Read in 2019: 27 Japanese books!

Now that we are saying goodbye to 2019, it’s time to look back on all the books I have read since January. Most of them come from my reading challenge for 2019. I have read a total of 27 books, which is an absolute record for me! However, I feel that my readings were more diversified in 2018, and even though I read more this year, I mainly chose mysteries and detective novels.

My 3 favourite books this year!

My favourite book is without a doubt 『新参者』by Keigo HIGASHINO. He is my favourite author of genre fiction, so it is no surprise that his books always figure among my favourites. However 『新参者』 is special. I could have spent the whole year following detective Kyoichiro KAGA as he solves mysteries in his new neighbourhood. It is a great detective novel with an exciting investigation, but it is also a novel about the people who detain a key to the mystery, their family and their secrets. I highly recommend it!

Next, we have『天啓の殺意』by Sin NAKAMACHI. This book does not have outstanding reviews on Amazon, but I loved this mystery/crime novel. First of all, it is a good murder story with an engrossing investigation, but what I loved most of all is how the author plays with his reader and intentionally misleads us.

Finally, I have to bring 『わたし、定時で帰ります』by Kaeruko AKENO to the top three. I like office/work-related stories because Japanese working habits are so difficult to understand to me that I am eager to hear more about it. This novel is a little on the “light” side, especially towards the end, which annoyed me a little because I prefer reading more realistic novels, but the energy, the optimism and the good-humoured tone of the story made it an enjoyable read.

My 3 favourite characters

Without a doubt, my favourite character is Kyoichiro KAGA… the problem is that, although I only read one book by Keigo HIGASHINO this year, I could include it in every list that starts with “my favourite…”. So let’s pick 3 characters that I have “met” for the first time this year:

Yasuhiko MUKOUDA, the barber of the little town Tomazawa who appears in 『向田理髪店』by Hideo OKUDA. In fact, I should include all the other characters of the book because all the inhabitants of Tomazawa have warmed my heart and made me smile. The stories in 『向田理髪店』 are about people, their hopes, disillusions and dreams, even the brief ones. I loved it, it is a warm-hearting read. Highly recommended!

The reason why I loved Sadato SAKATA, the protagonist of 『検事の本懐』by Yuko YUZUKI, is because he shares similarities with Kyoichiro KAGA… Of course, he is a different character, but still some depictions of his personality, the way he works and thinks reminded me of Higashino’s famous detective… Sadato SAKATA is a public prosecutor, he does not say much about himself or his past, he is diligent in his work but follows what he thinks is right, which is sometimes in conflict with the system or his hierarchy. I want to read more books of the Sadato SAKATA series to get to know the character better.

Finally, I loved the character of Saburo SUGIMURA from the novel 『誰か』by Miyuki MIYABE. This novel is the first book of a series featuring Saburo SUGIMURA. 『誰か』is not one of my favourite novels, it is slow-paced, the mystery in it is not that gripping, and it took me quite some time to finish it. What made me continue reading it is the protagonist. He is a just an ordinary nice person who wants to do things right, it is easy to feel close to him, and I will certainly read other books of the series in the future.

Best Mysteries: 3 books I couldn’t put down

Obviously, I loved『新参者』and it was so engrossing that I was able to read it on a plane. This was the first time in my life that I was able to read a book on a plane (I usually feel so anxious that I can hardly concentrate on a film, even less so a book). But『新参者』was so good I managed to put my fears aside and read for most of the flight.

But let’s pick three other books:

The two books by Sin NAKAMACHI were unputdownable. I found that 『天啓の殺意』was more engrossing than 『模倣の殺意』, but if you like one, you will also like the other. They are similar in two ways. First, they both challenge the reader by trying (successfully in my case) to deceive you. Another similarity is the topics chosen. In both, a writer is involved and we get to know a little about the publishing world. Some sceneries (like the hot-spring baths hotel) are also featured in both novels. These are exactly the kind of detective novels that I like.

I read 『殺人鬼にまつわる備忘録』by Yasumi KOBAYASHI very recently, and it was a real page-turner! The protagonist suffers from anterograde amnesia and has to face a murderer who can add fake memories to people’s mind. This confrontation leads to interesting thoughts about how our memory works, but it is more a psycho-thriller than a book on memory or a serious depiction of amnesia.

Other books that were engrossing and had the qualities of a page-turner are:

  • 『ガーディアン』by Gaku YAKUMARU
  • 『誓約』by Gaku YAKUMARU
  • 『ジャッジメント』by Yuka KOBAYASHI (short stories)

Books with interesting topics

Here are some books that I loved because they had interesting topics, addressed social problems or simply gave me things to think about.

Non-mystery books

The book with the most interesting topic to me is 『わたし、定時で帰ります』by Kaeruko AKENO. If you are interested in Japanese work culture, this one is a great choice because it is highly entertaining and does not contain a lot of difficult, work-related discussions.

The two following books are different in their themes and tone, but they have a similar structure: through different stories, we follow the daily life, struggles and hopes of several characters. They all live in the same neighbourhood or town and have learned to help each other because nobody else will.

In 『下町やぶさか診療所』by Yo IKENAGA, we follow a local doctor, his patients and friends. The doctor’s office is a central place where people, often elderly people, come to talk rather than get treatment.

『向田理髪店』by Hideo OKUDA is about the small town of Tomazawa which lost its vitality and youth when the coal mine shut down. Those who remained have seen young people leaving, shops shutting down and facilities degrading. But some of them still keep the hope of seeing their town flourish again. Any novelty is welcomed, gossip is everywhere, small dramas arise, but the inhabitants keep their dreams and are always there when someone needs help.

Mystery and thrillers

『ガーディアン』by Gaku YAKUMARU tackles the problem of school bullying but not in the way you would imagine. It also asks interesting and difficult questions about how far should we go to prevent school bullying.

While it was a little difficult to read, 『切り裂きジャックの告白』by Shichiri NAKAYAMA contains interesting thoughts about organ donations in Japan and brain death (which is apparently controversial). The problem is that these discussions were introduced in the middle of what was supposed to be a suspenseful police investigation to track a serial killer… I found that both the story and the discussions on organ donation were interesting, but they didn’t work well together.

『検事の本懐』by Yuko YUZUKI is a collection of short stories and one in particular really caught my interest. Public prosecutors from different regions are called to Tokyo to investigate a political scandal. From browsing tons of documents to interrogating persons related, the prosecutors found themselves in a whirlpool of unpleasant work and difficult choices. It was depicted in a realistic way and it was exciting to see behind the scenes.

I would not recommend it to everyone because it contains several scenes of physical and psychological tortures, but Tetsuya HONDA’s novel 『ケモノの城』explores the relationship between victim and aggressor and depicts how some people can renounce their liberty and fall under the control of a violent, authoritative figure.

Speculative fiction

Maybe there’s a relation between speculative fiction and a chair? 🤔

Yasumi KOBAYASHI asks an interesting question about our memory in『殺人鬼にまつわる備忘録』: what if someone could insert fake memories inside your head? How far would it affect your behaviour and your beliefs? I found these reflexions fascinating, and it made me want to read more about how our memory works.

In『ジャッジメント』, Yuka KOBAYASHI creates a fictional Japan where the law of retaliation is applied. People who have been injured or relatives to a person who has been murdered have the right to inflict exactly the same treatment to the aggressor: “an eye for an eye”. The book is mostly centred on ethical choices and considerations: will the victims choose to avenge themselves? What will they learn about themselves in the process? How well did they know the one they lost?

Books that I liked but not that much

The followings are books that I liked but not as much as I thought I would. The reason is mainly that these books were not what I expected them to be.

First of all, 『6月31日の同窓会』by Yukiko MARI had a promising setting: people receive this mysterious invitation for June 31st and… die? Unfortunately, I found that it lacked a driving energy that would make me want to continue to read. I felt that the characters were passive and that there was no real investigation to solve the mystery.

『誓約』by Gaku YAKUMARU was also not as good as I expected it to be. It is a good thriller, suspenseful, engrossing and so on…. but it was just that. The thing is that this novel was a huge best-seller in South Korea, number 1 in the biggest online and offline bookshops of the country. Well, it is a good thriller, but not very original or inventive, and the end was not really convincing to me.

『父からの手紙』by Kenji KOSUGI was a good book too, but not one of my favourites. The characters and the story are good, but I found that there were a lot of repetitions, especially when the author described how the characters felt. At several times, I had the impression that I had read the same sentence or a very similar one in a previous chapter.

Finally, I think I should bring 『首折り男のための協奏曲』by Kotaro ISAKA to this list. I loved several aspects of this book, but I was disappointed to find out that I was not reading a novel but a collection of short stories. The back cover clearly states that everything will make sense in the end, making you believe that you are reading a novel. While I did enjoy the short stories, I also felt a little let down and frustrated that the promising and exciting beginning of this “novel” led to nothing after all.

Difficult books

Without a doubt, the most difficult book that I have read this year (apart from the ones I gave up on) is『ボクたちはみんな大人になれなっかた』by Moegara. Honestly, I don’t know what kept me reading when I had such a hard time understanding some passages!

Apart from this novel, I haven’t struggled much. I will just list the three books that were more difficult than the others:

『追憶の夜想曲』by Shichiri NAKAYAMA is a legal thriller. I had no problem following the story but there were passages that remained opaque to me. Especially a long discussion at the beginning of the novel. I think that one of the reasons why the beginning was difficult is because I haven’t read the first book of the series and『追憶の夜想曲』, which is the second book, refers to events that happened, I imagine, in the first book.

Same author, same difficulty level: 『切り裂きジャックの告白』by Shichiri NAKAYAMA. Here again, I was able to follow the police investigation but the parts about organ donations and the medical and ethical reflexions related to it were difficult.

Finally, it is hard to recall exactly because I read it in January, but if I remember correctly 『誰か』by Miyuki MIYABE had some challenging passages too.

Easy books

It is very hard to give advice concerning easy books to read in Japanese. If you ask me, I will answer that any book by Keigo HIGASHINO is the easiest one. I do think that his books are easy to read, but there is also the fact that I have read 15 books by now, and I am used to his writing.

Apart from 『おはなし・ねこあつめ』written by Haruka SHIOTSUKI, I haven’t read a book that was obviously easier than the other ones. Neko Atsume is a book for children based on the popular mobile game by Hit-Point. It is a collection of short stories with illustrations. As it is often the case with books for children, Neko Atsume contains vocabulary that Japanese learners might not know, but it has only very few kanji and all have furigana. The illustrations also make it easy to understand what happens.

It might not be the easiest book on this list, but 『継続捜査ゼミ』by Bin KONNO is worth noting because it is mainly based on dialogues. A professor and his students study unsolved crimes of the past and also work on some campus mysteries. In most of the scenes, they will sit in the classroom or a restaurant and discuss the cases. I found this book engrossing, easy to read and unique in its structure.

After that, there are a bunch of mystery novels that all have a similar difficulty level. I could read all of them without looking up words and I don’t recall that they had particularly difficult passages:

  • 『新参者』by Keigo HIGASHINO
  • 『殺人鬼にまつわる備忘録』by Yasumi KOBAYASHI
  • 『天啓の殺意』by Sin NAKAMACHI
  • 『ガーディアン』by Gaku YAKUMARU
  • 『ジャッジメント』by Yuka KOBAYASHI
  • 『模倣の殺意』by Sin NAKAMACHI
  • 『誓約』by Gaku YAKUMARU
  • 『ケモノの城』by Tetsuya HONDA

Entertaining books

I have read several novels that are for entertainment only and don’t really bother to build credible situations, settings and characters. They usually have unrealistic elements every time police procedurals are involved.

Two of these books were similar in setting and very close to the Sherlock Holmes/John Watson duo as depicted by the BBC series “Sherlock”:

Shiki KUZUMI says himself that his book 『推理作家(僕)が探偵と暮らすわけ』is inspired by the BBC series: a detective and a writer move in together and solve crimes together.

『ノッキンオン・ロックドドア』by Yugo AOSAKI is more original because the two characters are both detectives. But you cannot help but see similarities, especially since one of the characters compares himself to Sherlock Holmes and his colleague to John Watson.

By the same author, 『図書館の殺人』was also on the light side. The investigation was very interesting, but it was conducted by a high school student who works together with the police…

Finally, we have 『メゾン・ド・ポリス』by Miaki KATO where a young female police officer works with retired police officers who live together. I liked this book, I found it original and I liked the general atmosphere of it. I wish the cases were more engrossing or suspenseful, but overall, it was a refreshing read.

I have chosen these books mainly because I thought they would be easier to read than the others. This was not always true, however. The books that I mentioned above were as easy or even easier than these “light” novels. I think that the main cause is not the Japanese level, but simply that I find realistic novels more engrossing.

While I did enjoy reading the first three titles, I must also say that I am tired of this kind of detective fiction where solving crime is a game, where detectives have “sparkling eyes” when confronted with a particularly tricky puzzle, or where they are young genius with high deduction skills, often eccentric, childish or unpleasant. In these stories, the plot is mainly centred on solving the crime, and little is said about how this tragedy affects people. I think that I will take a break from this kind of fiction next year.

Nonfiction books

I wanted to read more nonfiction in 2019, but I have not. I read a self-development book 『学びを結果に変えるアウトプット大全』by Shion KABASAWA which I liked. It stresses the importance of output in your learning process, and this is something that I really need to integrate more in my studies. I realise now that I do remember quite well what the books I have read this year are about, and how I felt when I read them. I am sure that is because I wrote a book review for each of them.

2019 has been a year of tensions between Japan and South Korea, and I wanted to know more about anti-Korean sentiment in Japan. I chose the best-seller 『今こそ、韓国に謝ろう』by Naoki HYAKUTA, and I was shocked to see that 1- such books are being published and that 2- it was a huge success. The whole purpose of the book is to belittle Korea, assert the superiority of Japan over its neighbour and mock Korean culture. It only addresses the questions of forced labourers or comfort women in a very dishonest way and focuses mainly on justifying the annexation of Korea, using outdated colonialist arguments. This book only stimulates anti-Korean sentiment among its readers and more generally, encourages racism.


And that’s all the books I have read in Japanese in 2019!

I wish that I had read more widely instead of restricting myself to mysteries, thrillers and detective novels. But 2019 was the year of the JLPT N1, and I needed my readings to be easy and relaxed. For 2020, I will focus my energy on reading more genres and nonfiction. I want to read not only more difficult books but also more different books and widen the range of books I can read in Japanese.

Happy New Year’s Eve!

Happy Holidays!

I will not be able to post in the category “Inhae reads the news” on the 25th because I haven’t read the news during the month of December. I was not really in the mood for some serious news studying after the JLPT and with the holiday season approaching, it was even more difficult to sit at my desk…

But I will be posting about the books I have read in 2019 on the 31th and my schedule should be back to normal on January 1st when I post my reading challenge for 2020!

In the meantime, I hope you all enjoy the last days of 2019!

Book review: 『殺人鬼にまつわる備忘録』by Yasumi KOBAYASHI

About the book

Title: 『殺人鬼にまつわる備忘録』(さつじんきに まつわる びぼうろく)
Author: Yasumi KOBAYASHI 小林泰三
Published by 幻冬舎文庫

Yasumi KOBAYASHI is an author of SF, horror and mystery novels. His novel『アリス殺し』is very popular in Korea (I have often seen it among the steady sellers), but I had never read Yasumi KOBAYASHI before.


Our protagonist, Nikichi TAMURA, suffers from anterograde amnesia. He cannot create new memories and forgets everything new (what has happened, why he came where he is, what he wanted to do) after 10 minutes.

The 殺人鬼 mentioned in the title is a man who can inject new memories in other people’s mind.


I enjoyed reading this book very much, but it was not what I expected. I think that I was misled by the cover which does not look like the cover of a suspenseful psycho-thriller. I thought this book would mainly be a realistic depiction of what it means to live with anterograde amnesia, and that it would simply have some kind of mystery element attached to it. It was the reverse: this book is mainly a suspenseful thriller that incorporates thoughts and elements linked to amnesia and memory.

I don’t mean to say that I was disappointed in the book. On the contrary, I was engrossed in it from beginning to end,

There are interesting thoughts about how our memory works and how much we can trust it. It also shows, through the character of the “殺人鬼” how much we rely on it, to the point where we can go against our interests, values and personality. The author asks the question: what would happen if someone could inject new memories in your train of thoughts? The answer really sent shivers down my spine!

(I happen to be reading The Body by Bill Bryson as I write this review, and I have just read the passage saying that “it is possible through suggestion to implant entirely false memories in people’s heads” (p.56), even convince people that they committed and were arrested for a crime in their youth, to the point where they actually recall the event and add “vivid incriminating details” to this imaginary past (see footnote 3). This is fascinating and scary! 😮😱)

If you are looking for a page-turner,『殺人鬼にまつわる備忘録』is exactly that. It is suspenseful, easy to read, has a lot of dialogues and also contains fascinating thoughts about memory. But be aware that it does contain violence and I found every scene related to the 殺人鬼 relatively disturbing… I even made a horrible nightmare clearly inspired by the book after reading it, haha!

JLPT N1 #2: December 2019

One of my language goals for 2019 was to take and pass the JLPT N1 in December. Midway, I took the test of July to evaluate my level and… I passed! This completely upset my plans for the second half of the year. I had planned to work on reading and listening between July and December (as I had focused on vocabulary and grammar from January to July), but I must admit that I haven’t studied a lot after I got my results of the July test 😅

I decided to take the December test anyway as a reminder that learning a language is a continual and steady process, that reaching a milestone does not mean I am allowed to drop my efforts.

I thought that the JLPT of December would be a disaster, but the test of December happened to be easier than the test of July.

July vs December

As I mentioned before, I haven’t made huge progress between July and December, and I am absolutely not saying that I did well during the test. However, I could perceive that the topics chosen were easier than those of July.

First of all, I found the vocabulary and grammar part a tiny bit easier than in July, but it is hard to tell and it is very subjective. What struck me as noticeably easier are the reading and listening sections.

First of all, the reading in N1 is tough and the questions are as tricky as ever. But, in July, there was at least one text that I could not understand no matter what. And if I remember correctly there were one or two others that were really difficult. In December however, I was able to understand every text. Of course, this does not mean that I answered correctly because answering these tricky JLPT questions falls under a completely different skill. But if the test asked us to translate or to explain what the texts are about, then I would without a doubt get a better score in December than in July.

But the most obvious change of level was the listening section. Once again, my listening level is very low so I always have a hard time answering the questions. However, I can always say what the audio is about. In July, I found that there were almost only office related discussions, professional situations, or worse, topics that involved technical vocabulary.

In December, on the contrary, I found a lot of casual/every day/friends and family kind of discussions that you practise a lot in JLPT textbooks. Some audios and questions were actually easy for a N1 level. Contrary to July, I know for sure that I answered right at least some of them. What I found hard was the pace of the audio and the fact that if you miss one vital information, you won’t be able to answer correctly.

My conclusion is that some tests are tougher than others. It seems obvious that they cannot produce tests that are the exact same level every time. Of course, the appreciation of the level is also very subjective. If you are working in Japan, maybe those office/work discussions will sound easy and familiar. As for me, it was a relief to see that the topics chosen fell in my comfort zone.

How thinking I had 10 minutes more (than I actually had) helped me during the reading section

During the test of December, I did the worst thing you can do: I messed up with time. I knew we had until 15:20 to complete the first part of the test, it was written on the board and I had memorised it, but still, during the whole reading section, I thought I had until 15:30…

And I was very proud of myself to notice, after each text, that I had quite a comfortable amount of remaining time. As a result, I took my time to read the texts slowly, and re-read all the passages that contained the keys to the questions. I even took time to breathe between the texts, haha.

When I reached the last text (where you have to find information in a notice), I thought I had ample time (15 minutes!) to answer it and go back to some of the grammar questions I wasn’t sure of. Suddenly there was an announcement saying that were only 5 minutes remaining 😱. 5 minutes should be enough to read the whole notice and answer the two questions, but I completely panicked! 🤯

I may have failed the last question, but overall, thinking that I had more time than I actually had helped me perform better on the whole reading section. This proves how far stress can affect our performance. I am not really stressed by the JLPT because I am doing it for fun, and nothing bad will happen if I don’t pass. But still, knowing that there are only 10 minutes left and seeing that we still have that ultra-long and difficult text to read… this is stressful! When you are stressed because you know that you don’t have enough time, you want to read faster. But if you read too fast, you will not understand what you read, which will stress you even more until you are not capable to concentrate on what you are reading and you just try to pick up bits of information here and there.

This is what happened to me during the last question, when I realised I only had 5 minutes left, and not 15 as I thought. But for the rest, I was able to keep a cool head and read everything pretty calmly, which improved my capacity to understand the texts.

Strategy for reading

In my blissful illusion that I had 10 extra minutes to finish the test, I managed to follow a strategy for reading that, hopefully, will prove to be efficient.

First of all, I read the text once and slowly without looking at the questions. Usually, I understand what the text is about and what the author wants to say.

Then I read the questions and what happens is this: one answer is obviously wrong and the three other answers are obviously right. This is a phenomenon I noticed in July too. I didn’t have this problem when I took N2. For N2, I would be able to pick the right answer without returning to the text or re-read passages.

But for N1, three or at least two answers looked very similar. In July, I flustered a bit and chose the answer that I thought was the best. I relied more on my perception of the text than the text itself.

On Sunday (December), as I thought I had ample time, I was able to go back to the text calmly and find the paragraph where I would find the answer. I was also able to closely compare the answers that look similar or “could” be right. I tried to note in what way they differ in order to find concrete clues in the text that would show which answer is the correct one. Sometimes I even found evidence that the correct answer was not the one I would have picked “by feeling”.


This post is all about me saying how December was easier than July and how I found a good strategy for the reading section and so on… haha, if I don’t pass or if I end up with lower scores than in July what will people think of me? 😳😅

But compared to my apprehension before the test (due to my lack of serious study during the second half of the year), things went… not so bad.

If you took the JLPT in december, how did it go? Have a nice end of the year!

Book review: 『首折り男のための協奏曲』by Kotaro ISAKA

About the book

Title: 『首折り男のための協奏曲』(くびおり おとこ の ための きょうそうきょく)
Author: Kotaro ISAKA 伊坂幸太郎
Published by 新潮文庫

『首折り男のための協奏曲』is a collection of short stories that Kotaro ISAKA wrote for different magazines. But even though the stories were written as independent stories, put together in the same book, they resonate with one another and create a “謎の工芸品” (mysterious craftwork), as the author says himself (p.429).


The author writes at the end of the book that all the stories of 『首折り男のための協奏曲』were written independently for different magazines. He said he had to answer to prompts like “恋愛ものを” or “怪談話を” which explains why the stories are so different in structure. While he hadn’t thought of putting all these stories together in the same book at first, he was surprised to see how strangely well they resonate together once the project of『首折り男のための協奏曲』was settled.

I think that this is exactly how the reader must read this book: these are short stories, but put together, they gain an additional dimension.

The problem is that nothing on the book indicates that they are short stories, and the summary on the back cover even makes you think that you are reading a novel and that everything will come together in the end.

Because of that, I was looking for clues that could not be there. I was trying to understand how this could be the same story, and given that some characters return from story to story, it took me some time before I realise that I was not reading a novel.

When I realised it, I was a little disappointed, but I could also fully appreciate what I was reading without constantly thinking “but this does not make sense”.

As for the stories in themselves, they were all very good, some were particularly engrossing (首折り男の周辺、合コンの話), some I found really brilliant (漏れ衣の話、人間らしく).

Not all, but almost all of them have a hidden trick in them. As a result, there is always this moment when, understanding that hidden mechanism, I was baffled by the author’s talent. But on the other hand, this made the stories a little difficult to read in Japanese! My favourite story is 月曜日から逃げろ but it took me some time before I understood the hidden trick. I was re-reading several times the same passages because something didn’t make sense, and I was thinking that my Japanese level was at fault.

This is the first book I read by Kotaro ISAKA, and I am now wondering if all his books are so inventive. I am a little irritated at the publisher who makes you think that it is a novel and that everything will come together at the end in a surprising way. I feel that it spoiled my reading and appreciation of this book with useless expectations. If I had read these stories as independent short stories from the beginning, I would have enjoyed them better.

Language Learning diary: December 2019

We are December 1st, so I am sitting the JLPT right now! But I wrote this post in advance and scheduled it so I will give you my impressions about the JLPT in my next JLPT Journal entry on the 15th!

This post will be only about books:

  • The books that I gave up on this year
  • New books from Japan!
  • Just finished and currently reading

At the end of December, I will also write about the books I have read in 2019, and I will set my new reading challenges for 2020 in my next language learning diary post on January 1st!

Books I give up on (for now)

I thought it would be the most interesting book of my challenge, so I am very sad to admit that I gave up on it… This is the novel 『小説王』by Kazumasa HAYAMI (早見和真).

I have reached page 254 (out of 365)… I certainly could have made an effort and finish it, but the thing is that I did not enjoy reading it, and it felt like a chore.

The book is about a writer, Toyotaka YOSHIDA, who made a brilliant debut but whose books don’t sell anymore, and an editor, Shuntaro KOYANAGI, who works in the small and marginal literature department of Kagurasha publishers. Toyotaka and Shuntaro were classmates at school, and they meet again as adults. Shuntaro believes in Toyotaka’s potential and wants to work with him.

First of all, I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the Japanese publishing industry. I have learned a lot of things through Shuntaro’s character and job. I had no idea, for example, how much the editor can participate in the creation process of the novel, and how difficult this job can be. I found that parts focusing on Shuntaro were very interesting but sometimes also depressing. We tend to take for granted that bookshops are filled with new publications every month, but publishing is not as easy as it sounds and this novel shows the frustrations, obstacles and hard work that lie behind. I always considered that writing a book was difficult, not publishing it, but this novel showed me what really happens behind the scenes.

The main reason why I gave up on this book is, no surprise, the level difficulty. I found this book difficult to read in Japanese, especially the dialogues. I usually consider dialogues to be the easiest part to read in novels (compared to descriptions for example), but in this novel, dialogues were hard to follow. My guess is that the characters use a lot of professional jargon, or simply that the author really gave them a personality through their way of speaking. It certainly adds to the quality of the novel, but it was frustrating to read to me.

Secondly, I didn’t like the character of the writer, Toyotaka. When I don’t feel sympathy for the characters of a novel, I find it very hard to be engaged in their destiny.

I finally decided to give up on this novel for now. I will maybe re-read it later and try to understand the passages that were too difficult today.

There is a drama adaptation of this novel. At some point, I thought that I could watch the drama and then re-read the novel. I watched the first episode but didn’t quite feel engrossed in it so I gave up this too.

Finally, we have these two books from the series “その可能性はすでに考えた” by Magi INOUE.

I am not really giving up on these novels because I haven’t properly started them yet. I have read the beginning of the first one, and I was completely lost. It opens on a dialogue and it was so opaque… Of course, my Japanese level is at fault here, but I was also annoyed about the way it was written. It is hard to describe exactly, but I just couldn’t get into this book (or maybe I was just frustrated by my Japanese level!).

I will keep them for later!

Remaining books from my 2019 reading challenge

I would still have 5 books to read if I wanted to complete my reading challenge of 2019 (I have excluded the 3 above). I am certain that I cannot read 5 books in Japanese in one month time though.

  • 『七色の毒』(Poison of the Seven Colors) by Shichiri NAKAYAMA (中山七里)
  • 『父からの手紙』by Kenji KOSUGI (小杉健治) – just started.
  • 『盤上に死を描く』(The Killing Diagram) by Neko INOUE (井上ねこ)
  • 『コンビニ・ララバイ』by Yo IKENAGA (池永陽) – currently reading.
  • 『赤レンガの御定番』by Shoko MIKI (三木笙子)

New books from Japan!

As mentioned above, I still have several books waiting to be read on my shelf, but I could not resist the temptation to buy new books 🙄

I will write my new reading challenges for 2020 at the beginning of January, but I can already say that I will try to be more diversified and read more genres. When I walk into a bookshop or browse titles on online store, I just grab everything that has “殺人” in its title… and I would like to read other things than crime fiction in 2020. Another goal will be to read more non-fiction. With this in mind, I have chosen my first titles for 2020:

First of all, we have 『マチネの終わりに』by Keiichiro HIRANO (平野啓一郎). This book seems to be everywhere, it is a bestseller on Amazon and has a lot of positive reviews, and there is a film adaptation that came out on November, 1st.

The obi advertises the book as a “long seller romance novel”. I don’t usually read contemporary romance or love stories, so I am very excited to read this one!

I also saw that there is the audio version of this book on It is expensive, but I will maybe buy it to read and listen at the same time.

Then we have 『罪の声』by Takeshi SHIOTA (塩田武士). This looks more like what I am used to reading. Apparently, the author wrote about a real extortion case that took place in the 80s and is still unsolved today: the Glico Morinaga case (グリコ・森永事件). I don’t know if it is written as a fiction or a reportage, but it sounds intriguing. I hope it will not be too difficult to read!

The book I am the most anticipating is 『帰郷』by Jiro ASADA (浅田次郎). It is a collection of short stories on people whose life has been turned upside down by the war. I except it to be difficult to read in Japanese, but it is also exactly the kind of books that I would like to read more. The stories seem to be around 40 pages each, so I will make the effort to study the passages that I don’t understand and look up words.

Finally, I don’t really know what to expect with 『老後の資金がありません』by Miu KAKIYA (垣谷美雨), but it looks interesting! I don’t know if it will be a realistic depiction or more on the light/comic side, but it will be different from what I usually read.

Just finished and currently reading

November has been a great month for mystery fiction. After reading 『天啓の殺意』by Sin NAKAMACHI which I loved (see review here), I finished two other suspenseful mystery books:

Both reviews will come in December! 『首折り男のための協奏曲』by Kotaro ISAKA is a collection of short stories and I found some of them simply brilliant. 『殺人鬼にまつわる備忘録』by Yasumi KOBAYASHI is a psychological thriller and was a real page turner!

I have just started 『父からの手紙』by Kenji KOZUMI. I like it so far, it feels like reading a book by Keigo HIGASHINO.


That’s it for November! I will spend most of December reading and planning 2020. Here are my goals for the end of the year:

Inhae reads the news: November 2019

Welcome to the second article of the series Inhae reads the news (in Japanese)!

I still don’t know what format this series will take. What I did this month was to:

  • pick topics that interest me
  • give some context to understand the issue
  • pick one or two articles relative to these topics and study some passages of these articles
  • For each studied passage:
    • I give some vocabulary (only the words that I thought were the most difficult – it is hard to judge though…)
    • I (have tried to) translate in English the passages (staying as close as possible to the Japanese version). This is part of my Japanese study, so I may have made mistakes.
    • The underlined parts are the things that I found hard to understand or translate.

In the future, I will maybe focus more on context, guidelines and vocabulary and less on translation. For now, I have only picked articles on the news portal that I read, Mainichi, but I would love to make comparisons between different journals in the future. Instead of studying passages, I will maybe link to articles and just give reading guidelines and vocabulary in my post.

This article ended up being very long, but you can jump to the topic that interests you:

Cherry blossom party


The Cherry blossom Party is an event held by the Prime Minister and organised on public funds. It is held once a year since 1952. It aims at honouring people (I am not sure, but I think mainly from the public sector) for their achievements:「各界において功績、功労のあった方々を招き日頃の労苦を慰労するため」. The persons invited don’t have to pay. (Wikipedia)

In 2019, the opposition accused Abe of using the Cherry Blossom Party to entertain his supporters. The opposition said that most of the participants were members of the LDP and supporters of Abe.

Mainichi published a lot of articles on this topic, and it was hard to keep up with this affair… Our first article deals with the Cherry Blossom Party of this year (2019) and we will see why some people found it problematic. Our second article shows that invitations were circulating among the supporters of Abe.


Article 1: 桜を見る会、参加者は「共に政権を奪還した皆さん」? 首相あいさつに疑問の声

This article recalls why this year’s Cherry Blossom Party has been problematic:


  • 凝縮する・ぎょうしゅく: condense
  • 奪還する・だっかん: recapture, recover, win back, regain
  • 騒動・そうどう: disturbance, agitation, stir
  • 渦中・かちゅう: a maelstrom, a whirlpool
  • 恒例の・こうれい: regular, customary, traditional, usual

“Isn’t everything condensed in this sentence? ‘This is the seventh Cherry Blossom Party since I regained the political power together with you all.’ In the midst of the turmoil of the Cherry Blossom Party customary held every year, these were the words of greeting from Shinzo Abe this year.” This party, which is held with our taxes, was actually a gathering of the people who campaigned for the return of Abe in power?”

I am not sure about the underlined part. I translated with “turmoil”, I don’t see why the journalist would have used this word. My guess in that the cherry blossom party arouses criticism every year (for instance, I know that the number of participants has kept increasing since 2012)? Or maybe this only means that organising such an event causes a lot of hustle and bustle?

This greeting by Abe is problematic because it gives the impression that the party is held for those who helped him regain political power in 2012:


  • 功績・こうせき: a great achievement
  • 功労・こうろう: distinguished services
  • 省庁・しょうちょう: government offices
  • 踏まえる・ふまえる: be based on
  • 幅広い・はばひろい: wide, broad
  • 慰労・いろう: recognition of sb’s services
  • 趣旨・しゅし: the point, the aim
  • 後援・こうえん: support, backing

“The Prime Minister ‘widely invites to the Cherry Blossom Party the persons who made great achievements and services in every field, based on the recommendations of government offices’. The aim [of the event] is to honour them. While it should not be related to beliefs, thoughts or supported party, just by hearing the greeting [speech made by Abe], it looks like it is exactly a gathering of LDP members and supporters of Abe.”

Article 2: 桜見る会、下関市議枠 安倍事務所から申込書 招待人数、上限なし

We now know that the Cherry Blossom Party was supposed to honour people who made great achievements. But this article shows that LDP members could easily invite their own supporters by copying the invitation.


  • 市議・しぎ: abbreviation for 市会議員・しかいぎいん: a member of the municipal assembly
  • 優遇・ゆうぐう: preferential treatment

“According to members of the municipal assembly, it was possible to make several copies of the invitation [because] the Prime Minister’s office did not mention any upper limit. [The Cherry Blossom Party] is an official event where are invited people of all fields who rendered great services, but several non-LDP members were not handed the invitation form, and we find ourselves in a situation where [the Cherry Blossom Party] is used politically to solidify the support to the LDP with this tendency to favour supporters among local assemblies.”


  • 会派・かいは: a parliamentary faction, group.
  • 取りまとめる・とりまとめる: collect, gather all together

“According to one member of the municipal assembly, it was possible to get the invitation form through [a member] of the municipal assembly who belonged to a faction close to Abe, and then it was possible to make several copies. He said that no upper limit was given and that ‘we just had to fill in the form and bring it to the [Prime Minister’s] office’. This year included, this has been going on for several years. Another member of the municipal assembly who belongs to the LDP revealed that they had, indeed, invited several times their own supporters. It is not clear how Abe’s office collected the invitation forms, but this member said ‘we’ve never been refused'”.

I think that this is the heart of the problem. The event is held on public funds, but the number of participants kept increasing since Abe regain his position as Prime Minister in 2012. According to Mainichi’s investigation, LDP members were tacitly allowed to hand the invitation from to their own supporters.

Are people getting used to political scandals?


There has been some turmoil in Abe’s cabinet towards the end of October. First, Trade Minister Isshu Sugawara 菅原一秀 has been accused of offering money and gifts to constituents, thus violating Japan election law. He resigned on the 25th because he didn’t want to affect the administration of the Diet (by slowing down or paralysing the deliberations), but he didn’t acknowledge these accusations.

Just some days later, Education Minister Koichi Hagiuda 萩生田光一 had to apologise for making a statement that seemed to acknowledge and accept discrimination. From 2020 on, a private English test will be added to the university entrance exam. These tests can be expensive and hard to take in rural areas. Asked about this, minister Hagiuda said that students should “compete within their means/status”.

Finally, on the 31st, Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai 河井克行 resigned, following allegations that his wife violated election laws when she campaigned for her seat at the House of Counselors.


Article 1: 慣れっこになる怖さ=与良正男

In this article, journalist Masao YORA deplores that people tend to get used to political scandals.


  • 有権者・ゆうけんしゃ: elector, voter, constituent.
  • 疑惑・ぎわく: suspicion
  • 審議・しんぎ: deliberation, consideration
  • 停滞・ていたい: stagnation, congestion, paralysis.

“Sugawara didn’t acknowledge the suspicion that he distributed money and valuable goods to constituents. The reason he gave for his resignation is [that he wanted to avoid] the stagnation of the administration and the deliberations of the Diet. This too is the usual pattern.”


  • 失態・しつたい: a fault, a blunder

“What is worrying, is the fact that citizens might become used to it, thinking ‘again?’ and don’t even get cross at such big blunders from the government.”

We are not translating it here, but Masao YORA also adds that a survey made by Mainichi after the resignation of Sugawara shows that the support rate of Abe didn’t drop. People are so “used to” political scandals, that it does not affect their support to the government.


  • 民間・みんかん: private, nongovernmental
  • 懸念・けねん: fear, anxiety, concern
  • 萩生田光一文: Koichi HAGIUDA (Education Minister)
  • 身の丈・みのたけ: means, status

“Concerning the introduction of a private English test to the standard university entrance exam, there have been concerns that inequalities might appear relative to the family’s incomes and the place where one lives. Responding to this concern, Education Minister Koichi Hagiuda said ‘Everyone should compete in accordance with their status’.”

I am translating the part “もらえれば” by “they should”, but it might be too strong… I understand the もらえれば like this: “if students would (make the favour to) compete within their means (for the sake of the system?), there would be no problem”… But maybe I am over-interpreting.


  • 撤回する・てっかい: withdraw, retract
  • 格差・かくさ: gap, disparity
  • 容認・ようにん: admission, approval, acceptance, toleration
  • 思慮・しりょ: thought, consideration

“After receiving criticism, he retracted [this statement], but I guess that I am not the only one who feels that the acceptance of disparities was [the minister]’s real intention. This kind of statements that are lacking consideration are an everyday occurrence.”


  • 警告・けいこく: warning

“Of course, we, newspapers and televisions, are the ones who, more than anyone, must not get used to it. (ただし), the surveys conducted at those times are without a doubt giving a warning to the government. If the support rate of the cabinet were to decrease by only 5 points, the Prime Minister would lose his composure and would certainly reconsider things a little.”

This paragraph was difficult to translate, and I am not sure whether I understood it correctly or not. I don’t understand, for instance, how the ただし is supposed to make sense here. To me, it looks like the journalist is praying people to show their discontentment in the surveys in order to bring changes in the government. People tend to maintain the same support rate to Abe, in spite of the multiples scandals, because they say that there is no other politician that would be a better choice (than Abe) at the moment. My interpretation of this article is that the journalist deplores that attitude because it gives the ruling party the impression that scandals can go on and that it does not matter. If only people would express their dissatisfaction during the surveys, the ruling party would at least, perhaps, change its attitude a little.

Article 2: 「責任は私に」49回 なぜ安倍首相の「任命」は失敗続きなのか

In this article, journalist Yoshii interviews politician Seiichiro MURAKAMI 村上誠一郎 (LDP). This is what Seiichiro MURAKAMI says about the current cabinet:


  • 見識・けんしき: good judgement, discernment, wisdom, insight
  • 官僚・かんりょう: a government official

“Anyway, as things stand, we cannot say that the government officials are selected according to their abilities and discernment. Even without speaking of the resignations, what about the recent statements made by government officials?”

The verb 至る・いたる means “lead to”, so in this phrase, it could mean “without leading to a resignation”. The sentence could then be interpreted as “even if they didn’t lead to resignations, what about the recent statements made by government officials?” I don’t know why, but I have the feeling that – 至らずとも can mean “without speaking of (without going as far as to mention…)”, maybe I saw it somewhere during my preparation for the JLPT N1? I hope it is correct.

And the journalist continues:


  • 波紋・はもん: a ripple, a stir, a sensation
  • 萩生田: HAGIUDA: Education Minister Koichi HAGIUDA
  • 温室効果ガス・おんしつこうかガス: greenhouse gas
  • 排出・はいしゅつ: emission
  • 小泉: KOIZUMI: Minister of the Environment Shinjiro KOIZUMI
  • 適材適所・てきざいてきしょ: the right person in the right place
  • 首をひねる・くびをひねる: be dubious, sceptical about.

“When seeing Education Minister Haguida whose [statement] ‘within their means’ still has repercussions until now, or Minister of the Environment Koizumi who could not respond when asked by foreign media what were his measures to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gas, there must be indeed a lot of people who are sceptical about whether we got the right person in the right place.”

Apropos of Shinjiro KOIZUMI, he has been selected by the TIME to join the new list TIME 100 Next “that spotlights 100 rising stars who are shaping the future of business, entertainment, sports, politics, science, health and more.”

English test and political turmoil


Japan’s Education Ministry has been preparing a plan to reform the standardised University entrance exam by adding an English test from the private sector. The plan was due to be effective from April 2020 but the Ministry announced on November 1st that it has been postponed.

This plan attracted much criticism. First, several English tests were to be accepted, but they all allot scores on different criteria, and it would have been difficult for universities to fairly judge the students. There were also concerns about regional and economic disparities between the test takers. Taking those English tests and getting good preparation for them is expensive, and students living in rural areas would have to make an expensive journey to take the test.

As a result, many organisations in the education sector have asked for a postponement of the plan. In spite of the many demands, the Ministry seemed resolute to carry out things as planned and concrete measures were already being taken. Then, suddenly, on November 1st, they announced the postponement of the plan… why? This is the question Mainichi is asking in several articles.


Article 1: 英語民間試験の延期 遅すぎた判断の罪は重い

While Mainichi’s position is critical of the new plan, they don’t welcome its postponement only with enthusiasm. They criticise the government for having postponed it at the last minute, at a time where organisations and students were taking concrete steps to face the upcoming test.

They also say that the Ministry didn’t postpone the plan out of concern for the students, but because they feared political turmoil:


  • 逆風・ぎゃくふう: an adverse wind, an unfavourable wind

“Rather than saying that this adjournment is a measure taken out of consideration for test-takers or [in order to maintain] equality in education opportunities, let’s say that [it was decided because] they wanted to avoid criticism of the government or opposition from general opinion.”

I don’t know how to translate the かわす here. My first thought was that it was the verb “交わす” which means “exchange”, but it didn’t make sense. I would have understood if the verb were “to change toward”, meaning that they anticipated the deterioration of the public opinion, but “exchange” made no sense. After looking up in the dictionary, I realised that it could be the verb 躱す which means “avoid”, “evade”, “dodge”. But then, I didn’t understand how it made sense with 思惑・おもわく because I only knew it for its meaning “expectation”, “anticipation”. Apparently, it can also mean “purpose”, “motive”, which would make sense here… I hope I am not mistaken!


  • 露呈する・ろてい: expose, disclose, reveal

“There are doubts concerning the aptitude of HAGIUDA for his current office (Minister of Education), as he revealed his nonunderstanding of equal opportunities in education with his statement ‘within your means’.”

Article 2: 英語民間試験見直し 「萩生田氏守るため」官邸が主導

Our second article is an in-depth analyse of the Ministry’s choice. It shows the steps that led to the postponement of the plan.


  • 足らざる・たらざる: This is the old negative form ざる of the old form 足る of the verb 足りる…?? It sounds like a smart way to say “足りない”. Maybe you need to have high standards when you work at the Ministry of Education… 🤔 (read more)

“On the 29th [of October], HAGIUDA said in a press conference: ‘I absolutely want to proceed as planned, while making up for insufficient points’.”


  • 河井克行: Katsuyuki KAWAI, former Minister of Justice.
  • 安里: Anri KAWAI, wife of Katsuyuki KAWAI
  • 菅原一秀: Isshu SUGAWARA, former Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry

“But on the 31st the situation changed. On the early morning of this day, former Justice Minister Katsuyuki KAWAI presented his resignation in relation to the ‘suspicions of illegal elections for public office’ of his wife Anri, member of the House of Councillors. Just after former Trade Minister Isshu SUGAWARA, we fell in the critical situation where two government officials had resigned in one week. If the flames were to reach HAGIUDA, it could mean a stalemate for the government.”


  • 官邸・かんてい: the Official Residence of the Prime Minister
  • 幹部・かんぶ: a senior member, a key officer
  • 突破・とっぱ: with 強行: force one’s way through
  • 響く・ひびく: affect, have an effect on
  • 謙虚な・けんきょ: modest, humble

“Someone close to the Prime Minister said, ‘what will we do if a third [official] resigns?’ (senior officer). Inside the ruling party too, opinions [in favour of] a revision [of the plan] are spreading: ‘pushing through with the private English tests will affect the support rate of the government. We must humbly switch policies.'”

The article goes on saying that Hagiuda is a close ally of Abe and that the decision concerning the English test was taken to protect him.

カスハラ: Harassment by customers


カスハラ is a shortcut for カスタマーハラスメント, Customer Harassment.

Harassment by customers is a social problem in Japan. According to The Japan Times, a labour union survey conducted at the end of 2018 showed that “73.8 per cent of Japan workers in the service sector have faced harassment from customers”.


Article1: 増える「カスハラ」 現場任せにしていないか


  • 精神障害の労災認定: Recognition of work-related mental disorder
    • 精神障害・せいしんしょうがい: mental disability, mental disorder
    • 労災・ろうさい: abbreviation for 労働災害・ろうどうさいがい: a work-related accident
    • 認定・にんてい: recognition

“According to the data of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the number of people who suffered from work-related mental disorders while responding to claims issued by customers or clients is up to 78 persons in the past 10 years. Among them, 24 persons committed suicide. We cannot overlook this situation.”

I couldn’t find a good way to translate “people who received the recognition of work-related mental disorder”, so I simplified. If you are interested in this topic, I found some thorough documentation on the website of the Ministry of Health, Labour of Welfare. I wanted to read more about it myself, but I must admit that this document seems long and difficult…


  • 恐喝罪・きょうかつざい: a charge of extortion (or blackmail).

“In the interviews of companies conducted by the Ministry, examples of customer harassment were given, such as violent acts or extortion of goods and money, tenacious reprimands or [harassing] behaviour that would continue even after the end of the business hours. In the past, there has been a case of conviction for extortion crime against someone who had forced the director of a convenience store to get down on their knees.”

I’m not sure I see the relation between extortion and forcing someone down on their knees… Maybe I misunderstood something, or maybe the article does not mention everything…

The article goes on saying that companies should not let employees deal with these situations on their own but create organisations to protect them. The journalist concludes:


  • 指針・ししん: a guiding principle, a guideline for…
  • 策定する・さくてい: decide on a plan, settle on a policy
  • 素案・そあん: a draft, a rough plan

“The Ministry too has established guidelines for companies in order to prevent power harassment. But when it comes to the measures against customer harassment, the draft only indicates that [companies] should keep a consultation system. [The Ministry] must not leave the companies deal [with the problem of customers harassment] on their own, and it must indicate how to respond to concrete cases of customer harassment in the form of guidelines.”

The underlined part is hard to translate. This is how I understand it: “the draft should indicate (示す) through guidelines (指針で) the criteria for judging 判断基準 [the correct and] concrete (具体的な) answer (対応)”. In other words, the draft should indicate concrete criteria in order to evaluate how one should respond to concrete cases of customer harassment?


I have written this article throughout the month of November, and I really enjoyed doing it. I am glad that I renewed with the “Japanese news” category of my blog (it started in 2018 but only lasted a few months). I more or less managed to read the news regularly in November thanks to this post. However, I wonder if studying passages is the best way to do it. As I said in the introduction, I will certainly change the format of this series in the upcoming months. After the JLPT on December 1st, I will have plenty of time to think about it!

Book Review: 『天啓の殺意』by Sin NAKAMACHI

About the book

Title 『天啓の殺意』(てんけいのさつい) – The Apocalyptic Fugue
Author: Sin NAKAMACHI 中町信 (1935-2009)
Published by 創元推理文庫

『天啓の殺意』has been first published by Tokuma (徳間書店) in 1982 under the title 『散歩する死者』. It was re-published by Tsogen publisher in 2005.

It is the 6th novel written by Sin NAKAMACHI.

Book Review

If you like mystery and detective novels, I heartily recommend 『天啓の殺意』!

I purposely skip the “setting” part of this review because I think that it is best to read this book without having any previous knowledge of the story and the setting.

I was just thinking the other day how relatively calm 2019 has been in terms of reading. I liked all the books I have read this year, but apart from 『新参者』by Keigo HIGASHINO, I haven’t felt really excited about what I was reading. Of course, this was until I read『天啓の殺意』: it was easy to read and engrossing, and it is without a doubt one of my favourite reads of 2019.

I had already read a book by Sin NAKAMACHI earlier in 2019 so I knew what to expect: Sin NAKAMACHI plays with the reader and invites us to actively participate in the mystery. As a consequence, I was determined to read closely, to pay attention to every detail and to not let myself be fooled this time. But still, I was staring at the book with amazement when I reached the end!

It is the kind of murder story that makes you cry “I knew it!” or “what???”, and reading it was so much fun and so exciting! I finished it in 5 days, which is extremely rare when it comes to novels written in Japanese. I usually become tired of reading in a foreign language after 20 or 30 pages, but this book was so engrossing that I couldn’t put it down.

JLPT: Practise reading and listening!

Only two weeks left before the JLPT of December! It might be too late to digest tons of vocabulary and grammar, but it is not too late to practise listening and reading.

Practise to improve your concentration

Contrary to the “language knowledge” section, there is something you need in order to beat the reading and listening section: the capacity to stay concentrated in Japanese during more than one hour for each section.

Strangely enough, this is something that is often overlooked during the preparation for the JLPT. We tend to focus on being able to understand written or spoken Japanese, but what is also difficult is to understand Japanese for one hour long.

I have taken enough real tests and practice tests to know that my concentration will not stay on top during the whole listening and reading section. When I  reach half of each of these sections, I begin to feel tired and not only does my comprehension weaken, but I am also tempted to pick an answer randomly and be done with it.

Comprehension and concentration are two different things

I could spend the whole day reading detective novels in my mother tongue, but not in Japanese. I can read around 30 pages in a row, but then I start feeling tired. This has nothing to do with my capacity to understand Japanese because I can understand what I read without problems. But I feel exhausted. The story might be suspenseful, and yes I want to know what will happen next, but after 30 pages I disconnect, and I don’t want to read anymore.

This proves that the capacity to understand a text in a foreign language and the capacity to read in this language for long periods of time are two separate things. As a consequence, you need to work on both. Being able to understand what you read or hear does not guarantee that you will be able to do so for one hour. Reading in a foreign language or listening to something in a foreign language is exhausting. If you don’t work on your stamina, you will be so tired and fed up during the JLPT that everything will seem harder than it really is.

To sum up: 1) Keep learning new words and grammar points to be able to tackle difficult texts/audio. 2) Practise reading to improve your reading speed: if you read a lot, you will be able to read quicker and to make up for unknown words by guessing the meaning from the context. Practise listening to improve your capacity to recognise the words you learned and to be able to process information quicker. 3) Practise reading and listening for long periods of time to be able to go through the 12 texts (N1) and numerous audio of the JLPT. Concentration is a skill on its own, don’t neglect it!

How to practise?

To me, the best way to practise for the JLPT is to combine two different exercises:

  • Short but intense practice: study a short passage of a text or audio to improve your comprehension.
  • Train your concentration by reading or listening to Japanese for a fixed period of time.

The first exercise will improve your capacity to understand difficult texts or audio. Take any short text or audio and study it in depth. For example, you can:

  • Written text: read it several times and try to understand, look up unknown words and check difficult grammar patterns, translate the text in your mother tongue.
  • Audio: listen several times until you understand as much as you can without checking the script, then look up words with the script, listen again to the audio until you can identify every part of it. I would even go as far as to say: listen to it until you know it almost by heart.

If you don’t know where to find audio with scripts, I recommend checking the NHK Radio News website or podcasts. I am sure that a lot of Japanese learners know this podcast, but what you might not know is that journalists are often simply reading articles that you can find on NHK. They will sometimes omit a sentence or rephrase something, but most of what they say is the article unchanged (at least for the 7am broadcast, the only one I listen to). The easiest way to find matching articles is certainly to check the website in the morning. Listen to the first broadcast at 7am and check the website. You should find the articles read in the audio on the homepage or the section 新着ニュース一覧. If you check later in the day, the articles will be harder to find, and you will have to search for them using keywords.

To give you an example:

Another thing that you can do if you can afford it is to buy a book and its audiobook. You can find audiobooks on the website I recommend looking at non-fiction because it will be closer to what you will encounter during the JLPT. It might be expensive, but once you have the audio and the physical (or digital) versions of a book, you will be able to get a lot of practice out of it.

The second exercise that I mentioned above is here to train your stamina. The idea is to read or listen to Japanese for a fixed period of time. Start with a short period of time like 20 minutes and slowly increase the time you spend reading or listening. Aim at 1 hour.

You don’t need to study what you read or listen to, but you should definitely try to understand it. It is different from passive immersion. It will not do if you listen to Japanese for one hour while doing other tasks: what you want to train is your concentration, not your Japanese. Even if you are bored or want to stop before the time is out, force yourself to keep going until the end.

To sum up, make intense study sessions with short texts and audio to improve your reading and listening abilities in Japanese. The more you practise, the easier it will become to tackle difficult texts. At the same time, be sure that you can read or listen to Japanese for around one hour by training your concentration. The JLPT does not test you on your capacity to understand Japanese only, it also tests you on your ability to deal with Japanese material for a long time. Not only that, but you also have to answer questions and deal with time and stress during the test. All of this will be exhausting, so improve your concentration and focus before the test!

Practice with Korean mock tests (even if you don’t read Korean)

I live in Korea, which might be the best place in the world to buy JLPT textbooks!

This whole shelf is devoted to JLPT textbooks. Kyobo bookstore, Gangnam, Seoul.

The big majority of JLPT test takers are in Japan and China, but South Korea comes third, with 54,611 inscriptions and 41,972 actual test takers for the JLPT of December 2018. (source) As a result, publishers regularly come out with new textbooks.

You can use some of these Korean textbooks even if you don’t read Korean. Reading and listening textbooks especially are often collections of practice tests, so you can definitely use them without any knowledge of Korean.

I know that it is not easy to buy Korean books from other countries, but I found that some JLPT textbooks are available on the Google Play store as e-books.

I already mentioned them in a previous post, but I really think that these two textbooks are worth getting if you want to practice listening and reading with JLPT materials:

  • To practice listening: (4th EDITION) JLPT 콕콕 찍어주마 N1 청해
  • To practice reading: (4th EDITION) JLPT 콕콕 찍어주마 N1 독해

In the Google Play store, just copy-paste the title you are interested in (with the level you want). N4 and N5 are together in the same textbook. 청해 means “listening comprehension” and 독해 means “reading comprehension”. It is the only word that changes in the title of the textbook.

I have the physical copy of both for N1 and studied them entirely. These books are composed of practice tests only. They are very different from Japanese textbooks like Shin Kanzen or So-matome that have lessons and exercises.

This is the composition of each book:

Listening: (4th EDITION) JLPT 콕콕 찍어주마 N1 청해

  • Task-based comprehension = 9 tracks
  • Comprehension of key points = 9 tracks
  • Comprehension of general outline = 9 tracks
  • Quick response = 29 tracks
  • Integrated comprehension = 9 tracks
  • Final test = 3 tests

Reading: (4th EDITION) JLPT 콕콕 찍어주마 N1 독해

  • Comprehension (short passages) = 12 texts
  • Comprehension (mid-size passages) = 10 texts
  • Comprehension (long passages) = 7 texts
  • Integrated comprehension = 7 texts
  • Thematic comprehension (long passages) = 6 texts
  • Information retrieval = 7 texts
  • Final test = 2 tests

“Final test” is the reading or listening section as it would appear in the real test.

In the reading book, the text and the questions are translated in Korean. There is also Japanese-Korean vocabulary. In the listening one, you will find the script of the audio in Japanese with furigana, its translation in Korean and again, some vocabulary Japanese-Korean.

I recommend checking the free sample of the reading textbook as it gives you access to a generous portion of the book (you can actually practise the whole 12 texts of the “Comprehension (short passages)” section and the 5 first texts of the “Comprehension (mid-size passages)” section).

As for the listening books, you can download the audio for free on the website. The only issue is that you will have to create an account to be able to download or listen to the mp3 from your computer, and this can be a hassle if you don’t read Korean. However, the good news is that you can listen to the mp3 files on the website without login in if you access them via your phone (at least, this is how it works with me). Just copy-paste the title you want on the website and look for the “mp3” button. You could also just listen to the audio to practice your listening skills with JLPT material, without answering the questions (if you don’t have the textbook).


While I find that the language knowledge section (vocabulary and grammar) is very straightforward (either you know the answer or you don’t), I think that a lot of factors can lower your score at the reading and listening sections: have you slept enough the previous night? are you tired? are you focusing too much on the clock? Even if your Japanese level is high enough to pass the test, you could lose precious points just because you cannot stay concentrated until the end… Practice is key!