This is a review for the Japanese translation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban(ハリー・ポッターとアズカバンの囚人) by J. K. Rowling.
Harry Potter, as I am sure you know, is an extremely famous book series that has ingrained itself into American culture despite being a book from England. I think most people have heard of the series and basically everyone I know has at least a basic idea of the story and have seen a movie or two. Growing up many of my friends were reading the book series as it came out.
Due to people’s familiarity with the story line, many people seem to turn to this book as a first choice when trying to start out reading novels in a new language. I too purchased random Harry Potter books that I found at Book Off while living in Japan. Anytime I saw one for 100yen, I purchased it until I had the full collection. While I started this book many times my first year living in Japan, I never really got past the first chapter because it is a fairly difficult novel. I do not recommend this book for beginners and I will get more into my reasons below in this book review.
This story is so famous that I am not really going to bother summarizing the events or situation in this book as there are so many high quality summaries that are written out in English already. I will insert a trailer for this movie below for those who want a refresher.
This is the third novel in the Harry Potter series and I do not think that I would call it my favorite. When I was younger I think I enjoyed Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire the most. What stopped me from reading the fourth book is the length! If you are going to start out reading any Harry Potter novel in Japanese, try to start with one of the first 3 books as they are the shortest and the books just get longer and longer as the series progresses.
As an adult, while I do find some aspects of Harry Potter to be nostalgic, I don’t really find myself emotionally attached to the story. I did read all of the books when I was younger, but I was a huge reader and read MANY books. If I were to want to take a trip down memory lane, I would find myself turning more towards American YA authors such as Francesca Lia Block.
My experience reading this book
I have been trying to add more novels with furigana into my reading line up. At this point, I think that having a healthy mix of both furigana and books that do not contain furirgana to be good for my Japanese journey. I usually use a dictionary as a way to look up readings as opposed to looking up meanings of words. I found that I did not feel inspired to pick up a dictionary at all while reading this novel. I love how furigana is used in this book and I think it really helped to tighten up my knowledge of some basic words that I have a hard time remembering the readings for.
One thing that really surprised me while reading this book is that I feel like reading it in the Japanese language to be a completely different experience then reading it in English. While in English I didn’t really have any issues, in Japanese I found some of the main characters’ actions to be annoying and rude. I also found some of their personalities to be more grating as well. There are many difference in Japanese and American culture and I found that looking at it from my “Japanese mind” to be a barrier for enjoying this novel. Harry Potter seems popular enough in Japan to the point where it is a main attraction in Osaka’s USJ theme park. But I don’t think my Japanese friends are as familiar with the story line as my America friends are. I also don’t think any of my friends have read the series.
Has anyone else had this experience not liking a book when rereading a book in a different language? Is it just me?
Due to my bias of believing that reading Japanese novels written for the Japanese population to be more worth while, I did not really find this novel to be a good time investment to me. But I am very happy that I am finally able to let go of this book and move on. I am also happy that I still have a copy of this book as I really did want to write a review for it as it seems that many people are interested in reading it in Japanese.
At this point, I have read over 20 novels in Japanese and find that I have really gotten used to Japanese style story telling and pacing. It was a bit hard to me to get used to reading a western story in Japanese.
If you are currently reading this novel and feeling discouraged, please don’t. This is not an easy novel and it does have a lot of Harry Potter specific vocabulary. I found that I have a much easier time with novels that are originally written in Japanese. If you feel inspired to, maybe take a look around my site and see if there are any other novels that you feel might be a better fit for you. I would not consider this a beginner book.
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.
At this point I have read over 20 novels in Japanese.
Vocabulary: N2-N1 Student level
There is a lot of furigana in this book, which is part of the reason why I finally decided to give this book another try and read it so I could pass it on to others who are interested in reading it. I also figured that this would make the book an easy read, but it turns out it wasn’t really as easy as I thought it would be.
I think that this could be a good book for those who are working on their N1 studies. Recently I have been working my way through a JLPT level N1 anki deck and almost laughed at the amount of words from that deck I found in just the first few pages of this book.
I think the furigana in the Harry Potter series is really well done and obviously was done in a way to promote vocabulary learning in students. If a word is used multiple times in the same two page set, furigana will only appear with the vocabulary the first time it is used. I found this is be really helpful in quizzing myself on the reading of different words as while the reading isn’t given to you straight up, it is usually pretty easy to find within the book.
The vocabulary repeat factor in this book is fairy good. You will see the same terms used often and this will help set the meaning of the word firmly into your memory.
There really is only one way to describe the specialized vocabulary in this book… and that is Harry Potter vocabulary. I guess general fantasy can be considered another vocabulary group for this novel series. Those who are familiar with the Harry Potter Universe will find lots of katakana based words that they are familiar with. There are also words and concepts that were translated into Japanese as well and were kinda of a fun way to practice different kanji readings.
I thought that this book might be a good way for me to practice katakana as I find that it is a bit of a weakness of mine, but there were just too many words and none of them were words that I would actually use. Of course I was able to easily identify characters, but when it came to spells or magical words I kinda just glossed over them for general meaning and did not invest time in katakana reading practice.
Grammar: N2 Student level
As with most books that I have come across, it seems like N2 is the magic level where you should not have any grammar based issues when reading modern native materials. Any student who has a solid understanding of N2 level grammar should not find grammar to be a barrier for understanding this story.
In the hardcover edition, the kanji characters are larger then normal and there is quite a bit of spacing in between words and lines of text. I think this is a good format for those who are just starting out to read in Japanese.
There are many characters in this book who do not speak in standard dialect and I think that some readers might find this to be a barrier in understanding the grammar points used in some areas of this novel. While I was able to understand it, there were still many lines in this book that were written in a way that was unfamiliar to me.
Readers do not have to have any understanding of Japanese culture to understand the stories in this series as it is a translated work. A weak point of this book is that it will not teach the reader anything at all about Japanese culture which is one of the biggest benefits of reading Japanese novels written by Japanese people, in Japanese, for Japanese people. This is the main reason as to why I would not really recommend this book to any language learner.
In my experience, Japanese is a very culturally dependent language and it takes a long time to learn and absorb that knowledge. As opposed to a language like English, Japanese is really only spoken in one country. And for the most part, Japanese culture and cultural expectations do not vary greatly between regions. Without knowledge of Japanese culture, I think that Japanese language itself would be extremely difficult for language learners to use.
As someone who was not raised in Japan and only moved there when I was 21 years old, I still struggle with adapting my natural reactions to situations to fit with cultural norms. Japan as a whole is currently not a multicultural environment and for the most part in my experience, most Japanese people will act very surprised when interacting with those who do not naturally understand Japan’s cultural norms.
I think that immersion in native material is an important part of cultural studies. Harry Potter books individual are kinda long and the whole series itself would be a huge time investment. I think that time might be better spent reading Japanese native material.
Who should read this book?
People are are huge Harry Potter fans and want to read this book despite its weak points as a language study tool.
If you are interested in reading a novel based off of a story you already know, there are sooo many novelizations of movies or anime out there. There are also many books that have been turned into movies. I do not think it would be difficult to find an alternative book that readers will find to be good comfortable reads.
Of course please ignore my recommendations if your feelings happen to be the opposite of mine. Those who really want to read Harry Potter in Japanese should read Harry Potter in Japanese. My advice is more aimed for those who are wondering if this novel would be a good fit for their Japanese language journey.
I do recommend that language learners be very familiar with the Harry Potter universe before attempting this book. I would only recommend this book to those who have read it in English(or whatever native language is of the language learner). This is not a book that you should be reading for the first time in Japanese.
I own the hardcover edition of this novel and it is 568 pages long. Since the version of this book is physically larger then most Japanese novels, this means it will take even longer to complete in comparison. This book itself is quite heavy and I recommend that readers purchased the paper back book instead for ease of use. I like to switch positions a lot while reading and found that the physical size of the book limited my sitting positions.
All of the Harry Potter movies have been dubbed to Japanese. There are also Japanese audio book versions of Harry Potter available as well. I think that the amount of media attached to this series will make it attractive to language learners.