Intermediate learners

What is the JLPT and is it for me?

If you are new to learning Japanese, you may have heard about the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, or JLPT for short. It is something that myself and other Japanese language bloggers often refer to as an indication of one’s Japanese language level.

In the UK, the applications for the next sitting in December, have just opened and the results were published for the July exam very recently With this in mind, I thought it would be a good time to write about the JLPT exams for those who know nothing about it.

What is the JLPT?

The JLPT was developed as a way of measuring non-native Japanese speakers’ proficiency in Japanese. There are 5 levels to the JLPT as follows:

N5 – Beginner proficiency

N4 – Upper beginner proficiency

N3 – Intermediate proficiency

N2 – Upper intermediate proficiency

N1 – Advanced proficiency

The exact composition of the exam depends on the level you are taking, but all cover reading (with different emphasis on kanji, grammar and reading comprehension) and listening skills. If you pass, you will receive a snazzy certificate for your efforts.

The exam can be taken either inside or outside Japan – check out the official website for information on test centres in your country.

How do I know which level to take?

If you’ve been studying for a while, you might not have an idea of what level you are currently working at. The official JLPT website has some sample questions which can give you an idea of which level you are working at – alternatively, you may want to check out the resources mentioned below.

Is it worth it?

The answer to this ultimately depends on your current situation and future goals. I would definitely recommend it if you are looking to work in Japan, especially if you would like to have a bilingual role. A lot of Japanese companies look for business level (=JLPT N2) or native level (=JLPT N1) proficiency, so having this on your CV may well help you get your foot in the door. I’ve summed up what I believe the main pros and cons below:

Pros

  • JLPT is a well-recognised qualification
  • A good way of measuring your own progress particularly if you are self-studying

Cons

  • Can be expensive (in the UK it costs £75 per sitting)
  • Can only take it 1-2 times a year depending on where you live
  • Does not test speaking proficiency
  • Especially at higher levels, grammar points can get obscure

There are more cons than pros in the above list, but the pro of having a widely recognised qualification is a great advantage for those wishing to pursue further studies or employment in Japan (this is not to say that not having a JLPT qualification will prevent you from getting a job!).

How do I study towards it?

There is a heavy emphasis on vocabulary and grammar, so a lot of study is needed to cover all of the materials at each level. For this reason, textbooks are a popular choice although there are some wonderful (and free!) online resources too:

Textbooks

For level N5, there are not many JLPT specific textbooks available. If you are working through a textbook such as Genki, then you should cover a lot of the grammar expected at this level – refer to the online resources below for lists of grammar points, vocabulary and kanji in the test.

For the upper levels, there are two series of books that are quite popular: Nihongo Sou Matome and Kanzen Master. I have not used Nihongo Sou Matome myself but it is very highly regarded.

kanzenmasterjlptn1

I have personally used the Kanzen Master series of books (pictured above – there are individual books for grammar, vocabulary, kanji and listening comprehension) which are a useful means of preparing you for the test.

Online Resources

There are a number of websites with vocab, kanji, grammar point lists and listening exercises – here are a couple of my favourites:

  • Tanos JLPT is a great place to start if you’ve just decided to take the plunge. The website has vocabulary, kanji and grammar lists which you can start to work your way through.
  • Japanesetest4you is a website filled to the brim with practice tests for all aspects of each level of the JLPT. As i’ve mentioned previously, it is really important to practice in exam conditions so that you have an idea of how to manage your time on the day!
  • MLC Japanese has lists of key vocabulary and kanji, worksheets with exam-style questions and study plan ideas for the JLPT.
  • Nihongo Pro has free vocabulary, kanji and grammar quizzes for all levels of the JLPT.
  • Flashcard apps like Anki and Memrise have a number of shared decks for each level of the JLPT

Classes

If you are lucky enough to be in Japan or a major city overseas, you may be able to find a JLPT prep class – for example in London, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) runs JLPT prep classes in the run up to the exam.

This is a general overview of the JLPT test – if you have any further questions about the JLPT please let me know in the comments.

Manga Recommendation : Crayon Shin-chan クレヨンしんちゃん

This week’s recommendation is Crayon Shin-chan by Yoshito Usui (臼井 義人). I think this was the first manga I ever tried to read in Japanese some time ago, but even now I like to go back and read it.

This highly popular manga is about the adventures of a 5-year-old boy called Shinnosuke Nohara (nicknamed Shin-chan) who generally causes a lot of mischief around him, especially his mother.

The manga is split into several shorter stories that are generally only a few pages long. This makes it an ideal manga for Japanese language learners to dip in and out of as and when you have time to study it.

Crayon Shin chan manages to strike a great balance between laugh out loud moments and relatable moments (if you’ve ever had to look after a small child). Some of the humour can be a bit crude – you can find a few of the anime episodes on YouTube so I would recommend checking these out to get an idea of the type of humour you will find in the manga. Besides the anime series there are also several films, so plenty of material to get into if you do find yourself enjoying the manga.

In terms of language level, you can certainly give this a go if you have covered basic grammar and know the usual slang contractions – JLPT N4 and above should suffice. Like most of the manga I recommend this has everyday language and because of Shin chan’s age the vocabulary used is not too difficult. There are quite a few gags which rely on knowledge of puns in Japanese and aspects of Japanese culture, but I have always found this manga on the whole to be accessible as a language learner.

There is apparently a Japanese-English bilingual version of a couple of volumes (called クレヨンしんちゃんの楽しいゾ英会話) which would be a useful way of trying the manga out if you can get yourself a copy.

Disney Songs in Japanese

I recently wrote a post about using songs to learn Japanese. In that post, I didn’t personally recommend any particular types of songs as I believe that you should try to focus on songs you like listening to instead.

However, later on, it dawned on me that Disney songs are a really good way of studying language via songs, especially as a beginner learner.

If you’ve grown up with films such as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King (my 90’s kid bias might be showing a bit here!), then listening to the Japanese versions of familiar songs from these films is an enjoyable way of learning new vocabulary. Another advantage of using Disney is that being aimed at kids, the lyrics are normally more straightforward in nature in terms of both grammar and vocabulary and do not have any slang that can often trip up language learners.

How to find song lyrics

I find the best way of finding the Japanese song titles of Disney songs is looking on Wikipedia. For example, if I was looking for the Japanese titles from Frozen I would go to the relevant page and look for information on international releases:

Screenshot 2017-08-18 at 21.34.33

Frozen happens to be a particularly popular film so I could find the song titles under the ‘Japanese release’ tab towards the bottom of the Wiki page for the Frozen soundtrack.

However you may need to go to the English Wiki page first and then select the Japanese version of the same page from the menu on the left hand side. Then look for a category 主題歌 (しゅだいか ‘theme song’) or 挿入歌  (そうにゅうか ‘soundtrack’/ ‘featured songs’)  to find song titles – for the most popular songs the English tends to be given in brackets alongside the original Japanese.

Once armed with this information, the website I’ve found the most useful for tracking down Disney song lyrics is this one. Although skewed towards the most popular Disney films of the 1990s, this is the best site I have found with lyrics grouped by the film’s name.

If you are struggling to track down song lyrics, then simply googling the Japanese (or even the English) song title + 歌詞 (かし ‘lyrics’) should lead you to a website with lyrics.

Fortunately a lot of Japanese Disney songs can be found on YouTube with Japanese subtitles too. It helps to know the Japanese title before searching but you may have luck with the English title and if you add ‘Japanese’ on too.

The YouTube channel Nobuyoshi Takeuchi has a large number of Disney songs so is the best place to start.

My favourite Disney songs in Japanese are:

  • Colours of the Wind/ カラー • オブ • ザ • ウィンド [ポカホンタス/ Pocahontas]
  • Belle/ ベル [美女と野獣/ Beauty and the Beast]
  • Love is an Open Door/ 扉を開けて [アナと雪の女王/ Frozen]

What are your favourite Disney songs (in English, Japanese or another language)? Let me know in the comments!

Best Chrome Extensions for learning Japanese

Reading the title you may be thinking, “but how is a browser going to assist my language learning?” As it turns out, there are a couple of nifty extensions available for Google Chrome that I think are essentials for Japanese learners.  Here are 3 extensions that I use all the time for boosting my Japanese skills:

Rikaikun (also known as Rikaichan on other platforms such as Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari).

This is an incredibly popular extension and is a must have for Japanese learners. With this extension activated, you can go to a page in Japanese and hover over any word and the reading and English meaning will be displayed in a handy pop up box. With this, tackling a website entirely in Japanese is a lot less scary!

Screenshot 2017-08-19 at 14.14.02.png

It is also worth noting that Rikaikun is pretty good at recognising the root of conjugated verbs as well as place names, which can sometimes be an issue with apps like this.

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This is useful when you need to practice the te form!

Mainichia

Mainichi is a handy extension which will show you a new piece of vocabulary every time you open a new tab in Chrome. The word is shown in kanji, kana and romaji with a helpful pic – handy for reviewing or learning a new piece of vocabulary.

Screenshot 2017-08-19 at 14.24.01
I think the pictures are really cute

You cannot choose the type of vocabulary that appears but I have found that there is a good mix between simpler and more complicated everyday vocabulary. Besides Japanese, there are also options for Korean and Mandarin Chinese if you are also learning those languages.

Pocket

Pocket is not specifically for language learning but I use it a lot for Japanese study. The Pocket app allows you to save a page for offline viewing later.

The Chrome extension allows you to add new pages to read later with a click of a button and will sync with the app if you have this installed on another device. I find this useful for saving news stories online – together with Rikaikun, you can make short work of tricky articles. If you install the app on another device you can start reading on your laptop and carry on reading on your mobile.

Are there any must have extensions (on Google Chrome or any other browser) that you cannot live without? Let me know in the comments.

Studying Japanese with Songs

Early on in my Japanese learning, listening to Japanese songs accidentally became part of my study plan. I do not really listen to new Japanese songs much nowadays but every so often I will go back to artists I know I like and study the vocabulary from their latest songs. Language learning is all about fun, so if you love music I recommend trying this out at least once.

Whilst I would recommend studying songs as part of your language journey, there are some pros and cons to consider.

The good:

  • Of course studying something you enjoy helps with learning vocabulary – repetition helps to memorise words more effectively.
  • Knowing popular songs makes a great talking point with friends or language partners.
  • It provides an insight into culture – language and culture are inevitably intertwined.

The bad:

  • This is true in any language but not all songs reflect how language is actually spoken as lyrics tend to be more poetic.
  • Song lyrics do not always make sense, so take unusual grammar structures and vocabulary with a pinch of salt.

 

How I study with songs

Here are the steps I follow when I use songs as study materials:

Step 0 – Find a song you like.

This is Step 0 because I’m assuming when you read this post you already have a song in mind to study with!

I generally find ballad style songs to be a good choice because these are more likely to tell a cohesive story than a dance track for example.

If not, I recommend checking out my list of top 15 Japanese learner- friendly songs. I’ve also written about using Disney songs in Japanese as they are a lot of fun to learn.

There is also an amazing podcast called Japan Top 10 which showcases music currently in the charts as well as episodes dedicated to some of the most popular Japanese artists.

Screenshot 2018-08-29 at 20.54.32

Step 1 – Find the song lyrics.

Google is your friend here: simply search for the artist name and/or song title, then add ‘歌詞’ (かし‘kashi’ meaning lyrics). The website I often use is called Uta-Net (all in Japanese). Just type the artist or song name into the search box and click on the red button to search.

Screenshot 2017-08-18 at 19.39.34

Step 2 – Listen to the song with lyrics.

How much can you understand just by having the lyrics in front of you whilst you listen? You might surprise yourself with what you can pick up at this stage – I often find that seeing the words written down helps you to pick out the words you already know.

Step 3 – Arm yourself with a dictionary/ Japanese friend and get meanings for the vocabulary and grammar structures you are unfamiliar with.

Use this exercise to get a feel for the overall meaning of the song. I wouldn’t worry too much about finding an exact translation into English as this is not always possible.

However, translating can be a fun exercise to check if you have grasped the general meaning of the song. Again Google is really useful for finding a fan page of your favourite artist which may have English translations that you can compare your version to. Can’t find a translation? It may be worth posting your own and making translations a new hobby!

As previously mentioned, there may be kanji usage or grammar that doesn’t necessarily appear in everyday Japanese so make a note of it here. If you have a language notebook make sure you only jot down the most commonly used kanji or correct grammar structures. If you are a fan of flashcards, I would make new flashcards of the most common kanji/ vocabulary that crops up at this stage.

Step 4 – Listen again when you have looked up unfamiliar words and phrases.

How much do you understand now? It should be much more now that you have a better grasp on the song meaning.

 

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Don’t be afraid to pick up a microphone (or hairbrush) in the name of language learning!

 

Step 5 – Karaoke!

Japan is the home of karaoke and I couldn’t possibly write an article about Japanese songs without mentioning it. If you live in Japan I recommend you take the opportunity to go for an hour and try singing a couple of songs, no matter what your singing ability.

Having to follow the Japanese lyrics onscreen is not easy, but if you go regularly you will really build up your reading speed, especially when it comes to kanji.

Not in Japan? Try searching for a song you like on Youtube and see if you can find a karaoke version/ lyric video to practice with.

Bonus: if you play an instrument you may finding actually playing and singing along to songs helpful too. If you play guitar (or sometimes attempt to play the ukulele like me) you can find chord tabs for popular songs by Googling the song title together with コード (chords). I tend to use a website called Gakki.me.

How do you use songs as part of your language learning? Let me know in the comments!

Journalling in a Foreign Language

I came across a video by Hyunwoo of ‘Talk to Me in Korean’ which encouraged journalling in a foreign language on a daily basis. I was inspired to give this a go myself, and I think it can have a positive impact on your language learning from day one!

Why is journalling in a foreign language recommended?

Keeping a language diary is a way to aid your language learning especially when you are unable to immerse yourself in other ways. For example, you might have no native speakers nearby to talk to. It is really important to practice your production skills in your target language, so writing is the next best area to focus on.

I’ve become acutely aware recently that my speaking and writing skills in Japanese have suffered a lot. I took a break from learning Japanese and so I am keen to build these skills back up again. As it happens, I ended up with two 2017 diaries, so journalling in a foreign language is a great way of putting the spare diary to use.

My experiences journalling in Japanese so far

I have been doing this for a couple of weeks and I am really enjoying it so far. One thing I immediately discovered is that I absolutely have to write out the diary entries. On busy days, I settle for just typing a couple of sentences on my phone. Writing in my diary seems to engage my brain in a different way compared to typing on my laptop. Having said that, I have always found that handwriting things in Japanese helps me to remember things more easily.

I think this is even more important where the writing system of your target language differs to your native language(s). In the age of predictive text, you can end up solely relying on your ability to recognise words rather than producing them. For Japanese, I have found it much easier to pinpoint which kanji I need to review if I cannot immediately recall how to write it.

I keep my journal very simple (ie. boring), but I have seen some amazing language journals on Pinterest and YouTube!

But I don’t know what to write/ I have just begun studying a new language!

Don’t worry about the content of your entries too much. Even writing out a new word you have learned a few times will help to consolidate your knowledge.

This is the time to experiment with new words and phrases you may have learnt but try to put these into sentences where possible. Some people find writing out sentences that they already know to be correct is helpful for revising new grammar points and vocabulary.

I recommend checking out my 30-day writing challenge, or the Noun Verb Adjective challenge for writing prompts.

How do I check whether my writing is correct?

For short sentences and phrases, Hi Native is a wonderful app for getting quick feedback. Check out my review of the HiNative app to learn more.

I used to highly recommend a website called Lang-8 for longer pieces of writing. Aimed at language learners, you can publish posts and ask native speakers to read and correct your work. Japanese friends, of course, may be happy to do this for you but sometimes getting input from complete strangers can provide a fresh perspective.

Unfortunately, Lang-8 is not accepting new applications so if you do not already have an account I would check out Hello Talk or Italki’s Notebook instead. Both of these sites work in a similar way to HiNative and Lang-8, and are free to use!

Being a community of fellow language learners, I have always found people on these websites to be extremely helpful with anything I need help with. Make sure that you return the favour and review other people’s writing!

Finally, don’t forget to periodically look back what you have written. I think that this is a great way to stay motivated with Japanese, as you can see your progress.

Do you keep a journal in Japanese/ another language? Have you found it useful so far? Let me know in the comments.

journalling in a foreign language pin

Do Japanese learners need an electronic dictionary/ Denshi Jisho?

If you are committed to studying Japanese for the long term, you might be thinking about buying an electronic dictionary, commonly known as 電子辞書 /denshi jisho. I own one of these electronic dictionaries, but for some time I struggled to decide whether I really needed one. Therefore, I thought it might be helpful to put together a post for those who are about to make a similar decision.

A quick note: if you are just starting out with learning Japanese, I suggest sticking to free online dictionary resources that are beginner friendly – I recommend the website Jisho.org, or the Akebi dictionary app.

 

About Denshi Jisho

If you’ve been to Japan and visited a Japanese electronics store like Yamada Denki, you’ve probably come across rows of 電子辞書 denshi jisho, aimed at students and businessmen learning English and other languages.

As educational gadgets go, these little things can be pretty expensive, with top models costing hundreds of pounds. Two of the main companies that produce these electronic dictionaries are Casio and Sharp.

 

1024px-Tokyo_Akihabara_gadgets
Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

The denshi jisho I have is a Casio model that I purchased about 5 years ago. I tend to use it alongside free resources depending on what I am studying.

 

Advantages of having a Denshi Jisho

A lot of Japanese learners reading this might be thinking, “why would I want to have a dictionary when I have a smartphone?”

Here are some of the main advantages of having an electronic dictionary:

  • Access to multiple dictionaries. Models nowadays contain more dictionaries than you can shake a stick at, with a number of Japanese dictionaries, Japanese-English dictionaries, and other helpful dictionaries dedicated to kanji and kotowaza amongst other things all in one.
  • Durable. Naturally, electronic dictionaries are not only more portable but will cope better with being thrown into a bag to take to Japanese class, for example, than a paper dictionary.
  • Quick and easy to search and ‘jump’ between dictionaries. It’s super easy to switch dictionaries (eg. between a Japanese-English and a Japanese-Japanese dictionary) if you want to learn more about a word.
  • No chance of getting distracted. I find that when using my phone to look things up during a study session, I’m highly likely to check social media.

Certain models have additional features such as handwriting input, touch screens and a SD card slot for access to even more dictionaries.

Obviously, there is some benefit to having lots of dictionaries all wrapped up into one gadget, but in the age of smartphones is an electronic dictionary still a worthy purchase for Japanese learners?

In my opinion, the usefulness of an electronic dictionary does depend on how you study the language.

 

What to ask yourself before buying an electronic dictionary

Before committing to an investment in an electronic dictionary, it is wise to consider the following three questions:

What Japanese level are you at currently?

As I mentioned at the beginning, the usefulness of a denshi jisho only really comes into its own once you have reached an intermediate level in Japanese, no matter what your language goal.

Buying a Japanese dictionary in Japan, of course, means that you have a whole new gadget to get used to without a manual in English to help you. A lot of features on the model I have are intuitive and fortunately with a bit of playing around it is quite easy to work out how to look things up.

As a gadget aimed at Japanese natives, there are more dictionaries and resources solely in Japanese rather than Japanese-English/ other languages.

Therefore if you are, for example, at a stage where you are looking at moving towards using a Japanese-Japanese dictionary, you will find much better value in purchasing an electronic dictionary.

 

How intensively do you study Japanese?

Whether I reach for my electronic dictionary or my or my phone depends on what I am looking up. I find the specialised functions of a dictionary the most useful when I am looking up more than one word (eg. Perhaps when I am starting to read a new book).

The backlit screen and easy zoom buttons make reading definitions really simple, and if a word uses a kanji I have not come across before I am able to click on it and find out the stroke order much more easily. In addition, because I can choose from a number of different dictionaries it is easy to cross reference meanings and get more example sentences, whereas on my phone I would have to bring up each dictionary website individually.

A crucial benefit of the model I have is that it has a touchscreen where I can write kanji using the stylus. I have found this much more accurate than the equivalent apps I have on other devices, especially if I am having to look up a lot of unfamiliar kanji.

Even basic models will allow you to jump between different dictionaries easily, so if this is a function you think you would make use of then an electronic dictionary may be for you.

 

What are your Japanese language goals?

Your value for money for an electronic dictionary is going to depend on what level of proficiency you are aiming for in Japanese.

It is worth noting here that the dictionaries you have on these gadgets will not have more casual or recent buzzwords; for this type of vocabulary, the internet is definitely your best friend.

If having a high level of literacy is part of your language goal – for example studying in a Japanese university, or pursuing a specialist profession in Japan – then an electronic dictionary is more likely to be a wise long-term investment.

 

Based on the above considerations, the types of people who I think would make the most out of electronic Japanese dictionaries would be those that are already at an intermediate level, who are perhaps in a situation where they are studying towards becoming proficient in Japanese for professional purposes.

This isn’t to say that you should not buy a Japanese dictionary if you do not fit the previous description, but given the expense involved, I think you may want to first consider borrowing a model from a Japanese friend if possible and see how useful you find it. I personally found my model on eBay, so looking online for a cheap electronic dictionary is another good option for keeping the costs down.

However if your budget cannot stretch to buying one just yet, do not worry as there are some great Japanese dictionary apps and websites out there which cost very little or are free, such as Jisho and Akebi mentioned earlier.

As an aside, if you prefer physical dictionaries and reference books, Tofugu recently had a highly informative guest post by Kim Ahlstrom about dictionaries that serious learners may find useful.

Have you got an electronic dictionary? Do you find it useful or prefer using an app or physical dictionary? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Boosting your Japanese skills with super short stories

When practising reading skills in Japanese, having to tackle a long article with a dictionary can be daunting. Literature in particular can be tricky to understand depending on the author’s writing style. With this in mind, I started looking for really short stories for Japanese practice.

I was concerned that when reading shorter stories you are having to rely much more on inferring certain things from the text which would make them a lot trickier than longer passages which have the space to explain the story in greater depth. However I needn’t have worried too much because the majority of short stories do a great job of setting the scene quickly whilst using language that is too complicated. Having said that, the stories on the websites I mention below may not be the easiest to follow as a complete newbie to Japanese. These stories should be a good place to start for intermediate learners – beginners may be interested in starting with my posts on beginner reading resources instead.

The shortest of short stories are the so called ‘one minute stories’. For us language learners it is unlikely we can read it in one minute but the brevity of the stories still makes it accessible in only a few minutes, making it much easier to fit in a quick study session whilst you having a coffee break or waiting for the bus.

I’ve looked online for some resources with really short stories in Japanese that are much easier to tackle and found a couple of sites that are full of these super short stories:

The first website I can recommend is called Kakuyomu, which has a whole host of 1 minute stories written by amateur Japanese writers. My favourite one of the ones I’ve read so far is called 「赤ん坊の思惑」- it is the definition of a short but sweet story in my opinion.

The second website I want to introduce has lots of 300 character stories which is supposed to be the equivalent of 1 minute’s reading time, all written by an author known as 海見みみみ. I’ve read quite a few of these and really enjoyed them – my recommendations include「留学前夜」,「思い出コレクター」and「魔法女子になりませんか」. I think the stories on this website are on the whole more accessible than Kakuyomu.jp, so don’t be too disheartened if you find the stories on there too difficult – you may have better luck with these stories.

I’ve certainly found it really rewarding reading some of these quick stories and love how easy they are to fit into my day. It’s definitely a good way of boosting your tadoku count!

Are there any stories you’ve particularly enjoyed? 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:

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