Currently Reading: 「豆の上で眠る」 by 湊かなえ

I am reading the second book of my 2018 Reading challenge! I chose 「豆の上で眠る」by 湊かなえ(みなとかなえ).

I bought this book because it was presented as a “shocking mystery of two sisters” (衝撃の姉妹ミステリー!), but I am slowly discovering that this novel is much more than a mystery. Even if there is a mystery focused on the two sisters Yuiko and Mayuko, the novel mainly turns around the relations between the member of the family. From the striking portrait of the mother to the way a child perceives itself in the family, the complexity of feelings that family members can have for one another confers its deepness to the story.

The novel opens on Yuiko, the little sister, returning home during the Summer. She is now a student, and we feel that this trip back home will be filled with memories of the past. As a reader, we are dragged into a journey that leads us to Yuiko’s childhood and, as far as I can tell, will reveal unspoken bitterness.

At the beginning, the title is explained as Yuiko recalls how her big sister Mayuko used to read her fairy tales, among which, The Princess and the Pea. From the beginning, we are shown scenes of Yuiko and Mayuko’s time together that allow us to grasp the nature of the relationship between the two sisters. The more we read, the more involved we get and the anticipation of the tragedy to come does not let us close the book easily.

It took me some time to get used to the author’s writing style but after having read the first 30-40 pages, I was not puzzled anymore by the novel’s particularities (for example, the narration intermingles memories of the past and actions of the present). I can now read it easily enough to fully enjoy it.

So far, I really love this novel, I am just afraid that I may be reading the best book of my list…

I will post my review as soon as I finish it!

My method for the JLPT reading part

Last week, I got the results of the second session of the JLPT (December 2017), and I was happy and relieved to see that I passed with 156 points!

I thought that I would pass because, after the test, I felt that my performance was similar to what I did in July 2017, when I took the N2 for the first time. But precisely because my performance seemed to be the same, I was anxious. I thought that the four months I spent working with the Shin Kanzen Master series between August and November of last year were maybe not worth it…

In this post, I am going to see what these 4 months brought me and then give my personal tips to pass the Reading section (the only section where I feel entitled to give advice).

A year of JLPT N2

A year of JLPT

I started studying for the JLPT N2 at the beginning of 2017. I used the So-Matome series, which I really appreciated. I had time (6 months), and I didn’t really stress myself with the JLPT. As you can see, I achieved the full mark in reading, but I was not satisfied with the Language Knowledge (vocabulary and grammar) section. As a consequence, I decided to sit the test one more time in December. This time, I studied the Shin Kanzen series.

Worth it?

If my goal had been to pass the JLPT, then studying the So-Matome books would have been enough. But the JLPT is not as much a goal in itself as a way to stay motivated, create a deadline and help me boost my vocabulary. Studying the Shin Kanzen series helped me do all these and I don’t regret for one second having spent so much time on it. This being said, I can’t help but think that 14 and 11 points are not much in comparison with my efforts to finish the books of the series… Of course, I am glad that I improved my score. If I hadn’t, I would have been so cast down… studying more to achieve less… But I feel like extraordinary efforts (to me) have brought a not-so-extraordinary result.

Grammar, Vocabulary and Listening

To dig a little deeper, I would say that the real improvement was in the grammar section. I did feel more at ease in December than in July, and I would not be surprised if I had got the 14 points thanks to the grammar only.

On the contrary, I didn’t feel at ease at all with the vocabulary. There were still a lot of words I didn’t know. From my experience, completing the Shin Kanzen vocabulary book does not guarantee a full mark at the vocabulary section.

As for the listening section, I think that there are 3 things at stake here:

  • Language knowledge (how many words one knows)
  • Listening competence (the ability to recognize the known words and fill the gap of unknown words. In other words, the ability to understand a text or a dialogue even with unknown words)
  • Note taking

My language knowledge certainly improved a little but what really made the difference is my capacity to take notes. In July, just the idea that I had to take notes paralysed me and I was not able to take notes while still focusing on what I was listening to. Thanks to the listening book of Shin Kanzen series, I learnt to take notes rapidly. In July, I could not answer the last questions because I hadn’t taken notes properly. In December, the last questions have not puzzled me so I might have won my points there.

As for the listening competence, I don’t think that it is something that improves through studying a textbook, no matter how good it might be. It comes from listening to a lot, which I don’t do enough.

The reading section

As I have been steady in my results for the reading section, I feel that the method I use works well for me and I will apply it when (if) I try myself at N1.

To pass the reading section, I think that one needs three things (like the listening part):

  • Language knowledge, particularly kanji. There is no secret concerning improving one’s vocabulary: you have to learn new words regularly. But, recognizing kanji is something that can be improved a little every day. When you read in Japanese, try to pay special attention to kanji. You don’t have to know how to write them, just being able to associate them with a general meaning can save you the day of the test. Even being able to say if this kanji has a positive meaning or a negative one can help understand a whole sentence or avoid a counter-sense.
  • Reading competence. Again, this is the competence that allows you to understand a text even when it is full of unknown words. The best way to improve this competence is to read a lot. Not just JLPT material, but anything you can find in Japanese. This is something that builds itself on the long-term.
  • A method to apply the day of the test. This is what I want to talk about here.

What follows is the method I applied both time I sat the JLPT. These are just personal tips that may not work for everyone.

Start with the Language knowledge part but rush through it.

Use the language knowledge section as warm-up exercises

I don’t know if it concerns all levels of the JLPT, but for N2, you have a common amount of time allotted to do the language knowledge part and the reading part.

As time is an issue, a good idea would be to start with the reading section. By doing so, you are less stressed by the clock and can read all the texts. I tried this method once when I was doing a mock test and it didn’t work at all for me. Even though the first texts are supposed to be easy, I could not understand them and had to read them twice. At the end of the test, I had 5 minutes left that I used to go back to these “easy” texts. Half of my answers were wrong and I was able to correct myself, thus winning some points.

Why did it not work?

I need some time to adjust myself and pass in “Japanese mode”. If the reading section texts are the very first thing I do, I am still not focused enough and I have difficulty understanding them. Maybe it is just me, but I feel unprepared like if my brain needed some time to really start working.

On the contrary, after having been through the whole “language knowledge” section, my brain is warm enough to attack the reading part. I take the “language knowledge” part as warm-up exercises for the reading section. Our body needs warm-up exercises before doing an intense activity, our brain might not be different after all (or maybe I have a particularly slow brain? 😐)

Don’t lose time on vocabulary

As time is still an issue, we want to gain time on the language knowledge part. I think that you should rush through the vocabulary questions. Most of the time, either you know the answer or not and if you don’t, reflecting 5 minutes on it does not really help you get nearer to the answer. I would even say that your best intuition is often the right answer. This intuition comes necessarily from somewhere, maybe you saw this word in the past and, even if you cannot remember it clearly, one answer seems more natural than the others.

The same applies to grammar too, even if some questions do require time and reflection.

The best thing to do is to know exactly what minimal time you need to go through all the texts of the reading part. The day of the test, try to devote this amount of time to the reading part, no matter what.

Don’t watch the clock once started

This is just my personal method. Please do check the clock if not knowing the time should stress you more as knowing it!

Once you know that you start the reading section soon enough to be able to finish it, there is no need to look at the clock anymore. Of course, this requires knowing exactly how much time you need and be confident about it. The only way to know it is to have worked through at least two mock tests at home. If you can trust yourself to go through all the texts of the reading part in x minutes, then looking at the clock will only bring stress and a sense of urgency that will ruin your concentration.

To understand the long and difficult texts of N2 I really need 100% of my concentration. If 20% of it is busy thinking of the time left, I will have much more difficulty understanding what I read.

One can also say that if you are not going to finish the reading section, knowing it won’t change anything. Or if it changes something, it might make things worse. If you know that you won’t be able to finish, it’s not 20% but 80% of your brain that will be devoted to time. You will be tempted to read faster, thus missing information and end up having read a text without understanding it… resulting in having to re-read it and losing precious minutes.

Be a reader, not a test-taker

These are advice that helped me a lot. It might seem too simple to be useful but it changed everything to me.

Read slowly

Reading too fast is the best way to miss a piece of information here and there and end up accumulating gaps that will lead to a misunderstanding of the whole text. Sometimes, failing to recognize what is the subject of a sentence can blur the meaning of a whole paragraph.

Reading slowly does not only mean reading at a slow pace but also implies that one should not hesitate to re-read a sentence if needed. In other words, I don’t move to the next sentence if I don’t understand the one I am reading. I prefer to take the time to re-read the problematic sentence before moving on.

Before applying this method, I used to read the text until the end, no matter how good I understood it. I wanted to believe that something would help me grasp the meaning of the text, or that the end would be so enlightening that understanding the last paragraph would be enough to understand the whole text. But it rarely works this way. What systematically happens is that comprehension gaps will get bigger and bigger. If you don’t understand a sentence, there are chances that you won’t fully understand the paragraph. As paragraphs are often constructed in relation to one another, you compromise your comprehension of the whole text.

So what happened when I finished reading the whole text without having understood it completely? I would read the questions, have no clue what the answers are and would have no choice than to read the whole text again.

In the end, if I compare reading the text slowly and reading the text twice or more, reading slowly wins.

Don’t read the questions before the text

I know that most textbooks tell you to read the questions first and this is what I have been doing for a long time. The problem is that I am too focused on the pieces of information I need to answer the questions. Sometimes, I have the impression that a paragraph is not useful to answer the questions, so I tend to read it very fast and not bother if I don’t understand it. Then, two problems may arise:

  • I realise that this paragraph was indeed useful to answer a question, and I have to read it again.
  • Not understanding this paragraph makes the comprehension of the next paragraph more difficult.

Moreover, a part of my capacity to focus is busy recalling what the questions were while I am reading, and this left me with less concentration power to make my way through the text.

What I would advice to do, is to ignore the questions and read the text slowly. When I started reading the text slowly, I realised that I knew the text well enough to be able to answer the questions without having to look at the text a second time. Or, if I really needed to check something, I would know exactly where to find what I was looking for. So what I do is:

  1. Read the text slowly. This does take time, but the idea is that I read the text only once. I will not need to go back to the text to answer the questions.
  2. Read the questions and answer them without (most of the time) having to look at the text.
Note: the last exercise of N2 is the only time when I read the questions first. You have to find relevant information in a notice or information board and knowing what information you are looking for is the first step. So, in this case, reading the questions first is the best strategy.

Make sure you want to know what the text is about

The idea is to become a reader who really wants to know what this text is about. You have to fake a sincere interest in the contents of the text. Forget that you are reading the text to pass an exam and read it for the contents it has to offer. If the author talks about his own experience, try to feel empathy for what he says or link it to things you yourself experienced. If the text explains something, feel interested in its contents, as though you decided to read it because you wanted to know what were the results of this survey or what were the social trends or latest scientific researches the text presents.

Having this kind of attitude boosted my comprehension of the text and my capacity to fill the gaps when too many unknown words showed themselves in the same paragraph. Forgetting everything about the test, in other words, ignoring both the time and the questions, and reading the text for itself, for its contents, boost our ability to guess what the author wants to say.


Even if I feel confident when starting reading a text in Japanese, there are times when I come to the last line of it and have no idea what it was about. What happened when I took my first mock tests was that I would read the questions and the answers, try to find the information in the text, look frantically through it, be unable to find the good paragraph, end up re-reading the whole text, re-read the answers I had forgotten, panic, look at my watch, draw a sharp breathe, skip this text and go to the next one.

To avoid this situation, I found my own method which can be summarized like this:

  • Use the Language-knowledge part as a warm-up exercise
  • Don’t lose time on the vocabulary part
  • Know the time you need to finish the reading part, so that time pressure does not kill your focus
  • Read slowly, don’t read questions first, and try to care about the text.

To summarize, the best thing is to have one’s own personal method to apply the day of the test! As you can see, my method is very different from the usually recommended ones. So my recommendation would be to not blindly follow other people’s tips (including this blog post!). Finding one’s own method is the key.

Japanese News: Changing article 9 of the Constitution? Discussions inside the LDP

The article I propose to study was published on NHK Yesterday: 憲法9条2項”の扱い 自民 党内意見集約に時間かかるか

Political articles are by far the most difficult ones… Today, I want to try to study one and get more familiar with some political vocabulary that is bound to appear often in the news. I want to slowly broaden my vocabulary for politics, to be able to understand what an article is about by only looking at the title or having a quick glance at its contents.

For example, knowing the word 憲法・けんぽう (Constitution) is enough to guess that this article is about the amendment of the Constitution.

I have made a list of words that are necessary to understand this article and useful to read the political news in general:

  • 憲法改正・けんぽうかいせい means “amendment of the Constitution”. This is a word that frequently appears in the news because revising the Constitution is one of Abe’s main goals.
  • Directly related to the Constitutional revision is the 自衛隊の明記 or the “clear mention of the Self-Defence Force”.
    • 明記・めいき: as the kanji suggest, this word means “clear mention”, “clear writing”. I think that it is a formal word used in administrative context.
    • 自衛隊・じえいたい: the Self-Defense Forces of Japan, often shortened as SDF. This is an important word to read politics. Japan has Self-Defense Forces. The problem is that the article 9 of the Constitution states that Japan should not maintain a war potential. It is not clear whether the SDF is authorised by the Constitution because, as it stands, the article 9 states that Japan should not maintain military forces. The discussions around the article 9 aim at giving the SDF a concrete existence in the Constitution.
  • 自民党・じみんとうLiberal Democratic Party. The entire appellation is 自由民主党・じゆうみんしゅとう. The LDP is the party in power in Japan. Our article mentions that even inside the LDP, it is hard to find an agreement on how the article 9 should be revised.
  • 幹部・かんぶ means “a leading member”, an “executive officer” or “the managing staff”. In our context (plenary session of the House of Representatives) I think we can use the terms “lawmakers”, “senior politicians” or “legislators” (…?)
  • 戦力の不保持・せんりょくのふほじ. Literally: the non-maintenance of military capability. Article 9 of the Constitution states that Japan renounces the right of belligerency. How to amend this article 9 is precisely what is being discussed at the moment, among the LDP members.
  • 合憲性・ごうけんせい: constitutionality. Revising the article 9 by adding an explicit reference to the SDF would ensure that no controversy would arise concerning the constitutionality of the SDF.

Other words to know:

  • 国会・こっかい: the National Diet.
  • 衆議院・しゅうぎいん: the House of Representatives, the lower House of the National Diet
  • 参議院・さんぎいん: the House of Councillors, the upper House of the National Diet
  • 本会議・ほんかいぎ: a plenary session (of the Diet).

To resume the article, there are different opinions 異論・いろん inside the LPD 自民党・じみんとう concerning how the article 9 of the Constitution should be changed. The main idea is to make a clear mention of the SDF (自衛隊の明記). One proposition is to keep the two paragraphs of article 9 as they are and add a paragraph that would mention the SDF and confirm its existence (自衛隊の存在を規定する条文を追加する案). The idea is to end the controversy about whether the Self-Defence Forces are constitutional or not (自衛隊の合憲性に議論). But other opinions arise: some say that the Diet should also revise the second paragraph (2項の改正を主張している), while other say that stating the existence of the SDF is not enough and propose to add that the SDF can exercise without being hindered (自衛権の発動を妨げない) (I am not sure concerning the translation of this last point…).

All citations come from the NHK article linked above.

Every time I start reading such an article, I feel discouraged and too lazy to even try. If I do try, however, I am surprised to see that there were no real difficulty in it. The many kanji, long sentences and unknown names make the article look scary but a little effort can put us through it!


Book review: 「噓を愛する女」 by 岡部えつ

I finished reading the first novel of my 2018 reading challenge (read one novel in Japanese a month in 2018). I chose a very short one to begin with: 「噓を愛する女」by 岡部えつ(おかべえつ).

To summarize briefly the story, Yukari (由香里), a successful working woman pushing 30, is living with her boyfriend Kippei (桔平), who does not seem to want to marry her. When Kippei is brought to the hospital unconscious after he suffered from a subarachnoid haemorrhage, Yukari discovers that her boyfriend’s identity is not what she thought it was. She begins an investigation to discover who he really is and why he lied to her.

The novel is very short, 260 pages, and is mainly focused on what Yukari does and discovers. There are very few descriptive parts, which makes it very easy to read for Japanese learners. Every chapter brings new elements that take Yukari and the reader nearer to the truth and this investigation-like story made me keep turning the pages long after I had read my daily quota. But even if reading this novel was very enjoyable, I felt that what kept me reading was more the excitation of cracking the mystery that a real commitment or empathy towards the two characters.

Being short, the novel spares us long setup and takes us immediately in the core of the story. The counterpart is that we know very little if any of the relationship between Yukari and Kippei. There are some rapid flash-backs but the years the characters have spent together remain vacant for the reader. It is hard to take the measure of Yukari’s frustration and to feel committed to her investigation. At the end, while Yukari is fighting for love, I only felt pushed forward by a wicked curiosity about what happened in Kippei’s past.

This does not mean that I didn’t like this novel. It was pleasant to read and it keeps you turn the pages until the end. There are also some good insights into what it means to live together without being married in Japan: no matter how perfect a couple can be, love itself is not enough in a society where you are either “married” or “single”.

To anyone looking for an easy novel in Japanese, 「噓を愛する女」is a good choice. It does not use difficult words, and there are not many descriptive or introspective parts that could be challenging. This is an extract to give you an idea of the book’s difficulty:

The novel opens with Yukari and her mother, waiting in a restaurant for Kippei to arrive. This will be the first meeting between Kippei (桔平) and Yukari’s mother. Unfortunately, Kippei never shows himself and Yukari returns home, thinking that he intentionally avoided meeting her mother (p.13):


Reference: 「噓を愛する女」、岡部えつ、徳間文庫、2017

Motivation: studying Anki

If you are learning a foreign language, you are certainly using a spaced repetition system (SRS) to memorise vocabulary. I personally use Anki and created my deck from scratch when I started learning Japanese. Today, it contains more than 7000 words and expressions and I can say that, contrary to any other material, this Anki deck has been with me all the way long from the very first day and is still the most solid pillar of my learning Japanese journey. It has witnessed all the phases of my studying process and contains some irrelevant words that make it very personal.

Without Anki, I could not have remembered so many words. Still, more than often, I sigh before opening my deck and what motivates me is not as much the perspective of learning new words as the fear to procrastinate and find myself with double work the next day.

I think that the main source of demotivation concerning Anki (or any other SRS) is the feeling that we are studying our deck for the sake of it, not to improve our Japanese. I often go through my cards thinking that I want to finish it as quickly as possible to have time to do interesting things like starting the next lesson of my textbook. It is as though studying Anki would not belong to the general “study Japanese” plan.

So what can we do to give more meaning to the 20 or 40 minutes we spend each day with our RSR? These are some ideas I try to apply and that seem to help. This being said, I still don’t have a magic formula to make memorising vocabulary something fun, but I keep searching.

Add sound to Anki

One thing I did that really gave a new value to my deck was to use the Awesome TTS plugin. I don’t know how it works for other SRS, but if you are using Anki, the Awesome TTS plugin adds sound to your cards. There are two ways of incorporating sound, one is to add it to each of your notes, which takes forever if you already have a consistent deck. The second method is to generate the sound “on-the-fly”. If you follow these steps, it is very quick and easy to do, no matter how big your deck might be. There are several voices available for Japanese and some give an impressively good result.

Connect it to the “real world”

Another thing that I do systematically is to try to find the words of my Anki deck outside of Anki, in the “real world”. Whenever I find a word I learnt through Anki in a novel, for example, I would pause for a second and tell myself “This word is my Anki deck, it’s a good thing that I learnt it because thanks to it, I can understand this sentence”. The next day, when I study my deck, I would feel more motivated because I would know that studying Anki is useful. Even if Anki may seem disconnected from the “real Japanese”, seeing that the hours spent on my deck allow me to read a novel in Japanese today, encourages me to keep on studying Anki. Revising 200 words every day may be boring but I know that it will make me able to read more challenging novels one day.

Associate words with positive emotion

I once read that emotion was involved in learning. I can’t remember exactly what it was about, but to talk about my own experience, I can say that what determines whether I will learn and memorise a word easily or not is not the word in itself but the emotion attached to it. Some words come from a novel or a manga I liked and when I study them, I can say exactly where I found them, in which scene or which book. These are words I remember without efforts. They are words that I read and found interesting or useful and decided to enter them in my deck, they are associated with a positive emotion. On the contrary, I have a lot of words coming from my JLPT N2 vocabulary textbook. All I can say about these words is that they were part of a list of 20 similar words. These are words I tend to forget regularly. The only thing I can do to make these words interesting is to find them “in the real world” and associate them with a new context.

Add patterns?

Finally, I still hesitate whether I should add more patterns (expressions or sentences) or stick to words. I do have some expressions and short sentences that come from my N2 textbook and I must admit that it helps to remember both words and grammar. On the other hand, I am afraid to overflow my deck with sentences and spend too much time studying it (recalling a whole sentence takes more time than just saying one word). I think I will give it a try and add a special tag to all the “pattern” notes so that I can delete them easily if I am not satisfied.


I wish I could say that I am studying Anki because I know that it helps me build my vocabulary and that vocabulary is the key to read fluently. But to be honest, the real motivation that makes me open my deck every day is the idea that if I don’t do it, I will have a double charge of work the next day. One might say that the source of motivation does not matter, as long as it works. But as I am learning Japanese for pleasure, I prefer being motivated by positive perspectives rather than negative consequences. Let’s see if I can stay motivated enough throughout the year to reach my goal of 10,000 words at the end of 2018!

Japanese News - South Korea and North Korea together i

Japanese News: South Korea and North Korea together in Pyeongchang

On Wednesday (January 17th), officials from South Korea and North Korea have met and discussed the Olympics for 11 hours. Two major decisions came out of this meeting, both turned towards friendship: first, South and Nord Korea will enter the opening ceremony together, under a “flag of the unification” (a white flag with a blue Korea peninsula); second, the two countries will create a joint women hockey team. Concerning the size and the participation of North Korea teams, it will be settled tomorrow (20th).

This is the NHK article I chose to study today: ピョンチャン五輪北朝鮮選手団の規模・参加種目は4者会談で

The article is long, but there were few difficult words to me in it. Yet, it was difficult to read and I had to re-read most paragraphs twice and slowly in order to fully understand them. More than often, my eyes would just go through the whole paragraph with my brain lazily following. I would end up having a vague idea of what the paragraph is about but I would have been unable to translate it.

Reflecting on what makes a news article difficult to read, I came to the conclusion that the grammar is the problem. I always thought that news articles are challenging because they contain a lot of difficult words. This is also true, but it does not explain why I feel discouraged even when I know most of the words.

If we look at the first paragraph of this article, we see why it is difficult to read for a Japanese learner: the first paragraph is composed of only one long sentence (this is true for almost all the paragraphs of this article)! To understand how it is structured, we must pay attention to the grammar. But, as pointed out by the Antimoon website (I mentioned it on Monday), we tend to “read for contents”. This is exactly what happens when I read the news in Japanese. I focus on words and kanji and I completely overlook the grammar. Let’s take the first paragraph as an example:

Grammar analysis 1


Let’s start with the vocabulary:

  • 次官・じかん means “undersecretary”. 次官級の・じかんきゅうの means “of undersecretary level”. I don’t know what would be a proper English translation.
  • 実務・じつむ: practical business, administrative work
  • 協議・きょうぎ: consultation, deliberation, discussion

To be honest, these are the kind of words I don’t really focus on. It is maybe enough to know that there were discussions at a high level between South and North Korea.

Then we have 4 topics:

  • Topic A: アイスホッケー女子の合同チームの結成
    • The formation of a joint women hockey team
  • Topic B: 開会式での合同入場行進
    • South and North will march together during the opening ceremony
  • Topic C: 北朝鮮の選手団の規模
    • the size of the team sent by North Korea
  • Topic D: (北朝鮮の選手団の)参加種目
    • the sports in which North Korea will participate

Now the grammar:


Those three grammars give the context: we are told what it is about を巡り, who is involved , and where and when it took place .


There is a difference here between and .

 , in association with など, means that both A and B (among other things) are on the same level, it is an enumeration. That is, both topic A and topic B (among others) were approved (合意) during the meeting.

, however, marks a turn in the sentence. Basically, the paragraph tells us two things: During the meeting about the Olympics, an agreement has been reached concerning topic A and topic B AND (し) it has been decided that the final decision concerning topic C and topic D will be made on the 20th.


については introduces the two new topics, topic C and D, here again, separated by .

ことになりました: This grammar shows that during the meeting, it was decided that concerning topic C and topic D, it will be settled on the 20th, during a discussion that will involve による 4 participants, among whom など, the IOC.

When I first read this paragraph, I was confused to find two dates. In fact, I overlooked the し, I thought it had the same meaning than や. As a consequence, I thought that we were still in the same enumeration and was lost when they introduced a new date, it just didn’t make sense.

Grammar analysis 2

Another paragraph that left me confused is this one:


When I first read it, I had a general idea of the meaning. Basically, the article just says again that concerning topic C and D, the final decision will be taken on the 20th. What puzzled me is “4者会談” because I had no idea what were supposed to be the 4 actors. Here again, let’s analyse the paragraph:


Concerning the topic C and the topic D…


It has been decided that it would be settled…

今月20日にスイスで開かれる (…) 4者会談

during a conference between four actors …. that will take place on the 20th in Switzerland.


composed of:

  • IOC= International Olympic Committee (IOC=国際オリンピック委員会)
  • South Korea Olympic Committee (北のオリンピック委員会)
  • North Korea Olympic Committee (南のオリンピック委員会)
  • The Organizing Committee of the Games (大会の組織委員会)


Once analysed, the paragraphs that seemed difficult at first prove to be quite easy at the end. If I analyse in this way each article that I read, it will really take me one year to complete today’s newspaper… But, being aware that I have to pay attention to the grammar will help me, I hope! What I have to do is to focus on these little grammar words that seem to precede every coma in this kind of article. This is a difficult exercise because, as said earlier, we tend to read for contents and ignore the grammar. I guess that we have to train our brain to focus on grammar, too. It requires a conscious effort. By doing so, we will get used to targeting grammar when reading and going through long news article will not be discouraging anymore!

Currently reading: 噓を愛する女 by 岡部えつ

I started the first novel of my 2018 reading challenge list! I picked up what seemed to be the easiest novel on the list: 「噓を愛する女」by 岡部えつ(おかべえつ). I didn’t know this author before, I have checked her Wikipedia page and I saw that there was a drama adaptation of one of her previous novel.

I first thought that this novel was adapted into a film, but now I think that it is the other way around, that this novel was written after the film. It may sound strange, but I am not sure at all which came first… Here is the trailer for the film:

噓を愛する女 filmFrom what I have read so far and what we can guess from the trailer, I think that there may be some differences between the film and the novel. For example, the film seems to insist on the “perfect couple” aspect, whereas the novel stresses the fact that they were not married. But the main point remains the same. One day, a woman named Yukari realises that everything she knew about the man with whom she lives is fake. She decides to investigate to discover who he really is.

The book is really easy to read, mainly based on dialogues with very few descriptions. I enjoy reading it but I doubt whether I would have liked to read it in French or English. Let’s say that I enjoy the story and want to know what the “boyfriend’s secret” is but more than the book in itself, the possibility to read comfortably in Japanese is by far the most enjoyable part of this reading experience.

I will probably be able to post my review as soon as next week!

Book review and character list: パラドックス13 by 東野圭吾


「パラドックス13」(read: サーティーン) is a novel by famous crime author Higashino Keigo. Contrary to what we may expect, 「パラドックス13」does not deal with crime and investigation, but with science-fiction. At least, an SF element gives the context in which the characters will evolve but we won’t know much about the scientifical phenomenon that stroke the Earth on March 13th.

At 1:13 pm on this fatal day, people mysteriously disappear from the surface of the Earth. Only 13 persons remain. The whole novel will see these 13 persons meet and try to survive in an environment becoming more and more hostile.

The novel gives his readers everything one may expect to find in this kind of survival adventure, making it a real page-turner. The most interesting part of the novel lays not in action, however, but in the interaction between the characters. How do 13 persons who don’t know each other get together and collaborate for the sake of the community? Will tensions lead to tragedy? Are sacrifices worth it? And do the values of right and wrong still make sense?

We see through this novel that Higashino Keigo does not need a murder to dig into his character’s psychology and contradictions.

As for the Japanese difficulty, I would say that this book was not easier nor more difficult than other books from Higashino Keigo, but contrary to crime novels, the reader does need to pay attention to details. The dialogues were easy to follow and scientific elements made very easy to understand. Every time the characters tried to understand what happened, they would reformulate it several times, in an easier way, in order for everyone to understand. Higashino Keigo’s point was clearly not to write an SF novel, but to see how 13 persons put together can interact with each other.

The only two challenging aspects of the novel were the very beginning and the description of natural disasters.

I always find the beginning of novels to be the most difficult part. We know nothing of the characters, we don’t even know where they are and if the author has decided to start his novel in the middle of a conversation, it makes things even more difficult. In our novel, the beginning is challenging because it introduces a lot of people with titles and positions (like Japan Prime Minister for example) that we have to understand to follow. This is why I made a list of characters, I am sure it can be useful to anyone reading this novel in Japanese!

The descriptions of natural disasters are difficult but you don’t really need to understand every word to grasp the general feeling that the world is falling apart. Images seen in  “end of the world” films can easily fill the gap left by unknown words.

I personally liked this novel very much. I found that it had a cinematographic atmosphere, I could easily imagine a film adapted from it. Every time the characters had to face a decision, I wondered what would have been my choice and I surprised myself, seeing that my convictions and my perception of right and wrong changed while I was accompanying the little community in its striving for survival.

The best way to give an idea of the book’s difficulty is to give an extract. I chose one that is representative of the book difficulty when it comes to descriptive parts.  Dialogues are much easier.

After all people around him mysteriously disappeared and fires started to occur here and there, our protagonist goes to the top of Tokyo Tower and take a look at the city (p.37):


Reference: 「パラドックス13」、東野圭吾、講談社文庫、2014.

List of characters

The characters of chapter 1 only appear at the beginning so one does not need to know their names to follow the story. However, the first chapter is a little difficult, it is good to know each person’s position.

Chapter 1

田上・たがみ: Tagami is the executive secretary to the Prime Minister. The Japanese term is 首席秘書官.

大月・おおつき: Prime Minister. The complete name in Japanese is 内閣総理大臣・ないかくそうりだいじん but in our novel, he is simply called 総理・そうり.

堀越忠雄・ほりこしただお: Horikoshi Tadao is a 大臣・だいじん, that is, a cabinet member in charge of the 科学技術政策研究所 which is the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy. This institute is a branch of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

松山・まつやま: Matsuyama is the chief researcher of the High Energy Astronomy department (高エネルギー天文学) of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) (宇宙航空機構).

永野・ながの: Nagano is the chief of the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (宇宙科学研究所) which is a division of JAXA. In our book, the institute is called 宇宙科学研究本部 but I read in Wikipedia that the name of the institute changed in 2010 from “研究本部” to “研究所”. Our novel was first published in 2009, so it makes sense.

安西・あんざい: 国土交通大臣 Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport

防衛大臣 Minister of Defense

文部科学大臣 Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology

警察庁長官 Commissioner General of the National Police Agency. Even if he is not directly named in the story, we know that he was present.

From chapter 2

I spent some time trying to understand the difference between the position of the two Kuga brothers in the police. This difference is important to understand the relationship between Seiya and Fuyuki.

久我誠哉・くがせいや. Kuga Seiya is a 管理官 of the first investigation division 捜査一課. The 捜査一課 is one department inside what is called the 刑事部 (Criminal Investigation Department maybe?). The 捜査一課 deals with murder and robbery, as stated in Wikipedia.

上野・うえの: Ueno is Kuga’s subordinate 部下.

捜査一課張: Kuga’s chief.

刑事部長: The head of the criminal investigation department. We can also say that he is the chief of Kuga’s chief.

久我冬樹・くがふゆき Kuga Fuyuki is Kuga Seiya’s younger brother. We know that he is a police detective 刑事 too, but he is a 所轄刑事・しょかつけいじ, as his brother points at page 25. A little later, page 72, Fuyuki says, speaking of himself and Seiya, that they are both in the police but “兄は警視庁で、俺は所轄ですけど”. As I am not familiar with the police jargon, this sentence puzzled me. I made some research and I found this page with a very detailed and clear explanation. I am very grateful to the person who wrote this. As all this jargon seems to often appear in Japanese crime drama and films, I made a little scheme and placed our two brothers on it. My source is the above-mentioned link. I am not at all an expert… I may have made mistakes… (pdf version)


白木栄美子・しらきえみこ Shiraki Emiko is a young woman, divorced, mother of Mio.

ミオ Mio is the daughter of Emiko. She is maybe 5 or 6 years old.

新藤太一・しんどうたいち Shindo Taichi is a young and fat boy whose age is difficult to say.

中原明日香・なかはらあすか Nakahara Asuka is a high school girl student.

小峰義之・こみねよしゆき Komine Yoshiyuki is an engineer, he works for a big company in architecture.

戸田正勝・とだまさかつ Toda Masakatsu is a senior managing director, 58-year-old.

山西繁雄・やまにししげお Yamanishi Shigeo is an old man, married with Haruko.

山西春子・やまにしはるこ Yamanishi Haruko, an old woman, wife of Shigeo.

富田菜々美・とみたななみ Tomita Nanami, a young woman, a nurse in a hospital.

勇人・ゆうと Yuto, a baby.

河瀬・かわせ Kawase is a yakuza.

Daily Study - working on input

Daily Study: working on input

The concept of “input” may be familiar to a lot of language learners, but I didn’t know the word “input” until I discovered the website Antimoon. Antimoon gives advice to English learner, but of course, they can be applied to any other language.

The authors of Antimoon stress the importance of input through several enlightening articles that I recommend any language learner to read. Even if I didn’t call it “input”, I knew that a lot of exposure to a language was essential to learn it, but the Antimoon method gives detailed and concrete advice to increase the quantity of input and learn how to use it to integrate new language patterns.

When describing what input is, the author says: This is the only difference between a learner and a native speaker — the amount of input.

This gives the encouraging feeling that reaching a native level in a foreign language is possible. After all, there are people who can speak a second language at a native level. It might take many years to reach this level in Japanese, but it is doable.

Increasing the amount of input to improve the output?

I have always thought that to improve my speaking skills, I should practice speaking. Similarly, to improve my writing skills, I should do writing exercises. The input method, however, shows that collecting a lot of patterns through listening and reading is crucial to be able to produce something in the language we are learning.

This seems to be the solution to one of the major problems that self-taught learners come across: if I make mistakes while speaking alone in my room or if my writing is full of errors, no one will correct me.

Of course, if we keep using the same wrong pattern, again and again, our speaking or writing practice might end up being more harmful than beneficial. The solution lies in the input. Instead of waiting for a correction that would come afterwards, we have to make sure we use correct patterns by collecting them beforehand. When we collect enough patterns and revise them often, they are ready to be used anytime we need to produce something. We will know that what we said or wrote is correct because it directly comes from something we read or listened to.

My input material

As the Antimoon site suggests, reading is the easiest way to get input. My main source of input is the novel I am reading in Japanese. I plan to read 1 novel per month this year. Apart from novels, I try to read as much as possible in Japanese on the Web. This means that I try to make my researches in Japanese when possible and relevant. I don’t always apply this method because I sometimes just need to reach the information I need quickly. I also read news articles and sometimes magazines in Japanese. Finally, I play games in Japanese that have a lot of writing contents.

I also add a new way to increase my input amount without much time consumption. Since I got my electronic dictionary, I got into the habit of systematically reading 2 or 3 example sentences for every word I look up. Generally, reading the first 2 or 3 sentences gives a very good idea of how the word is used. When I was using online dictionaries, I only looked at the word’s meaning. With a serious dictionary, you can gain a lot more information every time you look up a word, thus maximizing the time spent searching the dictionary.

Is reading in Japanese enough to be able to write in Japanese?

As I was going through the articles of Antimoon website, I started having doubts about this method. Even if I read a lot in Japanese, I still don’t feel confident in writing at all. That’s when I reached the article How to get the most out of English texts that totally erased my doubts.

When reading in Japanese was such a struggle that I almost analysed each sentence to understand what grammar was used, I certainly improve a lot. At that time, I was paying attention to the grammar and re-read several times certain patterns where I had recognized a grammar point I had learned. But after some time, reading certain novels has become easier and I just “read for contents”, focusing mainly on words whose meaning help me understand the story. I don’t see the grammar anymore, I don’t take the time to pause, look at the language and reflect on it.

If I can read a little more comfortably in Japanese now, I also stopped actively collecting grammatical patterns when reading. I don’t pay attention to the language anymore. From now on, I will apply the “pause and think” method described in the Antimoon article. Of course, I will not read the entire book like this, but I will try to stay attentive to interesting patterns and apply the kind of reflections suggested in the article. The truth is that I was not able to fill in the blank in the little test they provide… even if I am able to read their article in English without problems.


Reading the Antimoon website really convinced me and motivated me to work on input by using the “pause and think” method and by doing it often to avoid forgetting the patterns I have collected. Maybe I will feel confident to write in Japanese one day? If 2018 is clearly a “reading year”, I will maybe make 2019 a “writing year”… Anyway, I will apply the Antimoon method to all the books of my reading challenge and we will see the results at the end of the year!

Japanese News: Moon Jae-in and the comfort women agreement.

Several articles on NHK News Web (main source) discuss South Korea President Moon Jae-in’s press conference that took place on January 10th.

  • 記者会見・きしゃかいけん: press conference

Of course, Japan media were closely watching what Moon Jae-in would say about the Japan-Korea agreement on the comfort women issue that was signed in 2015 by the two governments. This agreement is referred to in Japanese as:

  • 日韓合意: Simply, the Japan-Korea agreement
  • 日韓両政府の合意: Similarly, the agreement between the two governments of Japan and Korea
  • 慰安婦問題をめぐる合意: The agreement concerning the comfort women issue
  • 慰安婦問題をめぐる日韓合意: Japan-Korea agreement concerning the comfort women issue.
  • 慰安婦問題の「最終的かつ不可逆的な解決」を確認した2015年12月の日韓両政府の合意: The agreement between the two governments of Japan and Korea from December 2015 that confirmed the “final and irreversible settlement” of the comfort women issue.

Korea had already announced, through its Foreign Minister, that it would not ask for re-negotiation of the agreement. However, Korea Foreign Minister reiterated Korea’s wish for Japanese apologies.

  • 再交渉・ざいこうしょう: Re-negotiation. The word 交渉・こうしょう means “negotiation”.
    • The verb used to say “asking for re-negotiation” is 求める・もとめる which means “to request”, “to solicit for”, “to ask for”
  • 謝罪・しゃざい: an apology.

By acknowledging the agreement signed with Japan in 2015, Moon Jae-in renounced to honour one of his election campaign promises:

  • 「再交渉する」としていた大統領選挙での公約を撤回することを明らかにしました
    • 公約・こうやく: a public pledge, an election pledge.
    • 撤回する・てっかいする: to withdraw, to revoke, to retract

The article starts with financial concern, saying that Moon Jae-in announced that the former comfort women who refused financial compensation from Japan would receive support from the Korean government instead. Secondly, South Korea does not plan to give back the money received from Japan when the agreement was made in 2015, it will instead use it to try to solve this issue.

  • 日本からの支援金受け取りを拒否している元慰安婦たち.
    • 支援・しえん: support, backing, aid. This word is used in contexts such as “support to orphans”, “moral and material support”.
    • 受け取る・うけとる: receive
    • 拒否する・きょひする: refuse, decline
    • 慰安婦・いあんふ: comfort woman, that is, a woman forced into prostitution by soldiers.
      • 慰安・いあん simply means “comfort”, “relaxation”, “recreation”. I guess that the use of this word as a euphemism for “prostitution” is limited to the context of the war (for example, the word “慰安所” that meant “military brothel”). Apart from this meaning, the word 慰安 mainly refers to “rest and relaxation from work”. For example, a “慰安旅行” is a trip that a company organises for its employees in order for them to relax and take some rest from the stress of work (If I am not mistaken, a 社員旅行 is more focused on team building, whereas a 慰安旅行 aims at relaxation).
  • 日本政府からの支援金を返還しようとする考えはない
    • 返還・へんかん: return, restoration, retrocession, restitution, repayment. This is a difficult word used to say, for example, “retrocede a territory”. But if we know the meaning of 返 from the verb 返す・かえす, we can guess the meaning of 返還 from the context.
  • 問題を解決するためのよい目的で使用されるのは望ましい
    • 望ましい・のぞましい: desirable, advisable.

The second part of the article is about what Korean press said about it. A major newspaper emphasised that in exchange for not asking for re-negotiations, Korea requested that Japan should take the next step and left newspaper said that, the ball was in Japan’s court. The conservative press, however, criticised Moon Jae-in, saying that this whole affair had only one goal: criticise former president Park Geun-hye. An internal conflict should not prevent the government to show a mature attitude concerning international relations.

  • 日本に再交渉を求めない代わりに自発的な後続措置を注文した
    • 代わりに・かわりに: in exchange for, in place of, as a substitute for.
    • 自発的・じはつてき: spontaneous, voluntary, on one’s own initiative
    • 後続・こうぞく: succession? It could also mean “following”, “behind”.
    • 措置・そち: a measure, step, move, action.
    • 注文・ちゅうもん here means “request”.
  • 日本政府に心からの謝罪を促したことで、ボールは日本側に渡ったが、日本は応じていない
    • 促す・うながす: urge sb to do st, call upon
      • This left radical newspaper says that Korea asked for sincere apologies and that now, the ball is in Japan’s court. I heard an interesting expression this week, related to this issue:  “ゴールポストを動かす”. From a Japanese point of view, Korea is constantly “moving the goalpost further”, every time Japan reaches it. In other words, when Japan formulates apologies concerning the comfort women issue, Korea would say that they are not sincere enough or criticise the choice of words and ask again for apologies, giving the impression that people will never be satisfied anyway. I find it interesting to see that both sides use a similar metaphor.
  • 予想どおり、再交渉が目的だったのではなく、前の政権を非難するため、この問題を道具として利用しただけだった。国内でどのような政治的な争いがあったとしても、外交や安全保障問題は成熟した姿を見せてほしい
    • 政権・せいけん: political power or simply: a government, a cabinet, an administration
    • 避難する・ひなんする: criticize, denounce, condemn
    • 争い・あらそい: a fight, a battle, a conflict.
    • 成熟した・せいじゅくした: ripe, mature

The article then cites Japan Chief Cabinet Secretary, who insisted on the fact that an official agreement between two countries had to be respected. Chief Cabinet Secretary used several N2 grammar points, let’s revise!


  • の末に・のすえに means “after having (discussed, reflected, debated for a long time over a subject), we came to the conclusion that… In our text, the use of this grammar allows the Chief Cabinet Secretary to insists on the fact that this agreement is the result of long negotiations between Japan and Korea.
  • をはじめとする this means “beginning with”, meaning that the speaker could cite several examples but only mentions the most representative. In our case, the most representative example is the American government, but this grammar also means that the speaker could have cited other examples. It insists on the fact that this agreement has been acknowledged by the international community.
  • として: this grammar means “in the position of”. For example, for parents 親として, caring for the children is natural, “in the position of the parents”, it is natural to… Here, I think that we can simply translate by:  concerning the government, for the government.

The article ends with the mention of Korean protests that take place every Wednesday around the statue of the comfort women erected in front of the Japanese embassy and symbol of the citizens’ protest. Citizens said with one voice that such a humiliating agreement is invalid and urged Moon Jae-in to return Japan’s money.

  • 日本大使館の前に設置された慰安婦問題を象徴する少女像
    • 象徴・しょうちょう: symbol
      • The reference to the statue may be a way to mention that Korea hasn’t done much to honour its own part of the agreement.
  • また集会で参加者たちは、「日本政府に10億円を返還しろ」とか、「屈辱的な日韓合意は無効だ」などと、一斉に声を上げていました。
    • 屈辱的な・くつじょくてきな: humiliating
    • 無効・むこう: invalidity
    • 一斉に・いっせいに: all together, with one voice, all at once, in chorus


To go further, I found two interesting articles (in English) from The Diplomat that present the affair and reflect a certain irritation that may be a general sentiment among Japanese viewers. This first article gives the context that led to the signature of the agreement and this second article tries to understand what are Moon Jae-in’s intentions in this affair.