Welcome to my reading journal for May 2020! As usual, I will talk about the books that I have finished since April 15th and the books I am currently reading. In my reading journal, I focus on the Japanese level of the books and my experience of reading them as a Japanese learner.
Books I finished
『無人島に生きる十六人』by Kunihiko Sugawa (須川邦彦)
Inspired by real facts, this novel tells the story of the 16 crew members of the Ryusui maru, who grounded near Pearl and Hermes Atoll in 1899.
This was clearly a difficult and not very interesting book for me. Not difficult because there was a lot of unknown words, jargon, or references to things I didn’t know, but because there was a lot of descriptions that I didn’t find super interesting.
The problem is not as much vocabulary than concentration. There were words that I am not familiar with, but these were not words that I would usually need to look up to understand. I could guess their meaning from the kanji and/or context. The problem is that I didn’t really like this book (I’ll talk more about that in my review), so I was not able to give it the attention it needs.
『無人島に生きる十六人』is the kind of book that I find challenging but so no difficult that I would give up. You can read it for free online as it has entered public domain.
『ぼくらの七日間戦争』by Osamu Soda (宗田理)
First year of middle school. All the boys in class 2 decide to resist adults’ authority by establishing a liberated zone only for kids. The “seven days war” has started.
I already talked about this book in my previous reading journal, so I will not say much here.
『ぼくらの七日間戦争』is easy to read, but it is still a long book with a lot of vocabulary (contrary to 『霧のむこうのふしぎな町』, see below). This means that it is a good book for intermediate readers above N3, but maybe not the best choice if you are N4 and looking for a first book you could use to practice reading.
There are furigana in this edition (Tsubasa, Kadokawa), which makes it easier to look up words. You can also buy the audiobook version which can help you understand what happens (sometimes, just hearing how things are said helps to understand nuances, like the mood or intention of a character in a dialogue). I listened to the audiobook while following with the book, and I enjoyed it very much.
『霧のむこうのふしぎな町』by Sachiko Kashiwaba (柏葉幸子)
The young Rina is sent away by her father to spend the Summer Holidays far from home. Rina travels alone and after crossing a thick fog, she arrives in a mysterious place...
『霧のむこうのふしぎな町』is a children’s book published in the collection Aotori (Kodansha). Books in both Aotori and Tsubasa collections are classified in three levels. 『ぼくらの七日間戦争』is meant for 小学上級から whereas『霧のむこうのふしぎな町』is targeting younger readers: 小学中級から.
As a result, you can say that 『霧のむこうのふしぎな町』is easier to read than 『ぼくらの七日間戦争』, but I personally found the latter easier to read. As strange as it might sound, I find any book by Keigo Higashino easier to read than 『霧のむこうのふしぎな町』.
The main reason is that I find fantasy more difficult to read than realistic novels. Fantasy is a genre that I love in films, but that I rarely read. In fantasy novels, I feel like anything could happen, and I cannot rely on expectations when reading.
The second problem is the number of kanji words written in hiragana. There are kanji of course (all with furigana), but some words that would normally be written in kanji are written in hiragana instead. It is certainly easier to read for Japanese children, but it really gave me a headache.
For beginners, the reduced number of kanji can make the text look easier, but from my own experience, I would say that it can also slow down your understanding of a sentence. It is harder to say where words start and stop, what is part of a noun, what is a grammatical structure, and so on. Analysis of a sentence can be more difficult if there are fewer kanji.
Another thing to note if you are a beginner, is that the novel reproduces the way people speak in its text, for example writing ごと instead of こと or がら instead of から. But this is true only for the characters appearing at the very beginning of the novel, so you should not let this discourage you.
『霧のむこうのふしぎな町』is really a great story that is worth reading, no matter your age. If you are looking for children’s books or books rather light on kanji to practice your reading, this is a good choice because you are not only practicing your Japanese, but you also read a major piece of Japanese children’s literature. I personally find children’s books often harder to read than genre fiction like mystery novels, but it’s certainly just me…
『いま、会いにゆきます』 by Takuji Ichikawa (市川拓司)
Takumi and his six-year-old son Yuji are both doing their best to go on with life after Yuji’s mother’s death one year ago. But just as the rain season starts, a miracle happens…
I found this novel very easy to read. If you are looking for easy novels in Japanese, 『いま、会いにゆきます』 is a good candidate.
There are a lot of dialogues. In particular, the dialogues between the protagonist and his six-year-old son are very easy. Of course, this does not concern the entire novel, but this kind of easy dialogues appears regularly.
The story is a beautiful one, there is nothing difficult to understand in the novel, there are very few characters, very few descriptions and a lot of easy dialogues… If you have watched the film (either the Korean or Japanese adaptation), it will be even easier to read the book.
Even though this kind of story is not usually my cup of tea, I enjoy reading this novel and was able to read it very quickly. I think it’s a great book for Japanese learners!
『僕はイエローでホワイトで、ちょっとブルー』 by Mikako Brady (ブレイディみかこ)
Mikako Brady talks about the first year of middle school of her son in Brighton. The daily adventures and challenges she and her son overcome together are an occasion to talk about social issues like gender identity, racism or poverty.
I would say that this book is not difficult to read, but if you are looking for an easy nonfiction book, I don’t think that this one is the easiest you can find.
Mikado Brady writes for a Japanese readership, so she explains several characteristics of the English educational system, society and even some politics. Maybe I am mistaken, but I found that some of these passages might be difficult to read or discouraging if you are not used to reading books in Japanese.
Some parts of the book read like a novel, with dialogues and things happening (easy to read), and some parts are explanations about English society or characteristics of the school the author’s son is going to (more difficult). The chapters are short (around 15 pages each) and focus on a different topic. I really appreciated the format of the book, the chapters being short enough so I can read one entirely in one reading session.
If you are interested in this book, you can read several chapters on the publisher’s website (the prologue and the whole chapter 1, 5, 6 and 8!). The chapters can be read independently, so you can first read the ones available online and then decide whether you want to buy the book and read the rest.
This book is not exactly what I was expecting, but I find it very interesting and cannot get enough of it. I will be sad when I finish it.
『運転者』by Yasushi Kitagawa (喜多川泰)
Life is not easy for Shuichi: problems at work, worries about money, worries about his daughter, worries about his aging mother… Then he meets a mysterious taxi driver and something changes.
Not only do I love this story, but I also find this book very easy to read. I would say that to me, this is the easiest of all the ones cited in this post.
Depending on your level, the beginning can seem a little difficult at first, because the book explains things about the protagonist’s work and salary. But apart from the beginning, I am not finding any part that could be considered as difficult.
There are also many dialogues, and the ones between the protagonist and the taxi driver are relatively easy to read.
This is the kind of books that you can read very quickly. It is also very short (only 239 pages). I have only read about one third of it, so my opinion might change later, but for now, this is a book that I recommend. The only downside is that I could not find a pocket edition so I had to buy the bigger, hardcover format, which was much more expensive than a pocket of this length would normally be.
If you are wondering why I was so set on buying this book, it is because I was impressed by the number of excellent reviews it has on Amazon. Not only this book, but all the books by this author! I chose the story that I found the most attractive to me, but I am very interested in reading Yasushi Kitagawa’s other novels.
And that’s it for this month’s reading update. I am only reading two books at the moment, but I will soon start a third one! In theory, I am also still reading 『BUTTER』 by Asako Yuzuki (柚木麻子), but in practice, I am not… There is nothing wrong with this book, but I put it aside for too long and don’t feel like picking it up again…