Inhae reads the News: October 2019

Welcome to a new series on my blog: Inhae reads the news (in Japanese!).

I will post in this category on the 25th of each month. I will select one or two topics that have caught my attention during the month and choose two or three articles that I would like to study. It is not a monthly news wrap-up, or a summary of the main news, I am just picking topics that particularly interest me.

What I will try to do is to sum up the articles or at least, give some context and explain what they are about. Reading the news might seem daunting, but I always find that the real difficulty lies in the context rather than the language level. Articles often refer to events that readers already know, so it can be tough to climb on the bandwagon.

Then I will select some passages to study. For now, I will just give vocabulary and a loose translation of each sentence.

But keep in mind that I am learning Japanese myself, and sometimes I struggle to understand what I read. In fact, I am doing this to improve my reading level and force me to read difficult texts. As a consequence, it is possible that I make mistakes…

I hope that this series will be useful for those who would like to read the news but find it still difficult!

Note: I mainly use articles that I read on Mainichi.

嫌韓 (けんかん) – Anti-Korean sentiment

嫌韓 (けんかん) means “anti-Korean sentiment” and seems to be booming in Japan since the recent tensions between the two countries, at least according to newspapers like Mainichi or Asahi.

(To sum up the context of these tensions: In 2018, South Korea Supreme Court ordered Japan firms to compensate victims of forced labour during the period of colonisation. Japan considers that this question has been definitely settled with the treaty of 1965. This year, Abe took economic sanctions against South Korea, leading to a large-scale boycott of Japanese products by Koreans.)

At the beginning of October, I saw several articles on the anti-Korean sentiment in Japan. Mainichi pointed out that Japanese television channels purposely broadcasted emissions that would entice anti-Korean sentiment. They do it to gain audience rate and to keep up with other channels.

Let’s have a look at an article published at the end of September. The title of this article is 「嫌韓」あおるテレビよ、これでいいのか クレーム来ないからやりたい放題? Let’s see what it means:

  • あおる: instigate, incite, stimulate, agitate, kindle, inflame
  • やりたい放題・ほうだい: as one pleases, at will, to one’s heart’s content.

I always find that titles are hard to understand at first, but they make more sense once one has read the article. Here, it asks television channels if it is really okay to incite anti-Korean sentiment, and to do as they please just because no one complains.

Let’s study what journalist (TBS) Shigenori KANEHIRA (金平茂紀) says in this article:


  • 視聴率・しちょうりつ: audience rating (for a TV program for example), viewing rate.
  • あおる this word was in the title!
  • 政界・せいかい: the political world, political circles

Shigenori KANEHIRA says that TV channels make programs that inflame the antagonism between Japan and Korea or incite anti-Korean sentiment by mocking Korean society and Korean political world.

It is not mentioned explicitly here, but Shigenori KANEHIRA is referring to Korean ex-Justice Minister CHO Kuk who was in the middle of a series of scandal and finally resigned on October 14th. That day, the three Japanese media I have on my phone made breaking news about it. It’s interesting to note that Asahi wrote チョグク in katakana while Mainichi used the kanji 曹国.

I wonder if they would have made an alert for this in normal circumstances. I don’t know if Japanese are usually so interested in Korean politics. It might be that, as stated above, a lot of media have talked about CHO Kuk, so it would be weird to be the only media not alerting the public when he resigned…?

Let’s continue with the article 多様性と冷静さ、取り戻そう 「嫌韓」の空気、青木理さんと考える 政権がお墨付き、あおるメディア . This is a long title, but we can divide it into three parts (separated by a space). We know that the article will be about:

  • 多様性と冷静さ、取り戻そう
    • 多様性・たようせい: diversity, variety
    • 冷静な・れいせいな: calm, coolheaded, self-possessed, dispassionate. (-さ transforms the な adjective in noun).
    • 取り戻す・とりもどす: take back, regain, recover, restore
  • 「嫌韓」の空気、青木理さんと考える
    • 青木理・あおき おさむ: Osamu AOKI.
  • 政権がお墨付き、あおるメディア
    • お墨付き・おすみつき: a high official’s stamp of approval. Here it means that the government has (tacitly) given its approval for having anti-Korean thoughts or speech.
    • あおる: instigate, incite, stimulate… Media are inflaming people’s anti-korean sentiment.

First, the title says that people should regain a self-possessed and dispassionate attitude, as well as the plurality or diversity (of opinions in the media). Then we will reflect on the atmosphere of anti-Korean sentiment with Osamu AOKI. Finally, it seems that both media and the government incite anti-Korean sentiment among Japanese.

The article interviews Osamu AOKI, journalist, TV commentator and former correspondent in Seoul because he was the target of some harsh criticism on social networks.

In September, a female Japanese tourist was attacked by a Korean man in South Korea. She was violently grabbed by the hair and photos of the attack show that the man had an aggressive attitude. Mainichi says that Japanese media have massively broadcasted images of the attack, especially on television. Invited as commentator on a TV program, Osamu AOKI said that this kind of event would not have been reported by foreign correspondents and broadcasted by Japanese TV if it weren’t for the current state of affairs. He meant by this that an event were the victim has not been seriously injured or killed does not usually qualified to become a topic for news. He said that by broadcasting this event, televisions only inflame anti-Korean sentiment among their audience. Let’s study what he said:


  • 邦人・ほうじん: this word is used to talk about Japanese in a foreign country. The Japanese girl who was attacked in Korea is a 邦人.
  • 保護・ほご: protection. Together with 邦人, I guess it means something like “protection of nationals abroad” ? But I don’t know if it refers to a specific law.
  • 特派員・とくはいん: special correspondent

Osamu AOKI says that special correspondents would write about accidents involving Japanese abroad if they are injured, dead, or if they disappear (in other words, if they fall under the protection of nationals abroad…?). They would not have written about this event normally (普段の状態だったら).


  • 報じる・ほうじる: report, inform
  • 悪循環・あくじゅんかん: vicious circle

In other words, if news that would not be reported in normal circumstances are reported, it is because of the current period. It becomes a vicious cycle.


  • 増幅する・ぞうふく: amplify
  • 燃え広がる・もえひろがる: spread to, extend itself

Here, Osamu AOKI explains what he means by “vicious circle”: if TV commentators in Japan and Korea say things that amplify anti-Korean sentiment, it will only spread further (it will create an atmosphere that will encourage TV to broadcast programs that incite this sentiment further).


  • 本来なら: properly, by rights.
  • 注目する・ちゅうもく: pay attention to

Osamu AOKI concludes that if events that should not have become news receive so much attention, it will only deteriorate the relations between Japan and South Korea.

Conclusion: This assault had become viral on social networks and a lot of Koreans have apologised for it. The question is whether TV channels should have broadcasted it as much as they did or make programs around it. Obviously, seeing the images of the assault again and again can only incite anti-Korean sentiment. The conclusion of the article is that media should be more careful and should not encourage hatred or antagonism. Another point of concern is that right-wing magazines published a lot of articles against Korea along with articles on Japanese politicians. This gives the impression that Abe and the Japanese government tacitly approve anti-Korean articles.

あいちトリエンナーレ2019 – Aichi Triennale 2019

Aichi Triennale is an important arts festival that takes place in Nagoya every three years.

This year, a part of the exhibition called 表現の不自由展・その後 had to close just three days after the opening of the festival. This exhibition displayed artworks that were once censored in Japan, hence the title 表現の不自由展・その後 . The most sensible works in this exhibition are a work representing a comfort woman (similar to the statues displayed in South Korea), and one representing an image of emperor Hirohito being burned.

Daisuke TSUDA, the artistic director of the festival, decided to close the exhibition after receiving threats, including threats of terrorist nature.

However, the exhibition 表現の不自由展・その後 (often called simply 不自由展) has reopened for one week before the end of the festival. Visitors were selected by lottery and had to follow a guided tour through the exhibition. They were also forbidden to share photos of the exhibition on social networks.

Let’s see how Mainichi describes this re-opening in an editorial. The title of the editorial is 「表現の不自由展」再開 それでもなお課題は残る . They announce the re-opening of the exhibition but say that problems remain.


  • 考慮する・こうりょ: consider, take sth into consideration, take sth into account, give thought to.
  • やむを得ず・やむをえず: unavoidably, necessarily, inevitably
  • 措置・そち: measure, step.

Talking about the closing of the exhibit, the article says that it was an inevitable measure to ensure the security of the visitors and people working there. (more literally: taking into consideration the security of the visitors and persons related, it was a necessary measure).


  • 脅す・おどす: threaten
  • 催し・もよおし: meeting, gathering (here: event)
  • あしき: bad. It’s easier to remember this word if you know that it is also written 悪しき.
  • 前例・ぜんれい: precedent.
  • verb -ます stem + かねない = something bad might happen.

If things had remained like that (if the exhibit had stayed closed) it would/could have created a (bad) precedent showing that if there is an event that you don’t like, you could force it to close by using threat.

I am assuming that this Japanese sentence expresses what you call in English the third conditional, but I am not sure. I am also not used to seeing かねない in the past tense… But translated like that, this sentence makes sense so…


  • 暴力・ぼうりょく: violence
  • …に屈する・くっする: yield to, submit to, give in to, succumb to…
  • 姿勢・しせい: posture, position, attitude.
  • 示す・しめす: show, display
  • 評価する・ひょうか: value, estimate, rate, recognise, appreciate, acknowledge the value of.

Adopting an attitude that does not succumb to violence (meaning = the decision to re-open the exhibition in spite of the threats) is worth praising.

I am not sure but I think that the word 点 implies that “on this point”, we can praise the organisators, but that on other points, problems remain (as the title says).

Now let’s move to another article. During the whole week during which the exhibition was reopened, authors and artists involved in the exhibition held a hotline to answer questions and complaints (and sometimes, receive encouraging words!) by the public. This is what I would like to study here. The article is called 不自由展抗議電話最長1時間半 作家グループが目指す対話の可能性とは 電話窓口ルポ . Once again, a rather long title that we can divide into three parts:

  • 不自由展抗議電話最長1時間半
    • 不自由展・ふじゆうてん: this refers to the exhibition in question. The whole name is 表現の不自由展・その後 .
    • 抗議・こうぎ: protest, protestation, complaint
  • 作家グループが目指す対話の可能性とは
    • 目指す・めざす: adm at, have sth in view
  • 電話窓口ルポ
    • ルポ: reportage (ルポルタージュ)

The article will be a reportage on the call center (meaning that the journalist actually went there and saw them work, it’s not just an article about it). We will learn more about the possibility of dialogue that the group of authors is looking for. And we learn that a conversation can last for one and a half hour.


  • 発案する・はつあん: suggest, propose, make a suggestion. This is the kind of word whose meaning you can easily guess if you know the kanji.
  • 演出家・えんしゅつか: artistic director (film, radio, TV).
  • 再開する・さいかい: reopen (it refers to the re-opening of the exhibition). Here again, it’s easy to guess the meaning if you know the kanji.
  • 開設する・かいせつ: establish, set up, start, open. It refers to the establishment of the call center.
  • 計・けい: in total, in all.

Akira TAKAYAMA is a theatre director. He belongs to the group of authors who proposed to create the call center. He says that since the opening of the call center on October 8th (which is the day of the re-opening of the exhibition) they have received 482 calls in three days (until October 10th).


  • 回線・かいせん: a communication channel. Here: a telephone line.
  • 交代・こうたい: change places, switch places, relieve (a shift), change (the guard). Here it means that the 30 authors relay each other, they don’t work all at the same time.

There are 5 phone lines, and around 30 authors who relay each other to take the calls.


On the first day, they received 307 calls and could only answer 20/30% of them. On October 10th, they received 70 calls and were able to answer more than 70% of them.

To be honest, I have struggled a little with this sentence (maybe my brain automatically freezes when I see numbers?). It is the 70件で that I misunderstood. I thought it meant that on the 10th, they had answered 70 calls. In my head, the sentence meant: “They were only able to answer 20/30% of the 307 calls they received on the first day. On the 10th, however, with 70 calls answered, they have been able to answer more than 70% of the total calls.” It was possible in terms of numbers, but it would have been a weird way of putting it.


  • 少女像・しょうじょぞう: Statue of Peace (representing comfort women). Here it refers to the artwork displayed in the exhibition.
  • 昭和天皇・しょうわてんのう: Emperor Hirohito (Showa). Here again, it refers to an artwork.
  • 抗議・こうぎ: protest, protestation, complaint.

Akira TAKAYAMA says that a lot of people called to complain about the statue of peace and the Showa emperor (the works that I mentioned above). Several people have said they have felt emotionally wounded by it.

Conclusion: There have been a lot of discussions around the Aichi Triennale: was it closed for security concern or was it censorship? But I was very surprised to read about this call center. It is highly admirable that the authors and artists have found a way to talk with the public, answer criticism and build a dialogue. The article says that some conversations could last one and a half hour! 

Book review: 『アウトプット大全』by Shion KABASAWA

About the book

Title: 学びを結果に変える アウトプット大全.
English title: The Power of Output: How to Change Learning to Outcome.
Author: Shion KABASAWA 樺沢紫苑
Published by Sanctuary Books

Shion KABASAWA is a psychiatrist, author, youtuber and critic. He is very active on Twitter, YouTube and his blog. Following the publication of 『アウトプット大全』 in 2018, he wrote “The Power of Input: How to Maximize Learning” this year.


『アウトプット大全』 is about the importance of output and how it can make your learning process more efficient and help you to grow and get better results.

The book is divided into five chapters:

  • Chapter 1: アウトプットの基本法則 (Rules)
  • Chapter 2: 科学に裏付けられた、伝わる話し方 (Talk)
  • Chapter 3: 能力を最大限に引き出す書き方 (Write)
  • Chapter 4: 圧倒的に結果を出す人の行動力 (Do)
  • Chapter 5: アウトプット力を高める7つのトレーニング法 (Training)

There were parts of the book that I found very interesting and useful, and parts that I found completely irrelevant to me.

First of all, I really liked the main point of the book and thought that it was exactly what I needed. My learning process is almost exclusively based on input, so I was curious to know how I could add more output activities to be more efficient. As a consequence, I was very excited to read the first chapter, the one that explains what output is and why it is important. I also liked the last chapter that gives concrete examples to incorporate more output in your routine.

The problem is that these first and last chapters are very short and the remaining chapters felt a little disconnected from the main subject of the book: “How to Change Learning to Outcome”. They focus on different forms of output: Talk, Write and Do. What I found a little disappointing is that these three chapters tend to lose sight of the first one (Rules). The author will teach you how to better communicate orally, how to better take written notes and so on, but it’s not really related to the learning process anymore.

This is especially true of the “Talk” chapter. It is quite long and was completely irrelevant to me. I would have expected the author to show how you can use spoken output to “change learning to outcome”, but the chapter is only about “how to better communicate with your co-workers”. For example, the author tells you how to introduce yourself, compliment or scold people, make requests or decline. In other words, this chapter helps you to have smoother relationships with colleagues or people around you by improving the way you communicate with them. What I expected to read was how I could use spoken output to improve myself, because I thought this was what this book was about.

I found the “write” and “do” parts to be more interesting and to get more to the point. I also picked up several good ideas, and overall, reading these parts motivated me to produce more, write more and do more.

So to me, the main topic of the book was interesting, but I found that the author taught me more how to make good output instead of teaching me how I could use output to improve myself and be more efficient and learn better. While I really need to incorporate more output in my learning process, I don’t need to be taught how to look my interlocutor in the eyes, greet my co-workers every morning, or introduce myself in 30 seconds.

But overall, I found the book enjoyable to read, and I did find some useful tips in it. It is well structured, well illustrated and easy to read. It’s also easy to go back to previous pages and immediately find what you are looking for. Illustrations make it easy to remember what the author said and important statements are written in bold and blue. I find this kind of book particularly appropriate for Japanese learners because they are not too complicated to read, and you can practice your Japanese while learning useful tips and read motivating content.

JLPT N2: Shin Kanzen Master vs Nihongo So-matome

In 2017, I have taken and passed the JLPT N2 twice. From January to July, I studied with the So-matome series, and from July to December with the Shin Kanzen series. I didn’t know which one of the two series was best for me, so I ultimately bought and tried them both.

As I have the whole set of each method, I thought I would make a comparison of the two to help you decide which one you should buy if you are taking the test.

Don’t forget that there are a lot of other textbooks available, you are not limited to So-matome and Shin Kanzen!

Overall opinion

Go for the Shin Kanzen Master series if… you want to pass the test no matter what and want to get the highest possible score. Overall, the Shin Kanzen series is more thorough and has more content. On the other hand, it also asks a lot of work on your part to digest it all. If you are serious about the JLPT and willing to put enough time and effort in it, the Shin Kanzen will be your best companion.

Go for the Nihongo So-matome series if… you would like to pass the JLPT but your life does not depend on it, you don’t care about the score and don’t think that it is worth stressing about. If you take the JLPT to know your level, challenge yourself or give you a goal, the So-matome will be a decent companion. It might not be as thorough as the Shin Kanzen, but it is more digestible, pleasant and light. If you study with the So-matome only, chances are that you won’t feel at ease to answer all the questions during the test, but I personally passed with the So-matome only so… Also, if you are not taking the test at all but are using JLPT textbooks to study Japanese, the So-matome is certainly a good option.

You don’t have to stick to one method for the 5 textbooks. Let’s compare each one of them separately:

So-matome vs Shin Kanzen: book by book

I will try to be as thorough as possible in this comparison so that you can decide by yourself which one is best for you. I will also give my personal opinion.



147 pages – ENGLISH TRANSLATION – around 1400 words

There are 8 chapters. Each chapter contains 7 lessons: 6 lessons introduce new words and have two series of exercises. The seventh and last lesson of each chapter is composed of JLPT questions only. The book allows you to learn around 1400 words.

The number of new words per lesson varies, but it is usually between 20 and 30 words. Most of the time, new words are introduced in a short sentence or phrase, so that you can see how they are used and in which context they are likely to appear. Most of the time, So-matome does not give you the translation for the word itself but the translation of the sentence in which the word appears (it’s not a problem to catch the meaning of the word).

So-matome: Light, friendly layout with illustrations and context.

Some lessons are devoted to a topic (work, money, computer…) but other lessons have a non-topical approach. For example, you will have lessons that introduce adverbs only.

The last three chapters introduce words that look similar. It is the まとめて覚えましょう approach of So-matome. For example, you will learn all the N2 words that contain the kanji 物, the kanji 日, and so on. You will also learn together words that have a similar meaning or you will learn the different meanings that a single word can have depending on the context.

The exercises that accompany each lesson are okay, but not enough in my opinion. You will only see JLPT questions at the end of a chapter, that is, when you study the seventh lesson. If you want to have a good preparation for the JLPT, you might want to study with a book of vocabulary drills.

Personal opinion:

While the So-matome has a pleasant layout and is easy to study with, it does not introduce enough words. It does introduce a little of everything (adverbs, onomatopoeia, idiomatic expressions, and so on), but it does not cover all you need to know to pass N2.

When I took the test in July 2017, I had studied with the So-matome textbook only. I found the questions of vocabulary very hard and I kept stumbling across words that I didn’t know. I felt a little betrayed and irritated because I had bought and studied entirely the So-matome, I had read that it was one of the best textbooks available and yet, I had a hard time answering the JLPT questions. This being said, I did pass. My conclusion is that the So-matome can make you pass the test, but it is not guaranteed. It certainly depends on the amount of vocabulary you already know or learn outside of the textbook. If you want to be sure to pass the vocabulary section, the So-matome textbook is not enough in my opinion.

Shin Kanzen

207 pages + 32 pages (answers) – NO ENGLISH – NO TRANSLATIONNO DEFINITION IN JAPANESE – A lot of exercises – 2283 words

The book contains 37 lessons. They all have a similar structure: first, the lesson introduces new words. You don’t have any translation for them, but they often come in an short phrase, so that you can learn them in context and see how they are used. Then you have a whole set of varied exercises to see if you remember the words. The exercises have unique and interesting questions as well as JLPT questions. You will learn 2283 words.

Shin Kanzen: contrary to So-matome, there is no English translation.

I want to stress that you have several serious exercises coming with each lesson (contrary to So-matome which had interesting exercises coming only once per chapter). I think that you will have a solid preparation for the JLPT.

Be careful that the lessons are huge in terms of new words count. Most lessons introduce up to 60 words (twice as many as a lesson of So-matome)! It will also take you some time and energy to go through all the exercises. This is something that you should keep in mind when you are designing your study plan. You will certainly need more time than you think to go through the whole textbook.

Some lessons look daunting… no pain no gain, I suppose…

My personal opinion:

First of all, the lack of English translation is annoying when it comes to vocabulary. This means you have to check all the new words in a dictionary which is extremely time consuming.

The Shin Kanzen introduces many more words than the So-matome. No matter the chapter (adverbs, expressions, vocabulary by topic…) the Shin Kanzen will have more words than the So-matome. If we compare the two, the Shin Kanzen makes the So-matoe looks very pale.

But, I found this textbook overwhelming. The exercises are great, and it is a solid preparation for the JLPT, but you know, having a good textbook is not all… you have to study it! If you find this textbook too overwhelming, you might end up not studying it, and worse, you could give up the idea of taking the test altogether, thinking that it is too difficult or that the preparation is taking too much of your time.

If you are studying Japanese as a hobby, and if the JLPT is not that important for you, listen to my advice: Instead of buying the perfect textbook and never open it, it is way better to buy a so-so textbook and study it entirely. Even if you don’t pass the JLTP, you will have learned hundreds of words during your preparation and improved greatly your Japanese level. Isn’t this what counts in the end?

But… if you need to pass the JLPT for your studies or work, then you can rely on the Shin Kanzen.


Kanji is certainly the part where both textbooks differ the most.


159 pages + 15 pages (answers) – 739 kanji – around 2200 words

Here again, 8 chapters, each chapter contains 6 lessons of new kanji and a seventh lesson of JLPT questions. Contrary to the vocabulary book, some new kanji are also introduced in the seventh lesson.

Each lesson introduces around 12 to 14 kanji. For each kanji, you have the “on” and “kun” reading with words containing the said kanji. There are up to 4 or 5 words given for one kanji.

Each lesson corresponds to a theme, and I think that this is the best point of this method: the authors made a real effort to group the kanji by topics so that you can remember them more easily. Personally, I think that it works.

Another good point is the number of new kanji per lesson: you won’t feel overwhelmed. The downside is that there are not enough kanji in this method, only 739 (the Shin Kanzen has 1046 kanji).

So-matome: I like how they managed to group the kanji by “theme”, which makes them easier to remember. The textbook is also pleasant to study with.

It is interesting to note that the textbook does not give the core meaning (or any meaning at all) for the kanji. The only thing you get is the translation of the words containing this kanji. It personally suited the way I learn the kanji (exclusively in words, not by themselves), but it might be frustrating if you are used to learning your kanji with its core meaning. In this case, you will have to use extra resources like a kanji dictionary.

Also worth noting, the textbook does not show you the stroke order. If you planned on using a JLPT textbook to learn to write the kanji, you might want to reconsider your plan.

Each lesson of new kanji comes with some exercises, but they are not enough to prepare you for the test. The lesson of exercises (the 7th lesson) that comes at the end of each chapters does contain JLPT questions.

Personal opinion:

The So-matome adopts a light formula, and is perfect if kanji is not your thing. The way kanji are grouped together is great, the illustrations are also useful to remember some words, and overall, it was pleasant to go through the lessons (rather than a list of kanji). I also liked how they focus on introducing the kanji in context, it really suited the way I like to learn the kanji.

Shin Kanzen

79 pages (list of kanji and words) – 121 pages (exercises) – 38 pages (answers) – 1 CD (exercises) – 1046 kanji

The Shin Kanzen textbook for kanji is very peculiar. The main part of the book is composed of exercises only. There are two separate booklets, one with the list of 1046 kanji that you somehow have to learn on your own, and one with the answers to the exercises.

First of all, let’s see the list of kanji.

The list is divided into sections, each section corresponds to a series of exercises. What you want to do is to study the kanji of one section then do the corresponding exercises.

You don’t get anything more in this booklet to learn the kanji, you are entirely on your own: No core meaning, no translation for the words, no topic, nothing but a list of kanji classified according to their “on” reading (in alphabetical order).

Shin Kanzen: It’s a little minimalistic… but the exercises definitely help you remember the kanji.

What is great in this textbook is the main part: the exercises. Once you have remembered the kanji of the list, you can test your knowledge with interesting and unique exercises. Each section has a double page of exercises, but they are not, for the most part, JLPT questions.

Note that some exercises ask you to write down the kanji by memory, so you might not find this kind of exercise appropriate to you if you don’t learn how to write the kanji. Also, note that the exercises are a little more challenging than JLPT questions. JLPT questions are multiple choice questions, but the Shin Kanzen exercises are often open ones like: “give the reading of this word”.

The exercises are varied, unique and interesting

Personal opinion

I don’t like the list of kanji. I feel that I could have found this list on internet. If I am buying a textbook, it is because I expect the authors to help me to remember the kanji, for example by sorting them by topic and showing them in context through illustrations like the So-matome textbook does. Moreover, I hate the sorting by alphabetical order.

However, I love the exercises. It feels a little schoolish to be honest, but I think that this is the reason why I like them. I am not sure whether they are the best way to prepare for the JLPT, but they certainly are a good way to test your knowledge of kanji.

To sum up, this textbook is challenging, you have to learn a list of kanji in alphabetical order. The exercises will also ask you to write some of them. It is a good method if you like playing around with kanji and are looking for exercises. If you find it hard to remember the kanji on their own and need more context, then go for the So-matome.


So-matome and Shin Kanzen have a similar structure when it comes to grammar, but if you look closely, you’ll see that they each have their distinctive features.


146 pages – 191 grammar points – English translation

There are 8 chapters, each contains 6 lessons introducing new grammar points and one lesson of JLPT questions. Each lesson introduces 4 grammar points so you will learn around 192 grammatical patterns in total (I think the exact number is 191).

Something worth noting is that the grammar patterns are grouped according to their structure/appearance. Grammar patterns that look similar (but may not have the same meaning) will be grouped together in the same lesson.

For example, you will learn in the same lesson these three similarly looking grammar points, although their meaning is different:

  • 上に
  • 上で
  • 上は

Some people might like to learn similar patterns at the same time, but others might find it extremely confusing.

Each lesson also comes with two types of exercises, they are okay, but it is not enough to feel that you master the grammar.

For each grammar point, you get two or three example sentences, the translation of the sentences in English and an equivalent in easier or casual Japanese of the grammatical pattern. There is also an indication on how the grammar is used (with which form of the verb or adjective and so on).

What you don’t get is an explanation of the grammar: what it actually means, when it is used, what nuance it brings and so on. Usually, the example sentences are enough to understand the meaning of the grammar, but sometimes, you might feel a little lonely with your textbook. For example, some grammar might seem similar, and you would like someone to tell you how they differ. If you use the So-matome, you should be ready to check online to get more information about a particular grammar or use a grammar dictionary.

So-matome: Here again, a pleasant layout. As you can see, you are not overwhelmed by information. The idea is that you get a feeling of what the grammar means by seeing it in context, through example sentences. I personally would like to have more information, but everyone is different.

Personal opinion

I like the So-matome for grammar and particularly enjoy the equivalent they give in easier Japanese. To me, this is the best feature of the book.

I don’t like the way grammar are grouped together, to me it makes things really confusing, and I had a hard time remembering the difference between similar patterns because I had learned them at the same time.

Sometimes, I also felt that I needed more explanations concerning a grammar point. I guess that So-matome suits learner who can easily get an “intuitive” knowledge of what something means by seeing it in context…? Personally, I am more on the “explanation” side, I like things, especially grammar, to be explained to me. I would also have liked to have more example sentences per grammar.

Shin Kanzen

211 pages – 211 grammar points – additional lessons on grammar – no translation

The Shin Kanzen introduces 211 grammar points. There are different parts and chapters, and some chapters are really useful to pass the JLPT.

First, you have 26 chapters that introduce the N2 grammar. Each chapter contains 5 to 6 grammar points. The grammar points are not classified by pattern (appearance), but by meaning, intention or nuance. For example, the grammar points that mean “but” or “if” will be in the same chapter. Same for grammar who allows you to emphasise what you want to say, or show your emotion.

To compare with the So-matome textbook, in the Shin Kanzen, you will find the following grammar in different chapters:

  • 上に in the chapter 6 with grammar meaning ~だけではなく・それに加えて
  • 上で in the chapter 3 where you find grammar meaning 後で
  • 上は in chapter 17 with grammar meaning ~だから (理由)

For each grammar, you have an explanation of the grammar’s meaning in Japanese. It is short and easy to understand. There are also further information concerning when to use or not use this grammar, what is likely to come next in the sentence, what nuance it brings, what it tells about the speaker’s intention and so on.

There are also indications on how to form the grammar (with verbs, adjectives…) and 3 or 4 (sometimes more) example sentences.

To give a concrete comparison, this is the same grammar as the one above (So-matome). The Shin Kanzen gives more information and more example sentences. Also, I find that the explanation given at the end is an important point to understand this grammar. The So-matome did not mention it.

Each lesson comes with a double page of exercises that are similar to JLPT typical questions. These questions are often tricky and are an excellent preparation for the JLPT. Same as for vocabulary, I would like to stress that you have a whole set of great exercise coming with each lesson. (So-matome has this kind of exercises only once per chapter).

After each lesson (where you learn 5 or 6 grammatical patterns), you have a double page of exercises.

Following, you have 7 chapters that come back on some of the grammar points you learned but taking a different approach. For example, they will put together the grammar using もの and the ones using こと so that you can be sure you will not mix them up during the test.

After that, you have 3 lessons that focus on the construction of the Japanese sentence and show you what comes after the grammar points you have learned. For example, some grammar points are necessarily followed by a negation, some are followed by a noun…

Finally, 12 additional lessons will deepen your overall knowledge of Japanese grammar. You will not learn new patterns, but review the things you think you already know. For example, transitive and intransitive verbs, direction (くれる・あげる) and the like, the utilisation of こ・そ・あ or は・が.

Lastly, you have two mock tests (only the grammar part).

Personal opinion

To me, the Shin Kanzen grammar is a very solid preparation for the JLPT, especially if you can go through all the additional lessons. From my experience, I would say that it is not that difficult to tell which grammatical pattern you should use in a sentence. What I find very hard in the JLPT is when they ask you whether you should use こと, もの, わけ or ところ. Similarly, it is often hard to tell which particle you need between は, が, に or で. It sounds easy, but it’s not!

In comparison with the So-matome, the Shin Kanzen has more grammar points, more explanations, more example sentences and more exercises. It is way better in every aspect. The only thing that I like more in So-matome is that they give an equivalent in easier Japanese.

The down side of the Shin Kanzen is the layout. You have a lot of information on each page, and studying it might feel discouraging at times.

Reading and Listening

First of all, I would like to give a personal advice: you will pass the reading and listening sections if you are used to reading in Japanese and to listening to Japanese in your everyday life. I don’t think that going through one textbook only, especially if you start some weeks before the test, will allow you to pass.

Contrary to vocabulary, grammar and kanji, the reading and listening skills are not something you can learn by heart, it is something that you acquire through practice and time.

My own experience is that I got 60 points at reading when I took the test in July after my preparation with So-matome. And I got 59 points in December after having gone through the Shin Kanzen. No matter which textbook I chose, I got a good mark because I was reading a lot in Japanese outside of my JLPT preparation.

On the other hand, the listening part of the test was a nightmare. I felt that I understood nothing and picked half of the answers randomly. It was a nightmare in July (So-matome), and it was a nightmare in December (Shin Kanzen). I had this feeling even though I had studied two textbooks of listening preparation. The reason is simple: I don’t listen to Japanese regularly, I don’t watch drama, I don’t watch anime or TV shows.

So my conclusion is this: how well you do during the test depends on your usual routine, on the amount of spoken and written Japanese you absorb in your daily life. It does not depend on the textbook you choose.

Of course, you still want to pick at least one textbook or simply do practice tests because it is vital that you get used to the type of questions you will have, especially for listening. For example, the last questions of the listening part will demand you to take notes or you won’t remember important information. It is not difficult, but you have to get used to it before the test.

So a lot of practice on a daily basis + one textbook or practice tests to get used to the JLPT format. But once again, the textbooks are not magic, they cannot make up for a total lack of daily immersion, studying a whole textbook before the test will not guarantee you to pass.

Now let’s compare the two methods:



You have 6 chapters, each contain 6 lessons that teach you how to read difficult texts and a seventh lesson that contains JLPT question.

So-matome tries to make practicing reading as pleasant and painless as possible. Let’s say it plainly: practicing reading for the JLPT is not amusing. So-matome makes things easier with different layouts, strangely shaped characters that accompany you throughout the book, various fonts, illustrations…

It also takes you by the hand with step by step lessons. First you have some vocabulary or other pieces of information that will be useful to understand the text, then you read a dialogue between two people discussing the topic. And then you have the text in itself with questions. It is a progressive, step by step formula.

So-matome: First vocabulary, then an easy dialogue and finally the text with questions… I like this progressive approach, it makes reading much easier.

Personal opinion

If reading is not your strong point and if you find N2 texts intimidating, So-matome is a great way to learn how to tackle those texts. But once again, don’t rely entirely on the textbook and read as much as you can in Japanese.

Shin Kanzen

Contrary to So-matome, Shin Kanzen does nothing at all to make JLPT readings more enjoyable. On the other hand, it offers a much better preparation.

The book is divided into 4 sections.

The first section teaches you how to recognise key elements in argumentative texts: you will learn how to spot comparisons and metaphors in a text, understand when and how the author reformulates something or uses examples, and so on. It teaches you to read the text in order to answer JLPT questions which are often “what does the author want to say?”.

The lessons have a text and one typical JLPT question. The textbook takes you by the hand to help you answer the question. It shows you step by step how you must read the text: what are the key words, how the author used stylistic devices, how we can sum up the text… In addition to these guided question, you also have practice texts where you must answer on your own.

The second section is all about finding key information in notices, mails or commercials. Here again, you have lessons with step by step answers and practice texts where you must answer on your own.

The third section is a series of practice texts that you will find in the JLPT.

The fourth section is a practice test (reading section only).

I like the strategical approach of So-matome. For example, this lesson targets a particular type of JLPT question: “what does the underlined part mean?”.
The textbook helps you to answer the question with a step by step approach. It shows you how to identify necessary information. After that, you have several texts and questions that you must answer on your own.

Personal opinion:

I find that the Shin Kanzen book is extremely well structured and has very good content. At the N2 level, reading questions are tricky. It is not enough to be able to say what the text is about, you have to understand what the author really wants to say. The Shin Kanzen textbook is a good preparation. However, don’t forget to practice reading outside of the textbook. If you never read in Japanese, going through the Shin Kanzen textbook will be challenging and might even be discouraging. The textbook is mostly composed of texts that you have to read. If you feel at ease to read in Japanese but find the JLPT questions tricky, this textbook is perfect for you. If you don’t feel at ease to read in Japanese, go for the So-matome.

In other words, So-matome helps you to learn how to read difficult texts in Japanese. The step-by-step guideline is there to prepare you to read the text (first learn key vocabulary, then read a dialogue about the topic, then read the text). On the contrary, Shin Kanzen helps you to answer the JLPT questions. The step-by-step guideline is here to prepare you to answer the questions (first read the text, then learn how to extract important information). You also have a lot of texts that you must answer on your own.

My personal advice to pass the reading section would be to read a lot of things in Japanese in your daily life (light novels are a perfect choice) and study with the Shin Kanzen to get used to the JLPT format and practice reading argumentative texts.

If you don’t feel like reading tons of JLPT texts and just want to improve your reading skills during your preparation, then the So-matome is good.



There are 5 chapters, each contains 5 to 7 lessons. In each chapter, the last lesson is a series of exercises that are not JLPT questions. The 5th chapter is composed of a set of JLPT questions, there are no lessons in this one. The book is very thin, only 70 pages. There is also a supplement of 54 pages for the scripts and answers.

The first chapter starts with the basics. You will start with exercises on how to correctly recognise pronunciation, grammar or spoken expressions. The following lessons are more interesting and start to give you advice for the test. The third chapter in particular has a strategic approach and shows you what kind of dialogues you are likely to find during the JLPT N2.

So-matome: this is an example of spoken expressions that you need to master to understand spoken dialogues.

The fourth chapter is also useful because it gives key expressions and terms you are likely to find in a given situation or place, for example: if the dialogues happens at the dental clinic, these are the words and expressions you might hear.

Personal opinion:

I think that the So-matome is well structured and has good content, but it also looks very light. For example, the part where you learn expressions likely to appear in this or that place/situation is a good idea, but you won’t learn enough vocabulary and expressions in my opinion. So-matome is a great textbook if you want to practice listening in a pleasant way, the lessons are short and you can finish the textbook relatively quickly. However, if you study with this textbook only, I think that you will be surprised by the actual JLPT test when you take it. You will find it much harder than anything you have learned in So-matome. If you want to study with this textbook, I recommend that you also listen to as many JLPT practice tests as possible and study with them in parallel.

Shin Kanzen

The book has 103 pages + 46 pages of script and answers.

The book opens with a detailed presentation of the JLPT listening section. It might sound like a detail, but I highly recommend that you read it carefully.

The structure of the book is a little complex, but let’s say that it has an overall strategic approach. The book teaches you how to find the information you need depending on the type of questions you will get. For example, some questions will ask you what a person needs to bring to a certain event, and you will have specific exercises on this topic. Another lesson will make sure you can find relevant information in a dialogue or information that matches certain conditions (for example, someone needs to book a reunion room, but it has to be so and so).

The textbook also teaches you how to take notes while listening, and overall, how to be active while listening. It contains a lot of exercises that are not JLPT questions, but targeted exercises to improve different skills relative to listening.

Shin Kanzen: this is an example of the kind of exercise you get in the textbook. This exercise asks you to spot the right structure of the speech you hear through key words.

There is also a mock test (listening section only)

My personal opinion

I would say that the Shin Kanzen is more thorough, it has a lot of exercises and a strategic approach to the JLPT. I have a personal preference for the Shin Kanzen when it comes to content, but here again, So-matome has a more pleasant layout and is easier to go through.

But to be honest, I find that both textbooks are too easy. In 2017, I found that the real JLPT test had almost none of the situations and dialogues I had studied in the textbooks (casual conversations between friends or colleagues, discussions inside the family, between teacher and student…) As I recall it, the dialogues of the real test were almost all work-related or had technical terms in them.

No matter which textbook you choose, you should also listen to as many practice tests as possible and to study the dialogues that you did not understand well. Listen to the dialogues several times, try to repeat what they say, read the script and look up unknown words, understand what you did not understand and why, and even, learn the dialogue by heart.

What would I choose today if I were to take N2 again?

If I were to take N2 again, I would choose a very different approach than I did in 2017…

For vocabulary, I would definitely stay away from the Shin Kanzen. This textbook demotivated me, going through it was a nightmare, and I couldn’t bear to open my Anki anymore. However, I find the So-matome a little too on the light side. So for vocabulary, I would go for the So-matome first and then use another more thorough textbook, or I would use another textbook altogether.

I would also simply skip studying the kanji. This is a very personal approach, but I don’t like to study the kanji for themselves (learning a list of kanji, their pronunciation, their core meaning, and a bunch of words in which they appear). I prefer to simply learn words and if an unknown kanji appears in these words, I will check it out in a kanji dictionary, see what its core meaning is and in which other words it appears. (Or sometimes, I would simply just learn the words and don’t really care whether I know the kanji in it or not.) This is something that I can do using a vocabulary textbook only so I don’t think that I need a kanji method.

For grammar, I would definitely use the So-matome first. It can be daunting to learn so many new grammar points in some months only, and the light, pleasant layout of the So-matome makes things easier. However, I don’t think that it is enough. After completing the So-matome, I would certainly pick another resource, either the Shin Kanzen grammar, or another one.

For reading and listening, I would go for the Shin Kanzen textbooks, but I would also be sure to practice a lot by using practice tests, especially for listening.


I hope that I was able to give you some kind of insight into these two methods.

To me, the Shin Kanzen series is a much better series to prepare for the JLPT than the So-matome. It is perfect for learners who really want or need to pass the test or students who major in Japanese.

However, we are not all willing to spend hours studying Japanese. Some of us would like to pass the JLPT, yes, but will never sacrifice the fun and joy of language learning to it. You might be learning Japanese as a hobby and take the test to check out your level or get additional motivation. Maybe you cannot afford to spend several hours per week to study Japanese. So-matome is designed for self-taught learners and fits a wide range of learners and learning styles.

Once again, if you are studying Japanese as a hobby, what is the most important thing? Pass the test or improve your Japanese? If you choose a good but challenging textbook, you might feel discouraged and demotivated after 1 or 2 chapters, give up the JLPT and your preparation. In the end, you will not have taken the test, you will not have prepared for it, and most importantly, you will not have improved your Japanese by preparing for the test.

On the contrary, if you choose a pleasant and light textbook that you can study entirely, you will have learned tons of vocabulary and grammatical patterns and practiced reading and listening during your JLPT preparation. Even if you don’t pass the test, your Japanese will have improved a lot.

So ask yourself what kind of learner you are, what amount of time and effort you are willing to put into the JLPT preparation, and what your ultimate goals are. And don’t forget that there are a lot of other good textbooks for the JLPT, you don’t have to stick to one series

Good luck!

Book review: 『追憶の夜想曲』by Shichiri NAKAYAMA

About the book

Title: 『追憶の夜想曲』(ついおくのノクターン)
Author: Shichiri NAKAYAMA (中山七里)
Published by 講談社文庫

This book is the second volume of the series MIKOSHIBA (御子柴シリーズ). The series follows lawyer Reiji MIKOSHIBA (御子柴 礼司), and I think that there are 4 volumes available now.

When I bought 『追憶の夜想曲』, I didn’t know that it was the second book of a series, and I really wish I had started with the first one, 『贖罪の奏鳴曲』.


When lawyer Reiji MIKOSHIBA decides to take on the case of Akiko TSUDA, everyone is baffled, especially procuror Kiyohei MISAKI… There is no money to be gained and no way he can win this case because the evidence against Akiko is clear: she murdered her husband…


I absolutely loved this novel! It is the first legal thriller that I read in Japanese, and it is a genre that I love (I remember that I wanted to become a lawyer after I read John Grisham for the first time, haha).

But 『追憶の夜想曲』 was very challenging at times, especially at the beginning. There is a whole discussion during the first chapter that I could not follow at all, and I almost gave up after a few pages. I am very glad that I persevered because things went much smoother after that. Sometimes, difficult passages would appear, and I must admit that there are one or two dialogues that I have not understood well, but it did not prevent me from understanding what was happening or to know what conclusions were drawn.

The novel describes the three parts of the trial and Mikoshiba’s investigation in-between. The case is engrossing and Mikoshiba is a complex and interesting character. I wish that I had started with the first novel of the series because I guess that we learn more about Mikoshiba’s past and personality in it. If you are interested in this series, I recommend you to start with the first novel.

This is the second book I read by Shichiri NAKAYAMA, the other one being from the series Hayato INUKAI (刑事犬養隼人シリーズ), which was also a little difficult to read in Japanese. Between the two, I would say that I loved the Mikoshiba series better, and I will certainly read the other books of this series. But definitely, Shichiri NAKAYAMA’s books are on the difficult side!