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 

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!)

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.


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:

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? 🙂

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


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. 


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! 

Monthly Review: November 2018

I cannot believe that November is almost over… While I have more or less completed my goals for November, I do not end the month with a feeling of satisfaction. 😕

Let’s see how far I went in my November Goals:

First of all, I completed my reading goals. I did start the novel 『リカーシブル』, but I only read a little less than a third of it so if I want to finish it this year, I will have to read a lot in December.

I read one short story of 『往復書簡』and two of 『探偵倶楽部』, and I think that I will finish both in December without problem.

As for the other goals, let’s say that I have lacked motivation and did my best in spite of it. 

I have written in Japanese only half of the month. I did well during the first two weeks of November, only skipping some days, but then I started skipping more and more days and last week was not a success, to say the least. 

As for Japanese History, I have read around 100 pages of each of the books I bought last month: The Making of Modern History by Marius B. Jansen and Hirohito, and the Making of Modern Japan by Herbert P. Bix.

I find The Making of Modern History to be completely engrossing at times. I particularly enjoyed reading the part on foreign relations in Japan during the Edo period. Jansen shows that Japan was not the “closed country” many people think it was. Its relation with China and Korea was particularly interesting to read. I am now reading the part that describes the status groups in Tokugawa Japan and this is very fascinating too. 

And finally, I did find a drama I want to watch, but I didn’t watch it (I only watched the first episode.) The drama is 『ビブリア古書堂の事件手帖』. There are two reasons why I didn’t watch the whole drama:

  1. I wanted to study the drama instead of just watching it. In other words, I wanted to transcribe it. This exercise helps me improve my listening and my writing of kanji considerably, but it is also a lot of work. This month, I was not motivated to put so much effort in Japanese, and I ended up not studying the drama and not watching it either.
  2. I wanted to read the light novel written by En MIKAMI, which is the original version of the drama adaptation. While I should be working on my listening instead of adding another book to my To Be Read list, I also feel naturally more attracted to books than drama. As I didn’t know if I should read the novel first or watch the drama first, I stopped watching the drama until I could get the book, which I have done last week! (I’ll tell you all about it on Wednesday!)

And that was November! 

My goals for December will be focused on reading because I want to finish the novels and short stories I am currently reading before the end of the year:

What are your plans for the last month of the year? 🙂

Good luck to those who sit the JLPT on Sunday! 

Back to study!!

After two weeks away from Japanese, I now feel the urge to study again!

The last two weeks, I was more interested in other hobbies, and I have left my Japanese studies almost untouched. This break has been a good thing since I now feel a new motivation to learn Japanese. 

So I will start with a one-week challenge to get back on track. I will transcribe a short Japanese text into French every day for seven days. I already started yesterday, and as I was both idle and motivated, I made two transcriptions: 

  • First I worked on an article from Mainichi. It had been weeks and weeks since I opened the Mainichi website…The article I chose was an easy one, about the idol industry in Japan and the lack of regulations, even when minors are involved. 
  • Then I worked on the novel 『こころ』by Soseki that I had also left untouched for a very long period of time. One chapter is only 2-3 pages long, so I transcribed a whole chapter.  Except for one or two (or three) occurrences, I can transcribe it in French with confidence.

I am not exactly translating the text, I am just rewriting it in French, but I don’t care if I am far from the original version or if the result in French sounds strange. The point is only to show that I understood what I read and can explain it in my mother tongue. So I don’t spend time in the translation process and focus on understanding the text and looking up words. 

I know that I will have a lot of time this week so I can complete this challenge. I will either pick a news article or work on two pages of a novel. I might also use Shigesato ITOI’s daily column on ほぼ日刊イトイ新聞. The idea is to use as different materials as possible to work on different writing styles.

I will also work more seriously on my Anki. Yesterday, I revised hundreds of cards using the custom study. I feel that, during these past two weeks, I have hit the “good” or “hard” button even if I didn’t quite recognise the words… just to get rid of it! This is why I wanted to go back to these cards and really try to remember them.

I’m all set for the week! I will be studying Anki seriously and do in-depth work on one text in Japanese per day! 

Taking a break… but not completely!

I have already mentioned it on Friday, but I am not studying at the moment. This does not mean, however, that I am doing nothing in Japanese! I think it is necessary to stay in touch with your target language on a daily basis.

If you don’t want to or cannot study for a long period of time, try to define one or two short and easy activities that you will perform every day no matter what. It might take only 20 or even 10 minutes to do, but at least, you will have worked on your target language on a daily basis.

I try to always keep good feelings attached to my target language, and I don’t want to feel the burden of mandatory homework on it (this is why I prefer to learn on my own than in a classroom.) If I am more interested in other things than learning Japanese, and if I skip my study sessions to practice these other activities, I will inevitably feel guilty. As a result, Japanese will be associated with duty (things to do) and the other activities with fun (things that I want to do). This won’t make me want to come back to my textbooks!

To avoid this trap, I always do something for Japanese every day, so that I can move on to other activities with a light heart and without feeling guilty. I feel that I have fulfilled my study obligations for the day and can engage in other hobbies.

And of course, doing at least one little thing (like Anki) allows you to stay in touch with your target language, instead of making a long, complete break. Spending one or two weeks (or more!) without doing any Japanese is something that I want to avoid at all cost because it is harder to get back on tracks, and I would stop making progress too.

Defining one or two little things to do every day maintains the link with your target language, makes it easier to jump on the train again and guarantees that you are still progressing.

For now, I only do Anki every day, and I write a (very) short text in Japanese around five times per week (I generally skip the weekends.) Sometimes, I do pick up one of my books, but it feels more like a duty than real pleasure at the moment, so I don’t force myself and just stick to these two things. The good thing is that, even if I am not studying, I still hold on to some of my goals for November (writing in Japanese on a daily basis was one of them.)

To conclude: It’s okay to take a break, but don’t lose touch with your target language!

How to start writing in Japanese

One of my goals for November is to write in Japanese every day for a month. I have been thinking about how to write in a foreign language if you don’t have a native to correct you, and I thought that I would write about it today.

If you are like me, writing is not as much difficult than discouraging. You take the grammar and the vocabulary you know, build your sentences, and while you don’t really struggle to write, you end up full of doubts and incertitudes: “what I wrote does not sound Japanese”, “it sounds like an example sentence, but I doubt whether a native would say that”, “is it even correct?”, “why do I keep using the same grammar over and over again?” and so on.

A method to write in English

To begin with, I would like to present a book I find truly inspiring. Originally, it is a book for Japanese who learn English and is called 『Q&A Diary 英語で3行日記』. This book was translated into Korean for Koreans who learn English and this is the version I have and will talk about. Sorry if it is confusing, but the version I have does not matter, as it is the method described in the book that interests me.

(Reference for the Korean version: 하루3줄 영어 일기, ALC 편집부 (지음), 정은희 (옮김), 한빛비즈.)

The purpose of this book is to help you write in English every day for a year. The book has 365 pages of prompts:

This is how the pages look like. The prompts are very varied from “describe how your room looks right now”, to “what is your favourite book?”, “what surprised you the most today” or “what do you hate being asked?”. All in all, I find them inspiring enough.

On the page, you have the prompt in the form of a question, a model in English with its translation in Korean, and some vocabulary related to the theme that you could use for your writing.

In the introduction, the author explains how to use this book depending on your level:

  • Beginners: just copy the text given as an example. Take the opportunity to note down the vocabulary you didn’t know if there is any.
  • Intermediate: use the structure given in the example and change some words and expressions.
  • Advanced: write your own text.

The first image shows how you can just copy the example. The second one highlights the words and expressions that have been changed. The third one shows a completely different text. (sorry for the quality of the pictures)

(Note: If you can find the Japanese version of the book, I guess you could use it to write in Japanese instead of English, using the translation of the example as a starting point? I don’t know if the Japanese translations sound natural in Japanese or if they stay too close to the English.)

How to use this method for Japanese

The first thing to do is to find a text in Japanese that would act as the example given in the book. You could use any material like a book or a textbook. I personally recommend using content that is updated regularly, like a blog written in Japanese. For example, if you follow someone who updates their blog twice a week, you could also decide to write in Japanese these same days. Also, I recommend choosing a blog or anything else that is about one of your passions or sphere of interest.

(I personally use two sources:

  • First, I use the column that Shigesato ITOI writes every day on his site ほぼ日刊イトイ新聞.
  • When I find the column too difficult or I don’t feel inspired by it, I head to the Hobonichi store and read the news written by the team working on the hobonichi techo (it is called “手帳チームNews”). These articles are usually very easy to read and always a source of inspiration to me!

I use these two related contents because I always enjoy reading Shigesato ITOI, I love stationery, I love the hobonichi techo, and I could write about it every day.

More recently, I have discovered the blog 猫な日本語 by author Yumi SHIMIZU. Her blog is updated three times a week, it is about daily life, cats and Japanese.)

The text you found will replace the prompts. The idea is to write about what the text is about.

Then, just apply the method. You can start by just writing down the text as it is. In this case, don’t just copy it word after word, but try to remember the whole sentence so that you can write it down entirely without having to check it halfway. It will help you remember the structures and grammar pattern. While doing this may sound too easy, it has more benefits than you think. You will get familiar with the way that different things are expressed in Japanese, you will gain confidence and you will practice your kanji!

The second step is to re-write the text replacing words by others, then replacing a whole expression, or even a whole sentence. This will bring you to the point where you will do the opposite: you will write your own text and use expressions and words from the original text in your writing.

Another similar method would be to summarise the text, especially if it is long. Here again, start by selecting the most important sentences of the text and write them down. When you gain confidence, you can start linking these key sentences differently, and ultimately, write your own summary of the text.

Things to keep in mind

In any case, try to use in your writing the words, expressions and grammar patterns you find in the original text. This will widen the range of expressions ready at hand, that you can use without even think about it. Even if you copy the text as it is, underline the expressions you find useful and would like to use by your own later.

As I said in the introduction, one of the most discouraging things to me is the feeling that I always use the same vocabulary and grammar, I always say the same things, it seems that I am trapped in a sphere of limited vocabulary and expressions. Finding inspiration in others’ writing is the best way to get out of my sphere and collect, little by little, new ways of expressing myself. It takes time, and it is not easy to measure the progress, but copying natives will increase the number of patterns and words you feel confident in using.


The method described in the book is so flexible that anyone can start writing in a foreign language. No matter what your level is, whether you can or cannot have a correction, nothing stops you from starting right now, by simply copying a text written in your target language!

Monthly Review: October 2018

October has been a month for discovering new paths: I have started studying Japanese history and I have watched my very first Japanese drama.

The two books I had ordered about Japanese History have finally arrived, but before that, I had started reading as many things as possible on the Internet. I am taking notes in a notebook too, which allows me to use the new three Pilot Iroshizuku inks I bought this month (namely, 深海 shin-kai、月夜 tsuki-yo and 松露 syo-ro).

I have finished watching the drama 『シグナル 長期未解決事件捜査班』(シグナル ちょうきみかいけつじけんそうさはん) and this is the first Japanese drama that I watch from start to finish. I am looking for other detective dramas now!

But most importantly, I have achieved my goals for the month, which were:

October goals 2018

It was not a difficult challenge, but it helped me to stay focused and make an effort to finish the books I had started before commencing new ones. I finished『流星の絆』at the beginning of the month, 『未来のミライ』two weeks ago and 『日本語びいき』this weekend (I will write my review on Wednesday).

I wanted to finish these three books because I have realised that I don’t have much time left to complete my 2018 reading challenge. My challenge was to read a book per month in Japanese and I had brought back 13 books from Japan for this purpose.

Now, my goal of reading one book a month is largely completed because I have read much more than 12 books this year, sometimes even reading several books in a single month. However, I still haven’t read all the 13 books of my initial list, and I want to read them all before the end of the year!

As I have given up reading one book of my list (『悪と仮面のルール』 by 中村文則), I still have 3 to read:

  • 『リカーシブル』 (Recursible) by 米澤穂信, a long novel of +500 pages
  • 『往復書簡』 by 湊かなえ, a collection of four short stories, I already read the first one
  • 『探偵倶楽部 (クラブ)』by 東野圭吾, a collection of five short stories, I already read the first one

If I want to finish them all in 2018, I need to start the novel right now and read at least one or two short stories in November, hence my goals for November:

November Goals 2018

I also added some other goals, though “study Japanese History” and “watch a drama” are not very challenging ones! As for writing on a daily basis, I don’t know if I will be able to do it, but I will try. I have been writing in Japanese every day for some months and I was quite positive that it had become a habit, but I have given up at some point. I want to renew with writing, and November seems perfect for it!

So that’s it! What are your goals for November? Only two months left in 2018, let’s make the best of them!

I am studying Japanese History!

Or at least, I will soon!

I have been telling myself for a long time now that I should read about Japanese History in English or French. I have finally got down to looking at History books available in English and selected the one I wanted to read. The book I ordered turned out to be two books and I hope that I can receive them soon!

Selecting a book

I didn’t know what book I should buy, so I started by looking at recommendations on the Internet. I am mostly interested in the 20th Century but also wanted to know what happened before. I was, therefore, looking for a general History from Edo to the present.

It was very difficult to select a book because looking at the different lists of “best books on Japanese History” made me realise that I was in fact interested in all aspects and periods of it and that I needed to read all the books listed.

I finally chose The Making of Modern Japan by Marius B. Jansen, which seems to one of the best introductions to Japanese History.

I could not resist ordering Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan by Herbert P. Bix because it covers the period I am the most interested in.

There are other books that I really want to read but that I keep for later, here is my wish list in order:

  • Embracing Defeat, Japan in the Wake of World War II by John W. Dower
  • The Rising Sun, The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945 by John Toland
  • Bending Adversity, Japan and the Art of Survival by David Pilling
  • Japan’s Longest Day by the Pacific War Research Society
  • The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang

If you have any recommendations of books or films/drama on Japanese History, please don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments!

Shall I focus on language or culture?

Obviously, reading the +900 pages of The Making of Modern Japan will take me time. This means that I will spend less time learning Japanese. It will certainly slow down my progress, but on the other hand, reading about History is the thing that I want to do the most now. I know that I am forgetting all the things I learned for N2, that I should revise my grammar, write in Japanese every day, do more listening practice and so on. But I must admit that I am more interested in learning about Japanese culture and History now, than doing grammar exercises. As I am, after all, learning Japanese for pleasure, I will not restrain myself.

Learning about Japanese History will also feed my motivation and make me want to progress in Japanese to be able to read History books in Japanese too. Lack of motivation or a sudden loss of interest can affect any language learner, I think, especially when you are learning on your own. This is why it is important to welcome any new interest we might have relative to our target language/country/culture. While it will slow down my progress now, because I will devote less time to Japanese itself, it will also strengthen my motivation to learn Japanese further and make the extra effort to reach a good reading level (good enough to read History books in Japanese).

But I will not totally stop learning Japanese of course, I will still be doing Anki and read novels, and I will continue to set myself small weekly focus. However, I am giving up the idea to try N1 in 2019!

Korean resources to learn Japanese: how to download audio files

A discussion I had recently in the comments of this blog made me think I should write more about the Korean publisher Darakwon.

Darakwon publishes a lot of textbooks to learn foreign languages (including Korean as a foreign language), and Japanese is, with English and Chinese, one of the main languages studied in Korea. I think that you can use some of these books if you are learning Japanese and don’t speak Korean.

Why use Korean resources?

Naturally, all these books are written in Korean. However, I think that you can still find some of them useful, even if you don’t read Korean. Not only are these resources of good quality, but it can also be interesting to look at learning materials in other languages. You might find that Korean ones have a different approach than English ones. I am far from being an expert in language learning textbooks, but I am sure that it is a good way to diversify the resources you normally use.

Particularly, I think of two kinds of textbooks that can be used, even if you don’t read Korean.

  • JLPT preparation books. Most Korean books are only a collection of questions. I have used several Korean textbooks to work for the JLPT myself, and they were all drills only. You can think of Korean books for the JLPT as a collection of tests. They are very different from the Japanese So-matome or the Shin Kanzen series that have real lessons. As a consequence, you can navigate the books even if you don’t read Korean and use the drills to add extra practice to your preparation. However, be aware that the explanations are likely to be only in Korean.
  • Conversation books. If your Japanese level has reached a point where you can work on your own to understand a sentence without translation, you could use the many conversation/dialogues books published by Darakwon. You won’t be able to use the translation in Korean, but all you will need to do is to look up words by yourself. I think that these conversation books can be very useful because they come with an audio that you can use to study in different ways (listen to it on the go, make a listen and repeat exercise, etc.)

Apparently, you can buy some of them in the Google Play store as an e-book (searching for “darakwon” should be enough, or you can copy-paste the Korean title of a particular book). I couldn’t find the equivalent on the iBooks store, but I hope it will come in the future.

This being said, even if you don’t buy the e-book, you can listen to the audio tracks of all their textbooks for free directly on their website. This can give you an idea whether or not the book will be useful for you or even provide an additional listening practice in itself. This is particularly true for the conversation books and the JLPT listening books. Personally, I have spent a lot of time just listening to JLPT listening tracks, without answering the questions, just to practice listening before the test.

How to access the audio files?

To access the files on their website, you need to log in if you are using a computer. Creating an account requires (at least now) a Korean phone number. Once logged in, you will have to download and install security programs on your computer, and the whole thing will be in Korean so it might be confusing.

However, if you access their website via your phone you have the possibility to listen to the tracks directly on the website or to download them via the “Darakwon” app. I know it sounds complicated, but I think it is worth it if you are looking for more listening practice for the JLPT, for example.

If you don’t read Korean, follow these steps!

Step 1: (optional) Install the Darakwon app. This will allow you to download all the tracks you want to listen to and stock them here. It will be much more convenient to listen to the audio on the app than on the website. (name of the app: Darakwon, or in Korean 다락원 스마트 러닝, available on Google Play and the App store)

Step 2: Head to http://www.darakwon.co.kr on your phone and look for materials to learn Japanese. Go to the menu and select Japanese:


You will then be able to select the type of books you want to look at. As I said previously, I think that the JLPT and conversation textbooks are the most useful. I will take the JLPT listening textbook for N5/N4 as an example:


Once you select the category JLPT, you get the list of textbooks:

  • 독해 : reading
  • 한자 : kanji
  • 어휘 : vocabulary
  • 문법 : grammar
  • 청해 : listening


Let’s take a look at the book for the listening section.


You can listen to the audio files online by selecting the purple button. For this particular book, you can also access the script and the answers (I don’t know if it covers all the files or just the final test).


Once you are here, you can either select “all tracks” or select a particular chapter of the book. In our case, the chapters correspond to the different types of questions that appear in the JLPT.

I recommend to use the app Darakwon and download the files via the app. Select “all tracks” if you want to download them all and click on the blue button. If the app is on your phone, it should open it directly.

If you don’t use the app, this is how the online player looks like:


Step 3: Use the app.

When you select the blue button, it should open the Darakwon app and the files will be ready for download:


To download all the files at the same time, select “edit” on the top right, “select all” and then “download”.


Your files will then be accessible via the second icon on the bottom:


You can now listen to the tracks via the application player which is neither excellent nor very bad.



That’s it! Sorry if it is a little confusing, I am not used to writing a “how to”! 😅

If you buy a Darakwon book on Google Play, they tell you to download the mp3 on their website, which can be daunting if you don’t read Korean. This is why I hope this was useful. I particularly think that the JLPT textbooks can provide you with a lot of practice material. If you are looking for new listening material, I also recommend that you take a look at the “conversation” books, I personally find several of them useful, especially the ones that use the same pattern in different contexts.

Korean publishers have a lot of great resources to learn Japanese, but I never really talked about them on my blog because I thought it would be difficult and pricey to order them outside Korea. However, now that I know that some of them are accessible as an e-book via mobile stores, I wonder if I cannot introduce some of them in the future!