舟を編む by 三浦しをん

I am currently reading 舟を編む・ふねをあむ, a novel by 三浦しをん・みうらしをん Miura Shion.

You possibly know the story of this novel because it was adapted for the cinema in 2013 and an anime came out last year. When I bought and started to read the book, I had seen neither the film nor the anime. I found the book very difficult and almost gave up.

funewoamuanime.jpg           funewoamufilm

To make the reading of the novel easier, I decided to watch the film, which I really enjoyed. I usually hate to watch a film first if I want to read the novel it was adapted from, but it seems that the book contains much more information than what was conveyed in the film. From what I have read so far, the novel is more entertaining than its cinematographic counterpart, some scenes carrying strong comical effects.

As for the story in itself, the film seems to be a close adaptation of the novel. At the beginning of the story, Araki, who works at the dictionary-compiling department of a publishing house, wishes to take retirement and has to find someone to replace him. He then meets Majime, a strange young man who loves dictionaries but feels very uncomfortable with people. The film and the book then tell the story of Majime joining the little team of dictionary compilers and working together to create a new dictionary, the 大渡海・だいとかい.

The meaning of the dictionary and the meaning of the novel’s title is given p. 34 and 35: a dictionary is a boat that allows us to cross the sea of words:


To cross the sea of words, the team will compile a new dictionary, in other words, a boat. (編む・あむ means “knit” but also “compile”, “edit”)


If you like stories that deal with books, you should appreciate 舟を編む, the film and the novel. It gives access to a fascinating and old-fashioned universe, allows us to learn a lot about the making of a dictionary and brings us to respect something we more or less take for granted (since I saw the film, I have the greatest respect for any dictionary and the people who compiled it).

As for the Japanese, to be honest, before watching the film, I was on the verge of giving up with every page I turned. Having watched the film and knowing the story help me considerably. But it is still difficult. I can follow the story without much trouble because the film is very close to the novel. Understanding every subtility, however, requires a lot of concentration and a good amount of dictionary search. But, somehow, looking up words is not so laborious with this novel. The story is all about words and definition, and the protagonists are themselves constantly reaching for their dictionary and looking up words. I feel like I am a part of the story myself.

I will make reading notes for 舟を編む to explain ambiguous expressions or words I had to investigate or to study problematic extracts. By quickly flipping through the book, I saw that there were 5 chapters. It will be 5 “reading notes” posts then! I hope it will encourage me to go through the book and finish it, even if it takes time.

Let’s travel across the sea of words!

Reference: 「舟を編む」三浦しをん、光文社文庫、2015

Japanese news: comfort women statues on Seoul buses

This Summer, replicas of statues of comfort women (women coerced into military prostitution by the Imperial Japanese Army) can be seen on Seoul buses (only one bus line is concerned). Of course, this new example of what Japanese news call “反日抗議イベント”, gave rise to reactions in Japan.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide (who seems to be affiliated with a negationist organisation) commented:


(Source: Asahi)

  • 抱える・かかえる to have on one’s hands
  • 連携・れんけい cooperation
  • 極めて・きわめて exceedingly, extremely

At a time when Japan, the U.S. and Korea should cooperate to deal with the problem of North Korea, (this action) is extremely regrettable.

To work on my reading of news articles, I propose to study this article from Sankei News. I chose this article because I was curious to see what this newspaper would say on the question. I expected it to be plainly critical and wanted to see how it would express its condemnation of Korea’s action. Being able to read the news in another language has the advantage that one can get a glimpse of each position concerning a controversial issue.

The article is very long, 6 pages! The general argument is that South Korea should not launch such actions at a time when North Korea should be the priority. Let’s examine the title:

北のミサイルより「慰安婦バス」 徴用工像と慰安婦像イベントに没頭する韓国に危機感ゼロ

  • 慰安婦・いあんふ comfort woman
  • 徴用工・ちょうようこう means “drafted worker” but “forced labourer” would be more appropriate.
  • 没頭する・ぼっとうする be immersed in, be absorbed in

No sense of impending crisis: Korea is more absorbed in “comfort women buses”, statues of forced labourer and statues of comfort women than in North Korea’s missile.

I will only study the second and third part of the article.

Part II: どこかで見たような人形が…

In the second paragraph, the article evokes the statue of comfort woman 慰安婦象・いあんふぞう who took place in Seoul buses. The article underlines the fact that the statue is made of plastic (statues of comfort women being generally in bronze).

Then the article does something that I find quite strange. It cites a Korean member of the Japanese media staff who once studied in Osaka, saying that the comfort woman statue reminds her of another similar one seen in Osaka. The article then says that she refers to “くいだおれ太郎”, the mascot of Dotonburi in Osaka. I read the interesting story of くいだおれ太郎 on Japan Info. What I find strange is that the article should compare the comfort woman and this cheerful and mischievous clown (I know it’s a little far-fetched but Kuidaore Tairo’s outfit reminds me of the Imperial Japanese army flag, a reason why I consider this comparison to be of bad taste).

When the journalist took the bus, two Korean broadcast systems were conducting interviews of passengers. As a girl was interviewed, the folk song 民謡・みんよう “Arirang” was being played. It is not in the article, but the song, which is some kind of unofficial national anthem, is played when the bus passes the Japan embassy.

The journalist then says that an old man interviewed-back 逆インタビュー・ぎゃく the Korean reporter to ask him if he knew since when Arirang was sung.  The atmosphere was relaxed and comfortable のんびりした.

That the comfort woman doll should be on the bus or not does not seem to bring ordinary citizens 一般市民・いっぱんしみん to reflect seriously 深刻に・しんこくに upon the comfort woman issue 慰安婦問題・いあんふもんだい.

The article uses the grammar ~ていようが which I didn’t know. It means “whether… or not”. I was relieved to find out that it is an N1 grammar…

I wonder why the journalist says that… is it just because a grandpa is more interested in the history of the song Arirang than in the presence of the statue?

Part III: パフォーマンスの対象

The article begins this third part saying that a “divergent view” 異論・いろん would not be allowed 許されない・ゆるされない here. What the article calls a “divergent view” is:


  • 路線・ろせん line (a bus line)
  • わざわざ especially, take the trouble to do, go to the trouble of doing.
  • 乗せる・のせる put someone (in a car, on a train).
  • 果たして・はたして is it really….?

Was it really necessary to go as far as to take the extra trouble to put those statues on the bus? 

The article then examines the involvement of the city of Seoul in this action. The “comfort women buses” 慰安婦バス・いあんふばす are initiated by a private 民間・みんかん company and, as the article cites, has no relation to an undertaking originated from the city: ソウル市の事業と無関係.

However, the article goes on, the city of Seoul informed 広報・こうほう the media of the action before it began 事前・じぜん. Seoul’s mayor even rode in the first bus carrying a comfort woman statue and, with a humble and quiet 神妙な・しんみょうな look 面持ち・おももち, accompanying the discourse with a hand gesture 手を添える・そえる (on a picture, the mayor can be seen putting his hand on the statue’s), said:


  • 犠牲・ぎせい a sacrifice
  • 悼む・いたむ to mourn for, to grieve at

This is the opportunity to mourn for those who have been sacrificed.

He also said that a new agreement 合意・ごうい that would satisfy the people 国民が納得できる・なっとくできる was needed. An agreement between Japan and Korea on the comfort woman issue was signed in 2015 by Korea former president Park Geun-hye and Japan prime minister Abe. Now, Korea criticises this agreement as being too easy a way to settle the problem.

The article says that this  “performance” suits well 映る・うつる the mayor of Seoul who participates in the customary 恒例の・こうれいの assembly 集会・しゅうかい of protestation 抗議・こうぎ against Japan that takes place before the Japanese embassy every Wednesday and created 造成・ぞうせい Memorial 追悼・ついとう facilities 施設・しせつ to commemorate the comfort women.

(I see that “performance” also means “a display of exaggerated behaviour” in English. I think that this is what is meant here by パフォーマンス. In my humble opinion, looking at the picture of the mayor putting his hand on the statue’s one is enough to see why the journalist speaks of “performance”)

People who see the comfort woman statue on the bus, either consider it comical コミカル, or see it sincerely 真摯に・しんしに as an object of mourning 追悼対象・ついとうたいしょう, like the mayor of Seoul.

The article concludes this part on a more practical criticism: even if elderly persons 高齢者・こうれいしゃ, persons with a handicap 障害者・しょうがいしゃ or pregnant women 妊婦・にんぷ want to sit down, the statue won’t offer its seat, and it will be like this for the whole month of September. (To be fair, only 5 buses out of 31 for this bus line carry a statue…)

The other parts of this long article are more focused on the growing menace of North Korea and the way South Korea seems to be unconscious of it, more occupied by pursuing anti-Japanese actions.

Well, it’s always important to look at both sides of a controversial issue!

世界から猫が消えたなら by 川村元気

世界から猫が消えたなら・せかいからねこがきえたなら is a novel by 川村元気・かわむらげんき. A film based on the novel was released last year. I haven’t seen the film but I plan to.

Even if I am posting this in the “currently reading” category of my blog, I am not really reading this book, I am listening to the audiobook. I bought it on the site Febe.jp and have listened to it almost every day since then (even if only for 10 minutes). It is part of my strategy to improve my listening skills.

As I usually listen to the audiobook while doing other things like cooking or playing with my cats, I am not always 100% concentrated on what I hear. But I still can understand most of what is said, partly because the book is easy, partly because I listened to it several times.

About the story

To be honest, I am a little disappointed by the book, but that is maybe because I had too high expectations after I read the summary: a young man who is about to die can let the devil erase an object from the world to be able to live one day more.

Actually, I found this plotline very catchy and thought that the book would deal with some kind of alternative society. If I had had the book in hand I would have seen that the novel is much too short to really dig deep into this direction. And so, I was very disappointed when I listened to the first chapter. Some parts gave me the impression that I was listening to a book for children, especially the confrontation with the devil.

The book does not interest itself with the consequences of the disappearance of important objects on society, the story only focuses on the protagonist. I expected more reflections about what it meant for the world, humanity and social development to lack such important things (I don’t want to reveal which ones) and I was disappointed to find none of those reflections (or very obvious ones). Of course, one could say that this story is a kind of allegory and should be read as such, without other expectations.

What I liked were the flashbacks and the way the protagonist’s relationship with his parents slowly exposes itself. I found the flashbacks involving the protagonist’s mother to be the most interesting.

Well, the novel lays interesting paths but doesn’t follow them, nonetheless, it is a nice story. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I would not be surprised if it were better than the book. I am not saying that the book is not worth reading, only that it is a very short and simple one, that should be read without too big expectations, more like an entertaining story and a way to pass the time agreeably.

For Japanese learners

If we leave aside literary requirements, this book is perfect for Japanese learners! It really is an easy novel!

First, it is very short (only 219 pages for the novel, written in a rather big size of font), well structured and with a single narrator.

Second, as I said, it sometimes looks like a book for children, the language, the words used are very simple. As we are following the narrator’s thought, there is no need for rare kanji or difficult words.

Third, I am totally helpless at listening, I feel like my ears are filled with cotton every time I try to listen to Japanese. BUT, I can understand the audiobook of the novel without problems. I can even follow long parts of narration with the impression that I understand every single word. If I can understand the audiobook, it really means that it is easy. (I have just passed N2 but I am sure that you can give this novel a try with N3).

So, if you are looking for an easy and short novel to read in Japanese, this is a good choice. I also recommend the audiobook because the quality is very high and it features Daisuke Ono, whose voice is very pleasant to listen to.




Motivation: The JLPT, a good way to measure your progress

Today I received a message saying that the results of the JLPT were published:

The results will make me keep a fantastic mood for the rest of my life!

The n2 level is divided into three scoring sections, each with a range of scores of 60 points, the pass mark being 19 for each section. My results were:

Language knowledge (vocabulary and grammar): 34/60

Reading: 60/60 😄🎉✨

Listening: 38/60

This makes a total score of 132/180.

The results are much better than I expected and I am gladder than I can say with my reading score. It confirms that efforts pay off!

I am surprised with my listening score, I expected it to be around 20, and I even thought it might be lower than the pass mark. Maybe I was lucky when I picked answers randomly because I feel like it is the only thing I did…

As for Language knowledge… well, I think that I did well with grammar but completely messed up with vocabulary. It may seem strange to have such a gap between reading and vocabulary, but it confirms that, even if I can recognise and guess the meaning of many kanji, I don’t really know them, I do not master them. The consequence is that I can read comfortably, but I am lost if I am to answer precise questions about one word or one kanji.

What I have to do now is simple: work on my listening skills and learn new words while mastering the kanji I have learned so far.

Good reasons to take the JLPT

Apart from being useful if you want to work in Japan or because you need it for your studies, the JLPT can be a great boost for self-taught Japanese learners. Even if you don’t need to pass the JLPT, taking the test presents a lot of advantages. I have listed what comes to my mind at the moment.

  • It gives people who learn on their own a measurable goal, that punctuates, twice or once a year, something that is endless and may sometimes be discouraging: learning Japanese.
  • You don’t have to ask yourself which new words you should learn, just follow the preparatory books. It may sound boring, but I find it relaxing, I rely on my book to learn useful vocabulary, and I don’t have to look for new words to learn.
  • It gives you a milestone and obliges you to study and learn new things on a regular, if not daily basis. When I am not preparing the JLPT, I always say that “I am studying Japanese” when in fact I am not studying at all. I am just relying on my current level to read books, but I am not learning anything new. In the end, I feel like I don’t make progress and end up frustrated.
  • It allows you to make huge progress. If you study seriously for the JLPT, at the end of your preparation, you will be baffled by the progress you have made. There is nothing magic in it, learning a lot of vocabulary and grammar pay off.
  • If you learn Japanese on your own, taking the JLPT makes you a part of this international community of test takers. Every time I take the test and see all those people around me, who also study Japanese, I feel like a lonely runner who participates in a marathon and feels pushed forward by other’s energy.
  • Seeing your results can help you understand better your “Japanese level”. I can’t say, for example, what my Japanese level is because there is such a noticeable gap between my reading and listening skills. There is no shame to be less good at something, and being aware of it is the first step to mend it if you want to.
  • Of course, if you pass the test, it’s a great achievement.


The JLPT does not reflect your real Japanese level because it has no writing or speaking section. But again, what is meant by “Japanese level”? The JLPT is a good way to evaluate your ability to read and listen to Japanese. It also tests you on your knowledge of vocabulary and grammar. I just take the JLPT for what it is, a good, easy and not that expensive way to challenge myself and have a feedback on these particular skills. It also helps me to better focus my studies and create new goals.

full mark

Daily Japanese study: How many kanji can I actually write?

I am currently studying with the Shin Kanzen Master series for the preparation of JLPT N2 and the book of the series that I always open with a sigh is the kanji book. These are some thoughts about how I must redefine my approach of kanji.

I have been very lazy with kanji since the beginning. As I learnt Chinese years ago and can still passively remember a good amount of Chinese characters, I never truly studied kanji. I do have an Anki deck devoted to them, but I am not studying it regularly because I feel like I don’t need to.

As long as I wanted to read novels, being able to recognise kanji and know their meaning was enough. But my knowledge is not accurate enough to go through the JLPT’s vocabulary test with confidence. That’s why I have decided to devote a greater part of my study plan to kanji.

And the Shin Kanzen Master book is a considerable help to me. Going through the kanji list is very monotonous, but the exercises are exactly what I needed. I was surprised, when I bought the book, to see that it came with a CD. In fact, the exercises consist (among others) to listen to short sentences that use the kanji learnt in the book and to write them down. This is the first time that I see such exercises in a kanji book, and it puzzled me because it showed me that I can’t write kanji anymore! 😧😢

Even if the JLPT does not require to write kanji, I am ashamed of myself to discover that I could not even write a simple information on a sheet of paper if I were asked to.

I am happy to feel at ease with kanji thanks to Chinese, but sometimes I have the feeling that I would have been more thorough with my study if I had started kanji from scratch with Japanese. It’s a little like Spanish. When I learnt it at school, I didn’t feel like learning all those words that were so similar to French. As a result, my Spanish has always been patchy and incomplete, and I would not trust myself to say anything in Spanish today.

New goal

When one wants to get used to writing kanji, the best thing to do is certainly to write regularly in Japanese. I am confident that one day, I will start some kind of writing routine, but I feel a little overwhelmed right now with the JLPT preparation and other things that I want to do.

Of course, I will continue practising the exercises from the Shin Kanzen book, but I think it might be a good idea to do other similar dictation exercises. The idea would be to select a short text or dialogue for which I have both the audio and the script, listen to the audio, try to write down everything using kanji when needed and check with the script. It has to be a very short… Maybe using the listening tests from JLPT N4 or N3 could be a good idea.

I haven’t done dictation exercises since school, but back then, it was the primary method to learn the incredible French spelling. French has this in common with Japanese that knowing how to pronounce a word doesn’t guarantee that you know how to write it. For example, how do you know that “boat” is written “bateau” and not “batot” or “batau”… I guess that you have to learn the word’s spelling together with the meaning of the word. At school, we mastered French’s spelling by doing dictation exercises every week. Maybe that’s what I should do with Japanese!

I will try this method and see how it works!

Note: 提笔忘字 is a Chinese 4 characters expression that means “pick up the brush, forget the character”. I like this expression because it happens so many times! You pick up your pen to write a character and stop dead because you don’t have a single clue about how the character you want to write looks like. I wonder if there is a similar expression in Japanese to carry the same idea… 🤔


NHK radio journal’s “シリーズ戦争を考える”: War orphan ~ 小倉勇さん

This week, the NHK radio journal has started a series to commemorate the end of the war. I listened to the first episode and, as usual, was totally unable to follow what was being said. I understood enough to know that a man in his 80’s (whose name is M. Ogura) was talking about his experience of American air raids.

As I really wanted to hear his story, I listened to the episode several times and was finally able to understand enough to follow the narrative. When the NHK announcer speaks, I can follow, but sadly, I can’t understand well what M. Ogura says.

But, as I really would like to be able to comprehend everything, I feel motivated to keep studying.

This episode is called 終戦が地獄の始まりだった~戦争孤児・小倉勇さん and was launched for the commemoration of the end World War II in Asia, on August 15th.

This episode is about 小倉勇さん(おぐら・いさむ)who is now 85 years-old, and is telling for the first time his experience of the war. Even if I listened to the interview/reportage several times, I still could not understand everything and I may be mistaken in the notes I made…

To listen to the episode, go to the NHK Journal homepage, choose 最近放送したコーナー to access the streaming page and select the date 8月15日, the program’s complete title is “シリーズ戦争を考える(1)終戦が地獄の始まりだった~戦争孤児・小倉勇さん”

Listening to the episode

The first expression to know is 戦争孤児・せんそうこじ which means “war orphan”. M. Ogura will talk 語る・かたる about his own experience 体験・たいけん for the first time.

As a child, M. Ogura lived with his mother 母親・ははおや who worked in a local 地元・じもと factory 工場・こうじょう. The speaker says that the time M. Ogura could spend with his mother was limited (because she had to work):


The speaker then talks about the last time M. Ogura was praised 褒められる・ほめられる by his mother, an episode that occurred in the 15th year of Showa 昭和15年・しょうわ15ねん (=1940), before the begin of 泰平戦争・たいへいせんそう the Pacific War.

The speaker then uses the expression “一変させます・いっぺんさせます” to say that the beginning of the war completely changed M. Ogura’s life. The ravages of war 戦禍・せんか came to M. Ogura’s city: we are in 昭和20年7月12日 (July 12th of 1945), the American air-raid 空襲・くうしゅう strikes the little city of Tsuruga in Fukui Prefecture.

At this time, M. Ogura’s mother was working at the factory, and M. Ogura was staying at relative’s home 親戚・しんせき.


While wondering how his mother was doing, but without having much time to think at all, M. Ogura ran with the others. The following day 翌日・よくじつ M. Ogura, who was only 13, was confronted with his mother’s corpse 遺体・いたい.

The young M. Ogura had then to live with relatives 親戚・しんせき but, from what I understand, things didn’t go well, the relatives in question wouldn’t feed M. Ogura correctly, and he eventually flew out the house 飛び出す・とびだす. He then tried to survive, sleeping in the station like many other orphans 孤児・こじ, some of whom he saw starving to death 餓死・がし.

What encourages M. Ogura during the three years he spent at the station, was this phrase:


Three years later, in 昭和23年・しょうわ23ねん (1948), M. Ogura, who was then 16, was taking shelter from rain 雨宿り・あまやどり in Kyoto station. There, he was found by the personnel 職員・しょくいん of what seems to be an association for war orphans? (I can’t understand this part well…, it may be something like “孤児の一時保護”, temporary protection for orphans?).

M. Ogura was taken under protection 保護されました・ほごされました and was able to take his first bath for 3 years and wash his body from tick だに, flea のみ and lice しらみ.

When asked what he desired 求める・もとめる the most during these years, M. Ogura answers something that I am not sure to understand… 😫

M. Ogura made the promise to become someone useful for the century 世紀に役立つ人間? (I am not sure if I understand correctly). He studied hard and was later able to administrate 経営する・けいえいする a massage place.


M. Ogura’s story stroke me by its resemblance with the film Grave of the Fireflies by Isao Takahata. Many children who lost their parents during the air-raids must have had the same story. I am glad that I could understand a little of this moving testimony and I hope I will be able to understand it all one day.

I am glad that I could understand a little of this moving testimony and I hope I will be able to understand it all one day.

As for language learning, today’s post confirms that it is much easier and interesting to study Japanese to be able to understand a radio program that interests us, than listening to a radio program to learn Japanese. Of course, I do listen, read, or watch many things that I don’t really care about just to improve my Japanese. But I never study as well as when I am striving to understand something that I really care about.

I am certain that one source of demotivation when learning a language is that we often consider the language to be the goal and all contents in this language to be tools to reach our goal. In fact, it should be the other way around. Contents in the target language should be our goal and the language, the tool to reach our goal.

JLPT program with the Shin Kanzen master series

It has been two weeks now that I am studying with the Shin Kanzen Master series for the preparation of JLPT N2. I am amazed by the quality of these books and totally satisfied.

This is a review of these two weeks.

General feeling

As I have enough time to study, it is no problem to follow the program that I designed for myself two weeks ago. I must admit, however, that having no day off in the week is a little tiring, especially concerning the kanji. Instead of learning 10 kanji a day, I will certainly learn 14 kanji a day from Monday to Friday and rest during the weekend.

My strategy for vocabulary and kanji is to enter everything in my Anki decks with tags. I have a tag “N2” if I want to revise the whole vocabulary of N2 and a tag per lesson to make daily focused revisions. I totally rely on Anki to learn vocabulary and kanji.

Concerning the grammar, I list the grammar points in a notebook with explanations in French and all the important characteristic related to this grammar. Even if I can understand the Japanese explanations of the Shin Kanzen master book, I still feel like I don’t want to read them again some days before the exam. I can make an effort to read grammar explanations in Japanese when I am studying the grammar in question, but I don’t think that I will want to re-read them again when revising. Taking notes in French also allows me to verify if I understood the grammar correctly or not.

As for the reading and listening parts, I consider that practice makes perfect and just follow the activities of each book. For listening, however, I bought another N2 book which is entirely devoted to listening. There are no lessons, no explanations, no exercises, just a great amount of listening tests from past years. I listen to the audio, again and again, trying to understand every single word and repeating each phrase, too.

First impression of the books


vocabulaireN2 This book is challenging because every lesson comes with an extensive list of words and expressions to remember. But the words are well classified and often come associated with other words. Instead of just presenting a list of words out of context, the book presents phrases with contains the new words in bold.

For example, instead of listing the words “適度な”, “休養”, the book gives you the phrase “適度休養を取る”. Another example: “徹夜して睡眠不足する”. The words you want to learn are in bold.

The book also brings similar patterns to your attention. For example, the pattern ~上がる which appear in “立ち上がる”, “起き上がる” or “飛び上がる”.

The last part that precedes the exercises consists of 4 phrases which each contains an adverb. It means that you can learn 4 adverbs per lesson, which is a correct amount in my opinion. You also see them in context and can grab their meaning easily. In the So-matome series, the adverbs were all presented at the same time in several consecutive lessons. You had to learn the same day very similar adverbs, and I gave up remembering them all. As a consequence, I appreciate very much the way adverbs are presented in the Shin Kanzen Master series.

Then come a lot of exercises that I only started today (because I want to leave a two weeks gap between the day when I learn the new words and the day when I do the exercises). I will review them later.


grammaireN2To me, this is the best book of the series. I am able to fully understand grammar points that seemed very similar when I first studied them with the So-matome series. Back then, I remember that I could not completely understand the differences or nuances between some grammar that were introduced in the same lesson.

Each lesson introduces 5 or 6 grammar which meaning are more or less similar. The meaning of the grammar is given along with several examples. What I find the most useful is the complementary explanation that is provided for each grammar. The book explains exactly when this grammar is used and the things you should pay attention to when using it. By only reading and understanding this explanation, you should be all set, but the double-page of exercises that comes with each lesson will make sure that you understood 100% of the grammar.

I do think that the people who prepared these exercises are some kind of genius who are perfectly aware of the difficulties a language learner encounter. These exercises do not ask you to choose the right grammar point. They are dedicated to each grammar you have just learned so that you know that these questions will all concern this grammar. The exercises focus on the points you have to be aware of to master the grammar fully. For example: Is this grammar used in a positive or negative context? can the speaker express desire, hope or will with this grammar? can a noun precede the grammar? if we talk about time, should it be something that is done daily, something that is done once in a life time, a far away past, etc.?

Being able to answer this questions is a kind of guarantee that you master the grammar.


kanjiN2The book is divided into two main parts: the first part is just a list of kanji to learn and the second part is a series of exercises.

Concerning the kanji list, there isn’t much to say. The kanji are divided into three levels of difficulty and ordered by alphabetical order in each level. They are provided with all possible readings and words which contain the kanji.

It’s a little boring to study kanji in alphabetical order, and I much preferred the So-matome kanji book which presented kanjis in context, each lesson being defined by a theme.

On the other hand, the exercises seem to be useful and different from other kanji exercises I have made so far. But, same here as for the vocabulary, I have just started them and will review them later.


readingN2I have only made two lessons of the book, but they were both very interesting and useful. The lessons help you to analyse two texts by focusing on a particular point (comparison, for example). The analysis is well made, it helps you extract the main information of the text and answer the question correctly. You are then left alone to read a few more texts and answer the questions. The answers provide some more information about the general purpose of the text and why the wrong answer didn’t fit.

I like this book as much as I like the So-matome reading book.


listeningN2Here again, I haven’t gone very far in the book, but the first lessons were very useful and enjoyable. Each lesson or part of the lesson, focus on something (intonation, who is doing the action, etc.) with interesting explanations and several listening exercises. To give an example, you learn to distinguish “これじゃないと思います” from “これなんじゃないかと思います”.

Comparing to the reading book, which requires a lot of concentration, the listening book is entertaining!


The So-matome series was very pleasant to study with lessons never exceeding one double-page and illustrations, but the Shin Kanzen master series is very thorough and challenging. I have no doubt that completing this series is the key to get N2 with a good score.

If you can afford both series, then I would recommend starting with the So-matome series which has English translations and explanations and a reasonable amount of information in each lesson. When you feel more confident, you can attack the Shin Kanzen Master series which is only in Japanese and very challenging, especially concerning the amount of vocabulary to learn.

Review: どちらかが彼女を殺した by Higashino Keigo 東野圭吾

I have finally finished the fourth book of the Kaga series, by Higashino Keigo. I read this series because I like the personality of Higashino Keigo’s detective. But even if we do learn important things about Kaga in the first novel of the series and in 悪意, I didn’t feel that I got to know Kaga better in this novel.

In fact, in this novel, Detective Kaga is not even the protagonist, and the reader never reaches Kaga’s mind. We see the progress of Kaga’s investigation through the eyes of the real protagonist, a police officer whose sister is found dead in her apartment. I personally found very frustrating that Kaga was so little present in this novel, but the story was still exciting.

The reader must investigate, too

Higashino Keigo offers his readers not only a novel but a real investigation. Every detail counts, every description and dialogues can reseal something of importance for the case. In most of Higashino Keigo’s stories, the action is less important than logical deduction. With all the gathered clues, one has to make possible scenarios and see if every thing fit into it.

I liked the fact that the reader can participate and even has to participate. Instead of taking vocabulary notes I should have written down every clue, drawn a sketch of the scene where the body was discovered and noted what we learn about the two main suspects.

I appreciated this novel, especially the concurrence between the main protagonist and Kaga, and I also liked the end, which was very surprising. I was just disappointed that the focalisation never changed (like it used to do in other novels of the series).

As for the Japanese difficulty, it was not the easiest book I have read by Higashino Keigo. What was easy is that there were a few main characters, a few places and little action. That means little description. The whole novel is mainly composed of dialogues which are much easier to understand than narrative and descriptive passages. However, when there were descriptions, I found them challenging, with important but difficult words. As the reader has to understand every detail to be able to take part in the investigation, this book does require some amount of concentration.

If you want to read this book, you can check the list I made of all the characters that appear or are mentioned in the story.

To see a short review of other books from Higashino Keigo I read in Japanese, here is the page!

An 110-year-old carousel pig

Opening Asahi’s web page today, I find this intriguing article in the top news.

Read the article

An 110-year-old carousel pig presents itself, speaking in the first person. Thanks to this article, I learnt that merry-go-round is said 回転木馬・かいてんもくば in Japanese.

Our carousel pig is turning 110-year-old this year and is still amusing children in the park Toshimaen, along with the horses ウマくんと一緒に without having failed a single time 負けたことはない.

The pig and its equid friends have an interesting story. Born in Germany (ドイツで生まれたぼくたちは), they crossed the Atlantic to the U.S (アメリカに渡り) and stayed there for about a half century 半世紀・はんせいき before going to Japan.

7 years ago, the Japan Society of Mechanical Engineers 日本機械学会・にほんきかいがっかい certified  認定する・にんていする the carousel as Mechanical Engineering Heritage 機械遺産・きかいいさん.

The carousel was carved 彫られた・ほられた by hand 手で彫られた in style Art Nouveau アールヌーボー様式・ようしき. The creaking sound ギシギシ that can be heard when the carousel is set into motion is part of its charm.

Our pig wishes we could see the 1200 light bulbs 電球・でんきゅう that accompany them when they go round on summer nights. If you want to pay him a visit, the carousel is called “carousel El Dorado” and is situated in the park Toshimaen としまえん in Nerima 練馬区・ねりまく, Tokyo.


Do you know すみっコぐらし or すみっコ for short? They are cute characters designed by San-X (who also designed the famous リラックマ).

As I love those characters, I decided to read this book, which contains two short stories that feature the すみっコ. It’s a book for children (primary school) but, even if it contains some illustrations, it looks more like a novel than an illustrated book. I bought it mainly to have something easy to read in Japanese, but I must admit that I enjoy reading it for the story, too.

The book has 119 pages, and even if it looks like a novel, there is a lot of blank space between each line, so it is quite short.

The story

The two stories each features a primary school girl who meets the Sumikko when they decide to settle in her room. The first story deals with loneliness and solitude and depicts the difference between being alone because one wants to, and being alone because one is ignored by others. I found a lot of interest in this story.

The second story is about shyness and the difficulty to express one’s feelings.

The characters Sumikko are all more or less negative, being either extremely shy like the cat ねこ or lacking self-confidence like ペンギン? who is not even sure to be a penguin. The white bear しろくま is so sensitive to the cold that it had to leave its home country, the North Pole. Finally, とんかつ is just the remaining last end of a fried pork cutlet, left over because it contains a lot of fat and almost no meat. In the first story, it hangs around with エビフライのしっぽ, the remaining tail of a fried shrimp, left over, too.

As we can see through these stories, the Sumikko tend to sympathise with people who like to sit in the corner and remain unnoticed or people who suffer from shyness and lack self-confidence.

For Japanese learners

When one learns a language, a natural move is to start reading books for children. Talking from my own experience, I think that books for very young children are not a good choice. They often talk about animals, traditional stories, fairy tales, contain a lot of onomatopoeias and are overall quite difficult to read.

On the contrary, books aiming at primary school children, that is, easy and short novels, are often a good choice. You do have to know a lot of grammar, at least all N4 grammar and most probably N3 grammar, too, but the vocabulary will be reduced, and the furigana may even be written, as it is the case in this book. If you choose a story that deals with everyday life, school, friends, family and so on, you should not be out of your depth.

In this book, the vocabulary is easy, and even if you don’t understand everything, you still can guess what happens and what will happen next. It is definitely a good choice if you are around N3 level and are looking for something substantial but accessible. Contrary to a manga, you will have narrative parts, so it’s a good way to start reading novels.

Sumikko’s official site

About this book: すみっコぐらし~ストーリーズ、ひみつのすみっコ生活(ぐらし)はじめました、著:せきちさと、イラスト:サンエックス、出版:小学館、2015