Tadoku – reading your way to Japanese fluency?


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:

  1. Read something at your level
  2. Don’t use your dictionary
  3. Skip over the words and phrases you don’t understand
  4. 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 

Free resources

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:

Buying physical books

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 CDJapanAmazon.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).

My Kobo E-reader

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.

14 thoughts on “Tadoku – reading your way to Japanese fluency?”

  1. I read physical boooks so I take pictures as I read so I can look up stuff later if I feel like it since there are ocr programs and rikaisma

  2. Recently I’ve found far more enjoyment in reading books in Japanese. In part, I think it’s because I’ve adopted a similar tact to the tadoku method.

    On days where I feel like doing some intensive study, I’ll pull out vocab words, grammar etc. that I don’t know (not necessarily all of them) and write them down to put in my flashcards later. Other days I just read without caring if I don’t know how to read a word or what it means.

    My goal every day is to read at least 1 page. That way, even if I don’t really feel like doing much, it’s only a page. I normally read it while I’m waiting for my laptop to start up, or to give Netflix a chance to buffer.

    1. Thanks for commenting! I have the same approach with reading – sometimes I look up every word, sometimes just a couple of words that sound interesting or integral to the story.

      I’ve found sticking to a daily reading habit has really helped me stay motivated (plus having a long list of things I want to read). My goal is also at least 1 page a day and I use an app to keep track which helps too.

      1. I enjoy reading your articles 😊
        Reading daily (or almost daily) has really helped me too. I’m curious, what app do you use to keep track?

        1. Thanks, you have some really interesting articles too 🙂

          I use Habitica (which is like playing a video game) but before that I was using Loop which is a lovely app as well!

          1. Thanks 🙂 I’m only pretty new to writing stuff though. I’ve only just moved over to WordPress not that long ago, so I’m still trying to tidy stuff up. I haven’t written for a while, but I’m trying to post more frequently 🙂

          2. Habitica! I’ve used that in the past too! 😀 I actually keep track nowadays with pen and paper, but maybe I’ll switch that up and use Habitica again.

    1. Thanks for commenting! I agree – I took some time off from Japanese study a couple of years ago, and when I did start again I used tadoku as a way of easing myself back into a study routine 👍

  3. weyltensorOctonion

    I can confirm that Kobo/Rakuten works outside of Japan. I absolutely love the devices, though sadly the pop-up dictionary isn’t as good as the Kindle’s. To make up for it though Calibre makes it very easy to convert Kobo books to HTML, and then something like Yomichan can be used for intensive reading.

    Another source of books I would recommend is Tsubasa Bunko. Of course children’s books aren’t going to be to everyone’s taste but their books at the 小学初級から level might make for a good entry into reading at around the N4 level.

    (On a side note, for anyone who doubts how powerful reading can be for language acquisition I think it’s worth looking into what linguist Stephen Krashen has said on the subject. A search for “Krashen” and “reading” brings up lots of interesting links.)

    1. Firstly, thank you for commenting – I think you raise a lot of useful points here 🙂

      I do have a Kobo e-reader that I use, but as I bought it when I was in Japan and only occasionally buy books I wasn’t sure if it would work for everyone. Thank you for confirming that it does indeed work, that is great news! The basic Kobo e-reader models are super cheap nowadays so it is a fairly cheap way to start reading ebooks too. I need to start using Calibre again – I didn’t know I could use it to convert Kobo books to HTML, which is so much easier for looking up new vocabulary.

      I have written another post on children’s books because I think that they can be used to study Japanese, if you find the right material. I haven’t read too much of the Tsubasa Bunko stuff myself but from what I’ve seen they can be a decent study resource.

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