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A year of reading in Japanese

For my last Monday post of the year, I would like to look back on the books I have read this year in Japanese!

My favourite books (story only)

If I only take the story into account, without considering the language level, I would say that my favourite books this year are:

  • 『豆の上で眠る』by Kanae MINATO. I read this book in January, and I think that it is my favourite. I was totally gripped by the story, it deeply resonated with me, and I was emotionally involved in it from start to finish.
  • 『コンビニ人間』by Sayaka MURATA. I loved this book because I could learn a lot about Japanese society through it. But I also identified with the protagonist and I felt like the novel was touching some unpleasant moment of my own experience.  
  • 『赤い指』by Keigo HIGASHINO. To be honest with you, detective Kyoichiro KAGA is a hero to me. This novel is the 7th of the detective Kaga series. I loved this book for its story of course and because we learn a little more about inspector Kaga than we did in the previous books of the series.

My favourite books (story and language level)

This is a list of the books that I enjoyed the most because they were both interesting and easy to read in Japanese:

  • 『ちょっと今から仕事やめてくる』by Emi KITAGAWA. I really loved this book, it is easy to read, and it conveys a strong message. If you feel worn down by your work, you must read this book!
  • 『ビブリア古書堂の事件手帖』by En MIKAMI. I love books and literature, I love used bookstores, I love mysteries… I love Mikami’s work!
  • 『ぶたぶたラジオ』by Arimi YAZAKI. This book is just too cute… A living plush that gives life advice around him, how could anyone resist? 

Best Mysteries

I mean by that the books that I found the most suspenseful and intriguing. Typically, the kind of book that I will always read more than I planned to. For example, I would tell myself to read 10 pages today, and I would end up reading 30.

  • 『ビブリア古書堂の事件手帖』by En MIKAMI. I loved the mysteries in this book and I have read some chapters in one reading session. Me reading 100 pages in Japanese in a row? It does not usually happen! But it happened with Biblia!
  • 『探偵倶楽部』by Keigo HIGASHINO. Once you start one of the short stories, it is hard to put the book down. I absolutely loved it! 
  • 『豆の上で眠る』by Kanae MINATO. I think that this book is much more than a mystery novel, but the mystery in it was really gripping. 
  • 『リカーシブル』by Honobu YONEZAWA. I am still reading this book, but I will soon finish it. While I find it a little slow paced and think it could have more tension, I am totally engrossed in it and find it hard to put down. 

I could add all the other books by Keigo HIGASHINO (except 『手紙』) because any detective novel by Higashino is bound to be engrossing.

While they are not among my favourites, these two books where very entertaining, so I should mention them:

  • 『私のクラスの生徒が、一晩で24人死にました』by Kurara HIMUKANA. The end was not as good as the rest, but overall, it was an entertaining, suspenseful novel. 
  • 『放送禁止』by Toshikazu NAGAE. Another book where I would end up reading more that I initially planned to. It is not one of my favourite, but I loved the “reportage” format. 

Socially engaged books

By this I mean the books that tackle a social problem. “Engaged” is maybe too strong a word for some of them, but you get the idea:

  • 『コンビニ人間』by Sayaka MURATA. This is the book with the strongest social criticism. It shows how hard it is to walk your own path in a society that wants to force you into one of its defined models. 
  • 『虚ろな十字架』by Keigo HIGASHINO. This is a novel on death penalty. We get to hear several opinions, some against it and some supporting it. I felt that the whole novel was a debate over the capital punishment.
  • 『手紙』by Keigo HISHASHINO. A novel about discrimination and the difficulty to find your place when one member of your family has committed murder. It shows how the whole society turns its back to everything it considers “unsafe”.
  • 『赤い指』by Keigo HIGASHINO. This is a detective story but it does contain considerations about the difficulty to take care of one’s ageing parents at home.
  • 『ちょっと今から仕事やめてくる』by Emi KITAGAWA. This book shows how pressure and stress at work can drive a man to want to commit suicide. 

The easiest books

The easiest books are without a doubt the three light novels I have read this year:

  • 『ビブリア古書堂の事件手帖』by En MIKAMI.
  • 『ちょっと今から仕事やめてくる』and 『ヒーローズ(株)!!!』by Emi KITAGAWA

These light novels have a limited number of characters and places. You will always find yourself in familiar settings. There are a lot of dialogues and not many descriptions. Paragraphs are short, you won’t find yourself overwhelmed with too much text on a page. The vocabulary and kanji are also limited. The plot progresses quickly… There are numerous reasons that make light novels easier to read for non natives!

And the books for children, especially:

  • 『君たちはどう生きるか』by Genzaburo YOSHINO. It was written in 1937, it is a book for children that has been a big hit in Japan in 2017 with its manga adaptation.

Being a book for children does not necessary mean that the book will be easy to read for non native. The book can have an educational purpose in introducing more difficult kanji or descriptive passages. I found that『未来のミライ』by Mamoru HOSODA was not as easy as you would expect.

From my modest experience, I would say that light novels are much easier to read than books for children (and more interesting too!).

The most challenging books

I don’t need to hesitate one second to point out the difficult books:

  • 『彼女がその名を知らない鳥たち』by Mahokaru NUMATA. This book really challenged me! Especially the dialogues that use a lot the Kansai dialect. I usually find the dialogues to be the easiest part of a novel, but in this book it was the hardest part!
  • 『イノセント・ディズ』by Kazumasa HAYAMI. I remember that this book was becoming more and more difficult, which was a little depressing. I found the beginning quite easy, but the difficulty level somehow kept increasing.
  • 『コンビニ人間』by Sayaka MURATA. It was not difficult to follow the story, but the book was full of subtle nuances, cutting remarks and awkward situations that one must understand to fully enjoy the book. I sometimes had to re-read a dialogue or a passage twice.

The books I would recommend to a Japanese learner

Here are the books that are particularly interesting to read for Japanese learners.

For people who want to start reading in Japanese:

  • Any of the light novels I mentioned above.『ちょっと今から仕事やめてくる』is maybe my favourite and the easiest one, but 『ビブリア古書堂の事件手帖』might be a better choice because of its structure. Each chapter contains an independent story so you can make a break between two chapters. 
  • A book from the collection Tsubasa of publisher Kadokawa. It is a collection for children that has full furigana. I read the novelisation of the film 『未来のミライ』by Mamoru HOSODA. While I would not recommend this particular book, reading with full furigana makes everything easier!

To someone who loves Japanese and wants to learn more about the language:

  • 『日本語びいき』by Yumi SHIMIZU. It is extremely rewarding to read a book about Japanese in Japanese. It was also funny to read about mistakes that Japanese make, re-discover grammatical particularities that make the beauty of Japanese and reflect on the language outside of a textbook.

The books I didn’t finish

There are different reason why I would not finish a book. It might be too difficult:

  • 『それでも、日本人は戦争を選んだ』by Yoko KATO. It is a history book and it is still too hard for me. I haven’t given up the idea of reading it, but I will first read in English on this period to at least know the facts, the names and the places. Then I’ll come back to this book.

Another reason is of course that I didn’t like the book:

  • 『光』by Shion MIURA. Shion MIURA is the author of one of my favourite books ever: 『舟を編む』, that’s why it pains me to say that I didn’t like 『光』. In fact, I liked the story, but I always felt far away from it and from the characters, I could not understand their attitude and their reactions, I didn’t feel involved and I realised that I didn’t care for them enough to continue.

And sometimes, both the difficulty of Japanese and a loss of interest are responsible:

  • 『在日』by KANG Sang-jung. I loved the beginning of the book, when the author was talking about his youth and life as a Korean in Japan, but when the author talked about his studies in Europe, it became both less interesting to me and more difficult to read. 

The books I didn’t like

There are two books that I have finished but that I didn’t like, both are books for children:

  • 『君たちはどう生きるか』by Genzaburo YOSHINO. I am not saying that you shouldn’t read this book, on the contrary, it has been such a hit last year that there must be something with the story that bewitches its readers. It just didn’t work with me. I felt the whole time that it was indeed a book for children, that I had been there before and that as an adult, I was neither learning something nor was I entertained.
  • 『未来のミライ』by Mamoru HOSODA. This book is the novelisation of the film and while I am sure that the latter is great (though I haven’t seen it), I think that it lost a good amount of its magic through the process of novelisation. I found the pattern of the story to be very repetitive and a little boring in the end, and I hadn’t any sympathy for the main character. 

The authors I want to read next year too

Of course, I will continue to read Keigo HIGASHINO. I think that I will focus on reading the remaining books of the detective Kaga series!

Among the authors that I have discovered this year and want to continue reading next year are:

  • Kanae MINATO, of course! I particularly want to read 『告白』which was recommended to me in the comments by Choronghi.
  • Arimi YAZAKI and the adventures of M. ぶたぶた. There are a lot of books in this series and I plan to read at least one of them next year: 『ぶたぶたの本屋さん』.
  • Emi KITAGAWA. I plan to read her new book 『星の降る家のローレン』and more generally, I will keep an eye on her new publications.
  • En MIKAMI. I am sure that here will be a time in the course of next year when I want to relax. This is when I pick the volume 2 of 
    『ビブリア古書堂の事件手帖』!

Challenge completed!

And with this list, I am saying goodbye to 2018! I have completed my reading challenge for the year which was to read one book per month (in fact, I read more), so I feel both happy and satisfied.

I will publish my review of 『リカーシブル』by Honobu YONEZAWA on Wednesday (the last book on my list!) and take some blog Holidays until January 1st! 

(I won’t stay inactive during those two weeks because I need to collect resources for my preparation of JLPT N1 and make a list of novels I want to read for the beginning of the year!)

Book Review: 『往復書簡』by Kanae MINATO

『往復書簡』(おうふくしょかん) is a collection of four epistolary short stories by Kanae MINATO (湊かなえ) published by 幻冬舎文庫 (げんとうしゃぶんこ).

A journey to the past

With the exception of the fourth story, which is very short and a little different than the others, the three main short stories all follow a similar pattern: several people who share a common past or have a connection with it will start exchanging letters. In each story, there is a particular event that lies in the past, altered by the years, the incomplete memories and the things unsaid. The protagonists will unveil this past mystery and search for the truth.

I found this format very original and interesting. The stories show how a same event can be experienced and remembered completely differently by the person who where involved at the time. You cannot help but reflect about your own past. It is a little scary to think that your friends might have a completely different recollection or experience of some shared events.

In the end, what really happened matters less than the way people experienced it, because their interpretation of the past makes them what they are now, it forges their personality and can influence their choice. I find that Kanae MINATO depicts this perfectly.

Epistolary genre to dig the past?

I like epistolary novels, but I couldn’t help wondering if it is the best genre to dig into the past.

I am not an expert, but I feel that the epistolary genre is perfect when two persons who used to know each other are separated and talk about their own present life in their letters. In the opposite direction, two persons who don’t know each other can start a correspondence and each one talks about his or her own past.

The problem when people talk about a shared past through letters is that they will have to say things like “At that moment I said… then you replied… then I did… and you remarked that…” for the sake of the reader. I found this a little unnatural. Also, in the second story, one of the correspondent transcribes whole interviews in his letters. He would say “I will transcribe my interview with … :” and then the story reads like a novel, not like a letter. 

Another thing that bothered me a little is that the reason why the protagonists start writing letters is a little far-fetched. It is not something people would do in real life, I think. 

All in all, I loved the stories, but I am not convinced by the choice of the epistolary genre.

Conclusion

In spite of these negative points, I enjoyed reading the book because I love mysteries and I love when the past is not what we thought it was. But the pattern of each story is a little repetitive and while I loved the first story, liked the second one, I felt a little bored when I read the third one and couldn’t feel involved in the story. This is why I would recommend to read each story at different time, instead of all in a row. 

Book review: 『手紙』by Keigo HIGASHINO

It took me a long time to read it, but I finally finished the novel 『手紙』by Keigo HIGASHINO (東野圭吾)!

Reference: 『手紙』(てがみ), by 東野圭吾 (ひがしのけいご), published by 文春文庫 (ぶんしゅんぶんこ).

The story

「差別はね、当然なんだよ」

p317

This novel is not a detective novel, the only murder occurs in the prologue and there won’t be any police investigation afterwards. 『手紙』is about the aftermaths of the murder, and the story is tell from the point of view of the murderer’s brother.

Naoki is still in high-school when his older brother Tsuyoshi commits robbery and murder and is imprisoned. His first concern is money, for the two brothers have lost their parents, and Naoki is now alone to make his living. But in a society where discrimination is strong, Naoki will realise that his biggest problem is not the lack of money, but his connection to his brother.

In this novel, Keigo HIGASHINO addresses the problem of discrimination and depicts the way the society turns its back on anyone that has a connection to murder. 

My thoughts

To be honest, I didn’t like the book at first because I misjudged it. Something happens in the beginning that I found hard to believe (it is not something that really happens in real life) and that made me think that I was not reading the kind of book I expected. I expected a realistic depiction of the society and all of the sudden, it looked like I was reading “a hero is faced with adversity, but he meets someone that changes his life, and with hard work, courage and faith, he overcomes the obstacles and finds happiness” kind of story. I am totally okay with this kind of story by the way, but it is not what I wanted to read here.

But I completely misjudged the book, and it is a pity that I left it untouched for so long a time because of that. It is not at all a feel-good story that leads you towards an inevitable happy end and makes you feel that you can fulfill your dreams if you believe in yourself. On the contrary, reading 『手紙』made me sad and angry in turns, and I loved it for several reasons.

First of all, the topic chosen by Higashino is not something I have often read about or seen in films. The relatives of a murderer are the left over of detective fictions. They are useful to conduct interviews and help to define the suspect’s character, but once the culprit is arrested, nobody really cares about how they will go on with their life. Higashino devotes a whole novel to a character that would have been a minor or peripheral figure in a conventional detective story.

But the real force of the novel is that it overcomes the antagonism between the innocent victim and the discriminatory mass of ignorant people. Those who turn their back on him are not all unscrupulous and Naoki is far from being a saint. It is hard to take a side. You cannot help wondering what you would have done in this situation, how you would have reacted. 

Language level

While I cannot point a passage that was more difficult than the others, I still felt that 『手紙』was a tiny bit more challenging than other books by Higashino. I think that the reason might be the many changes of setting. The novel spans several years, and we follow Naoki in different places, different activities, different relationships. This means that every new environment has to be described, and the reader has to get used to it, which maybe adds to the difficulty of reading in Japanese.

Conclusion

If you are interested in novels that deal with social discrimination, you will find a lot to think about by reading 『手紙』. It certainly opened my eyes to a social problem I never really thought of before, but gave me no straight answers. While I recommend this book for its topic, I must say that it is not a lighthearted read!

2019: More Books! JLPT N1?

It is time to plan my studies for next year! (I know it’s a little early, but I cannot wait!)

More easy books, more difficult books.

I have greatly enjoyed 2018: finally, I was able to read a wider range of novels, mysteries and detective stories. 

I could go on like that in 2019, but being able to read best-selling authors like Keigo HIGASHINO does not mean that I can read any literature in Japanese. There are so many books that are still out of reach, fiction as well as non fiction. 

To progress, I will have to go out of my comfort zone and tackle books that are above my level. I think that reading books I can tackle easily helps me to progress, but only a little. I feel more and more at ease with Japanese sentences, I can read faster and faster and I learn some new vocabulary… But to really make significant progress, I know that I have to read a book that is a little too difficult to me and make the necessary effort to understand it. 

But I still want to have fun and continue reading mystery and detective books that will not make me struggle too much.

In 2019, I think that I will try to widen even more the range of books I read:

  • Light Novels: I want to read more light novels because they are a good way to chill out and have fun reading in Japanese
  • Best-selling mystery/detective novels: I will go on reading authors like Keigo HIGASHINO or Kanae MINATO. I like mystery and detective novels, and I know I can read them without much struggle.
  • Prize winners: I want to get more familiar with contemporary Japanese literature and looking at the winners of the Akutagawa Prize can be a good start (this will be a little challenging)
  • Great authors of the 20th Century: I will pick one or two books I want to read before the end of 2019. They will serve as some kind of ultimate goal for the year.

JLPT N1?

I am very tempted by the JLPT N1. My last test was in 2017 and I have done nothing relative to the test in 2018. I like taking the test, I like to prepare for it, and I must admit that I miss the guided path of a textbook, the idea of studying with a deadline, and the feeling that I belong to the community of test takers.

But N1 is a little intimidating, I remember that making my way through the Shin Kanzen series for N2 was not always fun, and that my Anki had become a dreadful thing after all that.

On the other hand, if I decide to take the test, it will be for December. It gives me ample time to prepare slowly, gives me a goal for the year, and of course, it will help me to progress in reading and ultimately, it will maybe allow me to read these challenging books I have in mind.

Let’s draw the pros and cons:

CONSPROS
It will take me a lot of time, this certainly means less time to read books.
Of course, I will make progress!
It won’t be fun all the time, especially going through the Shin Kanzen series for N1… It will go together with my reading goals for 2019, I am sure that the JLPT N1 will help me read challenging books.
It will spoil my Anki deck. I added so many words when I was studying N2 that studying Anki had become a nightmare.Maybe I can use paper and pen to learn N1 vocabulary and kani and only add to Anki some carefully selected words.
It is the perfect excuse to buy tons of textbooks, and I will also have to choose a dedicated notebook!
I was looking for ways to use my fountain pens more, studying for the JLPT seems a perfect way to do it.
I always complain about my listening level. If I want to pass N1, I will have no choice but to practice listening seriously!
The test being in December, it gives me a nice straightforward goal for the whole year.
Taking the test is ultra motivating, in fact, the more I think about taking N1 in 2019, the more excited I feel!

I am sure I could add more points in the “pros” column. So, it settles it I think! I will take the JLPT N1 in 2019! My aim is to pass in December, but I will certainly take the test in July too, as a warm-up.

My Blog

I want to change a little the format of my blog in 2019. Until now, I was writing 3 times a week, following the pattern:

  • Monday: About studying Japanese
  • Wednesday: About Japanese books
  • Friday: About non-bookish Japanese things (news, films, music)

I think that I will only write twice a week next year:

  • Day 1: Some kind of “study journal” where I write about what I am doing for Japanese, the books I am reading at the moment, my reading progress, the books/film/drama I have heard about and want to read/watch, and so on
  • Day 2: The reviews. Mainly book review of course, but also non bookish things (as I will not be able to read one Japanese book pro week).

But now that I want to take the JLPT, I think that I could add a “JLPT journal” section and post once a week in this category, to stay motivated. 

I still have to think about it, and I will take some blog holiday at the end of the month (from the 20th)!

What are your plans for 2019? 🙂

Book review: 『ビブリア古書堂の事件手帖』by En MIKAMI

(I don’t usually post book reviews on Friday, but I will certainly take some holidays at the end of the month, so if I want to publish all my book reviews before the end of the year, I will have to post twice a week!)

I have finished 『ビブリア古書堂の事件手帖』by En MIKAMI (三上延) and I loved it! It is a light novel published by メディアワークス文庫 (Kadokawa) and as such, it is easy to read, even for Japanese learners.

The Book and the Story

『ビブリア古書堂の事件手帖』is a novel, but it is divided into 4 chapters that each contains an independent story. I like this structure very much because the book, while being a novel, allows you to take a break between two chapters without feeling lost when you return to it.

The story is simple enough: the young Daisuke meets the owner of a used bookstore, the beautiful and mysterious Shioriko. Together, they will solve mysteries brought by the clients of the bookstore. Hence the subtitle of the book: “栞子(Shioriko)さんと奇妙な客人たち”.

To be honest, I was a little afraid that the story would evolve into an obvious romantic relationship between the two protagonists, but it does not: the novel is a mystery novel, not a romance.

And the mysteries are quite good, too. I was unable to put down the book once I started a chapter, and I have usually read a whole chapter in only one or two reading sessions. Once you start, you want to know what happened, and you cannot stop reading!

As I said, each chapter is devoted to a mystery, and this mystery is always linked to a book. You absolutely don’t need to have read these books to enjoy the story, you don’t even need to know who the authors are. Daisuke, the protagonist, has a physical condition that makes him unable to read. As a consequence, he has read none of the books that appear in the story, and if the contents of the book is important, Shioriko will explain it to him. So no need to have studied Japanese literature! 

A light novel

I still don’t know how to define a “light novel”. All I know is that I have read three this year, and they were all easy to read. If we take the definition that author Emi KITAGAWA gives of a “light novel” 「とにかく楽しいもの」, then I can say that 『ビブリア古書堂の事件手帖』is a perfect light novel: this book was highly entertaining, enjoyable and pleasant to read.

I highly recommend this book to Japanese learners. The Japanese level is not high, there is enough suspense to keep you reading even if you stumble across a difficult part, the plot progresses quickly, no long descriptions or narrative passages, a lot of dialogues, a limited number of characters, and so on. 

Conclusion

As a Japanese learner trying to read novels in Japanese, this book was one of the most pleasant experiences of the year. Of course, I feel rewarded if I can read my way through a challenging book, but being able to forget that I am reading in a foreign language and simply enjoy the story is also extremely rewarding.

I am tempted to read the other books of the series, but there are so many interesting titles on the メディアワークス文庫 site, that I might pick another one next time!

Book Review: 『探偵倶楽部』by Keigo HIGASHINO

There are 5 short detective stories in 『探偵倶楽部』(The Membership Detective Club – たんていくらぶ) by Keigo HIGASHINO (東野圭吾) and I loved every single one of them!

The stories all feature the Membership Detective Club, but the detectives are not the protagonists. The stories mainly focus on the people that are involved or find themselves involved in a murder case. The police is also playing a part in some of the stories, creating a tension between people trying to hide things, police officers who try to solve the case, and the detective agency working in the shadows.

But what is really amazing in these stories is the the complexity of the case. You would think that a detective story of 50-60 pages can only have a straightforward plot because there is no room for plot twists, but Higashino is able to condense a very complex story in a few pages. I have been surprised in every single short story because the end turned out to be very different from what I expected. I always consider myself blessed when I can enjoy a good plot twist in a detective novel, but being offered 5 in a row is a real delight!

Each short story is like a detective novel that would have been squeezed to extract only the essential information surrounding the murder and the investigation. Of course, I enjoy novels where the characters and the setting are well built, where the reader gets involved and where the relationships between the characters evolved and so on. But sometimes, I just want to know who done it and how, I don’t want the author to describe every object of the room, and I cannot wait to read the final revelation. If you feel like that, you should read 『探偵倶楽部』!

To give you an example of how exciting the short stories are, the second short story “罠の中” opens on the discussion of three persons planning the murder of a fourth one. We don’t know the names of the would-be criminals and we don’t know who they intend to murder and how. We only have a little indication. Then we are at a dinner party with ten or so participants. We know that the murder will happen there, but we don’t know who will be involved and how it will be done. That’s exactly the kind of stories I want to read!

Last but not least, a word about the Japanese difficulty of this book. It is not more difficult than other books by Higashino, but I found that there was a lot of names to remember. Especially in the first two short stories where all the persons are introduced almost at the same time. If you like short stories, you could also have a look at the sixth book of the Detective Kaga series called 『嘘をもうひとつだけ』. I remember that it was much easier to read than 『探偵倶楽部』. 

To conclude, I loved this book, and I found it very refreshing to read short stories, even if it is not usually my favourite genre!

My progress in 2018

We are in December, time to look back on the year and see what progress I have made!

2017’s hardcore study vs 2018’s relaxed tempo

I feel that I haven’t worked as hard in 2018 that I did in 2017. When I say “work hard” I mainly mean learning tons of vocabulary and spend a lot of time in grammar books.

In 2017, I took the JLPT N2 twice, in July and in December. It definitely helped me to make progress in Japanese. I worked with the Sou-matome series for the test of July and with the Shin Kanzen series for December. I have learned a lot of grammar, made a lot of exercises, and my Anki literally exploded with N2 words.

While preparing for the JLPT helped me to improve my level, it was also a little too much in the end, and I wanted nothing more than to relax and take advantage of what I had learned to read novels in Japanese.

Even though I had in mind to try N1 in December this year, I gave up the idea because I didn’t feel like going through the JLPT preparation again. 

So while I have continued to study Japanese in 2018, it is nothing compared to last year. As a result, I certainly have progressed less but had more fun in my experience with Japanese.

Reading vs other skills

Reading

My main goal in learning Japanese is to read novels, so I naturally spent more time and effort in improving my reading over other skills. This has been true since I started learning Japanese and it paid off.

This year, I have worked on my reading by practicing a lot rather than by learning new vocabulary or making JLPT style exercises.

For the first time this year, I have read different authors and tackled challenging books (with mixed results, but oh well…). In 2017, I had read mainly Keigo HIGASHINO’s books because he was the only author I knew I could read without struggling.

In 2018, I started a reading challenge for the year and wanted to read one book per month. This is what I have done for some months, but then I certainly started reading faster and I was able to read more than a novel per month. In the end, I read much more than I expected to. I still come across novels that are too difficult to me, but I have undeniably broadened the scope of authors I can read.

Listening, writing and speaking

In spite of my effort, I cannot feel a lot of progress in listening. There are things that I can understand well, like some drama and animation films. But mostly, I still feel lost when I watch a Japanese film without subtitles or listen to a podcast. 

In writing, I feel like I am taking baby steps only. I haven’t written every day during the whole year but I did make some effort in producing at least some lines in Japanese on a regular basis. But to be honest, I feel that the progress I make are so tiny, no one would notice them.

As for speaking, I haven’t put effort in it at all. I don’t have occasion to speak Japanese and I am not trying to create them either. During this whole year, I have spoken Japanese only once. It was last month, during the Seoul Pen Show, to buy an old fountain pen from a Japanese seller of vintage Pilot.

Highlights of the year

If I were to note the turning points of the year, I would select two:

  • First, I started reading the news in Japanese, particularly articles about politics. It also helped me to understand the Japanese political system better and get to know some of the major issues of the moment.
  • Secondly, I have started a new Anki deck and decided to learn the words in a passive way only. That is, I only have one card pro note in the direction [Japanese —> Pronunciation/English]. I have given up my older deck which contained all the N2 words I had added for the JLPT. It is a shame really, but this deck had become overwhelming and I had reached a point when studying Anki would take me more than one hour per day. 

Conclusion

It is strange to think that the year is almost over. I have started and given up a lot of things, but all in all I have stuck to my mission of reading more and to diversify what I was reading.

Looking back on the year is an interesting exercise, you might have studied more or made more progress than you realise. It would be great if we could meet the person we were on January, 1st and compare ourselves to that person! Trying to go back to the beginning of the year and visualising our level and our expectations of the time is a good way to measure our progress. I don’t know if I have changed much during this year, but the Japanese learner inside me has definitely changed a lot! 

Japanese Music: STUTS

Today, I would like to write about STUTS, an artist that I have discovered recently! 

ABS+STUTS

I already mentioned STUTS in a previous post, when I was talking about another Japanese artist: Alfred Beach Sandal. STUTS and Alfred Beach Sandal have made an EP together called “ABS+STUTS”. To be honest, I am completely obsessed with this work and I have listened to nothing else for the past days! 

I was thinking of working on the lyrics, but I always stumble across parts I cannot translate or understand so I got discouraged…

PUSHIN’

STUTS is described as a “track maker”. To be honest, I don’t know what it means exactly, but guess it is something like making the instrumental backing track for other artists? He has been working with various artists and attracted attention with his first album “Pushin'” in 2016. STUTS says that he sees this album as a collection of his best works until then (source). 

In 2017, he released two EP:

  • “ABS+STUTS” featuring Alfred Beach Sandal, which is my favourite album so far. 
  • “ALLSEASON” featuring SIKK-O and Mamiko SUZUKI (鈴木真海子). This is a song from this EP:
EUTOPIA

In September this year (2018), he released his second album “Eutopia”. STUTS explains that, contrary to “Pushin'”, the album “Eutopia” is born from a real intention to create an album. The theme of “eutopia” (a place of ideal well-being) serves as axis for this work. 

In this interview for MIKKI, STUTS explains why he chose the theme “eutopia” (存在し得る完璧な場所) and not “utopia” (存在しない場所):

「そちら (eutopia)のほうが自分の思い描いてるマインドに近いと思ったんです。〈存在しない場所〉を夢見る行為の魅力もわかるのですが、自分はこの作品を作りはじめたとき、どちらかと言うと理想とする場所や状態に行きたいというモードだったので、それを〈存在しない場所〉と言ってしまうのは希望がない感じがすると思ったんですね。

I personally like this album very much, particularly the instrumental tracks! There are 8 instrumental tracks, and 8 tracks featuring other artists. List of the tracks and where to buy on STUTS’ official website.

That’s it! Two days before the JLPT, why not chill out with some good music? 😄