Japanese literature

Tadoku Tuesdays (4) What I’m Reading (in Japanese) in Sept 2018

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.

My thoughts

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.

Language level

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.

My thoughts

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.

Language level

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!

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.

Screenshot 2018-10-20 at 21.01.00

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!

%d bloggers like this: