Book review: 『JR上野駅公園口』 by Miri Yu


Title: 『JR上野駅公園口』 (うえのえきこうえんぐち)
Author: Miri YU (柳美里)
Published by 河出文庫

Miri Yu has won the Akutagawa Prize for 『家族シネマ』.

First published in 2014, 『JR上野駅公園口』 has been translated into English in 2019 by Morgan Giles under the title Tokyo Ueno Station. The translation is published by Tilted Axis Press (UK) and Penguin Random House (US).

The novel had been translated into French by Sophie Rèfle in 2015 (Sortie parc, gare d’Ueno, Actes Sud).


It is always a little awkward to say that you don’t like a widely praised book, but 『JR上野駅公園口』 is not a book that I enjoyed reading. I can see why people praise it, and yes I also found some of the book’s topics fascinating, but the way it is written prevented me from loving the story or even feel very involved in the protagonist’s fate.

I bought this book because of the many positive reviews it received when the English translation came out. The general impression I had after reading some reviews was that the book would mainly be about the situation of homeless people in Ueno Park, the life of the protagonist Kazu who worked on construction sites for the Tokyo Olympics of 1964, disparities between rich and poor and historical moments of post-war Japan.

All these topics are present in the novel of course, but the book is also much more than that, it is a very complex novel that cannot be reduced to a list of topics. The author’s narrative choices and writing style certainly give the book a lot of depth, but it also kept me away from the story all along.

Only part of the novel is about the concrete situation of homeless people in Ueno park, and while these parts were powerful and fascinating, it is not the main topic of the book. Similarly, episodes of Kazu’s past are not exactly what reviews, or even the summary of the book, had made me hoping for. Kazu has worked as a labourer to build the facilities for the Olympics. I was very interested in this aspect of Kazu’s life and would have loved to learn more about this experience. But flash-backs on Kazu’s past do not really develop on these topics. For example, there is a long passage describing Buddhist funeral rites, and it is when I reached this point that I realised that this book was not what I expected.

Apart from this, there are aspects of the book that did not work for me. There are some explanatory passages that are quite lengthy and very dry. To put it simply, Kazu remembers one character having explained some historical facts to him, and the novel suddenly enters a kind of Wikipedia mode. I am always enthusiastic when authors adds historical elements in their novel, but surely there are better ways to integrate them than giving a character a long monologue that is not related to the story. As it is, it looks like an artificial addition made by the author, not something that would be linked to the story, the narrator or the characters.

More generally speaking, I could not sympathise with or feel much emotion for the protagonist. This is strange because Kazu is the kind of character that I usually easily feel close to in novels. I guess that having to go through many passages that I cannot describe otherwise than tiring to read, dragged me away from the story and from the protagonist.

To conclude, I loved the idea behind the book and I found that the structure of the book had a lot of potential. I just don’t like how it was made in the end.

With so many people loving this book, I am clearly in the minority of readers for whom it did not work. If you are interested in reading 『JR上野駅公園口』, I recommend the translation by Morgan Giles which is excellent and well written. I personally found the Japanese quite tiring to read, and I ended up reading the Japanese and the translation in parallel (I talked more about it in my wrap up of July).

Inhae reads the news: August 2020

I only had time for two topics this month:

  • Korean court ruling on forced labour victims: aftermaths
  • 75th anniversary of the end of WWII.

News 1: Korean court ruling on forced labour victims: aftermaths

This might not have been a breaking news in Japanese media, but this is one of the topics I am the most interested in, so we’ll start this month with the Korean Court ruling over the forced labourers issue.

Along with the comfort women issue, the forced labourers issue remains a topic of tension between Japan and Korea. During the end of WWII, as Korea was under Japanese rule (1910-1945), a large number of Koreans were conscripted to participate in Japan’s war effort, either as soldiers or as workers in factories and mines. Many of them worked in very poor conditions. I saw the numbers of 670,000 labourers sent to Japan and 60,000 deaths, but I don’t have sources other than Wikipedia.

If you are interested in this issue, you can watch the Korean film The Battleship Island, which is an action film with historical background, not an accurate historical film. I personally disliked it, but if you like action films, this one gives at least an idea of how the problem is depicted in Korea.

Korean and Japanese governments have settled the issue with the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea of 1965. Japan has provided financial compensation to Korea for its colonial rule, and the treaty was supposed to close the issue. The Japanese government has since refused any claim for individual compensation by Koreans, saying that the matter had been completely and finally settled by the treaty of 1965.

In 2018 however, the Supreme Court of South Korea ruled that 10 forced labour victims were able to claim compensation from several Japanese companies including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Nachi-Fujikoshi and Nippon Steel. The court’s argument was that the treaty only covers government-level compensations and not individual compensations.

The Japanese government’s response has been to restrict exports to South Korea and to remove the country from its list of favoured trading partners, leading to the recent Japan-South Korea trade dispute and to a palpable deterioration of the two countries’ relationship.

As the Japanese firms have refused to pay, the Korean court has issued the order to forcibly seize and liquidate the assets of two Japanese firms, Nippon Steel and Nachi-Fujikoshi Corp.. However, the documents stipulating the court order had not been delivered to the firms in question, which has delayed the proceedings to liquidating the firms’ assets.

On Tuesday 4th, the documents finally reached the Japanese firms and the news made the editorial of two newspapers:

Mainichi: 徴用工問題の深刻化 韓国は最悪の事態回避を
Sankei: 「徴用工」問題 現金化なら直ちに制裁を

Useful vocabulary

徴用工ちょうようこうDrafted worker, conscripted worker.
This seems to be the word widely used in Japan to refer to Korean forced labourers. This particular issue we are talking about is referred to as 徴用工訴訟問題. In English, the term “forced labour” is generally used. Similarly, Koreans use the term 강제노동(强制勞動, forced labour) or, to be sure, 강제징용노동(强制徵用勞動, forced conscripted labour), which sounds a little redundant.
In this case, the plaintiff won the lawsuit, so we see the word 勝訴 (しょうそ, victory in a legal suit)
資産しさんproperty, wealth. Here: assets.
現金化げんきんかChanging into cash.
I don’t know concretely how it works, but as the Japanese firms have refused to pay compensations to the plaintiffs, Korea will seize their assets and change them into money to compensate the victims.
売却ばいきゃくsale, disposal by sale.
Here again, we are talking about the Japanese firms assets.
Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court of Korea is named 大法院, and is often referred to as 大韓民国大法院 or 韓国大法院 in Japanese.
Agreement signed alongside the treaty of 1965.
The complete name of the agreement is super long: 財産及び請求権に関する問題の解決並びに経済協力に関する日本国と大韓民国との間の協定.
I am not sure, but I think that it is this particular agreement that stated 1-the compensation provided by Japan to Korea, 2- that wartime issues were completely and finally settled (完全かつ最終的に解決された), and 3- that Korea agreed to demand no further compensation.
International articles usually refer to the Treaty itself (in Japanese: 日本国と大韓民国との間の基本関係に関する条約 or simply 日韓基本条約), but I found that Japanese newspapers often refer to the agreement rather than the treaty.
Separation of powers.
The separation of powers is the reason given by president Moon Jae-in to justify his not interfering with the court ruling.

No need to say that Mainichi and Sankei’s editorial will have a very different tone on this matter. I except Sankei to strongly condemn Korea’s government and court ruling, while I guess that Mainichi’s position would be more balanced.

Now that the documents have reached Japanese firms, the formalities leading to the liquidation of the assets can proceed. Even though the whole process might take several months, Mainichi deplores that it will lead to an inevitable deterioration of the two countries relationship once it is done.

Mainichi criticises the Korean government, saying that it must have foreseen that Japan would be forced to respond, and that it would lead to a new crisis:


The Japanese government will not have other choice but to take countermeasures against the liquidation, because it must protect the property of its citizens. This is something that the Korean government was aware of from the start.

Sankei has a similar paragraph but the formulation is very different:


If the property of Japanese firms is stolen undeservedly to convert into cash, our government must take at once strict sanctions against Korea. And we mustn’t relax the sanctions as long as Korea has not reverted the court’s decision and apologized.

Theses two paragraphs bear the same meaning, but with different formulations: Mainichi says that Japan will have no other choice than to respond (取らざるをえない), while Sankei says that it must respond (踏み切るべきだ). Sankei also uses the expression “undeservedly steal” while Mainichi only talks about “protecting Japanese properties”. Finally, Mainichi talks about “countermeasures” while Sankei uses the word “sanctions”.

Just after talking about the inevitable Japanese response, Mainichi adds:


This is something that the Korean government was aware of from the start.

This implies that Moon Jae-in government, while foreseeing that the court ruling would lead to new tensions between the two countries, decided to stay put and let the situation worsen.

Sankei, in its more direct manner, also blame Moon Jae-in and his government for the past (and certainly upcoming) tensions:


Japanese firms are leaving Korea one after the other and the basis of the two countries relationship is undermined, but this situation has been brought on by Moon Jae-in government itself, who encouraged this judicial madness.

Moon Jae-in invoked the separation of powers to say that he could not interfere with the court’s ruling. But Mainichi says that the treaty signed by the two countries is a political matter, not a judicial one. As a consequence, justice should not interfere with what has been agreed upon by both governments.

Mainichi ends its article by criticising both governments. Korea for deteriorating international relationships:


If a judicial judgement can unilaterally change the field of application of a treaty half a century after it has been concluded, it will be difficult to build stable international relationship.

And Japan for its response to it:


However, Japan’s high-handed posture can only be counterproductive. If bringing out retaliatory measures was enough to influence Korea’s decisions, the situation would be under control long ago.

For Sankei, there is no need to pay compensation now, not because the matter had been settled with the treaty of 1965 but because there was no reason to pay in the first place:


There is no need to answer these claims in the first place. The order of compensation itself is an outrage that disregards the agreement between Japan and Korea and twists history. We cannot accept it.

Sankei obviously criticises the court ruling:


The judgement made by the Supreme Court of South Korea to order compensation is hard to believe, with assumptions like: “The Japanese government’s inhuman and illegal actions that are directly connected with the illegal colonial rule and war of aggression [against Korea]”.

I guess that the reason why Sankei quotes this sentence as “difficult to believe” is because of the expression “war of aggression”. The annexation of Korea has not been made by a military invasion of the country. The usurpation of Korea’s sovereignty by Japan has been made by increments, during and in the aftermaths of the Russo-Japanese war. The Japan-Korea Protocol of 1904 allowed Japan to interfere in domestic matters and to use strategic locations in Korea. The Japan-Korea Treaty of 1905 deprived Korea of its diplomatic sovereignty and made Korea a protectorate of Japan. Another Japan-Korea Treaty established in 1907 the office of a Japanese Resident General and deprived Korea of the administration of its internal affairs. Finally, political machinations, pressure, intimidation and a growing presence of Japanese military in Korea have led to the signature of the Japan-Korea Annexation treaty of 1910. Obviously, all theses treaties have been forced on Korea, but I think that the expression “war of aggression” in the context of Korea’s annexation is strictly speaking incorrect. At least, I guess that this is what Sankei is pointing out.

Finally, Sankei refutes that Korean labourers were treated differently than Japanese ones:


It is a fact that Koreans were working [for Japanese companies] since the national mobilisation decree in September 1944, but it was not forced (slaved) labour as Korea says. They were nothing more than legally mobilised wartime workers who received wages and who worked in the same conditions than Japanese workers.

I think that Sankei is using the words 朝鮮半島出身者 and 内地人 instead of “Korean” and “Japanese” to emphasise the fact that Korea was a part of Japan at the time. I simplified in my translation.

Sankei goes as far as saying that if compensation must be paid, it should be paid by Korea to Japan, to repay for the compensations already provided according to the treaty of 1965.

Note: you can also read Sankei’s editorial of the 16th which has a similar anti-Moon Jae-in vibe to it.

To conclude, Sankei and Mainichi both criticise Korea’s court ruling but not for the same reason. Mainichi points out two problems: 1- the inevitable tensions this ruling will lead to and 2- the awkward contradiction of this ruling with the treaty of 1965, but they do not question the status of Korean forced labourers. Sankei however criticises the ruling because they consider that there was no need for compensation in the first place.

Topic 2: End of WWII: 75th Anniversary

On August 15th, Japan marked the 75th anniversary of its surrender and the end of WWII. A ceremony organised by the government was held in Tokyo on the 15th, but with anti-coronavirus measures, attendance was only of 550 persons compared to the 6000 of last year.

During the ceremony, Emperor Naruhito expressed deep remorse over Japan’s wartime actions.

Prime Minister Abe has not offered apologies during his speech, but he refrained from visiting the Yasukuni Shrine.

Needless to say, our newspapers have all devoted one, if not several, editorials to the end of the war anniversary. I will only study:

Yomiuri: 戦後75年 国際協調維持へ役割果たそう
Mainichi: 戦後75年を迎えて 歴史を置き去りにしない
Asahi: 戦後75年の現在地 不戦と民主の誓い、新たに

Useful vocabulary:

終戦しゅうせんthe end of the war
戦没者せんぼつしゃthe war dead
追悼式ついとうしきa memorial service
昭和戦争しょうわせんそうExpression used by Yomiuri Shimbun to talk about the wars of the Showa period: the Mukden Incident, the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific War.
International Military Tribunal for the Far East
日米開戦にちべいかいせんThe start of the war between Japan and the United States
治安維持法ちあんいじほうPeace Preservation Law.
Series of laws enacted from 1894 to 1925 in order to suppress political dissent. They drastically restricted freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
挙国一致きょこくいっちないかくNational unity.
負の歴史ふのれきしNegative or dark side of a country’s history.
I don’t know how to translate this word… Is “negative history” a term in English? It seems to be mainly used in the medical field… I guess “dark side of history” is okay? Or maybe it is best to talk about “negative legacy of history”?
国民主権こくみんしゅけんThe principle of popular sovereignty

Mainichi and Asahi editorials contain the same message. They both warn against populism which led to Japan’s going into war with the United States, and they underline the importance of public awareness and its capacity to question government’s decisions. However, Mainichi is ending its article on a positive note, while Asahi is noting that Abe government is threatening democracy.

As for Yomiuri, it has a very different editorial. While warning against populism and calling for peace, the article also calls to strenghten the role of the SDF and teach “correct” history.

Mainichi underlines that just before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the public opinion was largely in favour of the war. Many intellectuals of the time were supporting the war against the United States:


Many intellectuals have mentioned their sense of exhalation in their poems or diaries at the news of Japan declaring war to the United States.

Mainichi quotes Yoko Kato (professor at Tokyo University and author of 『それでも、日本人は「戦争」を選んだ』) to explain the reason for this pro-war sentiment among the Japanese public. Yoko Kato says that since the Mukden Incident, Japanese people have been fed with anti-american/british discourses.

Asahi makes a similar remark about the main sentiment among the citizens before the outbreak of war. The article says that Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” applies also to Japan and quotes Shinpei Ikejima from the magazine 文芸春秋 supporting the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Mainichi and Asahi also mention that at the time, media were not free:

Asahi: 治安維持法などにより、言論が厳しく取り締まられた時代である。軍部が情報を操作し、朝日新聞を含むメディアは真実を伝えず、国民は多くを知らないまま一色に染まった。

It was a time were freedom of speech was rigorously controlled with regulations like the Peace Preservation Laws. The military authorities fabricated information and media, Asahi included, were all uniformly reporting the same things, hiding the truth to the people and letting them in ignorance.

Mainichi also mentions the Peace Preservation Laws, and the fact that the authorities had supressed anti-war discourses. People did not have access to proper information and embraced the war under the slogan of national unity. The article also adds:


Media too spread information that inflamed people’s nationalism.

Both newspapers insist on the importance of social and political awareness among citizens, especially in a time of crisis, like the coronavirus crisis we are living now.

For Mainichi, the coronavirus crisis has led people to question the government’s decisions and actions:


[…] It might well be the first time since the war that the citizens so massively question what the government must do and closely and carefully watch the government’s measures.

And Mainichi concludes that it is the political and social awareness of the people that makes a strong society.

For Asahi, however, the growing awareness of the public is darkened by the tendency of Abe government to conceal information from the public.


But isn’t it the government who is turning its back on [democratic principles of our Constitution], with the number of times where Abe government has treated the Diet lightly. Far from disclosing the information that the citizens need, they have gone as far as abusing their power by concealing and falsifying official documents. It is nothing less than a profanation of popular sovereignty.

Yomiuri’s article also warns against populism, but the general tone is different. Taking North Korea’s constant threat as an example, the article mentions the necessity to give the SDF a wider range of action:


The most pressing menace is North Korea who sends provocation after provocation and is moving forward with its launch of missiles and its nuclear programme. It is essential to work towards strengthening the alliance between Japan and the United States and to reinforce the function of the SDF.

I don’t know exactly what they mean by “自衛隊の役割を強化し”. Do they just mean “to ascertain” the SDF status by amending the article 9 of the Constitution or do they mean “to augment” the SDF function by allowing it to participate in more military operations (not just defence and humanitarian operations)?

Then, mentioning territorial dispute with Russia and the Korean issue of the forced labourers, Yomiuri ends its article by saying:


75 years after the end of the war, it is important to teach correct history relative to territorial questions and how things have been settled after the war to the younger generations.

We are far from Mainichi’s own call:


What we need is to understand the true nature of war. It is not something we can achieve by putting ideology first or by being obsessive with saving the face of our country. We can only achieve it through a dialogue that does not stop at the negative sides of our history.

Book review: 『日本沈没2020』 by Toshio Yoshitaka


Title: 『日本沈没2020』 (にほんちんぼつ2020)
Author (novelisation): Toshio YOSHITAKA (吉高寿男)
Published by 文春文庫
284 pages.

This is the novelisation of the Netflix anime series 『日本沈没2020』, which was inspired by the novel 『日本沈没』 by famous author of SF Sakyo Komatsu (小松左京). It was published in 1973 in Japan (two volumes) and translated into English by Michael Gallagher under the title Japan sinks. The anime is currently available on Netflix (10 episodes of 25 minutes).

The author of the novelisation, Toshio Yoshitaka, is also the scriptwriter of the series.


I first read the book and then watched the series. Overall, I liked the story of Japan Sinks 2020, but there are also several things I did not like in the series. As for the book, I cannot say that I enjoyed reading it, because it was a strict novelisation that did not add much to the stories or the characters.

The story is mainly focused on the Mutoh family and how they try to survive after a violent earthquake shakes the country and destroys everything around them.

I liked the Mutohs being a mixed couple and the two children, Ayumu and Go being half-Japanese half-Filipino (from their mother). I liked the character of Ayumu and found her relationship with her mother very interesting, though I also found that it could have been more developed in the series as well as in the book. Ayumu’s complex feelings to her mother are an essential part of her personality, and I wish that the novel had gone deeper in this direction.

I also hoped that the story would be more realistic. I was hoping to see how things would unfold if such a catastrophic scenario were to happen: what would be the government’s response, how international assistance would work, how rescue would be organised, what would people do, and so on. The story is mainly focused on the Mutoh family and the people they meet along the way, and some episodes seem strangely disconnected from what is currently happening.

Personally, this is one of the things that I did not like in the series. The whole Shan City episodes, for example, were very weird to me. All of a sudden, the characters do not seem to care anymore, they do not even seem to be aware of what is going on. I wish that the book had given some kind of explanation for this or had shown that the characters do care by using introspective passages. As it stands, I felt weary of the characters at that point because I felt that I could not understand them.

Some of the characters’ choices were also a complete puzzle to me. For example, how come that they befriend Kunio so easily? This just does not seem credible at all. As a consequence, I could not feel close to or identify with the characters in the series, but here again, the book could have been the place to develop on this: how the characters feel toward each other and how their feelings start to change. But the book is strictly following the series scene by scene and almost never adds elements of this kind.

What bothered me the most in the book is that it just feels like the author is describing what appears on screen. As a consequence, we see what the characters do, but not what they think. This also leads to awkward transitions. For example, in episode 3 of the series, our group sees a pickup approaching. The next scene shows our group riding the pickup with Nanami sitting next to the driver while the others are sitting in the back. This kind of sudden transition is perfectly okay in films, but I found it very weird in the novelisation. The book just describes the pickup approaching and then describes our group on the pickup. It does not add any information on how they came to ride it in the first place. Believe me, if you read the novel without knowing the story or having watched the series first, this passage feels very awkward. There are also sentences like 助手席にはななみの姿があった which, once again, feels like the author describes what appears on screen rather than telling a story.

All in all, I think that the novelisation is just too short. Less than 300 pages for a whole season… There are so many things happening, so much pain and tragic events, some very shocking turns of event too, that completely took me by surprise. But similarly to the series, the book just moves on to the next scene, and I thought that I needed more time to digest what had happened. I was constantly thinking “can’t we take a couple of pages to reflect on what has happened? I want to know how the characters feel, what they think…”. But as it was, it sometimes felt like the characters themselves did not care, and I ended up not caring about them anymore at some point.

To sum up, I liked the story overall and while I am not a big fan of the series, I still watched it until the end. The problem about the book is that:

  1. it did not manage to improve what I found were weaknesses in the series (dispassionate characters who are difficult to understand overall, a pace that does not allow you to feel any emotion, little place left to grief or complex feelings, some unrealistic episodes and characters, strange mix of sudden deaths and improbable rescue episodes, etc.)
  2. the book in itself lacked in narrative fluidity that would have made it agreeable to read as a novel.

I can only recommend this novelisation if your goal is to use it to practise reading in Japanese while using the series to help you understand the story (but even then, 『日本沈没2020』 is not particularly easy to read, so it might not be the best choice here). However, I cannot really recommend it as a good novel, and if you have watched the series already, you won’t gain much by reading the novelisation.

Read in Japanese with novelisations

I am not a big fan of novelisations in general, but I have always thought that they could be a great resource to start reading novels in Japanese. I have decided to test this idea myself by reading 『君の名は。』 and 『そして父になる』 while watching the movie (progressing scene by scene).

What I learned from this experience is that novelisations are not necessarily easy to read, but they can be a valuable tool if you don’t feel confident enough to read a novel on your own.

The novelisation of 『君の名は。』 is staying very close to the film, and while it was more difficult than I expected, it can be a good way to practise reading if you adapt your strategy to your level. The novelisation of 『そして父になる』 is more elaborate with many added scenes and dialogues, making it a great practice for intermediate readers.

For each book, I will first write a short review and then discuss how you can use them to practise reading.

『君の名は。』by Makoto Shinkai (新海誠)

Title: 『君の名は。』 (きみのなは。) Your Name.
Director: Makoto SHINKAI (新海誠)
Author: Makoto SHINKAI (新海誠)
Published by 角川文庫
262 pages

Mitsuha (三葉) who lives in the countryside and Taki () who lives in Tokyo start to sporadically wake up in each other’s body…

Book review

One particularity of 『君の名は。』 is that the novelisation was written by the director himself, Makoto Shinkai.

My previous experiences with novelisations have not been great (for example, I did not enjoy reading 『日本沈没2020』), so I did not have big expectations for 『君の名は。』. However, it turned out to be better than I expected.

As the director says in the afterword, he finished writing this book before the film was actually completed, and this is why you sometimes read that the film is an adaptation of the book. However, the director has clearly written 『君の名は。』 with the film in mind. To me, it is clearly a novelisation of a film in the making, rather than an original work.

As a consequence, the book does not add much to the film, and you will not learn anything new by reading it. Visual effects being completely lost, many of the scenes that were striking in the film, tend to lose their impact once in paper. Much of the humour is lost too. As the director says himself in the afterword, 『君の名は。』 is better on screen:


Here are some examples showing that the descriptions of the book, while okay, cannot convey the full impact of their respective scenes in the film (in my opinion).





When I was reading the book, I was constantly asking myself how much I would have appreciated the scenery, characters and action if I hadn’t had seen the film prior to reading the novelisation. I felt that most of the descriptions in the book were relatively pale in comparison to what the film delivers, so I’m not sure that you can appreciate all the strength, humour and emotional impact of the story by reading the book alone.

However, the director also gave his characters some consistence by adding inner thoughts and some introspection, so overall, the book is not disagreeable to read.

To conclude, I would never recommend the novel over the film, and overall, I don’t recommend reading the novelisation if your goal is to learn more about the story or to approach the story from a new angle. However, if your goal is to improve your reading skills by practising, then yes, I think that 『君の名は。』 is a good choice, especially if you love the story and the film.

If you want to read a more thorough review of the novelisation with indications concerning the Japanese level required to read it, I recommend going to Kuri’s website: Japanese book club cafe.

Reading practice 『君の名は。』

I guess that Japanese learners might tend to choose 『君の名は。』 as a first novel, thinking that it would be easy to read. Personally, I don’t find this novel particularly easy to read, and it is certainly not the easiest book I have read in Japanese. Some parts are okay but some descriptions are challenging. If you have tried to read 『君の名は。』 and found it difficult, it’s normal. If you have given up thinking that your level is too low, please don’t give up reading altogether and just try another book!

As I said in the review, the film was not completed when the book came out, therefore, there are some differences between the two. Some dialogues do not fit exactly, sometimes the book having more, sometimes the film having more, but overall, it is very easy to follow scene by scene what is on screen and what is on paper, it almost feels like reading the script of the film.

There are different ways you can use a novelisation to help you read in Japanese. Don’t think that you have to read the book the same way from the first to the last page. You can change your strategy as you progress in the book.

If you have never read a book before and are a complete beginner in terms of reading, I recommend to read only the dialogues to start with. You can either watch the film in parallel, progressing scene by scene, or just read the book if you have a good knowledge of the story.

When you feel a little more confident, you can start reading the narrative parts that directly surround the dialogues. They usually give indications concerning how the characters speak, what tone they use, what facial expression they make and so on.

Reading the novelisation and watching the film at the same time can also be a good way to start reading more complex descriptions, if you are at an intermediate/advanced level or if you tend to struggle with descriptive passages. For example, this is how Mitsuha’s village is described:


This description appears very early in the novel, and is quite difficult to read. If you think that you have to understand everything when reading or if you look up every unknown word, this passage is likely to make you think that your level is not good enough to read this book. As I explain in another post, I believe that you must not let descriptions of this sort discourage you. As long as you understand that the author is describing the scenery, you can move on (even if mountains, water, blue sky and white clouds are all you understood).

The good thing with novelisations, is that skipping the whole paragraph is not a problem. If you are able to associate the description with the right passage in the film, you can put aside the whole paragraph and still follow the story. If you want, however, you can also use the film to practise reading this kind of depictions. Try to match unknown words with what you see on screen without looking up words. You are likely to realise that you understand more than you thought at first.

If you want to increase your vocabulary and use the book for a good study session, you can also thoroughly go through a passage like this one. If you learn vocabulary this way, you are more likely to remember it as you are actually seeing what this word stands for and will be able to associate it with a particular scene of the film when reviewing it.

Another example of challenging passage is the description of Tokyo from Taki’s appartment:


These two descriptions can be rather difficult depending on your level, but the rest of the novel is overall much easier, especially the dialogues. This is why I think that 『君の名は。』 can be used at different levels to improve your reading.

Again, you don’t need to read the whole book the same way. You can just read the dialogues for the first 50 pages or so while watching the movie, then slowly expand what you read by reading everything that surrounds the dialogues but keep skipping the descriptive parts or any long block of text that looks too difficult. Towards the end of the book though, you will certainly feel that your reading level has already improved and you might want to challenge yourself by trying to read everything.

To conclude, I would not recommend 『君の名は。』 as an easy book for beginners if your goal is to just read a novel. But if you use it to practise reading by personalising the way you read it, then I am sure it can help you make huge progress.

『そして父になる』by Akira Sano (佐野晶)

Book review

Title: 『そして父になる』(そしてちちになる) Like Father, Like Son
Director: Hirokazu KORE-EDA (是枝裕和)
Author: Akira SANO (佐野晶)
Published by 宝島社
340 pages

Ryota (良多) and Midori (みどり) Nonomiya (野々宮) suddenly learn that their six-year-old son Keita (慶多) is not their biological son. Keita and another boy Ryusei (琉晴) have been switched at birth. The Nonomiyas meet with Ryusei’s parents Yukari (ゆかり) and Yudai (雄大) Saiki (斎木) and discussions to exchange their children begin.

Reading the novelisation of 『そして父になる』 by Akira Sano has been a shock to me. I thought that novelisations were bound to be a boring copy of the original film, but this one is excellent and does not feel like a novelisation at all. The author has added a lot of information that was not explicitly present in the film. All these elements add value to the novelisation and it feels like reading an original work, not an adaptation.

If you have enjoyed the film and are afraid that the author has departed too much from the movie, don’t worry. It never feels like the book is adding random information, but rather the other way around, that the film has suppressed elements that should have been there. In other words, you get the impression that everything described in the novel was there initially but had been cut from the film for duration purposes.

Here are some expamples of added elements that give more consistence to the characters and make the reader feel close to them:

The book does not only describe Keita’s amazement when eating for the first time by the Saikis, it also explains why: 慶多は呆気に取られていた。家では自分が食べる分を皿に取り分けてもらっているのだった。(p.123)

By adding Midori’s thoughts when she is watching Keita eating, the book gives more depth to the character and makes it easy to identify with her: その顔を見ながらみどりは、この味を忘れないで、と思った。ゆかりさんの唐揚げも、どんな高級店の味も、ママの作ってくれた唐揚げには敵わないって思ってほしい。(p.241)

In this scene, it is easy to guess Midori’s feelings, but the book adds it explicitly, making it possible to enjoy the story by reading the book alone: みどりはマフラーを編み続けていたが、次第にその手さばきが遅くなっていた。疲れていたのではない。琉晴の存在が慶多を否が応でも思い出させた。(p.145)

Reading the book made me feel much closer to Midori than I would have felt had I watched the film only. In this case the author adds something that is not suggested in the film, but I feel that it is exactly what Midori is thinking at that moment: ただ同時にみどりは少し心が軽くなるのを感じていた。斎木家と決定的な仲遠いをしてしまえば、交換という話そのものが消滅して…。(p.179)

Generally speaking, the book always tells us what and how the characters are thinking. Each scene is longer in the book than in the film with added dialogues, inner thoughts and emotions, that are all in accordance with what the characters are.

The author also filled the blank between two scenes. A film can jump from one scene to the other without problems, but if a book does that, it might end up with a broken narration. I find that Akira Sano did a great job at connecting the different scenes, even adding which day of the week we currently are, making the reading much smoother. It also gives information the film only suggests like episodes of the characters’ past, how they met and how they feel towards each other.

I find that the film leaves a lot of space to interpretation, with a lot of things that are hinted at but not said. To be honest, without the book, I would have missed a lot of the subtleties present in the film.

Overall, this is an excellent novelisation that I heartily recommend if you have watched the movie and want to read an adaptation. You will learn more about the characters and maybe understand things that you might have missed while watching the film. I also recommend the novel in itself if, for some reason, you are not interested in watching the movie. Personally, I have watched the film for the first time while reading the book, and all the elements added by the author greatly improved the way I experienced the story.

Reading practice with 『そして父になる』

While I found 『そして父になる』 overall easier to read than 『君の名は。』, I also think that it is less appropriate for beginners who want to get into reading books in Japanese. The strategy of reading only dialogues will not work here because the book adds too much information compared to the film, so it will be difficult to make the connection between the two if you are not already comfortable with reading in Japanese.

However, this book is perfect for intermediate readers who can read in Japanese but do not feel confident in reading an entire novel without help. The book is a mix of added parts where you are on your own, and parts that are very close to the film, allowing you to reconnect if needed and gain confidence.

For example, this is how the book describes the shopping center where the two families meet for the second time (p. 81)


The book adds context and link one episode to another by telling the reader what happened between two scenes (we don’t see Midori calling the Saikis in the film). It also adds a time landmark with 翌日, which makes the reading much smoother and natural. The underlined sentence allows you to link this passage with the film.




The book adds information here that is not in the film. It emphasises the gap between the two families: Midori would have thought the private room of a restaurant the natural choice for this kind of meeting, but Yukari casually suggests the snack corner of a shopping center.


The underlined part is what we see on screen, but the rest is added by the author. Here again, it adds relevant information that makes the book feel like a novel rather than a novelisation.


Finally, this part is the description of what we see on screen, but with added details that makes the whole depiction more concrete. It does not look like the author is describing what appears on the screen (a feeling that I constantly had when reading the novelisation of 『日本沈没2020』), but rather, that he describes the shopping mall of Maebashi.

This extract shows you how the book follows the film while adding things that are not explicitly present in the film. When reading, you constantly go back and forth between passages that you have to understand on your own and passages that reconnect with the film.

The book sometimes adds entire passages that are not in the film at all, but they are short and are often used to fill the blank between two scenes or give the feeling that a whole day has elapsed instead of just a couple of short episodes. What is great is that even if you stumble across a passage that is hard for you to understand, you know that the book will eventually reconnect with the film, so you can skip these passages without fear of losing track of what happens.


I recommend using novelisations to get into reading books in Japanese if you don’t feel confident enough to jump into a complete unknown story. You can also use novelisations to start reading in Japanese very soon either by reading only the dialogues or by trying to link together what you read and what you see on screen, guessing the meaning of words, associating vocabulary with concrete objects and so on. If your level is good enough to let you read dialogues without problems but if you struggle with long descriptions with metaphors and difficult vocabulary, novelisations can help you there too. In summary, they can be used at different levels with different purposes.

However, keep in mind that novelisations are not necessarily easy to read, especially if the original film contains a lot of striking sceneries or action that the author needs to describe. Don’t get disheartened if you feel that your book is too difficult, just use it smartly and find your own personal ways of practising with it. (Maybe I’ll try other novelisations in the future to find easier ones.)

Note: I personally found 『そして父になる』easier to read than 『君の名は。』, and 『君の名は。』 easier to read than 『日本沈没2020』. I think that the perception we have of a book’s difficulty differs depending on what we are used to reading, our reading tastes and our interest in the story. In novels, I prefer realistic, everyday life settings over fantasy or SF works, so this might explain my ranking.

Book review: 『容疑者Xの献身』 by Keigo Higashino


Title: 『容疑者Xの献身』 (ようぎしゃ X の けんしん)
Author: Keigo HIGASHINO (東野圭吾)
Published by 文春文庫

This is the third book and first novel of the Galileo series (the two previous titles were collections of short stories). It has been translated into English by Alexander O. Smith under the title The Devotion of Suspect X.


I think that 『容疑者Xの献身』 , in the French translation by Sophie Rèfle, might be the first book of crime fiction I read by a Japanese author. I loved it at the time, and I enjoyed re-reading it in Japanese very much even though I already knew the story.

If you are reading this series in Japanese, I recommend to read the first two books before 『容疑者Xの献身』 or at least the second one, 『予知夢』. If you do, you will know how detective Kusanagi and his friend Yukawa are used to working together. In 『容疑者Xの献身』, their relationship and relation to the case change a little, and this is something you can appreciate more if you have read the previous books of the series.

I remember that when I read the French translation, I was mainly focused on the case and the characters directly involved in it, and I was not paying too much attention to who the detective was. When I read it in Japanese, it was the other way around. I found it more interesting to see how Kusanagi and Yukawa were investigating the case rather than the case itself. Generally speaking, I was more focused on the characters and I found the very end extremely impactful, something I do not recollect from my first reading of the book in translation.

The series’ identity seems to have evolved over time. In the first book, all the mysteries were linked to a scientific phenomenon and this was the reason why detective Kusanagi had to ask for his friend’s advice. In the second volume, rational thinking, deduction and logic had replaced the physics. In 『容疑者Xの献身』 again, we talk more about deduction and logic, but science apparently comes back in 『真夏の方程式』, the sixth book of the series.

『容疑者Xの献身』 is a book that I heartily recommend if you haven’t read it yet. It is not my absolute favourite by Higashino so far (we’ll have to look at the Kaga series for that), but definitely one of the best books of crime fiction that I have read in my life.

Book review: 『おれがあいつであいつがおれで』 by Hisashi Yamanaka


Title: 『おれがあいつであいつがおれで』
Author: Hisashi YAMANAKA (山中恒)
Published by Kadokawa (角川文庫)

This book was first serialised in the magazine 『小6時代』 in 1979. It has been adapted into drama, film and manga since then.

It is now available as a regular bunko format (Kadokawa) or in the Tsubasa collection. I chose the Tsubasa version because it has complete furigana and illustrations by Ikura Sugimoto (杉基イクラ). You can read the first pages on the publisher’s website.


Sixth year of primary school. Kazuo Saito and Kazumi Saito meet again (they used to go to the same kindergarten), but Kazuo is far from happy to see Kazumi beeing transferred to his school. And things get much worse when he wakes up in Kazumi’s body…

I was very surprised by how good this book was! I mainly bought it to widen the range of easy books I could recommend to Japanese learners, but I was engrossed in the story from beginning to end.

First of all, the story is very funny with a lot of comical scenes and dialogues. Not only do Kazuo and Kazumi have to adapt to a new body and identity, they have to somehow fit in a new family, which is of course impossible to do smoothly. This leads to funny moments involving other members of their family, schoolmates and professors.

One of the most challenging thing for our two protagonists is to change the way they talk. I found the parts on language very interesting and part of the reason why I find this book perfect for language learners. Kazuo and Kazumi constantly have to adjust how they end their sentences. It is particularly funny to see Kazuo navigating between his rough but natural language to the more refined way of speaking that is expected from Kazumi.

While being funny, this book has also a more profound impact. By exchanging places, Kazuo and Kazumi realise that what they took for granted, that girls should behave like girls and boys like boys, is in fact putting a lot of pressure on them. The story is focused on Kazuo, which is our main character, and we see him realising that girls are supposed to help in the kitchen and are constantly lectured on how to behave, how to talk, how to eat.

I find that this book shows in a clever and entertaining way how difficult it is to be yourself in a society where parents, teachers and even your classmates want you to behave according to your sex. The new Kazuo and Kazumi are not accepted anymore because they don’t fit. This also leads to the characters getting closer to each other, the book constantly switching from funny to emotional moments.

Finally, this book is also very easy to read in Japanese and makes for a perfect read for Japanese learners. While I find that this book can be read by children and adults alike, it was initially written for young readers, so the author never uses difficult words and the whole book does not contain many kanji words. The story is also very engrossing, which is not always the case when adults read children’s books. Highly recommended!

July wrap up: light novel, literary prize winner, nonfiction, manga…

I have read a lot of different things in July! Before starting this post, let’s see if I have completed my reading challenge for July:

The answer is yes and no. I have read the novella 泥の河, but I found it so depressing that I stopped there and did not read 蛍川.

However, I have more than completed my other goal! 『誰も知らない死刑の舞台裏』 turned out to be much easier than expected and I managed to finish it!

Finished in July

Here are the books I read and finished in July, from the one I found the easiest to read in Japanese to the one I found the most difficult:

『極主夫道』 by Kousuke Oono (おおのこうすけ)

Tatsu is a former yakuza who has retired from the world of crime to take care of the house and support his wife who works as designer.

I have heard so many good things about this manga that I decided to give it a try, even if I am not a big fan of manga overall. I absolutely loved this one though, it is by far the funniest thing I have read this year! 

I read the first three volumes in a row because there is very few dialogues in it. I think that it can be a good resource for beginners. Some dialogues might be difficult to understand, but you never feel overwhelmed with text, and overall you can get a lot of the humour and follow the story by the drawings alone. One downside though, is the lack of furigana.

I don’t think that I will write a book review for the manga, but I heartily recommend it, no matter what your level is!

『白馬山荘殺人事件』 by Keigo Higashino (東野圭吾)

Naoko is not convinced by her brother’s “suicide” in a mountain cottage. Accompanied by her friend Makoto, she decides to go there and investigate by herself.

To me, this book was the easiest novel I have read this month, but as I explain at the end of this post, this might just be me, and other readers might say that the following title was easier than this one.

I was a little worried because part of the mystery involves finding a hidden meaning behind verses, but fortunately these parts were in English (with a Japanese translation for Japanese readers obviously).

I love whodunnits that take place in a remote cottage with a single place throughout the novel and a fixed and limited number of characters that are stuck together there. The structure of this novel had similarities with another one that I enjoyed very much and which is one of the first novels I have read in Japanese: 『回廊亭殺人事件』. I did prefer 『回廊亭殺人事件』 for the overall atmosphere and suspense, but I found the ending of 『白馬山荘殺人事件』 better.

『アンフィニッシュトの書』 by Shinya Asashiro (浅白深也)

Teruma is a high school student who usually goes unnoticed. One day, he answers a strange job offer looking for a “protagonist”…

I don’t often read light novels, but I have been meaning to read some for a long time. The title of this one caught my eye, and I have decided to give it a try.

I enjoyed the story and the characters, and I found the book easy to read. There is a generous amount of furigana above kanji words, I don’t know if it is an usual feature of light novels, but it is very nice. However, I find the font of this book surprisingly small, smaller than the majority of books I have read.

The story was very predictable, which makes it easier to read but also takes away a good part of the suspense. Nonetheless, the book was still very enjoyable and entertaining. Again, I don’t know if all light novels share these characteristics, but there is a very limited number of characters and places, very few descriptions and nothing that is unnecessary to the story, making it easier to read.

While the story has elements of fantasy to it, the setting remains a realistic one, so there is nothing challenging in terms of descriptions or vocabulary.

『誰も知らない死刑の舞台裏』 by Shoji Kondo (近藤昭二)

A nonfiction book on the history of death penalty in the world as well as the present conditions of the capital punishment in Japan, from its evolution over the years and famous trials to the daily life of inmates.

I thought that this book would be the most difficult of my readings for July, but it was surprisingly okay.

I would even say that the first half of the book was quite easy to read in Japanese. There was a lot of specialised vocabulary, but I usually did not need to look them up because the kanji were clear enough.

However, when the book shifted from general history of capital punishment to the situation in Japan, it started having some difficult parts. I particularly found the description of some famous cases and trials that have shaped Japan’s criminal law to be sometimes difficult, but thankfully the book is written in a very didactic way and divided into very small portions that make it easier to read and not that bad if you have missed something.

Overall, this book was both relatively easy and very engrossing, exactly the kind of nonfiction that I wanted to read in Japanese. I read it slowly because I was taking notes while reading (not related to learning Japanese, but related to the book’s content, like I would do if it were in English), but seeing that I can read this kind of books in Japanese encourages me to look for similar ones.

『泥の河』 by Teru Miyamoto (宮本輝)

Osaka, 1955. Through the eyes of six year-old Nobuo, we witness the life and sometimes death of people left to themselves in the desolated area surrounding the Aji river.

The edition I bought contains both novellas 泥の河 and 蛍川 and my intention was to read both in July. However, I found 泥の河 to be so depressing that I wanted to take a break before reading the second one.

I also found it a little challenging in terms of Japanese level, particularly because the dialogues are written in dialect. Dialect is something that I am far from mastering and I am always struggling with books that have dialogues written that way.

I also had difficulties to visualise the setting: the river, Nobuo’s house, the bridge… Fortunately, the novella has been adapted into film in 1981 and some videos are available on YouTube. I haven’t watched the film, but just watching some scenes from it allowed me to have a clear vision of the setting.

These novellas have been translated both into French and into English, and I am tempted to get one of these translations to read the next novella.

『JR上の駅公園口』 by Miri Yu (柳美里)

Born in 1933, Kazu was spared the experience of the war, but his life has been a continuous struggle. Alongside glimpses of passerby’s conversations and historical facts, we get to know some episodes of Kazu’s past, as his spirit wanders in Ueno Park.

I heard so many good things about this book that I really wanted to love it, but no matter how hard I tried, 『JR上の駅公園口』 was not a book for me.

I will talk about why I didn’t like Miri Yu’s novel when I write my book review. For now, I will talk about reading this book in Japanese.

『JR上の駅公園口』 is certainly the most challenging book I have read this year. The Japanese level is not particularly high for the most parts, but the book constantly jumps from one topic to the other without warning. Once you get used to the author’s style, this is okay, but I found that it adds a lot of difficulty when reading in Japanese.

I consider the first pages to be the most difficult part of any novel. I always have to make some effort to understand where we are and what we are talking about, but once the story begins, I feel like I just board the narrative train and do not need to make that much effort anymore. In 『JR上の駅公園口』, I could not rely on the narration taking me on its tracks, I constantly needed to make this initial effort to understand what we are talking about now, because the narration constantly jumps from one thing to the other. As a result, I found this novel extremely tiring to read in Japanese.

Moreover, some passages are challenging in themselves. These are what I would call the explanatory passages, the ones where you are told at length about a certain topic like the history of Kaju’s family’s ancestors or explanations about the Shogitai and the Battle of Ueno. I also found difficult to jump in the middle of passersby’s conversations like the novel often does.

This is why I decided, after some time in the novel, to buy the translation by Morgan Giles (Tokyo Ueno Station) and read in parallel. This was an excellent decision.

I think that this is the first time that I systematically read a book in parallel, and it was an interesting experience. I am very impressed by the translation, seeing both how difficult the Japanese is and how well written the English version is.

As it was my first time reading in parallel, it took me some time to find a good way of using the translation. First I tried to read a paragraph in English followed by its counterpart in Japanese. The problem is that I was tempted to just keep on reading in English. So I switched things and read first a paragraph (or several paragraphs when they were short) in Japanese and its counterpart in English. That way, I could also appreciate more the subtleties of the translation, the choices made to render nuances in English and so on.

After some time though, it became clear to me that I wanted to skip entire passages in Japanese. They are those dry and didactic passages that I find difficult to read in Japanese and not super interesting to be honest (like the descriptive panels of an exhibition of paintings…). In these cases, I would just read the translation and skip reading the Japanese. I also found that I preferred to read the bits of conversation between passersby first in English and then in Japanese. Overall, episodes of the protagonist’s past are what I enjoy reading the most so I read them first in Japanese then in English.

In the end, I didn’t have any good method to read the Japanese and English translation at the same time, it depended a lot on my mood of the moment and what passage I was reading.

Even though I missed the reasons why so many people enjoyed Miri Yu’s novel, I found the translation pleasant to read. If I had read the Japanese alone, I would have given up halfway through the book, partly because I didn’t like the novel and partly because, at my level, reading the Japanese was very tiring.

I recommend the translation if you are interested in reading this book, but depending on your level, the Japanese book can be quite a challenge…

Note on the level difficulty of the books

Note that this is a personal order, I am sure that your perception of a book (and its difficulty) depends a lot on what you are used to reading and what you like and makes you feel excited. For example, I found Keigo Higashino easy to read because I have read a lot of his novels, but if you haven’t, you might say that 『アンフィニッシュトの書』 is much easier than 『白馬山荘殺人事件』. Similarly, 『泥の河』 would not be difficult to read if you don’t mind reading dialogues in dialect. And part of the reason I found 『誰も知らない死刑の舞台裏』 easy to read was because I had already learned a good amount of the specialised vocabulary found in the book by reading legal thrillers.

I also think that your interest for the story can greatly influence how you perceive the difficulty of a book. I love whodunnits and crime fiction so much that I am bound to find any book of this genre easier to read. This might be because I am more focused on the story than the Japanese, and I want to know what will happen next, so it encourages me to continue even if I am tired of reading in Japanese. On the opposite, 『JR上の駅公園口』 was not that difficult as such, but my lack of interest for some parts of the novel did not encourage me to make the effort to read them in Japanese, and it made the whole reading experience quite unpleasant.


I am very happy with my readings of July: finishing a nonfiction book on a specialised topic, reading my first novel in parallel and getting into light novels… I will try to do as well in August, though the Korean Summer heat usually beats me down at this time of the year. Nonetheless, here are my reading goals for August:

My plan is to read two novelisations (『君の名は』 and 『そして父になる』) while watching the film to see if and how novelisations can be used by beginners and intermediate learners to start reading books in Japanese. I haven’t watched 『そして父になる』 yet, so I am looking forward to reading the book and watching the film. I also want to continue diving into light novels, and I chose 『いたいのいたいのとんでゆけ』because I saw the words 殺人 in the back cover summary, so I thought I might enjoy the story. Finally, 『11文字の殺人』 is one of Keigo Higashino’s earlier writings that the publisher is re-printing this year.

I suspect that all these books will be fast reads, so there might be room for another book in August…