The protagonist Ichigo Amano is a 14-year-old who, on merit of her extraordinary sense of taste, is admitted to the prestigious Saint Marie Academy. Unfortunately, she has no experience of actually cooking the delicacies she enjoys so much, unlike her highly gifted classmates. The manga follows Ichigo on her journey to becoming a pastry chef, making friends and learning a lot of important lessons along the way.
As you might expect from the shoujo genre, this manga is strong on the themes of never giving up, following your dreams and the power of friendships. This makes for a wholesome and enjoyable read, with a nice moral behind it. I recommend reading it when you are having a bit of a tough time with something and need some motivation.
In terms of language, I would put this at around JLPT N4 level. Aside from some French culinary terms, this manga is full of everyday vocabulary and expressions. I have not found Yumeiro Patissiere to be too heavy on slang or casual language in general. Together with the fact that furigana is provided, this shouldn’t be too difficult for upper beginners to try reading.
There is also an anime adaptation which can be found on Crunchyroll or YouTube – if you can follow the Japanese used in this, you will have no problem with the manga it is based on.
The cost of learning with textbooks can be a barrier to those who are just starting to learn Japanese. However, there are plenty of online Japanese resources which are great no matter what your budget is.
Most people are told that in order to study Japanese they should make their way through Genki textbooks 1 and 2. There is of course nothing wrong with this method (it is tried and tested after all).
Unfortunately Genki books are not cheap at around £40 (over $50) for the textbook. This doesn’t include the costs of additional materials such as the workbooks either! So if your funds are limited, buying a Genki is not an affordable option for people studying on their own.
Online Japanese Resources to the rescue!
On the other hand, the internet is packed with online Japanese resources that are actually pretty good! So I thought it would be a good idea to introduce some websites to help those looking to study Japanese without a textbook. When I think back to the Japanese language classes I have attended, textbooks were never used so I definitely think it is possible to self-study without using a textbook.
Having said that, I believe textbooks are useful because they provide a methodical framework in which to work your way through learning the basics of a language. Online resources do not always provide this same framework to follow, which can make it difficult to know what to study next. Fortunately, most of the ones I mention in the below list do not have this issue.
I recommend looking at grammar lists for the beginner level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT for short). Even if you aren’t planning on sitting the exam, you can get a feel for essential grammar and vocabulary. If you are new to Japanese your focus should be on essential words and phrases, sentence structure and how particles work. Check out my How to start learning Japanese page to get some further ideas and resources.
Here is a list of various online Japanese resources that I think learners can work through like a regular textbook. You could also use this as supplementary material to a textbook or class that you are already studying with.
Tae Kim – Probably the most well known on the list and for a good reason. Tae Kim’s website offers a comprehensive introduction to Japanese. It also tries to take a different approach to a lot of textbooks. It is being updated all the time too.
Imabi – This is a great place to start if Tae Kim isn’t for you. This online grammar guide starts from the beginning of learning Japanese right up to advanced level. The website is split into beginner, intermediate and advanced conten. Each level is split into a number of lessons, enabling you to work your way through the website just like a textbook. Best of all this is entirely free – needless to say, this is a must visit resource!
Erin’s Challenge – if you’re a visual learner you may find supplementing your study with this website useful. Erin’s Challenge is a website put together by the Japan Foundation. The website has a series of videos featuring Erin, who becomes a school exchange student in Japan. Each short video covers a different topic as she gets used to her new life in Japan. These also have explanations of key grammar points and phrases used which you can then test yourself on.
Marugoto – The Japan Foundation website has a number of free online courses aimed at those self-studying Japanese called Marugoto. Different courses with suit different learners depending on your goal. If you aim is to build practical communication skills in Japanese then I recommend the ‘Katsudoo’ course. However if you want to study Japanese in more depth then choose the ‘Katsudoo & Rikai’ course.
Human Japanese – Whilst not free in its entirety, the ‘lite’ version of this app is free. Fortunately the free content gives a pretty good indication of the app’s approach to learning Japanese. I’ve written a separate post reviewing this app as I think it is worth the cost of entry for complete beginners to Japanese.
Lingodeer – this (free!) app is more like Duolingo in style. You follow a series of lessons covering different aspects of vocabulary and grammar. Having said that, it covers topics in a way that makes it very accessible for Japanese learners. You can then follow up the lessons with some of the sites below to reinforce your understanding of the content. It also does a pretty good job of testing you on the content of the lessons in different ways, which is really important when self-studying.
It’s always good to have somewhere else to check out grammar explanations if they are not making sense straight away. Here’s a list of online Japanese resources you might find useful:
Jgram – I think of Jgram as a database of Japanese grammar points which the community contributes to. You can search for grammar points by the (old) JLPT levels or use the search function to look up something specific. Each entry has notes and example sentences which is helpful for getting a new perspective on a grammar point.
Maggie Sensei – Everything on the website is presented in a really fun and easy to digest way. As well as explanations of grammar points, you will also find posts on aspects of Japanese culture. I also like that vocabulary is listed by theme rather than difficulty.
Wasabi – Wasabi’s online grammar reference is similar to Tae Kim in layout and style. I think Wasabi’s guide is particularly good for learning to distinguish between grammar points which have similar English meanings.
Japanistry – The Japanistry grammar guide works quite similarly to the Tae Kim guide but is a great reference site for the foundations of Japanese grammar.
日本語の森 (Nihongo no Mori) – This YouTube channel has lots of videos on grammar points aimed at all levels of Japanese learners. The playlist that I’ve linked to called ‘Ekubo Basic Japanese Lessons’ starts from the very beginning, but there are a number of playlists focused on different levels of the JLPT.
Worksheets and Quizzes
MLC Japanese – full of handy printable worksheets and quizzes. There is a lot of content for JLPT N5 & N4 in particular, but you can find study plans and JLPT material for the upper levels (old levels level 2 and level 1).
Memrise – has a number of electronic flashcard decks, including decks on the main textbooks including Genki, Tae Kim’s guide and the JLPT.
Japanesetest4you – This is an all round useful website for learners, with grammar and vocabulary lists for each level of the JLPT. You can practice a bunch of mock questions online.
JPDrills – JPDrills is pretty new to the game, but from what I’ve seen is pretty good. Access to the full website requires a subscription, but you can sign up to practice a bunch of Japanese questions for free. This is a helpful resource if you are working towards the JLPT.
The above are all websites that I have tried and thought could be useful for other learners. If you are looking for even more online Japanese resources, check out my Japanese Resource Masterpost!
The Bilingual NY Learn Japanese podcast (not to be confused with the Bilingual News Podcast!) is a regular podcast covering the latest news articles in Japanese. Inspired by the Bilingual News Podcast, the articles covered are given in Japanese, followed up with an explanation in English.
I believe the format has changed somewhat recently, but I am basing this review on the most recent format as described below which I think works well.
The articles covered are usually from NHK News Web Easy, so if you make use of this website already, then this podcast is a nice companion resource. Each episode focuses on one article in depth. The article is first read out in full in Japanese, then English definitions are given before a line by line English translation by Ben, the presenter.
This is then followed up by a more difficult version of the same story, normally an article taken from one of the main newspapers. I think this is a great idea for showing the difference in style between the kinds of articles you find on NHK Easy as opposed to actual Japanese newspapers, as there is often a difference in formality which affects the vocabulary and grammar you come across.
At about 10-15 minutes each, the episode length is not as long as the other Bilingual News Podcast. However, given the structure of each podcast episode, I think this works quite well to study from in short bursts.
At the end of the podcast, there is a segment on English to Japanese translation practice. I didn’t really like this part as the sentences and vocabulary unrelated to the article itself. It was also pronounced by the presenter who is a non-native speaker, which some people may not like. This is a minor negative as it is only a couple of minutes long and of course, easily skippable.
Overall I do like this podcast for when I have less time to listen to the Bilingual News Podcast. There is a certain level of assumed knowledge in terms of vocabulary and grammar, so I would recommend this for upper beginner to intermediate learners. If the Bilingual News Podcast is a bit beyond your current level, I recommend giving this podcast a try instead.
You can find the episodes on Soundcloud, iTunes or on a podcasting app of your choice.
Looking for another Japanese podcast in simpler Japanese? I have also covered the wonderful News in Easy Japanese podcast which you may also be interested in 🙂
Have you tried out this podcast? Do you like it? Let me know in the comments!
This manga is about a father and son who have recently started up their own bakery shop. There’s one small difference, both father and son are Shiba Inu dogs!
32-year-old Taro Shibata quit the salaryman life to pursue his childhood dream of running his own bakery. His son Kotaro is just 4 years old but helps out a lot at the bakery. As with all new businesses, getting the word out about the business is not easy and the manga focuses on the pair doing their best to make the bakery a success. Taro soon finds himself taking on a bigger role in his local area as he has an uncanny resemblance to a 神 ‘kami’ calledしめなわ五郎 who is meant to bring prosperity.
This is a slice of life manga with a lot of the humour coming from the characters who visit the bakery, as well as the fact that the shop is run by a dog. It also has its heartwarming moments, particularly between Taro and Kotaro. Taro’s wife does also appear in the manga, but the circumstances in which she left are not immediately clear.
In terms of language, I would recommend this to JLPT N3 learners (people close to N3 might find it difficult although not impossible to read). I think that whilst most of the vocabulary is everyday language, the manga is more suited to those who have a solid foundation in grammar and are familiar with a bit of casual language.
There is also furigana provided for some words (eg. 偉い・えらい) but not for others (eg. 謙虚・けんきょ) which adds a bit of extra difficulty. I suggest trying the manga out through the link below to see how easy you find it.
Each chapter is pretty short which makes it a fun, light manga to read – this is highly recommended. The only downside is wanting to eat copious amounts of bread while reading this!
You can read a sample of the manga on the EbookJapan website – at the time of writing, the whole of Volume 1 is available to read for free!
As evidenced by how much I tend to write about reading resources on this blog, I love to read. Whilst I am getting better at reading in Japanese thanks to Tadoku, reading native materials can sometimes be a long and arduous process. So when I get frustrated with trickier books, I like to switch to easier stories. This is where Niimi Nankichi comes in.
Niimi Nankichi was one of the most prolific children’s writers during the 20th century and is often compared to Hans Christian Andersen. He wrote his most famous work ごん狐 (ごんぎつね) when he was 18 years old. Unfortunately, he died from tuberculosis at just age 29, but during his time as a primary school teacher, he penned a great many stories for his young students.
Fortunately, these stories are not only accessible for Japanese learners but are also available for free on Aozora Bunko. As with a lot of children’s literature, whilst the vocabulary used may be a bit dated or less common (such as names of plants and animals), the grammar used is straightforward. For this reason, I recommend reading these armed with a dictionary or a lookup tool like Rikaichan to make the whole process a bit quicker!
Nankichi’s most popular story had to be on this list. This story is all about a mischevious little fox called Gon. Whilst it may not have the ending you would expect from a children’s story, it does have a very important message (much like the rest of Nankichi’s works). It is not the quickest read for Japanese beginners but is split into chapters which allow for a natural break between reading sessions.
There are also a number of videos on Youtube for the reading of this story, but the one below is my favourite (not too fast or slow and no distracting background music!)
This is a much shorter story than ごん狐 which also happens to have a wolf as the main character. A wolf is entrusted with an important errand, but things do not quite go to plan. I’d say this is a fairly straightforward story – I would recommend it to JLPT N4 learners, but N5 learners may be able to give this a go if you’ve covered nearly all of the grammar.
In this story, the narrator discusses the impact of a simple favour he carries out for a cattle farmer. Like きつねのつかい, the language used in terms of grammar and vocab isn’t too difficult aside from a couple of phrases (eg. ~てゆく= ていく, ~てくれ = instead of ~てくれる).
This story is about 2 frogs who start off on the wrong foot – can they learn to settle their differences? This story is short and has a cute ending. In terms of grammar, I’d say this is more difficult than the above two stories. This is due to the dialogue between the two frogs being more casual in nature (eg. sentence ending ~だぞ; わすれるな as a more manly way of saying ‘don’t forget’ instead of わすれないで(ください)). Fortunately, the vocabulary used is straightforward – so overall, it is still accessible for N4 learners.
Have you read Nankichi’s stories before? Which stories would you recommend? Let me know in the comments!
They say you can learn anything from YouTube, and Japanese is no different. I have done a post on this previously, but since then I’ve found three more channels you might find useful on your language level journey.
Bond Japanese is a very good resource for newbies to Japanese, I certainly wish it had been around when I was a beginner. The channel has lots of helpful bite size videos on learning hiragana as well as basic grammar, common phrases and greetings. The language videos are presented by Marina who speaks clearly and does a great job of covering basic grammar points.
I find that at times, the spoken conversations can be quite a step-up in difficulty from the grammar or vocabulary covered but all dialogues have the Japanese on screen together with the English translations. At the very least this means you get used to natural conversation sooner rather than later.
My favourite videos to watch are the ‘Stroll Around’ series which focuses on different places in the Tokyo area. Through this series, I’ve certainly discovered a few places I’d like to visit next time I am in Japan.
Chop is a bit of a strange one and is a fairly new channel, but I am oddly fascinated by it!
This channel focuses on super short videos which introduce Japanese, perfect for those looking to build their vocabulary. Each video has a short skit which can be summed up in one Japanese sentence containing the new word at the very end, along with furigana and an English translation. These skits are funny and often a bit strange, but I think this is what helps the vocabulary to stick in your head.
Whilst the type of humour will not be everyone’s cup of tea, if you do find them funny then this could be an entertaining way of getting in a couple of minutes’ study when short on time. Each week there is a ‘Weekly Chop’ which is a compilation of the skits from that week (there tend to be 3-4 videos uploaded per week).
The accompanying website has a full vocabulary list for all of the words that appear in each skit.
Talk in Japan has a large number of videos aimed at Japanese learners from JLPT N5 right through to N1. I would be hesitant to recommend the grammar/ vocabulary videos to those just starting out as all videos are entirely in Japanese with English subtitles which could feel a bit overwhelming.
Having said that, if you are working towards the JLPT (especially for N3 and above) then I can recommend their videos on each aspect of the test which is targeted towards each level. I like the grammar point videos as they are normally less than 5 minutes long, do a pretty good job of explaining usage and are accompanied by example sentences and a short dialogue at the very end. There are also some videos on business Japanese etiquette in addition to Japanese culture and cooking videos which you may find useful as well.
All of these channels are up and coming rather than established channels but I hope you find them useful and can support them as they continue to grow!
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.
Today’s recommendation is Orange by Ichigo Takano. I have been meaning to read this for a while and I am so glad that I finally got round to reading it!
The story centres around a girl called Naho who receives a letter from herself 10 years in the future, warning her to make changes to her actions at high school to prevent a tragedy linked to her friendship group from happening in the future. The letter comes with a diary giving certain key dates and events that all help to change the future for the better. By heeding these warnings, Naho not only impacts the future of those around her but also learns a great deal about herself in the process. The manga switches back and forth between the present day Naho and the future version of herself, which is particularly engaging as you get increasingly curious about what has happened in the intervening years.
Orange grabbed me immediately and I couldn’t stop myself from reading it until I got to the end. I think the idea of wanting to go back in time and change things is something that everyone can relate to, especially when looking back to your school days. In addition, the relationships amongst Naho’s friendship group is particularly pleasant to read and this only makes the dramatic aspects of this manga more powerful. Part high school drama, part sci-fi, the blend between the two genres make the manga accessible but a little bit different from other slice of life manga you may have come across previously.
I recommend this manga to Japanese learners because the language used is everyday – no specialist vocabulary required. If you’re familiar with common slang, particularly within the high school setting, then following the characters’ dialogues is pretty straightforward. In terms of language level, I would recommend this for N4-N3 learners.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.