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.
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:
There is no shortage of Japanese learning resources online, but finding reading materials for Japanese beginners outside of textbooks can be really difficult. This is something I really struggled with when I had just started to learn Japanese, and found pretty much all native materials to be far too complicated – it was incredibly demotivating.
For that reason, I really wanted to put a list of resources together that is aimed at those who have recently begun learning the language. Here are a few of my favourites that are appropriate for JLPT level N5-N4 learners.
**Note** This is a two-part post, with this post focusing on non-fiction articles. If you are looking for articles that are a bit different to the above then please check out Part 2 in the series, which are mostly resources for Japanese fiction.
Similarly, if studying with children’s books appeals to you, then I have written a whole post dedicated to reading and listening resources for children’s stories.
This is a free web news magazine with short and interesting articles aimed at Japanese beginners up to intermediate level (corresponding to between JLPT N5 and N3). You can filter by JLPT level, or narrow down articles by topic if you prefer. If you click on certain pieces of vocabulary you can check the kanji reading and English meaning.
Translations of each article are available in English, Vietnamese or Chinese – just hover over the name of the language under each Japanese sentence to read its translation. The articles have a lot of pictures and Japanese audio which all in all makes it a great place to read interesting stories about Japan.
Like Watanoc, this is a website run by the Japan Foundation with short articles on Japanese culture in simple Japanese. It is an excellent site for practicing your reading comprehension as you have to option to add furigana, hide the vocabulary lists and there is also a mini quiz at the end of each article to test your understanding.
All articles have pictures and short video clips as well as the Japanese audio which provides a fun multimedia experience. The articles are grouped by topic, so you can easily focus on something that you are interested in.
There is no indication of the level of language used, but I believe that the articles are very accessible to N5 and N4 level learners. If you do get stuck, you can easily switch the website language from Japanese to English by clicking the button in the top-right corner.
If you’ve taken a look at a newspaper article in Japanese, you’ll know that it is often full of tricky formal grammar structures and vocabulary. Fortunately, NHK News Web Easy is a website that has recent news stories written in simple Japanese.
The articles are an ideal length for the beginner and get you used to the style of newspaper articles in Japanese. Each article allows you to read the news articles with furigana readings (or not if you fancy a bigger challenge!). I like that the names mentioned in the articles are highlighted in different colours depending on whether it is the name or a person or place.
As you can see from the image, you are able to watch a short video and listen to an audio version of the article. NHK News Web Easy is a highly recommended resource which is ideal for practicing your reading and listening skills, as well as to keep up with current events in Japan.
This website has been around for a fairly long time, but still remains a really good resource for Japanese learners. There are a lot of learning materials on the Coscom website, but I particularly recommend the Weather Forecast and the Headline News articles for upper beginners (in terms of vocabulary and grammar I’d estimate this to be around N4 level) on the left side-bar.
Both pages are comprehensive in content as they have the option to view the articles in romaji, kana or kanji and also include Japanese audio. Below each article, you can see a sentence by sentence breakdown of the article where you can see the vocabulary and grammar points used.
Unfortunately, only the most recent articles are available for free but it is worth checking the website every week or so for new material to read.
The English language Matcha Magazine website is a Japanese travel magazine full of recommendations for places to visit and things to do in Japan.
I recently discovered that if you click on the languages drop-down menu, you can change the website language from English to やさしい日本語. This allows you to read the same types of travel articles but in simpler Japanese compared to the Japanese version of the website. I would estimate the difficulty of the language used to be appropriate for upper beginner to intermediate learners (JLPT N4 and above).
Each article comes with furigana and English for some of the katakana words (this is pretty useful as some words can be incredibly difficult to work out!). This website is a bit more difficult to study with since it does not have English meanings for vocabulary on the same page. However, you can always refer to the English language versions of each article to check your comprehension.
I recommend using a reading assistant such as Rikaichan(Firefox)/ Rikaikun (Google Chrome) or japanese.io to quickly look up English meanings.
When I was at upper beginner level, I was always searching for kids’ versions of newspaper articles in Japanese online. Unfortunately a lot of this material is behind a paywall for major newspapers in Japan, but Yahoo does still have some articles for free on their website.
Since these articles are aimed at Japanese children, they do not come with furigana readings but are short and written using simpler grammar. As with Matcha JP, using a reading assistant tool will help make reading sessions a breeze. I recommend this website for those who are JLPT N4 and above.
So that is my list so far – I am always updating and adding to this list as I discover new resources. I also (try to) keep my Japanese Masterpost page updated with reading resources.
With these being online resources (and so subject to disappear from websites suddenly), I usually save a copy of the articles I read for offline viewing using a tool such as Pocket or Evernote. I used to print out a lot of articles so that I could scribble down notes relating to the grammar and vocabulary used.
What do you like to read in Japanese? Have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments!
Welcome to my series of app reviews relating to Japanese language study. Today’s app review is of the Japanese reading app Mondo.
Have you been studying Japanese for a while but scared of reading articles in Japanese? Looking for a simple Japanese news aggregate app with dictionary lookup functionality? Then Mondo is definitely the app for you!
I have had this app installed for some time, but after playing around with the app to understand more fully all of the features it has I can definitely recommend this to intermediate learners looking to improve their article reading skills.
How Mondo works
I have reviewed other reading apps before as part of this series, but what sets this app aside from these others is that it offers a better reading experience for learners by including dictionary lookup and a flashcard feature amongst other things. I’ve outlined some of the app’s main features below:
Article reading. All articles have a word lookup function when you highlight a word or phrase and includes a recording of its pronunciation by a native speaker. You can toggle furigana on or off, and some articles have links to the English translation to check your understanding of the Japanese text.
Vocabulary lists. Words you come across in articles can be bookmarked, which then can be viewed later and added to a vocabulary list. There are also preset lists, with lists such as all levels of the JLPT, Joyo (general use) kanji and business-related language. You can then test yourself on this vocabulary in the form of electronic flashcards, Anki style. My only gripe with this is that with the preset lists testing from English to Japanese, the English terms can be so obtuse at times that coming up with the correct Japanese term can seem nearly impossible sometimes.
Handshake is a feature you can use to find Japanese language learning partners. You can choose a partner by swiping right on the people you are interested in chatting with – if you get a mutual handshake, you’ve just found a language exchange partner! The obvious similarities to Tinder here have put me off trying this feature out, but it could be a good alternative to a dedicated app like Hello Talk.
Study log. When reading articles, the app measures how long it takes you to read the article, and how long you have spent reading in total. It also measures Characters per Minute (CPM) which is used as a benchmark for what level the app considers your language learning level to be.
My thoughts on Mondo
I think that the above features packed into one app for free represents a really good deal. It is worth mentioning that there is a premium version of the app, which gives you access to audio recordings of each article (the free version lets you listen to one article every fortnight) as well as short dialogues by native speakers and costs 480 yen per month.
For 1800 yen per month, the premium membership also grants you access to Japanese language teachers who are there to help you out with any Japanese related questions you may have. Given the prices, I am not sure if the premium membership represents good value for money, but as a free app, I am impressed by its current offering.
Reading in Japanese is crucial for increasing your language skills. Especially if you are looking to study towards the JLPT, reading in Japanese on a regular basis is an essential habit. Reading speed for the JLPT becomes even more important at the higher levels, where being able to read quickly and pick out the key points is necessary to score highly.
Therefore as an avid reader, I was immediately drawn to the concept of tadoku (多読) when I happened across it some months ago. Developed in Japan as a way of improving English skills for non-native speakers, tadoku focuses on reading as much material as possible. Importantly, you read without getting hung up on unfamiliar words and phrases.
There are four golden rules for tadoku:
Read something at your level
Don’t use your dictionary
Skip over the words and phrases you don’t understand
If something is too difficult, stop reading it and read something else
Why is tadoku effective?
After a while, the context of the text you are reading helps to fill in the meaning of the words. Often we want to look up a word in a dictionary, and then work out what it means by reading the next sentence or two. Generally, 80% comprehension is enough to understand the remaining 20% through context.
You get a feel for what words and phrases appear more naturally in everyday language. Similarly, you learn common vocabulary when you read extensively in a specialist field.
Most importantly though, tadoku is supposed to be fun because you only read texts that you are motivated to finish.
Initially, I was skeptical of the idea of not needing to look up every word I did not know. However I decided to choose materials that were easy enough for me to follow but also things that I was genuinely interested in reading. That shift in thinking was enough for me to want to give tadoku a try.
Armed with a couple of really useful reading apps, I started looking for things to read. I mostly read novels, but I also enjoy reading manga from time to time. I often write about easy manga recommendations on the blog too.
Finding Japanese reading materials
My first thought was to look for reading materials where I already knew the story. Many people prefer translations of stories they are familiar with in English. With this in mind, I picked up translations of ‘Little Women’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’ from Aozora Bunko.
I recommend Aozora Bunko if you are looking for stories in Japanese to read for free, and I will be writing a follow-up post on how to make the most of this amazing resource. As great as Aozora Bunko is, the website is more than a little dauting for Japanese learners. I have written a few Author Spotlight posts which tend to feature authors whose works are on Aozora and are appropriate for Japanese learners.
However what has been most effective for me is to read books relating to films/ dramas I have watched. Examples of texts I have read include Nodame Cantabile, 1 Litre of Tears and A Silent Voice.
I’ve done a few posts on free online resources for Japanese reading which might help:
The magic of tadoku is that you can read anything you want to read. If you want to read Harry Potter in Japanese, go ahead and order it!
Being in Japan certainly helps keep the costs down as second hand books can be bought online on from Book-Off very cheaply.
If you are outside of Japan like me, it’s a little bit more difficult. In terms of physical books, I normally look out for books on eBay or Amazon in my home country where possible for used books.
I know that CDJapan, Amazon.jp and honto.jp ship internationally, although due to fairly high shipping costs it is advisable to buy in bulk to get the best value for money.
Buying digital books/ eBooks
If you prefer digital books, you have two book reading websites with companion apps at your disposal: ebookJapan and Bookwalker. I personally use both and can vouch for the convenience of being able to buy digital books and manga from outside Japan. You can pay with international cards on both websites, and with Bookwalker you can navigate both the website and the app in English.
If you are based in Japan, I would look into getting a Kindle ebook reader to read Japanese books digitally. I bought a Kobo reader in Japan and can buy ebooks for the device via the Rakuten Kobo store (I was living in Japan at the time, so I am not sure if this would work for others who are not in the country).
The best thing about these two websites above is that you can try before you buy, by making use of the 立ち読み button. This allows you to read a sample of the book. I definitely recommend spending some time doing this before buying anything. You can save yourself a bit of money by first assessing the registers and the style of language used to see if it is appropriate for your language level.
Keep an eye out for my Manga Recommendation posts which may give you ideas of what you might like to read depending on your current level.
Tracking your reading in Japanese
If you are using an ebook reader, you will already be able to check your stats on how much you have read. However, if you are reading physical books, you may find using a website like Bookmeter helpful.
Bookmeter is basically the Japanese version of Goodreads. You can put together lists of books you are reading or would like to read and post reviews. As you register more books, you get recommendations on books based on what you have already read and enjoyed. The website is all in Japanese so I would recommend this website more for intermediate to advanced learners.
There are tadoku contests if you are planning on trying to read extensively and would like to compete against others.
How have I been getting on so far?
Initially my focus was to try and read as far as I could get on my train journey to work. At first, it was quite difficult, having started a new book (死神の制度 by Isaka Kotaro) and progress was slow. After a few days, I had sped up considerably. I felt like I was enjoying the book for its content rather than stressing about reading a book in Japanese!
For me, the best thing about trying this method has been to remind me of how far I’ve come with my language learning. Tadoku also gets you to enjoy native language materials without getting bogged down in the finer details of the language. After all, that’s why I started studying Japanese in the first place! My main goal in the short term is to keep reading regularly. Writing about what books I have read on the blog is also a good way to stay accountable.
Have you tried the tadoku technique? Are there any texts or resources you have found particularly useful for boosting your reading skills? Let me know in the comments.
Today’s manga recommendation for Japanese learners is Usagi Drop (うさぎドロップ), a manga series created by Yumi Unita.
Author: Yumi Unita (宇仁田ゆみ)
Genre: Slice of life
No. of volumes: 10
Recommended for: JLPT N3/ intermediate
Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: Yes, anime and live-action film adaptations
The main character is Daikichi Kawachi who, despite not knowing anything about raising a child, becomes the guardian of a 6-year-old girl called Rin. Rin is the illegitimate child of Daikichi’s late grandfather, who he meets for the first time at his grandfather’s funeral. Seeing that his other relatives want nothing to do with Rin, he takes it upon himself to look after her rather than have her adopted.
Why do I recommend Usagi drop for Japanese learners?
I really like this manga as it is packed with both funny and touching moments, and it is particularly heartwarming to watch the relationship between Daikichi and Rin develop. It is also interesting to see how Daikichi copes as a single parent, having to learn (with a bit of help from his friends) what it takes to be responsible for another person.
Not only has the manga has also been serialised in English but there is also an anime and a live action film that was released in 2011, so if you enjoy the story it may be worth checking these out as well.
Recommended Japanese language level
Whilst there is no furigana, the manga is not too difficult in terms of vocabulary used. Being a slice of life manga, the vocabulary is mostly related to everyday activities. It does, however, require knowledge of more casual speech, for example:
そっスカ? = そうですか?
終わんの早エなー = 終わるのが早いな
Aside from the above, I think it is an accessible manga for intermediate or JLPT N3 level learners.
You can read a sample of this manga on the EbookJapan website by clicking the blue ‘無料立ち読み’ button.
If you do try Usagi Drop (or any of my other manga recommendations), please let me know how you get on the comments.
I am always on the hunt for beginner friendly manga, so if you have any suggestions please let me know!
On the blog, I’m planning to introduce plenty of manga that Japanese learners may be interested in reading. The recommendations I make will usually be based on the difficulty of Japanese used, or the fact that it offers an interesting insight into Japanese culture. Generally, manga is best tackled when you reach about JLPT N3, although this can vary depending on the genre.
Today I would like to introduce Cooking Papa (クッキングパパ), a long-running manga series created by Tochi Ueyama.
Author: Tochi Ueyama (うえやまとち)
Genre: Shounen, food
No. of volumes: 144
Recommended for: JLPT N3
Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: Yes, anime and drama adaptations
The main character is Kazumi Araiwa, a senior member of staff at a food business. At work he manages to strike a balance between getting work done and caring about the well-being of his colleagues, but what really catches his boss Higashiyama’s eye is his delicious homemade lunches, or bento (弁当)!
It turns out Kazumi’s wife is busy working as a journalist and is a terrible cook, so Kazumi is responsible for making his own bento. The manga spends a lot of time focusing on how Kazumi makes a series of amazing meals and lunches to treat his coworkers and family.
Why do I recommend the manga?
Each volume contains a number of real-life recipes with hints and tips on how to bring out the best flavors. For example, the recipe for おにぎらず (Onigirazu, a kind of rice sandwich), has recently become a lunchtime favorite and there are plenty of videos on how to make it for yourself. This dish was first popularised in Japan after being published in Cooking Papa.
If you want to learn more about cooking in Japanese, this manga is a good way to familiarise yourself with relevant vocabulary such as:
煮る (にる/ niru) to boil, simmer
揚げる (あげる/ ageru) to deep fry
Handy recipes aside, I like how the manga has Kazumi (and his wife) somewhat breaking traditional gender stereotypes, whilst keeping a fun and lighthearted tone. In addition, whilst there are over 130 volumes, each volume is episodic so you do not need to start from volume one. This also makes it a good choice for shorter reading sessions.
Recommended Japanese language level
I would probably recommend this to someone about JLPT N3 or intermediate level. Having a fair bit of dialogue, it helps to be familiar with casual forms of Japanese. As the manga takes place both at Kazumi’s home and workplace, you get to learn more about the contrast in how Japanese is spoken in the office and when at home with family.
The best way to get a feel for the manga is to try reading a sample. Fortunately, a lot of manga including Cooking Papa is available digitally.
You can read a sample of this manga on the EbookJapan website by clicking the blue ‘無料立ち読み’ button.
If you do try reading any of the recommendations, please let me know how you get on the comments. I am always on the hunt for beginner friendly manga, so if you have any suggestions please let me know!
If you like Cooking Papa, you might also like my other food-related manga recommendations: