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The Best 7 Android Apps for learning Japanese

Longtime readers will know that I review language learning apps on this blog fairly often. However, in reality there are only a small number of apps that I think are the best for people studying Japanese. Many of them I wish had been around when I was a beginner! For that reason, I thought I would put together a list of the best Android apps out there for learning Japanese!

Choosing just 7 was quite tricky, but I have tried to include apps for studying Japanese vocabulary, kanji and grammar which are useful at any level.

The best thing is that these apps are either free or available at a low cost. As I almost exclusively use Android devices, this list was made with Android users in mind. Fortunately, many of these are available on the Apple Store too.

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1) The best app to introduce you to Japanese: Lingodeer

Cost: free; also available on iOS

If you like the idea of using an app like Duolingo, then I recommend trying out Lingodeer instead. Lingodeer was initially aimed at those learning Mandarin, Korean or Japanese (French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Vietnamese are also available) and so the lessons are tailored towards these languages in a better way than Duolingo.

How Lingodeer works

Lingodeer starts by teaching hiragana and katakana, which makes it a great choice for absolute beginners. Like Duolingo, the app has many lessons increasing in complexity covering a number of different themes.

Each lesson starts out with some grammar notes (called ‘Learning Tips’), then a number of smaller topics covering a few grammar points and vocabulary under the given theme. You also have the ability to toggle the use of kanji, furigana and romaji within the lessons if you wish.

When it comes to the lesson quizzes, the app tests your understanding in a few different ways. Successfully passing the quizzes earns you XP, and allows you to move on to the next lesson. Similarly, there isn’t a heavy reliance on English for learning new vocabulary; instead, the focus is on using lots of images to convey meanings. There is a ‘Test Out’ feature which allows you to skip ahead if you can pass the tests.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend using Lingodeer as a resource on its own, but I think it is a great way to supplement learning using another textbook. Alternatively, I think it is a nice app to use if you have taken a break from Japanese and perhaps want to review the basics before starting new material.

2) The best textbook app for Japanese: Human Japanese

Cost: Human Japanese Lite is free, full version £8.99; also available on iOS

Speaking of apps for beginners, I would highly recommend the app Human Japanese. I think it is one of the best on Android for covering all aspects of Japanese

How Human Japanese works

This app has a textbook style app that takes you through hiragana, katakana and the basics of Japanese grammar. All aspects of the language are explained in a very clear and straightforward manner, imparting a lot of information designed to give as much context as possible to what you are learning.

The grammar lessons are also supplemented with relevant information on Japanese culture – you cannot understand the language without understanding the culture after all!

This short video gives you an overview of what Human Japanese is all about:

A lot of time and effort has clearly gone into Human Japanese – the quality of the app is great. All example sentences have crisp audio and example sentences have ‘ingredients’ which break down the sentence into its component parts, which is useful as sentences get more complex.

The full version of the app is not free and requires a one-off payment, but there is plenty of free content for Japanese newbies to work through to see if the app is appropriate for them before making a commitment. Looking at the content of the textbook, Human Japanese provides a solid foundation on which learners can continue to build on. I’ve written about Human Japanese in a previous post so I recommend checking that out if you would like to learn more.

3) The best Japanese dictionary app: Akebi

Cost: free

I have tried a number of free Japanese dictionary apps available on Android, but Akebi is by far my favourite. Again, this is another app that I have written a post about on this blog.

How Akebi works

The sheer number of features that Akebi has makes it a great learner friendly app. These include:

  • Inbuilt Japanese keyboard – no worrying about switching keyboards just to look something up
  • Detailed kanji information (including frequency, JLPT level, words containing that kanji)
  • Handwriting recognition and ability to search by radicals
  • Deconjugation – if you look up a verb in the te-form, it will find the verb in its dictionary form along with meanings and other useful information
  • Full functionality offline, perfect for when I am avoiding the internet during study sessions!
  • Example sentences

One of my favourite features relates to Anki; whenever I use the app to look up new words, I can immediately add them to a flashcard deck of my choice in Anki to review later.

Overall, I find that it has the right balance of user-friendly interface and powerful features that make it the perfect companion for Japanese learners at all levels.

4) The best app for practicing Japanese with native speakers: HelloTalk

Cost: free; also available on iOS

One of the biggest issues Japanese learners tend to have is lack of access to native speakers. Fortunately, language exchange apps like HelloTalk are the next best thing to address this issue.

How HelloTalk works

When you sign up for an account, you can select the languages you are interested in learning, as well as the languages you can speak. You can then post a message to native speakers of the language you are learning and find an exchange partner. When speaking with your language partner, you can post in your target language or record audio/ have a video call.

HelloTalk has expanded into a sort of social network for language learners. You can now post status updates on your profile called ‘Moments’, which other members can correct any language mistakes for you.

The above Youtube video by Reina Scully gives a good overview of how the app can be used to study Japanese.

HelloTalk has a couple of handy features for language learners. For example, as Reina mentions in her video, the Translate feature allows you to see translations from your target language by tapping any word or phrase. In addition, the Notepad feature also enables you to save a message or recording for later practice.

I think HelloTalk is a great way to find a language partner or even to practice your reading skills by reading other users’ Moments.

5) The best reading assistant app: TangoRisto

Cost: free, ad free version requires one off payment of £4.29; also available on iOS

Reading in Japanese can be a scary experience at first, but TangoRisto is a great app to build your confidence. TangoRisto draws together articles from NHK News Easy among other sources which you can read via the app.

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As you can see from the screenshots, the interface is crisp, clean and very user-friendly.

How TangoRisto works

Once in an article, a quick tap of a word brings up its reading and meaning. Like Akebi, tapping a conjugated verb will bring up the dictionary form of the verb with a note to indicate the form it has within the text (eg. passive tense, past tense). You can then bookmark these words to revise in the Vocabulary Review part of the app.

I like the ability to only highlight and/or show the furigana for words at certain JLPT levels as chosen in the settings, as well as the ability to save articles for offline reading. There is also a Text Analyzer tool, where you can paste Japanese text into the textbox; by then clicking ‘Analyze’, you can click on any word to find its readings and meanings.

Considering that this app is free to use, it is a quality resource for Japanese reading practice. It is definitely an app that I wish had been around sooner, especially when preparing for the JLPT tests!

I have a post reviewing TangoRisto which might be worth reading if you want to know more about the app.

6) The best app for vocabulary reviews: Anki

Cost: free; also available on iOS (for a price)

I haven’t always been a fan of Anki, but it is on my list because when used correctly it can be a very powerful tool. Whilst there is a free Anki app available on Android, Anki is available on a number of mobile and desktop platforms.

How Anki works

Anki (anki/暗記 is the Japanese word for ‘memorisation’) is a spaced repetition flashcard app that has a high degree of customisation. Putting together your own flashcard decks tailored to the type of Japanese content you want to study (ie. from your favourite TV show, video game or novel) is a great way to learn Japanese and stay motivated.

There is a bit of time required to experiment with what kind of flashcard set up works best for you. If making your own flashcard decks sounds like too much trouble, there are some great flashcard decks available for download via the Shared Decks. Some of my favourite shared decks are the Kanji Damage deck and the Core 2000 vocabulary decks.

This video by Landon Epps gives a nice overview of some of the features Anki has and how Japanese learners can use it to review vocabulary.

Anki is a great app because it can be used to help memorise all sorts of things, not just the Japanese language. If you like looking at data, there are all sorts of statistics you can look into regarding your learning and progress for each flashcard deck.

7) Best app for Kanji: Kanji Study

Cost: limited content is free, full app costs £11.99; older version of app available on iOS

If you are looking for an app to specifically help you with kanji, look no further than Kanji Study. I love the user interface, and there are so many features to help you customise your kanji learning experience.

How Kanji Study works

You can choose to tackle kanji in any order of your choice, but the default is the order in which Japanese children learn Joyo kanji at school. You can then break down each level into smaller groups of your choice. In the ‘Study’ mode, each kanji has its own page showing the stroke order, radicals, common readings, useful vocabulary and example sentences to help reinforce the meaning.

If you long press a word, you then get the option to add it to an Anki deck or look it up via another website such as jisho.org – both very useful features!

You can then choose to review the kanji via flashcards, multiple choice quizzes or writing challenges. These tests are highly customisable so that you can tailor your study sessions to focus on your weaknesses. The app also allows you to practice writing kanji. I like that the app uses a very readable kanji font which is much closer to how kanji would be handwritten rather than a typed font.

It is possible to set a daily study target, and you can set notification reminders to make sure you don’t miss a study session.

The beginner level kanji content is free, however access to all kanji requires a one-off cost of £11.99. All in all, I highly recommend this app because the quality of the app is top-notch.

Honourable mentions

There are a lot of apps which are great alternatives to some of the apps on my top 7 list:

 

Hello Talk -> HiNative

HiNative is fairly similar to Hello Talk, but I find HiNative better for learning about the current trends or asking questions about the culture of your target language. You can read my full review of HiNative here.

Anki -> Memrise/ iKnow

If you prefer an app that makes use of spaced repetition with a more user-friendly interface, then I recommend checking out Memrise or iKnow.

About Memrise

Memrise has its own starter courses for the Japanese language, however, I cannot comment on their quality as I have not tried this out for myself yet. Instead, I like to use the Memrise app to study some of the courses created by other users for certain aspects of Japanese, such as JTalkOnline’s keigo course.

Recently Memrise has made it difficult to search for these user-generated vocabulary courses (via the app anyway – they are still easy to find via the website), which is a slight annoyance.

About iKnow

iKnow requires a monthly subscription (a free trial is available), but I think the Core 1000/ 3000/ 6000 vocabulary decks help build a good grounding in Japanese knowledge if you are not interested in making your own vocabulary flashcards.

Akebi -> Tangorin

Tangorin is another free dictionary app available on both Android and iOS, which also works fully offline.

TangoRisto -> Mondo

Mondo is another reading assistant app aimed to help Japanese learners. Mondo tends to pull its reading content from different sources compared to TangoRisto, and there is some original articles and dialogues that can only be read on the app. I’ve covered how Mondo works in an earlier blog post.

So that is my list of the best apps available for learning Japanese on Android. Do you agree with my list, or is there a glaring omission? Please tell me in the comments 🙂

Using children’s stories to study Japanese

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

  • YouTube

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

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…

  • 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 Ray’s Traditional Japanese stories

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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.

Hukumusume

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Hukumusume is a Japanese website full of children’s stories from Japan and around the world. I’ve written about this website in my Japanese Reading Resources for beginners (Part 2) post.

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 Bunko

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.

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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

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.

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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 (ichi nensei) 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 picture book app

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.

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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 (kadokawa tsubasa 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.

Tadoku Tuesdays (3): What I’m Reading (in Japanese) in May 2018

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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.

You can read a sample of the manga here.

 

Books in my To Be Read pile:

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!

Manga Recommendation: Oremonogatari

There’s been a bit of a delay getting my latest blog post out, apologies.

Today’s manga recommendation for Japanese learners is My Love Story!!/ Oremonogatari!! (俺物語!!), a manga series created by Kazune Kawahara. This is a nice comedy/ slice of life manga that I think is pretty simple to follow, even for upper beginners.

Quick Facts

 

Author: Kazune Kawahara (河原和音) and Aruko (アルコ)

Genre: Romance, comedy, slice of life

No. of volumes: 13

Recommended for: JLPT N4/ upper beginner

Furigana: Yes

Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: Yes, anime and live-action film adaptations

 

Source: ebookJapan website

 

Plot Overview

This manga is about a high school student named Takeo Goda. Takeo is very tall and muscular which can make him look intimidating, but he has a very kind and caring personality. Whilst his athletic prowess earns him the respect of his male classmates, he is used to his best friend Makoto Sunakawa getting all of the female attention. One day, Takeo crosses paths with Rinko Yamato who actually appears to be interested in him. Is this a chance for Takeo to have a love story of his own?

 

Why do I recommend the manga?

This manga has the right mix of funny and heartwarming to keep you reading. Takeo as the main character is so charming and likable that you find yourself rooting for him from the very beginning, despite his obvious lack of common sense. The manga goes straight for the type of humour you would expect from a character like Takeo, although it always feels good-natured.

His best friend Makoto acts as a nice counterbalance to Takeo’s headstrong personality, helping to keep him grounded. I like how the manga sidesteps the all-too-common love triangle; Makoto very much encourages the budding relationship between Takeo and Rinko.

Similarly, there are a variety of other supporting characters who are mostly there to support the romance in one way or another. As a result, the story can seem a bit formulaic in parts, but the way the characters are written helps to keep things engaging.

 

Recommended Japanese language level

I consider this manga to be appropriate for JLPT N4 or upper beginner level and above. Most of the dialogue is short, and aside from the way Takeo himself talks, there isn’t too much slang to deal with.

In addition, being a slice of life manga, there isn’t any specialist vocabulary to contend with. Together with the presence of furigana, I think this is a great manga to try and read in Japanese if you are looking to read manga in Japanese for the first time. It also helps that the manga volumes aren’t too long, and I find that once I start reading I can get through the volumes pretty quickly.

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.

There is an anime adaptation of this manga which is available on Crunchyroll. The live-action film adaptation was released in 2015 and you can find the trailer for it here.

 

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:

Happy Reading!

Appy Mondays: Beelinguapp Review

Welcome to my series of app reviews relating to Japanese language study. Today’s app review is of the Japanese version of the foreign language audiobook app Beelinguapp.

 

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Beelinguapp is a reading app aimed at helping language learners to improve their reading skills. The apps allows you to read a number of stories available at Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced level. Besides Japanese, Beelinguapp is available for French, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish, German, Chinese, Hindi, Turkish, English, Arabic, Italian and Korean.

 

How Beelingua works

The app is host to a range of stories available for you to study. The selection is mostly fairy tales and well-known children’s stories, although there are also some non-fiction articles on topics including culture and science. Not all articles are available for free, as indicated by the currency signs in the top right corner.

 

 

Click on an individual story to download and add it to your collection. Opening up the story from your collection then brings up the text in two languages of your choice (I was using Japanese-English, but you can choose any two languages from the ones I listed earlier).

The story comes with full audio which can be adjusted for speed to your liking. In the Karaoke Reading mode, the sentence being spoken is highlighted as you go along, making it very easy to follow. You can click on the sentence to hear that specific sentence on its own.

 

 

There are also a number of ways to customise your reading experience:

  • Option to toggle English translation on or off if you wish. You can also set the app so that the target language is in one window, and the English is in the other (known as Side by Side Reading).
  • Ability to adjust text size
  • Change reading screen to Night Mode

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By long pressing a word or phrase, you can choose to add it to your Glossary for viewing later. There isn’t a dictionary in the free version, but you can add your own notes alongside each word (so you could, in theory, look up the words separately and add the furigana readings and English translation yourself).

A handy feature is that you do not need to have the app fully open if you just want to listen to the stories; you can happily use your phone for other things whilst listening to the audio. At the end of each story, there are reading comprehension quizzes in the target language to test your understanding.

Like most apps nowadays, Beelinguapp is a freemium app. The Premium version has no adverts, new texts added weekly and the ability to translate individual words. For these extra benefits, Premium membership costs £13.49 for the year, or £3.09 per month (the first month is often discounted).

 

My thoughts on Beelinguaapp

There are a lot of things to like about Beelinguapp, namely:

  • There is a nice choice of stories/ articles on offer – even for the free version of the app, there is a fair amount of variety.
  • The design of the app is excellent – it is very sleek, colourful and user-friendly
  • Audio quality for Japanese is extremely good
  • Ability to test your understanding at the end of each story with quizzes

You can tell that the app was made with language learners in mind; the app itself is a joy to use.

On the other hand, the main problems for Beelinguapp for me are the difficulty of the texts and the lack of furigana.

I’m not sure how the difficulty levels were decided on as the ‘Beginner’ texts were pretty tricky (at least for Japanese) in terms of vocabulary and grammar. To some extent, this is down to the content of children’s stories not always being everyday language. Having the audio and English translation helps, but with the English translation not being literal, it would be very tricky for beginners to parse sentences.

I think that in order to improve the reading experience for Japanese learners of all levels, the ability to turn furigana on alongside kanji would be necessary. Without furigana, I feel that the learning curve for the content available is just too steep for beginner learners in particular. Japanese learners who are already at an intermediate level might find this app sufficient for practicing their reading, especially if following the tadoku method.

When it comes to Japanese study in particular, Beelinguapp suffers from the same issue as the Drops app I reviewed previously. The same app is available in different languages, but due to the different writing system and word order, this one-size-fits-all model of language learning app doesn’t work for Japanese as well. I suspect Beelinguapp would work better for languages that are more closely related than English and Japanese.

The dictionary being behind a paywall is a frustrating choice, as for me, the benefit of using reading apps like Tangoristo and Mondo is that you can use the app to study without having to have a dictionary with you to look up the words you do not know. Ultimately, if you are looking for an app to practice your Japanese reading, I would recommend these two apps over Beelinguapp (some of Mondo’s articles come with audio too).

As an audiobook app, I think it does work quite well for those who like to practice dictation or shadowing thanks to the clear audio. I do not know of any other audiobook apps that are aimed at language learners, so I do feel that it goes some way to filling a gap in the market.

Overall, the free option is sufficient in variety and features to be a useful app for listening practice – just be prepared to have a dictionary at hand!

If you are interested in checking the app out, it is available in the Apple store and Google Play store.

Have you tried this app out? Are you aware of a better alternative? Let me know in the comments!

Manga Recommendation: ダーリンは外国人 / My Darling is a Foreigner

Today’s manga recommendation post for Japanese learners actually contains pictures from one of the physical volumes of the manga (thanks to eBay!). I normally buy my manga digitally but do own some physical volumes, which I might cover in another post someday.

Quick facts

Author: Saori Oguri

Genre: Slice of life

No. of volumes: 6

Recommended for: JLPT N3

Furigana: Yes (mostly)

Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: Yes, a live action film.

Note: There is also a volume of the manga in English

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Plot overview and my thoughts on the manga

This manga is about the author (who is a manga artist) and her husband, Tony. Tony is an American who came to Japan in the 1980s and is a bit of a language geek. The manga centers on their daily life and relationship, usually from Saori’s perspective. In some ways, Saori and Tony are very different to each other, and not just because of the language difference. Later volumes of the manga focus on how the couple adapts to having a baby and moving to Germany.

I was initially a bit apprehensive about reading this manga, as I thought that perhaps the manga would fall into the common trope of ‘a foreigner struggling to adapt to or understand Japanese culture’. However this is not the case – there is no dumbing down to explain things to Tony as he is fluent in the language (the target audience is Japanese after all). The general tone of the manga is lighthearted and whilst it does mention their cultural differences, it is never done in a way which implies a certain way of thinking is more superior than the other.

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As you will see from the photos, the art style is not typical of most popular manga. I think that this only adds to the charm of the manga. Both Saori and Tony as central characters are interesting to read about, as they have their own quirks and it is their interactions which make normal situations quite humorous. The manga reminds me of the Korean webtoon “Penguin loves Mev” which is also about the daily life of a Korean/British international couple.

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Language level

In terms of language level, I would put this at JLPT N3. There’s quite a lot of slang as it is mostly dialogue – having said that, the language used is usually everyday level. Whilst there is furigana, the manga has a mix of printed Japanese and handwritten Japanese (the handwritten Japanese parts usually reflect Saori’s thoughts as opposed to what she says out loud). The handwritten parts do not come with furigana and therefore may be trickier to understand.

There is also a live-action film starring Mao Inoue as Saori. I’m not really a fan of the film, having watched it sometime before I actually read the manga it was based on – I didn’t feel like the film was able to convey the couple’s personalities enough. You should be able to find the film on YouTube if you do wish to check it out.

As always, you can read a sample of the manga on the EbookJapan website.

Happy Reading!

If you do try reading any of the recommendations, please let me know how you get on the comments.

Tadoku Tuesday (2): What I’m reading (in Japanese) in February 2018

whatimreadingFeb2018

It’s been a few months since I last did one of these posts (the last one I wrote was back in October). I’m trying to increase the number of books and manga I read in Japanese this year, and so far I’ve managed to stick to my target of reading at least 10 pages of a novel or manga every day (hopefully I can keep it going!). Here’s a couple of books that I’ve started or finished recently:

「きみにしか聞こえない」 by 乙一 (2001, light novel)

Note: this book is available in English and has the title “Calling You”

This light novel is a collection of 3 short stories (it is also available in manga format). I’m about halfway through it at the moment so will only mention the first two stories.

The first story is the story from the book’s title. Ryo is a high school girl that finds it difficult to connect with people. She imagines that she has an imaginary mobile phone and is shocked when her phone rings and she is able to have a conversation with another person in the real world. Through the imaginary phone, she gets to know two people: a boy called Shinya and a university student called Yumi. Shinya, in particular, becomes a good friend to Ryo, encouraging her to come out of her shell. However, tragedy strikes when they finally decide to meet. The second story is called 「傷」and is about a boy who discovers that his classmate Asato has the ability to transfer wounds and scars from one person to another.

There is a film adaptation of the first two stories: I have watched the adaptation of きみにしか聞こえない and enjoyed it, so reading the story gave further nuance to the plot and characters.

This is probably the easiest story to read on the list but is still probably around JLPT N3 level. I find Otsuichi’s writing style quite easy to read and the vocabulary used hasn’t been too tricky so far despite the supernatural elements.

 

「どんぐり姉妹」 by 吉本ばなな (2010, novel)

This is a novel by famous author Banana Yoshimoto, although not translated into English as far as I am aware. Two sisters called Donko and Guriko live together and run an online advice page called ‘The Acorn Sisters’, the same as the title of this book. The website is called that because when you put the names together their names spell out the Japanese for acorn.

The book is written from younger sister Guriko’s perspective. The sisters had an unsettled childhood; having lost both parents in an accident, they spent several years moving between different caregivers. A large part of the book focuses on how this has influenced both sisters into adulthood and how it affects their approach to advice giving.

I bought this book on a bit of a whim, but I soon found myself getting into the story. Yoshimoto does a great job of fleshing out the sisters’ personalities and their motivations. Having sisters myself, it made me think about my relationships with them and how they have developed as we have all gotten older.

Banana Yoshimoto’s works tend to be easy to read, but in terms of vocabulary used I would probably recommend this for JLPT N2 level learners.

 

神様が嘘をつく by 尾崎かおり (2016, manga)

Note: This manga has also been translated into English and is known as “The Gods Lie”

This is a manga that I read about on someone else’s blog a few months ago – unfortunately, I can’t remember who wrote about it otherwise I would link to them here.

Natsuru Nanao is a young student who is passionate about football. One day, he happens to run into his classmate Rio Suzumura and finds out that she has been looking after her younger brother without a parent or guardian for some time. She begs him to keep this a secret as she is afraid of being separated from her brother. Natsuru does so but also does his best to spend time with the Suzumura siblings, helping out whenever he can. As his feelings grow for Rio, Natsuru’s emotions towards the whole situation become more complex.

I won’t spoil any other plot details, as it is better to read it without knowing too much. It is a very sad story but does end on a hopeful note. I have to say that I love the art style of this manga too – there is something about the way that the characters are portrayed that seems very realistic.

In terms of language level, I’d say that this is an appropriate read for JLPT N3 level learners. The main characters are young so there is slang, but aside from that, intermediate learners should be able to read it. I found that once I started I managed to read the majority of it in one sitting because I got engrossed in the story (it is a single volume manga but has 5 chapters).

You can read a sample of the manga here (click on the green “立ち読み” box under the picture of the book cover).

 

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!

Manga Recommendation: ふらいんぐうぃっち/ Flying Witch

Author: Chihiro Ishizuka

Genre: Comedy, shounen

No. of volumes: 6

Recommended for: JLPT N3

Furigana: Yes

Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: Yes, anime (12 episodes)

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This manga is about a young girl called Makoto. She moves from Yokohama to Aomori prefecture to live with her relatives. Her move is to achieve a specific goal: to complete her training to become a fully fledged witch! The manga follows Makoto’s progress as she learns about her new environment and finds out what it really takes to become a witch.

Although the plot reminds me of Kiki’s Delivery Service (‘girl leaves home and settles in a new place in order to become a real witch’), the manga has its own charm which makes it an enjoyable read. Makoto’s character is very easy to like despite her ditziness. The manga is very often funny but also does a good job of also delivering on some heartwarming moments.

In terms of language, I would recommend this to JLPT N3 learners (people close to N3 might find it difficult although not impossible to read). Most of the vocabulary is commonly used and the use of furigana makes it even easier to look up unknown words. Similarly, the grammar used is not too difficult. On the other hand, the main characters who are mostly teens do use quite a bit of casual language which may take some getting used to. Another thing to watch out for is the use of Tsugaru ben, the dialect used in Aomori which can be quite different to standard Tokyo Japanese!

Like Shibata Bakery, this is a great manga to read when you want something more lighthearted to read. If you like Kiki’s Delivery Service/ 魔女の宅急便・まじょのたっきゅうびん, I recommend giving this a try. The anime adaptation is available on Crunchyroll and is a good place to start and see if you like the plot and characters.

As always, you can read a sample of the manga on the EbookJapan website.

Happy Reading! 読書を楽しんでね!

If you do try reading any of the recommendations, please let me know how you get on in the comments.

Image: By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47408696

Author Spotlight: 小川未明 Mimei Ogawa

AuthorSpotlightMimeiOgawa

Mimei Ogawa (real name Kensaku Ogawa) was born in Joetsu City, Niigata Prefecture in 1885. He attended Waseda University in Tokyo and had a couple of his works published before he graduated. It was around this time that he began to champion the development of children’s literature, later becoming the first chairman of Japan Children’s Literature Association in 1946.

Like Niimi Nankichi, Ogawa was famous for writing a great number of children’s stories and is considered the founder of modern children’s literature in Japan. He was well known for having his stories in realistic settings and often highlighted the plight of the vulnerable in society.

Fortunately, his stories are available for free on Aozora Bunko, and some are available with furigana. Most of these stories are appropriate for upper beginners/ lower intermediate and above (JLPT N4-N3).

As I normally do in these posts, here are a few of his short stories I recommend to get you started.

牛女(うしおんな) / The Ox Woman

Perhaps one of Ogawa’s most famous stories, this is about a woman who is known as ‘The Ox Woman’ for being large but also extremely kind hearted. However because of her and her son’s disabilities, she is sometimes the subject of mean jokes. Even after she dies she makes sure to watch over her son and the villagers who showed kindness. JLPT N4 learners should be able to give this a go – the Aozora version has furigana which makes things a bit easier.

しろくまの子

This is a very short story about a little polar bear who doesn’t listen to what his mother tells him and ends up in trouble. If you are a JLPT N5 level learner, I would try reading this story!

The vocabulary may not be words you have learnt yet, but the grammar is very straightforward (with the exception of the classic negative verb ending ぬ (きかぬ = 聞かない・聞きません) and a couple of relative clauses). This story is also almost entirely written in hiragana, with spaces between the words to help you out.

ねことおしるこ

A short story about a boy called Sho who is often scolded by his sister. After he goes missing one day, his sister realises that she may have been the one in the wrong after all. This is a quick read which reflects Ogawa’s style of short, simple stories that give you something to think about. I’d say this is about JLPT N4 level – a mix of casual and polite registers might be a bit confusing, but aside from that the grammar and vocabulary is not too difficult.

Please let me know if this post encourages you to read one of Ogawa’s works, or if there is an author you would like me to cover in this series!

Author Spotlight: 夢野久作 Yumeno Kyusaku

Author Spotlight Yumeno

The second author in my Author Spotlight series is another writer from the early 20th century, Kyusaku Yumeno.

Kyusaku Yumeno was the pen name of Taido Sugiyama. Born in Fukuoka in 1889, he was a student at Keio University and also spent time working on a farm and training to become a Buddhist priest before finding a job as a newspaper reporter. It was whilst holding his reporting job that he wrote many of his stories.

Yumeno’s first work to gain popularity was a novella called あやかしの鼓 (あやかしのつづみ /Apparitional Hand Drum), but his most famous piece was ドグラ・マグラ (Dogura Magura). Published in 1935, Dogura Magura tells the story of protagonist Ichiro Kure on his quest for the truth behind how he ended up in a mental ward in Kyushu University Hospital.

Aside from these, he wrote a great number of short stories which are readily available on Aozora Bunko. I’ve read a few of his short stories and think that a number of these make great reading practice for Japanese learners. In terms of grammar and vocabulary the grammar is fairly straightforward, although at times there can be more formal language (eg. おります and いらっしゃいます; using -ぬ verb suffix to indicate a negative form) that might throw beginners. Overall I think upper beginners/lower intermediate learners and up will be able to read these without too much difficulty.

Here are a handful of stories I recommend to get you started:

二つの鞄 /ふたつのかばん

A very short story about two bags who do not get on with each other. Being as short as it is I can’t really say anything else but it is a story that reminds me of an Aesop’s tale. Learners at JLPT N3 will find this an easy read.

虻のおれい/ あぶのおれい

Another short story about a little girl called Chieko saves a horsefly. The horsefly returns the favour when Chieko finds herself in a difficult situation. A story that emphasizes the importance of helping others, which I think is also around JLPT N3 level.

犬と人形/いぬとにんぎょう

A brother and sister think they have lost their beloved dog and doll in a fire, however, their dreams suggest that they might just be able to get them back.

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