This is a great book for N3-N4 level students!
This is the review for 魔女の宅急便 Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono(角野 栄子). This is her most popular novel. After watching the Ghibli film adaption of her novel, she was inspired to continue to story and has written 5 additional novels to expand on Kiki’s story.
Kiki’s Delivery Service is by far my favorite Ghibli movie, although recently I did see Whisper of the Heart for the first time and really enjoyed it. When I first moved to Japan, I really related to Kiki’s story. I felt like I didn’t really have any skills or any specific plan, but just basically set out on my own and moved to a random new sea side location. I was really excited to live so close to the ocean as the area I am from is extremely land-locked. When I saw the novel that the book was based off of in a store, I quickly brought it. I think this may have been one of the first books that I bought in Japanese.
I don’t have the cover for this book anymore, but I’m guessing that I paid around 600 yen for it. I think a book of this size would be around 9.99 is purchased new in the states at a bookstore such an Kinokuniya. It doesn’t look like the edition I bought is in print anymore, but there are still other editions available.
In this world, witches have become far and few between. Different types of magic have slowly been disappearing as witches are unable to pass down all of their knowledge. If a witch gets married to a normal human and they have a baby girl, that girl will have the opportunity to grow up as a witch. They have until the age of 10 to decide if that is truly the path that they want to follow. Once they decide, witch training begins. A large part of the transition into witch-hood is when young witches turn 13 years old, they set off on their own under the full moon to find a town without any witches to live and grow in. Kiki was inspired by her friends motivation of following in their mothers foot steps and her love of flying to make the jump and become a witch officially.
Kiki impulsively picks her departure day a few days a head of time, leaving her mother scrambling to deal with her feeling about Kiki going off on her own. While Kiki loves flying, she is not very interested in picking up her mother’s specialty of creating medicine from plants. She sets off with a vague plan of finding a large sea side city to live in despite of her mother’s warnings. Once she finds the perfect place, the difficulties of starting a life from scratch becomes a reality and Kiki does her best to adapt to every challenge that comes her way. After her departure is where the book and the movie start to go down different paths.
The book is an episodic journey that follows Kiki through her deliveries while living in Koriko City. It is more of a quiet adventure compared to the huge event that the movie ended with. There are major differences between the two story lines. While some of the characters are the same, like Tombo, their role in the story and how they are introduced may be completely different.
I think this is perfect for most language learners. If you have seen the movie, you will be familiar with the plot, setting, and characters. Since it is not a carbon copy, there will be a lot of different things that you can discover in this book while you read it. I think the extra elements to the story will help keep readers interested.
The style of this book is written in what I feel to be a bit ‘fairy tale’ like, but I think many adult readers will be able to relate to Kiki’s journey of moving out of the family home and starting off on their own.
Compared to the movie, the book follows more of what I would consider a Japanese style of story telling. There is more of a focus on the character, their daily life, and short bursts of personal growth. The book is not as focused on plot.
Despite the differences, I like both the book and the movie equally. Since I have watched the movie when I was younger, I do feel more attached to it for sentimental reasons.
My experience reading this book
When I first bought the book, I think I made it half way before deciding to wait on reading in Japanese. I’m not sure my exact reasoning, but this book was a little hard for the same reasons that it was easy if that makes sense. I found the amount of hiragana to be overwhelming.
I picked up the book again earlier this year and again was disappointed by the lack of kanji. While I would not say that it was difficult this time around, I enjoy reading more when there is kanji to help with the flow. So I put the book aside and started reading other books from my collection.
I was inspired to take another look at this book after I finished the textbook 500 Practice Questions for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) Level N2. I think that I rely on kanji too much when reading. Through working on these practice questions, I found that I had a little bit of difficultly identifying words from hiragana alone. I thought this book would be a great way for me to overcome it and decided to stop avoiding it.
Kiki’s feelings about being a witch made me reflect on my time in Japan and what it will be like going forward when I move back. When Kiki moved to her new town, she was the first witch that the town has seen in a long time. People had images and preconceptions about what a witch was, what they would look like, and how they would act.
As a non-Japanese person who has lived in the countryside before, I can relate to feeling frustrated with that kind of situation. But Kiki handles it good spirits and is able to over come any negative feelings she has about the situation. She is quick to recover, accept the situation for what it is, and do what she can to make it better. I hope that I can absorb some of Kiki’s resilience and apply it to my own life as well.
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.
Vocabulary: N3 Student
I purchased the Kadogawa Bunko(角川文庫) edition of the book which did not have furigana for the kanji. I will include an image of the edition so people can either find it or avoid it.
There are editions that include furigana. In this book, instead of focusing on kanji, most of the words are written out in hiragana. For a lot of beginner students, the low number of kanji in this book might feel like a relief. The word choice is pretty basic and I think that most students who have a good handle on N4 and who have started N3 will find this book to be a good fit for them vocabulary wise.
There is very little specialized terms used in this book. Once in a while there will be a magic related term. But this is not often enough to cause the reader issues. All of the words found in this book would be useful for everyday life.
Some readers may find the lack of kanji might really slowed down their reading speed. I think this was a good point for me as I feel like I had the time to fully absorb the grammar and word choice in each sentence.
The lack of kanji does have negative points for language learners as well. For those who do not have a strong grasp of basic vocabulary, it may be hard to find where the words end and the grammar begins. I recommend going slowly and taking your time while reading through this book.
As a self-assess level N2 student, I did not have to look up any words in this novel.
Grammar: N3 Student
The language in the book felt quite formal, which I think would be a good thing for language learners who are used to using textbooks. It was a good change of pace for myself, as I am more use to causal language at this point. The grammar used felt very simple to me. I think that maybe even a N4 level student might be familiar with a lot of the grammar points used.
But I worry that N4 students will not be familiar enough with Japanese grammar in general to be able to fully understand this text. Without the kanji to help break up the sentences it can be hard to some learners to find the grammar within the text.
I do not think that you need to have any deep knowledge of Japanese culture to understand the story line of this book. There are no references to Japanese cities, music, or media. This story does not appear to actually take place in Japan based off of the descriptions in the book.
As with almost all books written by Japanese for Japanese people, their are cultural elements that you can pick up on and learn from. Once same cultural point that sticks out to me is about stomachs. It seems like Japanese culture has strong feelings about people keeping their stomachs warm. Type of food, temperature of drinks, amount of clothing worn all are points that I have heard Japanese people talk about when it comes to keeping stomachs warm. It is believed that having a ‘cold stomach’ is unhealthy and that person is more likely to become sick.
Who should read this book?
Ghibli fans who enjoy the movie based off of this book, Kiki’s Delivery Service. It is perfect for those who want a familiar and loved story, while not reading an exact copy of the screen play.
At 240 pages, I would consider this a short book. I think the size of most Japanese novels are great for language learners as they are small and easy to carry around. When I used to read books in English, I found that most books did not fit into a purse and really appreciate the compact size of Japanese novels.
I think this is a great size for new readers. My advice would be to try to pick a shorter book as it will help increase the likely hood of being able to finish it. It seems like a lot of people tend to start with books like Harry Potter which is a beast in size.
If you enjoyed the book and wish to read more, there are 5 more books in the series that Eiko Kadono has written.
And of course I recommend watching the Ghibli movie based off of this novel, or any of the Ghibli movies available. All of the Ghibli movies have multiple forms of written material that go long with the story line such as novelizations and manga. It is the perfect combo for language learners who like to know the story line of books before reading.