Inhae reads the news: September 2020

Note: I haven’t been able to translate all the extracts I chose by lack of time. I also found the articles rather difficult to read and quite long for most of them. I got discouraged more than once, not being able to understand the articles by simply reading them. Even after looking up words, some paragraphs remained obscure. Either I misunderstand grammatical patterns, either they hint at references I don’t know, or I just don’t understand what the author is trying to say. In any case, I still have a lot of work to do before I am able to read the news in Japanese…

Topic 1: Abe’s resignation

The biggest news of this month is of course Abe’s resignation as Prime Minister.

Let’s first study articles of August 29th, the day following Abe announcing his resignation for health reasons.

Yomiuri: 首相退陣表明 危機対処へ政治空白を避けよ
Sankei: 首相の退陣表明 速やかに自民党総裁選を 「安倍政治」を発射台にせよ
Mainichi: 安倍首相が辞任表明 行き詰まった末の幕引き
Asahi: 最長政権 突然の幕へ 「安倍政治」の弊害 清算の時
Tokyo: 首相退陣表明 「安倍政治」の転換こそ

Useful vocabulary:

持病じびょうa chronic illness
潰瘍性大腸炎かいようせいだいちょうえんUlcerative colitis
Apparently, this word is mainly used for the military (decamp) or for the Prime Minister (resign from the Cabinet, leave the Cabinet).
総裁選そうさいせんA presidential election.
出馬しゅつばPut oneself forward as a candidate
総裁候補そうさいこうほA candidate for president (of the LDP), A Prime Minister candidate.

All newspapers are hoping for rapid elections to avoid any political turmoil:

Yomiuri: 政権を担う自民党は、早急に新たなリーダーを選び、混乱を回避する必要がある。

Given that the LDP is leading the state, it is necessary to choose a new leader rapidly to avoid political turmoil.

Sankei: 自民党は国政の混乱を最小限にするため、速やかに総裁選挙を実施し、新たなリーダーを決めてもらいたい。

The LDP must organise elections rapidly and decide on a new leader in order to minimise political confusion.

Mainichi also says that the election should happen as soon as possible but warns that it should not be held behind closed doors:


Given that we are still in the coronavirus crisis, it is necessary to choose a new leader rapidly. However, deliberations must not happen behind closed doors.

Asahi similarly hope for a transparent election:


We must hold elections that include the participation of all party members and party supporters and that are transparent to the public.

Tokyo goes further in this direction, saying that the public has a right to know about each candidate’s position:


Obviously, there must be political debate accessible to the people. Each candidate must explain in details his ideas and measures to deal with burning issues like the coronavirus.

All newspapers also go through Abe’s legacy, but, as you can imagine, conservative newspapers and left-wing newspapers don’t talk about the same legacy. To talk about Abe’s achievements, Sankei uses the word “remarkable” (著しい) and Yomiuri the word “great” (大きい).

On the other end of the spectrum, Mainichi talks about “negative legacy” (負の遺産) and Tokyo says that Abe’s government has created 統治機構の根腐れ.

Mainichi goes through the scandals that struck during Abe’s government and give them as example of this “negative legacy”. Similarly, Asahi lists a series of scandals during Abe’s government such as the Cherry Blossom Party or various affairs relative to politicians. Sankei only mentions the Mori-Kake scandals and Yomiuri does not mention any affair at all.

All newspapers agree to say that Abe government has been “stable”. In Japanese, the word 安定 is the one usually used to refer to Abe’s two terms as Prime Minister.

I find very interesting to compare the formulations used by newspapers to talk about the political stability brought by Abe. Both Yomiuri and Sankei state the fact plainly 安定した国政運営だった and 不安定だった政治を立て直したことである.

Contrary to firm endings like だった and ことである, Mainichi and Asahi only acknowledge this fact. Talking about Abe government bringing back stability to politics, Mainichi says that it is 事実だろう and Asahi: 間違いあるまい:

Both Yomiuri and Sankei state that there was no other choice for Abe than to step down if his health condition has worsened. Yomiuri says: 病気が原因ではやむを得まい and also mentions that Abe has overwork might be the reason why Abe’s illness worsened.

Mainichi also recognises that his resignation might be inevitable (they use the same expression as Yomiuri: やむを得ない), but they note that it happens at the worst time and will create confusion: 任期途中の辞任で混乱を生んだことは残念だ。

Asahi points out that Abe’s resignation happens at a time where the government has lost the public’s confidence.


Tokyo opens its editorial with: 持病の潰瘍性大腸炎の再発が理由だという。健康悪化が理由ならやむを得ない。

I might be mistaken, but to me this formulation sounds like the author thinks that there might be other untold reasons. The use of という in the first sentence shows that the author just quotes the reason given by Abe but does not take it for granted. Similarly, the use of なら also hints that the author is not convinced that the reason given is the real reason. Tokyo’s sentence 健康悪化が理由ならやむを得ない looks similar to Yomiuri’s 病気が原因ではやむを得ない, but using で (because of/due to) or なら (if it is true that/if it is the case that) makes a difference.

Finally, it is interesting to contrast Sankei’s wish that Abe’s successor go on with Abe’s good results:


We wish that the candidates will value the direction and results of Abe government.

And Tokyo’s wish that Abe’s successor will not go on the same line of actions:


The question is now how will Abe’s successor depart from Abe’s politics who rotted the political system and treat the Constitution lightly.

Topic 2: Election won’t include party members

Information about the upcoming election to select Abe’s successor has come out on Tuesday.

On Tuesday 1st, the LDP announced that the election for Abe’s successor will follow an emergency procedure according to which only members of the Diet and some local representatives will vote.

In normal circumstances, members of the party would vote to elect the president of the LDP alongside Diet members. The 394 Diet members would receive half of the voting power and the more than 1 million party members would receive the other half.

However, in order to avoid a political vacuum in this time of crisis, only the 394 Diet members and 141 representatives from the the 47 prefectures will be able to vote. Arguments given are that organising a general election would take up to 2 months.

This is likely to disadvantage Shigeru Ishiba, popular among local voters but unpopular among lawmakers for his critical position toward Abe’s politics. On the contrary, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga is in good position, having the support of five factions inside the LDP, including 細田派, the most influential one.

Candidates are:

菅義偉: Yoshihide Suga. He is Chief Cabinet Secretary 内閣官房長官 (ないかくかんぼうちょうかん). Articles usually refer to him as 菅官房長官.

岸田文雄: Fumio Kishida. He is the Chairman of the Policy Research Council 政務調査会長 (せいむちょうさかいちょう). Articles refer to him as 岸田政調会長

石破茂: Shigeru Ishiba. As Ishiba does not have a particular function at present, he is referred to as “former Secretary General (of the LDP)” 石破茂元幹事長. Interestingly, articles in English refer to him rather as “former Defence Minister”.

Yomiuri: 自民党総裁選 政策論争をなおざりにするな
Sankei: 自民党総裁選 政策論争が何より重要だ
Mainichi: 総裁選で党員投票せず 地方の声をなぜ聞かない
Asahi: 自民党総裁選 「内向きの論理」優先だ
Tokyo: 自民党総裁選 国民が見えていますか

自民党じみんとうLiberal Democratic Party.
The complete name is 自由民主党 (じゆうみんしゅとう)
総裁選そうさいせんA presidential election.
党大会とうたいかいA Party conference
議員総会ぎいんそうかいGeneral Assembly of Diet members.
両院議員総会 means General Assembly of Diet members of both houses.
国会議員こっかいぎいんMember of Parliament
A Political Faction.
Among the most influential factions, the Hosoda faction (細田派), the Aso faction (麻生派) and the Nikai faction (二階派) will support Yoshihide Suga. These three factions alone represent 200 lawmakers. It is much more than Kishida’s own faction (47) or Ishiba’s one (19). No wonder that, with rank-and-file members cut off from the election, the result will not be a surprise. (source: Wikipedia)
無派閥むはばつNot belonging to any faction.
While not belonging to any faction himself, Yoshihide Suga will receive the support of five factions.

Interestingly, all newspapers, including conservative ones, have a critical position towards the decision.

The least critic is Yomiuri, who acknowledges the necessity to speed up the process:


It is a necessity to speed up the election in order to reduce the political vacuum to the minimum.

But Yomiuri is asking that candidates introduce their policy to the public, for the sake of the 141 voters from local prefectures. If elections are to be carried out as decided, voters from local prefectures represent one fourth of the votes. Candidates need to present their policy to these voters:


While asking for more debate and discussions, Yomiuri does not question the reasons behind the decision, and says that it is normal due to the present circumstances.

Sankei seems to be siding with those asking for an election process that would include all the party members.


It is regrettable that the LDP does not hold elections that would include the more than one million party members and party supporters. Even if a lot of citizens do not belong to the LDP, if members do vote, more attention will be brought to the elections and politics in general.

And Sankei is calling for a public debate:


There is only little time between the announce and the vote, but what is the most important in general elections? It is that the candidates compete with each other before the public for their political view.

Mainichi points out that Shigeru Ishiba who received a strong support among local voters during the last elections, will be disadvantaged. They conclude:


No wonder people think that the winner will be decided based on factions influence.

It also seems obvious that Yoshihide Suga, who receives the support of the strongest factions, will win the race:


For Asahi, the situation is not urgent to the point of depriving party members from their rights:


The Diet is closed at the moment, there is no new outbreak of coronavirus infection and Abe has said that he would go on with his functions until a successor has been chosen. For Asahi, there will be no “political vacuum” as stated.

Asahi even mentions that the real purpose behind this choice could have been to cut off the road to Shigeru Ishiba and secure the position for Yoshihide Suga.



For Tokyo too, things also look like the real purpose was to restrain Ishiba’s chances:


Topic 3: Yoshihide Suga, new president of the LDP

As mentionned, Suga’s victory was not a surprise. On Saturday 12th (two days before the elections), the three candidates have presented their policy concerning the anti-coronavirus measures and economic measures at the Japan National Press Club. Reporting on the public debate, Yomiuri and Mainichi only focus on what Suga said, clearly showing that the election are just a formality.

The election took place on Monday 14th. I read the editorials of the 15th, but I must admit that they are quite difficult to understand. I just extracted some information:

Yomiuri: 自民総裁に菅氏 社会に安心感を取り戻したい
Sankei: 菅政権誕生へ 危機に立つ首相の自覚を 派閥にとらわれぬ人事を貫け
Mainichi: 自民新総裁に菅氏 継承ありきの異様な圧勝
Asahi: 菅新総裁選出 総括なき圧勝の危うさ
Tokyo: 自民総裁に菅氏 「表紙」だけを替えても

Yoshihide Suga mainly said that he will continue in the same line than Abe. While continuity might be better than brisk change in this time of crisis, assuming the role of Prime Minister (the LDP has such a majority in the Diet that the head of the party becomes the Prime Minister) requires a solid policy of one’s own.

This idea seems well summed up by Tokyo’s formulation:


Looking back at M. Suga’s speeches, [we notice that] he was so focused on talking about Abe government’s “continuation” that he barely mentioned any “new” policy.

The two words generally used are 継続・けいぞく (continuation) and 前進・ぜんしん (progress, advance, improvement). I chose to translate this last one with “new” because it seems better if we use it in opposition to “continuation”.

This is echoed by Yomiuri:


Given that [M. Suga] will be executing policies, it is not enough to talk about “continuation” only.

I didn’t know the expression 心もとない. It means “to feel uneasy/insecure about” or that something is “unreliable, untrustworthy, precarious, doubtful”. After deliberating for some time on how to translate it, I gave up.

And by Tokyo:


Sankei also wishes that Suga adopts the role of a Prime Minister with a strong leadership who can lead the country in a time of crisis. They add:


As for Mainichi, they criticise Suga for not having a political vision of his own:


Apparently, Suga said that he would resolve once and for all the scandals that stroke Abe’s administration… Asahi wonders if this is possible:


Finally, Tokyo says that merely pursuing your predecessor’s policy is great if this policy was good, but we cannot wish that the new Prime Minister goes on with Abe’s handling of the coronavirus crisis: そのまま継承すべきではないのは当然だ。

Topic 4: Suga cabinet

And finally, new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga named his Cabinet on Wednesday 16th.

I am just having a quick look at some editorials:

Yomiuri: 菅内閣発足 経済復活へ困難な課題に挑め
Mainichi: 菅義偉・新内閣が発足 まず強引な手法の転換を
Asahi: 菅「継承」内閣が発足 安倍政治の焼き直しはご免だ
Tokyo: 菅内閣が始動 国民全体の奉仕者たれ

Yoshihide Suga kept Taro Aso as Finance Minister and Toshihiro Nikai as secretary-general. Yomiuri says that keeping these two politicians at these key posts is a way to maintain stability:


But Mainichi points out that the Ministry of Finance under Aso had been directly implicated in the Moritomo scandal:


It is also surprising to see Taro Aso staying in office as Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, given that he should have taken responsibility by resigning when it was discovered that the Ministry of Finance had falsified documents in the Moritomo scandal.

手を染める means “turn one’s hand to sth”. My English is not good enough to find a good way to translate it or to know whether this expression can be used in this context.

And Mainichi fears that Suga will only continue in the same line than Abe, and not change his style of politics (政治手法), and again, criticise the “継続” position of Suga.


This is echoed by Asahi:


We cannot bear the thought of M. Suga “continuing” even the problematic style of governance of M. Abe.

Noting that women still were not representated in the Cabinet, Tokyo adds:



I felt a little overwhelmed by the number of articles to read, their length and difficulty. In order to understand them, I have to switch to a “study” mode, look up words, re-read the same sentence several times and look for complementary pieces of information in articles in English. I was also quite stressed in September for other reasons, so I didn’t have enough energy left to work on the translations.

I will take some holidays towards the end of October, so there will be no post in the news section next month.

Book review: 『誰も知らない死刑の舞台裏』 by Shoji Kondo


Title: 『誰も知らない死刑の舞台裏』 (だれもしらない しけいのぶたいうら)
Author: Shoji Kondo (近藤昭二)
Published by 二見レインボー文庫 (Futami Rainbow Bunko)
292 pages.

Shoji Kondo is a journalist, author and scriptwriter. He is the representative of the NPO法人731部隊・細菌戦資料センター, an NPO that works on revealing the atrocities committed in Unit 731, as well as establishing Japan’s responsibility and build a better relationship with China. (source)


I have been wanting to learn more about death penalty in Japan since I learnt that death row inmates are informed of their execution date the very morning of their execution. I was very shocked when I read this for the first time, I had to double and triple check online, because it just did not seem possible to me. When I found out that the family of the person executed was notified of the execution only after it had been carried out, I was even more shocked if possible.

I know that public opinion in Japan is massively for the death penalty, but at the same time, it seems difficult to find information about the system, like the daily life of inmates or the process that leads to the order of execution. Apart from the Minister of Justice announcing in a press conference that the execution of a prisoner has been carried out, it seems that there is not much that the public actually knows.

I chose 『誰も知らない死刑の舞台裏』 because one review on Amazon convinced me to buy it, and I don’t regret my choice because this book was exactly what I was looking for.

The preface is an overview of what the book will be about and was very interesting to read. The author underlines that there is a lot of secrecy around capital punishment in Japan. The author contrasts this situation with the United States where there are open debates over death penalty, and where you can find public information about upcoming executions. In Japan, no one seem to talk about death penalty, and it is impossible for the public to know who is going to be executed and when.

The first chapter is an overall history of death penalty in the world. It was not the chapter I was the most looking forward to, but it was still very interesting to read, especially parts on how methods of executions have evolved towards more “human” practices, like lethal injection in the United States or guillotine in France. However, I strongly recommend that you skip the first two parts of this chapter if you don’t feel like reading about various medieval methods of execution and have your mind filled with unpleasant descriptions.

The second chapter is about the evolution of death penalty in Japan, and I learned a lot through it. The author explains how death penalty has changed over the years, analysing for example how the method of execution changed or how the number and nature of crimes that are punishable by death diminished over the years. The author also takes us through famous trials and cases that have shaped criminal law in Japan.

Chapter 3 is about the daily life of prisoners, and this is what I was the most interested in. Here again, the author goes through cases that have influenced the regulations relative to the prisoners’ rights (what they have access to, contacts with the outside world, etc.). It also describes the last day of inmates and their way to the execution chamber. While the fate of those convicted changes dramatically depending on whether they are sentenced to death or to life imprisonment (where they can get a chance of parole after only 10 years), the decision process that leads to one or another is not objectively settled. The author goes through several examples where similar cases have resulted in different sentences or where the same case has received a different verdict in different trials. While there are guidelines for the judge to follow, in the end, the verdict can change depending on what the judge considers as important.

Finally, the last chapter goes through cases of possible wrong conviction, like the famous and hard to believe Izuka case.

I find this book very informative and written in a pedagogic way that makes it easier to read than it looks like. The author explains everything to a non-specialised readership, and overall, I have learned a lot and was engrossed in the book from beginning to end. As I write this review, the bunko edition of the book only has two ratings on Amazon, so I guess that either the topic or the author’s position are not that popular, but it is a book that I recommend if you want to read a Japanese author standing against death penalty.

Review: monthly magazine ニュースがわかる

In this post, I want to talk about an online magazine that can be great for language learners who want to practise reading in Japanese or who want to get into reading the news in Japanese.

『ニュースがわかる』 is a monthly magazine for secondary and high school readers published by Mainichi. The entire magazine has complete furigana and many illustrations/pictures in colours. Articles are mainly about social, political issues but you will find a bit of everything, including culture, environment, science…

The subscription for the digital version costs 255 yen per month (490 for the paper version), and each new issue comes out around the 15th of the previous month. Once you have subscribed, you can read the digital version of the magazine either on Mainichi website or by using the app (available on Google Play and the App Store).

You can see the table of contents for each issue here, and you will find information about the digital version here.

I subscribed in July, so this is my review after reading 3 issues of the magazine.

About the magazine

The magazine has 45 pages in colour with a lot of illustrations (pictures, drawings, graphs, maps, etc.). You will find complete furigana throughout the magazine.

Most articles are related to topical issues (mostly concerning Japan, but there are international news too) or general knowledge, but they are not strictly speaking news articles. For example, Tokyo gubernatorial elections took place on July 5th. The magazine of August contains an article that explains the role of the governor in the fight against the coronavirus. This kind of topic allows the reader to feel close to current affairs while building their general knowledge and social awareness.

Most articles are about social issues but there are also pages on politics, foreign policies, environment, culture, science… I personally found each article I read to be very interesting, and I am always learning things while practising my reading.

Apart from articles, there are also manga, quiz, and a section that goes through the main news of the previous month.

An example of the pages layout

I find that the difficulty level of articles varies a little (for example, the news section is more difficult than the main articles), but overall, I would say that it is a good reading material for N2 levels and a good study material for N3. With N1, you will certainly find the magazine overall relatively easy to read, but specialised topics can bring you new vocabulary:

  • N3: The magazine will be challenging, but it makes for a good study material and a good source of new vocabulary, especially if you are interested in social issues.
  • N2: I think that the language level of the magazine is perfect for N2 students, it can also helps you start reading news articles in Japanese.
  • N1: Makes for a good reading practice and a good way to stay in touch with topical issues in Japan.

I really wished that I had found this magazine sooner because I have always been looking for reading resources that would be both easy enough to fit my language level and interesting enough to keep me reading. Materials for adults might be too difficult, but materials for children are often uninteresting to me. This magazine is right in the good spot: easier to read than news to adults, but still tackles topics that are of interest for an adult readership.

I find that this magazine is great if you want to:

  • read news articles in Japanese
  • build your vocabulary on specialised topics
  • practice reading on a regular basis.

I will cover each of these points in a dedicated section.

Read news articles

If you want to read news articles but find newspapers too difficult to read, this magazine is an excellent way to get started. The articles are short and “easy” to read. The vocabulary is still challenging (I would say that it is around N2), but it is much easier to read than newspaper articles. News articles tend to have long sentences whose structure is not always easy to follow. They will also use difficult turns of phrase and expressions. The articles in 『ニュースがわかる』 are easy to read in the sense that sentences are simply structured.

My personal experience is that, with my N1 level, I still find news articles very difficult to read in Japanese. The vocabulary is of course challenging, but more than that, the long sentences and grammatical patterns are difficult to decipher. It feels like newspapers use a language of their own (this might be true in all languages). Furthermore, the reader is supposed to have a certain knowledge of what is going on, so articles sometimes only hint at or refer to events without explaining them, which makes it very difficult to jump into a new topic.

On the contrary, I find the articles of 『ニュースがわかる』very easy to read. I rarely encounter an unknown word in articles about social and political issues, but specialised topics like space mission or competition of shogi are a good way for me to learn new words. What I also really appreciate is how simple the sentences are in their structures and grammatical patterns. Another good point is that the authors explain everything, they do not expect their young readers to have a previous knowledge of the topics they are talking about. Some “keywords” explain important notions, and the many illustrations like maps or graphs also make it easier to understand the content of the article.

This is an example of how key words are explained

If you are interested in reading Japanese news, starting with this magazine can make for a smoother start rather than jumping directly into news articles.

Build your vocabulary

『ニュースがわかる』 can also be a good source to learn vocabulary out of the native resources you use for immersion and practice.

I think that learning words you encountered in native resources is the most efficient way to learn vocabulary as you can associate each word with a context and remember them more easily. The problem I have always encountered with this method is that there are so many unknown words in native resources that I always found it difficult to know which ones to learn, which ones to look up and which ones to add to anki. The amount of words to work on has often been discouraging and looking them up was tiring.

As a result, I mainly built my vocabulary with lists of words provided by my JLPT textbooks. It was boring, but easy to use.

『ニュースがわかる』 is great because it is a native resource and it is fun to read. At the same time, it aims at a certain level of reading skills and will not use unnecessarily complicated words or grammar. The words that are used are all words that you have to know if you want to read things on this particular topic. As a result, you know that the words present in the articles are all worth learning. And of course, the furigana make it easier to look them up.

What I also find great is that you can learn vocabulary by topic. If you are interested in reading about anti coronavirus measures in Japanese, work on the vocabulary of these articles. It is great if you like to classify your vocabulary by topic. More generally, it allows you to focus on what interests you and to not feel overwhelmed.

『ニュースがわかる』, August 2020, p10

For example, in this paragraph, you will find useful vocabulary to read articles about the coronavirus. Words like 感染者数, 死亡者数 or 対策 are definitely words you need to know in this context. 権限 is also a word that you encounter often when reading the state or local administration’s power in setting anti-infection measures.

The most difficult word in this paragraph is the one in red. What makes it difficult is that it is the name of a law. A newspaper article would just mention the law without explaining what it is. In the magazine, the word is in red to note that it is a “key word” that is explained on the same page.

To give you another example, let’s look at the quiz section (there are questions for secondary school and for high school levels):

Answering is certainly not challenging for an adult, but answering in Japanese can be!

Practise reading

If you don’t know what to read in Japanese, having subscribed to an online magazine gives you a reading resource each month.

One downside of the subscription is that you only have access to the current issue and the previous one. You are not able to stock previous issues to read later, so you have to read the magazine during the current month or you will fall behind and might even miss a complete issue if you haven’t read it and a new one has come up since.

On the other hand, this system forces you to read regularly. My problem with being able to save things for later is that I end up never reading them. Maybe it is just me, but I feel reassured when I know that I have saved a lot of reading materials for ulterior use, but somehow, saving things for later becomes more important than actually using them…

With this magazine, I have two months to read an issue, and if I don’t, it is gone and I lose all access to it. I hate this system, but I must also admit that this forces me to read the magazine regularly.

Plus and downsides…

The plus

  • The prize. I personally find that 255 yen per month is a very reasonable prize for what you get.
  • Great layout and many illustrations make it easier to read.
  • Complete furigana makes it easier to look up words.
  • The language level makes it perfect for language learners who want to strengthen their vocabulary in order to read article news.
  • The viewer provided to read the digital version is okay. (see downsides too)
  • You can access the viewer on your computer, tablet or phone.


  • As far as I know, there is no way to download and keep the magazine. You only have access to the current month and the previous month. If you don’t read it an issue on time, you will not be able to read it later, even though you paid for it.
  • I don’t think that you can read the digital copy of the magazine anywhere else than the Mainichi viewer.
  • While being okay, the viewer is not perfect either. The digital version of the magazine is not a version specially designed to be read digitally, it is exactly the same layout as the paper version and all you can do is zoom in the page to read the paragraphs. It is manageable, but not extremely responsive either. Overall, I find it much easier to navigate on my phone rather than on computer, and I recommend reading through the app rather than on the Mainichi website.
  • The magazine is a little late on topical issues, but that is certainly inevitable.
  • As far as I know, there is no sample available to read before you subscribe, but I may have missed it.
  • Again, I may have missed it, but there does not seem to be notifications to tell you when a new issue is available.


I tried to list all the downsides I could think of, but I personally find that the great content and low prize of the magazine largely make up for all the downsides I noted.

I wish I had known this magazine sooner, it would have been such a great reading material when I was working towards N2… I will keep the subscription for now because I enjoy reading the magazine, and I also feels that it keeps me close to topical issues and makes me learn interesting facts I didn’t know (for example, that Yamato city issued a law that forbid watching your phone while walking the streets!).

Book review: 『白馬山荘殺人事件』 by Keigo Higashino


Title: 『白馬山荘殺人事件』 (はくばさんそうさつじんじけん)
Author: Keigo Higashino (東野圭吾)
Published by 光文社文庫

『白馬山荘殺人事件』 is one of Keigo Higashino’s first novels. First published by 光文社 in 1986, the book got its first 文庫 edition in 1990 and got a new re-print this year (2020) with a new cover design and a bigger font.


The more I read Keigo Higashino, the more I think that I like his earlier writings the most (with the exception of the Kaga series, for which I find that the books get better and better). Based on the books that I have read that date from the late 80s and early 90s like 『白馬山荘殺人事件』, 『仮面山荘殺人事件』 or 『回廊亭の殺人』, I find that the story is mainly focused on solving the murder and revealing the truth rather than going deep into the characters’ life or feelings. All three novels set their story in a remote place, with a limited number of characters and even if the end did not always convince me, I found these novels extremely engrossing. Later writings seem to expand the story in terms of place and time, with characters and topics that are more complex like 『虚ろな十字架』, 『夢幻花』 or 『流星の絆』, but they also get away from the old-fashioned whodunnit setting.

In detective fiction, I like nothing more than having a bunch of characters all in one place, a corpse, and a professional or amateur detective trying to sort things out, while a second murder is on the making, so I was bound to love 『白馬山荘殺人事件』 . Keigo Higashino also added a mysterious code to crack to spice things up.

I would not say that 『白馬山荘殺人事件』 belongs to the best Higashino I have read (the Kaga series remains by far the best books to me), but it read quickly, was entertaining and delivered exactly what I was expecting from a detective story. I would say that it lacked a little in terms of suspense, but overall, it was a very engrossing read.

Book review: 『アンフィニシュトの書』 by Shinya Asashiro


Title: 『アンフィニシュトの書』 (The Unfinished Book)
Author: Shinya ASASHIRO (浅白深也)
Published by 電撃文庫

I could not find much information about this book or the author…


I bought this book to get into light novels (this is the first Dengeki book I read), and I was very surprised by how entertaining it was. When I chose this book, I thought it would be some kind of love story, and I was delighted when I realised that it was in fact a very nice mystery.

This being said, the story is very predictable and the mystery extremely easy to crack (in my opinion). At around one third of the book I was able to predict how the story would unfold and what would happen. Apart from some details and minor twists that I had not foreseen, the story did not have much to offer that I hadn’t already guessed. It felt like reading a detective book for children at times.

However, this did not prevent me from enjoying the story. Even if I think that the book could have challenged the reader a little more, following the protagonist in his adventure was extremely enjoyable and the story engrossing. I liked the characters and the settings, I liked the mechanism behind the story and overall, had a very pleasant time reading this book.

If you want to read a light novel with an interesting plot mechanism and a whodunnit flavour, this book is perfect. If you want to read a murder mystery that challenges you to find the culprit, you will certainly find 『アンフィニシュトの書』 too easy. Finally, if you are looking for easy books, I found this one quite easy to read. There is a repetitive pattern too, which makes it easier and easier to read as you get used to the vocabulary, characters and places.

Overall, this book was perfect to me because it was a mix of things that I love in novels: crime, mystery and books. If the author decides to makes a series around this theme, I will definitely be there for the other titles!

Note: you can read the first 47 pages on the publisher’s website.

August wrap up

September already! It’s time to go through the books I read in August:

It rained almost every day of August, as South Korea has experienced its longest rainy season this year, so there was not much else to do this Summer than to stay at home with a good book. I managed to complete my reading challenge of August and to read two additional books.

『きみの名は。』 by Makoto Shinkai (新海誠) and 『そして父になる』 by Akira Sano (佐野晶)

I read these two novelisations while watching the film. I already talked a lot about reading these two books in Japanese in my post about reading novelisations, so I’ll just link to it here and move on to the next books.

『11文字の殺人』 by Keigo Higashino (東野圭吾)

When freelance writer Masayuki Kawazu is found murdered, his girlfriend, an author of detective novels, starts to investigate.

This is one of Higashino’s first novels, and it was a real page-turner that I read in four days.

I am very tempted to say that this is the easiest, or at least one of the easiest, Higashino I have read. As my level improves over time, I am bound to find the books I am reading today easier than those I read two or three years ago. But trying to stay as objective as possible, I have to conclude that this book is really on the easy side.

First of all, there are a lot of dialogues. Apart from the end, the core of the novel is based on interviews: our protagonist is investigating the murder of her partner and does not have other means to do it than to talk to people who might be related to the case. The case and deductions are not difficult to follow and I found that the author did not use a wide range of vocabulary.

The only difficulty is to remember who is who in this novel. I have listed 18 characters, but I may have missed one or two. Writing a simple list with the character’s name and one or two words about who they are can really save you a lot of time if, like me, you tend to forget quickly who secondary characters are.

『11文字の殺人』 is definitely a novel that I recommend if you are looking for an easy detective novel.

『六番目の小夜子』 by Riku Onda (恩田陸)

There is a peculiar tradition in our protagonists’ highschool: once every three years, a student is chosen to be the new “Sayoko”, who has a special mission for the school year. This year, however, a new student named Sayoko Tsumura is transferred to the school…

I had this novel on my shelf for a long time, but never got around to reading it. It is a school mystery, I guess, though it is difficult to really classify it.

I found the prologue very promising and was excited to jump into the story. In the end, I found that the novel did not deliver much thrill in terms of suspense or mystery, contrary to what the prologue had let me think.

The first third of the book was very engrossing though. The book looked like a good mystery with a peculiar school tradition as a background. But then, it shifts to more supernatural or mystic elements, and I started to lose interest. The more we learn about the school tradition, the less interesting it became, and overall, I could not understand what was the point of it all.

As for the language level, I would say that for me, this book is still in the “easy reads” bracket but on the higher end. If we compare it to the other books I read this month, it is clearly on the difficult side. Part of the difficulty is that the story is very secretive about what exactly is going on and what is the true nature of this school’s tradition, so I often ended up confused about whether I missed something because of the Japanese, or if the book intentionally left the reader in the dark.

Overall, I am rather disappointed because the prologue kind of promised you an exciting murder mystery, but the mystery turned out to be underwhelming. I had to force myself through the last third of the book, because at the time, I thought I might end up DNFing another of my current reads (see below), and I did not want to end up with two unfinished books in August. (It turned out that the other book became more and more engrossing, so I could have safely left 『六番目の小夜子』 unfinished…)

『いたいのいたいの、とんでゆけ』 by Sugaru Miaki (三秋縋)

22 year-old Mizuho Yugami is going through a difficult time, but things gets worse as he knocks over a high school student while drunk driving. However, things take an unexpected turn of events.

I chose this book because I wanted to read a light novel, but apparently, books from メディアワークス文庫 are not light novels (like I thought they were), but a spin-off of 電撃文庫, targeting adult readers who enjoyed light novels and who want to read entertaining stories.

I found that 『いたいのいたいの、とんでゆけ』 had a very slow start, and the first 70/80 pages felt like reading Norwegian Wood to me. At that point, I really thought about DNFing this book because I did not like Norwegian Wood and did not want to read a similar story. As a result, I put it aside and did not touch it for a week or so. At the same time, I was struggling to finish 『六番目の小夜子』 because I was almost certain that I would never pick up 『いたいのいたいの、とんでゆけ』again.

I did though, and I just had to read a couple more pages for the story to kick off. From that point on, it became extremely entertaining.

I would say that this novel was on the easy side for me, but it is not something I would recommend for a first read. There are some introspective passages and descriptions of action scenes that, while not difficult per se, still raise the overall level of the book.

I chose this book more for my blog (in order to recommend or make a list of easy books) than for my personal enjoyment, but it turned out to be more entertaining than I thought it would be. I am definitely going to read more メディアワークス文庫 books in the future.

『ガリレオの苦悩』 by Keigo Higashino (東野圭吾)

Yukawa, alias Galileo, has stopped working with the police, but Kaoru Utsumi, a new detective working under Kusanagi, is taking the lead in cases that might be more complicated than they look. Her zeal is enough to draw Yukawa in the heart of cases once again.

This is the 4th episode in my reading the Galileo series in Japanese. This one is a collection of short stories that has not been translated into English. I was expecting something similar to the first two books (which were short stories too), but it was surprisingly different, with the introduction of Kaoru Utsumi, Kusanagi’s assistant who also appears in Salvation of a Saint. Kusanagi and Yukawa’s relationship has changed since The Devotion of Suspect X, so overall this book feels like an important chapter in the series.

As usual, I find Keigo Higashino easy to read, but I must say that Yukawa’s scientific explanations still leave me very confused and a little bored. I find them difficult to read in Japanese, but I am sure they would be as difficult to me in English (or in French for that matter). If you add the difficulty of specialised vocabulary that I don’t know in Japanese, to my natural unwillingness to make efforts to understand scientific phenomenons, no wonder that I don’t understand exactly Yukawa’s demonstrations.

But this does not prevent me from enjoying the stories, though I must admit that Kaoru taking the place of Kusanagi in the duo with Yukawa made me quite sad.

August rankings

First, I ranked the books I read in August from my favourite to the one I enjoyed the less:

  1. 『そして父になる』: By far the best read of this month. Watching the film and reading the book in parallel was a great experience. The book is the best novelisation I have read so far, it adds a lot to the story and the characters. Highly recommended!
  2. 『ガリレオの苦悩』 : Not only a great book in the series, but a decisive one that introduces a new character to the team and focuses more on Yukawa than the previous titles.
  3. 『11文字の殺人』 : Not the best Higashino, but a very entertaining one, very easy to read and a good way to relax while still reading in Japanese.
  4. 『いたいのいたいの、とんでゆけ』: Has quite a slow start and a rather far-fetched mechanism, but once the revenge theme kicks off, was quite entertaining, with a surprising twist at the end!
  5. 『君の名は。』: As much as I love the movie, reading the book has not been such a great experience…
  6. 『六番目の小夜子』 : Overall disappointed in the story.

Then, I tried to rank them by difficulty level, from the easiest to the most difficult:

  1. 『11文字の殺人』 : By far the easiest to me.
  2. 『そして父になる』 : I found this one easy to read, but watching the film at the same time undoubtedly helped.
  3. 『いたいのいたいの、とんでゆけ』: Nothing particularly difficult apart some action scenes maybe.
  4. 『ガリレオの苦悩』 :Overall easier to read than いたいの, but the scientific explanations parts were quite challenging to me, so I put it on the 4th position.
  5. 『君の名は。』: Some descriptions are quite challenging with the author using a flowery/poetic language.
  6. 『六番目の小夜子』 : This is the only novel where I am not sure whether I understood everything correctly, but it might just come from the story itself and the fact that there was not much to understand in the first place – like I said, the mystery is underwhelming. I think this book would have left me perplexed in any language.

September reading challenge

I feel motivated to read my way through my TBR! A recent discussion on Twitter made me realise that I have accumulated 20+ unread books… It also gave me enough willpower to start picking up these books at last. I also need to keep track of my reading challenge for 2020, given that there are only 4 months remaining. There is no problem doing both at the same time though. According to my reading challenge, I must focus my readings on nonfiction and literary prize winners, and I have both on my TBR pile, so I guess I have no excuse: