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[Review] Read Real Japanese Essays

[Review] Read Real Japanese Essays

[Review] Read Real Japanese EssaysRead Real Japanese Essays: Contemporary Writings by Popular Authors by Banana Yoshimoto, Haruki Murakami, Hideo Levy, Janet Ashby, Junko Sakai, Keiichiro Hirano, Kou Machida, Mitsuyo Kakuta, Yōko Ogawa
Published by Kodansha on 2008
Genres: Japanese literature, Non-fiction
Pages: 240

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.

Read Real Japanese

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.

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[Review] 森鴎外短編集: 高瀬舟/最後の一句

[Review] 森鴎外短編集: 高瀬舟/最後の一句

[Review] 森鴎外短編集: 高瀬舟/最後の一句森鴎外短編集: 高瀬舟/最後の一句 by Ōgai Mori
Series: レベル別日本語多読ライブラリー #4.2
Published by ask publishing on 2007
Genres: Japanese literature
Pages: 39

森鴎外短編集: 高瀬舟/最後の一句 is part of the series レベル別日本語多読ライブラリー. This series of thin books is arranged into different levels that help learners of Japanese get into tadoku (extensive reading). This book features two of Ōgai Mori's short stories.

I picked up this little book because I wanted to get back into reading Japanese. I was mostly pulled towards this particular book because they are (supposed to be) short stories by Ōgai Mori and I quite appreciate reading actual literature.

Well, I was wrong. They are merely simplified versions of two of Mori’s short stories (Takasebune and Saigo no ikku), not the actual thing. I should’ve known.

That brings me to the next point. Level 4 of these Japanese Graded Readers is supposed to be high-N3-to-N2-level. However, it was far too easy for me (rusty, N2), not a challenge at all. (I admit I would’ve picked level 5 if my library had them, but they didn’t.) The sentences were extremely simplified, the vocabulary was of a very low level, and while I appreciate the furigana I don’t see why it has to be repeated especially for very simple characters?

Anyway, on to the stories. Takasebune is the shorter of the two stories and I actually quite liked it. To the point where I’ll probably try and read the original sometime. Saigo no ikku was a huge disappointment though. No idea what they were going for with that one (I suspect it’s just this particular simplified version that was rubbish, though). It kept going on and on

So, combining the quality of the stories and the usefulness of the actual book, I have to give this book two stars. It was a bit of a disappointment and if you are at approximately N2 level Japanese, I really recommend picking up some actual literature instead.

On Reading Japanese

On Reading Japanese

HonAs you may know, I studied Japanese in the past (and have an actual BA in it, can you believe it). My Japanese however has gotten rusty. I talked about this before for the Language Freak Summer Challenge, and at the time I promised myself I’d read more Japanese to get on top of it.

I am finally getting to that, and I have decided to share my findings with you, in the hope that it may be of use to someone.

Reading extensively (多読 tadoku) is one of the best ways to improve and and get comfortable in a language. Personally I am on an eternal quest to find books that are both actual literature and also readable, to keep the reading fun. I am lucky in that I actually have (almost) unlimited access to books in Japanese, but despite that I struggle finding books that are readable enough to someone of my level of Japanese. Books that are aimed at foreigners/students of Japanese just keep disappointing both in content as well as in reading level, while real literature is often too difficult when you’re not fluent.

So the aim of this little project is finding real literature – that is, literature that I would also read in languages I am fluent in – that is both interesting and readable. This can be literature suitable to different levels of Japanese and I will try to advise on that as well. Posts will probably not be frequent (so for my followers who do not know Japanese: please don’t worry!), but if they help anyone I’ll be happy enough.

As for me, I took JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) N2 over four years ago when I was living in Nagasaki and my Japanese was at its best – and passed. Then last December I retook it and passed again (just). I am rusty, but am looking forward to getting comfy with the language once again!

[Review] ふしぎな図書館 by Haruki Murakami

[Review] ふしぎな図書館 by Haruki Murakami

[Review] ふしぎな図書館 by Haruki Murakamiふしぎな図書館 (The Strange Library) by Haruki Murakami
Published by Kodansha on February 8, 2005
Genres: Japanese literature, Magical realism
Pages: 92

All 'boku' wanted was to borrow some books.

Against all odds I managed to finish my last book for the Language Freak Summer Challenge! Like planned, I read ふしぎな図書館 (Fushigi na toshokan, “The Strange Library“) by Haruki Murakami.

And I loved it! I won’t spoil the plot, but: All the narrator wanted was to borrow a book from the library, and then it goes odd Murakami-style, including Sheepman and donuts. If you like Murakami and magical realism and general silliness, you’ll enjoy this one. Also the overall tone of the book is quite funny and I found myself chuckling regularly. Despite that, the ending is saaaad 🙁

The Strange Library is illustrated by Maki Sasaki. I bought it at the same time as 羊男のクリスマス (Hitsujiotoko no Kurisumasu, “Sheepman’s Christmas“), which is also illustrated by Sasaki. I absolutely adore these illustrations!

The Strange Library has not yet been translated to English (although I’ve heard rumours.. *cough*ISBN 9781846559211*cough*), but there is a German translation with new illustrations, by Kat Menschik who also illustrated The Bakery Attacks and Sleep. I must admit I am slightly disappointed they didn’t stick with Sasaki’s illustrations, but alas.

As for the Japanese: The Strange Library was a relatively easy read. The book has some unusual words (although not as many as Sheepman’s Christmas) that I had to look up, and both the old man and Sheepman don’t talk standard Japanese, but this wasn’t a problem. One thing I noticed again is that Murakami uses relatively little kanji (Japanese characters), stringing together long parts of just hiragana (Japanese syllabary).
A beautiful example: ぼくはなにかをきっぱりとことわるのがにがてなのだ。
Which actually (approximately) reads as: ぼく・は・なにか・を・きっぱり・と・ことわる・の・が・にがて・な・の・だ。
Or even better: ぼくは何かをきっぱりと断るのが苦手なのだ。
(And translates as “I’m not very good at flatly declining something.”)
Alas. Murakamism.

Fushigi na toshokan Fushigi na toshokan Fushigi na toshokan

After having studied Japanese for four years and having lived in Nagasaki for a year, I’ve mildly neglected the language for 3+ years. But thankfully I was fine reading The Strange Library. I admit it’s really easy Japanese, but I definitely plan to pick up some more difficult books again in the future. Anyway, I’m so glad I read this book because it has got me motivated to finally work on my Japanese again. It’s gotten so rusty after all those years! So I have decided three things:

  1. I will always read a Japanese book alongside whatever other book I’m reading (at least for the upcoming year). It’s fine if it takes a long time to finish.
  2. I am going to retake the Japanese Language Proficiency Test level N2 in December. I actually got N2 in 2010 back when I was living in Nagasaki but I’ve forgotten a lot.
  3. Then when I’ve done N2 in December, I am going to aim for N1 next summer /ambitious