Currently Reading: 「光」by 三浦しをん

Even though I am reading several books at the same time, I am not losing sight of my reading challenge list. Given that「赤い指」 (the previous novel I read) was easy to read, I picked up a book that I am almost sure will be challenging: 「光」by 三浦しをん (みうらしをん).

I bought this book during my December haul in Kyoto and I chose it because I had read another book by this author: 「舟を編む」.

If you follow this blog for some time, you know that it took me months to read 「舟を編む」(I have just checked my older posts, I posted this book in my “currently reading” section in August 2017 and my review in January 2018! 😳 … I published some reading notes too because I stumbled across so many challenging parts). Nevertheless, 「舟を編む」is one of my favourite books ever, not only in Japanese.

And so I bought 「光」with a mix of excitation and apprehension because it might as well be as challenging as 「舟を編む」.

Both books have something in common though, they both have been adapted into films. I don’t particularly want to watch the film adaptation of 「光」 but I might do it if the book proves itself to be too difficult. Here is the trailer:

To be completely honest, I have read the first pages and I am not that into the story for now. I may have been too apprehensive while approaching this book. I started it with the conviction that it would be challenging in terms of vocabulary and this general feeling probably did not help me to fully enjoy it.

This added to the fact that I am reading several books at the same time… Maybe I will be able to post my review in six months? 😅

Monthly Review: May

May has been without a doubt a month of drawing and journaling. These two activities have found their place in my daily schedule by replacing what used to be an ineffective “Japanese study.”

For months now, I have been thinking about how to continue learning Japanese without taking classes nor preparing for the JLPT. I haven’t found many concrete things to do or materials to study, and I was often left with a guilty feeling because I was no longer “studying Japanese.” As a consequence, I clung to all sorts of resources I had, because it gave me the impression that I was still on tracks. And then, the post “Keeping it simple: tips for simplifying your language study routine” by Kotobites helped me to understand that, sometimes, less is more.

Simplifying my study routine is exactly what I have done this month. I am now accepting the idea that reading novels and the news is the core of my “study” and that I don’t need to feel bad about the things that I am not doing. This turn of mind has had three consequences:

  1. I got rid of some “studying” materials that I was not working with but kept because I thought I had to hold on to textbooks.
  2. I am more focused on reading and renewed my habit of reading several books at the same time.
  3. Finally, I use the time that I used to spoil on useless thoughts like “I should be studying Japanese” on other activities, namely journaling and drawing.

My reading habits

I have been very thorough with my reading challenge until now. Back in December 2017, I took advantage of a trip to Japan to buy several novels and challenge myself with reading a book per month. And until May, I had read one book at the time, picking up a new one from my list when I had finished reading the previous one.

It all exploded in May because I went to a bookshop, bought three books and started them all the same day! Why I did that, I don’t know. I must have been frustrated or something like that, haha. The books are:

  • 「在日」by姜尚中・カン サンジュン (still working on it, will post my reading progress regularly)
  • 「ヒーローズ(株)!!!」by 北川恵海・きた がわえみ (will post my review soon!)
  • 「のほほん絵日記」by さくらももこ (reading it slowly, to relax)

So now I am reading several books in parallel, and I will probably write something about it next month.

English books

I finished reading The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, and I loved it so much! It was hard to put it down, once finished. I love Sarah Waters’ writing style; the story was gripping until the very last page and the novel extremely good documented. I don’t know much about London of the 20’s, but I could feel every beat of it through Waters’ descriptions. I found that the second half of the novel had a real historical interest because, even if the story is entirely fictional, it felt incredibly real.  I will read other of her books, but I have a long list of authors to discover before! (namely, all the authors cited in this article).

I thought it would be best to read as many different authors as possible before reading a novel by an author I had already read recently, but I could not resist the temptation to read The Remains of the Day, although I read Never Let me Go not long ago.

I first read Kazuo Ishiguro some months ago, and at the time I wanted to start with The Remains of the Day. I had never read Kazuo Ishiguro before, and therefore, I consulted several internet sites to see which book one should read first. There was some sort of consensus about Never Let me Go being the ideal title to discover Ishiguro. This is why I started with this novel, but in some corner of my head, the desire to read The Remains of the Day was still there, so here I am, starting it!


I got into journaling through the bullet journal and even though I dropped the method in the meanwhile, I continued using the notebook I bought for the occasion for a broader purpose. Thanks to it, I got into the habit of writing and taking notes on a daily basis. This month, I completed my notebook and started a new one! (I have started and let so many notebooks unfinished before, that this is an achievement worth recording to me).

This notebook has three main purposes. I write a journal about how I feel, if I want to study or not, if I feel like I am making progress or not, what interests me and so on. I also got into the habit of taking notes relative to the books I read. I don’t know why, but I tend to forget things very quickly, and I could not say much about the books I read last year. This is why I now take notes while reading, note citations and even vocabulary sometimes. And finally, I also use the notebook to brainstorm ideas for this blog.

This month, I also spent far too much time watching YouTube videos about journaling and pricey Japanese stationery such as Midori Travelers Notebook or Hobonichi. I was so much into all this that I also read two books on the topic, though none convinced me:

인생이 두근거리는 노트의 마법 (전 세계 노트왕에게 배우는 기록의 정석 20)

(a loose translation could be: The magic of taking notes and how it can spice up your life, let’s learn from great note takers around the world).

171168784.jpgThis is a Taiwanese book, and I got the Korean translation. This book collects 20 “cases” of people who keep a diary. They are interviewed about their writing/drawing habits, the material they use, what writing means to them and so on. But the main attraction consists of several pictures of their notebooks. Some have beautifully decorated journals, and I found almost all the insights to be both impressive and very inspiring.

However, I felt that the 20 cases were somehow repetitive and that it did not differ much from what you can see on YouTube or Instagram… for free. This being said the book was still interesting and inspirational in itself (it also provided a good read-in-Korean exercise).

「頭のよさはノートで決まる」by 齋藤孝・さいとう たかし

51xBKMokjxL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_This is a 200 pages self-improvement book. I must say that the contents of the book, though interesting, are not really what I was looking for. It is business oriented with efficiency and productivity in mind. There are some parts devoted to a more creativity oriented approach of notetaking, but the main argument of the author still lays on efficiency at work.

The pieces of advice about how to take notes to be efficient are things that I have heard many times at school. As a result, I haven’t the impression to have learned much from this book.

I am not as much looking for efficiency as trying to be creative, express myself and have fun doing it. So this books is definitely not the kind of writing I was looking for.


Drawing, as much as playing a musical instrument, is something that I dream of doing for as long as I can remember. But for some reason, I have always thought it was out of reach to me, both activities being labelled as “art” and thus, or so I thought, requiring “talent”. Even though I am the first to claim that anyone can learn a foreign language without taking classes, without living in the country in question and at any age, I was paralysed by the idea that “drawing” required taking art classes, having started soon and having a natural talent. As a consequence, I was very satisfied with my being able to draw a circle with a 人 in it and a square under it, but it prevented me from learning further.

monthly review may 2018 - 2

If I were to narrow down this month to one single discovery, it would be without hesitation Alphonso Dunn’s Youtube channel through which I learnt a lot. I realised that you don’t need art classes or talent to start drawing, all you need is to know some simple techniques, to have the right mindset and to be willing to practice a lot.

Thanks to his videos, I already made some progress (that’s the advantage of starting from zero!). This is what I would have drawn in response to the prompt “draw a tree” some time ago and now:

monthly review may 2018

I also realised that the tips Alphonso Dunn gives to draw every day or to understand why we are not making progress can apply to anything, including Japanese learning. The first time I listened to his video about 5 reasons you’re not making progress and tips to help I could relate it to language learning and found it both energising and encouraging.


The month of May was a very exciting month to me. First of all, I stopped worrying about the Japanese resources I was not using, and this alone freed me from unnecessary thinking. I am reading more, and I finally fulfilled an almost lifelong goal: writing every day. Keeping a journal is really something that I want to do for a long, long time, and I feel confident in saying that I got into the habit of daily writing now. And of course I started an entirely new activity: learning to draw with pen and paper!

Japanese News: May week 4

A lot has happened this week, and it was hard to follow everything! There are important topics that I have skipped, but here is what I found interested this week:

Palme d’Or for Hirokazu Kore-Eda!

Hirokazu Kore-Eda won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for his film 万引き家族 or, in English, Shoplifters! 😃

  • 是枝裕和これえだ ひろかず: Hirokazu Kore-Eda
  • ンヌ国際映画祭・カンヌこくさいえいがさい: Cannes Film Festival
  • パルムドール: Palme d’Or

According to this article, it has been 21 years since a Japanese director won the highest prize of Cannes. The last time was in 1997 for the film うなぎ by Shohei Imamura.

  • 今村 昌平・いまむら しょうへい: Shohei Imamura

During the award ceremony, Kore-Eda said: “さすがに足が震えています。この場にいられることが本当に幸せです”.

  • 授賞式・じゅしょうしき: award ceremony

I am not surprised that Kore-Eda should win the Palme d’Or because he has received critical acclaim at Cannes before and his films are always so enthusiastically welcomed in France. With Shoplifters, Kore-Eda has seen seven of his films selected in Cannes. Like father, like son won the Jury prize in 2013 and in 2004 young actor Yuya Yagira who played the leading role in Nobody knows had won Cannes’ Best Actor Award.

  • 誰も知らない: “Nobody knows”
  • そして父になる: “Like father, like son”
  • 審査員賞・しんさいんしょう: Jury Prize. The word “審査員・しんさいん” means “a jury”, “a panel of judges”, “a board of examiners” and so on.
  • 主演・しゅえん: the leading part or role.
  • 柳楽優弥・やぎら ゆうや: Yuya Yagira
  • 男優賞・だんゆうしょう: Best Actor Award

About Shoplifters, Kore-Eda said: “今の日本社会で隅に追いやられたり、見過ごされたりしている家族をどうしたら可視化できるかを考えて撮影した”.

Here is the trailer:


These are the words that Abe said during an interview with the head of Kake Gakuen in 2015, according to a new document of Ehime prefecture. (source: 獣医学部「首相『いいね』」 15年に理事長に).

The Kake Gakuen scandal is not willing to let go… A new document has been provided by Ehime prefecture on Monday (21th). According to this document, Abe met the head of Kake Gakuen and was told about the new veterinary department that was planned to open:


Let’s have a look at this sentence.

In blue, the main argument:

  • 愛媛県・えひめけん: Ehime Prefecture (this is the prefecture concerned by the Kake Gakuen business).
  • 作成・さくせい: create (a document), prepare, draw up, write out. The document in question was created by the prefecture: 県作成
  • 参院 or 参議院・さんぎいん: House of Councillors
  • 提出・ていしゅつ: submission

⇒ On the 21st, Ehime prefecture provided an intern document to the House of Councillors.

In purple, we have some more information about the document.

  • 理事長・りじちょう: the chief director
  • 面会・めんかい: a meeting
  • 獣医学部・じゅういがくぶ: a department of veterinary science
  • 新設・しんせつ: founding, establishment
  • 構想・こうそう: scheme, plan, concept, idea
  • 記載・きさい: record, statement, mention

⇒ In this document is stated that Abe met the director of Kake Gakuen in February 2015 and that he received explanations about the plan to found the new veterinary department.

More damning is what Abe is supposed to have said:


In the document is written that

  • the interview was 15 minutes long
  • in response to the explanations he received, Abe said: 新しい獣医大学の考えはいいね, which proves that he knew and approved the project.

Furthermore, the document contains a “summary memo” 概要メモ・がいよう in which is written that Yanase said “獣医学部新設の話は総理案件になっている”.

The article notes that Abe said last year that he heard of the whole affair for the first time in January 2017 and concludes: “文書の記述が事実であれば、首相答弁は誤りだったことになる”. If the contents of the documents are authentic, the response that Abe made at the time is a “mistake”. Is 誤り・あやまり a euphemism for ウソ?

 On Tuesday (22nd), Abe denied that such a meeting took place. He said:

“ご指摘の日に加計孝太郎理事長と会ったことはございません。念のために昨日、官邸の記録を調べたところでございますが、確認できませんでした” (source)

  • 加計孝太郎・かけこうたろう: Kotaro Kake, head of Kake Gakuen.
  • 官邸・かんてい: the Official Residence of the Prime Minister

(Personally, I find it strange to say “I didn’t meet the chief of Kake Gakuen on the day in question, but just to be sure, I have checked our own documents”.)

Later, I read another article which says that the documents of the official residence are destroyed when their purpose is over. As a result, records of the day in question are no longer available:


  • 遅滞なく・ちたいなく: forthwith, without delay, promptly, immediately.
  • 廃棄・はいき: dispose of, throw away

As you can imagine, I think that the media, the opposition and the public opinion are sceptics when they are told that a document has been destroyed and does no longer exist. (Cf. the Moritomo Gakuen scandal or the GSDF daily log scandal).

As this editorial says, the question is now to know who is lying:


Demo against the 高プロ

A part of the labour reform is called 高度プロフェッショナル制度 or 高プロ for short. If you have read my previous Friday posts, you know that the 高プロ is something that I don’t quite understand. It concerns some employee with a high salary and to me, it only states that their overtime hours will not be paid. There are counterparts, but they seem derisive (at least to me).

Source: 「高プロ」削除求め 過労死遺族が座り込み

On Tuesday (22th), an organisation called “全国過労死を考える家族の会” demonstrated (a sitting demo) in front of the Residence of the Prime Minister (官邸・かんてい) to ask for the removal of the 高プロ from the labour reform. This association is composed of family members of people who died from 過労死・かろうし. The article uses the word 遺族・いぞく which means “the family of a deceased person”.

The mother of an NHK journalist who died from 過労死 at the age of 31 says “命を奪うような法案を通すべきではない。人が死んでからでは遅い”.

A woman, whose husband committed suicide due to overwork says “夫は本当によく働いた。なぜ命を絶ったのか今もよく分からない。当事者の声を聞かずに高プロを通すのは許されない”.

  • 当事者・とうじしゃ: person concerned, the interested party

There is another article on the topic: 高プロ「働かせ放題」懸念 離脱、選べるのか/現場、反発と歓迎. I will certainly read it, but I will not study it here (it is long!). What I found interesting is the expression “働かせ放題” to describe the 高プロ.

To work a little on my listening skills, I have also watched this “live” by Mainichi. The first half is about the labour reform and the second half is about Cannes and the Shoplifters. I don’t understand everything of course, but I do follow a little. I think I will work with the video to make a listening exercise and understand more about the labour reform. I don’t know how long the video remains available: Mainichi Live(32)「働き方改革法案」「是枝監督パルムドール」.

Moritomo Gakuen documents

Documents relative to the sale of public land to Moritomo Gakuen arrived at the Diet on Wednesday (23th). These documents had been falsified, as proven some time ago, and the Minister of Finance had already submitted the falsified version. However, the opposition had insisted that the authentic documents should also be submitted.

財務省は3月に改ざんを認めた際に改ざん内容を公表したが、野党の求めに応じて改ざん前の全文書を公開した (source)

The article is long, but I don’t see that it brings any new information. Everything it says had already been revealed some months ago. Other articles on this topic insist on the fact that officials from the Finance Ministry said that these documents did no longer exist. Which proves to have been a lie.


The more I practice this exercise (reading the news and write a post about it), the more I realise that the real stumbling block is nothing but laziness. Saying “this article is too difficult” is often a way to say “I am too lazy to read this”. All I can say is that I have seen a lot of “difficult articles” this week…

Have a nice weekend!

Book review: 「赤い指」by 東野圭吾

「赤い指」is the seventh book of the detective Kaga series “加賀恭一郎シリーズ” (かが・きょういちろう) by Keigo HIGASHINO. Before starting the review of this novel, I would like to say a word about the series.

The series

First, you don’t have to read them in order. Even though they follow a chronological order (starting when Kaga is still a student), it would not impact the comprehension of each story to read them separately or in a random order.

I also find that the books are very different from each other in terms of structure. The first two novels were very similar with two main focalisations that alternate (a chapter seen from the point of view of Kaga, then a chapter seen from the point of view of another character). The third book, 「悪意」was very unique and different from the other novels. The following two books were very similar: we read the story from the point of view of another or other characters of the story and we don’t know what detective Kaga is up to. The sixth book was a collection of short stories. Again, in each short story, we are not given the possibility to follow detective Kaga. We see how he works and how the investigation progresses through the eyes of the other characters of the story that are not close to him.

All this to say that the books of the Kaga series upset everything I was used to when it comes to crime novels. To me, the thrill came from the investigation I was participating in. Going through the clues with the detective, making deduction with him, be dumbfounded by the solution and so on.

But more than once, Keigo HIGASHINO places the reader on the side of the suspects, and it also happens that the reader should know who is the criminal right from the beginning.

I also feel that detective Kaga is a kind of supernatural human, like other great fictional detectives before him. But alas, the reader is not allowed to be a supernatural human, like Kaga. We are on the other side, the side of the too human emotions, the passions and the fears that lead to crime. Higashino places the reader among the human characters, the ones that make irrational choices and have to deal with it. Maybe this is one of the reasons that make me love the series so much.

The book

Now let’s take a look at 「赤い指」!

We have here a new kind of structure: two focalisation that alternate: a character closely linked to the case and a detective… which is not Kaga but works with him. For the first time since ages, the reader is allowed to see Kaga working. Even if we don’t know how he thinks, we are very close to observe his methods, and this was an absolutely good point of the novel to me.

As always in Higashino’s novels, I found that the characters sounded real. Without altering the pace of the novel, we are given sufficient insights into the life, the past and the problems of the main characters to understand how they feel. It becomes easy to connect with them and the complexity of the characters inner self and emotions is a part of what makes the book so interesting.

This is particularly true with「赤い指」as it questions Japanese society through the depiction of its characters. An interesting theme is present through the whole novel: it shows how people have to take care of their ageing parents, with both the lack of specialised institution and the sense of duty that weigh on most families. These reflexions brought a real plus to the novel.

But of course, the main feature of interest does not lie in the social criticism but in the case. Even though the reader knows very soon what happened, the novel is still thrilling and I guess that this is where Higashino’s genie resides. There is a tension that keeps growing through the novel, the reader is in turns wondering: “will I caught the murderer?” and “will I be caught?”. But while it seems that we know every detail of what happened since the beginning, everything might not be as it looks like and a shocking detail might be waiting for us at the end. This is another reason why the Kaga series is so exciting. The reader is not supposed to only take a side and share a character’s point of view, he has to use his critical reasoning, read between the lines, pay attention to details. In other words, we are challenged to find the truth by ourselves and not rely on what the characters say or think.

To conclude, I would simply say that I loved this novel and read it very fast. I never read a Japanese novel so quickly. I am tempting to say that it was one of the most, if not the most, easy novel of the series (from a Japanese level point of view) but it could also be that I improved my reading skills since I read the first one. Particularly, reading several other authors, including challenging ones, certainly expanded my capacities a little and returning to a Higashino novel felt like returning to something easy and familiar.

If you are interested in the Kaga series, my favourites are 「悪意」(though I felt this one was a little more difficult to read than the others), 「私が彼を殺した」and 「赤い指」.

An extract:

This is the beginning of the second chapter when we are introduced to one of the protagonists: 前原昭夫 (まえはら・あきお). Of course, there are parts more difficult than others, but if you can read this, I think that you can read the novel.


Reference: 「赤い指」、東野圭吾、講談社文庫、pp.13-14.

Reading Progress: 「在日」chapter 1

I thought it would be a good idea to post my reading progress for challenging books. It encourages me to go on reading!

I finished reading the first chapter of 「在日」by 姜尚中(カン・サンジュン). The first chapter was only 25 pages long, but it took me some time to go through it. I think that I understood most of it, but there are still two or three passages where I am not sure of what is implied.

I could not look up each and every unknown word (too many of them), so I dismissed some of them and did not always made a good choice in deciding whether to look up for a word or not. What would sometimes happen is that I go on reading a whole paragraph without really understanding it, just because I missed a keyword. This means that I had to go back to the beginning of the passage and look up more words.

What also happened a lot is a lack of understanding due to bad concentration. I would read a whole page and have a very blurred image of what was described. But if I re-read the same page with more attention and intention to understand, I was often surprised to see that I understood more than I thought I could.

Reading Notes

In this first chapter, Kang talks about how his parents came to immigrate to Japan. The story starts when his father immigrates at the age of 15, in 1931. Kang is born during the Korean War. He recalls his childhood first in a Korean settlement (集落) and then in the little propriety that his family was finally able to buy.

This chapter was absolutely captivating. The anecdotes that Kang relates allow us to grasp, in only a few pages, the bitter situation of the 在日, the discrimination and injustice they had to face.

I have also learned a lot of things through this chapter… Among the things that struck me, I would like to go through two of them: 北朝鮮への帰還運動 and らい予防法.


  • 帰還・きかん: return home, rapatriation

Among the Koreans who immigrated to Japan during Japanese rule in Korea, many saw their dream of return broken by the Korean War. In 1959, North Korea launched a repatriation movement to which Japan actively participated. The first boat to North Korea left Japan the same year. Overall, around 90,000 在日 (including their family) “returned home” to North Korea. The movement went on until 1984, though it lost a lot of its draining force when the situation of the North started to be known among the Koreans in Japan.

I was shocked to learn it, but as Kang explains, it was not surprising. The situation in North Korea was little known at the time and for many Koreans in Japan, even if the majority of them was coming from the South, “North Korea” was still 祖国・そこく the home country.

I found some bitterness in Kang’s narrative. Particularly because Japan government encouraged the “return” to North Korea by giving a positive image of Pyeongyang in the news. He cites an article by Asahi that appeals to the homesickness of Koreans with cheap reference to kimchi.

At the same time, the South was ruled by Syngman Rhee (李承晩, イ・スンマン) who established the Syngman Rhee Line 李ライン, a geographical line that defines maritime sovereignty and includes Dokdo or, in Japanese, Takeshima. Korea seized any Japanese fishing ship that crossed the line, thus contributing to the degrading image of South Korea in Japan.

It is certainly hard to imagine today, but in the 1950’s South Korea was seen negatively in Japan, while North Korea had a positive image.

Kang’s family did not “return” to North Korea, but they saw others departing like the teeth of a broken comb falling one after the other: “一九五九年から、北へ北へと、くしの歯が抜けるように人がいなくなり” (p.34)

Further reading: I found an interesting and thorough article on the subject on Los Angeles Times.


  • らい or ハンセン病: leprosy, Hansen’s disease
  • 予防法・よぼうほう: a preventive measure, a method of prevention

Japan had a leprosy prevention law that required segregation of patients in sanitariums and lasted until 1996 (!).

Persons with leprosy were segregated in sanitariums which included forced hospitalisation. This resulted in a strong social stigma towards persons with leprosy as well as their family. Kang evokes the 恵楓園・けいふうえん which is one of the 13 public sanitoriums of the country. It was founded in 1909, two years after the promulgation of the first leprosy prevention law.

Even after the repeal of this law, social stigma is still a reality, as Kang regrets in his book: “らい予防法は廃止され、国も謝罪をした。しかし人々の心に巣食う偏見と先入観は今もしぶとく生き続けている”. (p.47)

  • 巣食う・すくう: build a nest, lurk in one’s heart

Further Reading: Leprosy segregation is only evoked in Kang’s book, so I have searched for more articles on the subject. Many came out in 2016, to mark the anniversary of the end of the leprosy prevention law. This one by the Guardian reveals a reality much more dreadful than what is in Kang’s book.


This was just a small insight into the first chapter of 「在日」and there are a lot more themes, memories and anecdotes in it. In only 25 pages, Kang Sang-jung shows us various aspects of the time. It goes from the poor and miserable settlements of Koreans in Japan to the common and typical fate of many immigrants of the first generation. Through these stories, however, we are allowed to glimpse at the Japanese society of the time and the political relationships in Asia. All of these is punctuated with some striking memories that marked Kang as a child.

Japanese News: May week 3

This week, I had the feeling that everything I tried to read was too difficult… It happens I guess… 😐

Some survey

Last week, I wrote about Yanase’s answers to the Diet concerning the Kake Gakuen scandal. He kept saying that he did not report his activities to Abe and that the Prime Minister did not know that arrangements were being made to favour his friend ‘s institution.

On Monday, Abe echoed Yanase’s assertion by saying “報告は受けていない” (source). In other words, he confirmed that Yanase did not report (報告・ほうこく) to him concerning the meeting he had with Kake’s people.

Abe added: “国家の重大事でない限り、(秘書官から)途中段階で説明を受けることはほとんどない” (source). As long as it is not an important case, it is rare that he receives explanations from his secretary while the work is still in progress.

To go on with the repercussions of Yanase’s hearing at the Diet, let’s take a look at the results of a survey of public opinion 世論調査 (よろんちょうさ).

Mainichi made public the result of a survey that took place over two days (on the 12th and 13th of May). First of all, Yanase said during his hearing that Abe was not involved in the Kake Gakuen scandal. The poll-takers were asked whether they believe it or not. The results are, I modestly think, not surprising: “「納得できない」が75.5%に達した。納得できるは14.7%だった” (source).

  • 納得する・なっとくする: be convinced, be persuaded, satisfy oneself…

People are not supporting Abe’s major reform: the labour reform. 68,4% of the people surveyed think that there is no need for the Diet to approve the bill.


To be honest, I don’t quite understand this sentence. 今国会・こんこっかい means the “current Diet session”, but I have difficulty seeing what it refers to exactly. After some research on the Internet, I reached the conclusion that a “Diet session” begins every year in January and last for 5 months. We are actually in the 196th Diet session, it opened on January 22th and will be closed on June 20th.

What do people mean when they say that there is “no need” for the current Diet session to approve the labour reform bill? I don’t know. The only thing that I can do is guess, and I would guess that people don’t want to rush things because they hope for political change. In any case, it is probable that Abe will not win a third mandate as head of the LPD (elections are in September). I don’t know to which extent it will affect the labour reform, though.

Sometimes, understanding the Japanese is not enough to understand the meaning or the implications of what is written. But I also find it very difficult to get into another’s country political system. I find it both utterly interesting (because it helps to understand how a country’s politics work) and utterly uninteresting (because it is somehow boresome to go through all this).

To go on with numbers, we also learnt through the survey that 49,1% of the poll-takers would like to see Finance Minister Taro ASO step down: 49.1%が「麻生氏は辞任すべきだ」と回答した (source).

World Cup month-1!

I am not at all familiar with Japanese football but I know at least one name: 香川真司・かがわしんじ.

Kagawa returned to Japan on Monday (he plays in Dortmund) and will soon start his training for the World Cup. At his arrival at the airport, he reassured journalists about the injury he had in February this year. Because of this injury, Kagawa didn’t play for three months and was back on the field only on Saturday for a Bundesliga’s match (source).

This is what Kagawa said about his injury: “皆さんが思っている以上にケガの方は問題ない”. (source). To be honest, I don’t understand the 以上 in his sentence. It is frustrating to sometimes come against puzzling things, even after all this time spent reading in Japanese! I would understand 以上 if he had said that his injury was more serious than what people think. But he says the opposite, that his injury is not a problem. 以上 also has the meaning of “since”, “now that” (for example: since I did this, I must also do that) but I don’t see how it could make sense here. What would make sense would be that his injury is not as severe as what people think. But then why use 以上? 🤨

japanese news - may week 3-1


Following the statement of Finance Minister Aso saying “セクハラ罪という罪はない” in reference to the Fukuda case, a network of women working in media requests apologies in a written document (source). The document is published on their facebook and I thought it would be a good exercise to study it but it is longer than I thought… 😯 I read it though, and it is both interesting and relatively easy to understand in Japanese. The Women in Media Network (WiMN) ask for three things:

  1. “財務相の調査は適切かどうか、内閣府による調査をお願いします”
    • They ask for a proper investigation. Fukuda’s conduct was recognised as sexual harassment and he had to resign with a slight reduction of his pension but no proper investigation had taken place.
  2. “麻生太郎財務相に、差別発言を止めるよう働きかけをお願いします”
    • In reference to Aso making statements to minimalise sexual harassment, the WiMN ask for measures to prevent such discriminatory statements in the future. They add that this kind of thing is a 二次被害 for the victim.
      • 差別発言・さべつはつげん
      • 働きかけ・はたらきかけ
  3. “セクシュアル・ハラスメントをなくすため法整備をお願いします”
    • The WiMN ask for a law to prevent sexual harassment, citing other countries where it is punished according to law 刑事罰・けいじばつ like France or Taiwan.


Falsified documents in loan screening

While going through articles, I could see that something was going on involving a bank, a real estate agency and documents because I saw several articles on the subject and photos of people bowing in apology. But I could not make head nor tail of it because it was difficult to read in Japanese and even when I headed to sites in English, I found it hard to understand too (I am maybe reaching the limits of my brain 😦)

I was about to give up when I decided to make my way through it.

What I understood is this (but I may be mistaken):

japanese news - may week 3-2

The vocabulary and citation come from the Mainichi editorial: シェアハウス巡る不正融資 スルガ銀行の責任は重い.

There is a bank called スルガ銀行 who has granted loans to individuals willing to invest in real estate.

  • 融資する・ゆうしする: accommodate somebody with a loan

The problem is that there is a high pressure of rising profits put on the employees of Suruga bank. As a result, the employees tried to facilitate loan contracts by either falsifying documents or accepting documents that they knew were falsified (I am not sure on this point).

  • 増収増益・ぞうしゅうぞうえき: rising income and rising profits
  • 改ざんする・かいざんする: falsify, tamper with

To be more concrete, the loan takers have to provide documents to justify their income and overall financial situation. The bank has to check this information (it is called “screening”) and decide whether the applicant is qualified for the loan or not. It is during this screening phase that the bank was “careless” with documents in order to finalise more loan contracts. As a result, the bank granted a loan to individuals who might have not qualified for it.


  • 預金残高・よきんざんだか: a bank account balance
  • 売買・ばいばい: purchase and sale, transaction
  • 水増し・みずまし: to pad out, to water (?), to increase


  • 審査・しんさ: screening (examination, inspection)
  • ずさんな: careless, inaccurate, faulty

With their loan, these individuals bought real estate through an agency called “Smart Days” スマートデイズ社. The property bought are share-houses rented to women. Smart Days agency rents the houses and gives the owners their share of the rent.

Problem is, the rental rate decreased to such a point that Smart Days could no longer give the owners their share and eventually went bankrupt.

  • 倒産・とうさん: bankruptcy

So now, these individuals who took a loan at Suruga Bank can no longer pay back a loan that was above their financial potential anyway.

What I still don’t understand is:

  • who exactly falsified the documents?
  • to which extend the real estate agency is involved?
  • is this the doing of some employees put under pressure or is it a more organised system that involves both the bank and the real estate agency?

I must admit that I am not that interested in the subject… this means that I will let these questions unanswered because I don’t feel like reading more articles about it. But it was a personal challenge to understand at least the key features of the problem.

Hideki Saijo

To conclude this post, a song by Hideki Saijo 西城 秀樹(さいじょう・ひでき) who died on Thursday at the age of 63. Idol of the 70’s he never stopped singing and gave memorable songs like “傷だらけのローラ” and covered foreign songs like YMCA (ヤングマン ) or Careless Whispers (抱きしめてジルバ).

Currently Reading: 「在日」by 姜尚中(カン・サンジュン)

I am deviating a little from my “reading challenge list for 2018” with 「在日」by Kang Sang-jung. As I am currently living in Korea, I took an interest in the relationship between Korea and Japan. So when I saw this book in a bookshop of Seoul the other day, I just had to buy it.


「在日」by 姜尚中

This title caught my eye because of another book that I still haven’t read but which covers, I think, the same subject: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.

I have been telling myself that I should read Pachinko since I read Akylina saying so many good things about it on the literary sisters’ blog. I still haven’t got around to it yet, because I have a huge list of books I want to read in English… But when I saw 「在日」, I thought it could be a way to dig into the subject while waiting for the good time to read Pachinko.

What immediately drew my attention is the name of the author: 姜尚中 (Kang Sang-jung). This means that the author is using his Korean name and the back cover confirms that he abandoned his Japanese name for his Korea one. I didn’t know it when I bought his book, but Kang is a political scientist and seems to be well known in Japan (at least in his field).

About the book

The book is an autobiographic narrative that includes a reflexion on the 在日 or  在日韓国・朝鮮人(ざいにちかんこく・ちょうせんじん). This term refers to Koreans who immigrated to Japan before World War II when Korea was under Japanese rule, and their descendants.

Kang Sang-jung tells the story of his parents, filling it with historical facts and his own memories. He writes a beautiful homage to his deceased mother in the prologue and says that this book is the story his mother would surely have wanted to write, had she been able to “「オモニが字ば知っとったら、いろんなもんば書いて残しとくとばってんね」”. (オモニ is the Korean word for “mother” and “mom”, and ば means を in 熊本弁・くまもとべん. The ending ばってん is also from Kumamoto dialect). Kang concludes his prologue with:

“遺言通り、遠い記憶を呼び寄せ、そして私の今をその記憶の中に書き込んでおきたい” (p.21).

I have just started the book yet, but I can already say that Kang’s narrative is gripping right from the beginning. If it were not so difficult to read in Japanese, I would have finished it already.

As far as I can say, three aspects are intertwined, at least in the first pages that I have read: Kang’s memories as a child; the story of his parents; and finally, the more general story of the 在日.

I like how the book is filled with anecdotes that Kang recalls from his past and that anchors his story in the realm of directly felt and lived experience. But it also contains historical explanations that give the book a more academic interest. In other words, the book links together historical facts and political decisions to how the people concerned received them and had they dealt with them. In such, it is a priceless testimony.

As for the Japanese level, it is too high for me to read comfortably but not so high that it is discouraging. It is not something I can read when I am tired or not fully concentrated. But if I really commit to the text and use the dictionary, I can make my way through it, slowly but without the temptation to give up.



Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

I am glad that I am reading a book that is both engrossing and informative. I am learning a lot of things through Kang’s narrative that I didn’t know of (for example, how a lot of Koreans in Japan who originated from the South ended up “returning home” to North Korea after the Korean War).


I think that I will read Pachinko by Min Jin Lee as soon as I finish 「在日」. It will certainly be interesting to make the autobiographic narrative and the novel echo with each other.

Further readings: an interesting interview with Kang Sang-jung on Japan Times (in English).

Read in Japanese: self-improvement books

I am mainly talking about novels on my blog, but I am also reading some non-fiction books. I realised some time ago that self-improvement books were surprisingly easy to read in Japanese and can be a good start for anyone looking for easy reads.

Of course, I haven’t read enough books of personal development to state it as a general rule, but I would be prepared to bet that most writings in this domain are relatively non-challenging. Based on the books that I have read or am reading and the ones I have flipped through in bookshops, I found some characteristics that make these books easy to read in Japanese:

Easy to read for Japanese too

I think that these books want to reach a wide public, including people who don’t particularly like reading novels or complicated writings. Many of these books are designed for people who work a lot and don’t generally have the time or the energy to engross themselves in long reading sessions. As a consequence, the interior layout of the books are generally following these rules:

  • The book is well structured with short chapters and a lot of subchapters.
  • The writer uses short sentences and short paragraphs
  • The style is casual, it looks like the author is talking to us directly.

Clarity is the key

These books want to convey a message and, if possible, convince the reader. Usually, when you want people to understand and adhere to your message, the best thing is to state it as simply and clearly as possible. This results in:

  • The author does not use complicated style, sentences or kanji. It is not a novel, so the author does not try to “write well” but keeps it simple.
  • The same things are often repeated several times, to be sure that the reader understood them.
  • There are no unclear implications or underlying messages. The author does not imply things, he just states them clearly.
  • At the end of the chapter, we often find a short recap.
  • There are often concrete examples and anecdotes.

Publishers also participate

To make the book even more agreeable to read, publishers usually adopt a certain design:

  • These books are often sold in a rather big format, not like novels.
  • Contrary to novels, there is a lot of space on each page. It is perfect to take notes and write down vocabulary (if you don’t mind writing in your books)
  • The chapters are often divided into small subchapters (sometimes only 2 or 3 pages), which is perfect to make small reading sessions.
  • Some sentences that convey the main message are often written in bold or colour. This means that even if you did not quite understand what the author said before, understanding these sentences is enough to understand the main point. It is somehow comforting when one reads in a foreign language.
  • Some books have colour, graphics and drawings that help the comprehension.

It is not a story

The problem with reading novels in a foreign language is that the miscomprehension is cumulative. What I mean is, if you don’t understand a passage and move on, you may miss a key element for the story. Chances are that you won’t understand the next passage neither because you missed something previously. And so on. As a result, reading becomes more and more difficult until we finally give up.

Even though self-improvement books also convey a message, I never felt that one has to have read the first chapter to understand the second one. It seems that each chapter focuses on a different point. Inside each chapter, I also feel that there is a lot of small points that can be understood separately. As a result, not understanding a passage does not prevent you from understanding what follows. And anyway, the main points are often repeated several times or written in bold. Understanding only that is enough to move on.

Gratifying reads

Finally, self-improvement books are written for Japanese adults so that reading them is more gratifying than reading books for children or books designed for Japanese learners.

Contrary to children books, they talk about what adults know well: studies, work, relationships, self-esteem and so on. Moreover, the message they convey is never hard to grasp. They generally tell you how to improve yourself, trust your own choice, gain self-esteem or things like that. This means that it is never hard to guess what the author wants to say.

Last but not least, these books’ contents are generally very motivating!

My personal experience

I never read self-improvement books before reading in Japanese, it is not my favourite genre. The reason why I started reading such writings was to read something relaxing in Japanese. It is very gratifying to me to be able to turn the pages so quickly (because it is easy to read and because there is not so much text written on each page!). Especially when I am reading a difficult novel that gives me the impression to have made no progress at all, having such a book as a second read is very comforting.

There are usually very few unknown kanji to me so that I can do two things:

  • looking up words in the dictionary (something I don’t do when there are too many unknown words or while reading novels)
  • read out loud without stumbling much across words I can’t pronounce.

And now, I start appreciating self-improvement books for themselves (not just for studying Japanese), they are a source of motivation and positiveness.

3 books that I can recommend

The first book I read was 「自分を操る超集中力」by メンタリストDaiGo, published by かんき出版. Compared with the other books, this one is the most challenging regarding vocabulary. But it also has a lot of illustrations (I am not good at taking pictures, I know):


pages 95 and 71

As you can see, the main argument is marked in blue, and even if you don’t understand everything that is written, the drawing makes it clear!

As the title says, this books is all about concentration and willpower. I found some interesting ideas in it.

The second book is 「無意識はいつも正しい」by クスドフトシ, published by ワニブックス.


pages 67 and 68

Here again, you can see that some sentences are in colour, others are in bold. (the page on the left precedes the one on the right).

I find this book very easy to read. The subchapters are very short, the author does not use any difficult words, he gives a lot of concrete situation and examples to illustrate his point. I feel that the author always wants to be sure that the reader is following him. He takes special care in repeating the important things and dividing his speech into small bites.

As for the contents, there were things that convinced me, and others less, but it is overall an interesting and motivating read.

Finally, 「好きなことだけして生きていく」by 心屋仁之助(こころや・じんのすけ), published by PHP:


page 91

Here again, colour and bold to mark the important thing. As you can see, the sentences are very short and the author just start a new line with every new sentence!

As I said before, you can start reading this passage and understand what the author wants to say, even if you haven’t read what was before.

This book is maybe the easier of the three. The author talks about his own experience too, which makes it interesting. I was not convinced by everything he said, but there are also things that I adhere to. I would not say that I learned much, but I am always grateful when I can read something in Japanese without much effort!


I can’t say for sure that all self-improvement books are easy to read, but the two last titles I gave as examples are really easy. It looks like the authors had written their book following the rule “write your book using less than (number) kanji”.

All three books are published by different publishers, but all share the same layout characteristics.

There are a lot of books in this genre with the most attractive titles in Japanese!

Japanese News: May week 2

Here are some articles that caught my eye in the news this week!

Tokyo Rainbow Pride 2018

Around 7000 persons participated in Tokyo Rainbow Parade 2018 on Sunday (6th): 「愛に平等を」 7000人行進. The Tokyo Rainbow Pride took place for the first time in 2012, so it was the seventh edition this year. At first, I didn’t understand the number given by Mainichi, it seemed underestimated. But I guess that only 7000 persons took part in the Parade itself, while the event as a whole drew much more participants. It is at least what suggests the Wikipedia page.

The slogans were:

  • 「すべての愛に平等を」
  • 「同性婚法制化」
  • 「誰も排除しない社会を」

The parade was only a part of the whole Tokyo Rainbow Pride that included concerts, discussions and seminars.

Members of the Diet also participated, both from the party in power and from the opposition: パレードには与野党の国会議員や自治体の議員も多数参加した.

  • 国会議員・こっかいぎいん: member of the Diet
  • 自治体・じちたい: local government

One politician said that in 2000 when he participated for the first time to the parade, which took place, I guess, unofficially, they marched in a “撮影禁止ゾーン”:


  • 法整備・ほうせいび: I think that this is just another word for “law”.
  • 追い付く・おいつく: catch up with

japanese news - may week 2-1

Sexual harassment and politics

Once again, a very interesting editorial by Mainichi: 「セクハラ罪はない」発言 麻生氏の非常識いつまで.

While referring to the Fukuda case, Minister of Finance Aso said: 「セクハラ罪という罪はない」「殺人とか強制わいせつとは違う」. As the editorial says, Aso is still protecting Fukuda: 依然として福田氏を擁護する姿勢を見せた.

  • 擁護・ようご: protection, defence, support

Aso’s position is hard to grasp. On the one hand, he is responsible for Fukuda’s resignation and on the other hand, he goes on supporting Fukuda by such statements:


First, the ministry acknowledged that Fukuda’s behaviour was sexual harassment and took punishment actions (Fukuda resigned and his pension was lightly cut off). Afterwards, however, the minister minimises the whole thing, saying that harassment is not a crime.

As the editorial points out, the problem here is not to define in which category “sexual harassment” should fall, regarding the law, but to chose how the society positions itself concerning it. The article draws a parallel with いじめ, saying: “セクハラは重大な人権問題だ。いじめと同様、セクハラをなくそうとするのが政治家の務めのはずだ”.

Instead of which, some politicians stand up for harasser by making insensitive statements: “常識外れの発言”.

  • 常識外れ・じょうしきはずれ: a lack of common sense, insensitivity

And we cannot overlook the fact that Abe didn’t criticise Aso:


  • 見逃す・みのがす: overlook, miss, pass over

The article suggests that Abe does not want to lose Aso’s support for the election of the LPD:


  • 総裁選・そうさいせん: presidential election (here, inside the party).
  • 控える・ひかえる: be imminent
  • 政局・せいきょく: politics

Politics concerns seem to be the priority for Abe…

No lift in the future new castle of Nagoya?

Last year, the city of Nagoya announced a reconstruction project for the castle 名古屋城・なごやじょう. The idea is to rebuild the castle in wood and gives it the appearance it had during Edo period. There are concerns that the actual castle would not resist a strong earthquake and the mayor decided to restore historical authenticity by adopting a wood structure.

The problem is that the project did not include a lift. Of course, disabled citizen groups protested, and discussions were to take place.

This week, local officials made public the result of these discussions: 天守閣は「エレベーターなし」に 市が方針.


  • 天守閣・てんしゅかく: a castle tower
  • 復元・ふくげん: restoration (to the original state), reconstruction

This means that when choosing between access for everyone (バリアフリー) and historical authenticity, they chose the last one: “市は「史実に忠実な復元」を優先するとの結論を選んだ”.

  • 史実・しじつ: historical fact, historical authenticity
  • 忠実・ちゅうじつ: faithfulness

The final decision will be given at the end of May, but the city is not likely to change the project, they say:


  • 空襲・くうしゅう: air raid

Disabled citizen groups and other organisations that ask for barrier-free access have the feeling that no real discussion took place and that the city had decided against lifts from the beginning:


japanese news - may week 2-2

Kake Gakuen scandal

To summarise the issue briefly, let’s say that Abe always said that he has nothing to do with the Kake Gakuen scandal and that he didn’t give any instruction to favour his friend’s institution. However, a document was found which stated that Yanase, Abe’s executive secretary at the time, said that the Kake Gakuen problem was Abe’s business. He said that during a meeting with the main actors, including people from the Kake Gakuen.

Asked about this, Yanase said that he could not remember that such a meeting took place.

Later, however, other documents were found that strongly suggest that the meeting did take place.

Yakase was heard again on Thursday (10th) and admitted that the meeting took place. Everything is in the title: 柳瀬氏「加計学園関係者と面会した」.

  • 柳瀬 唯夫・やなせ ただお: Tadao YANASE, at the time, executive secretary to the Prime Minister

It becomes more and more difficult to believe that Abe didn’t know about the Kake Gakuen problem:

“また県文書は、柳瀬氏が面会時に獣医学部新設計画を「首相案件」と語ったとしている。安倍晋三首相は計画を知った時期に関し、学園が学部新設の事業者に決定した17年1月20日だったと答弁。首相秘書官だった柳瀬氏が知っていて首相は知らなかった、という説明も疑問視されそうだ。” (source)

First, the documents found in the prefecture state that during the meeting in question that took place in 2015, Yanase said that the project to open a department of veterinary medicine is 「首相案件」. This in itself tends to show that Abe knew about the project, even though Yanase still denies having said such a thing.

  • 獣医学部・じゅういがくぶ: department of veterinary science
  • 新設・しんせつ: founding, establishment

When asked about the date when the project was brought to Abe’s knowledge, Yanase answered that it was in 2017, when all was already settled.

  • 答弁・とうべん: reply, answer

At the time Yanase was Executive Secretary for the Prime Minister (首相秘書官). As the article says (underlined part), it is strange that the Prime Minister didn’t know something that his Executive Secretary knew.

  • 首相秘書官・しゅしょうひしょかん: Executive Secretary to the Prime Minister
  • 疑問視する・ぎもんしする: look on with suspicion

Friday’s editorial by Mainichi reiterates this doubt:


  • いっさい: not at all, not a bit, absolutely not
  • にわかに信じがたい: it is hard to believe it right away

When Yanase said, during his questioning at the Diet, that he does not report everything to Abe, sarcasm flew from the opposition seats.


  • 失格・しっかく: incapacity, disqualification
  • やじ or 野次: heckling, catcalling, jeering, hooting. (I didn’t know any of those words 🙄, it seems that catcall is used street harassment and hoot is for owls)

japanese news - may week 2-4


That’s it for this week, just 4 themes but I think that Yanase’s coming out was of significance because it can further damage Abe’s popularity and, as I understood last week, push away the referendum for changing the Constitution. I realise that my post does not really reflect what was important in the news in Japan (it would be the summit Korea-Japan-China, along with Yanase’s hearing), but what struck me or interests me.


Currently Reading: 「赤い指」by 東野圭吾

I am a big fan of Keigo HIGASHINO. I first read his books in French (some of the Galileo series) and found it very new and original. I would never have dreamed, at the time, that I would be able to read his novels in Japanese one day.

Since I started Japanese and reached a sufficient level to read novels, I have read 9 novels by Higashino, including the 6 first books of the Kaga series. Also, the very first novel I read (without given up) in Japanese was 「卒業」, the first novel of the series.

I reached the point when I was exclusively reading Higashino, and this year, I have decided to read other authors to get used to different writing styles and taste some more difficult writings. But, I could not resist the temptation to add two titles by Higashino to my 2018 Reading challenge, and it is now time for me to read 「赤い指」, the seventh novel of the Kaga series.

Opening a novel by Higashino is immensely enjoyable. First, I know for sure that I will like it (I loved each of the 9 books I have read so far), and most of all, I know that I will be able to read it in Japanese without problems.

I don’t know what makes Higashino’s books so easy to read to me. Maybe it is simply because I am used to his style. It could also be because I began reading in Japanese with his novels and stuck to it for a long time. Similarly, when you have the same and only interlocutor in a foreign language for a long time, particularly if you started speaking with this person, you get used to his elocution and will always understand him perfectly why you could be puzzled by other persons’ way of speaking.

But I also think that Higashino has a very straightforward way of telling his stories that allow the reader to guess a lot, thus making up for unknown words. I am never taken aback by a character’s action or behaviour, everything always seems to fall into places. I am not saying that his stories are predictable and that I know what will happen next. I am just saying that the behaviours and actions are always logical and seem real. In other words, the characters often do what I would do if I were them, so that I can always anticipate a little and guess the meaning of a lot of unknown words.

Furthermore, the vocabulary and grammar are not particularly challenging, exception made for some descriptive parts that are crucial for the case.

This long introduction to say that I feel very excited to start 「赤い指」and that the first pages already confirmed that this book will be easy to read and certainly unputdownable! If you have read some of my other reviews of the Kaga series, you know that I am often disappointed when the novel never let the reader getting close to detective Kaga Kyoichiro. But in the first pages of 「赤い指」appears Kaga’s father… This novel might be different from the others!