Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: Yes, anime (12 episodes)
This manga is about a young girl called Makoto. She moves from Yokohama to Aomori prefecture to live with her relatives. Her move is to achieve a specific goal: to complete her training to become a fully fledged witch! The manga follows Makoto’s progress as she learns about her new environment and finds out what it really takes to become a witch.
Although the plot reminds me of Kiki’s Delivery Service (‘girl leaves home and settles in a new place in order to become a real witch’), the manga has its own charm which makes it an enjoyable read. Makoto’s character is very easy to like despite her ditziness. The manga is very often funny but also does a good job of also delivering on some heartwarming moments.
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). Most of the vocabulary is commonly used and the use of furigana makes it even easier to look up unknown words. Similarly, the grammar used is not too difficult. On the other hand, the main characters who are mostly teens do use quite a bit of casual language which may take some getting used to. Another thing to watch out for is the use of Tsugaru ben, the dialect used in Aomori which can be quite different to standard Tokyo Japanese!
Like Shibata Bakery, this is a great manga to read when you want something more lighthearted to read. If you like Kiki’s Delivery Service/ 魔女の宅急便・まじょのたっきゅうびん, I recommend giving this a try. The anime adaptation is available on Crunchyroll and is a good place to start and see if you like the plot and characters.
Mimei Ogawa (real name Kensaku Ogawa) was born in Joetsu City, Niigata Prefecture in 1885. He attended Waseda University in Tokyo and had a couple of his works published before he graduated. It was around this time that he began to champion the development of children’s literature, later becoming the first chairman of Japan Children’s Literature Association in 1946.
Like Niimi Nankichi, Ogawa was famous for writing a great number of children’s stories and is considered the founder of modern children’s literature in Japan. He was well known for having his stories in realistic settings and often highlighted the plight of the vulnerable in society.
Fortunately, his stories are available for free on Aozora Bunko, and some are available with furigana. Most of these stories are appropriate for upper beginners/ lower intermediate and above (JLPT N4-N3).
As I normally do in these posts, here are a few of his short stories I recommend to get you started.
Perhaps one of Ogawa’s most famous stories, this is about a woman who is known as ‘The Ox Woman’ for being large but also extremely kind hearted. However because of her and her son’s disabilities, she is sometimes the subject of mean jokes. Even after she dies she makes sure to watch over her son and the villagers who showed kindness. JLPT N4 learners should be able to give this a go – the Aozora version has furigana which makes things a bit easier.
This is a very short story about a little polar bear who doesn’t listen to what his mother tells him and ends up in trouble. If you are a JLPT N5 level learner, I would try reading this story!
The vocabulary may not be words you have learnt yet, but the grammar is very straightforward (with the exception of the classic negative verb ending ぬ (きかぬ = 聞かない・聞きません） and a couple of relative clauses). This story is also almost entirely written in hiragana, with spaces between the words to help you out.
A short story about a boy called Sho who is often scolded by his sister. After he goes missing one day, his sister realises that she may have been the one in the wrong after all. This is a quick read which reflects Ogawa’s style of short, simple stories that give you something to think about. I’d say this is about JLPT N4 level – a mix of casual and polite registers might be a bit confusing, but aside from that the grammar and vocabulary is not too difficult.
Please let me know if this post encourages you to read one of Ogawa’s works, or if there is an author you would like me to cover in this series!
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.
I have quite a lot of novels and manga to read, but remembering where I am with each one is tricky. I’m going to write a post every month about what I’m reading, as I always have several books on the go at the same time and read little bits as and when I can – hopefully, this will encourage me to actually get to the end of the books I’m reading! You might find something to try reading yourself.
There are 3 things (2 novels, 1 manga) that I am currently reading:
「フリーター、 家を買う。」 by 有川浩
This novel is about a young man called Seiji who has been flitting from job to job since he graduated from uni and left his first job after 3 months. When his mother is diagnosed with depression, he decides to try and turn his life around with the aim of buying a house that his mother can live in away from the stressors contributing to his mother’s condition. I’m not even halfway through this so far but I’m really enjoying it. There are quite a lot of words that I could look up (I am taking the tadoku approach) but for the most part, I can make sense of the text, helped by the fact that there is a fair amount of dialogue. I enjoy reading coming of age stories and this sort of falls into this category. It also covers a lot of interesting topics such as depression, Japanese company culture and ‘freeters’ (people who make a living from a series of part-time jobs).
If I had to guess the language level of this, I would put this as JLPT N2 level in terms of grammar and maybe a bit higher in terms of kanji used. I am aware there is a drama adaptation starring one of the members of Arashi, but I haven’t got around to watching it yet.
「１リットルの涙」 by 木藤亜也
This is the true story of Aya Kito, who was diagnosed with a degenerative disease at the age of 15. She kept a diary and used this to document her personal experiences as long as she could and later died at age 25. Her diary was then published as a book, which also was adapted into a film as well as a drama starring Erika Sawajiri.
This is not the easiest read because of the subject matter, but it is a very compelling story. Aya goes through a variety of emotions as she realises the growing impact of her condition. I am about a third of the way through the book so far, but what I am struck by is how she shows a great deal of emotional strength despite what is happening to her at such a young age (where I am currently she is still only 15/16 years old).
In terms of language level, I guess this book is probably JLPT N3 level. There is a film as well as a drama version starring Erika Sawajiri.
「夢色パティシエール」 by 松本夏実
With the other 2 books above on the go, I needed something a bit more lighthearted to read. 14-year-old Ichigo Amano gains a place at the prestigious St Marie Academy on the merit of her extraordinary palette but has no experience in baking. Will she manage to catch up with her classmates and realise her dream of becoming a patisserie chef?
I will most likely do a separate post on this manga as I have found it a pretty easy read so far and has furigana over the kanji, which I think makes it readable for JLPT N4 learners. There is an anime version that can be found on Youtube which will give you an idea of what to expect, but I would say it is pretty typical of shoujo manga.
What are you reading at the moment (in Japanese or otherwise)? Do you have any recommendations for me? 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!
I haven’t gotten round to doing one of these posts in a while (believe me, it’s not down to lack of apps to review!) but I was inspired to write one after coming across the app TangoRisto.
This app is a reading app but is tailored towards the needs of Japanese learners. Some reading apps are better suited to intermediate or advanced learners, but this has a lot of features which enable beginners to get reading in Japanese as soon as possible.
TangoRisto takes its articles from NHK News Web Easy (for beginner-intermediate learners), Top NHK News (for intermediate-advanced learners) and Hukumusume (fairy tales in Japanese).
When you select one of these from the main menu you can choose an article to read. Once selected, you can view the article with a few extra features including:
Toggle furigana on or off, or toggle furigana on for kanji split by JLPT level
Option to bookmark articles for offline viewing
Tap on any word for an English definition
If a verb has been conjugated it will indicate how it has been conjugated/ the politeness level as well as the verb in its dictionary form.
When you tap on the vocabulary again you get further information on the word: it can then be bookmarked and added to a vocabulary list to review later offline.
There is an option to search the word on websites such as jisho.org, Tangorin, Google as well as the Japanese Stack Exchange where you can ask questions on usage.
Toggle the glasses on or off to see different vocabulary highlighted in different colours according to their JLPT level (eg. N5 words and grammar are underlined in orange)
Full vocabulary list for each article
The ‘glasses’ feature on this app I think is especially useful for learners because it helps learners identify what kind of vocabulary or grammar they tend to get stuck on, which you can then use to adapt your learning – particularly useful if you are working towards the JLPT. Being able to view articles and vocabulary lists online is also a really useful feature to have (I wish more apps had this to be honest!)
All in all, a great app that I am sure will get even better over time 🙂
The app is available for free on the Apple Store and the Google Play Store, so there really is no reason not to check this out! Find out more on the app’s official website.
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!
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.