Japanese Resources: Aozora Bunko

If you’re going to read books in Japanese, a pretty awesome place to start is Aozora Bunko. Aozora Bunko is basically like Project Gutenberg, but for Japanese literature. All books on Aozora Bunko are free and their copyright has expired. There are many big names available, such as Mori Ogai and Natsume Soseki.

Now, if you’re interested in reading Japanese literature, I am sure you’re already familiar with Aozora Bunko. Or have heard of it at least. While searching for books on Aozora may seem straightforward, with the large choice of books it can be a bit intimidating. Not to mention reading classics in their original language.

In my honest opinion, what’s far more interesting than Aozora Bunko on its own are the apps that make Aozora Bunko useful for learners of Japanese.

On Aozora Bunko you can search by an author's last name, or by title.
On Aozora Bunko you can search by an author’s last name, or by title.

Rikai-chan

(for browser)
I’ll keep this one short because if you’re a learner of Japanese, you probably already have Rikaichan. If your prefer to read books in your browser, Rikai-chan is an extension that you may absolutely not miss. It exists for Firefox and Chrome. By installing and activating it, you can hover over Japanese words in your browser and it will give you their dictionary entries. Extremely useful when you’re reading Japanese websites. Aozora Bunko’s books are also available in html format, and thus you can use Rikaichan on it as well.

ワカル

(for iOS)

By hovering over a word, the dictionary entry pops up.
By hovering over a word, the dictionary entry pops up.
There are more apps that do approximately what Wakaru does and on top of that, Wakaru isn’t free. I’m still going to recommend this app though, for reasons, but I’ll give you some free alternatives too (as well as non-iOS alternatives).

Wakaru is an app that lets you download and read books from Aozora Bunko and it’s little cousin (the imho far less interesting) Hoshizora Bunko. Wakaru has several tools, such as a build in browser that does for your tablet what Rikaichan does for your PC, and you can create flashcards of words you encounter. But much more interesting…

You can read books and quickly look up words in the dictionary while you are reading. Wakaru lets you select a word and finds its meaning for you. This makes reading Japanese texts very comfortable. Wakaru isn’t the only app to do this though.

Actually, it’s a different tool that makes Wakaru unique (especially if you are overwhelmed by Aozora Bunko’s database): Wakaru lets you find books on Aozora Bunko according to JLPT level. Based on the kanji that are used in a text, the app gives you an indication of the level. The app has sorted all books in 8 levels, with level 1 being the easiest and level 8 the hardest.

Wakaru helps you find texts based on JLPT level.
Wakaru helps you find texts based on JLPT level.

Wakaru is free up to 50 word look-ups. If you want the full version with the ability to look up as many words as you want, you pay € 6,99 once. Which in my opinion is very worth it! Wakaru is geared toward foreign users (as you can tell from the JLPT-level look-up system), so almost the whole app is available in both English and Japanese. This makes it incredibly useful to Japanese students, and far superior to many other apps.

i読書

(for iOS
iDokushoIf you don’t want to pay for Wakaru, you can still download the free version and use its JLPT level tool to find texts. Then you can move on to a completely free app: i読書 – 青空文庫リーダー . Its name is a wordplay in itself: i読書 (iDokusho, which basically translates as iReading) sounds like 愛読書 (love reading).

Like Wakaru, the iDokusho app also lets you download books from Aozora Bunko, and it also has a build-in dictionary. By pushing a word for a longer time, it allows you to move to its dictionary (辞典). You do have to install the necessary dictionaries first, but the app gives you plenty of options for dictionaries. In fact, its dictionaries (especially the Japanese-English dictionary) are far superior than those of Wakaru.

iDokusho is aimed at Japanese readers first and foremost, so keep that in mind. However, it’s not too difficult to find your way around it (especially if you’re at the level where you want to read books, anyway).

iDokusho has plenty of dictionaries to choose from. Its Japanese-English dictionary is very extensive.
iDokusho has plenty of dictionaries to choose from. Its Japanese-English dictionary is very extensive.

But what about Android..?

Admittedly I do not own any device that runs on Android, but I did try my best to find apps for you. There are tons of apps available for Android to read Japanese books with, and plenty of apps that connect to Aozora Bunko: 青空読手 (Aozora Yomite) is one of them. It was difficult however to find apps with built-in dictionaries, but the free Vertical Text Viewer seems to be one of them. I asked a friend of mine (a fellow student of Japanese) to test it and while he wasn’t a fan of the lay-out, he was enthusiastic about the dictionary function.

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