Today’s easy manga recommendation for Japanese learners is Silver Spoon/ Gin no Saji (銀の匙), a manga series created by Hiromu Arakawa.
Author: Hiromu Arakawa (荒川弘)
Genre: Comedy, slice of life
No. of volumes: 14
Recommended for: JLPT N3/ intermediate
Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: Yes, anime and live-action film adaptations
Yuugo Hachiken is a boy used to city life in Sapporo, Hokkaido. After failing to get the required grades for high school, he enrolls at a school called Oezo Agricultural High School.
At first, Hachiken immediately stands out from his classmates as he doesn’t have any real desire to work within agriculture. Not having farming experience, the early mornings and plentiful homework come as surprise to him.
As Hachiken gets used to life at the school, he learns about the realities of working in agriculture. His classmates become a welcome source of support and through this he realises the importance of strong friendships.
Why do I recommend the manga?
Hiromu Arakawa is probably best known for her manga Fullmetal Alchemist. After completing Fullmetal Alchemist she intended to challenge herself with a different type of story. Silver Spoon is partially based on her own experiences growing up on a dairy farm in Hokkaido.
I think the manga does a great job at being entertaining whilst introducing information on a topic that is not known by most people. Since Hachiken knows nothing about farming, we learn about a variety of things as he does. This is helped by the easy to understand explanations – perfect for tricky pieces of vocabulary!
Some scenes are hilarious to read and they blend in seamlessly with the informative and heartwarming parts of the manga. Silver Spoon is very much a coming of age story. Fortunately Hachiken is a very likeable lead character, always going to great lengths to help out his classmates. You can’t help but root for him as he adapts to his new way of life and how he grows as a person because of it.
I am a little biased towards Hokkaido but it was nice to see a bit of Hokkaido dialect in the manga (eg. the ~べさ ending). Fun fact – the name of the school is also a reference to Hokkaido. The word (Y)ezo (蝦夷) is a Japanese word which was the previous name for Hokkaido and refers to the islands north of Honshu.
Recommended Japanese language level
I would probably recommend this to someone about JLPT N3 or intermediate level. As there is a high school setting, it helps to be familiar with casual forms of Japanese. For example:
マジっか = まじ (です) か? You serious?
There is some specialist farming vocabulary (although a lot of it gets explained). Fortunately, there is furigana so looking up words is a breeze. As mentioned earlier there is some Hokkaido dialect but this is pretty easy to understand as Hokkaido-ben is pretty similar to standard Japanese.
You can read a sample of this manga on the EbookJapan website by clicking the blue ‘無料立ち読み’ button.
The Silver Spoon anime is available to stream at places like Crunchyroll. There was a live action film released in 2014 – the Japanese trailer is below:
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!
2018 has come and gone in what feels like a very short time. I thought it would be fun to look back on the year in terms of my Japanese learning, which will help inform my goals for 2019.
I didn’t want to make this post too long and boring so I have chosen to write about two things that I think have gone well this year and two things that I need to work on for next year.
The Good: Developing a better Japanese reading habit
I am slowly working my way through a pile of Japanese novels that I have on my bookshelf, which is a very nice feeling. I try to pick books that are manageable for my current level, as I use the tadoku approach to learning. You can see some of the books I have read this year from my Tadoku Tuesdays posts:
I use Bookmeter (basically the Japanese version of Goodreads) to track the books I am reading/have read/ want to read, which has been very helpful.
I’ve also picked up some helpful tips and book recommendations from other bloggers such as Inhae’s blog Inside That Japanese Book. This has really kept me motivated to keep reading (and more importantly, finishing) books.
I feel that reading more has generally helped me with all aspects of Japanese, but mostly with learning to recognise grammar and vocabulary in a wider range of contexts. Reading speed is really important for the JLPT and obviously reading more has helped with that too.
Reading physical books, in particular, is a great way to wind down at the end of the day, and more importantly means I am not staring at a mobile phone/tablet/computer screen. This is definitely something I want to keep up next year.
Rediscovering Japanese Music
I used to be really interested in Japanese music but I have been listening to way more podcasts than music in the last couple of years. I spent some time this year catching up with the artists that I used to listen to a lot, which was a lot of fun 🙂
I can’t believe I forgot how catchy this song is!
There’s a lot of great Japanese artists that can be hard to find beyond the idol stuff, especially if you are new to the language. This is what inspired the 15 Easy Japanese songs post, and later the Japanese Music Mondays series on Instagram and Facebook.
It’s so important to have fun with the language you are learning, and I think music is a highly accessible way to do just that. This is definitely something I will write about next year. In fact, I am already working on a couple of follow up posts about Japanese music for next year as well. Another benefit of this is that I have spent more time on Japanese websites reading about new artists and new music releases.
The Not-So-Good: Kanji kanji kanji (and writing in general)
Improving my Japanese writing was one of my aims for the year, but I haven’t been as good at writing consistently. I have struggled the most with kanji since I fell off the Anki bandwagon a few months back. Because I read regularly, my kanji recognition is OK but when writing in my journal I spend a lot of time looking up how to write kanji which I used to know.
My aim for next year is to make sure I stay on top of my kanji practice. I am making a new set of physical kanji cards and review a smaller amount of Anki cards daily.
The act of writing kanji helps me remember them more effectively so I will be doing more kanji writing practice. I recently found my Kanji Kentei game for the 3DS (an educational “game” aimed at Japanese people reviewing their kanji) so I have been using that to revise kanji too.
Scheduling Japanese practice
This year has been fairly busy, which means that I have had to work harder to make sure I am getting my daily Japanese practice. As a result, I have become much more interested in productivity and habit-forming, which I have written a few different posts about:
The Pomodoro technique has been incredibly helpful in getting stuff done, especially when it comes to writing blog posts. I have also found tracking my progress on an app (I use Habitica) has helped keep me accountable too.
Unfortunately, there have been some days when I realise as I am falling asleep that I haven’t done anything Japanese related at all. Of course, those days are inevitable sometimes but I want to make sure I can have as few of these as possible. 2019 is looking to be an even busier year for me, so I want to make the most of it!
I have been doing some research into timeboxing and how I can use this to make sure I am working towards all of my goals, not just language learning.
Looking forward to 2019
I am planning on some changes to the blog in the very near future, so watch this space. The plan is to keep posting on a weekly basis, and potentially a bit more often if time allows.
I haven’t yet finalised my Japanese learning goals for 2019, but so far I want to read at least one novel a month, and to sit the JLPT N1 by the end of the year.
Have you decided on your language goals for next year? What are they? Please tell me in the comments!
PS. As this will most likely be my last post of 2018 (and my 100th post!!), I want to end this post by thanking everyone who reads this blog. At the start of this year, I had only been posting for a few months and I had no idea how many more people from all over the world would be reading, liking and commenting on the blog. I am genuinely thankful and will keep working hard!
We are almost at the end of 2018 – can you believe it? It is naturally the time of year when we reflect on the last 12 months, and set our goals for 2019.
If you haven’t quite met your goals for this year, now is the perfect time to reset for next year. And what better way to do so than in the form of a language challenge?
Why do a language challenge?
Language challenges are a great way to develop new habits, which is ultimately the best way to achieve your goals. I like language challenges because they offer what often feels like an easier way to start a new habit. When you know that you only have to stick to something for one week or one month, it doesn’t feel as hard to get the motivation to keep going.
I think it’s a great way to get back into language learning if you’ve had a break for whatever reason (sometimes a break can be more beneficial than we think). There is also a sense of community around people doing the challenge at the same time, especially on social media.
There are many types of language challenges out there. Some focus on developing a particular skill (eg. speaking), and some are more focused on exposing yourself to a language in some way every day. It’s worth having a look around to see if you can find a challenge that tackles one of your weak points.
You could always make up your own language challenge tailored to the skills/knowledge you want to work on. For example, you could set yourself a challenge to:
Learn x number of words
Watch x number of films/ episodes of a TV show
Speak for x minutes every day
Read x pages in your target language every day
How to make the most of your language challenge
Normally the first couple of days of a language challenge are super exciting, but as the reality of following the challenge hits it can be tricky actually complete them. These are some of the things that have really helped me with past language challenges:
Think about when you are going to dedicate time to complete the challenge
Have a think about the best time of day for you to dedicate to the challenge. It is very easy to start a challenge and then give up because you are too busy to actually finish! Take a look at your schedule and try to identify any so-called ‘dead time’ in your day, which could be spent more wisely on completing the challenge.
There are going to be certain days when you are busier than others. If there are any large events coming up, have an idea of how you might be able to work around it. There’s no harm in missing a day here and there should you not have the time – just add them on to the end of the challenge.
Think about what you want to achieve
This could simply be getting to the end of the challenge, which is absolutely fine!
Getting to the end of the challenge is can be the beginning of something bigger. I do think that pursuing a challenge is to bring about some sort of change in your way of thinking.
With languages, it could be something like getting the confidence to speak your target language, or getting a deeper understanding of the culture(s) that the language is connected. These are most likely going to be your motivators for actually getting to the end of the challenge.
Find a way to track your progress
I am really keen on tracking my progress with challenges in some way. This could be in the form of a bullet journal, crossing dates off in a calendar, or using an app. Having that visual representation of the challenge in front of you can be an extremely powerful thing for your motivation!
Keep in touch with others doing the challenge.
Social media hashtags provide a really good way of finding out how everyone else is doing. Sometimes it is that little extra push we get from seeing others in the same boat that helps you stay on track.
It is important to say that you shouldn’t compare yourself to others too much – ultimately your journey will be different from others, and there are some things that others may find easier than others and vice versa.
Even if you don’t quite make it to the end of the challenge, don’t beat yourself up. Always focus on the positives and if needed use the opportunity to think about approaching things differently next time.
List of Language Challenges
Here is a list of language challenges out there that I know of:
I know that the above list is only scratching the surface of the many challenges out there. If there are any cool language challenges you have come across, please let me know in the comments so that I can add them to the list!
To be honest, I had been putting off joining Instagram because I thought it was too hipster and filter heavy for me. However, I recently decided to join the platform on a whim. Fortunately, I have found it to be a great resource so far for learning Japanese.
Instagram has over 800 million users, and from my experience so far, the language learning community on there is very active and friendly. In the short time I have been using the platform, I’ve have been able to:
learn about new language resources
get Japanese manga and novel recommendations
learn or revise helpful Japanese phrases
find daily motivation for my language learning motivation
…amongst other things. You can also change the language to Japanese if you want to immerse yourself a bit more!
How can language learners use Instagram?
Learn and revise vocabulary
Being a highly visual medium, I think that Instagram is particularly good for learning vocabulary. Using images alongside vocabulary is a great way to help memorise them, which is of course where Instagram shines. Instagram allows you to do short videos, which you can use to practice your speaking skills too.
Find posts on topics that interest you in your target language
The heavy use of hashtags on Instagram can be considered annoying, but you can use hashtags to find people and posts that relate to topics you care about.
Make sure to get involved!
Moreover, the Instagram community is all about engagement – commenting is a great way to practice your language skills and maybe even make friends! There is also a translate feature if you get stuck understanding a post or comment.
A word of warning though… Instagram is very centered on aesthetic and it is easy to waste time looking at the many pictures of cute stationery, cups of tea/coffee and grammar textbooks. Don’t let scrolling through Instagram become a replacement for other types of study!
With that said, here are 10 Instagram accounts that I highly recommend to those studying Japanese.
1) j_aipon – Particularly helpful for Japanese newbies
This account is run by a Japanese girl who likes to post content for beginner Japanese learners. Her posts are mostly simple sentences covering key grammar points and vocabulary. Some of these posts have audio of example sentences too.
All of her posts have romaji, so if you have just finished learning hiragana and katakana, this is a good place to start (until you feel more comfortable reading kana – which can take more time than you think!).
Her Youtube channel has some videos on learning kana, as well as simple Japanese listening practice too.
If you want to brush up on your Japanese slang, then this is the account for you! Each post covers a slang word in Japanese with the English meaning.
I like that each post has explanations of the word/phrase in both Japanese languages, along with examples and a fun image. This gives you a range of options on how to study, especially if you like to make your own flashcards.
As the name suggests, posts from this account are all to do with kanji vocabulary. Each word include furigana, romaji and English translations. The images that come with the vocabulary are all from anime, which is another plus if you are a fan!
Yoko is a Japanese person living in Portland, Oregon in the US. Yoko illustrates casual but useful sentences in Japanese and English (with furigana and romaji too!). These sentences are written in a very natural way in both languages. I love the illustrations a lot too!
7) Kisslingo – Great for JLPT and writing practice
The Kisslingo account covers useful Japanese words, phrases and grammar. If you are working towards the JLPT, I would look out for their JLPT question practice posts too.
I particularly like their writing prompt posts where they share a picture and ask you to describe what is happening in the photo in Japanese. This is a great way to practice your Japanese writing, no matter what your language level. What’s more, someone from the Kisslingo team will correct your Japanese for you!
Like Yoko mentioned above, Aya posts illustrations of phrases in both Japanese and English pretty much every day. The posts are aimed at Japanese people learning English – but since she includes furigana, Japanese learners can also use them to study.
For more advanced Japanese learners (no furigana used here), following this account allows you to read short comics based on everyday life. I find these little comics both relatable and funny, and the images help fill in the context of any words or phrases I am less sure of.
So that’s it for today’s post. Please follow the blog’s Instagram at @kotobitesjp if you do use the platform!
Do you use Instagram for language learning? If so, how? Let me know in the comments 🙂
I strongly believe that studying with sentences is an effective way to learn new vocabulary. If this is something you are interested in, I recommend checking out Clozemaster – a website and app that is built around this concept.
What is Clozemaster?
Clozemaster is designed to complement the use of other sentence based language learning apps like Duolingo. There are a huge variety of language pairs available, with new ones being added all the time!
The “cloze” of Clozemaster relates to a cloze deletion test, where you are given a sentence with a missing word and you need to identify what the missing word is. Cloze tests are therefore a great method of learning to use words and grammar in context.
How does Clozemaster work?
Each language has its own bank of sentences, the number of which does vary depending on the language pair. For many of the popular languages, you can follow the Fluency Fast Track, which is designed to cover the most frequently used words in that language. In the free version, clicking ‘PLAY’ will start a round of 10 sentences to review.
As I mentioned above, Clozemaster is all about filling in the correct missing word from a sentence.
For example, you are given a sentence in Japanese, and with a specific word missing. The clue for the missing word will be in the English translation of the sentence.
You have the option of multiple choice or text input before you start each round. If you are in text input mode and get stuck, just click on the “?” button to the right of the Japanese sentence to view the 4 multiple choice options.
Writing the correct answer earns you points – the closer you are to mastering the word, the more points you earn. Text input gives you twice as much points compared to multiple choice, so this is what I choose unless I only have a very short time to practice.
At the end of each round, you get some quick stats on how you did:
As you can see from the image above, you can set yourself a daily points target and email reminders to get in your daily practice too. My daily goal is 200 points currently, but I normally aim for 500-1000 depending on how much time I have.
Studying using the Play button is for learning new words (although some words that you have encountered before will appear too). For words that you have seen before, you will want to click on Review instead.
The Review function is based on spaced repetition intervals like those used in Anki and Memrise – the more often you answer correctly, the longer it will be before you see that same sentence again. Reviews tend to earn you a lot more points than studying new sentences.
Cloze Listening – listening practice with sentences
Clozemaster also has a listening practice feature called Cloze Listening, as shown above. To access this, click Play and then choose “Listening” from the drop-down menu (the default is vocabulary). Cloze Listening is where you hear the sentence first, then have to fill in the missing word in the sentence.
I think this makes for great listening practice as well as for learning vocabulary in context. Unfortunately, having a free account only allows you to do one round of 10 sentences to do every day.
Leaderboards and levelling up
The points you earn from your study sessions allow you to level up. Every time you do level up you get a fun little gif as a reward, which never fails to put a smile on my face! There are two types of levelling up – one for your whole account and one that relates specifically to each of the language pairs you study.
Every language pair has its own set of leaderboards, where you can try and score the most points for that week. I didn’t think that I would care about scoring highly on the leaderboard at first. However, if there is someone I am close to overtaking, I will do the extra reviews to move up the leaderboard!
The Clozemaster App
I tend to use the web version of Clozemaster, but there are apps available for iOS and Android. I have used the Android app and I do not have much to say about it. I mean that as a good thing – because I have not had any issues using it at all.
The fairly plain style of the website translates well into an app, and having the app is really convenient for a quick study session. It is synced to your account, so it is easy to switch between the website and the app if you need to.
Make sure you have some sort of Japanese keyboard installed so that you can type in Japanese. From what I can see, there is no support for romaji in direct input mode when using the app.
Clozemaster Pro comes with extra handy features
Clozemaster is another freemium site – it is free to sign up and practice any language. However, you need the Pro version to do things such as:
Customise the number of reviews you want to do in each session and control how often you review new words.
Get unlimited access to cloze listening practice
Download the Fluency Fast Track sentences or sentences you mark in your Favourites for offline study.
View more stats related to your study sessions
The ability to click on any word and search for the meaning using Google Translate
Get access to additional features such as Cloze-Reading, Cloze Collections and Pro Groupings.
Cloze-Reading is designed to help you boost your reading skills. This is where there are several missing words from a native piece of text in your target language which you then need to fill in.
The Cloze Collections function is in beta currently, but allows you to curate your own bank of sentences. This can be a mixture of sentences from within Clozemaster and sentences that you add yourself. I think this would be especially useful for language pairs that do not have a large number of sentences already on Clozemaster.
Pro Groupings allows you to break down the large bank of sentences into smaller ones. For Japanese, Pro Groupings gives you the ability to focus your learning on words from different levels of the JLPT.
Pros and Cons of Clozemaster for learning Japanese
After using the free version of Clozemaster for a couple of months, I have found it to have more pros than cons:
A huge range of languages to choose from
Sentences use words in order of frequency, so you learn important words first
Able to expose yourself to a range of sentence patterns
Can practice both reading and listening skills
Review intervals are spaced to help you retain vocabulary
If you’re competitive, the leaderboard will motivate you to get your score as high as possible
Japanese sentences and English translations are taken from the Tatoeba database, which is known for not being 100% accurate.
You have to type most vocabulary in kanji (as opposed to hiragana), which might be difficult for complete newcomers to Japanese.
No audio for Japanese within the vocabulary review section yet (this does exist for the most common language pairs)
I’m sure that the cloze deletion sentences can be replicated in something like Anki easily, which is what I would recommend to people who like a high degree of customisation. There are also excellent websites such as Delvin Language and Supernative which are specifically for Japanese and do have audio to go with their sentences.
However, for me Clozemaster is great because of the gamification aspect, as well as the fact I can practice on the go via the app. I would also give Clozemaster a go if you are learning (or maintaining proficiency in) a number of languages, as it is super simple to switch between languages and track your progress in each.
I really like Clozemaster, but I am not sure that for Japanese the features are fully fleshed out enough for me to justify the subscription cost of $8 per month at the moment. Having said that, there are new features being built into Clozemaster all of the time and I will certainly keep an eye out for any which might change my mind.
The good thing about Clozemaster is that you do not even have to sign up to try out the site – just choose a language pair and click Play to get started (which is what I did for a few days before even signing up)!
Whether you find that Clozemaster is useful for you or not, one thing I recommend checking out is the Language Challenge of the Day (or LCOD for short). These little challenges are fun ways to use your target languages in different ways every day.
Do you use Clozemaster? Do you find the website/ app useful? Please let me know in the comments!
Today’s easy manga recommendation for Japanese learners is Tsuredure Children/ Tsuredure Chirudoren (徒然チルドレン), created by Toshiya Wakabayashi. This is a very funny but heartwarming manga which those who are upper beginners and above should be able to enjoy!
This 4-panel manga is a series of short stories involving different students at a high school. The stories are usually to do with romance, mostly relating to awkward confessions of love and first dates. They often remind you of how hard it can be to show your feelings for someone as a teenager. Some stories follow the same characters and are loosely connected to each other.
Tsuredure Children started as a webcomic when it started in 2012, which was then serialised in Shonen Jump magazine.
Why do I recommend the manga?
The premise is really simple, but the manga is genuinely amusing and accurately portrays all of the awkwardness and excitement of high school romance. The cast of characters come across as a bit wacky but ultimately charming and relatable for the most part. You really do come to root for a happy ending when reading these stories! I think that the 4-panel manga format is effective in telling these stories – they are just the right length for them to be entertaining and engaging.
Recommended Japanese language level
Thanks to the straightforward plot, this manga is very easy to follow. There is furigana for all kanji and speech tends to be short and not too grammatically complex. On the other hand, the characters are in high school and speak casually.
On this basis, I consider this manga to be appropriate for JLPT N4 or upper beginner level and above.
As always, you can read a sample of this manga on the EbookJapan website to get a feel for its difficulty by clicking the white ‘無料立ち読み’ button.
As I did in the last Tadoku Tuesday post, I am going to write about two books I have read recently or am reading. I’ll also include any new additions to my book collection. Both of the novels I focus on here happen to be by two famous contemporary Japanese authors, Banana Yoshimoto and Kotaro Isaka.
The Novel I’m Reading: 「アムリタ」 Amrita by Banana Yoshimoto
It’s a little bit difficult to give an overview of the plot for this novel, but I have tried my best!
Sakumi is dealing with two major events in her life; memory loss caused by an accident as well as the death of her younger sister Mayu. Prior to the accident Sakumi had been making ends meet with a part time job, but then realises that she wants to pursue a career in writing. Her little half-brother Yoshio then develops telepathic abilities. As her memories begin to resurface little by little, she begins to come to terms with the circumstances of her sister’s death and gains the courage to work towards what she truly desires in life.
I’ve previously written about another of Yoshimoto’s novels before, which had not been translated into English. This time I thought I would try reading one of her more famous novels, which on the whole has been well received.
I wouldn’t say that the plot is particularly enthralling, although there are some interesting characters which help keep the narrative engaging. There are lots of dream like passages, which give the novel a mystic feel and are vividly depicted. Despite this, Sakumi as a narrator feels very grounded and relatable, even though situation she finds herself in is not.
This is a fairly long novel that has been split into two parts. I have finished the first half of the book and enjoying it so far, but knowing that there is another 200+ pages to read I do wonder what developments are going to occur which will keep me interested.
If I had to estimate the book’s difficulty in terms of language I would probably put it at JLPT N2 level. Banana Yoshimoto’s writing style is on the whole quite straightforward, although at times there can be long rambling sentences that might take a bit of careful reading.
The Novel I Recently Finished: 「神様の制度」 Kamisama no Seido by Kotaro Isaka
This novel is actually a compilation of several short stories, which all involve the same narrator. Our narrator is only known as Chiba and works as a agent of death (a Grim Reaper of sorts). As an agent of death, his task is to spend time with the person he is assigned to, and decide within seven days if that person should die.
This is the first novel I have read by Kotaro Isaka, and I really enjoyed it. Like Amrita, this novel also looks at the themes of life and death. Having said that, the tone of this novel is completely different. Isaka has written stories spanning many genres, and elements of this come into play in the novel. He somehow manages to infuse the variety of short stories with suspense and comedic moments in a very satisfying way.
Being a death god, there are a lot of ‘fish out of water’ moments where he is trying to understand human feelings and motivations. This provided a lot of humour that I was not expecting. There is a wide variety of characters presented in the stories and through the narrator’s eyes, we get to learn a lot about the people he is assigned to. I found it very easy to get engrossed in each of the stories.
In terms of language level I’d probably recommend this for JLPT N3 level learners. I think this would make an ideal choice for someone looking to read their first novel in Japanese!
I find Isaka’s writing style easy to follow; he tends to write in shorter sentences that still manage to convey a lot of information. Being a series of short stories, it is much easier to digest than attempting to read a longer novel in one go.
There is a sequel called 神様の浮力 “The Buoyancy of Death” which was released a few years ago. I would like to read this in the future, although the novel seems to have more mixed reviews from fans of the original.
I will certainly be reading more of his works in the future, although with such a large catalogue to choose from I will struggle to decide what to read next!
Books added to my To Be Read pile:
I am trying my hardest not to amass too many books (because then it gets even harder to decide what to read next!) and have only added one book to my collection recently:
「舟を編む」 Fune wo Amu / The Great Passage by Shion Miura
Mitsuya Majime is an introverted man with a passion for reading. He takes the opportunity to transfer from the sales division to the dictionary department, where he is under the guidance of the highly regarded editor Kohei Araki. Araki’s team is undertaking the task of completing a dictionary called “The Great Passage”. The book follows the team’s pursuit of making the very best Japanese dictionary.
This has been on my wishlist for a long time, so I was super happy to finally buy this book! Given the subject matter, this could be a bit of a tough read in Japanese. Fortunately, I also purchased the ebook version of its English translation (“The Great Passage”) which I can use to help me with any tricky parts. I haven’t yet decided whether to try and read both versions in parallel or not.
There’s also an anime adaptation and a live action film, so I think starting with one of these two to give me a grounding in the plot and characters will make reading the novel a little bit easier.
So that’s it for today’s post – you can take a look at アムリタ and 神様の制度 on the Amazon JP website and read the first couple of pages if you are interested in checking them out.
What are you reading at the moment (in Japanese or otherwise)? Do you have any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments!
Today’s manga recommendation for Japanese learners is ‘Let’s Dance a Waltz’ / Warutsu no Ojikan (ワルツのお時間), a manga series created by Natsumi Ando.
Author: Natsumi Ando (安藤なつみ)
Genre: Romance, slice of life
No. of volumes: 3
Recommended for: JLPT N4/ upper beginner
Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: No
Tango Minami is a high school student whose family run a ballroom dance studio. Having danced from a young age, he teaches at the studio to earn pocket money but keeps his connection to the dance studio a secret from his school friends.
One day, a girl turns up looking for a trial lesson. The girl, Hime Makimura, is a shy student who is looking for a way to break out of her shell. Hime falls with love with dancing from the very first lesson, but Tango realises that they are both in the same class at school! Can Tango manage to keep his ballroom dancing a secret, whilst helping Hime to become a better dancer?
Why do I recommend the manga?
First things first, this is in many ways a typical shojo manga – the female protagonist is a shy girl who learns to find confidence in herself, assisted by the charismatic and popular male lead. The plot develops pretty much exactly as you would expect from this genre of manga. Having said that, the ballroom dance aspect helps to keep the narrative feeling fresh.
Hime (meaning ‘princess’) really hates her name as she feels she could never be a princess in anyone’s eyes. Therefore it is heartwarming to see her find a natural talent and passion for ballroom dancing. Whilst this is a ballroom manga, the manga is more focused on the emotional impact dance has for Hime. Tango also grows as a person through his interactions with Hime, which helps him feel like a more rounded character by the end.
At just three volumes, this manga is a short but enjoyable read.
Recommended Japanese language level
I consider this manga to be appropriate for JLPT N4 or upper beginner level and above. You may be surprised to learn that the vocabulary used in this dance-themed manga is not too difficult. There are a few terms that are specific to dance, and these terms tend to feature a lot of English loanwords. As the main protagonists are high school students, there is a bit of slang used but if you are used to manga slang conventions, this should not pose too much of a problem.
As always, you can read a sample of this manga on the EbookJapan website to get a feel for its difficulty by clicking the blue ‘無料立ち読み’ button.
If you do try reading any of the recommendations, please let me know how you get on the comments. I am always on the hunt for beginner friendly manga, so if you have any suggestions please let me know!
If you do like this recommendation, you might also like:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
There are a lot of apps which are great alternatives to some of the apps on my top 7 list:
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
Finding material in Japanese that is just right for you as a beginner to the language can be pretty tough. Fortunately, children’s stories are a good place to start learning from in any language and Japanese is no different.
Why use children’s stories to study Japanese?
Children’s stories are normally recommended for beginner language learners because:
The vocabulary and grammar used are limited and therefore simple.
Stories are designed to be fun and engaging without being too difficult to follow.
There are plenty of pictures to assist with the understanding of the story.
Sentences to be repetitive, which helps learners to identify common sentence structures.
They are short and therefore relatively quick to read.
On the other hand, there can be some unexpected difficulty with children’s stories. A lot of books for children have fantastical elements and are often not as straightforward as they seem. With Japanese, a lot of the children’s stories I have tried reading had lots of onomatopoeia. This is something rarely covered in beginner’s Japanese classes in my experience.
In addition, having sentences entirely in hiragana might look easier to tackle, but actually parsing the sentence can be tricky. Beginner’s Japanese textbooks are likely to put spaces in between hiragana words to avoid this issue. However, Japanese children’s books beyond those aimed at younger children will not have spaces.
Despite the potential difficulty, I still recommend children’s stories as the best way to get reading in Japanese. Children’s stories are widely available online for free, and there is bound to be a story that you enjoy.
Should I study Japanese stories or stories from other parts of the world?
In my opinion, the answer to this question is to study both!
It is easier to start off learning stories that you are already familiar with. You will be able to fill in any gaps in your language knowledge from context. Japanese versions of popular children’s stories such as Little Red Riding Hood (Japanese title: 赤ずきん) and Cinderella (Japanese title: シンデレラ) available to read through the resources listed further on in this post.
On the other hand, some of the most popular Japanese children’s stories include:
かぐやひめ/ kaguyahime – Princess Kaguya
いっすんぼうし/ issunboushi – The One Inch Samurai
ももたろう/ momotarou – Peach Boy Momotaro
Without prior knowledge of the stories, these will be harder to follow for Japanese learners. I recommend trying to read these stories (in Japanese or otherwise) if you can in any case. They provide an interesting insight into Japanese history and folklore and are often referenced in TV shows and other media.
I’ve put together a list of some of the best (mostly online) resources Japanese learners can use to study children’s stories below.
Listening resources for Japanese children’s stories
There’s a huge amount of Japanese children’s stories on Youtube. Searching terms related to children’s stories such as:
童話 どうわ/ Douwa – children’s stories
絵本 えほん/ Ehon – picture books
昔話 むかしばなし/ Mukashibanashi – folktales
おとぎ話 おとぎばなし/ Otogibanashi – fairytales
…will bring up children’s picture books and stories in Japanese.
One of my favourite youtube channels for Japanese children’s stories is called キッズボンボンTV (Kizzu Bon Bon TV). THis channel has many many videos covering popular stories with Japanese subtitles. There are no English subtitles but there are English versions available for most stories and relevant links are always in the description box.
There’s also a channel called Japanese Fairy Tales, which has Japanese audio and English subtitles on its selection of stories.
Beelinguapp is an audiobook app that has lots of traditional children’s stories from around the world in many languages including Japanese. The app highlights the sentence being read, which makes it easy to follow the audio.
I wouldn’t consider it to be the best resource for intensively reading children’s stories in Japanese. On the other hand, I do think that it works pretty well as an audiobook app. I’ve written a separate post reviewing this app if you are interested in learning more. Speaking of audiobooks…
Most children’s stories are available in the public domain, which means there are audiobooks available for free. Librivox is a website where you can get free audiobooks in many languages as well as Japanese. These audiobooks tend to be stories for which you can find the texts on Aozora Bunko.
Google Play has recently added a small selection of Japanese audiobooks for children to its catalogue. Examples of the audiobooks I have found include a series called いっしょに楽しむ にほんむかしばなし (issho ni tanoshimu nihon mukashibanashi), a series called エルマーのぼうけん (erumaa no bouken) and あなうさピータ (anausa piita – ie. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter in Japanese).
I haven’t been able to try any of these out for myself yet. I have listened to the free samples and they appear to be of pretty good quality. Costs range between £4 and £8 per audiobook.
Reading Resources for Japanese children’s stories
You can buy physical Japanese books from a variety of online stores, most of which I have outlined in my Tadoku post. The below list is focused on places to read Japanese stories online.
Tom has translated some of the most famous Japanese children’s stories as part of his own Japanese studies. Luckily for us, he shared them on his website for other Japanese learners to make use of. I recommend this site as it gives the furigana for any kanji used, has a vocabulary list for key phrases and breaks down the translation of each sentence.
There aren’t any English translations, so it is a good idea to start off with a story you are already familiar with. I recommend reading Hukumusume stories through the wonderful TangoRisto app, which makes looking up unknown words a breeze.
Aozora is a well known free resource that has a huge catalogue of children’s stories in Japanese. In order to find them on the website you need to click on 分野別リスト on the main page and then look for ”童話書” (children’s stories). From this page you can select ”９ 文学” to find the list of children’s literature, split by country of origin.
If you are looking for Japanese versions of a story you are familiar with, it is best to search for it in Wikipedia and then switch the page language to Japanese in order to find the Japanese title.
Obviously, there are many more Japanese stories that international ones on this website. I have written before about children’s stories by famous Japanese authors such as Niimi Nankichi, Ogawa Mimei and Yumeno Kyusaku which are particularly great choices for Japanese learners to use.
Amazon Kindle Store
I’ve singled out the Amazon Kindle store in this particular post as I have found the Amazon Kindle store in my country (the UK) has a collection of children’s books in Japanese, which can be purchased and read without any need to sign up to an Amazon JP account.
From the Kindle Store homepage in Amazon, go to ebooks in foreign languages section and select Japanese.
The Amazon UK store also has a children’s book section, making things even easier! Not all of the results tend to be 100% relevant so make sure to take advantage of any reviews you can find. Most books are £1-£3 each so are pretty cheap. Take advantage of reading a sample so that you can assess the quality of the ebook before making any purchases.
Graded readers aimed at Japanese schoolchildren are available which tend to cover popular stories, but may also be focused on non-fiction topics. These books are normally divided into difficulty according to elementary school years and come with furigana readings for any kanji used.
Popular series include １０分で読めるお話 (juppun de yomeru ohanashi) for fiction and なぜ？どうして？(naze? doushite?) which covers non-fiction topics.
I have the 2年生 version of １０分で読めるお話 as pictured above, which is a mixture of Japanese stories, non-Japanese stories and even a couple of poems. In addition to furigana, there are spaces between words and pictures every few pages to make the stories more manageable. This makes them good choices for those studying Japanese, even if it might take you a bit longer than 10 minutes to finish!
I would start with the 1年生 (ichinensei) stories aimed at Japanese children in their first year of elementary school. You can then work your way upfrom there if that is too easy for you. These books are available in both ebook and physical book format from places like Amazon and eBookJapan.
PIBO touts itself as an ‘all you can read’ app for Japanese children’s picture books. The app is entirely in Japanese but is super easy to use even if you do not know much Japanese yet.
From the main page of the app, you get a choice of a selection of children’s books which change on a daily basis. The free version of the app gives you access to read up to 3 books per day. These books range from children’s classics to contemporary stories.
PIBO promises high-quality picture books and this is certainly the case. Colours are vivid and bright, even on my mobile phone (it would be much better to read on a tablet of course). The stories are mostly aimed at children between the ages of 3 and 6. All of the stories I have read were entirely in hiragana with spaces between words. The great thing about PIBO is that all stories come with the option to listen to the audio which is also high quality and great for Japanese study.
The app is free to download from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. A full subscription costs £3.89 a month, which gives you access to the full library of 300+ books but I think the free subscription is sufficient for those learning Japanese.
Moving on to more advanced stories
Once you’ve become comfortable with reading books aimed at younger children, consider looking into books aimed at older children and young adults. Series of books aimed at older elementary age children include 角川つばさ文庫 (kadokawatsubasa bunko) – these usually come with furigana over kanji used and are intended to be easy to read. A wide range of books are published under this label, including adapted versions of classic Japanese literature, foreign books/ films and original stories.
When tackling longer texts for the first time, consider reading translations of stories you are already familiar with to avoid getting overwhelmed with too much information. For example, the whole of the Harry Potter book series is available on the UK Amazon Kindle Store in Japanese.
There are also books aimed at Japanese children which can be appropriate for Japanese learners. 魔女の宅急便 (majo no takkyuubin – also known as Kiki’s Delivery Service) by Eiko Kadono is a popular children’s book that is fairly easy to follow. This is even easier if you are familiar with the Studio Ghibli film adaptation!
Other Japanese authors that I know of that write children’s and young adult fiction include Eto Mori, Hoshi Shinichi, Miyazawa Kenji, Mutsumi Ishii and Masamoto Nasu.
Just remember to read stuff you enjoy in Japanese
Otherwise, I suggest asking Japanese friends and thinking about what kinds of books you read in your native language. Then try to find something similar in Japanese. Websites like Bookwalker allow you to read samples, so make use of this as much as possible before choosing a book. Reading reviews on Amazon Japan is another method of testing your reading skills . You can also understand what to expect from a book before buying anything.
I follow the tadoku approach to reading in Japanese, so even if I get a book and don’t enjoy it, I just move on to something else.
I would really like to put together some posts on first novels in Japanese at some point to add here so watch this space!
This turned into a much longer post than I was expecting. I hope you find this post useful if you are looking to dive into children’s stories. If there is a resource that I have missed off this list, please let me know in the comments.