much better to read on a tablet of course). The stories are mostly aimed at children between the ages of 3 and 6. All of the stories I have read were entirely in hiragana with spaces between words. The great thing about PIBO is that all stories come with the option to listen to the audio which is also high quality and great for Japanese study.
The app is free to download from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. A full subscription costs £3.89 a month, which gives you access to the full library of 300+ books but I think the free subscription is sufficient for those learning Japanese.
Moving on to more advanced stories
Once you’ve become comfortable with reading books aimed at younger children, consider looking into books aimed at older children and young adults. Series of books aimed at older elementary age children include 角川つばさ文庫 (kadokawatsubasa bunko) – these usually come with furigana over kanji used and are intended to be easy to read. A wide range of books are published under this label, including adapted versions of classic Japanese literature, foreign books/ films and original stories.
When tackling longer texts for the first time, consider reading translations of stories you are already familiar with to avoid getting overwhelmed with too much information. For example, the whole of the Harry Potter book series is available on the UK Amazon Kindle Store in Japanese.
There are also books aimed at Japanese children which can be appropriate for Japanese learners. 魔女の宅急便 (majo no takkyuubin – also known as Kiki’s Delivery Service) by Eiko Kadono is a popular children’s book that is fairly easy to follow. This is even easier if you are familiar with the Studio Ghibli film adaptation!
Other Japanese authors that I know of that write children’s and young adult fiction include Eto Mori, Hoshi Shinichi, Miyazawa Kenji, Mutsumi Ishii and Masamoto Nasu.
Just remember to read stuff you enjoy in Japanese
Otherwise, I suggest asking Japanese friends and thinking about what kinds of books you read in your native language. Then try to find something similar in Japanese. Websites like Bookwalker allow you to read samples, so make use of this as much as possible before choosing a book. Reading reviews on Amazon Japan is another method of testing your reading skills . You can also understand what to expect from a book before buying anything.
I follow the tadoku approach to reading in Japanese, so even if I get a book and don’t enjoy it, I just move on to something else.
I would really like to put together some posts on first novels in Japanese at some point to add here so watch this space!
This turned into a much longer post than I was expecting. I hope you find this post useful if you are looking to dive into children’s stories. If there is a resource that I have missed off this list, please let me know in the comments.
I find Japanese-English false friends extremely interesting, so I wanted to post about some of the ones I’ve come across. This is a mix of words that have completely different meaning in English, and words where the meaning has a different nuance to them.
The word ‘mansion’ in English conjures up the image of a large house with more rooms than anyone would realistically need.
However, in Japanese a mansion is an apartment/ flat/ condominium (normally larger than what the Japanese call アパート).
My older sister is rich and lives in a spacious apartment.
Like English, アバウト can mean ‘roughly’ or ‘approximately’. In Japanese, it can also mean ‘sloppy’ in regards to someone’s personality (ie. they are not particularly concerned with finer details).
Literally “he has a sloppy personality”, it could be translated as “he is not a meticulous person”.
As a British person, discovering what Japanese cider really was a bit of a disappointment. In the UK, cider is a type of alcoholic drink normally made with apples (or sometimes using other fruits such as pears).
So imagine my shock when I saw saidaa in the non-alcoholic section of a bar menu! It turns out saidaa is a fizzy soft drink, which is best translated in English as ‘soda’.
This morning, I bought a bottle of soda at the convenience store.
Like English, スマート can mean ‘stylish’ or ‘refined’ in reference to the way someone dresses or acts. However, it can also be used to mean ‘slim’.
She is very slim, isn’t she?
Originating from ‘concentric plug’, コンセント refers to an electric outlet or plug socket.
I plugged the TV into the socket.
サービス does overlap with the English meaning ‘service’ as in ‘customer service’:
However, サービス can also be used to describe something given as a discount or as a special extra when buying something.
Literally “this is service”, when buying something at a store this would be used when you get an extra item for free, or a free service offered at a hotel.
Whilst searching this word is quite likely to bring up a certain American president (he’s normally referred to as トランプ氏/ toranpu-shi), トランプ refers to playing cards.
トランプします = play card games
Last night I played cards with my grandfather.
8) Japanese: シール
Shiiru can mean the same as its English counterpart ‘seal’ but is more commonly used to mean ‘sticker’.
I put a sticker of a blue flower on the letter.
9) Japanese: サイン
サイン means signature or autograph in Japanese. It can also mean sign as in ‘signal’.
Please sign this document.
10) Japanese: タレント
Talent refers to a TV personality or celebrity in the world of entertainment. There are tons of popular タレント on Japanese TV who are generally there to play games, tell the occasional joke and react to pre recorded material. They may also sing or act in addition to their variety show appearances.
My little sister is a famous TV personality.
So that’s it for today’s post – here’s all of the words in today’s post summed up in one image:
As I wrote in my post, sometimes the easiest way to double check the meaning of loanwords is to use Google image search. If there is a different meaning or broader meaning in Japanese compared to its English counterpart, you’ll get a pretty good idea of this from looking at the search results.
I’m interested to know what is your favourite Japanese-English false friend? Let me know in the comments!
Today’s podcast recommendation is Learn Japanese Pod, not to be confused with JapanesePod101!
The podcast was established by Alex, a Brit living in Japan who started the podcast as a way for himself to work on his Japanese skills. Fortunately for us, the podcast has turned out to be a useful resource for us Japanese learners too!
In each podcast, Alex is joined by a native Japanese speaker – regulars include Asuka and Ami – to help explain key points and offer insights on each topic.
Each episode is about 30-40 minutes and are usually based on a certain situation you might find yourself in living in Japan, such as losing your wallet or ordering food at a restaurant. Others focus on ways to express yourself in Japanese (topics have included how to talk about one’s personality and how to express your opinions). The episodes are usually structured around short dialogs, which are then broken down and explained in more detail. These explanations are really useful as they often include cultural information or show examples of how certain phrases are used.
There also episodes called Fun Fridays, where the presenters discuss a topic in relation to Japan and Japanese culture, as well as interviews with those involved with the world of Japanese language learning.
First and foremost, I recommend this podcast because it is enjoyable to listen to. Sometimes with language learning podcasts, the content can feel overly structured and therefore a little bit boring at times. Fortunately, this is not the case with Learn Japanese Pod, despite the length of the episodes. There’s a really good rapport between the presenters which I think really helps to keep each episode as engaging as it is informative.
Another thing that I really like about the podcast is that they are full of useful expressions that reflect Japanese as it is actually spoken. For this reason, this is a great podcast for those who want to build their spoken fluency or focus on expressing themselves more naturally in Japanese. Similarly, as the podcast is dialogue focused, the episodes are great for shadowing.
I also recommend taking a look at the Learn Japanese Pod website, which has downloadable show notes for each episode containing all of the dialogues.
I think that this podcast is especially good for beginner to intermediate learners, who might be taking formal classes. As classes might not always cover ‘real’ Japanese, this is a great complement to the stuff that gets taught in a classroom setting.
This post is going to be a bit different from previous posts (you can find my previous posts in this series here and here). Normally I write about 2-3 books that I have been reading recently. I really want to narrow down the number of books that I am trying to read at any one time so that I can focus on the books I want to finish. My aim is to read one book at a time, with a manga for the days when I want to read something a bit different.
So going forward, each post will cover is one novel and one manga that I am currently reading, and I will probably also touch upon a couple of books I’ve picked up and will be excited to read in the future.
The Novel I’m Reading: 「神様の定食屋」 Kamisama no Teishokuya by Satsuki Nakamura
The main character is 25-year old Tetsushi, who leaves his comfortable office job to help his little sister Shiho run the family restaurant after their parents suddenly die in a car accident. Not having helped out at the restaurant or had any experience with food, he struggles to adapt to this new way of life. One day, he makes a wish at a shrine for help which has an unexpected consequence. After leaving the shrine, he ends up sharing a body with the soul of a recently deceased woman called Tokie.
Tetsushi shares his body with the souls of different people, through which he not only learns about food but also about the importance of life itself. Despite the supernatural theme, there is something very realistic about the main character’s reaction to the situation he finds himself in. As he hadn’t been very involved with the restaurant previously, he quickly develops a greater understanding of his sister, his parents, and how important their little restaurant is to its patrons. There is a lot of time taken to describe some of the dishes served at the restaurant; the dishes themselves play in nicely with the theme of how food can bring people together.
This is a book that I bought on a bit of a whim from Bookwalker a couple of months ago and started to read fairly recently. I like how the themes of food and family are woven together, and the souls that Tetsushi meets are nicely fleshed out characters with interesting stories of their own. I am excited to see how this book ends!
If I had to estimate the book’s difficulty I would probably put it at JLPT N2 level, as the vocabulary used can be quite tricky and more literary in tone than most stuff I read.
The Manga I’m Reading: 「のだめカンタービレ」 Nodame Cantabile by Tomoko Ninomiya
Megumi Noda (nicknamed Nodame) is a talented although eccentric pianist. She crosses paths and instantly falls in love with Shinichi Chiaki, the top student at the music college she attends. Shinichi finds it hard to appreciate Nodame’s sloppy approach to music playing at first, due to his perfectionist tendencies. They both have their own musical challenges to face, but ultimately have a positive influence upon each other as time passes.
I saw the drama adaptation of this manga some time ago; in fact, it was probably one of the first Jdramas I watched (it is available to watch on Crunchyroll if you are interested). I absolutely loved the drama version and now that I am reading the manga, I can tell that the adaptation has been pretty faithful to the source material.
The main characters Nodame and Chiaki are great together and it is interesting to see how their relationship develops. I am not particularly musically minded, but I still love the musical setting of the manga and how music is used to bring people together.
In terms of language level, I’d probably put this at JLPT N3 – musical terms aside, the vocabulary isn’t too tricky, but the lack of furigana increases the difficulty a little bit. I believe that there are bilingual versions of the first few volumes available.
There are two physical books that I have purchased recently:
「ホームレス中学生」 Hoomuresu Chuugakusei by Hiroshi Tamura
I’ve wanted to read this book for a very long time, so I was really excited to find this book on eBay a few weeks ago. I know that this novel is based on a true story, where the author (now a famous comedian) recalls his experience of finding himself homeless as a young teenager. The book was very popular when it was first released in 2007, and there were a drama and film adaptations made soon after.
「ステップファザー・ステップ」 Steppu Fazaa Steppu by Miyuki Miyabe
I’ve only recently ordered this book and it hasn’t arrived yet, so I can’t really comment in much depth on this one. I’ve never read anything by Miyuki Miyabe before (and she has such a huge body of work!) so I will be excited to read it when I finish my other books.
As convenient as it is to buy ebooks, it is nice to sit down with an actual book when I get the time, so I am very much looking forward to reading them!
So that’s it for today’s post! What are you reading at the moment (in Japanese or otherwise)? Do you have any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments!