Reading

Manga Recommendation: しばたベーカリー Shibata Bakery

Author: Rin Ukai

Genre: Slice of Life

No. of volumes: 5

Recommended for: JLPT N3

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This manga is about a father and son who have recently started up their own bakery shop. There’s one small difference, both father and son are Shiba Inu dogs!

32-year-old Taro Shibata quit the salaryman life to pursue his childhood dream of running his own bakery. His son Kotaro is just 4 years old but helps out a lot at the bakery. As with all new businesses, getting the word out about the business is not easy and the manga focuses on the pair doing their best to make the bakery a success. Taro soon finds himself taking on a bigger role in his local area as he has an uncanny resemblance to a 神 ‘kami’ calledしめなわ五郎 who is meant to bring prosperity.

This is a slice of life manga with a lot of the humour coming from the characters who visit the bakery, as well as the fact that the shop is run by a dog. It also has its heartwarming moments, particularly between Taro and Kotaro. Taro’s wife does also appear in the manga, but the circumstances in which she left are not immediately clear.

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). I think that whilst most of the vocabulary is everyday language, the manga is more suited to those who have a solid foundation in grammar and are familiar with a bit of casual language.

There is also furigana provided for some words (eg. 偉い・えらい) but not for others (eg. 謙虚・けんきょ) which adds a bit of extra difficulty. I suggest trying the manga out through the link below to see how easy you find it.

Each chapter is pretty short which makes it a fun, light manga to read – this is highly recommended. The only downside is wanting to eat copious amounts of bread while reading this!

You can read a sample of the manga on the EbookJapan website – at the time of writing, the whole of Volume 1 is available to read for free!

 

Image source: http://kc.kodansha.co.jp/product?isbn=9784063872507

‘Appy Mondays : TangoRisto App Review

I haven’t gotten round to doing one of these posts in a while (believe me, it’s not down to lack of apps to review!) but I was inspired to write one after coming across the app TangoRisto.

This app is a reading app but is tailored towards the needs of Japanese learners. Some reading apps are better suited to intermediate or advanced learners, but this has a lot of features which enable beginners to get reading in Japanese as soon as possible.

TangoRisto takes its articles from NHK News Web Easy (for beginner-intermediate learners), Top NHK News (for intermediate-advanced learners) and Hukumusume (fairy tales in Japanese).

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When you select one of these from the main menu you can choose an article to read. Once selected, you can view the article with a few extra features including:

  • Toggle furigana on or off, or toggle furigana on for kanji split by JLPT level
  • Option to bookmark articles for offline viewing
  • Tap on any word for an English definition
    • If a verb has been conjugated it will indicate how it has been conjugated/ the politeness level as well as the verb in its dictionary form.
    • When you tap on the vocabulary again you get further information on the word: it can then be bookmarked and added to a vocabulary list to review later offline.
    • There is an option to search the word on websites such as jisho.org, Tangorin, Google as well as the Japanese Stack Exchange where you can ask questions on usage.
  • Toggle the glasses on or off to see different vocabulary highlighted in different colours according to their JLPT level (eg. N5 words and grammar are underlined in orange)
  • Full vocabulary list for each article

The ‘glasses’ feature on this app I think is especially useful for learners because it helps learners identify what kind of vocabulary or grammar they tend to get stuck on, which you can then use to adapt your learning – particularly useful if you are working towards the JLPT. Being able to view articles and vocabulary lists online is also a really useful feature to have (I wish more apps had this to be honest!)

All in all, a great app that I am sure will get even better over time 🙂

The app is available for free on the Apple Store and the Google Play Store, so there really is no reason not to check this out! Find out more on the app’s official website.

Japanese Author Spotlight: Niimi Nankichi

As evidenced by how much I tend to write about reading resources on this blog, I love to read. Whilst I am getting better at reading in Japanese thanks to Tadoku, reading native materials can sometimes be a long and arduous process. So when I get frustrated with trickier books, I like to switch to easier stories. This is where Niimi Nankichi comes in.

Niimi Nankichi was one of the most prolific children’s writers during the 20th century and is often compared to Hans Christian Andersen. He wrote his most famous work ごん狐 (ごんぎつね) when he was 18 years old. Unfortunately, he died from tuberculosis at just age 29, but during his time as a primary school teacher, he penned a great many stories for his young students.

Fortunately, these stories are not only accessible for Japanese learners but are also available for free on Aozora Bunko. As with a lot of children’s literature, whilst the vocabulary used may be a bit dated or less common (such as names of plants and animals), the grammar used is straightforward. For this reason, I recommend reading these armed with a dictionary or a lookup tool like Rikaichan to make the whole process a bit quicker!

There are rather a lot of Nankichi’s stories at Aozora Bunko so I thought I would highlight a few stories here:

ごん狐/ ごんぎつね

Nankichi’s most popular story had to be on this list. This story is all about a mischevious little fox called Gon. Whilst it may not have the ending you would expect from a children’s story, it does have a very important message (much like the rest of Nankichi’s works). It is not the quickest read for Japanese beginners but is split into chapters which allow for a natural break between reading sessions.

There are also a number of videos on Youtube for the reading of this story, but the one below is my favourite (not too fast or slow and no distracting background music!)

狐のつかい /きつねのつかい

This is a much shorter story than ごん狐 which also happens to have a wolf as the main character. A wolf is entrusted with an important errand, but things do not quite go to plan. I’d say this is a fairly straightforward story – I would recommend it to JLPT N4 learners, but N5 learners may be able to give this a go if you’ve covered nearly all of the grammar.

ひとつの火/ ひとつのひ

In this story, the narrator discusses the impact of a simple favour he carries out for a cattle farmer. Like きつねのつかい, the language used in terms of grammar and vocab isn’t too difficult aside from a couple of phrases (eg. ~てゆく= ていく, ~てくれ = instead of ~てくれる).

二ひきの蛙/ にひきのかえる

This story is about 2 frogs who start off on the wrong foot – can they learn to settle their differences? This story is short and has a cute ending. In terms of grammar, I’d say this is more difficult than the above two stories. This is due to the dialogue between the two frogs being more casual in nature (eg. sentence ending ~だぞ; わすれるな as a more manly way of saying ‘don’t forget’ instead of わすれないで(ください)). Fortunately, the vocabulary used is straightforward – so overall, it is still accessible for N4 learners.

Have you read Nankichi’s stories before? Which stories would you recommend? Let me know in the comments!

Free Reading Resources for Japanese Beginners: Part 2

This is a continuation of the list of my favourite free online Japanese reading resources for those who are relatively new to the language. Part 1 is a list of non-fiction resources, but if you find prefer reading Japanese fiction, then this is the article for you!

Those specifically interested in children’s materials should take a look at my post on children’s stories in Japanese which goes into detail on free or very cheap resources you can use.

As with my first post, I have a list of links below with a little bit of an explanation as to why I recommend each one.

 

JP-Lang

This website has a variety of resources for Japanese language learners, but I specifically recommend that beginners take a look at some of the beginner level dialogues (there are also a few essays about Japanese culture in the reading section as well). I’ve included it on this list because even if you’ve just finished with hiragana, you can start reading these useful dialogues.

Image from JPlang website

Both the essays and the dialogues are good for reading practice as each allows you to set the kanji and English translations on or off. As a beginner, you do not always want to jump into reading long articles, and therefore dialogues are a particularly good way of ensuring you are picking up the correct situational words and phrases across various topics.

 

Wasabi’s Fairy Tales and Short Stories with Easy Japanese 

Wasabi has five stories (a mixture of Japanese classics and traditional Western stories like Jack and the Beanstalk) broken down into a number of lessons that split the story up into shorter sections. Each lesson has Japanese audio (at both slow speed and normal speed), furigana, English translations and a vocabulary list – perfect for a study session!

Image from Wasabi's easy Japanese stories page

Wasabi recommends these story lessons at N4 level learners and I think this series offers a good entry point for upper beginners to start learning about famous Japanese stories.

You may also want to check out Wasabi’s series on learning Japanese expressions through manga, which is based around bestselling manga ブラックジャックによろしく (Give my Regards to Black Jack).

 

Traditional Japanese stories

This website has a small collection of classic Japanese children’s stories. These stories are so often referenced in other media that it is always a good idea to read them at least once! All stories on the site come with furigana for all kanji used as well as lists of key vocabulary and phrases.

Image from Traditional Japanese Stories website

What is particularly great about the website is that each story has a sentence by sentence English translation. I would say that due to the line by line translations, the English does not always flow naturally. However, this is actually extremely useful for beginners since you can compare grammar and sentence structure between the two languages.

 

Hukumusume

If you cannot get enough of children’s stories, Hukumusume is the website for you. Do not be put off by the fact that this is aimed at Japanese children, because it still remains a good resource for Japanese learners. Each story is accompanied by audio, which makes the stories good for reading and listening practice. What’s more, the website has over 40 Japanese stories that are bilingual (Japanese and English) and are written entirely in hiragana.

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The website has a much bigger range of stories in Japanese only, although there is no furigana. Therefore having a plugin like Rikaichan here is recommended for looking up unknown words quickly.

There are children’s stories from around the world on this website so you may prefer to start with a story from the 世界の昔話 section – here you can select stories from a country of your choice and focus on stories you are already familiar with.

 

Satori Reader

Satori Reader is from the people behind Human Japanese and is a great resource for those wanting to read a range of materials in Japanese. The website has a number of different story series, as well as dialogues for different situations.

Each series has a number of stories within them, which have difficulty ratings. The articles on the site are great for beginners and above because the range of features means that it is possible to follow any of the stories.

Once you select a story, you will be able to see the text and click on any word or phrase for an English translation (including conjugated verbs). As you can see from the image below, options to toggle kanji, furigana and spaces between words on or off are available. There is also audio for the article as a whole and for each sentence – ideal for shadowing.

Image from one of Satori Reader''s Articles

The translations and notes provided are extremely useful as they are both specific to the words you highlight, and the context of the sentence or phrase it is used in. You can comment on the article when any questions you may have, and one of the team will provide an explanation.

When you sign up for an account, you can access some of these stories for free, although a paid subscription is required to read all of the website’s content. Satori Reader now has an app for iOS and Android which looks great for reading practice on the go.

 

Aozora Bunko

Aozora is a directory of Japanese literature that is now out of copyright. You can find a huge variety of literature from some of the most famous writers of the last century, including Osamu Dazai and Ryunosuke Akutagawa. Since they are out of copyright, you are free to download the stories and convert them so that you can read them on your Kindle – this website already has Aozora stories in an ebook-friendly MOBI format.

Image from Aozora Bunko homepage

The website is entirely in Japanese so I would recommend that beginners look up the kanji for a specific author using the search box, and then choose a story that way. As you might expect, Japanese from the early 20th century is different from how it is today, so choosing the right author and the right story can be tricky.

This is why I have written a few posts about authors on Aozora Bunko that I think are particularly good for beginners to study with, including Niimi Nankichi, Mimei Ogawa and Kyusaku Yumeno.

Some stories from these authors were aimed at children and therefore have furigana or are written with few kanji. Again, using a reading tool will help you make the most of this resource.

Image of easy Japanese story from Aozora Bunko

 

So that’s it! Like the Part 1 post, I am always reviewing and updating my posts when I discover new resources.

Looking to read manga in Japanese? Check out my list of manga and novel recommendations for Japanese learners. I normally write about manga that would be fun reading practice for those at upper beginner and intermediate level (JLPT N4-N3).

My Japanese Language Resource Masterpost in the navigation bar also has a lot of links to useful resources – I always try to focus on finding free or very cheap Japanese study materials!

Manga Recommendation : 甘党ペンギン by けんじそにし

Today’s recommendation is 甘党ペンギン(あまとうペンギン/ amatou pengin/ ‘Sweets Penguin’) by Kenji Sonishi. This is a manga series about Penta (ペン太) the penguin who is a rather well known attraction living at the local zoo. He begins to frequent a coffee shop run by a young man called Inoguchi. Naturally, Inoguchi is not only shocked by a penguin visiting his cafe but also by Penta’s dedication to trying out various desserts and sweet treats with his coffee.

Each chapter showcases two or three of these desserts that do actually exist in Japan, particularly Hokkaido.

 

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I can personally vouch for LeTao’s desserts being absolutely amazing

The chapter then ends with ratings and comments on each of the desserts featured. Like Cooking Papa I do not advise reading on an empty stomach as you will get hungry!
Whilst Japanese learners outside of Japan may not be interested in how these desserts are rated, I still recommend this manga. The interactions between the various characters at the cafe are entertaining to read. More importantly, the language in this manga is much more accessible than others and so I think if you have covered all N5 grammar and vocabulary you would be able to get started with this fairly easily. Furigana is included with all kanji characters which allows you to look up unfamiliar words, and each chapter is fairly short which are both pluses for beginner learners.

Have you read this manga? Let me know what you think in the comments!

Besides Cooking Papa mentioned above, if you like this manga you might also like my other manga recommendations:

Free Reading Resources for Japanese Beginners: Part 1

There is no shortage of Japanese learning resources online, but finding reading materials for Japanese beginners outside of textbooks can be really difficult. This is something I really struggled with when I had just started to learn Japanese, and found pretty much all native materials to be far too complicated – it was incredibly demotivating.

For that reason, I really wanted to put a list of resources together that is aimed at those who have recently begun learning the language. Here are a few of my favourites that are appropriate for JLPT level N5-N4 learners.

**Note** This is a two-part post, with this post focusing on non-fiction articles. If you are looking for articles that are a bit different to the above then please check out Part 2 in the series, which are mostly resources for Japanese fiction.

Similarly, if studying with children’s books appeals to you, then I have written a whole post dedicated to reading and listening resources for children’s stories.

 

Watanoc

This is a free web news magazine with short and interesting articles aimed at Japanese beginners up to intermediate level (corresponding to between JLPT N5 and N3). You can filter by JLPT level, or narrow down articles by topic if you prefer. If you click on certain pieces of vocabulary you can check the kanji reading and English meaning.

Image of Watanoc website

Translations of each article are available in English, Vietnamese or Chinese – just hover over the name of the language under each Japanese sentence to read its translation. The articles have a lot of pictures and Japanese audio which all in all makes it a great place to read interesting stories about Japan.

 

Hirogaru

Like Watanoc, this is a website run by the Japan Foundation with short articles on Japanese culture in simple Japanese. It is an excellent site for practicing your reading comprehension as you have to option to add furigana, hide the vocabulary lists and there is also a mini quiz at the end of each article to test your understanding.

Image from Hirogaru website

All articles have pictures and short video clips as well as the Japanese audio which provides a fun multimedia experience. The articles are grouped by topic, so you can easily focus on something that you are interested in.

There is no indication of the level of language used, but I believe that the articles are very accessible to N5 and N4 level learners. If you do get stuck, you can easily switch the website language from Japanese to English by clicking the button in the top-right corner.

 

NHK News Web Easy

If you’ve taken a look at a newspaper article in Japanese, you’ll know that it is often full of tricky formal grammar structures and vocabulary. Fortunately, NHK News Web Easy is a website that has recent news stories written in simple Japanese.

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The articles are an ideal length for the beginner and get you used to the style of newspaper articles in Japanese. Each article allows you to read the news articles with furigana readings (or not if you fancy a bigger challenge!). I like that the names mentioned in the articles are highlighted in different colours depending on whether it is the name or a person or place.

As you can see from the image, you are able to watch a short video and listen to an audio version of the article. NHK News Web Easy is a highly recommended resource which is ideal for practicing your reading and listening skills, as well as to keep up with current events in Japan.

 

Coscom

This website has been around for a fairly long time, but still remains a really good resource for Japanese learners. There are a lot of learning materials on the Coscom website, but I particularly recommend the Weather Forecast and the Headline News articles for upper beginners (in terms of vocabulary and grammar I’d estimate this to be around N4 level) on the left side-bar.

Image of news article from Coscom

Both pages are comprehensive in content as they have the option to view the articles in romaji, kana or kanji and also include Japanese audio. Below each article, you can see a sentence by sentence breakdown of the article where you can see the vocabulary and grammar points used.

Unfortunately, only the most recent articles are available for free but it is worth checking the website every week or so for new material to read.

 

Matcha Magazine – やさしい日本語 version

The English language Matcha Magazine website is a Japanese travel magazine full of recommendations for places to visit and things to do in Japan.

I recently discovered that if you click on the languages drop-down menu, you can change the website language from English to やさしい日本語. This allows you to read the same types of travel articles but in simpler Japanese compared to the Japanese version of the website. I would estimate the difficulty of the language used to be appropriate for upper beginner to intermediate learners (JLPT N4 and above).

Image from Matcha Magazine (Yasashii Japanese version)

Each article comes with furigana and English for some of the katakana words (this is pretty useful as some words can be incredibly difficult to work out!). This website is a bit more difficult to study with since it does not have English meanings for vocabulary on the same page. However, you can always refer to the English language versions of each article to check your comprehension.

I recommend using a reading assistant such as Rikaichan(Firefox)/ Rikaikun (Google Chrome) or japanese.io to quickly look up English meanings.

 

Yahoo Kids Japan

When I was at upper beginner level, I was always searching for kids’ versions of newspaper articles in Japanese online. Unfortunately a lot of this material is behind a paywall for major newspapers in Japan, but Yahoo does still have some articles for free on their website.

Image of Yahoo Kids Japan homepage

Since these articles are aimed at Japanese children, they do not come with furigana readings but are short and written using simpler grammar. As with Matcha JP, using a reading assistant tool will help make reading sessions a breeze. I recommend this website for those who are JLPT N4 and above.

 

So that is my list so far – I am always updating and adding to this list as I discover new resources. I also (try to) keep my Japanese Masterpost page updated with reading resources.

With these being online resources (and so subject to disappear from websites suddenly), I usually save a copy of the articles I read for offline viewing using a tool such as Pocket or Evernote. I used to print out a lot of articles so that I could scribble down notes relating to the grammar and vocabulary used.

 

What do you like to read in Japanese? Have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments!

Tadoku – reading your way to Japanese fluency?

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Reading in Japanese is crucial for increasing your language skills. Especially if you are looking to study towards the JLPT, reading in Japanese on a regular basis is an essential habit. Reading speed for the JLPT becomes even more important at the higher levels, where being able to read quickly and pick out the key points is necessary to score highly.

Therefore as an avid reader, I was immediately drawn to the concept of tadoku (多読) when I happened across it some months ago. Developed in Japan as a way of improving English skills for non-native speakers, tadoku focuses on reading as much material as possible. Importantly, you read without getting hung up on unfamiliar words and phrases.

There are four golden rules for tadoku:

  1. Read something at your level
  2. Don’t use your dictionary
  3. Skip over the words and phrases you don’t understand
  4. If something is too difficult, stop reading it and read something else

 

Why is tadoku effective?

  • After a while, the context of the text you are reading helps to fill in the meaning of the words. Often we want to look up a word in a dictionary, and then work out what it means by reading the next sentence or two. Generally, 80% comprehension is enough to understand the remaining 20% through context.
  • You get a feel for what words and phrases appear more naturally in everyday language. Similarly, you learn common vocabulary when you read extensively in a specialist field.
  • Most importantly though, tadoku is supposed to be fun because you only read texts that you are motivated to finish.

Initially, I was skeptical of the idea of not needing to look up every word I did not know. However I decided to choose materials that were easy enough for me to follow but also things that I was genuinely interested in reading. That shift in thinking was enough for me to want to give tadoku a try.

Armed with a couple of really useful reading apps, I started looking for things to read. I mostly read novels, but I also enjoy reading manga from time to time. I often write about easy manga recommendations on the blog too.

Finding Japanese reading materials 

Free resources

My first thought was to look for reading materials where I already knew the story. Many people prefer translations of stories they are familiar with in English. With this in mind, I picked up translations of ‘Little Women’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’ from Aozora Bunko.

I recommend Aozora Bunko if you are looking for stories in Japanese to read for free, and I will be writing a follow-up post on how to make the most of this amazing resource. As great as Aozora Bunko is, the website is more than a little dauting for Japanese learners. I have written a few Author Spotlight posts which tend to feature authors whose works are on Aozora and are appropriate for Japanese learners.

However what has been most effective for me is to read books relating to films/ dramas I have watched. Examples of texts I have read include Nodame Cantabile, 1 Litre of Tears and A Silent Voice.

I’ve done a few posts on free online resources for Japanese reading which might help:

Buying physical books

The magic of tadoku is that you can read anything you want to read. If you want to read Harry Potter in Japanese, go ahead and order it!

Being in Japan certainly helps keep the costs down as second hand books can be bought online on from Book-Off very cheaply.

If you are outside of Japan like me, it’s a little bit more difficult. In terms of physical books, I normally look out for books on eBay or Amazon in my home country where possible for used books.

I know that CDJapanAmazon.jp and honto.jp ship internationally, although due to fairly high shipping costs it is advisable to buy in bulk to get the best value for money.

Buying digital books/ eBooks

If you prefer digital books, you have two book reading websites with companion apps at your disposal: ebookJapan and Bookwalker. I personally use both and can vouch for the convenience of being able to buy digital books and manga from outside Japan. You can pay with international cards on both websites, and with Bookwalker you can navigate both the website and the app in English.

If you are based in Japan, I would look into getting a Kindle ebook reader to read Japanese books digitally. I bought a Kobo reader in Japan and can buy ebooks for the device via the Rakuten Kobo store (I was living in Japan at the time, so I am not sure if this would work for others who are not in the country).

koboereader
My Kobo E-reader

The best thing about these two websites above is that you can try before you buy, by making use of the 立ち読み button. This allows you to read a sample of the book. I definitely recommend spending some time doing this before buying anything. You can save yourself a bit of money by first assessing the registers and the style of language used to see if it is appropriate for your language level.

Keep an eye out for my Manga Recommendation posts which may give you ideas of what you might like to read depending on your current level.

 

Tracking your reading in Japanese

If you are using an ebook reader, you will already be able to check your stats on how much you have read. However, if you are reading physical books, you may find using a website like Bookmeter helpful.

Bookmeter is basically the Japanese version of Goodreads. You can put together lists of books you are reading or would like to read and post reviews. As you register more books, you get recommendations on books based on what you have already read and enjoyed. The website is all in Japanese so I would recommend this website more for intermediate to advanced learners.

There are tadoku contests if you are planning on trying to read extensively and would like to compete against others.

 

How have I been getting on so far?

Initially my focus was to try and read as far as I could get on my train journey to work. At first, it was quite difficult, having started a new book (死神の制度 by Isaka Kotaro) and progress was slow. After a few days, I had sped up considerably. I felt like I was enjoying the book for its content rather than stressing about reading a book in Japanese!

For me, the best thing about trying this method has been to remind me of how far I’ve come with my language learning. Tadoku also gets you to enjoy native language materials without getting bogged down in the finer details of the language. After all, that’s why I started studying Japanese in the first place! My main goal in the short term is to keep reading regularly. Writing about what books I have read on the blog is also a good way to stay accountable.

Have you tried the tadoku technique? Are there any texts or resources you have found particularly useful for boosting your reading skills? Let me know in the comments.

Manga recommendation for Japanese learners: Usagi Drop うさぎドロップ

Today’s manga recommendation for Japanese learners is Usagi Drop (うさぎドロップ), a manga series created by Yumi Unita.

Quick Facts

Author: Yumi Unita (宇仁田ゆみ)

Genre: Slice of life

No. of volumes: 10

Recommended for: JLPT N3/ intermediate

Furigana: No

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

 

Usagi drop japanese manga cover
Source: ebookJapan website

 

Plot Overview

The main character is Daikichi Kawachi who, despite not knowing anything about raising a child, becomes the guardian of a 6-year-old girl called Rin. Rin is the illegitimate child of Daikichi’s late grandfather, who he meets for the first time at his grandfather’s funeral. Seeing that his other relatives want nothing to do with Rin, he takes it upon himself to look after her rather than have her adopted.

 

Why do I recommend Usagi drop for Japanese learners?

I really like this manga as it is packed with both funny and touching moments, and it is particularly heartwarming to watch the relationship between Daikichi and Rin develop. It is also interesting to see how Daikichi copes as a single parent, having to learn (with a bit of help from his friends) what it takes to be responsible for another person.

Not only has the manga has also been serialised in English but there is also an anime and a live action film that was released in 2011, so if you enjoy the story it may be worth checking these out as well.

 

Recommended Japanese language level

Whilst there is no furigana, the manga is not too difficult in terms of vocabulary used. Being a slice of life manga, the vocabulary is mostly related to everyday activities. It does, however, require knowledge of more casual speech, for example:

そっスカ? = そうですか?

終わんの早エなー = 終わるのが早いな

Aside from the above, I think it is an accessible manga for intermediate or JLPT N3 level learners.

You can read a sample of this manga on the EbookJapan website by clicking the blue ‘無料立ち読み’ button.

 

If you do try Usagi Drop (or any of my other manga 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!

‘Appy Mondays – NHK News Reader Review

Hello and Happy New Year! I hope 2017 will be a great year for all 🙂

Today’s post is the first of a new series called ‘Appy Mondays, where I will be reviewing some of the many Japanese language learning apps to see if they are worth using. This series will focus on apps available on Android as I do not own any Apple devices at present. I am also all about free or low cost apps whenever possible, and the cost will be factored into these reviews.

Today’s review is of NHK News Reader (AOVILL team, free)

 

How NHK News Reader works

This app provides access to the latest NHK articles, with additional functions suited for Japanese language learners. Articles are split by topic, but the main landing page will always show the main headlines.

Each article has the option to show furigana above kanji. Articles are accompanied by a video showing the corresponding item as read on Japanese TV, which is generally identical to the text (the text differs sometimes when people are interviewed and their speech has been paraphrased).

  NHK News Reader with Furigana- screenshot

As these videos are from Japanese TV, the speed is at a natural speed (ie. fast), so it is good for testing your comprehension of real Japanese. Article lengths do vary but the articles are for the most part not too long, and are best suited for a 15-30 minute reading session.

 

My thoughts on NHK News Reader

The option for furigana is always helpful for learners, but there is no integrated dictionary within the app. This would not be much of a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that the app does tend to freeze. I found that this always happened when I tried to switch apps to look a word up in the dictionary whilst in the middle of reading an article, the app screen would go blank when I returned to the app.

This is a shame because unless you have a physical dictionary to hand, you would, of course, be switching apps frequently. I often use my journey to work for studying Japanese for example and so this app would not be easy to use on my commute. Your device has to be connected to the internet to use the app, which makes sense as there are integrated videos, but it would have been nice to have the option to view the articles themselves offline.

I should say that the app is free, but there is a paid version for £3.99. However looking at the reviews for the paid version, the extra cost does not add functionality that I would be expecting, namely the ability to view articles offline and an integrated dictionary.

Overall, I think that as a free app it may be worth trying out if you are around JLPT N2 level and looking for authentic news articles and video to work on your newspaper reading comprehension. It is a decent free app, but I could not recommend it or its paid upgrade app as an essential resource for intermediate/ advanced learners with the bugs it currently has.

Update: if you are interested in other reading apps, I recommend TangoRisto or Mondo – both are free and improve upon a lot of the issues I had with this app!

Manga Recommendation: Cooking Papa

On the blog, I’m planning to introduce plenty of manga that Japanese learners may be interested in reading. The recommendations I make will usually be based on the difficulty of Japanese used, or the fact that it offers an interesting insight into Japanese culture. Generally, manga is best tackled when you reach about JLPT N3, although this can vary depending on the genre.

Today I would like to introduce Cooking Papa (クッキングパパ), a long-running manga series created by Tochi Ueyama.

Quick Facts

Author: Tochi Ueyama (うえやまとち)

Genre: Shounen, food

No. of volumes: 144

Recommended for: JLPT N3

Furigana: No

Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: Yes, anime and drama adaptations

Plot Overview 

The main character is Kazumi Araiwa, a senior member of staff at a food business. At work he manages to strike a balance between getting work done and caring about the well-being of his colleagues, but what really catches his boss Higashiyama’s eye is his delicious homemade lunches, or bento (弁当)!

It turns out Kazumi’s wife is busy working as a journalist and is a terrible cook, so Kazumi is responsible for making his own bento. The manga spends a lot of time focusing on how Kazumi makes a series of amazing meals and lunches to treat his coworkers and family. 

Why do I recommend the manga?

Each volume contains a number of real-life recipes with hints and tips on how to bring out the best flavors. For example, the recipe for おにぎらず (Onigirazu, a kind of rice sandwich), has recently become a lunchtime favorite and there are plenty of videos on how to make it for yourself. This dish was first popularised in Japan after being published in Cooking Papa.

If you want to learn more about cooking in Japanese, this manga is a good way to familiarise yourself with relevant vocabulary such as:

煮る (にる/ niru) to boil, simmer

揚げる (あげる/ ageru) to deep fry

Handy recipes aside, I like how the manga has Kazumi (and his wife) somewhat breaking traditional gender stereotypes, whilst keeping a fun and lighthearted tone.  In addition, whilst there are over 130 volumes, each volume is episodic so you do not need to start from volume one. This also makes it a good choice for shorter reading sessions.

Recommended Japanese language level

 I would probably recommend this to someone about JLPT N3 or intermediate level. Having a fair bit of dialogue, it helps to be familiar with casual forms of Japanese. As the manga takes place both at Kazumi’s home and workplace, you get to learn more about the contrast in how Japanese is spoken in the office and when at home with family. 

The best way to get a feel for the manga is to try reading a sample. Fortunately, a lot of manga including Cooking Papa is available digitally.

You can read a sample of this manga on the EbookJapan website 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 like Cooking Papa, you might also like my other food-related manga recommendations:

Happy Reading!

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