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.
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):
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.
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:
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!