Published by Kodansha on 2008
Genres: Japanese literature, Non-fiction
There is a dramatic difference between reading Japanese that is tailored to students, and reading real Japanese that has been written for native speakers. The concocted variety tends to be insipid, flat, stiff, standardized, completely lacking in exciting and imaginative use of language. Read Real Japanese Essays allows readers to experience the work of several of today's foremost writers as if they were lifelong Japanese speakers.
Among Japanese learning material aimed at foreigners, this book is definitely one of the better ones. The book contains eight essays by (relatively) popular authors, such as Haruki Murakami, Banana Yoshimoto and Yoko Ogawa.
The set-up of this book works perfectly. Each essay contains a short introduction in English with some background information on the author. Then after that, on the right page we get the essay, with furigana the first time you encounter the more difficult kanji. The left side has, not exactly translations but rather, interpretations of the more difficult sentences. Finally in the back of the book we get a dictionary of the words found in the essays, followed by grammatical and contextual notes on each essay.
Clearly someone has thought long and hard on the structure of the book and it works (unlike a lot of bilingual parallel texts). The dictionary in the back may sound inconvenient – I for one do not like going back and forth in a book to look up things. However, I found I rarely needed the dictionary thanks to the translations on the left page. This can also be a bit of a disadvantage. The book is set up in such a way that you can choose to focus only on the essays on the right side pages, but the reader might have to restrain themselves from glancing at the translations on the left page.
The Japanese level of the essays is quite high. Being at N2, some of the essays were relatively easy to read, while others (mostly due to the vocabulary) really challenged me. In that sense the level was perfect for me. I like texts that are readable, but I also want to challenge myself to level-up! It’s refreshing to read texts that were not written with foreign learners in mind, but are, well, real Japanese.
Honestly, I am quite enthusiastic about this book. And best of all, there is a companion to this book: Read Real Japanese Fiction (which in retrospect I wish I had started with).
Now, as for the content of the essays, I did not enjoy them all equally. This is the only reason I gave the book 4 instead of 5 stars. Click through for my (quick) opinion on each of the essays.