Latest Posts

Language diary #2

Welcome to the second entry in my language diary!

This post is about my new (physical) reading journal, the light novel I am currently reading and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone which I have just finished!

Reading Journal

This year, I will write a reading journal for Japanese novels! This is something I want to do for a long time, but I have always been too lazy to do it. If only I had started with my first Japanese book my journal would contain all the books I have read in Japanese! It would have been so great to have such a collection! But, better late than never!

I have a dedicated (Rhodia) notebook for that and I will use 4 pages per book. On the first page, I will write information concerning the book (title, author, publisher, date and so on). Depending on the book, I will also write information on the author and/or why I chose this book. This last piece of information seems obvious for me now, but years later, when I re-read the entries in my journal, it will be great to recall in what kind of mood I was, how I was selecting the books I read and so on!

The second page is for the main characters and quotes.

The third page will be a summary of the story.

The fourth page will be my review. Of course, it will be a personal and informal review, and it might be a little different from the reviews I publish of my blog.

This is an example with the novel 『推理作家(僕)が探偵と暮らすわけ』by Shiki KUZUMI!

I don’t think that there will be quotes for this book.
I still have to write my feelings on the right page, I will do it when I finish the book. I have only summarized what I have read, around half of the book.

If anyone is interested in stationery, I use a Rhodia “heritage” notebook A5. It opens flat, has a table of contents, page numbers, orange lines that are not too intrusive, a beautiful cover, and of course, it is fountain pen friendly.

This notebook has 152 pages. If I use 4 pages per book,  I can use it for 38 entries. I secretly wish that I can fill this notebook completely in 2019, but it would mean reading 3 books per months, and I don’t think that I can do it every month…

Currently reading

I have finished 『ボクたちはみんな大人になれなかった』by Moegara (see my review here), but I am still reading 『誰か』by Miyuki MIYABI.

Light novel: 『推理作家(僕)が探偵と暮らすわけ』by Shiki KUZUMI (久住四季).

I want to read more light novels this year for three reasons:

  • First, light novels are easier to read, so they allow me to read more books in Japanese, try different authors and widen a little more the range of books that I read in Japanese.
  • More importantly, they are relaxing reads. When I am too tired to read challenging books in Japanese, I am tempted to turn to other non-Japanese activities. But if I am reading a light novel at the same time, I might turn to it instead, and stay immersed in Japanese.
  • It is very encouraging to have something I can read easily in Japanese. It makes me feel proud to see that I can read some books fast. This feeling is especially welcome when the other book I read is a little challenging and slow-paced (like 『誰か』!)

I chose 『推理作家(僕)が探偵と暮らすわけ』 because I love detective stories and the title was very appealing to me: an author of detective stories and a real detective sharing a flat. It looked very much like a Sherlock Holmes inspired story, which was a plus by me.

The book is easy to read, I sat down thinking I would read 20 pages, and I ended up reading 80! 

Finished reading: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

I have finished Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Japanese. I bought it on impulse, so I thought I would maybe give up after a few pages. I am both surprised and pleased to see that I went through the whole book in Japanese.

I usually don’t like reading translations of works that I have already read in my native language or in English. It is common advice to language learners to start with a book they already know. While it helps to understand the story, it is not very motivating to read something one already knows, so it is not something that I would necessarily recommend.

With Harry Potter, however, it is a pleasure to rediscover the story. First, Harry Potter is definitely something that one can read several times. There are so many details in the first book that make sense afterwards, but that you don’t necessarily notice during your first read! I have never re-read the series, so this is a good opportunity to do it at last. And as the franchise continues, reading Harry Potter somehow feels refreshing. It is hard to believe that the Philosopher’s Stone was first published more than 20 years ago!

We’ll see if I can make my way through the 7 volumes in Japanese!

Book Review: 『ボクたちはみんな大人になれなかった』by Moegara

Presentation of the book

The novel 『ボクたちはみんな大人になれなっかた』was first written by Moegara (燃え殻) on the website Cakes. It was published on June 30th, 2017, by Shincho bunko with modifications compared to the original version.
When it came out, this short novel of 162 pages became a best-seller in Japan.

「一枚の絵で人生が変わったという人間や、一冊の本で人生が決まったという人間を今までボクはどこかで軽蔑していた。だけど、彼女と出会ったこの日、ボクは止まっていた自分の人生の秒針がカチカチカチと動き出したことを確信した。」

『ボクたちはみんな大人になれなっかた』 , p.40

In the first pages of『ボクたちはみんな大人になれなっかた 』, the narrator sees the name of the girl he loved some 20 years ago appear on Facebook. Seeing this name brings back memories, from the day he met her to the last day he saw her. Through a recollection of scenes and moments, we glance at the Tokyo of the ’90s.

Review

I liked this novel, but I found it difficult to read for a non-Japanese.

First, the novel is mainly composed of scenes and does not follow a traditional narrative pattern. There is a chronological progression but no real plot. I felt that it required an effort to follow the author, and this added to the difficulty of reading in Japanese.

Secondly, the novel creates an atmosphere rather than describing places. As I see it, the aim of the novel is not to show you what the Tokyo of the ’90s was like. It shows the experience that the author had of it. If you have a similar experience, this novel will certainly resonate with you from beginning to finish. But if not (different generation, different country), it might be difficult to picture some of the scenes described.

For example, Moegara often mentions songs that were popular at the time. It is one thing to recall having heard the same music when you were 20, but it is another thing to google it while reading the book and listen to it on YouTube for the first time.

In an interview with Shigesato ITOI, Moegara said that he always gave the same answer to the question: why did you write this novel? His answer was
「90年代の空気みたいなものを一つの本に閉じ込めたかったんです 」. This answer makes everybody happy, it does not need further explanations, and it is the kind of answer people want to hear. But the real reason why Moegara wrote his book is different. He just wanted to write certain scenes, a particular moment, a particular feeling. Not to convey something, but because he enjoyed writing these scenes.

As a result, I felt that the novel did not really care about the reader. It tells its story and does not expect you to sympathise with it… but many people did and, maybe I did too, to some extent.

While I had difficulties picturing certain scenes and found some passages difficult to read, this novel made me want to read more about this particular time that followed the collapse of the economic bubble. I also liked Moegara’s writing. I don’t often extract quotes from novels, but my copy of the book is full of tags marking striking or beautiful passages and sentences. I also liked the story and I would very much like to see a film adaptation of this novel! I don’t know if it will happen, but I feel that this story on the screen would be very appealing.

JLPT diary #2: Study plan

Goal: pass the JLPT N1 in December!

It is very exciting to know that I have the whole year to prepare for the JLPT N1, but having too much time can also be tricky. I know that I will constantly be putting off the moment when I would really start studying, thinking that I have plenty of time anyway. This is why it is necessary to make a study plan, even roughly.

This is how I plan to study this year:

KanjiVocabularyGrammarListeningReading
First half of the year– Review N2
– So-Matome
– Speed Master
– So-Matome
– Shin Kanzen

– Audiobooks
– News
– Novels
– News
Second half of the year– Shin Kanzen (exercises)– Review
– Drills
– Shin Kanzen
– Drills
– Shin Kanzen– Shin Kanzen

Skill by skill

Kanji

I will spend the whole month of January reviewing the So-matome N2. To be honest, I had more or less skipped studying the kanji when I studied for N2 because I felt that I already knew them all. The problem is that I knew these kanji mostly in context, I could recognise them when they were part of a word but answering the JLPT questions was not always easy. As a result, I want to be as thorough as possible with the kanji this time.

So-matome N1 kanji: Two lessons per week

There are 56 lessons. First I thought that I would study one lesson per week before realising that it would take me more than a whole year! So I guess that I don’t have a choice: it will be two lessons per week. I will be done by July, which leaves me plenty of time to review and study the Shin Kanzen book.

Shin Kanzen N1 kanji: ??

I am assuming that the Shin Kanzen kanji book for N1 is the same as N2, mostly exercises. I will start it as soon as I am done with So-matome, but I don’t know how many lessons there are or how long it will take me.

Vocabulary

Vocabulary: 日本語単語スピードマスター Advanced

There are 69 units. If I study 2 units per week, I will need 35 weeks to complete the book. In other words, I will be done by the end of August. To me, this sounds okay. I don’t want to study more than 2 units per week because I will continue to study my regular Anki deck throughout the year. If I hold on to my plan, I will still have 3 months to review the book and make drills before the test.

As far as vocabulary is concerned, I will stick to this one book, but I will need to review some N2 vocabulary. I am particularly weak with adverbs, onomatopoeia and idioms.

Grammar

So-matome N1 Grammar: two or three lessons per week

Here again, 56 lessons. The problem is that one lesson contains 4 grammar points. I don’t think that I want to study more than 2 lessons per week. But then, I wanted to study the Shin Kanzen grammar after So-matome, and if I study only two lessons per week, I will be working on So-matome until July. This means that I will have only 4 months to study Shin Kanzen. This is a problem for two reasons: first I am pretty sure that the Shin Kanzen has more contents than the So-matome, and I would like to have more time to study it; secondly, I wanted to be done with the grammar well before the test, to have time to digest it.

I also wanted to keep the last month or two to make grammar drills.

I really should study three lessons per week then… I will try it and see if it is possible!

Reading and listening

I don’t want to add reading and listening textbooks to my weekly tasks. I will be busy enough with the ones I have. As a result, I won’t buy any textbook for reading and listening as long as I am not done with the kanji, vocabulary and grammar ones.

I also think that practice is more important than textbooks when it comes to reading and listening. This is why I will be reading novels and listening to audiobooks. Everyone who has taken N1 says that it is important to read and listen to the news so I will have to do that, too. Reading the news is okay, I will try to read or study one article from time to time. The problem is listening to the news. When I listen to NHK radio news, I understand nothing so there is a lot of work to be done!

I know that it is also important to get used to the questions of the test, especially for listening. I will either buy a textbook for reading and listening (probably Shin Kanzen) sometime in Autumn or simply rely on practice tests.

Practice tests: one every two or three months?

First, I thought of keeping them for the end, but it is best to take them at different moments of the year. I will see how many tests I can gather and distribute them throughout the year.

Conclusion

As things stand, I will have to study two or three units of grammar, two units of vocabulary and two units of kanji per week. I also study my regular Anki. Said like this, it sounds a lot 😨. I thought that 11 months was ample time to prepare for N1, but it is not!

I will write a more detailed post about how I study each specific area.

If I pass N1 in December, this year will probably be the last time I study thoroughly with textbooks, lessons and practice tests. After that, I will certainly spend most of my time reading in Japanese and improving my reading level by adding words to Anki. This is why I want to make the best of this study year and get a good score at N1 (I really want to get a full mark at reading)!

Language Diary #1

Welcome to the first entry of my language diary! This post is mainly about the books that I am reading at the moment.

Currently Reading

『誰か』by Miyuki MIYABE (宮部みゆき)

I am reading 『誰か』by Miyuki MIYABE (宮部みゆき). I never read this author before, but I see her name everywhere!

『誰か』is the first novel of a series involving the protagonist Saburo SUMIGURA. From what I know, Sugimura is a private detective, but in 『誰か』 he is just an employee in his father-in-law’s company Imada Konzern. This first novel will certainly show how Sugimura gave up his job and became a detective.

I find the book a little difficult to read at times. The dialogues are okay, but some descriptions and all the passages relative to Sumigura’s work at Imada Konzern are a bit challenging. I like the novel so far, but I am reading it slowly. I hope to finish it by the end of the month, it is my main reading goal for January.

ボクたちはみんな大人になれなかった by Moegara (燃え殻)

I found this book very intriguing, I loved the cover and the title appealed to me, so I bought it on Amazon with my order of JLPT textbooks.

I had no idea what the novel was about when I started it. On the cover, it says 「好きだった人の名前を、SNSで検索したことはありますか―?」but I find it misleading. The story is about a man of 43 who sees the name of the girl he loved some twenty years ago popping up on Facebook. This brings him back to the ’90s, the lost decade after the collapse of the economic bubble, the depressive working hours and a cheap love hotel.

At first I didn’t like the novel because of the author’s writing style. I prefer reading long novels with descriptions, complex characters, a constructed plot and so on. This novel is short and made of a succession of scenes rather than a plot, impressions and atmosphere rather than descriptions.

Harry Potter in Japanese, translated by Yuko Matsuoka

I got nostalgic of the universe of Harry Potter and wanted to re-read the books. I would not have read them in English because I have other priorities, but I figured out that reading them in Japanese would be a good excuse. I can say that it is to improve my reading skills in Japanese and learn useless interesting words like 一角獣 (ユニコーン, Unicorn) or 不死鳥 (ふしちょう, Phoenix) 😄.

It is strange because I don’t read Harry Potter to read something easy in Japanese, I read in Japanese to read Harry Potter, I mean, to get an excuse to spend time reading Harry Potter instead of progressing on my TBR pile.

It was an impulse buy, without a doubt, so I downloaded the e-book version to start right away. I have reached 30% of the book this weekend and it is by far the easiest novel I am reading now. I find it even easier than any of the books I read last year. I also find interesting to see how Yuko Matsuoka managed to translate perilous passages.

For example, when Harry asks Hagrid the difference between a stalagmite and a stalactite, Hagrid answers “Stalagmite’s got an ‘m’ in it”. In Japanese, the exchange is as such:

Harry: 鍾乳石 (しょうにゅうせき)と石筍(せきじゅん)って、どう違うの?
Hagrid: 三文字と二文字の違いだろ。

which I find even funnier.

Music: Yonawo

I discovered Yonawo on iTunes, and I like it very much. This is the song “ijo” of the EP “ijo”.

JLPT Journal #1: pick up resources

Welcome to the first entry of my JLPT journal!

The first step for me is to select the textbooks I want to study with. In 2017, I sat the JLPT N2 in July and December. I studied with the So-matome series for July and the Shin Kanzen series for December.

I thought that I would more or less do the same for the JLPT N1 but reading tips from people who already passed N1 dissuaded me from doing so. The most enlightening tips I found were from Japanese Talk Online. From what I gather, the JLPT N1 is not really associated with a defined set of grammar rules and vocabulary like the previous levels. You are more or less supposed to know everything. As a result, it is better to be done with the textbooks long before the test and spend more time practising, reading and listening.

Instead of working first with So-matome and then Shin Kanzen as I did last time, I will try to be done with all the vocabulary, kanji and grammar textbooks before the end of the Summer.

These are the resources I will use:

Vocabulary: 日本語単語スピードマスター

Here again, I must thank Japanese Talk Online for this resource. This book looks really great, very thorough and easy to use. I like that the words are sorted by topic and have at least one example sentence. What I like the most, is that you can review directly using the book thanks to the red card that hides the pronunciation and meaning. This year, I have decided to not add the N1 to my Anki deck, so I am grateful to be able to review using the book.

Grammar: 3 resources!

Grammar is my weak point compared to vocabulary and kanji. Learning N2 grammar was a nightmare. I just could not understand the difference between similar grammar points or remember how they are used. This is why I chose three resources to tackle the grammar of N1:

So-matome Grammar

I don’t think that the So-matome book is thorough enough. It looks suspiciously thin! However, I like that the grammar points are grouped by meaning. I also like the layout of the book and the illustrations. The Shin Kanzen book also introduces the grammar points sorted by meaning, but I find this series to be more intimidating for a start.

The So-matome is not perfect, it only has two or three example sentences per grammar which is not enough. Also, they do not explain the grammar, they only give an easier equivalent in Japanese.

Strong point: Grammar points are sorted by meaning

JLPT 콕콕 찍어주마 N1 문법

I chose this book because it has a lot of sentences for each grammar. The example sentences are using the same format than the test questions for grammar, which is interesting. Generally speaking, I find the Korean textbooks for the JLPT to be more strategy-oriented than the Japanese ones. (I will write a more detailed review of this book with pictures).

What I don’t like is that the grammar points are presented one after the other in alphabetical order, there is no attempt to group them by meaning like in So-matome. Finally, the explanations are in Korean, which is overwhelming to me.

Strong point: a lot of example sentences and a strategical approach.

日本語文型辞典

If you are struggling with grammar, this is a must-have! It is a dictionary, so you cannot really use it on its own to study. But it is a perfect complement to a method like So-matome. Each grammar has a lot of example sentences and an explanation in Japanese that is both precise and concise.

Strong point: a lot of example sentences and a concise explanation in Japanese for each grammar.

Kanji: So-matome

I like both the So-matome and the Shin Kanzen book to learn the kanji. For N2, I found that So-matome was better for learning and Shin Kanzen for reviewing and practising. This is why I only bought the So-matome method for now, and I will get the Shin Kanzen when I am done with the So-matome.

I will spend the whole month of January reviewing the kanji of N2 so I will start this book only in February. However, I did have a look at it and it looks like there is a huge gap between N2 and N1. 😨

That’s it for a start! I think that at some time in the year, I will get the whole Shin Kanzen series (except vocabulary). I think that the methods I have now will keep me busy for the first half of the year!

A drawing of my way to the JLPT N1

My blog in 2019

Happy New Year!

I just wanted to make a quick announcement about my blog in 2019. I won’t be posting as regularly as I did in 2018, but I will update my blog at least once a week. Also, I will give up the category “currently reading” which I find redundant given that I also write book reviews. Instead, I will be creating new categories:

  • Language learning diary. This post will be about my learning Japanese in general. This is where I will talk about the books I am currently reading, my reading progress, etc.
  • JLPT journal. I will post there my progress in the preparation of the JLPT N1.
  • Book reviews.

I think that I will also write about film and music from time to time and post learning tips.

Having a strict schedule in 2018 helped me to get into the habit of writing regularly, but I am happy to have more flexibility in 2019.

I wish you all a good start in the new year!

Book Review: 『リカーシブル』by Honobu YONEZAWA

I have finished 『リカーシブル』by Honobu YONEZAWA (米澤穂信), and with it, I have completed both my reading challenge for the year and my goals for the month of December.

A novel with various themes

「この街は確かに、どこかおかしい」(p.394)

Haruka, her mother and younger brother Satoru have to move back to the mother’s native little town. While Haruka, who starts her first year of middle-school, tries to make her place in the class hierarchy, a growing feeling of uneasiness will change her priorities. There is something strange with this town and Satoru is acting weird: Haruka will investigate.

This mystery novel is quite long (+500 pages) and encompasses a wide range of topics. First, the daily preoccupations of the protagonist Haruka. As a transfer student, she has to find her place in the class hierarchy and make friends. We also soon find out that her family is not what it seems and Haruka has to find her place in it too.

Another important point is the town itself: the town is slowly dying, many stores have shut down, the school is half empty… the adults fight their own battle by lobbying to make the highway come to their town. This is an important theme of the novel.

Finally, there is a legend attached to the town, or more precisely, a folks’ tale that all the inhabitants know of. This is a major topic, and it lays at the heart of the mystery.

An intriguing mystery

To be honest, folk tales, traditions and legends are not what appeals the most to me when it comes to Japanese culture. It interests me, but I would not like to read a whole novel involving deities or legendary characters. If I had known that this topic was so present in the novel, I would certainly not have bought it.

As a result, I was not fully focused when reading the passages about this particular folks’ tale (and they were the most difficult to read, too, which didn’t help), and this is a shame because a good part of the mystery is linked to it.

In spite of it, I enjoyed reading this book very much. The mystery is so intriguing that it kept me reading despite my lack of interest in certain passages and a general feeling that the book lacked real tension or real danger.

I would say that the author really managed to create a feeling of uneasiness: the atmosphere of the town, some people acting weird, it always looks like something is not quite right. This, and the sympathy I had for Haruka, kept me engrossed in the book until the end.

Conclusion

『リカーシブル』is a great mystery that involves a lot of topics and reads a little like a detective novel: the reader, as well as Haruka, has all the elements in hands to solve the mystery. In addition to being an intriguing novel, 『リカーシブル』is also a very consistent one: everything falls into place in the end, and the attentive reader can certainly solve the mystery by himself.

I must admit that I haven’t fully taken advantage of this feature. As I said, some passages bored me, and I haven’t paid enough attention to details. This is a shame really!