Japanese Novel Review: 時をかける少女 The Girl Who Leapt Through Time by Yasutaka Tsutsui(筒井 康隆)

This review is for the Japanese novel The Girl Who Leapt Through Time(時をかける少女) by Yasutaka Tsutsui(筒井 康隆). I have had this book for so long that I have forgotten when and where I even got it! I used to carry it around with me often so the book itself is very well loved and the book cover is long gone. If I had to guess, I am sure that I bought it at a used book store in Japan for 100 yen.

Why did I pick this book?

When I was first learning Japanese, I thought that if I picked one actress to learn from and copy, that maybe my Japanese accent would be overall more consistent and easy to listen to. I am not sure if it actually worked or not, but the actress I ended up picking was Naka Risa(仲里依紗) as I really enjoyed her speaking style and the types of roles that she tended to play in films.

Anyways, since she was in the 2010 live action film based off of this novel, I decided to purchase the book as well. It was also recommended to me by other Japanese language learners as a book that is easy to read. I have seen this book recommended a few times on reddit as well so I decided to open this book back up and actually read it to completion.

Story review:

This book actually contains three short and unrelated stories. The first story in the book is The Girl Who Leapt Through Time(時をかける少女).

This is the story of a 15 year old high school student named Kazuko. After experiencing the worst day of her life that ended with the likely death of her and a friend, she found herself waiting up on the previous day. She appeared to be the only one to realize that the day had repeated itself. While she was unsure of her sanity, she knew that it wasn’t just a dream. She told her two closest friends, Kazuo and Gorou about her crazy experience. The three of them decided to wait the day out and see if the events that Kazuko mentioned experiencing actually happened or not. To their surprise, Kazuko was right! Kazuko has mixed feelings about her new found powers but she is determined to find the reason behind them.

The second story is The Stuff that Nightmares are Made Of(悪夢の真相). This is the story of junior high student Masako. While attempting to study with her best friend Bunichi, she suddenly is confronted with a long forgotten phobia of hers, Hannya masks. She is shocked that she would be so scared of such a normal item and becomes obsessed with finding the root of her fear. While using her little brother as a guinea pig to figure out ways to overcome fear, and with the support of her best friend, will she ever be able to see a Hannya mask without screaming?

The third story is called Endless Multi-Universe (果てしなき多元宇宙). High school student Nobuko. Everyday on her way home, she runs into some scary looking students from a different school. She was always worried about what those students might do. One day she was walking home with her classmate Shirou. When the shady students approached she asked him not to fight no matter what happened. Of course the students started something, but like Nobuko requested, he did not fight back. After arriving home and having dinner, she decided to try to call him on the phone to check up on him after what happened. In the middle of this seemingly normal day in the life story, Nobuko suddenly is effected by a scientist from the year 3921 in another universe after an experiment gone wrong. How are these multi-universes connected? What is the you in that world like? How many of you are out there in different universe and what exactly are the differences between them? What if you were transported to a world where everything was exactly how you wished it would be?

My experience reading this book:

Just a heads up, the book is completely different from both the anime and the live action movie. The book and the anime have a closer plot line. The live action movie seems to only lightly be based off of the idea of a high school girl that can travel through time. If I had to pick a favorite between the three, I think I enjoyed the live action movie the most.

I found this book to be a light and easy read. When I think about the time I first attempted to read this novel, I was really able to reflect on how much progress I’ve made in Japanese over the past few years. Due to the ease of vocabulary in this book, I used this novel to focus on improving my reading speed. I was really pleased with the results and was able to get through the book in a few days. I hope to keep pushing and pushing myself to get my reading speed up before I move back to Japan. In English, my native language, my reading speed is extremely fast and I hope to reach the same level in Japanese one day.

Overall the book was just okay for me. This book’s writing has a very YA feeling to it. So if you tend to be bored by books that are written for a younger audience then this might not be the book for you. While in my native language I only rarely read YA books, I have started to find an appreciation for them in Japanese. I am trying to take the advice of Stephen Krashen and read as many easy books as I can. Sadly I am limited due to the fact that I do not live in an area that does not have Japanese novels in the local public library. I have recently reached out to a Japanese Professor at a local university and she said that the university library has a large collection of Japanese novels! Hopefully that is the case and I will be able to read more YA based novels.

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.

Vocabulary: N3 student level

As far as this novel goes, 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.

In the Kadokawa version, there really isn’t that much kanji to begin with. The word choice is fairly simple and hiragana is often used in place of kanji. I think that a N3 level student would not find this book to be a changeling read. I did not find myself looking up any words while reading this book.

On the first page, all three main characters are introduced at once with furigana to give the reading for each. I found this very useful! Introducing 3 characters all at once seemed a bit weird at first, but I liked having the reading for all of there names in one easy to find location. This really helped me to drill in the pronunciation for all of their names. Usually when I read stories, I start to get lazy and kinda skip over remembering how to read everyone’s names.

Vocabulary wise, most of the words used in this book are generally used terms in everyday life. The specialized vocabulary groups that stick out to me in this book are: school life and super powers. Both of these groups are not heavily used with in the book. I don’t think they would cause an intermediate student much trouble.

There is a high level of vocabulary reuse. I think this feature is very useful for those who are reading this book to gain more vocabulary.

Grammar: N3 student level

The grammar in this book feel extremely simple to me. The low level of grammar combined with the perfect amount of minimal kanji use would make this book very easy to understand for a beginning level N3. Of course with any novel, there will be grammar points from N1 and N2 as well. But I don’t think this will get in the way of understanding the plot for beginner readers.

The advice often given to language learners to to pick books that are written in first person as there tends to be more dialog. While that usually tends to be true, sometimes third person books may surprise you. This book is completely written in third person, but the descriptions are straight forward and should not be the cause of any misunderstandings.

Everyone in the book speaks standard dialect Japanese, so it should be a good book for readers who are concerned about being able to understand dialog.

Cultural References

I don’t think there are any specific cultural references in this book that would act as a barrier to non-Japanese readers. Through this book you will be introduced to teenage life in Japan. You will get an idea of how the school day is set up and what the students responsibilities are.

Hannya Mask, Photo from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the second story, one of Masako’s fears was a Hannya mask which is a traditional Japanese item. I’ll put a picture here so you have an idea of what it looks like. It is a theater prop that is used to represent jealous female demons.

Also when reading this book, I think that it is important to keep the year that this novel was written in mind.  It reflects certain gender norms that were more acceptable in Japan in the 1960’s.  In the last story especially Masako and her mother were very hard on her little brother as they thought that he was too weak for a boy.  Masako was actually pleased when the little brother got into a fist fight?  It was weird.  While there are still stereotypical gender norms that are apart of modern Japan culture, things have progressed since this book was written.

Who should read this book?

N3 students and above who are looking for a causal sci-fi story line. Students who are looking for a YA genre book to get into. Those who want to start out reading novellas over true novels.

Length: Short

At 229 pages long, this is a short novel that should be easy to handle for readers of any level. Since it contains 3 stories, I think it makes it a great choice for new readers! The first story, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, is only 115 pages long. The second story, The Stuff that Nightmares are Made Of(悪夢の真相), is 70 pages long. The third story, Endless Multi-Universe (果てしなき多元宇宙), is 36 pages long. The book is compact to the point that I have been able to hang on to this novel for years.

Related media:

This plot seems to have been used in many different forms of media. Before reading this book I saw the live action movie created in 2010 starring Naka Risa and the 2007 animated film. While these two films were similar to the book, the details that happen within each one are extremely different. If you are interested in time travel stories, I think all three are worth checking out.

I would also like to recommend my favorite Japanese movie of all time, Summer Time Machine Blues. This movie also has a time travel focused plot line, this time with bored university students.

Author: Kuri

I love reading Japanese novels and have seen that many people want to read them but don't know where to start. I have decided to share my experiences to help people reach their literacy goals.

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