Japanese Music: STUTS

Today, I would like to write about STUTS, an artist that I have discovered recently! 


I already mentioned STUTS in a previous post, when I was talking about another Japanese artist: Alfred Beach Sandal. STUTS and Alfred Beach Sandal have made an EP together called “ABS+STUTS”. To be honest, I am completely obsessed with this work and I have listened to nothing else for the past days! 

I was thinking of working on the lyrics, but I always stumble across parts I cannot translate or understand so I got discouraged…


STUTS is described as a “track maker”. To be honest, I don’t know what it means exactly, but guess it is something like making the instrumental backing track for other artists? He has been working with various artists and attracted attention with his first album “Pushin'” in 2016. STUTS says that he sees this album as a collection of his best works until then (source). 

In 2017, he released two EP:

  • “ABS+STUTS” featuring Alfred Beach Sandal, which is my favourite album so far. 
  • “ALLSEASON” featuring SIKK-O and Mamiko SUZUKI (鈴木真海子). This is a song from this EP:

In September this year (2018), he released his second album “Eutopia”. STUTS explains that, contrary to “Pushin'”, the album “Eutopia” is born from a real intention to create an album. The theme of “eutopia” (a place of ideal well-being) serves as axis for this work. 

In this interview for MIKKI, STUTS explains why he chose the theme “eutopia” (存在し得る完璧な場所) and not “utopia” (存在しない場所):

「そちら (eutopia)のほうが自分の思い描いてるマインドに近いと思ったんです。〈存在しない場所〉を夢見る行為の魅力もわかるのですが、自分はこの作品を作りはじめたとき、どちらかと言うと理想とする場所や状態に行きたいというモードだったので、それを〈存在しない場所〉と言ってしまうのは希望がない感じがすると思ったんですね。

I personally like this album very much, particularly the instrumental tracks! There are 8 instrumental tracks, and 8 tracks featuring other artists. List of the tracks and where to buy on STUTS’ official website.

That’s it! Two days before the JLPT, why not chill out with some good music? 😄

Currently Reading: 『ビブリア古書堂の事件手帖』by En MIKAMI

I know that I should not be starting a new book right now, but this is what happened:

The Drama

I started watching the drama 『ビブリア古書堂の事件手帖』and I liked it very much. Then I learnt that the drama was an adaptation of a light novel by author En MIKAMI (三上延). Some days later, I found this very novel in a bookshop, piled up on a table. The reason why the bookshop made a pile with a novel published 7 years ago (2011) is because there is now a film adaptation of this story. It was released in Japan on November, 1st.

The film

If you like solving mysteries in second-hand bookstores, you have the choice between reading the light novel, watching the drama or watching the film. It would be interesting to make a comparison of the three, but I am not sure if I want to watch the movie. I think that I will read the book first and certainly watch the drama afterwards. Having read the book before, I should be able to understand the drama better. My listening level is much much lower than my reading level!

The book

The book

En MIKAMI’s series has its own website and is published by メディアワークス文庫 which belongs, if I am not mistaken, to Kadokawa and specialises in light novels.

There are currently 7 tomes in the 『ビブリア』series. There is a new tome published in September this year, but the book is not presented as the tome 8… It might be a special volume? There are also spin-offs, so I guess that the series is very popular.

The tsubasa collection has a green cover

If you want to read this book with full furigana, the first three tomes have been published in the Tsubasa collection of Kadokawa! This version also has some illustrations inside. You can read the first pages here.

The first tome (the one I am reading) has 4 stories. I can already tell that the two first stories correspond to the first and second episodes of the drama. While each story seems to have a plot of its own and looks like a detached short story, I think that the book must be read like a novel, without skipping or changing the order of the stories in it. 

The story

Daisuke GORA is 23 years-old. He has graduated from university but is still unemployed. One day, after his grand-mother’s death, he goes to the ビブリア古書堂 to have an expertise concerning the name “Natsume Soseki” found handwritten in one of his grand-mother’s books. This triggers his first step in the world of old and used books and the stories around them. The owner of the ビブリア古書堂, Shioriko SHINOKAWA, is a young girl who knows everything about books and could talk about them for hours but is highly unfit for any other social intercourse. 

And together, they will solve mysteries related to old books. As Shioriko says: “人の手を渡った古い本には、中身だけではなく本そのものにも物語がある.” En MIKAMI invites us to discover the mysterious tales surrounding these second-hand books and their former owners.

Drama vs light novel

If we compare the first episode and the first story of the novel, the plot is very similar. With some changes of setting, the drama stays close to the story. What is very different however, is the depiction of the two main characters. In the novel, Daisuke is a young boy who immediately feels attracted to the mysterious Shioriko. In the drama, Daisuke is older and while he is impressed by Shioriko’s knowledge of books and capacities of deduction, he does not seem to form any fascination to her.

I personally prefer the characters shown in the drama as those depicted in the book. The actors Ayame GORIKI and AKIRA fit their role very well.
 I also liked that the drama contains a lot of humour and does not take itself too seriously. Last but not least, I found that actually seeing the books that the characters are talking about is a plus. This is especially true for the first episode where the mystery lies in the signatures found in the book. 

All in all, I may have a preference for the drama but I still prefer to read a book than watching a drama, so… to me the book wins in the end!

Anyway, this adds a title to the pile of books I want to finish before the 31st! 

If you are interested in the film, here is the trailer:

Monthly Review: November 2018

I cannot believe that November is almost over… While I have more or less completed my goals for November, I do not end the month with a feeling of satisfaction. 😕

Let’s see how far I went in my November Goals:

First of all, I completed my reading goals. I did start the novel 『リカーシブル』, but I only read a little less than a third of it so if I want to finish it this year, I will have to read a lot in December.

I read one short story of 『往復書簡』and two of 『探偵倶楽部』, and I think that I will finish both in December without problem.

As for the other goals, let’s say that I have lacked motivation and did my best in spite of it. 

I have written in Japanese only half of the month. I did well during the first two weeks of November, only skipping some days, but then I started skipping more and more days and last week was not a success, to say the least. 

As for Japanese History, I have read around 100 pages of each of the books I bought last month: The Making of Modern History by Marius B. Jansen and Hirohito, and the Making of Modern Japan by Herbert P. Bix.

I find The Making of Modern History to be completely engrossing at times. I particularly enjoyed reading the part on foreign relations in Japan during the Edo period. Jansen shows that Japan was not the “closed country” many people think it was. Its relation with China and Korea was particularly interesting to read. I am now reading the part that describes the status groups in Tokugawa Japan and this is very fascinating too. 

And finally, I did find a drama I want to watch, but I didn’t watch it (I only watched the first episode.) The drama is 『ビブリア古書堂の事件手帖』. There are two reasons why I didn’t watch the whole drama:

  1. I wanted to study the drama instead of just watching it. In other words, I wanted to transcribe it. This exercise helps me improve my listening and my writing of kanji considerably, but it is also a lot of work. This month, I was not motivated to put so much effort in Japanese, and I ended up not studying the drama and not watching it either.
  2. I wanted to read the light novel written by En MIKAMI, which is the original version of the drama adaptation. While I should be working on my listening instead of adding another book to my To Be Read list, I also feel naturally more attracted to books than drama. As I didn’t know if I should read the novel first or watch the drama first, I stopped watching the drama until I could get the book, which I have done last week! (I’ll tell you all about it on Wednesday!)

And that was November! 

My goals for December will be focused on reading because I want to finish the novels and short stories I am currently reading before the end of the year:

What are your plans for the last month of the year? 🙂

Good luck to those who sit the JLPT on Sunday! 

Film review: 『犬に名前をつける日』by Akane YAMADA

『犬に名前をつける日』(official website) is a “documentary drama” by director Akane YAMADA (山田あかね) that was released in Japan in 2015. It features Satomi KOBAYASHI (小林聡美) and Takaya KAMIKAWA (上川隆也).

Akane YAMADA is a film director for the television. When her dog dies in 2010, her friend and mentor Nobuko SHIBUYA (渋谷昶子) suggests that Akane YAMADA should make a film about dogs. This is what triggered the project, and 4 years of shooting and more than 200 hours of film later, the documentary drama 『犬に名前をつける日』was born.

『犬に名前をつける日』is mainly a documentary on people who work to rescue dogs and cats, but it is also more than that. We follow a television director, Kanami KUNO (久野かなみ) who lost her dog and starts a documentary on stray dogs and the people who help them. But while the protagonist’s story is based on Akane YAMADA’s own life and work, her role is played by the actress Satomi KOBAYASHI.

When I saw the film, I thought it was a traditional documentary, and I was convinced that the person I saw on the screen was also the film director. Satomi KOBAYASHI’s performance was so good I completely fell for it, haha. I was dumbfounded when I found out that she is actually just an actress playing the role of a film director. 

This gives an interesting dimension to the film, with pure documentary scenes (the persons who work in shelters are really themselves, they are not played by actors), and drama elements. 

The film tells the story of a woman who lost her dog and thousands of dogs and cats who lost their home. It explores different places where people do what they can to save as many lives as possible. From a shelter where stray dogs only have a limited amount of time to be found by their owner or to be adopted before they are killed, to an elderly care home where residents are allowed to come with their pet, the film brings us to completely different places. But a common factor is always here: the people who work to bring dogs and human together.

The film also shows a reality that I was not really aware of before: the thousands of pets (and livestock) left behind after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Apparently, people who fled their home in the area around Fukushima were not allowed to bring their pets with them in the shelters. Yuri NAKATANI (中谷百里) visited the devastated areas around Fukushima after the catastrophe and saved as many dogs and cats she could. She and her team take care of them all in the big-scaled shelter 犬猫みなしご救援隊.

From people who abandon their pet without second thought to people whose happiness depends on the presence of their loving companion, the film explores every corner of the dog-human relationship. But contrary to an animal abandonment ad campaign, the film does not try to pull the emotional strings by showing poignant images of dogs with tears in their eyes. I find that it remains decent all the time, showing the reality as it is, with its good and bad (though this does not mean it won’t make you cry). If this topic interests you, you really must watch this film!

This is the trailer with English subtitles. The English title is “Dogs Without Names” and it was screened in the UK, but I don’t know if it was released in other countries outside Japan. 

Currently Reading: 『リカーシブル』by Honobu YONEZAWA

『リカーシブル』by Honobu YONEZAWA (米澤穂信)

『リカーシブル』by Honobu YONEZAWA (米澤穂信) is the last novel on my reading challenge list of 2018, and I want to read it before the end of the year.

It took me two weeks to go through the first pages, though. I knew that to finish this book before December, 31st, I had to start it in November. This is the reason why one of my goal for the month was to start and ideally, read half of this book. 

I started 『リカーシブル』at least 5 times during the past two weeks, and could not get into it. I was even thinking of giving it up altogether. But I think that these repetitive failures were due to my state of mind at the time rather than to the novel itself. These past two weeks, I haven’t worked much for my Japanese and starting a new novel felt like a daunting task. 

What helped me overcome this state is this post by Ten Thousand Hours that gives great tips to start reading books in Japanese. Even after reading several novels, I still feel apprehension whenever I start a new one, and I am easily discouraged. This is what happened with Yonezawa’s novel, and I made the mistake of giving up after a few pages instead of reading enough to get used to the author’s style, the characters and the setting.

Once I did that however, I could not put down the book anymore. It took me two weeks to read the first 10 pages, and 3 days to read the next 100. This book is great! The story is typically the type of mystery in which I get engrossed very quickly. 

The protagonist, Haruka, has just arrived with her little brother and her mother to a new town: the family is moving to the mother’s native place. Haruka is starting middle school in a new environment, and her main preoccupation is to find her place in the classroom’s invisible hierarchy and make friends. I still don’t know which direction the novel will take, but some accidents happen, and Haruka’s little brother starts saying weird things… 

The novel is told in the first person, it is not hard to read and has a lot of dialogues. I don’t know why it took me so much time to get into it. 

I am enjoying this book so much that it would have been a shame if I had given it up!

Back to study!!

After two weeks away from Japanese, I now feel the urge to study again!

The last two weeks, I was more interested in other hobbies, and I have left my Japanese studies almost untouched. This break has been a good thing since I now feel a new motivation to learn Japanese. 

So I will start with a one-week challenge to get back on track. I will transcribe a short Japanese text into French every day for seven days. I already started yesterday, and as I was both idle and motivated, I made two transcriptions: 

  • First I worked on an article from Mainichi. It had been weeks and weeks since I opened the Mainichi website…The article I chose was an easy one, about the idol industry in Japan and the lack of regulations, even when minors are involved. 
  • Then I worked on the novel 『こころ』by Soseki that I had also left untouched for a very long period of time. One chapter is only 2-3 pages long, so I transcribed a whole chapter.  Except for one or two (or three) occurrences, I can transcribe it in French with confidence.

I am not exactly translating the text, I am just rewriting it in French, but I don’t care if I am far from the original version or if the result in French sounds strange. The point is only to show that I understood what I read and can explain it in my mother tongue. So I don’t spend time in the translation process and focus on understanding the text and looking up words. 

I know that I will have a lot of time this week so I can complete this challenge. I will either pick a news article or work on two pages of a novel. I might also use Shigesato ITOI’s daily column on ほぼ日刊イトイ新聞. The idea is to use as different materials as possible to work on different writing styles.

I will also work more seriously on my Anki. Yesterday, I revised hundreds of cards using the custom study. I feel that, during these past two weeks, I have hit the “good” or “hard” button even if I didn’t quite recognise the words… just to get rid of it! This is why I wanted to go back to these cards and really try to remember them.

I’m all set for the week! I will be studying Anki seriously and do in-depth work on one text in Japanese per day! 

Film review: 『すーちゃん まいちゃん さわ子さん』by Osamu MINORIKAWA

Note: I am giving up the “Japanese immersion” format of my previous Friday post. Last Friday, I wrote about Japanese music only and I liked how the post turned out. From now on, the Friday post will be devoted to only one topic like music, films, drama and other cultural things. Let’s start with a film review!

『すーちゃん まいちゃん さわ子さん』(official site) is a film directed by Osamu MINORIKAWA (御法川 修), featuring Ko SHIBASAKI (柴咲 コウ), Yoko MAKI
真木 よう子) and Shinobu TERAJIMA (寺島 しのぶ). While it has an English title (Sue, Mai & Sawa: Righting the Girl Ship), I don’t know if it came out in many countries outside Japan. In Korea, it was released under the title 
결혼하지 않아도 괜찮을까, which means something like: “would it be okay not to marry?”.

Here is the trailer:

I don’t think that I would have had wanted to watch this film if it weren’t an adaptation from the series of 4-koma manga 『すーちゃん』by Miri MASUDA. As far as I know, there are 4 books in this series. I love Miri MASUDA’s work and 『すーちゃん』is not only one of my favourite books, but also one of the very first books/manga I was able to read in Japanese.

The 『すーちゃん』series by Miri MASUDA

Sue, Mai and Sawa are in their thirties and none of them is married. Sue lives alone and works in a café, Mai is working in an office, she also lives alone and is in a relationship with a married man. Finally, Sawa lives with her mother and her old grandmother who needs constant care. As we follow them in their daily life, we see them struggle with self-doubt and anxiety concerning the future, but they are always willing to give the best of themselves in their work, their family and relationships. This story is about life, choice and regrets, a little about love, a lot about friendship. In this respect, it is very close to the book.

However, I found that Miri MASUDA’s work had a much broader impact. Even if you are not a woman in her mid-thirties, working and wondering if she should get married, it is easy to identify with Sue. Everything she says and thinks can resonate with a lot of people. I could easily identify myself with her. The drawing style of Miri MASUDA also helps to connect. She leaves a lot of room for the reader’s projection and imagination to complete. 

We often see the protagonist coming home from work thinking how tired they are. Who cannot relate to that?

A film adaptation was bound to give its own interpretation of the blank space left by Miri MASUDA, and it didn’t quite fit my own vision of Sue and her friends. I felt that I could not possibly identify myself with any of the characters, and felt like an outsider. This is why I didn’t like the beginning of the film.

However, I soon stopped comparing the film with the books and started to enjoy the film for itself. It is a very good film if you like this kind of lighthearted sentimental comedy-drama that makes you smile and cry and smile again. I am not a fan of the genre myself but I loved all the aspects of Japanese society you get to see in this film. Some attitudes and decisions are truly beyond understanding for a Western mind (or maybe it was just me.) 

I also liked how the film reflects on happiness, showing that it depends less on the path we choose than our attitude towards it. When facing a major choice for our life, it would be easy if one were labelled “happiness and fulfillment” and the other one “regrets and melancholy”. But it is not as easy and every step we take certainly brings a little of all of these with it. This is why change is both exciting and frightening and the film makes you eager to see how the three friends will deal with it.

While I don’t usually like this kind of film, I watched this one with interest and commitment. It is easy to sympathise with the characters, and the film shows interesting aspects of the Japanese conception of marriage. All in all, I enjoyed watching it very much, but I do prefer Miri MASUDA’s comics!

Currently reading: 『探偵倶楽部』by Keigo HIGASHINO

I still have three books to read this year to complete my 2018 reading challenge and 『探偵倶楽部』(たんていくらぶ) is one of them. It is a collection of five short stories, featuring the mysterious “Membership Detective Club”. I already read the first two short stories and I plan to read the third one in November.

The membership detective club is a detective agency composed of only two persons: an unnamed detective and his assistant. They work for wealthy and selected persons. The interesting feature of this book is that little is known about this detective, not even his name (as far as the first two short stories are concerned.) The stories seem to focus more on the staging of the murder and the events afterwards. As a reader, we follow the characters involved in it, but at the same time, we never quite know who did it, which makes things very exciting.

I read the first short story at the very beginning of the year, but I found it rather difficult at the time. The writing was not especially challenging, but there was a lot of characters introduced at the same time, and it was vital to understand their relationships and position inside the family. This I found daunting at the time and had to re-read the first pages at least three times.

Soon after, I started reading the second short story but eventually gave up, as you have to deal with 12 characters and again, remember their position in the family. I thought that this book was too complicated and put it back on my shelf. No wonder that I have pushed back the time to pick it up again!

But I did read the second short story this month (the one I had given up) and I found it quite easy to read. I cannot even understand what put me off last time. Yes, it is daunting to remember the name of 12 characters, but it only requires to go back to the critical pages from time to time to verify a name.

This proves that I have made some progress in reading this year! I think that, at the beginning of the year, everything was harder for me, and the many names added to the overall confusion. Now, I certainly feel more confident and I don’t need to struggle to understand the story (at least, when it comes to Keigo HIGASHINO) so I can put my effort into remembering the names.

It is very encouraging to have a tangible proof of my progress. I keep stumbling across novels that I still find too difficult for me, and this makes me feel that I don’t progress at all. But the truth is that I did get better and that, maybe as a direct result, I tend to pick more challenging books.

While I am not reading a lot lately, I think that I can manage to read another short story this month. In any case, I love this book, and I am confident that I will finish it before the end of the year.

Taking a break… but not completely!

I have already mentioned it on Friday, but I am not studying at the moment. This does not mean, however, that I am doing nothing in Japanese! I think it is necessary to stay in touch with your target language on a daily basis.

If you don’t want to or cannot study for a long period of time, try to define one or two short and easy activities that you will perform every day no matter what. It might take only 20 or even 10 minutes to do, but at least, you will have worked on your target language on a daily basis.

I try to always keep good feelings attached to my target language, and I don’t want to feel the burden of mandatory homework on it (this is why I prefer to learn on my own than in a classroom.) If I am more interested in other things than learning Japanese, and if I skip my study sessions to practice these other activities, I will inevitably feel guilty. As a result, Japanese will be associated with duty (things to do) and the other activities with fun (things that I want to do). This won’t make me want to come back to my textbooks!

To avoid this trap, I always do something for Japanese every day, so that I can move on to other activities with a light heart and without feeling guilty. I feel that I have fulfilled my study obligations for the day and can engage in other hobbies.

And of course, doing at least one little thing (like Anki) allows you to stay in touch with your target language, instead of making a long, complete break. Spending one or two weeks (or more!) without doing any Japanese is something that I want to avoid at all cost because it is harder to get back on tracks, and I would stop making progress too.

Defining one or two little things to do every day maintains the link with your target language, makes it easier to jump on the train again and guarantees that you are still progressing.

For now, I only do Anki every day, and I write a (very) short text in Japanese around five times per week (I generally skip the weekends.) Sometimes, I do pick up one of my books, but it feels more like a duty than real pleasure at the moment, so I don’t force myself and just stick to these two things. The good thing is that, even if I am not studying, I still hold on to some of my goals for November (writing in Japanese on a daily basis was one of them.)

To conclude: It’s okay to take a break, but don’t lose touch with your target language!

Japanese Immersion: November week 1

This post will be short because I have done nothing interesting this week to study or get immersed in Japanese. I have only studied Anki and I have written a short text in Japanese every day (a little more than the half of an A6 page).

I would like to say that I have been busy, but I haven’t. I just didn’t want to study Japanese this week, I was more into journaling, writing and drawing. The good thing is that I listened to some Japanse music while doing these activities, and here are some songs that I particularly like:

First of all, my favourite singer on this list: Alfred Beach Sandal. I like his album Unknown Moments, but my favourite song is “Horizon” from the EP ABS+STUTS:

I find that this is a song perfect to listen to while drawing, I can’t stop hitting the “repeat” button 🙂 If you like this style, you can check STUTS too (who worked with Alfred Beach Sandal on this song), but his work will be either instrumental or a collaboration with other artists that won’t all sing in Japanese. I personally like his album Eutopia.

I have also discovered Paris Match that I like a lot. This is a song from 2005, it’s called “Desert Moon” and is from the album PM2:

In spite of the desert theme, I found this song perfect to listen to on a rainy day like we had yesterday.

Let’s move to some more recent productions with Asako TOKI (土岐 麻子). I don’t like all her songs, but I do like her interpretation of jazz classics and I particularly enjoyed “Black Savanna” from the album Safari (released this year):

If you want to chill out with some good Japanese background, you can check Ohashi Trio (大橋トリオ). I think that in spite of the name, Ohashi Trio is not a band but a guy alone, Yoshinori OHASHI (大橋 好規). He made some interesting interpretations of American pop/rock songs. This is “Honey”, which I think appears in several albums. I chose this one because I like the video clip, but if you like it, you will certainly like his other songs as well:

Last but not least, one of my best discoveries this week: VIDEOTAPEMUSIC (except for collaborations, his work will be mostly instrumental). This is the song “Hong Kong Night View” from the album Souvenir. I think that this album was released in 2015 in Japan under the title “世界各国の夜” and this year outside Japan under the title “Souvenir” (but I may be mistaken). This song is featuring Sansuke YAMADA (山田参助):

This song reminds me of the film In the Mood for Love, that’s why I like it so much I guess!

(all these songs are available on iTunes)

And that’s it for today’s post. I spent the whole week unwilling to study Japanese. I haven’t read the news, I haven’t continued the drama I started, and I have barely opened my books (I haven’t read a lot and I am far behind my schedule for my reading goals of November). I guess it happens sometimes, and there are always some ways to stay in touch with the language that won’t feel like studying, music is a great example! Let’s hope I will be back to study next week!