Reading practice on Youtube: かずえちゃん

Picture taken from かずえちゃん twitter account

Today I would like to introduce a source of reading practice outside of novels, youtube channels with subtitles! The first channel I would like to introduce in this series of post is かずえちゃん.

Subtitles can be a great way to practice reading while reinforcing pronunciation and listening practice at the same time! I often look for good quality Japanese subtitles when I am searching for Japanese media to watch online.

Channel Introduction


かずえちゃん is a channel that involves different videos pertaining to gender, sexuality, and relationships. A good chunk of his channel is dedicated to interviewing individuals or couples from the Japanese LGBT community, asking them to share their experiences. These topics will go into their perception of how they thought others would view them, ‘coming out’, and their current life styles.

Personally, I LOVE watching interviews and hearing people share their personal story. So, I watch this channel each time a new video comes out.

Do all of the videos have subtitles?

While the older videos do not seem to have subtitles, the videos from September 2019 do have hard coded Japanese subtitles making them a great resource for language learners.

Quality of the subtitles

The subtitles do not 100% reflect every word that is spoken during the interviews. Unlike in movies or dramas, these are interviews with real people who have not practiced how to say their lines clearly. There are some mistakes, or people back tracking… just like in real life. It is a great source for everyday listening, but at the same time it is a good source for reading practice as the subtitles are corrected for grammar and ease of understanding. This could help language learners learn how to express themselves or ask other thoughtful questions.

Vocabulary

This channel is a rich source for those who are looking to learn more about gender and sexuality based vocabulary in Japan. I was really interested in their use of English based words that differ from the way they are used in America. While the term ‘non-binary’ is what I am used to as an American, it seems that many people in Japan use the word X gender(Xジェンダー) to refer to people who identify as neither male or female. It seems like this word has somewhat of a long history and its usage goes back to the 1990’s. I will have to look more into the history of this word later to see if it is truly a loan word or a Japanese created English based term. It seems that the LGBT community in Japan tends to use English based loan words when describing their identity such as lesbian(レズビアン) and gay(ゲイ).

An added bonus is that you will be able to see how to interview people in the Japanese language in a way that leads the questioner to feel conformable opening up.

Example of one of the many interview videos on かずえちゃん channel

Cultural education

This channel will give you a good knowledge base to have some idea of what the LGBT movement is like in Japan. Many people go into great detail of their childhoods, explaining how LGBT were shown in past media, their fears, and ultimately what it was like coming to family and/or friends. In my experience, even now people in the Japanese LGBT culture are not as out about their identities as Americans and other Western countries. While they do not have the anti-gay religious background that many countries do, Japan as a whole still has strict cultural norms that people are expected to adhere to. Gay marriage is currently not legal in Japan, but the movement to change this seems to be growing stronger.

Recap

This is a great channel to hear real life stories and experiences of Japanese people. Most of the interviews involve people living in various parts of Japan. I am really inspired by the courage of those who are able to share their story in such a public way while living in a conservative country.

かずえちゃん, thank you for the wonderful interviews and great subtitles!

What are book covers and why are they so popular in Japan?

Illustration by Paisen Japanese https://www.instagram.com/paisenjapanese/

What are Japanese book covers?

For over a 100 years, people in Japan have been using book covers made from various materials to cover the front and back of their books. These book covers can be reusable, made of materials such a cotton, PVC, or leather. They can also be one time use as well, such those made with paper.

If you are buying a book in a Japanese book store, they will often after you after your purchase if you would like to have your book covered. If you say yes, they will make a paper book cover to fit the exact size of your book with the book store logo on it. Some of the patterns look really nice! This is a free service as it acts as advertising for the book store.

Picture from 本ぐつり研究所 of book covers provided by different book stores in Japan

If you visit Japan, you may notice that a lot of people who are reading books in public are using one. This is how I learned about book covers while living in Japan. I started to notice that many people on trains where extremely focused on what appeared to me to be planners! After being in a Japan for a while, I started exploring book stores and found out that those people that I saw on trains where most likely reading books while utilizing book covers. Japanese novels tend to be around the same size, so buying a a reusable book cover makes sense as you can use it on all of your books.

文学YouTuberベル

文学YouTuberベル

I had book covers on my list of blog post ideas for a while now, but I wasn’t sure how to approach it until I found a video by 文学YouTuberベル. Bell(ベル) is a book youtuber who creates book reviews, introduces new books, and talks about book related topics in general. I have been watching her videos for a while now and have found them very interesting! One great video series that she has involves surveying her viewers about different topics such as how many books that the read at a time or if they reread books.

In this video, she is looking into how many people use book covers.

Survey results

The book cover survey was done in 01/2020 and polled 1,772 book lovers to see if they what they thought about book covers. I assumed that most of the answers would be yes, but I was very surprised to see that only 56% of those who answered used them!

While 56% is still the majority, I felt that book cover use was even more popular then that. It felt to me like everyone in Japan was using them.

I took a step back to think about where I usually saw people reading books, and realized it was on the train. When riding a train in Tokyo, privacy is hard to come by and I am sure people will take any kind of privacy they can get. There are many places to read books, and if someone is usually reading at home or at libraries, its possible that they wouldn’t need book covers.

Top reasons why Bell’s viewers used book covers

  1. To keep the book clean
  2. For privacy, especially if the title of the book might be considered shocking
  3. To inspire friends to ask them what they are reading
  4. They found a cute book cover and want to use it
  5. Using one makes people look more put together
  6. They find it fun to match books with book covers that they think fit the writing style or theme of the book

Do non-native Japanese book readers use book covers?

I was curious if other non-native Japanese books readers used book covers and reached out to Inhae who writes about reading on her blog, Inside that Japanese Book.

Yes I use them, but only the cloth ones that I have bought separately, not the paper ones you receive when you buy your book in Japanese bookshops (I usually decline when they offer them).

I have bought one or two book covers every time I traveled to Japan, so I have a small collection by now. I don’t know if people mostly use book covers to protect their book or to hide what they are reading, but I use them just because they are so beautiful. It is something that I am happy to carry with me, like a pretty accessory. I also like to choose from all my book covers when I go out. Even if I am still reading the same old book, choosing either the bright orange/cat cover, the turquoise forest theme or the white/purple floral pattern makes things feel fresh and new. I feel like I am matching my book with my mood.

Inhae

Thank you for sharing Inhae! There are many nice book covers out there and I am planning to buy more as well the next time I am in Japan. While the two that I have are very cute, I am interested in buying ones that looks more sleek or interesting.

Photo from The Blog of a Reiwan Lady

I also reached out to another blogger, Peregrinja who writes at The Blog of a Reiwan Lady. She grew up in Norway but is currently living in Japan and has recently been reading 店長がバカすぎて. She does not use book covers and here is a quote from her blog about wanting to share what book she is reading with others.

I want to reach out, tell that person that ‘hey, I’m reading that too!’, maybe we could talk about it. If I could’ve sat opposite them, whip out the same book, flash it around, then maybe our eyes would meet, recognition, maybe share a smile and a nod.

Peregrinja

Thanks for sharing Peregrinja! Books can be a great conversation starter and lead to possible unexpected friendships. Sadly, I am still too shy to let strangers know what I am reading.

My opinion

I am pro-book covers! I have two ones made of cotton and find that they are a great way to protect me books. Since I now live in the states and do not have the opportunity to go to used book stores that carry Japanese books often, I find myself really wanting to protect the ones that I have.

I do not want them to get damaged in my bag or at cafes, so if I am out of the house I will always use a book cover. I find that using a book cover also increases the time that I am able to read. Either in Japan or America, if people see that I am reading a book in Japanese they will often come up and ask me about it. While this has lead to some great conversations, I started to find myself feel unable to pull my book out of my bag. It seemed like a fruitless effort. It was then that I decided to get a book cover. It offers me a great deal of privacy and people are much less likely to approach me while I am reading in public.

When I am reading at home, which is happening a lot more recently due to the pandemic, I don’t use a book cover as I don’t see a need for it. My books are safe from both damage and wandering eyes when I am at home.

Do you use book covers?

For those who are interested in watching the video that inspired me to create this post, click here.

Book Review: 君の名は Your Name

Illustration by Paisen Japanese https://www.instagram.com/paisenjapanese/

This review if for the book Your Name(君の名は) by Makoto Shinkai. Makoto Shinkai is a famous director of animated feature films which he has also turned into varies of written media such as novels and comics. He produced his first professional anime in 1998 as a short film and is still currently working on major projects in 2020. My first experience with his work was when I saw Voices of a Distant Star.

I purchased Your Name at Kinokuniya in Chicago for 10.99. Kinokuniya also had copies of novels based off of other popular movies directed by Makoto Shinkai.

Why did I pick this book?

Last year, I did not watch animated films often. I think that I didn’t have enough knowledge of anime to find movies that I would be interested in.

I remember when I first started hearing about the movie Your Name. I saw it mentioned a few times in the news about breaking records in ticket sales. I read articles that mentioned that people loved the movie so much that individuals were going to the movie theater multiple times to see it. Even then I didn’t really look into it. I just figured that it would be too new to be available in America. And the fact that anime fans saw it multiple times? My image of anime fans is that they watch their favorite series on repeat. So I didn’t really see the big deal about that either. But I was wrong, and now I am a repeat watcher of Your Name as well.

I started watching it with no prior knowledge of the story line. I really enjoyed the music and the scenery shown in the movie. I did not expect the plot twist at all and over all really enjoyed the movie! This movie inspired me to start looking into other animated films as well and I have found a few that I really enjoy.

Story review:

For those who have yet to see the movie, here is a short summary.

This story is based around the relationship between Mitsuha and Taki. Mitsuha is a high school girl from a small country side town with limited opportunities. Her family owns a shrine and Mitsuha is expected to uphold traditions and preform ceremonies that no one remembers the exact reason for anymore. She wants to get out of her small town and movie to Tokyo and experience new things.

Taki is also a high school student, but he lives near Tokyo and lives with his father. He works a part time job to help support himself and pay for the expenses that come with hanging out one’s friends in a big city.

Both start having dreams of living a completely different person’s life. Mysteries things start happening and both Taki and Mitsuha cannot remember what happened the previous day. Their friends make fun of them for being so out of character. Due to the reaction of friends and notes that the two started leaving for each other, they find that their dreams were real and that they have been switching places. Despite making rules for each other to follow, each person tends to do their own thing while switched and they end up changing each others life for the better. They learn from each other and start to change the ways that they approach their own lives. One day, the switches suddenly stop and Taki goes on a journey to figure out why.

While the basic premise of the story line seems very basic and uninspired, the story telling style and plot twist take it to a new level. I really got into the story and felt myself encouraging the characters on until the finish.

I loved the idea of ‘Musubi’ and the way that they described the beliefs of their shrine. It did make me rethink how I see basic every day things such as eating or sharing drinking with a friend. Its a very romanticized view of time that I would like to start incorporating into my own life. It also made me feel there is somewhat of a magic to thread and repairing my clothes as become a more thoughtful experience.

The story is the same in both the movie and book, so I do like both forms of the media. But I do prefer the movie and I will get into the reasons why in the next section.

After watching the movie Weathering with You, I realized one point in the movie that I wasn’t able to connect with. While I find it a great story, I just don’t really understand the romance behind Mitsuha and Taki. I guess this is due to my own experiences in the real world, but I cannot imagine falling in love with someone that I had such little interaction with. While I am sure that they would be able to grow a deep understanding of the other from switching bodies, in my mind I do not see how that would lead to a romantic relationship. I felt more emotional about the relationship in Weathering with You because it felt so much more real and I was able to relate to the feelings of the two main characters.

My experience reading this book:

This was the second novel in Japanese that I was able to read until completion. I liked the writing style and was able to read the book in one week.

I did find myself a little bit unsatisfied with the contents of the novel. I guess my expectation is that the novel would add depth to the story line. While there were a few ideas that added elements to help the readers better understand the extent of the relationship between Mitsuha and Taki, the book overall felt fairly shallow.

But now that I know the nature behind novelization of movies, I think my expectations from this book were unfair. I think most fans would be happy reading this book despite what I see as too much story-line loyalty. I do have one more copy of a anime novelization by the same author, Weathering with You. I think this will be the last time that I purchase this type of novel.

But for the exact reasons behind why I did not fully like this novel, I the story line loyalty will make other readers excited about reading the book. Starting out reading books in another language is very challenging and intimidating. If you know the movie, you know the book. I think this will give a lot of Japanese language learners the confidence to tackle this book and read it to completion.

Level Preface


Just to give some background to my current level. I have been using Japanese for a long time now, but just decided somewhat recently to be more serious about gaining fluent literacy. This year I have finished reviewing over JLPT N2 materials and have started on N1. I am planning on taking N1 in July 2020. I mainly use the Kanzen Master series for my JLPT focused studies.

Kadokawa Bunko(角川文庫) edition cover of Your Name

Vocab: N1-N2 student level

There are a few different versions of written media that were made based off of this movie. I will be focusing on the novel. As far as the novels go, there are two different types. I read the ‘normal’ publication, Kadokawa Bunko(角川文庫) which is made for adult readers. In this version, there is limited use of furigana, so you are expected to either know the readings of the kanji or to research the readings yourself. There is also the Kadokawa Tsubasa Bunko(角川つばさ文庫版) publication. This publication is geared more towards younger readers and will give you the furigana over the words so that you will not have to look up any of the readings on your own. Both have the same story.

Both types of publications can be useful to language learners, so take the time to think about which one will suit your studies needs the best. I wrote an post explaining Kadokawa Tsubasa Bunko(角川つばさ文庫版) publications over here if you are interested in doing some more research to find the best edition for you.

I came into this book expecting it to be an easy read, but I did find the vocabulary more changeling and worth while them I expected. The first chapter in this book was a bit of shock. It felt to me almost as if the author was using a thesaurus.

The dialog was relatively easy, but I did end up finding a lot of new terms in the descriptive areas of the book. The language was more flowery, choosing more poetic words over basic terms.

Based off of this authors writing style, the vocabulary repeat value in this book is low. So if you pick up and new words from this book, you might only see them being used once or twice as opposed to some authors that tend to reuse words in connection to certain themes in the plot line. Since many terms were not repeated often through out the book, so if you are looking to retain these words, pairing this book with SRS flashcards.

When I am writing reviews, I use the website jisho.org to look up a few of the words I found because it has JLPT ratings for some words. I found that a lot of the words I was looking up were labeled as N1. I try to look up unknown words whenever possible, and even with this I was able to get through the book at a good speed. I think N2 readers who have seen the movie shouldn’t struggle too much with this novel, but being at a N1 level would help reader understand the story without as much dictionary usage.

I don’t think I would say that the vocabulary in this book falls into any specific specialized subset. If there was any group of terms that stuck out to me, it might be Shintoism. But overall the vocab used in this book is very general, everyday terms.

Grammar: N2 student level

This book is written in first person, which is a good thing to look out for when picking a novel. First person perceptive novels tend to be more dialog heavy as opposed to description heavy which makes it easier to read. It also introduces language learners to phrases that they can use while speaking in everyday life.

Based off of what I saw while reading this book, I believe it would be a good choice for someone who have started working on N2. The are a good amount of N2 grammar points used, but I think students who have a good handle on N3 material should be able to understand the story line and use it as an introduction to new grammar points. Those at an N2 level, won’t find this book challenging grammar wise.

As anyone who has seen the movie would know, not all of the dialog in this book will be written in standard dialect. As far as dialects go, the one presented in this story is pretty basic. There are not very many local words that are incorporated into the story. The main area effected by with dialect is the conjugation of verbs. If you are familiar with the word, you should have an easy time trying to figure it out. While it is something that might be off putting at first for those who do not have experience with dialects, I think this would be a great first introduction. There are many dialects in Japan that reflect similar changes in verbs. If you are planning on taking your Japanese to an advanced level, this is something that you are going to have to be familiar with.

Cultural References

There are no references to current media personalities, music or other modern cultural topics. I don’t think you have to be too familiar with Japan before reading this book. Maybe just know that Shintoism is a traditional religion in Japan and this story partly takes place in a Shinto Shrine. Mitsuha was born into a family who has a long history of taking care of the local shrine in Itomori. Mitsuha and her sister are shrine maidens who play a role in preserving the shrine and taking part in traditional ceremonies. While Shintoism has a big part in Japan’s past, the story line in this book would seem more magical then religious to the average Japanese person as they tend to have a non-religious view point of the world.

The two main cities mentioned in this book are Tokyo and Itomori. Basically, you should know that Tokyo is the largest city in Japan and Itomori is a small lake-side city in the country. There are a few times references to famous areas in Tokyo are made, but I don’t think you need to be familiar with them in order to understand the story.

One interesting cultural point that the book touches on, but doesn’t go into is family names. In Japan, traditionally the wife will take her husbands last name. In this story, Mitsuha’s father actually took on his wife’s last name! In this instance, it is done in an extremely traditional Japanese way. While not discussed, it is likely that Futaba, Mitsuha’s mother, did not have an older brother to take on the family business. This left it open to Futaba’s family to take over and care for the Shrine for the next generation. In marriage, if the wife’s family has a well established business, or in this case a shrine, the man is considered adopted into the family and will take on the wife’s family name. There is even a word linked to this cultural practice, Mukoyoushi(婿養子), which means adopted son-in-law.

Who should read this book?

Anime fans who are looking for a novel with a story line that they know well already.

Due to the level of the vocabulary, I think the book overall might be difficult N3 level language learners. But I think it will be worth the challenge for most N3 level students if they really love the movie. I think fans will be able to push through any difficulties they face with this book. I think this could be a great book for N3 students who are looking to really level up their reading ability.

Since this is a book based off of a movie and not the other way around, the plot line is extremely loyal to the movie. There are a few times where the author does introduce ideas that deepen the characters relationship to each other, those are few and far between. This might cause some readers to get bored with the book.

Length: Short

At 262 pages, I would consider this to be a short novel. The size will make it non-intimidating to beginnings and easy to carry around. It should not take too long to finish this book.

Related media:

The director and author of this book has other creations that fans might be interested in. His animated movies are also usually accompanied by a novel that is created in a similar style to 君の名は. I think it is worth it for fans to check out both the movies and novels if they find that this style of language learning works well with them. Here is a short list of a few examples of other movies from him that I have seen and enjoyed.

言の葉の庭
秒速5センチメートル
天気の子

I will also be adding a review of Weathering with You later on to this blog. I have not read it yet, but reading it to completion is one of my goals for this month.

Japanese Goals: August 2020

Illustration by Paisen Japanese https://www.instagram.com/paisenjapanese/

Japanese Goals: August 2020
– Read 2 Japanese novel
– Increase the amount of pages that I read at a time from 10 to 15
– Read more outside
– Complete 4 book reviews from previously read novels

Read 2 Japanese Novels

ふなふな船橋 by 吉本ばなな
天気の子 by 新海 誠

This is my first time setting out such clear reading goals for myself, so I want to start small. I think that reading two books is very doable and I might even try to start a third if I have time later this month. I am really attracted to Yoshimoto Banana’s writing style and sense. She always seems to write about places that are very close to my heart. I used to live in Funabashi and am excited about reading a book set there. I am not so excited about reading Weathering with You. I have read the novelization of Your Name and found that the book was too close to the original movie for me to enjoy it. But I did buy it, so I might as well make use of it. I tried starting this novel before, but was turned off of the description of Tokyo. On a good day Tokyo isn’t the most visually appealing city, but Weathering with You takes it a step further.

I have noticed that a lot of Japanese language learners are interested in novels by Makoto Shinkai so I do want to take the time to write a proper review for it. I think that for the same reasons that I don’t enjoy this novel, that many Japanese language learners will find it extremely useful and beneficial to their studies.

Increase the amount of pages that I read at a time from 10 to 15

My current reading style for Japanese involves taking breaks often. I usually read 10 pages at once, then go do something else before coming back to the novel. I feel like I have had this habit for a bit too long and would like to get myself used to reading straight for longer periods of time. I hope to slowly increase the amount of pages I am reading at a time until I am at the same level as my native language.

Read more outside


Now that I have an electric dictionary, I think this is the perfect timing for me to be able to enjoy the last of summer this year. I am not longer as anchored to my computer as a language learning resource and feeling that my dictionary has given me more freedom. While I do not necessarily have to use a dictionary while reading, I really feel that it helps to elevate my Japanese level more then just extensively reading. I work night shifts and don’t get to enjoy being outside as much as I used to. I also really used to enjoy reading in cafes and libraries and it even makes my heart hurt a little bit knowing that due to COVID I won’t be able to do that for a long time. Maybe being out side with be a healthy substitute for now.

Complete 4 book reviews from previously read novels

君の名は by 新海 誠
西の魔女が死んだ by 梨木 香歩
コンビニ人間 by 村田 沙耶香
魔女の宅急便 by 角野 栄子

Since I have started reading novels, I have noticed that there are quite few Japanese language learners online asking for advice and recommendations. While reading, I do stop time from time to take notes and the areas that I think will make understanding either easier or more difficult for non-native speakers. A lot of my reviews are incomplete and I feel that I am in a better place to write now that I have more experience reading. In particular I want to finish my review of 君の名は(Your name) as I feel that is a story line that many people are drawn too. 魔女の宅急便(Kiki’s Delivery Service) was one of the first books in Japanese that I bought and is very beginner friendly. 西の魔女が死んだ(The Witch of the West has Died) is by far my most treasured Japanese novel at this point. It has left a large impact on me and I think it make for other non-Japanese people as well. For similar reasons, コンビニ人間(Convenience Store Woman) has had an impact on me as well. I hope that my reviews and experience can help people in their own journeys with Japanese literature. In the future, I plan to open a Japanese language school with my partner and I think that the experience of reviewing novels from this specific view point will help me to develop the skills that I need to assist students in finding native material that suit both their interests and their level.

Blog Goals
– Post 3 times a week on a Monday/Wednesday/Friday Schedule
– Work on the formatting of the blog to make it easier for everyone to use

Post 3 times a week on a Monday/Wednesday/Friday Schedule

I am still stuck on what time of day I should be posting, but I think I’ve got the days figured out. I used to write often and considered my self to be quite good at it. It has been an extremely long time since then and I hope that writing regularly will help me to develop my skills in writing and become more creative with my word choice. Since Japanese has entered my life, I find that I do not have the same level of active English vocabulary compared to when I was in high school. I used to constantly read books when I was younger and had a talent for helping people find the exact word that was stuck at the tip of their tongue.

As of right now, the M/W/F scheduling is quite hard. I feel like I have a lot to say on the topic of reading books in Japanese and could write everyday. With the 3 days a week goal in mind, I already have 4 more weeks of posts written out and waiting. Every time I write an article, I want to post it right away! But I am worried about sustaining this type of energy. Maybe if I start having months worth of articles written out I will think about changing it to a 4 day a week schedule.

Work on the formatting of the blog to make it easier for everyone to use

This my first time seriously attempting to blog and there is a learning curve when it comes to finding the right set up for a blog. I hope to make it both easier to use and more visually appealing this month. I think it will be a good break, as I seem to always be focusing on work or Japanese.

What are Aoi Tori Bunko Books?

Aoi Tori Bunko(青い 鳥 文庫) is a book publication that is created for Japanese elementary school children. The books are created by the publishing company Kodansha(講談社).

There are fiction books made for the readers enjoyment as well as educational books that can be used as supplemental educational resources related to elementary school classes. In these books, all of the kanji will have furigana and the story will use simple grammar.

What is furigana? It can sometimes be found next to Japanese characters. It will give you the reading for the word and let you know how to pronounce it. In Aoi Tori Bunko, almost all kanji will have furigana. The text is also be bigger with more spacing between words and sentences, meaning there will be less words per page. There may also be pictures included through out the text.

Another feature of this publication series is that in the beginning of the book, there is often a few pages that introduce the characters from the story. If present, there could be a short written background accompanied with a illustration indicating what the character looks like. This can help new readers as they can use it as a reference to keep track over characters over the course of the story.

Here is an example that shows what the inside of Aoi Tori Bunko books look like.

First page of ‘Little House in the Big Woods’ found on Kodansha Book Club website

What is the difficulty level of these books?

Compared to the Kadogawa Tsubasa Bunko publication series that I made a post about here, Aoi Tori Bunko book are easier and created with a younger reader population in mind. The grammar and vocabulary used in Aoi Tori Bunko books is simpler. There are also less unique words used in each book.

One great thing that stands out to me about Aoi Tori Bunko books, is that they tend to create story lines that go through out several volumes. What does this mean as a language learner? If you continue with the same story, you will see the same words again that you saw in the first book! This makes each vocabulary word feel like it has high value and worth learning. It also means that you can see the same words in different contexts and understand the term to a greater extent. Seeing the same word again and again will reinforce learning and help you both to retain it in the term long term as well as help to put it in your ‘active vocabulary’ so you can use it while communicating with others.

The lower level of unique vocabulary will also help you enjoy reading books faster as there will be less words that you need to learn per book.

One issue is the stories might seem too childish for adult readers. If you are concerned about this issue, look at Kakugawa Tsubasa Bunko books which have more mature story lines in comparison.

Will I be able to read novels based off of my favorite shows and movies with Aoi Tori Bunko?

If you are looking for books based off of anime that you have seen and know the story lines for, I recommend looking at Kadogawa Tsubasa Bunko books.

If you are looking for popular children’s books that were originally published in English? Then Aoi Tori Bunko is a great choice for you!

Who would benefit from reading Aoi Tori Bunko books?

Those who want a gentle introduction to reading books in Japanese. More important then reading difficult passages, is just plain reading in general! These books will help you make use of the beginning grammar and vocabulary that you have picked up so far in your journey. You would have the pronunciation for each word available to you and this can help you to look up the meanings of new words. Here are a few examples of series that you can find in Aoi Tori Bunko.

Lassie – 名犬ラッシー
Moomin – ムーミン
Sherlock Homes – ホームズ
Little House on the Prairie – 大草原の小さな家シリーズ

There are also many original books of Japanese origin as well. I looked though the titles and was unable to find any that I was familiar with.

What are the disadvantages of books with furigana?

As a learner, you will need to do some self-reflection on why you want furigana and if it will help you level up your Japanese. For some people, they may end up relying on furigana as opposed to really actually learning the readings. If you feel that furigana will prevent your from progressing in your Japanese, I would advise purchasing the normal publications.

Little House on the Prairie Series ‘Little House in the Big Woods’ by Laura Ingalls Wilder

How can I find these books?

Look for blue edging around the cover. Also look for the white bird icon in the corners of the cover. On the top center of the cover in the blue border, there will be white writing that says『Aoitori Bunko』in English lettering. They can be found online and at physical book stores. In America, I have seen them at Book-Off and Kinokuniya. Above I have added an example of a Aoi Tori Bunko book to help you see what they tend to look like.

What are Kadokawa Tsubasa Bunko books?

Look for this on book covers if you want furigana

Kadokawa Tsubasa Bunko (角川つばさ文庫) is the publisher’s version of popular books for younger readers. While this may not apply to 100% of the Kadokawa Tsubasa Bunko, they tend to have the same text as the original Kadokawa Bunko publications. The main difference being that the text will include furigana.

What is furigana? It can sometimes be found next to Japanese characters. It will give you the reading for the word and let you know how to pronounce it. In Kadokawa Tsubasa Bunko, almost all kanji will have furigana. The text might also be bigger with more spacing between words and sentences, meaning there will be less words per page. There may also be additional annotations and pictures included through out the text.

Here is an example that shows what the inside of Kadokawa Tsubasa Bunko books look like.

Random page from Your Name(君の名は), Kadokawa Tsubasa Bunko Publication

What is the difficulty level of these books?

The grammar and vocabulary words used in these publication series are at a somewhat advanced level. For example, in Your Name(君の名は)the Tsubasa edition and the ‘normal’ Kadokawa edition both have the same story inside. They use the same words, the same grammar, and the same kanji. The main difference is that the Tsubasa edition is easier to read as it has furigana and larger text. If you are looking for novels that are both have an easier grammar and vocabulary level and have furigana, I recommend the series Aoitori(青い鳥)made by the publishing company Kodansha. I will write a blog post later explaining Aoitori books and how to find them.

Who would benefit from reading Kadokawa Tsubasa Bunko books?

Those who want to get started reading Japanese novels, but lack knowledge of kanji or feel imitated by seeing a large amount on kanji all at once. These books could help you get started off on the right foot! You would have the pronunciation for each word available to you and this can help you to look up the meanings of new words. Or maybe you read books often and are looking to have a break from constantly being challenged. It could be a nice change of pace! It could also help intensive readers get a taste of what extensive reading feels like.

They also are a great choice for new readers who would like to read a story line that they are already familiar with. Many well know anime movies have novelizations published by this company. The novels tend to be extremely loyal to the movie’s plot. Here is a list of a few examples.

Your Name – 君の名は
Weathering with You – 天気の子
A Whisker Away – 泣きたい私は猫をかぶる
Penguin Highway – ペンギン・ハイウェイ
Her Blue Sky – 空の青さを知る人よ
Wolf Children – おおかみこどもの雨と雪

What are the disadvantages of books with furigana?

As a learner, you will need to do some self-reflection on why you want furigana and if it will help you level up your Japanese. For some people, they may end up relying on furigana as opposed to really actually learning the readings. If you feel that furigana will prevent your from progressing in your Japanese, I would advise purchasing the normal publications.

How can I find these books?

Look for green edging around the cover. Also look for the 角川つばさ文庫 icon. It is green with white writing. It has the phrase 『ひらがな、どこでも』or 『角川つばさ文庫』. They can be found online and at physical book stores. In America, I have seen them at Book-Off and Kinokuniya. Below I have added an example of a Kadokawa Tsubasa Bunko to help you see what they tend to look like.

Kadokawa Tsubasa Bunko Book cover for Your Name(君の名は)

Should you take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test(JLPT)?

Illustration by Paisen Japanese https://www.instagram.com/paisenjapanese/

YES! That is my answer for everyone who is learning Japanese regardless of their current level.

JLPT 2020

Have any of my fellow Americans seen the news yet? JLPT 2020 has been officially cancelled! Knew it was coming, but I am still bummed out about it as it sets back a major plan of mine. This news inspired me to share my story and how my feelings towards JLPT certification changed over time.

My Story

I never needed the JLPT for anything so I never really took it seriously. From the start, I was not a serious learn-by-textbooks kind of language student. I think this is why it took so long for the JLPT to gain my attention. I used the language to interact with the world around me and make lots of friends. I used it as a means of communication.

I decided to move back to America for a while with my partner and experience life here for a while. At first I was living in mini-Japan. All of my friends spoke Japanese and I used more Japanese at work then English. I didn’t really like the job and decided to go back to school. While I was in school, I did not have as much time to spend on Japanese and my level fell. I was very dedicated to academic achievement and was able to graduate at the top of my class with a 4.0 GPA. I am very pleased with the study skills I have developed while in school and have been applying them to my Japanese since graduation.

Life plans changed. My partner and I decided that we want to work towards moving back to Japan in the near future. I want to keep my new career when I move to Japan as I enjoy the different types of skills and knowledge that I have been developing. In order to take the professional exam in Japan, I need N1 certification.

I had all of the time in the world to take the exam, and I most likely would have passed N2 years ago if I took it. But I didn’t. Now that I need it, the timing is not great and I will be unable to take the JLPT this year due to the pandemic. I really wish that I took it when I had the chance. Now that I won’t be able to take the exam this year, my professional goals will be pushed back and year or 2 and it feels like a big deal to me at the moment.

Its an easy exam

Most of those that I know who speak Japanese are not interested in taking the JLPT. Many see it as pointless, as it is possible to pass the exam but not be able to communicate. While it is true that there is no content creation on this test, that is part of what makes the JLPT a relatively easy language exam. Its a test of whether or not you can understand a passage. Its tests if you are able to naturally match sentences with the correct vocabulary, idea, or grammar point. Every question is multiple choice.

Low cost

If you have some understanding of Japanese, there should be a JLPT level that you will be able to pass with just a little bit of time using free practice questions online. The low-tech style of this exam means that it has a low cost as well. I am used to professional exams that cost 100’s of dollars to take. The price of the JLPT surprised me every time I think about it. The price of the exam combined with all of the free study materials online makes it a very cost efficient certificate!

Reading Skills

JLPT is a literacy based exam and I think the skills needed will fit with the skills those who read this blog wish to develop. JLPT studies will help you read more effectively. And for those who dislike textbooks, the opposite is true as well. Reading lots of novels will help you pass the JLPT. For readers, I think it is extra worth it to do a few practice questions and see if there is a JLPT level that would be easy for you to pass.

You never know the future

Imagine that you have continued on your Japanese studies and are now at N1/N2 level. You have a pretty well balanced level of Japanese and have no issues thriving in Japan. You are able to manage everything on your own. You are contacted by a recruiter for your dream job! The salary is great and it is in the direction you want to take your career. But its a very traditional company. They want you to have a JLPT certificate before they even start to consider you. Even though you have more then the required language ability, you lack the certification to prove it on paper. And its August so you aren’t even close to being able to take the JLPT even thought you can pass it with minimal effort. They find someone else to fill the position.

As a Japanese language user, you are gaining valuable skills and experience. The longer you use Japanese the more it will become apart of your life. While you may not have a reason to have official proof of your language ability now, there may be opportunities in life presented to you where a JLPT certificate would come in handy. The test is only given once or twice a year, so you may not be able to take it when you need to. This year in 2020, its possible that no country in the world will be holding the JLPT. If you have a skill, having the paperwork to back you up can only benefit your future and help you to take full advantage all of the time and effort that you put into learning the language.

Shared Experience

Many people who learn Japanese as a second language have looked into studying for the JLPT or have gone to language school. Preparing to take any level of the JLPT, even if it is just practice questions for the level you are naturally at, will give you an idea of what each level of the JLPT means. This can help you form a mutual understanding with those who share the same interests as you. Maybe people will communicate their Japanese level by JLPT.

Recap

Everyone should take the JLPT or some kind of certification to have proof of language ability even if you don’t feel like you need it in the near future.

Book Review: 500 Practice Questions for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) Level N2

Illustration by Paisen Japanese https://www.instagram.com/paisenjapanese/

Just a heads up, but I have not been able to take the JLPT exam yet. In this review I am sharing my studying experience and comparing it to other study resources available.

The Book
500 Practice Questions for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) Level N2: New Edition(新にほんご500問 N2) written by Noriko Matsumoto and Hitoko Sasaki. This book is part of the Nihongo Sou Matome JLPT textbook series. It is a popular series known for its ease of use. Each textbook is broken down into days to help the learner develop and maintain a good study pace. While it is easy to use, this book series is also known for being the easiest JLPT textbook series content wise as well. I am usually more concerned with getting a good amount of content and study time out of the books I invest in, so the main series that I use for JLPT is Shin Kanzen Master(新完全マスター). This is my first time using a book from the Nihongo Sou Matome series.

My partner bought this book for me in a random book store while they were visiting family in Japan. The book was purchased for 1,200 yen(~$12) plus some extra for tax. I have seen this book available in America at Kinokuniya for around $18.

The set up


Just as the title suggests, it is a drill book that contains 500 JLPT practice questions aimed at the N2 level. The chapters are structured for the reader to finish the book in 4 weeks. Each page is pretty much the same set up. There are three questions per page and go in the order of kanji, vocabulary, and then grammar. The 7th day of the week has 6 questions per day with no explanations on the back of the page. This is a review of topics covered in the first 6 days of the week. All of the questions are multiple choice, giving you 4 options to choose from just like the JLPT. On the other side of each page directly behind the each question, there is the sentence completed with the correct answer. The kanji and vocabulary questions answer sheet will have readings or definitions of the other choices that were incorrect. On the grammar answer sheet, there will be a short explanation of the correct grammar point and example sentences for the incorrect choices. The explanations are written in 3 languages, English, Chinese and Korean.

My Experience

I enjoyed using this book along with the other JLPT resources that I have both purchased and found online for free. I used to bring the book to work with me and use it when I had some down time.

It actually highlighted a weakness to myself that I have never realized before. I rely too much on kanji. For the vocabulary questions, often the words were only written in hiragana and I had a hard time “recognizing” some of the words that I thought I knew. Like I knew them right away when I saw the kanji for the term, but even with the context of the practice question I was sometimes bot able to recall the meaning of the word when seeing it in hiragana. I am really grateful for this book for pointing this out to me.

I did feel that the book was limited due to the fact that all of the practice questions followed the same structure. I had other sources of practice questions so it didn’t really bother me that much. Even with that issue, the book did cover a large range of topics. I do prefer the questions from Shin Kanzen Master series, but I treat this book as a light way to study when I am too tired for the more serious stuff. If I had a redo, I do not think that I would purchase this book again(even though I already have this book for the N1 level as well).

Recap


This is a good light practice book to help you fit in a few different topics a day. All of the questions within each category are the same set up and there is a serious lack of variety. This is a good book for those who already have a main source of JLPT studies decided and are looking for an extra book to add. I do not recommend this book to those on a budget. I especially do not recommend it for people who are living outside of Japan as I feel that $18 is too high of a cost for this book. I feel happy about the $12 I spend on it, so maybe it might be a better choice for those who are living in Japan. For those who are looking for more varied practice question, I think that the Shin Kanzen series and Japanesetest4you.com are both sources that have a large amount of diverse questions focused on helping you to pass the JLPT.

Do you need a Denshi Jisho(electronic dictionary)?

Illustration by Paisen Japanese https://www.instagram.com/paisenjapanese/

Short answer is NOPE!

But if you are thinking about it and have some cash to spare it could be a value learning tool for you.

I was toying with the idea of purchasing one for a while but figured I could just make due without one. I started thinking about how many times I day I use free online Japanese dictionaries and how I wasn’t 100% happy with the experience…. so I decided to just go for it. Reading is my main hobby right now so if it’s something that I really want, I should just get it at this point. I don’t think my interest in Japanese novels is going to go anywhere any time soon.

My electronic dictionary requirements
– I wanted a Casio Ex-word
– I wanted one with these three dictionaries included
– 広辞苑
– 新和英大辞典 第五版
– NHK日本語発音アクセント辞典
– I wanted a writing pad below the keyboard
– I wanted an older model
– I wanted to spend under $150

It seems like most of the models available are created with students in mind. There were lots of models that ranges from Junior High student level to university level. I found that these models tended to be cheaper in general but lacked the dictionaries that I was interested in. The features seems to be heavy geared for students learning English and just didn’t seem to fit my needs as a Japanese language learner. The English-Japanese dictionary that I was interested in seemed to only be available in the more expensive business and professional models.

The 4 models that I ended up considering were
– XD-N10000
– XD-JT10000
– XD-GF10000
– XD-K18000

Why I wanted those specific dictionaries

When I started causally looking into electronic dictionaries this year, it really changed the ways that I viewed definitions of words. I have never really considered the quality of definitions before. At this point in my studies, I am used to using free internet dictionaries.

広辞苑(The Kōjien) is pretty much seen as the definitive Japanese mono-lingual dictionary in Japan. Since I usually look up words in Japanese/Japanese dictionaries, I knew that I had to have this one.

新和英大辞典 第五版(Kenkyusha’s New Japanese-English Dictionary 5th edition) seems to be one of the most popular high quality English/Japanese dictionary out there. It is also known as green goddess. I really wanted this one due to its great reputation. But this dictionary is usually only available on more expensive models and will not be included in low-price student denshi jisho.

NHK日本語発音アクセント辞典(NHK Pitch Accent Dictionary) is for those who are interested in improving their accent in Japanese. It will go over the pitch pattern for many words to help you to be able to pronounce it in a natural sounding way.

I find that all of the definitions I have encountered in my electronic dictionary are high quality and easy to understand. When I was using free monolingual dictionaries online, I found that I had to use a few different dictionaries before I found a definition that was both easy to understand and seemed like it fully encompassed the meaning of the term. I would usually type the term into a search engine followed by the word meaning in Japanese. For example “戦慄 意味”. From there I would open up a few links and read a definitions until I was able to find an entry that suited me. Then due to the fact that I invested so much time into finding a good explanation, I felt like I HAD to create an SRS card for each word. I wanted to get away from that habit and work on lowering the number of SRS cards created per day to help with vocabulary retention.

Why I wanted a Casio Ex-word


There seem to be a few different brands out there, but as I was unable to go to a store and test out the different models, looking at all of the brands available seemed very overwhelming, so I just narrowed it down to Casio from the start at it was the brand of the electronic dictionary that I used when I was in school. Their website was fairly helpful. For most models they had a page dedicated to describing the features found inside each one.

Why I wanted a writing pad below the keyboard


Modern electronic dictionaries have down away with the writing pad and have switched to having users write kanji and the upper screen.
I feel that the writing pad is more Japanese learner friendly as we are more likely to be writing out the characters when looking up new words. I am willing to use a touch screen to write on, but if felt too similar to writing with my finger on a smart phone. Part of the reason I wanted to purchase an electronic dictionary was to give myself an outlet for hand writing kanji. I feel that the stylus pen on the writing pad below the keyboard gives a more realistic experience of writing. I hope that this helps to improve my hand writing even just a little bit. At this point, I haven’t hand written a kanji in years. I need to create reasons to write in my life or else I will never develop wiring kanji as a skill.

Why I wanted an older model


I just feel like many older items are of high quality then more modern ones. I am worried about new products having built in issues due to planned obsolesces. I am sure this is not always true, but due to my experiences I always try to purchased older items when possible. I also wanted a professional model at a cheaper price and used seemed to be the way to go. New professional models can be very expensive.

Where did I look while shopping?

Since I was looking to by a used model, I was looking at main auction sites like Yahoo and Mericari. If you are buying from outside Japan, it can be very complicated to purchase from these sites as many do not ship overseas. There are companies you can use to ship the products too you such as White Rabbit Express. But they are somewhat hard to use as you will not know the true shipping price until after you have already purchased the item. Those companies do seem like a good resource as they state they will inspect the package for you. Since batteries cannot be shipped overseas, its nice to have an extra set of eyes to make sure that that the package won’t get seized at some point.

Shopping for an older model provide to be pretty difficult. They are often sold on action sites, but most of the people creating these posts are not experts on electronic dictionaries. Most sellers do not think to post the model number, leaving me looking at blurry pictures trying to figure out how to research what dictionaries were on it.

Amazon.co.jp was a site that was easy to use and had more sellers that were willing to ship internationally. I think that auction sites had better deals and more models available. It just so happened that I found a amazon listing for a model that I liked at an okay price. I might have gotten a better deal on an auction site, but I did not want to have to deal with using a special shipping service.

What did I buy?


I ended up purchasing a XD-GF10000 made in 2009 off of amazon.co.jp. It was well below my budget at around $50. It had a black and white screen which I considered a bonus. I don’t need a color screen for a dictionary. I also feel like the more simple the item, the less likely it is to break. And I figured it would give me better battery life as well. This item also shipped directly to America which made purchasing it much less complicated. I may have over paid for it, but I figured I cannot be too picky since I am shopping from America. I figured if I was truly unhappy with it, I can try to search again once I move back to Japan.

Was it worth it?

I am really happy with my dictionary so far! I am not sure whether it is a placebo effect or not, but I do find the definitions in this dictionary as extremely valuable. It had helped me to focus on examining the word without feeling the pressure to create an SRS card. I also like how old school the dictionary looks.

The one small issue that I face was that the NHK accent dictionary was not exactly what I thought it would be. Sadly my electronic dictionary does not have audio included in this dictionary. But I do still like how it is set up and it seems easy to understand. I am interested in learning more about pitch accent and plan to use this resource along with Dogen’s pitch accent class with the goal of improving my accent by 10%.

At this point, the only time I have been using online dictionaries is when I am doing research while writing book reviews. Jisho.org often lists the JLPT level if its a word that is associated with a certain level. I find this information useful when creating my recommendations.

Recap

While I am very happy with my new dictionary and use it often, I don’t think it is something that most language learners need. If you are more advanced in your language level and are looking for high quality explanations, then it might be worth it for you to purchase one. I would not recommend one to a beginner unless they really needed one for school. The dictionary set up does not seem very beginner friendly and a beginner would most likely not be able to use most of the features.

Anyone else out there still use an electronic dictionary?

How to Read Novels in Japanese

Illustration by Paisen Japanese https://www.instagram.com/paisenjapanese/

When it comes to language learning, and reading in general I suppose, people tend to mention two different reading styles. You can either read intensively or extensively.

Intensive Reading

This is the slow way of reading. A person who uses this style would focus on understanding the passage 100%. This is someone who looks up every single word and taking notes. This style can help you examine new information that is presented to you in the passage.

The focus in on grammar and vocabulary learning.

Extensive Reading

This is the faster way of reading. A person who uses this style would work through the book without supportive resources like a dictionary. Using the knowledge that they currently have, they go through the book and try to guess/infer meaning. These readers focus on trying to achieve overall understanding. This style can help increase your reading speed and reinforce previously studied knowledge.

The focus is on enjoying and reinforcing the language.

My style

I tend to lean towards intensive reading. More so then being interesting in finding and memorizing the exact meaning of the work, I tend to be motivated by checking to make sure that I am using the correct readings for the words. While I do like to check the meaning out for a few seconds in a Japanese monolingual dictionary, I have been moving away from making SRS cards for every unknown word. I used to do this, but my SRS card reviews got out of hand and I feel that I wasn’t retaining the vocabulary as well as I could have been. Recently I have tried to avoid the urge to make card excessively. I aim to add maybe 5 vocabulary cards a day at most. I find that this helps me to really remember the cards that I create.

For the other words I encounter, I just leave it up to constant exposure to gradually let the words meaning soak into my head. I feel that the more often that I see a word, the deeper my understanding of the term grows with each different contexts it is used in. But for the readings… I am still working at learning how to intuitively guess the readings for new words. Reading are something that I feel i need to confirm or look up often as I don’t want to reinforce the wrong reading each time I see the word.

Never look up grammar points while reading. At first, this was just because grammar points felt so much harder to look up then vocabulary terms. But now that I have finished studying N2 grammar, I don’t think I really run into any new grammar.

I only read extensively if I find the book to be an easy read for me.

Overall, reading intensively makes me really feel that I am getting value out of the novel that I purchased. I usually end up spending around $10 for each novel. If I read extensively, I would finish the novel too quickly and end up spending more money on books. I also find that taking my time and pausing once in a while to reflect on word and grammar use helps to improve my spoken Japanese. I just do feel like I get enough out of novels when I just read them to read them. Pausing also helps me to really think about what is happening in the story and get more out of the reading experience in general. I look forward to moving back to Japan and having better access to used book stores and libraries.

Combination Method

It is possible to use a combination of both in the same book to help to keep yourself from burning out while studying. I have heard that intensively reading the first few chapters of the book is a helpful habit to form. This habit will help you get a solid foundation of who the characters are and what the setting is. Most authors tend to have vocabulary terms that come to fit in with different themes in the plot, meaning that these words are often repeated thought out the whole novel and possibly within the novels by the same author. After the first few chapters, the novel becomes much easier and it can feel like a reward from having invested time in the beginning of the book.

Another option is to switch between both styles depending on your mood.

Which one is right for you?

If learning Japanese is a hobby for you I recommend trying to make the process as enjoyable as possible. For most people, I think this would mean extensively reading. But if you are someone who find more joy in gaining skill or likes to have a more reflective experience, then intensive might be a good fit as reading novels is one of the best ways to advance your level within your target language.

How do you read novels in your target language? Lets talk about it in the comments!