Language learning journal: April 2020

This will be a short post because I haven’t been doing much non-bookish things in Japanese during April.

Watched the series『あなたの番です』

I watched the drama 『あなたの番です』and it was such an entertaining crime series!! (official website)

There are 20 main episodes. For lack of time, it took me almost two months to watch the entire series 😅.

I loved everything in the drama, it is an engrossing murder mystery, with room for deduction and sometimes spine-chilling scenes, great characters and good acting. It also remains engaging and suspenseful throughout the 20 episodes. I highly recommend it if you like detective/mystery/crime drama. I haven’t watched many J-dramas, but this one is clearly my favourite.

I rented the drama through my Korean TV subscription, and I did not have access to Japanese subtitles. I am very glad, however, to see that I could follow the whole series without English nor Japanese subtitles, and watching all the episodes was a great listening practice. The only thing that I found difficult was to remember the names of all the characters, but thankfully, the drama often reminds you who is who by displaying the name of a character when they first appear in an episode.

Highly recommended to lovers of crime fiction!

Animal Crossing diary

Animal Crossing remains a good source of daily immersion, and I am still writing my Animal Crossing diary, though not every single time I play. Even though writing a diary using the game is much easier than writing from scratch, I did reach a point when I felt that I was not progressing at all.

In my previous post about the diary, I said that using the dialogues in the game allowed me to overcome the impression that I was always writing the same thing. It is true to some extent, but I must admit that, after some weeks, I had fallen into the trap again: always using the same structures, always using the same grammar, always using the same words…

This is why I asked myself if I could not get inspiration from outside the game. I found exactly what I was looking for: there is an Animal Crossing New Horizons diary on the site dengeki online.

The diary entries are written by different authors, they are short and easy to read, and it is also interesting to read different contributors and different writing styles.

I am using this online diary to improve my own writing and get inspiration in terms of grammatical patterns and expressions. I am also learning some new words, but using this online diary is mostly a way for me to learn how to use what I already know. There are grammar points and structures that I have studied and can understand, but that I would not have thought of using myself.

Sometimes, I just copy one or two structures but still write my own sentences, and sometimes, I copy whole sentences in my own diary, just changing one or two things or adding personal thoughts.

Left is a study notebook where I wrote down the dengeki online text to study it. There was nothing difficult this time, so I just underlined structures and words I would like to use more often. Right is my Animal Crossing diary. I wrote down many sentences without changing much in them but tried to add some personal elements too.

My writing is still at a beginner level (as I said in my previous post, I never really worked on my writing before), but I am confident that using this method will help me to progress!


This is it for the non-bookish things of April!

My monthly challenge for April was (I publish my monthly challenge on my homepage):

And I have completed it! The 5 books I finished in April are:

  • 『私をくいとめて』by Risa Wataya (綿矢りさ)
  • 『ファーストラヴ』by Rio Shimamoto (島本理生)
  • 『錦繍』by Teru Miyamoto (宮本輝)
  • 『ぼくらの七日間戦争』by Osamu Soda (宗田理)
  • 『霧のむこうのふしぎな町』by Sachiko Kashiwaba (柏葉幸子)

Animal Crossing New Horizons diary

Animal Crossing New Horizons is finally available, and I have spent all my free time playing the game since its release date. I was worried that New Horizons would severely take away my study time, so I have spent the whole month of March thinking about ways to integrate the game into my Japanese study routine.

When I played New Leaf, the previous game in the Animal Crossing series, playing in Japanese alone was a good reading practice. My level must have been around N4 at the time, though I cannot remember exactly. I just know that everything in New Leaf was challenging, from what the villagers said to the names of the various items. New Leaf has been a massive immersion in my early days with Japanese, and playing the game every day contributed to my progress in reading.

But with New Horizons, things are different. My reading level is now above the level of the game, even if I do encounter unknown words from time to time. Just playing the game and reading all the dialogues is not really enough to feel that I am making progress thanks to the game, or that my reading level is increasing.

This is why I have decided to use New Horizons to help me improve my writing level. New Leaf was all about reading in Japanese, New Horizons will be about writing. Even though I can read novels in Japanese, I almost never wrote in Japanese in my life. I did make several attempts to practice my writing before, but soon gave up every project I started. As a result, my writing level is very low, I make a lot of mistakes, cannot seem to find what is colloquial, cannot use properly the grammar that I have studied for the JLPT. My active vocabulary is also very limited. To sum it up, I am still a beginner when it comes to writing.

Improving my writing is not really one of my main goals in learning Japanese, but if coupled with playing Animal Crossing, it can be fun! I have started a physical diary to record what happens in the game.

Animal Crossing is perfect to write a diary

For those who don’t know Animal Crossing, it is a very slow paced game, where your character lives a carefree life among talking animals. You are free to organise your fictional life as you please. There is no main story, no main quest, no ultimate goal to achieve.

As such, Animal Crossing is a game that you can play for several years, just enjoying the change of seasons, doing daily chores, talking to other villagers, decorating your house and island, taking part in seasonal events, and so on. There is nothing that the game forces you to do, so you can just open the game from time to time and do whatever you want.

This is why I think that Animal Crossing is perfect to write a diary. First of all, your life in Animal Crossing is like a fictional life, so why not write about it? What you do in the game also depends on you, and different people will end up with very different islands and houses. It is a personal experience worth recording. If I were recording what happens in another role playing game, I would certainly end up just writing down the scenario of the game. But in Animal Crossing, as there is no scenario, you can have your own personal way of playing and tell your own story.

The pace of the game is also very slow, so you don’t feel like you are missing something if you pause the game to write down what just happened. With any other game, I just want to go on with the story, and I don’t think that I would have the patience to write anything down. If a character tells me to go somewhere or triggers a side quest, I just want to see what will happen next. But in Animal Crossing, if one of the villagers compliments me on the fitness tank top I am wearing today, I want to record it in my journal because it made me smile.

Why I always failed in keeping a diary in Japanese before

I cannot tell you how many times I thought of starting or actually started a diary in Japanese… to eventually give up. I am convinced that writing a diary in your target language is one of the best ways to improve in your language. If you start writing very early in your Japanese learning, even if you just write a sentence a day, even if you just write down the sentences you found in your textbook, imagine how comfortable you will be in writing in this language after years of practice.

Unfortunately, I have never been able to write for more than a few days in a row, and all my attempts have failed eventually. There are three main reasons why it never worked:

  • I don’t feel like writing in my diary everyday
  • I don’t know if what I write is correct or not
  • Nothing interesting happened anyway

I am sure that you know what I am talking about… I start writing, but I don’t know if what I write is grammatically correct, if it is colloquial, and in the end, I end up thinking “what’s the point? If I go on like this, I will only get used to making the same mistakes”. It is frustrating to think that what I write might be wrong, or to have the feeling that everything I write sounds like a textbook. It does not sound natural or “Japanese”, it sounds like example sentences of a grammar textbook…

Then, I just don’t know what to write about. Nothing exciting happened, so I end up writing the same things that I wrote yesterday. In the end, all my entries look the same, and I feel like I am always writing the same thing. I also feel that I cannot use all the cool-looking grammatical patterns and words that I have learned. I have studied all the grammar from N5 to N1, but still, I can only use very basic patterns. It is discouraging.

Finally, writing a diary every day is not easy, even in your mother tongue. You need to be consistent and write even if you don’t feel like to. And when the excitement of the very first days is over (when I just bought a new notebook and feel that this time, I will stick with it), I just never feel like writing a diary in Japanese.

Animal Crossing New Horizons diary!

I figured out that writing an Animal Crossing diary solved all these problems.

First of all: writing every day or, at least, regularly becomes very easy! I want to play Animal Crossing everyday, and if I play, I also write in Japanese. I am not sighing “Ah yes, I need to write my diary in Japanese, what a bore…”. I am impatiently waiting for the moment of the day when I will be able to open the game and write what happened in my notebook.

I find it easier to talk about what my fictional character does than to write about my real day. I won’t think that “nothing interesting happened” because I find everything that happens in the game interesting. It is also easier to write about things if they are not too personal.

What happens in Animal Crossing might feel repetitive after some time, but I find that the game leaves a lot of space to imagination too. I feel that the more I write, the more fictional my diary will become, because I like filling the blank with stories or speculate on what the other villagers are saying to each other when I am not here, how their relationships evolve. For example, I saw two villagers singing together the other day. I won’t just write that they were singing side by side, but that they somehow became friends, that they may have a common passion in singing, or try to recall the other occurrences when I saw them together. This is just an example to say that there is plenty of things to write about, even if nothing much happens in the game.

And finally, writing an Animal Crossing diary is also easier for language learners. If you don’t feel confident in writing, like me, and feels that everything you write is wrong or sounds unnatural, it will be much easier to write from a game than to write from scratch.

The game will provide you with all the words you need to start writing. Let’s say that you don’t know how to say “watering can” in Japanese, it would be a chore to look up the word if you were writing a real diary. But the word “watering can” is sure to appear in the game when you use it. This makes writing much easier.

Also, you can use the dialogues to help you write longer sentences. If a villager says something, you can write that same sentence just adding something like “Tom Nook told me…”. Writing in this manner will be very satisfying. First of all, you know that what you wrote is correct in Japanese, because you took it from the game (You just need to be aware that some characters have their own way of speaking, and they all use different level of speech, from very polite to very casual). Also, if you write down what other characters say, or if you just use their dialogues as inspiration, you will use words or grammar that you are not familiar with.

I personally feels an immense sense of reward whenever I use new words. For example, one of the things you do in the game is to collect materials 材料・ざいりょう. This is a word I feel comfortable in using. But when Timmy asked me to collect “materials” to build a store, he used the word 資材・しざい instead. 資材 is used to talk about building materials, or materials for a construction site, which is exactly what we were talking about. I started using the word 資材 instead of 材料 when talking about the store building project. I felt that I had learned something, and that I was using the correct word.

Last but not least, using what characters say as basis to write your diary allows you to write a lot, which also feels extremely gratifying. Sometimes, I just write down an entire dialogue, because I find it funny or unique. Just writing things down as a quotation may look like cheating (after all, I should be writing my own sentences if I want to progress), but it allows me to fill the pages of my notebook quicker. When I see how much I have written, I feel proud and happy. It is encouraging and I am less tempted to give up if I see that I have already done so much.

One thing is certain: I never wrote that much in Japanese before.

Just having fun

You might ask why I don’t just enjoy the game without trying to be productive through it. I would answer that I actually enjoy the game even more because I am writing this diary. I love Animal Crossing so much that I feel that just playing it is not enough, I want to record everything that happens. I also like pausing the game to write about what a villager did or said, because they look so alive compared to New Leaf. The game is so beautiful, and they have put so many fantastic details in it, that I want to take the time to write about it.

I also love stationery, fountain pens, beautiful notebooks, stickers, washi tapes and “journal with me” videos on YouTube. I think that stationery is my third hobby, after learning Japanese and reading books. Writing the Animal Crossing diary is the combination of three things that make me happy: Japanese, talking animals, stationery.

In the end, I don’t think that my main purpose in writing this diary is to improve my Japanese as I said in the introduction. I am just having fun, and I found a personal way of enjoying the game even more.


Writing a diary in Japanese has always felt like a chore, but writing an Animal Crossing diary feels like the most enjoyable thing I have ever done in Japanese. This shows how important it is to associate language learning with something that you are passionate about! I have been playing the game for more than 10 days now, and I am diligently writing my New Horizons diary too.

If you are worried that playing Animal Crossing will take away some of your precious study time, I hope that this post can inspire you to start a journal of your own (either in Japanese, or any language available in the game)! And if you are not into stationery or writing by hand, you can also start a blog to write a digital diary, or just write short diary entries on Twitter.

(I am using the new block patterns from WordPress, I hope it displays as it should:)

I like to decorate my diary with stickers and washi tape, but I don’t always have the time to do it. Some pages are only text, and some pages are more elaborated like this one.

I find that taking the time to make my diary looks pretty makes me want to come back to it, open it and write in it. I am less tempted to give up.

For now, I don’t re-read what I have written, but I hope that, when I finish this notebook, I will be able to re-read my first entries and realise that I have made progress and that my writing has improved.

I also use a separate booklet where I write new words I learned through the game, their definition and the sentence in which their appeared.

Language learning journal: watching 『わたし、定時で帰ります』

In February, I haven’t done much to study Japanese apart from watching the TBS drama: わたし、定時で帰ります.

Poster of the TBS drama わたし、定時で帰ります.
Directed by Fuminori Kaneko 金子文紀 with actress Yuriko Yoshitaka 吉高 由里子 playing the protagonist Yui Higashiyama.

I keep saying to myself that I should watch films, drama and anime in Japanese to improve my listening, but I rarely find or have access to something I really want to watch. I often start drama and give up halfway through the first episode because I cannot get into it.

『わたし、定時で帰ります』by Kaeruko Akeno (朱野帰子)

However, I loved 『わたし、定時で帰ります』, partly because I love drama about workplace or work culture, and partly because I had already read the book written by Kaeruko Akeno (朱野帰子) and felt an immediate sympathy for the characters.

人は何のために働くのか (Yui)

I highly recommend this drama because it is fun to watch, it delivers a positive message and tackles several problems related to the working life in Japan. Even if you don’t work in Japan, it is easy to identify with the characters and relate to the situations described: the fear of losing one’s place after a maternity leave, the frustrations that new employees face, the courage it takes to leave before the others. You really don’t need to work in Japan to have experienced the fears and anxiety of the characters.

With all these topics, the drama could have been depressing, but it is definitely not. It is a comedy, with emotional passages, a lot of positive energy and an optimistic view of each situation. I am impressed by the capacity of the drama to address serious topics in a good-humoured way without sacrificing the core of its message.

What I loved the most is how the drama shows everyone’s motives and fears. The characters that seem detestable in the beginning all have their reasons for acting like they do. While our protagonist Yui has decided to always leave work at 6, the drama does not condemn those who don’t or those who work extra long hours. Rather than saying who is right and who is wrong, the drama shows that all the characters have a reason for acting like they do, and that is often because they feel insecure.

「やりたいことって別に大きな夢とか目標じゃなくても、自分が楽しめることだったら何だっていいじゃないかな」 (Yui)

I watched the drama without subtitles (I did not have access to it). I was surprised to see that I could follow what the characters said even without subtitles. I have watched the first 6 episodes (out of 10) twice to make sure that I understood as much as I could. The first time, I would watch to enjoy the story, without thinking too much about the Japanese. Then I would re-watch the episode and try to understand as much as I could, sometimes listening to a passage several times.

Halfway through the drama, however, I got tired of this exercise and just wanted to move on in the story. So I ended up watching the last 4 episodes only once, and I did have difficulties understanding all the work-related discussions and meetings of these last episodes…


I didn’t realise how exhausting a whole year of JLPT preparation could be. Since 2020 started, I have never felt like opening a textbook or actively studying something. For now, I am satisfied with reading books and watching drama!

If you know other workplace drama in Japanese, please let me know!

Other work-related resources for Japanese learners:

Poster of the anime アグレッシブ烈子

The anime Aggretsuko (アグレッシブ烈子) on Netflix is funny, cute and extremely relatable. The Japanese is easy to understand and the anime is perfect for Japanese learners.

The light novel 『ちょっと今から仕事やめてくる』by Emi Kitagawa 北川 恵海 is easy to read and perfect for intermediate learners. If, of all the characters who apppear in わたし、定時で帰ります, the one you felt the closest to is Shu Taneda, then this novel is for you! 

Reading young adult nonfiction books

It is hard to think that January is already over when I am still thinking about what I will do in 2020… I spent most of January reading, and this month’s post will be exclusively about young adult nonfiction!

The collection Chikuma Primer Shinsho (ちくまプリマー新書) from the publisher Chikuma Shobo (筑摩書房) is a collection of nonfiction books written for young readers. The books cover a wide range of topics, are short and easy to understand.

The collection was recommended to me on Twitter when I talked about my reading goals for 2020. These books are easier to read than adult nonfiction, and you can choose a topic that interests you to build target vocabulary, so they are perfect for Japanese learners.

I chose two books from this collection:

What I haven’t figured out is whether the books are classified by level. Of the two books I have read, one was extremely easy to read and the other one was rather difficult. I could not find any level indication on the books themselves. It is obvious that some books target a specific audience when the terms “for middle school students” or “for high school students” appear in the title, but apart from this, it is hard to tell the level. If you are interested in this collection, I recommend to choose your topics carefully, read the summary and look at the table of contents to try to evaluate the level of the book.

These are my thoughts about the two books I have read (I will not write separated book reviews for them):

『アイドルになりたい』by Akio Nakamori 中森明夫

I know close to nothing about the world of Japanese idols, but I am, if not interested in, at least curious about this aspect of Japanese culture. This title really caught my eye, and I thought that it would be very interesting to read what is said to young Japanese girls who want to become idols.

More than giving concrete advice or steps to pass an audition, the author talks about the kind of mindset that is required to become an idol. Some passages were very interesting and I learned a lot about Japanese idols through them. For example, the author explains that the most important thing to become an idol is not to be pretty, to dance well or to sing well, but to have the capacity to be loved by fans.

The author also gives a realistic overview of what it means to become an idol. For example, he insists on the fact that being an idol is a job, that idols are employees inside the entertainment industry, linked to a company by a working contract:

夢をつかむということは、つまり、夢を仕事にするということなんだ。p. 37

きみが「アイドルになる」ということは、「芸能界の一員として働く」ということなんだ。p. 38

He also says that idols have to work with people they don’t necessarily like, colleagues or fans. He also insists on the importance and the nature of the relationship between idols and fans:

芸能人ってのは、すべての人たちに対して身をさらしている客商売なんだ。嫌いな人は相手にしないってわけにはいかない。p. 50

アイドルのファンには、孤独な男性がたくさんいる。恋人がいない。友達がいない。今まで恋愛経験がまったくない。そりゃ、さみしいよね。そうして、こう考える。この世にたった一人でいい。自分のために、自分の目の前で、本物の笑顔を見せてくれる女の子がいたら…。その女の子のためなら、何だってできる。それがアイドルとファンの関係なんだ。きみは本物の笑顔を見せなければならない。アイドルになるために。それが、きみの…仕事なんだ。p. 52

ファンの多くは、アイドルを疑似恋愛の対象として見る。だからCDをたくさん買ったり、サイン会や握手会へかけつけたりして、お金を払う。そういうビジネスだ。p. 143

The author shows what is really required of idols instead of focusing on the shiny parts. He encourages his readers in their dream, but he does not try to make it look attractive. On the contrary, he wants to be sure that those who choose this path know exactly what lies before them. But nonetheless, after showing all the negatives aspect of the job, he fervently encourages his readers to become idols, and sends a passionate and ardent message to promote and spread this aspect of Japanese contemporary culture…

All in all, the book has interesting parts, and I have learned a lot about Japanese idols thanks to it. But as the author both states plainly the downside of the job and encourages his young readers to become idols, I couldn’t help but finding the book somewhat disturbing.

『アイドルになりたい』 was extremely easy to read. The author is obviously targeting a very young audience, he talks directly to his readers, and there is a line break after (almost) every sentence! This kind of writing is perfect for intermediate learners who want to start reading in Japanese. I am not particularly telling you to read this one book (unless the topic interests you), but the collection is certainly worth checking out if you are looking for easy reads.

『ある若き死刑囚の生涯』by Otohiko Kaga 加賀乙彦

This book is about Yoshiki Sumitama (純多摩良樹). Yoshiki Sumitama is responsible for the train explosion that killed one person and wounded 14 on the Yokosuka line in 1968 (横須賀線電車爆破事件). Arrested and trialled, Yoshiki Sumitama was sentenced to death in 1971 and executed in 1975. In prison, he wrote poems that have been published in an anthology in 1995.

『ある若き死刑囚の生涯』 is an “autobiography” that focuses on Yoshiki Sumitama’s life in prison, but it is written by Otohiko Kaga, not by Yoshiki Sumitama. Otohiko Kaga is an author who participated in the publication of Sumitama’s poems, visited him in prison and exchanged letters with him. He says that he wrote this book using the letters, the poems and several notes, but it is not clear how much of the text comes from Yoshiki Sumitama himself and how much was created by Otohiko Kaga. The book is written like an autobiography, using the first person pronoun, and even though it is written using genuine documents by Sumitama, I felt like I was reading a work of fiction or a fake autobiography, and that annoyed me.

I was a little disappointed in this book. I was interested in the daily life of death row inmates in Japan. I thought that I would learn concrete facts in this book, but it rarely describes the surroundings of Sumitama. The book is massively centered on Sumitama’s inner life, his poems, and his conversion to Christianity.

The book almost never talks about details of Sumitama’s daily life in prison, about the guards or other inmates. For example, he mentions at some point that another inmate has been executed. While this is surely an upsetting event for death row inmates, it is mentioned only briefly and Sumitama seems very detached. As a result, reading this book didn’t feel like reading an autobiography written on death row.

If you are interested in Sumitama himself and his poetry, this book is great. But for someone who wanted to know more about life in Japanese prisons in the 1970s, this was not the book to read.

Surprisingly, 『ある若き死刑囚の生涯』was rather difficult to read in Japanese, especially if we compare it to 『アイドルになりたい』. This is why I am surprised to see that the books are not classified by level because those two are extremely different.


If you are looking for easy books in Japanese, I recommend that you browse the collection. I will certainly read other titles in the future, so if I find an interesting one that is easy to read, I will let you know!

Reading challenge for 2020!

Happy New Year!!

It’s finally this exciting time of the year when we can set our new resolutions and goals. I don’t have concrete language goals for 2020, but I do have a reading challenge!

My reading challenge for 2018 and 2019 has simply been a list of titles that I wanted to read during the year. I had a list of 13 books in 2018 and 23 books in 2019.

I wanted to do something a little more exciting and also more flexible for 2020. Instead of having a list of titles, I will have several small reading challenges to complete! I am very excited about this.

Read more non-fiction

I have been wanting to read more non-fiction in Japanese for a long time, but I have never got down to doing it. The problem is that I never took the time to make a proper search to look for topics that interest me. I sometimes look at the list of best-selling books, but they are often self-development and business, which is not what interests me the most.

I will certainly spend some time browsing titles on Amazon! I am interested in books on workplace/work culture and social problems in general. I also want to tackle more difficult topics like death penalty in Japan. I would also very much like to read a book on the Pacific War written by a Japanese author. It will certainly be extremely challenging, but if I focus on that in 2020, it might be possible. Finally, I would like to read a book on South Korea and the relationship between the two countries.

These are just some ideas that I have now, and I may change my mind in the course of the year. In any case: 5 nonfiction books in 2020!

Go on with the Kaga series!

The Detective Kaga series by Keigo HIGASHINO has a special place in my heart. First of all, I love the series and I love Detective Kyoichiro KAGA, I think that he might be my favourite fictional detective of all time. Secondly, the first novel I read in Japanese is the first book of the series, so to me, these books are not only great detective novels, but they are also deeply connected to my learning Japanese journey.

I have read the first 8 books of Detective Kaga’s investigations. It is now time to catch up with the series and read the two remaining titles.

Read literary fiction!

Another one of my long-time goals: read more literary fiction. I guess that by “literary fiction” I mean books that don’t focus on the plot only, have complex and realistic characters, eventually deal with moral or social issues and are “well written”…? It is convenient to use the term “literary fiction” though it is sometimes difficult to say whether a book falls in this category or not, and many books of genre fiction have these characteristics too.

I was wondering how I would pick my books when I thought it would be nice to read winners of literary awards. I will certainly choose among the recent winners of the Akutagawa Prize. I have read 『コンビニ人間』by Sayaka MURATA (村田沙耶香), and though it was difficult to read, it was not impossible either. On the other hand, I have also tried to read Naoki MATAYOSHI’s (又吉 直樹) 『火花』and this was just way too difficult…

Open up to new genres!

I also intend to read more genre fiction in 2021 and want to discover other genres that are not crime or detective fiction. (I will obviously continue to read crime fiction, but I don’t need to include that in my challenge.)

I am thinking particularly of romance and historical fiction, though the latter might be too difficult to read in Japanese… I might also try some speculative fiction if I find something interesting.

Read Haruki MURAKAMI in Japanese

This is something that I want to do for a long time: determine whether I like Haruki MURAKAMI or not by reading his books in Japanese. I have read one or two books by Haruki MURAKAMI in their French translation, and to be honest, I never understood what made his books so special. It is not that I disliked them entirely, I remember that I found some short stories very interesting, but I could not see why he was so popular.

Now that I can read in Japanese, I want to try to read his texts directly, and maybe understand why so many readers love his books. I am not at all blaming the French translation, but I think that reading in translation did have an impact on my reading experience. For example, I have read one or two books by Keigo HIGASHINO in their French translation before learning Japanese, and while I found them interesting and very different to the detective/crime fiction I was used to reading, I haven’t become the avid reader of Higashino I am now.


Every year I tell myself that I want to read more of this and that but rarely get down to doing it. I guess that my goals are always too vague, and I tend to forget them as the year goes on.

I am sure that setting smaller and more concrete goals with numbers and boxes will help me to complete them. I will update the cards (add titles and check those boxes) as I progress and incorporate them into my book reviews whenever I finish a book that was part of a challenge.

I also thought of other challenges like “finish this book” or “read the books I purchased and never read”, but I thought that this would feel like chores, and I wanted to keep my reading challenges for 2020 exciting and fun. So I picked only things that I want to do, not that I feel that I have to do.

There is a book though, that I really would like to finish next year:

This book is 500 pages long and I have reached page 149, this means that I am nearing the end of the chapter 日清戦争. I read it very slowly, checking facts and names on Wikipedia, looking up words, taking notes… This is my extra challenge for 2020, but I won’t be distressed if I cannot complete it.

Do you have a reading challenge for 2020 (Japanese or other)? I know a lot of people set themselves a number of books they want to read during the year. My secret goal is to read 30 books in Japanese in 2020, but it might be unrealistic, especially if I tackle challenging books 😅 What is yours?

I wish you the best for 2020!

Read in 2019: 27 Japanese books!

Now that we are saying goodbye to 2019, it’s time to look back on all the books I have read since January. Most of them come from my reading challenge for 2019. I have read a total of 27 books, which is an absolute record for me! However, I feel that my readings were more diversified in 2018, and even though I read more this year, I mainly chose mysteries and detective novels.

My 3 favourite books this year!

My favourite book is without a doubt 『新参者』by Keigo HIGASHINO. He is my favourite author of genre fiction, so it is no surprise that his books always figure among my favourites. However 『新参者』 is special. I could have spent the whole year following detective Kyoichiro KAGA as he solves mysteries in his new neighbourhood. It is a great detective novel with an exciting investigation, but it is also a novel about the people who detain a key to the mystery, their family and their secrets. I highly recommend it!

Next, we have『天啓の殺意』by Sin NAKAMACHI. This book does not have outstanding reviews on Amazon, but I loved this mystery/crime novel. First of all, it is a good murder story with an engrossing investigation, but what I loved most of all is how the author plays with his reader and intentionally misleads us.

Finally, I have to bring 『わたし、定時で帰ります』by Kaeruko AKENO to the top three. I like office/work-related stories because Japanese working habits are so difficult to understand to me that I am eager to hear more about it. This novel is a little on the “light” side, especially towards the end, which annoyed me a little because I prefer reading more realistic novels, but the energy, the optimism and the good-humoured tone of the story made it an enjoyable read.

My 3 favourite characters

Without a doubt, my favourite character is Kyoichiro KAGA… the problem is that, although I only read one book by Keigo HIGASHINO this year, I could include it in every list that starts with “my favourite…”. So let’s pick 3 characters that I have “met” for the first time this year:

Yasuhiko MUKOUDA, the barber of the little town Tomazawa who appears in 『向田理髪店』by Hideo OKUDA. In fact, I should include all the other characters of the book because all the inhabitants of Tomazawa have warmed my heart and made me smile. The stories in 『向田理髪店』 are about people, their hopes, disillusions and dreams, even the brief ones. I loved it, it is a warm-hearting read. Highly recommended!

The reason why I loved Sadato SAKATA, the protagonist of 『検事の本懐』by Yuko YUZUKI, is because he shares similarities with Kyoichiro KAGA… Of course, he is a different character, but still some depictions of his personality, the way he works and thinks reminded me of Higashino’s famous detective… Sadato SAKATA is a public prosecutor, he does not say much about himself or his past, he is diligent in his work but follows what he thinks is right, which is sometimes in conflict with the system or his hierarchy. I want to read more books of the Sadato SAKATA series to get to know the character better.

Finally, I loved the character of Saburo SUGIMURA from the novel 『誰か』by Miyuki MIYABE. This novel is the first book of a series featuring Saburo SUGIMURA. 『誰か』is not one of my favourite novels, it is slow-paced, the mystery in it is not that gripping, and it took me quite some time to finish it. What made me continue reading it is the protagonist. He is a just an ordinary nice person who wants to do things right, it is easy to feel close to him, and I will certainly read other books of the series in the future.

Best Mysteries: 3 books I couldn’t put down

Obviously, I loved『新参者』and it was so engrossing that I was able to read it on a plane. This was the first time in my life that I was able to read a book on a plane (I usually feel so anxious that I can hardly concentrate on a film, even less so a book). But『新参者』was so good I managed to put my fears aside and read for most of the flight.

But let’s pick three other books:

The two books by Sin NAKAMACHI were unputdownable. I found that 『天啓の殺意』was more engrossing than 『模倣の殺意』, but if you like one, you will also like the other. They are similar in two ways. First, they both challenge the reader by trying (successfully in my case) to deceive you. Another similarity is the topics chosen. In both, a writer is involved and we get to know a little about the publishing world. Some sceneries (like the hot-spring baths hotel) are also featured in both novels. These are exactly the kind of detective novels that I like.

I read 『殺人鬼にまつわる備忘録』by Yasumi KOBAYASHI very recently, and it was a real page-turner! The protagonist suffers from anterograde amnesia and has to face a murderer who can add fake memories to people’s mind. This confrontation leads to interesting thoughts about how our memory works, but it is more a psycho-thriller than a book on memory or a serious depiction of amnesia.

Other books that were engrossing and had the qualities of a page-turner are:

  • 『ガーディアン』by Gaku YAKUMARU
  • 『誓約』by Gaku YAKUMARU
  • 『ジャッジメント』by Yuka KOBAYASHI (short stories)

Books with interesting topics

Here are some books that I loved because they had interesting topics, addressed social problems or simply gave me things to think about.

Non-mystery books

The book with the most interesting topic to me is 『わたし、定時で帰ります』by Kaeruko AKENO. If you are interested in Japanese work culture, this one is a great choice because it is highly entertaining and does not contain a lot of difficult, work-related discussions.

The two following books are different in their themes and tone, but they have a similar structure: through different stories, we follow the daily life, struggles and hopes of several characters. They all live in the same neighbourhood or town and have learned to help each other because nobody else will.

In 『下町やぶさか診療所』by Yo IKENAGA, we follow a local doctor, his patients and friends. The doctor’s office is a central place where people, often elderly people, come to talk rather than get treatment.

『向田理髪店』by Hideo OKUDA is about the small town of Tomazawa which lost its vitality and youth when the coal mine shut down. Those who remained have seen young people leaving, shops shutting down and facilities degrading. But some of them still keep the hope of seeing their town flourish again. Any novelty is welcomed, gossip is everywhere, small dramas arise, but the inhabitants keep their dreams and are always there when someone needs help.

Mystery and thrillers

『ガーディアン』by Gaku YAKUMARU tackles the problem of school bullying but not in the way you would imagine. It also asks interesting and difficult questions about how far should we go to prevent school bullying.

While it was a little difficult to read, 『切り裂きジャックの告白』by Shichiri NAKAYAMA contains interesting thoughts about organ donations in Japan and brain death (which is apparently controversial). The problem is that these discussions were introduced in the middle of what was supposed to be a suspenseful police investigation to track a serial killer… I found that both the story and the discussions on organ donation were interesting, but they didn’t work well together.

『検事の本懐』by Yuko YUZUKI is a collection of short stories and one in particular really caught my interest. Public prosecutors from different regions are called to Tokyo to investigate a political scandal. From browsing tons of documents to interrogating persons related, the prosecutors found themselves in a whirlpool of unpleasant work and difficult choices. It was depicted in a realistic way and it was exciting to see behind the scenes.

I would not recommend it to everyone because it contains several scenes of physical and psychological tortures, but Tetsuya HONDA’s novel 『ケモノの城』explores the relationship between victim and aggressor and depicts how some people can renounce their liberty and fall under the control of a violent, authoritative figure.

Speculative fiction

Maybe there’s a relation between speculative fiction and a chair? 🤔

Yasumi KOBAYASHI asks an interesting question about our memory in『殺人鬼にまつわる備忘録』: what if someone could insert fake memories inside your head? How far would it affect your behaviour and your beliefs? I found these reflexions fascinating, and it made me want to read more about how our memory works.

In『ジャッジメント』, Yuka KOBAYASHI creates a fictional Japan where the law of retaliation is applied. People who have been injured or relatives to a person who has been murdered have the right to inflict exactly the same treatment to the aggressor: “an eye for an eye”. The book is mostly centred on ethical choices and considerations: will the victims choose to avenge themselves? What will they learn about themselves in the process? How well did they know the one they lost?

Books that I liked but not that much

The followings are books that I liked but not as much as I thought I would. The reason is mainly that these books were not what I expected them to be.

First of all, 『6月31日の同窓会』by Yukiko MARI had a promising setting: people receive this mysterious invitation for June 31st and… die? Unfortunately, I found that it lacked a driving energy that would make me want to continue to read. I felt that the characters were passive and that there was no real investigation to solve the mystery.

『誓約』by Gaku YAKUMARU was also not as good as I expected it to be. It is a good thriller, suspenseful, engrossing and so on…. but it was just that. The thing is that this novel was a huge best-seller in South Korea, number 1 in the biggest online and offline bookshops of the country. Well, it is a good thriller, but not very original or inventive, and the end was not really convincing to me.

『父からの手紙』by Kenji KOSUGI was a good book too, but not one of my favourites. The characters and the story are good, but I found that there were a lot of repetitions, especially when the author described how the characters felt. At several times, I had the impression that I had read the same sentence or a very similar one in a previous chapter.

Finally, I think I should bring 『首折り男のための協奏曲』by Kotaro ISAKA to this list. I loved several aspects of this book, but I was disappointed to find out that I was not reading a novel but a collection of short stories. The back cover clearly states that everything will make sense in the end, making you believe that you are reading a novel. While I did enjoy the short stories, I also felt a little let down and frustrated that the promising and exciting beginning of this “novel” led to nothing after all.

Difficult books

Without a doubt, the most difficult book that I have read this year (apart from the ones I gave up on) is『ボクたちはみんな大人になれなっかた』by Moegara. Honestly, I don’t know what kept me reading when I had such a hard time understanding some passages!

Apart from this novel, I haven’t struggled much. I will just list the three books that were more difficult than the others:

『追憶の夜想曲』by Shichiri NAKAYAMA is a legal thriller. I had no problem following the story but there were passages that remained opaque to me. Especially a long discussion at the beginning of the novel. I think that one of the reasons why the beginning was difficult is because I haven’t read the first book of the series and『追憶の夜想曲』, which is the second book, refers to events that happened, I imagine, in the first book.

Same author, same difficulty level: 『切り裂きジャックの告白』by Shichiri NAKAYAMA. Here again, I was able to follow the police investigation but the parts about organ donations and the medical and ethical reflexions related to it were difficult.

Finally, it is hard to recall exactly because I read it in January, but if I remember correctly 『誰か』by Miyuki MIYABE had some challenging passages too.

Easy books

It is very hard to give advice concerning easy books to read in Japanese. If you ask me, I will answer that any book by Keigo HIGASHINO is the easiest one. I do think that his books are easy to read, but there is also the fact that I have read 15 books by now, and I am used to his writing.

Apart from 『おはなし・ねこあつめ』written by Haruka SHIOTSUKI, I haven’t read a book that was obviously easier than the other ones. Neko Atsume is a book for children based on the popular mobile game by Hit-Point. It is a collection of short stories with illustrations. As it is often the case with books for children, Neko Atsume contains vocabulary that Japanese learners might not know, but it has only very few kanji and all have furigana. The illustrations also make it easy to understand what happens.

It might not be the easiest book on this list, but 『継続捜査ゼミ』by Bin KONNO is worth noting because it is mainly based on dialogues. A professor and his students study unsolved crimes of the past and also work on some campus mysteries. In most of the scenes, they will sit in the classroom or a restaurant and discuss the cases. I found this book engrossing, easy to read and unique in its structure.

After that, there are a bunch of mystery novels that all have a similar difficulty level. I could read all of them without looking up words and I don’t recall that they had particularly difficult passages:

  • 『新参者』by Keigo HIGASHINO
  • 『殺人鬼にまつわる備忘録』by Yasumi KOBAYASHI
  • 『天啓の殺意』by Sin NAKAMACHI
  • 『ガーディアン』by Gaku YAKUMARU
  • 『ジャッジメント』by Yuka KOBAYASHI
  • 『模倣の殺意』by Sin NAKAMACHI
  • 『誓約』by Gaku YAKUMARU
  • 『ケモノの城』by Tetsuya HONDA

Entertaining books

I have read several novels that are for entertainment only and don’t really bother to build credible situations, settings and characters. They usually have unrealistic elements every time police procedurals are involved.

Two of these books were similar in setting and very close to the Sherlock Holmes/John Watson duo as depicted by the BBC series “Sherlock”:

Shiki KUZUMI says himself that his book 『推理作家(僕)が探偵と暮らすわけ』is inspired by the BBC series: a detective and a writer move in together and solve crimes together.

『ノッキンオン・ロックドドア』by Yugo AOSAKI is more original because the two characters are both detectives. But you cannot help but see similarities, especially since one of the characters compares himself to Sherlock Holmes and his colleague to John Watson.

By the same author, 『図書館の殺人』was also on the light side. The investigation was very interesting, but it was conducted by a high school student who works together with the police…

Finally, we have 『メゾン・ド・ポリス』by Miaki KATO where a young female police officer works with retired police officers who live together. I liked this book, I found it original and I liked the general atmosphere of it. I wish the cases were more engrossing or suspenseful, but overall, it was a refreshing read.

I have chosen these books mainly because I thought they would be easier to read than the others. This was not always true, however. The books that I mentioned above were as easy or even easier than these “light” novels. I think that the main cause is not the Japanese level, but simply that I find realistic novels more engrossing.

While I did enjoy reading the first three titles, I must also say that I am tired of this kind of detective fiction where solving crime is a game, where detectives have “sparkling eyes” when confronted with a particularly tricky puzzle, or where they are young genius with high deduction skills, often eccentric, childish or unpleasant. In these stories, the plot is mainly centred on solving the crime, and little is said about how this tragedy affects people. I think that I will take a break from this kind of fiction next year.

Nonfiction books

I wanted to read more nonfiction in 2019, but I have not. I read a self-development book 『学びを結果に変えるアウトプット大全』by Shion KABASAWA which I liked. It stresses the importance of output in your learning process, and this is something that I really need to integrate more in my studies. I realise now that I do remember quite well what the books I have read this year are about, and how I felt when I read them. I am sure that is because I wrote a book review for each of them.

2019 has been a year of tensions between Japan and South Korea, and I wanted to know more about anti-Korean sentiment in Japan. I chose the best-seller 『今こそ、韓国に謝ろう』by Naoki HYAKUTA, and I was shocked to see that 1- such books are being published and that 2- it was a huge success. The whole purpose of the book is to belittle Korea, assert the superiority of Japan over its neighbour and mock Korean culture. It only addresses the questions of forced labourers or comfort women in a very dishonest way and focuses mainly on justifying the annexation of Korea, using outdated colonialist arguments. This book only stimulates anti-Korean sentiment among its readers and more generally, encourages racism.


And that’s all the books I have read in Japanese in 2019!

I wish that I had read more widely instead of restricting myself to mysteries, thrillers and detective novels. But 2019 was the year of the JLPT N1, and I needed my readings to be easy and relaxed. For 2020, I will focus my energy on reading more genres and nonfiction. I want to read not only more difficult books but also more different books and widen the range of books I can read in Japanese.

Happy New Year’s Eve!

Language Learning diary: December 2019

We are December 1st, so I am sitting the JLPT right now! But I wrote this post in advance and scheduled it so I will give you my impressions about the JLPT in my next JLPT Journal entry on the 15th!

This post will be only about books:

  • The books that I gave up on this year
  • New books from Japan!
  • Just finished and currently reading

At the end of December, I will also write about the books I have read in 2019, and I will set my new reading challenges for 2020 in my next language learning diary post on January 1st!

Books I give up on (for now)

I thought it would be the most interesting book of my challenge, so I am very sad to admit that I gave up on it… This is the novel 『小説王』by Kazumasa HAYAMI (早見和真).

I have reached page 254 (out of 365)… I certainly could have made an effort and finish it, but the thing is that I did not enjoy reading it, and it felt like a chore.

The book is about a writer, Toyotaka YOSHIDA, who made a brilliant debut but whose books don’t sell anymore, and an editor, Shuntaro KOYANAGI, who works in the small and marginal literature department of Kagurasha publishers. Toyotaka and Shuntaro were classmates at school, and they meet again as adults. Shuntaro believes in Toyotaka’s potential and wants to work with him.

First of all, I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the Japanese publishing industry. I have learned a lot of things through Shuntaro’s character and job. I had no idea, for example, how much the editor can participate in the creation process of the novel, and how difficult this job can be. I found that parts focusing on Shuntaro were very interesting but sometimes also depressing. We tend to take for granted that bookshops are filled with new publications every month, but publishing is not as easy as it sounds and this novel shows the frustrations, obstacles and hard work that lie behind. I always considered that writing a book was difficult, not publishing it, but this novel showed me what really happens behind the scenes.

The main reason why I gave up on this book is, no surprise, the level difficulty. I found this book difficult to read in Japanese, especially the dialogues. I usually consider dialogues to be the easiest part to read in novels (compared to descriptions for example), but in this novel, dialogues were hard to follow. My guess is that the characters use a lot of professional jargon, or simply that the author really gave them a personality through their way of speaking. It certainly adds to the quality of the novel, but it was frustrating to read to me.

Secondly, I didn’t like the character of the writer, Toyotaka. When I don’t feel sympathy for the characters of a novel, I find it very hard to be engaged in their destiny.

I finally decided to give up on this novel for now. I will maybe re-read it later and try to understand the passages that were too difficult today.

There is a drama adaptation of this novel. At some point, I thought that I could watch the drama and then re-read the novel. I watched the first episode but didn’t quite feel engrossed in it so I gave up this too.

Finally, we have these two books from the series “その可能性はすでに考えた” by Magi INOUE.

I am not really giving up on these novels because I haven’t properly started them yet. I have read the beginning of the first one, and I was completely lost. It opens on a dialogue and it was so opaque… Of course, my Japanese level is at fault here, but I was also annoyed about the way it was written. It is hard to describe exactly, but I just couldn’t get into this book (or maybe I was just frustrated by my Japanese level!).

I will keep them for later!

Remaining books from my 2019 reading challenge

I would still have 5 books to read if I wanted to complete my reading challenge of 2019 (I have excluded the 3 above). I am certain that I cannot read 5 books in Japanese in one month time though.

  • 『七色の毒』(Poison of the Seven Colors) by Shichiri NAKAYAMA (中山七里)
  • 『父からの手紙』by Kenji KOSUGI (小杉健治) – just started.
  • 『盤上に死を描く』(The Killing Diagram) by Neko INOUE (井上ねこ)
  • 『コンビニ・ララバイ』by Yo IKENAGA (池永陽) – currently reading.
  • 『赤レンガの御定番』by Shoko MIKI (三木笙子)

New books from Japan!

As mentioned above, I still have several books waiting to be read on my shelf, but I could not resist the temptation to buy new books 🙄

I will write my new reading challenges for 2020 at the beginning of January, but I can already say that I will try to be more diversified and read more genres. When I walk into a bookshop or browse titles on online store, I just grab everything that has “殺人” in its title… and I would like to read other things than crime fiction in 2020. Another goal will be to read more non-fiction. With this in mind, I have chosen my first titles for 2020:

First of all, we have 『マチネの終わりに』by Keiichiro HIRANO (平野啓一郎). This book seems to be everywhere, it is a bestseller on Amazon and has a lot of positive reviews, and there is a film adaptation that came out on November, 1st.

The obi advertises the book as a “long seller romance novel”. I don’t usually read contemporary romance or love stories, so I am very excited to read this one!

I also saw that there is the audio version of this book on It is expensive, but I will maybe buy it to read and listen at the same time.

Then we have 『罪の声』by Takeshi SHIOTA (塩田武士). This looks more like what I am used to reading. Apparently, the author wrote about a real extortion case that took place in the 80s and is still unsolved today: the Glico Morinaga case (グリコ・森永事件). I don’t know if it is written as a fiction or a reportage, but it sounds intriguing. I hope it will not be too difficult to read!

The book I am the most anticipating is 『帰郷』by Jiro ASADA (浅田次郎). It is a collection of short stories on people whose life has been turned upside down by the war. I except it to be difficult to read in Japanese, but it is also exactly the kind of books that I would like to read more. The stories seem to be around 40 pages each, so I will make the effort to study the passages that I don’t understand and look up words.

Finally, I don’t really know what to expect with 『老後の資金がありません』by Miu KAKIYA (垣谷美雨), but it looks interesting! I don’t know if it will be a realistic depiction or more on the light/comic side, but it will be different from what I usually read.

Just finished and currently reading

November has been a great month for mystery fiction. After reading 『天啓の殺意』by Sin NAKAMACHI which I loved (see review here), I finished two other suspenseful mystery books:

Both reviews will come in December! 『首折り男のための協奏曲』by Kotaro ISAKA is a collection of short stories and I found some of them simply brilliant. 『殺人鬼にまつわる備忘録』by Yasumi KOBAYASHI is a psychological thriller and was a real page turner!

I have just started 『父からの手紙』by Kenji KOZUMI. I like it so far, it feels like reading a book by Keigo HIGASHINO.


That’s it for November! I will spend most of December reading and planning 2020. Here are my goals for the end of the year:

Language learning journal: October-November

There is only one month left before the JLPT of December, but I am not really studying for the JLPT…. The only thing I did in October that is more or less JLPT-related is to subscribe to the unlimited plan on Thanks to it, I have listened to a lot of Japanese!

In today’s post you will find:

  • 聴き放題 on I have tried the first free month!
  • Playing Fantasy Life in Japanese… new playthrough.
  • Currently Reading

Trying the plan 聴き放題 on! is a website where you can buy audiobooks in Japanese. It looks like their catalogue is constantly growing, and they do have interesting titles, but if you go there with a title in mind, chances are that you will not find it. If you are not picky however and just want to download an audiobook to listen to Japanese, you will find what you need there. It is also worth noting that they have a lot of self-improvement and business books, but their selection for fiction is much more limited.

On this website, you can buy audiobooks, but you can also subscribe to a plan called 聴き放題. The first month is free, so I have tried it!

This subscription works with the application called オーディオブック. It costs 750 yen per month and allows you to listen to a wide selection of audiobooks. Be aware that you will not have access to the whole catalogue, only a selection of audiobooks is available with this subscription.

The payment is made as an in-app purchase which I find very convenient. It is also easy to stop the subscription in your phone settings.

The pros

If your aim is to listen to as much Japanese as you can, then you will be happy with this subscription: they have a lot of titles available. As I said before, they tend to focus on self-improvement and business books, but you can also find some fiction. There are also several audiobooks of fairy tales.

To me, the greatest advantage is that you can listen to books that you didn’t know existed or that you would not have purchased overwise. I have listened to a lot of audiobooks since I have the plan, and most of them are titles that I would not have bought. For the majority of them, I was only half interested in the content of the book, and I listened to it to improve my comprehension in Japanese. But I also found some gems like『ニュースの大問題!』by Akira IKEGAMI ( 池上彰 ). It is by far the most interesting book I have listened to, and I am almost tempted to buy the physical copy because I cannot understand everything by just listening to it. Another example is 『14歳からのお金の話』by the same author. It is certainly not a book that I would have bought, but I enjoy listening to it. It is also easy to understand and makes a good listening practice.

In the app, it is possible to browse the audiobooks available in the 聴き放題 plan. Go in the search bar but don’t enter any keyword. Select the option 聴き放題のみ and the app will show you all the titles available in the plan:

On the app, you can also have access to selections of interesting titles on the home page. There is also a ranking of the audiobooks available in the plan. I found several interesting titles in there, and the quality (sound, narration…) was always good.

You can download all the audiobooks that you want to listen to in your library:

The player is also very easy to use, there is nothing to complain about. It will automatically start where you last stopped for all the audiobooks of your library, even if you close the app in between.

Lastly, if you have bought audiobooks on the website, they will appear in your library, with the ones of the plan. It is very convenient to be able to listen to all your audiobooks in one place.

The cons

You do have access to a lot of audiobooks, but you can be sure that the hot titles won’t be in there. Bestsellers like 『嫌われる勇気』, 『九十歳。何がめでたい』, 『君たちはどう生きるか』 or 『君の膵臓をたべたい』 are not included in the plan. You might sometimes feel like you are stuck in a second-class catalogue.

Getting this plan does not give any advantage to buy audiobooks. If you wanted to buy an audiobook that is not available through the 聴き放題 plan, you will have to pay the whole price. (They have another subscription plan that gives you advantages when you purchase audiobooks.)

There are podcasts available on the website, but you will have to pay to subscribe to on-going podcasts. You do have access to some free podcasts through the plan but most of them seem to be discontinued.

Is it worth it?

Well it is definitely worth trying the first free month! The best thing is to try for yourself and listen to as much content as you can during this one month to see if it is worth paying 750 yen for it or not. You can also use it during a one-month period when you want to work on your listening skills (this is what I do, to prepare for the JLPT of December).

My conclusion would be that this plan is great if your goal is to listen to Japanese to improve your listening skills. If you are not too picky about what you hear, you will have easy access to hours and hours of spoken Japanese on your phone. If you have a good listening level and are more interested in the content of the books, I recommend downloading the app and browse through the available titles first.

But in any case, it does not hurt to try the free month! My free month ends in the middle of November, and I still don’t know whether I will continue or not. On the one hand, I think that I could save this money to buy audiobooks that I really want to listen to, but on the other hand, this plan allows me to discover and listen to interesting books that I would not have purchased overwise.

Playing Fantasy Life: new playthrough

I have played Fantasy Life in Japanese on my Nintendo 3DS some time ago now, and at the time, it was very tough to understand everything.

What I hate the most in games are the characters who speak only in katakana…

The dialogues were okay most of the time, I could understand what characters said and follow the story, though reading all the dialogues in Japanese was very tiring.

What was overwhelming was to understand and remember the name of items and monsters as much as going through lists of quests that were not all explicit from the title. Games like Fantasy Life also tend to avoid kanji as much as possible and a lot of words appear in hiragana, which makes it even more difficult to read for me.

If you are not familiar with Fantasy Life, it is a super cute RPG where you can choose between 12 different jobs to live your life in the world of Reveria. You are not limited to one speciality though, you are free to pursue all 12 jobs if you want to. You will have to level up in rank in each of these lives by achieving a list or requests.

When I first played Fantasy Life, my Japanese was not very good. As I said, I could understand most of the dialogues, but going through a list of achievements written in Japanese was overwhelming. That was a shame because those who wrote the texts really gave their best to add humour everywhere. Let’s take an example with things that you have to achieve as fisher:

These are things you want to achieve as a fisher, they all refer to fish you have to fish.
  • ご馳走 釣りタイ!: they use the word “sea bream” (タイ) to make a play of words with 釣りたい
  • めでたい宴の立役者: same here with めでたい. The sea bream is the leader of the banquet!
  • 海賊のエンブレム: The “Emblem of the Pirates” happens to be the carp (こい). Is it a pun for “love”?
  • 海で最弱の魚: the weakest fish of the sea is the sardine (イワシ). The kanji for イワシ is 鰯 which contains the component 弱・じゃく that means “weak”.
  • ザコと呼ばないで!: ザコ (雑魚) means small fish that you end up fishing anyway when fishing other bigger fish and that sell for a low price. It can also be used as an insult (meaning a person of low value), which is how it is used in our list.

As you can see, there is a lot going on here! The first time I played, all of this was way beyond me. I would just select each entry and read the description to see what fish (or item or monster) they were referring to. I am not saying that I understand everything today. I didn’t know the word ザコ and I didn’t know the kanji for sardine before writing this post! But it is easier to identify what I don’t understand and look up words if necessary.

What I still find difficult is to absorb a lot of new words at the same time, especially if they are only written in hiragana and katakana. Let’s take a look at this requirement for the tailor.

What I understand is that I have to make 4 pieces of clothing, including a hat, but that’s about it.

  • しおさい (kanji: 潮騒) means “the roar of the sea” or “the sound of the sea waves”. The pieces of clothing are called like that because they are traditional clothes of a coastal city and made with seashells.
  • こしぎぬ (kanji: 腰衣) refers to piece of clothing worn by monks and nuns on the waist. In the game, this item is described as traditional trousers of this coastal city that senior citizens are simply calling こしぎぬ.
  • フレアハット: a flare hat. This might seem obvious to you, but I didn’t know the English word “flare” (to become wider towards the bottom) so…
  • つっかけ (kanji: 突っ掛け): slip-on sandals.

As you can see, playing games in Japanese is a good way to improve your vocabulary!

Currently Reading

I have just finished two books by the same author Yugo AOSAKI 青崎有吾. Both are light, mystery fiction. I liked both, especially 『ノッキンオン・ロックドドア』. The other one, 『図書館の殺人』is the fourth book in the series Tenma URAZOME 裏染天馬, and while it is not necessary to understand the story, I wish I had started with the first book instead of the fourth!

I will probably publish both book reviews on the same day.

I am now reading two books at the same time. 『コンビニ・ララバイ』is the second book I read by You IKENAGA 池永陽 this year. the first one was 『下町やぶさか診療所』 (read my review here). Both books are very similar in structure, and while the stories are different, some patterns are the same.

I also started 『首折り男のための協奏曲』by Kotaro ISAKA 伊坂幸太郎. I thought that I would just start to evaluate the level of difficulty, and I ended up reading 80 pages in a row! It is definitely a page turner!

All these 4 books belong to my Reading Challenge for 2019. We are near the end of the year, and I already know that I will not be able to complete this challenge. I have given up some titles (too difficult), but I hope that I can read at least four more books of the list this year. I will certainly talk more about it in my next post (in this category).


I haven’t studied a lot in October, I spent most of my free time playing Fantasy Life and listening to audiobooks (and most of the time, I did both at the same time). It will certainly go on like that in November, at least as long as I have the subscription for audiobooks.

As for the JLPT, I will just continue to study Anki, but I am not sure if I will add a lot of new words. Same with grammar: I will review the flashcards I made throughout the year, but I won’t be doing anything else (like drills for example). The only thing I must do is to take practice tests. I hope that I can take two before the test!

Language learning journal: September-October

I haven’t updated the section “language learning journal” of my blog for a while… It was mainly because the JLPT took most of my time, but I think it’s time to start again!

Got my N1 certificate!

First of all, I received my JLPT N1 certificate this week! I will take the test in December as well, but to be honest, I am not studying as much as I should, I am especially lazy with vocabulary…

Since I have more or less decided to take the test every year in December, I don’t feel under pressure anymore. Some months ago, I was thinking “this is the last year I take the JLPT, I must give it my all”, but now I don’t feel that it’s “now or never” anymore.


I have Netflix for some time now, and even though I didn’t take the subscription in order to learn Japanese, it is undeniably a good way to practice listening.

I think that the catalogue is different depending on your region. On Netflix Korea, there is a ton of anime, but few films and dramas.

I don’t usually like anime and there are a lot of series that I started but didn’t finish (for some, I didn’t go past the first episode). There are some, however, that I truly enjoyed, the best being Aggretsuko. I love fiction about work, and this anime is just so relatable and so funny. I watched the two seasons and I think that I will watch them again in a more “learn Japanese” approach. I don’t always have Japanese subtitles for Japanese series on Netflix, but they are available for Aggretsuko, so it’s perfect to study.

I also enjoyed watching the drama series Erased. If you are looking for good Japanese TV shows on Netflix, have a look at Kotobites’ recommendations!

Hobonichi: Life の Book

I am a stationery enthusiast and journaling is my second hobby (with Japanese). I have been using a Hobonichi techo (ほぼ日手帳) for two years now. If you don’t know it, the hobonichi is a planner notebook using a very thin paper of high quality. Every year, they release a lot of covers to go with your agenda, and their lineup is a feast for the eyes and a nightmare for the purse.

This year I ordered the guide book (ほぼ日手帳公式ガイドブック) which contains interviews of different people and how they use their hobonichi techo. It’s easy to read in Japanese, it contains a lot of illustrations and it’s interesting for me both as a Japanese learner and as a stationery/journaling fan. I recommend it if you like journaling and if you are looking for some light, interesting reading in Japanese!

By the way, I highly recommend the daily column (今日のダーリン) that Shigesato ITOI writes for the ほぼ日刊イトイ新聞. This is perfect if you are looking for a daily reading practice. If you use the hobonichi app, you can easily access the column on your phone.

Currently reading

As usual, I am reading several books at the same time!

A while ago, I started the project to read the whole Harry Potter series in Japanese. Well, I am progressing very slowly, but I am still at it, as you can see:

I have reached chapter 6 (out of 22) of the Prisoner of Azkaban (finally arrived at Hogwarts!), and it might take me months to finish it because I only read it from time to time, mainly when I want to relax and read something with furigana.

The main novel I am reading at the moment is 追憶の夜想曲 by Shichiri NAKAYAMA (中山七里). It’s a legal thriller (in Japanese, it is called a 法廷ミステリー), and it’s both thrilling and… difficult to read. I am progressing slowly on this one, but legal thriller is definitively a genre I wish to read more.

I am also reading a self development book called Output (The Power of Output: How to Change Learning to Outcome). I saw it mentioned on Twitter and wanted to read it since then. I find the general idea very interesting and the first chapters have motivated me a lot. However, I am a bit struggling to go through all the concrete pieces of advice to better communicate orally with your co-workers (I mean, I don’t think that I need them), but I am almost done with this part, and I can’t wait to start the one on “Writing”.

“嫌韓本”… What?!

I am interested in the relationship between Korea and Japan, and I wanted to know how South Korea is seen in Japan, what Japanese think of Korean demands for apologies and so on. I live in Korea, so every time a dispute breaks up, I mainly see the Korean side of it.

I picked up 今こそ、韓国に謝ろう by Naoki HYAKUTA (百田尚樹) because it is a bestseller on Amazon and has a lot of good reviews. Naoki HYAKUTA is the author of “The Eternal Zero” and is well known for his revisionist positions.

I thought that if this book is a bestseller and has got so many good reviews, it certainly means that a lot of people in Japan share the author’s view. Reading it seemed a good way to progress in my understanding of the complex South Korea/Japan relationships.

So I have read this book and wow, I was so shocked!! When Japanese authors spit in Korea’s face, they are serious about it! I also learned that there is a word to describe this kind of books: 嫌韓本. I am surprised because I know that there are anti-Japanese feelings and movements in Korea, but I didn’t know that there was a similar feeling in Japan.

To sum up this book, let’s say that it has two main purposes:

  • Justifying Japanese annexation of Korea
  • Despising Korea, Korean people and Korean culture

Reading this book gives the reader an acute sense of Japan’s superiority and encourages contempt and disdain toward South Korea.

I don’t know whether I should write a review of it because I feel that I would rather spend my time reading something else. This book is so obviously written in the aim of despising Korea (and assert Japan’s superiority) that it’s not even worth my spending time criticising it.

I also read in Mainichi that TV programs on Korea politics are booming at the moment, especially to mock the recent scandal in the Korean government. I am referring to the article 「嫌韓」あおるテレビよ、これでいいのか クレーム来ないからやりたい放題? (paying access). This article cites journalist Soichiro TAHARA (田原総一朗) who explains why anti-Korean feelings are so strong at the moment:

なぜ『韓国たたき』を喜ぶか。結局、日本人が自信を失っているからなんだ。(…) 日本人もそのコンプレックスで (being economically challenged by China and South Korea)、中韓、特に韓国の悪口を言ったり、強そうな態度を取ったりすると気持ちが良いんだろうね。その裏返しか、『日本スゴイ』みたいな番組が人気だし、テレビだけじゃなくて『嫌韓本』も売れている。情けない現象ですよ、本当に。そんなことしても、何も良いことないのに。

That’s interesting because I would have thought that the “嫌韓” feeling was motivated by Korea and Japan’s shared history. But Soichiro TAHARA gives a more interesting explanation with the loss of confidence (in Japan being economically superior than its neighbours) and need to reassure oneself.

Well, in any case, it’s an interesting issue, and I am glad that my Japanese level allows me to tackle it.

That’s it for this month. This language learning journal is both about what I have been up to in September and what I will continue doing in October so I called it “September-October”… I hope that I can write this kind of post once a month, we’ll see!

Thank you for reading!

Quick Update

Hello everyone! I just wanted to apologize for not posting lately, but I have been sick last week, and I still feel tired now.

I still want to make a quick update of my reading progress, and of course, the JLPT.

I had to take a break in my JLPT preparation last week, but in any case, I don’t expect to be fully prepared for the test of July (my real goal is December). I wish I had time to learn more vocabulary, but oh well… I have written a review of the textbook So-matome Grammar N1, but I still need to work on it a little.

I have finished two novels:

I absolutely loved 『わたし、定時で帰ります』by Kaeruko AKENO (朱野帰子), it provides fascinating insights into the Japanese workplace, shows how hard it is to leave work before your colleagues but also introduces several characters who all have their reasons to work after hours.

『ガーディアン』by Gaku YAKUMARU (薬丸岳) is exactly the kind of genre fiction that I love reading. It is suspenseful, easy to read, and it also relates to school bullying, a topic that interests me. Whenever I read a book like 『ガーディアン』, I remember that reading such books is the reason why I am learning Japanese in the first place and why I am studying Anki every day.

I will write a review of both novels, but I cannot say when I post it…

And lastly, being sick made me want to read 『下町やぶさか診療所』by Yo IKENAGA, one of the books on my reading list for 2019. It is the story of a doctor in Tokyo, Asakusa, and his patients. I have just started it, but I am already fond of the characters.

That’s it! I hope I’ll be back to posting soon! 😉