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 is a review of the novel The Witch of the West is Dead(西の魔女が死んだ) by Kaho Nashiki(梨木香歩). This is a young adult novel that really high lights that fact that juvenile fiction isn’t always easier then regular novels from the language learners perceptive. I do not recommend that this be any language learners first book.
I bought this book while I was visiting my partner’s parents in Osaka at Book-Off. I have seen the book a few times and the very easy to read title and cute cover stuck out to me. It was only 100yen so I decided just to pick it up and opened it up for the first time this year. I was inspired to read this story due to the fact that a Japanese blogger I watch often mentioned it as being one of her favorite books.
Sorry if this review is a bit hard to follow, but besides Mai, none of her family members were actually named. They were just referred to by the narrator as their role like ‘mom’ or ‘dad.’
This novel starts with the death of Mai’s grandmother and is a reflection of the month or so that Mai stayed with her out in the country side of Japan. While Mai doesn’t really go into many details with her family, she makes the announcement that she no longer wants to attend school. This really worried her mother, as she was basically raising Mai alone while her husband lived in a city far away for work. Unsure of what to do, she ended up having Mai stay with her own mother who lived about an hour away. Mai’s grandmother is a British women who lived her whole adult life in Japan and eventually ended up living alone in the middle of no where after the death of her husband.
Mai loves her grandmother and is happy to be able to escape her school situation. As Mai slowly gets used to her surroundings, her grandmother starts working on having Mai feeling accepted and slowly work on building life skills to help her succeed in life. Mai’s grandmother told her about the family history and how witchcraft runs in the family. Mai was excited to start her ‘witch training,’only to be somewhat disappointed by the fact that it entailed chores and going to bed early. Mai’s grandmother claimed that the first step to being a witch is having a strong control over oneself and ones actions.
There is also a short story included in the end called Wandering Through a Day(渡りの一日) which describes a day in the life of Mai and a friend that she made at school names Shouko. The feeling in this story is much more mature then it was in The Witch of the West is Dead. The vocabulary is at a much higher level as well. Mai had specific plans with Shouko to attempt to see a group of migrating birds pass by. But Shouko had secret plans of her own and Mai reluctantly goes along with them.
The author did a great job at describing some of the feelings that a 13 year old girl experiences. I remember the feeling of being uncomfortable often and I also referred to the feeling as being home sick even though it happened when I was at home as well. I never really talked to anyone about that feeling before and was really surprised to see it written in this book. While my personal story is much different then Mai’s, I was able to related to her feelings and it made me reflect on my junior high days.
This is over all kind of like cheesy feel-good story that you would expect from a Hallmark movie. This is more of a comfort read then anything else. While there is a lot of personal growth in the main character Mai, the plot is very basic and predictable. There are elements to this story that I really like tho. I do not think that this is a story for everyone. I’ll get more into the parts that I like to help you find if this book is right for you.
My experience reading the book
This is a fairly short book and I was able to read it over 2 days. The formatting of this book had lots of spacing in between characters and line of text making it very easy to read. There were lots of words that I was unfamiliar with. But my recent style has been to not focus on the exact meaning of words. I just look up the reading, and gather the meaning slowly through context. Sadly there were lots of names of trees and plants that I was unable to picture. But I am planning on learning more about plants when I move to Japan and am not in a hurry.
I love nature and learning about nature based words in Japanese. But I did find the vocabulary in this book more changeling then Miura’s 神去なあなあ日常. The trees and flowers mentioned in The Witch of the West is Dead(西の魔女が死んだ) were not used often enough to have them stick in my head. Also the descriptions were not vivid enough for me to be able to truly picture what each plant looked like.
As a non-Japanese person who has lived within Japanese culture, the way that the grandmother was portrayed as a large impact on me.
So I am just going to leave this here in Japanese as it is something that I have only felt in Japanese if that makes sense. I don’t want to pretend like I understand the experience of being a minority in America and that makes me pause before explaining myself in English. I am still getting used to sharing on the type of blog format so I am hoping I can grow to be more expressive and open in my writing in the future.
The writing style in this kind of what I would refer to as ‘The Beauty of everyday life.’ This story goes into great details of the small things in life such as chores, cleaning, and other daily actions. For example, in the beginning of the story when Mai and her mother arrive at Grandma’s house, the author goes into great detail about the sandwich that the three make together. Each action, down to putting butter on the bread and picking the leafy vegetable to add to the sandwich are described. I think the passage lasts around lasts around 4 pages long. There are equally long passages describing Mai and her grandmother making strawberry jam and doing the laundry together.
I think it really depends on the individual, but I recently have started to really enjoy this type of writing style. I was recently taking about this style of media with a coworker. She was more interested in sounds and images. But the basic idea is slowing down and seeing the small pleasures that might be missed other wise. Like the sound of ice gently being dropped into a glass and the smoothness of water being poured over it. With each description in this novel, I am easily able to hear the sounds of each action.
I have a fast paced job with a lot of responsibility. I think this has really influenced how I want to spend my free time and what I need to relax and recharge. ‘The beauty of the everyday’ really helps to change my mindset on my days off. Its reminds me that is is okay to take things slow and just be. I find that while reading these types of books that the tension that I have been holding in my body from work suddenly melt away.
Vocabulary – JLPT N1-N2 student level
For context, I am a self-assessed JLPT level 2. Sadly I will not be able to confirm my level this year as there are no near by JLPT tests this year due to COVID. I plan on just skipping N2 and taking N1 next summer in Japan or Canada.
For the most part, I did not find myself using a dictionary during this story. I did look up the readings for different words, but a lot of the new words I saw were easy to guess from context. There are some onomatopoeia used in this story which again, are very easy to gather the meaning from context clues. Most of the words that I did not know come from the vocabulary groups below.
Specialized Vocabulary Groups – rocks, plants, types of trees, flowers, and normal edible plants that you would find in a Japanese garden
I did not spend anytime looking up these types of vocabulary. There was just too many names that I did not know. Mai’s grandmother even goes out of her way to teach Mai different names of plants and quizzes her later on to see if she remembers them. Mai’s grandfather was very interested in rocks and had a huge collection, this is where the names of minerals comes in. While I do want to learn more about trees and plants in general, I am going to wait until I am back in Japan. Many parks have name plates next to various plants to help you know the name and I think that will be an easier way for me to learn
For some of the more rare words used in this story, there will be furigana to help you get the meaning. The names of characters in this story are not introduced with furigana which can make it difficult to know the exact reading. This is only an issue in the second story as there are no kanji based names in The Witch of the West is Dead(西の魔女が死んだ).
The vocabulary gets more difficult in the second story, Wandering Through a Day(渡りの一日). I did find myself using a dictionary for this one.
Grammar – JLPT N3-N2 student level
The grammar used in this book was fairly straight forward and not at all literary. For a third person style story, it is fairly dialog heavy making some of the sections of the book really easy to read. Since the plot in this book is very simple and straight forward, I do not thing that grammar will cause readings to get lost of have any misunderstandings.
The grammar does feel more complex in the second story, Wandering Through a Day(渡りの一日). While the plot in this story is more random, I think vocabulary would cause more issues to readers then grammar.
This book is 221 pages long and contains two stories. The first story, The Witch of the West is Dead(西の魔女が死んだ) has 193 pages. The second story, Wandering Through a Day(渡りの一日), is 26 pages long.
I think that it might surprised some people, but it is not uncommon for Japanese children to stop going to school. While I had seen this in Japanese media and was familiar with the idea, I was shocked when I found out that one of my close friends missed a year of school! She said that she was being bullied in grade school and just decided that she did not want to go anymore. Her parents let her stay home and she was not home schooled. She was just free to spend her time as she wished. Even with that, her grade school gave her a graduation certificate and she worked up the courage to return to education and start junior high.
It seems like Japanese students are just pushed through the system sometimes regardless of their grades or attendance.
I have recently ordered this book as I was looking for something to read by Harada Maha(原田マハ) as they seem to be a fairly popular author in Japan. Based off reviews that I have read, We are Alive(生きる僕ら) seems to have a similar plot and setting to The Witch of the West is Dead(西の魔女が死んだ). In this book, Twenty-four year-old Jinsei Akira is working on over coming personal weaknesses that has left him unable to leave the house. He works up the courage to finally step foot outside and starts on his journey of looking for his grandmother who lives in the country side of Japan. This book seems to go into great detail of the life style of the characters and I am looking forward to learning more about farming in general.
And of course I would like to recommend my favorite Japanese series, Little Forest(リトル・フォレスト). In this series that is focused on country living and slow cooking, the main character moves back to her home town after years of being desperate to leave. I love the music, quietness, and nature based color scheme of this short series.
This is a review for the novel Child of the Stars(星の子) by Imamura Natsuko(今村 夏子). Imamura is a well renowned author who has won an impressive amount of literary awards. Child of the Stars won the Noma Literary Prize in 2017 as well as being nominated for the Book Sellers Award in 2018. I looked at this book every single time I walked into Kinokuniya, but never got around to reading it until just now. I purchased the book on Amazon JP’s online store for 654 yen.
The story starts out with the main character, a young girl named Chihiro Hayashi, reflecting on the impact that she had on her family as an infant. Chihiro was a very difficult baby which caused her family a lot of stress. She had a skin condition which made her very uncomfortable in pretty much all situations and caused her to cry often. Her family quickly became overwhelmed and despite as nothing the doctors suggested seemed to help Chihiro. One day when Chihiro’s dad was explaining the situation to a coworker, Mr. Ochiai. Ochiai had a seemingly weird solution to Chihiro’s problems. He stated that water at the Hayashi was bad, gave the father a few bottles of special water, and gave detailed instructions on how and when to bath Chihiro.
The family had already decided that they would try out anything, no matter how strange it seemed, to help Chihiro find comfort. They bathed her exactly as instructed and started seeing results right away! She started crying less and her skin color was improving. The family rejoiced and became true believers of the power of this special water. They became very close with the Ochiai family and started joining the gatherings and adopting the groups habits and rituals. Chihiro was so young when this started happening that she saw everything as normal. But other family members were not as welcoming to the changes. Chihiro’s older sister and her uncle made a plan to show the parents that they were being scammed, but the parent’s beliefs were just to strong. It caused a large rift in the family. Chihiro’s parents completely departed themselves from their extended family and her older sister ran away. Extended family members do what they can to support Chihiro and try to help her leave, but she supports her parents so much that she had a hard time parting.
As Chihiro gets older, she becomes more and more aware of the differences between her family and the seemingly normal people around her. She starts to make friends outside of the religion and lose faith in those fellow believers that she used to so close to. After becoming unable to look at anyone in the face, with the help of a classmate she was able to start relating to others and getting crush after crush on different boys she sees around her. A big catalysis in Chihiro’s life is when her crush and teacher mistook her parents as strange and dangerous people when he spotted them in the park while dropping Chihiro off after school.
My experience reading this book:
I think that Child of the Stars is the most entertaining Japanese novel that I have read so far. There were some scenes in the book that had me laughing and I had a fun time reading this book.
I think one of my favorite scenes was when Chihiro became unable to look anyone in the face after she developed a crush on an actor. Everyone just seemed so ugly to her, she was unable to even look at her own face in the mirror. Her father gave her some huge purple glasses that he got from the religious catalog, but the glasses seemed to have no effect on her. What did help her was becoming close a classmate who was able to make the situation into a game. Chihiro started to get better relating to those around her and was able to get over her ‘eye illness.’
I am kind of disappointed in myself that it took me so long to purchase this novel. There were so many times that I saw it on a shelf at Kinokuniya and thought about picking it up. I am so happy that I finally did.
The ending is very much in the style of Japanese story telling. I have heard from many western raised learners that some find it hard to feel satisfied with this type of ending. Don’t expect a solid ending, just treat it like a slice of life story and enjoy the short ride in Chihiro’s life.
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 really want to recommend this as a great book for students who have a strong grasp of N3 level materials. While there is some more advanced vocabulary sprinkled through out the book, it is not an excessive amount.
There were times were I saw a word that I was not able to guess from context alone, but each time the word was explained by someone or the reading was spelled out in the next line. For example 免疫力 was brought up in a classroom setting and the teacher asked for one of the students to explain the meaning.
Like I mentioned, there are a few random and more advanced vocabulary words used in this book, but there is no specific vocabulary group that sticks out to me. I think almost all of the words fall under general everyday use.
This novel does not provide furigana for the names of characters as they are introduced in the story.
Grammar: N3 student level
This book is written from the first person perspective of a young girl and I think the grammar used in the book really reflects this. The book starts when Chihiro is in grade school and she speaks in a fairly simple way. Even as she ages in the book, the grammar still stayed fairly simple. I think that a N3 level student would not find the grammar in this book as a barrier to understanding.
The book is very dialog heavy and this too helps with keeping the prose of the book easy to understand. This can help students who want to collect phrases to use when speaking in Japanese. The dialog is written in causal form for the most part. Sometimes their will be light polite form used, but overall its all extremely basic grammar. There are no flowery descriptions in the book and it feels like a really straight forward read.
I think this novel is very accessible to language learners regardless of their familiarity with Japanese cultural. In fact, people from other countries might feel like they relate more to the characters in the book as being a member of a religious organization in Japan is not very common. I really related to some of the unique difficulties of becoming close to someone who deeply practices their faith. In the beginning, it would be so easy in the friendship to either ignore or accept the differences in beliefs. But when both parties start to open up, it can be difficult when the types of advice each person offers for situations differ greatly. Like in the case with Chihiro’s uncle. He was really worried and scared for his sister and wanted to protect them from what he saw as a scam. He slowly tried to accept the differences as he realized how much the beliefs meant to the family, but it became difficult when the family offers religious advice and items from the religious group’s shopping catalog as solutions to any problem the uncle has. Since the family felt so strongly about the value of what they are getting from the religion, its only natural for them to want those close to them to join as well. Boundaries start to blur and it can be difficult to maintain relationships.
When I lived in Japan, every time religion was mentioned it had a negative connotation. When I was an international student, there was a whole lecture dedicated to warning students against joining a religion. There were even photos of past teachers who were fired due to the fact that they tried to bring students to church. There are lots of small religions in Japan that are very active in recruiting new members. The school said that exchange students and those who are new to Japan in general are very vulnerable to falling prey to these types of groups as they offer support and people who are in a new living situation who are unfamiliar with Japanese cultural norms might be unable to identify the dangers. In the end, I was never approached by a Japanese person who wanted to offer me spiritual guidance. But I was approached many times by people from western religions. There seemed to be a strong community of Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses where I lived in Japan.
When I was reading over reviews for this novel, it seemed like a lot of reviewers felt really bad for Chihiro. But as someone who was raised in a fairly religious family, I didn’t have any feels of pity towards her. I just found parts of her story that I really related to. It made me reflect back on my own process of growing up and progressively questioning the values my parents held. But I understand that the experience of being raised in a religion must be much different in Japan then compared to America.
And as with most novels written about younger people, you will get a better idea of what a typical Japanese school experience would entail. I think that this is really important in being able to understand a very basic area of Japanese life that almost all Japanese people have experienced. Its a great talking point as many people seem interested in comparing education between countries and seeing what the differences are.
Who should read this book?
I think this novel could be a great first choice for those who have never read a full novel in Japanese before. I think it would be great for someone who is finished with N3 level studies and getting started with N2.
I do not recommend this to people who are religious, as the characters in the story aren’t very nice about religions in general.
At 227 pages, this is not a long novel. It is very dialog heavy, and I think this book has less words then the average novel of the same length due to the conversation style between the characters. There are some parts of the book where pages of only half full due to long conversations taking place.
The length is another reason why I think this novel would make a great first novel for beginners. Its falls in the sweet spot of being worth buying and being easy to finish. Being outside of Japan, I have a hard time buying books under 200 pages as I don’t want to invest my money in something that I will finish too quickly. I spent around 4 days reading this novel.
This book is being turned into a movie that will be released on 10/09/2020. Based off of the trailer it seems very loyal to the books story line. Even though I LOVED this novel, I do not have any plans to see the movie. The trailer kinda falls flat for me. But I think that pairing up movies and novels is a great way for beginner readers to have the confidence to dive into Japanese literature.
The Girl in the Purple Skirt (むらさきのスカートの女) is currently Imamura Natsuko’s most well known novel. This is the novel that got Imamura Natsuko the Akutagawa Prize (芥川龍之介賞) in 2019. This novel is written from the view point of the narrator is is obsessed with and often observes a women who is referred to as ‘The Girl in the Purple Skirt’. I really love the idea of reading a story about this type of relationship. Its like the people who ride the same bus as to me work. They are strangers who are somewhat apart of my life. Luckily I am not obsessed with any of my fellow riders, but I am looking forward to reading this book in the future. I have recently read another book based off obsession, Mitsuyo Kakuta’s What is Love(愛はなんだ) so I am in no hurry to read another stalker book. The fact that The Girl in the Purple Skirt is only 160 pages long makes me pause a bit as I wonder if it is worth buying a book that I will finish so quickly. This one may have to wait until I move back to Japan and have access to libraries.
I found this book for free on yomeruba.com. I saw from a post on reddit that this website has been doing campaigns where they have a monthly selection of novels that can be read for free. I decided to read this novel to see if it would be a good choice for beginner students. This is my first time reading a Japanese novel online. I really prefer paper based novels as I love everything related to trees in general. But I really wanted to seek out more beginner reading materials and I am interested in find free materials online to help me with my budget. There are some more expensive hardcover books that I am interested in, but my current budget would only allow me one paperback book per week.
Ive heard of this book series before, but basically it is a collection of short stories with the same theme. Each story is broken up into sections that would take a Junior High School level Japanese student around a few minutes to read. I think that this format would work well for language learners as well! It is nice that it basically tells the reader a good place to stop. While the description might make it seem like its the same thing as chapters in a normal novel, the timing of these breaks is more consistent.
Last year, I did not watch animated films often. I think that I didn’t have enough knowledge of anime to find movies that I would be interested in.
I remember when I first started hearing about the movie Your Name. I saw it mentioned a few times in the news about breaking records in ticket sales. I read articles that mentioned that people loved the movie so much that individuals were going to the movie theater multiple times to see it. Even then I didn’t really look into it. I just figured that it would be too new to be available in America. And the fact that anime fans saw it multiple times? My image of anime fans is that they watch their favorite series on repeat. So I didn’t really see the big deal about that either. But I was wrong, and now I am a repeat watcher of Your Name as well.
I started watching it with no prior knowledge of the story line. I really enjoyed the music and the scenery shown in the movie. I did not expect the plot twist at all and over all really enjoyed the movie! This movie inspired me to start looking into other animated films as well and I have found a few that I really enjoy.
I purchased Your Name at Kinokuniya in Chicago for 10.99. Kinokuniya also had copies of novels based off of other popular movies directed by Makoto Shinkai.