Japanese Novel Review: 霧のむこうのふしぎな町 The Marvelous Village Veiled in Mist by Kashiwaba Sachiko (柏葉幸子)

One of the main reasons I picked up this novel was to show case Aoi Tori Bunko as a potential tool for language learners. While books for children are popular with language learners, I think this book is the perfect example to show that what is easy for kids is not always what is easy for adult language learners. I want to take the time to read a book from this publication to show what features might make great language tools and point out areas that might cause difficulties. Previous, I wrote in detail about Tsubasa Bunko here when I wrote a review for Wolf Children(おおかみこどもの雨と雪). There are many similarities between these two publications, but their difficulty levels are different.

Title: 霧のむこうのふしぎな町
Author: 柏葉幸子
Illustrator: 杉田比呂美
Publisher: 講談社
Publication Date: 2004/12
Page count: 203 pages
IBSN: 9784061486683

USA Kinokuniya Link

Tsubasa Bunko(つばさ文庫) Recap:

These books are written for upper grade school students who are just getting into reading. Often times, these books are just like the adult versions of the stories but with furigana added to every kanji to help students learn the readings for each word. Sometimes the grammar and vocabulary is adjusted to make it more kid friendly. There might be a few illustrations found through out the book. There are also original titles that were written with upper grade school students in mind that focus on stories lines of kids in 3-6th grade.  This book series often has novelizations of popular animated films.

These novels often include a character page in the beginning of the book which will have an illustration of each character with a short description.

You can find these books by looking for a bright green border around the cover image.

Aoi Tori Bunko(青い鳥文庫) Features:

Aoi Tori Bunko is a publication series aimed at lower grade school students.  The vocabulary and grammar chosen for these novels tends to be what would be considered much more easy then the average adult novel.  Every time that kanji appears, there will be furigana next to it to help teach or reinforce the readings for each word. Often, there are words that will be written out in hiragana as opposed to kanji if that kanji is considered too advanced for this age group.

The formatting of this novel is made to be easier to read(for Japanese children), so there is more spacing between lines and bigger type then the average book.

Compared to Tsubasa Bunko, these book have more illustrations to go along with the story.  While the pictures will have depictions of what is going on in the story, I do not think it is descriptive enough to be used as hints for readers to gain more understanding.  It is more just to add to mental imagery then to guide important character or plot knowledge like a comic would.  The illustrations in The Marvelous Village Veiled in Mist(霧のむこうのふしぎな町) often take up a whole page.

Aoi Tori Bunko tends to have more original titles and less novelizations then Tsubasa Bunko.

Is this book right for you?

For those that would like to check out the first few pages to see if this book fits what you are looking for, you can do so at Book Walker using this link.  Click on the cover image and that will take you to a sneak peak into this novel. 

How to find an Aoi Tori Bunko Book:

You can find these books easily by looking for a blue border around the cover image. There will be white birds in the corners and on the top 「青い鳥文庫」will be written in kanji in small write lettering.

You will likely be able to purchase these books anywhere that sells Japanese novels or e-books.  I have seen them in person in Chicago’s Kinokuniya, but the selection was very limited.  If you are outside of Japan, I recommend looking for books from this publication online.

Story Review:

6th grader Rina arrived alone at a small train station. Just like her dad instructed, she arrived in the city she was supposed to, but the first person who she asked hadn’t even heard of Mist Valley before! Looking at her surroundings, she started to worry and almost cried. There were barely any places to rest or people around the station. There was only one women near by that she could ask for help.  Like that women in the Yukata said, there was pretty much only one road to take so if Mist Valley did exist, it must be down the road. Seeing that the Rina started to tear up, the women in the yukata helped her get to the police station. Soon Rina realized there was a misunderstanding, she was not a run away or a lost child like the adults assumed she was. She came here all by herself with a plan! After they started to take Rina more seriously, they looked over some maps and decided that maybe the town of Ginzan might be the place that she was looking for. Her dad only mentioned knowing someone at Mist Valley… but after some thought, encouragement, and the fact that she didn’t have any other leads lead her to decided to visit Ginzan. It was too late to go home that day anyways. The police officer helped her to find a ride and off she went deep into the mountains. Luckily, the old man who was driving had heard of Mist Valley before and dropped her off right in front of the path that would take her there. After having a short with the old man, she found that he might have dropped her father off at the same spot many years ago when he was a kid.

After climbing a mountain and making her way through mist so thick she couldn’t see a thing, she finally arrived to find a cute village that looked out of place in its surroundings.  She felt like she was in Europe, not Japan.  She happened to find the person she was looking for within a few minutes as it felt like she umbrella magically showed her the way.  While she thought she was in for a fun summer vacation, her dad’s acquaintance turned out to be a scary old lady who ran the local inn.  She told Rina that if she wanted to stay, she would have to work and pay her way using money that she earned herself. She will get the chance to work at all of the other many businesses in town and each store has its own little lesson for Rina. At first, Rina is scared as she thinks of herself as useless but she soon learns what she is capable of once the hard work starts. 

My Reading Experience

I really wanted to try out an Aoi Tori Bunko book, but I did have to put a bit of hard time into finding the right one for me. Many the the story lines seemed to be of course focused on young grade school children. It takes a very special story line to appeal to both kids and adults in the way that story lines from Studio Ghibli are known for. I was checking out Book Meter, a Japanese social media site for book lovers, and came across some reviews for 霧のむこうのふしぎな街. It seems like quite a few adults took the time out to read this story and that it inspired parts of Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away. After seeing that I quickly added it to me cart and was excited for it to arrive.

Before reading this novel, I re-watched Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away(千と千尋の神隠し) to get ready to find any similarities between the two stories.  While reading through this novel, you will see some characters and patterns that are similar to Spirited Away(千と千尋の神隠し).  But the atmosphere and story is completely different.  Both are great in their own way.  So do not pick up this novel thinking that is will be a Spirited Away(千と千尋の神隠し) repeat.  Watching Spirited Away(千と千尋の神隠し)  will not give you a edge in following the story line of The Marvelous Village Veiled in Mist(霧のむこうのふしぎな町).

I was hoping that I would have been able to recommend this novel to N4 level students, but sadly that wasn’t the case.

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 30 to completion.

Vocabulary: N3 level student(low intermediate)

I think that readers with a solid understanding of N3 (low intermediate) level vocabulary will not find vocabulary as a barrier to understanding the plot of this book.  While there will be more advanced words, the use of furigana will help make it easier for language learners to look up the meaning of each word in the dictionary.  While this story is about a weird town and the strange things that happen there, the words used in the book are usually still general use words.

The only specific vocabulary group that sticks out to me is magical creatures.

Grammar: N3-N2 level student(intermediate)

The grammar in this novel seems to be mostly at the N3 level with a few more advanced grammar points sprinkled in.  From a purely grammar point of view, I think this novel would be a great choice for N3 level students who are starting to work through N2.  But there are other reasons to why I think this book might have other grammar related difficulties depending on the student.

The formatting of this book was easier to read then say a book like Kiki’s Delivery Service(魔女の宅急便).  Reason being that Aoi Tori tends to have more kanji then other novels aimed at the same age group.  It seems that novels tend to either use hiragana almost exclusively or have level appropriate kanji with furigana to give the reading.  So while Kiki’s Delivery Service(魔女の宅急便) has easier grammar and vocabulary, I think that Aoi Tori novels have the potential to be easier for language learners due to its kanji use.  Kanji will help to break up the sentences and help guide readers in telling the difference between vocabulary and grammar.  This book still uses less kanji then its big sister Tsubasa Bunko does.

Dialog wise, the characters in this book do not always speak in standard dialect. In fact, the police officer and woman in the yukata that can be found in the beginning of the book both have really strong accents. I think it would really throw off beginning readers who are new to Japanese especially since its on the first page of the book.  Really, the accent is basically just adding seemingly random だくてん(the circle or lines that can be added to change a hiragana/katakana sound in the top right corner) and changing up the endings of sentences. 

Honestly, I think that this book would be difficult for language learners who are not comfortable and experienced with spoken Japanese.  I think the dialog and prose would be difficult for someone who doesn’t have at least a few years experience with the language. Everyone starts out at different points in their reading journey.  I think that there are many readers who have use Japanese for years without working on their reading skills.  I think this book would be a great choice for those types of readers.

Cultural References

Readers do not have to have a stronger understanding of Japanese culture before picking this book up.  There were no historical, pop culture, or musical references.  Rina is pretty much dropped into a brand new world that is vastly different then her own.  You will be able to learn about this town with Rina as she spends her summer vacation in Mist Valley.

There are book title based references made, but the are all western novels and its not really important to be familiar with this books.  They should not effect the readers understanding of the plot.

Who Should Read this Book?

Experienced Japanese language users who are just starting out on their literacy journey.  Ghibli fans.  Those who like fairy tale style stories.

Related Media

I think that fans of this novel will also be fans of other novels that Ghibli has used as inspiration for movies.  My two favorite Ghibli movies both happen to be based off of books.  Both are stories of young women who are on journey’s of developing the skills they need to make it in the world.

Kiki’s Delivery Service(魔女の宅急便): Kiki’s journey seems similar to Rina as she was really out there on her own.  Kiki also left her safe family home on an adventure to a place she had never been before.  Instead of an inn, she stayed at a bakery and worked to pay her rent while she was starting her own business.  I really enjoyed this book and it was one of the first Japanese novels that I have ever brought. 

Whisper of the Heart(耳をすませば) was based off of a manga that I have not read yet.  But I love this movie!  Shizuku is a young middle student who is unsure about how to move forward in life.  She is creative and loves novels, but cannot seem to work that into a future career.  Inspired by her crush, she dives into her passions and works to be as strong as possible.  I hope one day to be able to read this manga!  I haven’t been able because manga is just too experience in America since its something I would be able to finish in a few hours.

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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