Japanese Novel Review: 星の王子様 Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I decided to read this novel after reading 君の膵臓をたべたい(review can be found here) as this story seemed to play a large role in story line especially at the end when Haruki is reading over Sakura’s diary. I have been looking into find more light reading as I found found many of the novels I have purchased recently to be enjoyable but heavy.  I found 星の王子様 on Aozora Bunko as a free illustrated e-book. While this is my first time using Aozora, I have heard of it before as anything free tends to become popular in the language learning community.

The Little Prince(星の王子様) is a book that I am sure most people reading this post has heard of before.  It is a bestseller world wide and has made a large impact on many people’s hearts.  Its one of the classic childhood books. While I usually try to avoid reading translated novels, I decided that reading this novel is an experience that many people share world wide and was worth the time investment.  This is my first time reading The Little Prince as I have not read it in my native language before.

You can find a link to the illustrated copy of The Little Prince that I read for free here.

Story review:

The story starts off with the narrator reflecting back on his childhood and the difficulty that he had getting adults to understand what he thought of as basic ideas. He became really frustrated with their misunderstandings and actually quit drawing pictures after only two attempts as the adults around him did not really seem to get what his art was all about. You can find his original picture later on in this review, which is obviously a scary boa who ate an elephant and not a hat.

In adulthood, the narrator became a pilot and found himself stranded after a crash with only a few days supply of water.  He began trying to fix his plane when he was randomly approached by a small prince who insisted that he drew a picture of a sheep.  As the days go on, he learns more about the prince and why he needed a sheep to help him take care of his home planet.  He also goes into his love story with a rose and pain that relationship brought him. So much so that he had to leave his planet and move on to other places.

The Little Prince became quite the traveler and shares his stories of traveling to 6 small planets and then eventually Earth. Each of these stories critiques a different area of culture and adulthood.

Planet 1: There is a king who only wants everything to go the way he thinks it should.
Planet 2: There is the man who wants everyone to admire and adore him just for existing.
Planet 3: There is the drunk who tries to drink to forget his shame from drinking.
Planet 4: There is the business man obsessed with order and is unable to see past numbers.
Planet 5: There is lamp-lighter who only lives to follow orders without question.
Planet 6: There is the map maker, who thinks of himself as an expert despite not traveling anywhere.

While on earth, he found many people who acted just like the 6 strange adults he found on those 6 small planets. He also meets flowers, mountains, and animals that all help him reflect on his past and what he has learned since leaving his home planet.

My experience reading this book:

Previously I read a free novel(5分で読書: きのう失恋した) on the website Book Walker as a part of a campaign by Yomeruba which features Kadokawa books written for younger audiences. This was my reading a Japanese novel online. The format of this novel was done fairly well and while it was easy to read, I found that I really prefer reading paper based books. While I like paper based books… since I am living in America during COVID, I do not really have any resources to borrow Japanese books for free. All of the libraries that have Japanese novels in my city or the next largest city near by are closed to the public. So in an effort to save money and to help language learners who are looking to do the same, I decided to try another free e-book! This time from Aozora.

For those who are unfamiliar with Aozora Bunko, it is a Japanese digital library that contains works that are out of print as well as those who are made available to the public by the author. The formatting of the site is somewhat hard to use and I think that I would have a hard time finding something to read if I did not already have a title in mind. I also found the format of the book itself hard to use as I would find myself losing my place often. In comparison, I think that I had an easier time reading stories on Book Walker as I am used to reading Japanese vertically. Aozora Bunko’s Little Prince was written horizontally and I think it will take me time to get used to reading in this style.  One good thing about Aozora’s formating is that it is possible to copy and paste words from the novel.  This makes it much easier to learners to look up the meaning of words and create flashcards.

While I have been somewhat intentionally looking for books that are easier to read, I find that I end up not liking the novels as much as I like general fiction. The same thing happened with The Little Prince as well. Its not that it is poorly written or anything, I guess I just find stories aimed at younger audiences to be a bit boring and I prefer more mature plot lines. Maybe it is because I did not read this book when I was younger? I think if I did I would enjoy the story in a nostalgic way.

Despite that, I still found parts to the story to enjoy.  I used it as a refresher to take a step back of look at things from a different view point.  It is easy to fall into different pit holes of adulthood without realizing if one is too stressed out and focused on adult responsibility. I do think that I was able to enjoy the story more then I normally would have due to the fact that I had previously read 君の膵臓をたべたい. I think that these two novels together are a great pair and it might even have been fun to have read them both together at the same time.

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. In 2020 I finished reviewing over JLPT N2 materials and have started on N1. I am planning on taking N1 in 2021. I started reading novels in 2020 and have read over 20 to completion.

Vocabulary: N3 student level

Overall, despite any strange words this book might use, I think it would be a good choice for a learner who is work on N3 level concepts and vocabulary. 

The vocabulary repeat value of this novel is very high.  You will find many of the same words used often within the same page.  This will help language learners really internalize the different meanings of words they come across as it can be seen in different grammar points and different situations.

I would describe one specific vocabulary group as “fairy tale” like words.  There is a special prose used when writing this book that tends to lean towards words such as おとぎはなし(literally fairy tale) and 遥か彼方(far off place).  These are the types of words that I would expect to see in dramatic children’s stories such as Disney or Grimm’s. These are not words that adults who are not working in the childcare industry would come across often.

And past even the fairly tale words, there is another vocabulary group that I would describe as ‘child-like’ to put it in a nice way.  Like instead of 小さな(the normal way to say small), words like ちっぽけな(childish or lyrical way of saying small) are used.  The words are used consistently through out the book, so once you look it up it is easy to understand and remember.  But these are not words that an adult would use in normal conversation.

Kanji: N4 student level

If you know more vocabulary then you do kanji, this might be a book worth looking into for beginner learners. While the vocabulary used in this novel is might be seen as difficult from the perceptive of a N4 student, there is very light kanji use in the Aozora version of this story. I think that the level of kanji used in combination with the illustrations will help guide beginner readers to greater levels of reading ability. Here is an excerpt of the book below to help language learners decided if this book is a good language level for their current Japaneses ability.

Grammar: N3 student level

Like with any story for native speakers, there will be N1 and N2 grammar points used, but I do not think that a N3 level student would find grammar to be a barrier in understanding this story. While there is an overall style of prose in this book, the grammar used is basic and straight forward.

The formatting of this book has the story written horizontally as opposed to most printed Japanese novels which are written vertically. For those who are from a western background and just getting into reading, this might be a good feature to help you as you are just getting started. For those who are used to reading paper based Japanese novels, it could be a bit of struggle to get through.

For the most part, this book is written in causal standard dialect Japanese. So readers will not have to worry about understanding different dialects or speaking styles while reading this novel. The king on planet one does seem to speak in an old-fashion way. But I think it would be easy for readers to skip over those types of words and still come away understanding the meaning behind each interaction.

Cultural References

The reader does not have have to know anything about Japanese culture before reading this book as it is a French novel. The Little Prince is one of the bestselling and most well known novels in the world. Due to this fact, there is a most likely a large amount of people from Japan who have read this book. It has been mentioned in popular pop culture and is a title a lot of people will be familiar with.

One pop culture reference that come to mind is the large role that the novel, The Little Prince, plays in the popular Japanese novel, I want to eat your Pancreas(君の膵臓をたべたい). In this novel, The Little Prince is one of the main characters, Sakura’s, favorite novels. She lends this book to a classmate while they were forming a friendship over a shared secret. The Little Prince heavily influenced Sakura and those effects on her character can be seen both in her actions, personality, and her diary. The animated film version of I want to eat your Pancreas(君の膵臓をたべたい) shows Sakura’s personal connection with The Little Prince really well towards the end of the film.

Who should read this book?

I think that the level of kanji used in combination with the illustrations and the popularity of the story line could make this a good novel for N4 level students to purchase or practice on. I think that students at the N3 level would find this novel to be a good study tool to practice what they already know while slowly picking up new vocabulary and grammar points.

It can also be a good novel for advanced readers who would like to practice reading works that use more hiragana then kanji. Earlier last year, I found that I overly relied on kanji while reading and had a hard time recognizing words that I am normally familiar with when they are written only in hiragana. Since then I have made it a point to seek out more works that are mostly hiragana based to work on being able to recognized different written forms of vocabulary better.

This is a great novel for those who would like to read a novel that has a story line that they are familiar with. This novel is very accessible and can be found in multiple languages world wide.

Here is a link for a free English version of The Little Prince on the Open Rights Library website. The Little Prince is now out of copy right and can be found in many places as it is now subject to the public domain.

Length: Short

The paper based novel is only 160 pages long. This also adds to one of the many reasons that this could be a great choice for beginning readers. I think the length also makes it a good choice for e-book since I find I have a harder time paying attention when I am reading in this format. Personally, I think it may have to do with how I use a computer at work. I also have to be looking for updates, new messages, and new tasks as they appear. I think many others have jobs where computers are used in a similar matter. I do not think I would be able to read longer novels in an e-book format.

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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