Book review: 『殺人犯はそこにいる』 by Kiyoshi Shimizu


Title: 『殺人犯はそこにいる』 (さつじんはんはそこにいる) – 隠蔽された北関東連続幼女誘拐殺人事件
Author: Kiyoshi SHIMIZU (清水潔)
Published by 新潮文庫
509 pages

This book is about the North Kanto Serial Young Girl Kidnapping and Murder Case (北関東連続幼女誘拐殺人事件), a serial kidnapping and murder of very young girls between 1976 and 1996. A man named Toshikazu Sugaya (菅家 利和) was arrested in 1991 and convicted for the murder of one of the victims.

Journalist Kiyoshi Shimizu started investigating the Sugaya case in 2007. He helped to prove Sugaya’s innocence, who has been released in 2009. In this book, Kiyoshi Shimizu tells about his four-year long battle to prove a man’s innocence and find the real culprit.

Short Review

This book is a fascinating and horrifying read about a wrongful conviction and the incredible work made by journalist Shimizu to uncover the truth and bring the public’s attention to the case. The book is quite long however, and I found that the narrative flow that made the first half so engrossing tended to lose its strength in the second half, making for a more strenuous read. Still, a great book that I highly recommend if you are interested in this topic.

Long Review

For the most part, I really loved this book and found that it was an excellent work of investigative journalism. Our author is neither a policeman, nor a lawyer, yet he investigated one of the murders, the Ashikaga murder (足利事件), much more thoroughly than the officials of the time ever did. The result is an engrossing true crime report of one of Japan’s most infamous examples of wrongful conviction.

The whole story is both horrifying and frustrating. Even though Sugaya has been released eventually, he still spent 17 years in prison. When evidence of justice miscarriage came to light, little has been done to settle things right, and the investigation was never reopened, leaving the families of victims in considerable despair.

This book, however, is mainly focused on the Ashikaga murder, and does not talk much about the four other kidnappings. This seems obvious if you know the details of the case and the role that the author has played in it, but I knew nothing at all when I started reading this book. This is why I was a little surprised by the content of the book in regard to the subtitle: 隠蔽された北関東連続幼女誘拐殺人事件. In fact, I think that the subtitle is here to underline the importance of treating the five cases as a serial kidnapping and murder case rather than to reflect the content of the book.

So for the most part, the book focuses on one case, and most of the investigative work was to prove Sugaya’s innocence. This was to me the best part of the book. The first half was really engrossing, it read like a work of fiction. The author tells us how he uncovered, one by one, all the intentional imprecisions, mistakes and concealment of facts that were made during the police investigation of the case. Reading about what the officials of the time said and did was truly enraging, and it is hard to believe that all of this really happened.

When it came to finding the real murderer and the aftermath of Sugaya’s release, I found that the book tended to lose the narrative flow that made its first half so addictive. Maybe it is just me, but I found it harder to follow the narration or to place the events in their chronological order. It sometimes felt like the author was jumping from one thing to another. I also found that the author had a tendency to quote a lot rather than paraphrasing or explaining what people had said, which I found sometimes annoying, especially for official reports.

A great part of the process to prove Sugaya’s innocence was DNA testing. While the results and the conclusions were horrifying to read, I also found that the explanations concerning how the testing works were too difficult for me to understand in Japanese. These made for a strenuous read at some points.

Towards the end of the book, a whole chapter is devoted to a totally different case: Michitoshi Kuma (久間 三千年) who has been arrested in 1994 in the Iizuka case (飯塚事件), sentenced to death in 1999 and executed in 2008. The investigation contains obviously false testimony and tampered DNA evidence. I had read about this case before in 『誰も知らない死刑の舞台裏』, but Kiyoshi Shimizu explains things in much more detail and the parallels he makes with the Ashikaga case are interesting.

Overall, I loved this book and it is a must read if you are interested in wrongful convictions and miscarriage of justice in general. However, for a book of that length, I also found that some important parts were missing. The book is mainly about the author’s own investigation and participation in the coverage of the case. I sometimes found that it lacked a more global view on the case. For example, I wish that the author had talked more about the work made by Sugaya’s lawyers and supporters. Similarly, the parts about identifying the real culprit felt strangely light and short (and as far as I am concerned, unconvincing) compared to the rest of the book.

Even though I found overall that the second half of the book does not have the strength of the first half, this book is still a fascinating read that I highly recommend it if you are interested in wrongful convictions.

Book review: 『岩田さん』ed. by Hobo Nikkan Itoi Shinbun


Title: 『岩田さん』(いわたさん)
Edited by Hobo Nikkan Itoi Shinbun (ほぼ日刊イトイ新聞)
Published by ほぼ日ブックス
219 pages

This book is a collection of interviews and talks between Shigesato Itoi and Satoru Iwata. There are also extracts from the series 「社長が訊く」 from the Nintendo website.


I bought this book partly because I was curious to learn more about Satoru Iwata, partly because I admire Shigesato Itoi very much, and partly because of the unanimous praise this book has received since its publication in 2019.

Most chapters are interviews with Satoru Iwata, and they read very easily. There are parts on Iwata’s experience at HAL Laboratory, first as a developer and then as president, when the company was in financial chaos. I found these parts most fascinating.

Also inspiring is Satoru Iwata’s vision of management and leadership, the importance he gives to communication with employees, and how he sees talent and value in others and is always willing to learn from them.


Other parts are of course more focused on Iwata’s contribution and role at Nintendo. His vision and hopes for the game industry were enlightening too. Things that seem obvious today were not some years ago, and introducing gaming consoles in everyone’s house actually required work and creativity. While it seemed natural for me to reach for the Switch controller when I want to relax, television has been the default choice for years. It was funny to learn that Iwata wanted to call controllers リモコン, to encourage people to reach for them as easily as they would reach for the TV remote control.


The book also contains chapters at the end where Shigeru Miyamoto and Shigesato Itoi talk about Satoru Iwata, how they met, how they worked together…

Even if you are not particularly interested in the game industry in general or Nintendo in particular, this book is still a great read. It is not only about leadership and gaming, it is about creativity and pursuing one’s vision, team work and communication. Even I who never reads books by or about CEOs found this one engrossing.

I will end this review on an inspiring quote:

「人が嫌がるかもしれないことや、人が疲れて続けられないようなことを、延々と続けられる人」、それが「天才」だとわたしは思うんです。考えるのをやめないこととか、とにかく延々と突き詰めていくこと。(…) 自分が苦労だと思わずに続けられることで、価値があることを見つけることができた人は、それだけでとてもしあわせだと思います。(p.136)

(These words by Satoru Iwata echo a quote by Shigesato Itoi that I have on my blog’s homepage almost since its creation and that have been my motto for my Japanese learning journey: “The more effort you put into something, the happier it will make you”.)

Book review: 『本を読む人だけが手にするもの』 by Kazuhiro Fujihara


Title: 『本を読む人だけが手にするもの』
Author: Kazuhiro FUJIHARA (藤原和博)
Published by ちくま文庫
296 pages


I will say it plainly: I didn’t like this book. Reading it was a waste of time, the author kept bragging about himself, I haven’t learned anything, and I felt insulted by the author.

“I am such a great person” type of book

The point of the book is to show the importance of reading, I guess… But to be honest, it rather looks like the whole point of the book is to show how great the author is because he reads so many books and achieved so many things and has so many great ideas to improve education.

I haven’t read a lot of self-improvement books in Japanese, but Japanese authors always seem to brag about how many books they read, how many blog posts they write, how many video they upload and so on. I find it annoying, but if the author is creating great content that helps me getting more productive, it’s fine. In this book, the author just boasts about his exploits, but does not do anything for me.

As a blogger myself, I am certainly impressed by authors who upload a blog post every single day, but as a reader, I felt that the author’s reading habits sounded a little too impressive to be true. For example, the author says that when someone talks about or recommends a book in a conversation, he will buy this book the very same day and:


Well… good for you I suppose 🤷‍♀️

Overall, the author talks a lot about personal anecdotes, but it does not bring anything to the book. It just feels like the author wants to talk about himself rather than talk about what reading can bring you.

Nothing new in this book

I agree with a lot of things that the author says about reading. His main points are that reading books can help you forge your own opinion and think by yourself. It also enriches your experience, because we cannot experience everything in our life, and reading brings you the experience of the author.

Well, to me, these points seem obvious. The author presents them like his big discoveries about reading, but I was hoping that we would start from here and develop on these topics. However, there is not much more in the book apart from personal episodes. I haven’t learned anything new.

The author also seems to think that books are the only way to learn about a topic and forge one’s own opinion about it. With so many media accessible today, how can one say that books are the only way to position oneself on a topic? It’s nonsense. The author says that “people who don’t read books” have a reduced vision of topical issues (p.61), and I can’t agree with that 🙅‍♀️


I also found the author to be quite insulting at several occasions. I don’t know why, but the author has decided to oppose books and video games, reading and spending time on your phone. This is so reductive and simplistic. I mean, I read books, and I play video games, and I think that having several hobbies is a good thing. But the author is classifying and ranking hobbies, stating that some are better and some are useless.

In particular, the author seems to profoundly despise people who play games on their phone. I wish that the author had downloaded some mobile games and try them before saying that. Even on mobile, a lot of games are just incredibly entertaining, clever and beautiful.

The author also classifies people into “people who read books” (the good ones obviously) and “people who play games” (the bad lot). He likes to criticise people who play games or spend time on their phone in the subway. I mean, people are tired of their day at work and they chill out with a stupid mobile game, what’s wrong with that? They might be highly successful in their work, they might even be avid readers at other times. Or they might not, and that’s fine, why would you go around judging people?

Oh, but I forgot… the author is capable of reading books on his way home after drinking. Talking about literary fiction:


So yes, if you are playing on your phone in the subway instead of reading literature, I guess you are just not worth it in the author’s mind. I felt directly insulted, because I don’t often read in the subway. Mainly because I don’t skim through my books like the author, I like to get immersed in the story. This is not something I can do in the subway with the constant announcements and people talking around me. So yes, subway=phone to me.


I love reading, and I hate how the author talks about reading books as just a way to get better, to get more productive, to become a successful person and to build a better society. He never talks about reading for pleasure, he never talks about genre fiction. Reading to get better and improve yourself is fine, but reading is also a hobby, and if you read only with another purpose in mind than the book itself, you might be missing something. Overall, I find that the author has a very reductive view of what a book is, what a novel is, what a video game is and what a mobile phone is. There are interesting parts in this book, but the author’s tendency to oppose the (intelligent) people who read books and the (stupid) people who don’t made this book a complete no to me.

I will leave you on a last quote from this author:

ゲームをやっている間はほとんどアタマを使っていない。p.35 🤦‍♀️

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book review: 『ぼくはイエローでホワイトで、ちょっとブルー』by Mikako Brady


Title: 『ぼくはイエローでホワイトで、ちょっとブルー』
Subtitle: The Real British Secondary School Days
Author Mikako Brady (ブレイディみかこ)
Published by 新潮社

『ぼくはイエローでホワイトで、ちょっとブルー』is a nonfiction book published in 2019 (only available in soft cover but bigger format than pocket books). It is divided in 16 short chapters (around 15 pages each).


I bought 『ぼくはイエローでホワイトで、ちょっとブルー』because it had amazing reviews on Amazon, it won prizes for nonfiction, and most of all, because I was interested in (what I thought would be) the main topic of the book.

The author is Japanese, she lives in Brighton with her husband (who is Irish) and talks about the first year of middle school of her son in her book. Her son, who is half Japanese half Irish, is going to a school where the majority of students are coming from white working class families.

When I chose this book, I thought it would be mainly about ethnic identity and racism. I was particularly interested in reading about identity from a Japanese point of view in a European country. I was certainly misled by the title that suggests the book will be about these issues. In fact, the English subtitle is much closer to what the book really is than the Japanese main title. 『ぼくはイエローでホワイトで、ちょっとブルー』is really about the real secondary school days in Brighton.

There are of course anecdotes, thoughts and views on ethnic identity, but it only concerns some chapters. In her book, Mikako Brady talks about a lot of other social topics and issues like gender, adoption, bullying, or homelessness. She also explains many things about the educational system in England, how the school of her son functions, social particularities of the neighborhood, and so on.

As a consequence, I was a little disappointed by the book at first, because it was not what I expected. I also did not feel that I was learning a lot of things in this book, French middle schools are not that different from what Mikako Brady describes, so I was not surprised nor did I learn much about particularities of European school system. In the end, I found that Mikako Brady did raise interesting questions and the book was full of promising thoughts about all kinds of social issues, but she did not develop much on each of them. In other words, on the majority of topics, I did not feel that the book allowed me to push my reflections further, get more material to sustain my opinion or, on the contrary, revise it, nor did it allowed me to learn new things or change my point of view. At some point, I started thinking of this book as a beginner’s guide for people who want to start thinking about social issues, which is totally fine and a great purpose for a book, but it was not what I was looking for.

But in spite of all these things, I was and remained engrossed in this book until the end. Each chapter mixes the author’s thoughts and views on a particular topic with anecdotes involving her son or his classmates. I found this structure to work very well, and the book was very pleasant to read. The chapters being short, it was also possible for me to read them in one reading session.

Also, most of the events are told in such a way that they look like little adventures that mother and son embark on together. Most of the events and anecdotes are not special or particular (maybe they are for Japanese readers, but possibly not if you went to a European school yourself), but the way they are told and linked to broader thoughts on social issues make them exciting. Mikako Brady transforms what could be just a typical middle school year into a wonderful adventure that opens a myriad of doors and through which the author and her son grew together.

This book was not quite what I expected, but I enjoyed reading it very much, to the point where I did not want it to stop. It is not as much about being a half-Japanese teenager in England than being a middle school student, or more precisely, being the mother of a middle school student. The “we’re in this together” vibe and the growing bond between mother and son are heart-warming and the book is worth reading for that alone. Recommended!

You can read free chapters of the book on the publisher’s website.

Reading challenge update:

Book review: 『無人島に生きる十六人』 by Kunihiko Sugawa


Title: 『無人島に生きる十六人』(むじんとうに いきる じゅうろく にん)
Author: Kunihiko Sugawa (須川邦彦) (1880-1949)
Published by 新潮文庫
258 pages

This book was published in 1948. The back cover says that this is the true story (実話) of captain Kurakichi Nakagawa and his 15 men who survived on a deserted island of the Pearl and Hermes Atoll after the grounding of their ship in 1899.

The author, Kunihiko Sugawa, says that he heard the story from Captain Nakagawa himself, in 1903. At the time, Sugawa was an apprentice at 東京高等商売学校 and Nakagawa was his instructor. Sugawa repetedly asked Nakagawa to tell him the story of the deserted island, which he eventually did.

This novel has entered public domain, so you can read it for free on Aozora.


I really cannot say that I enjoyed reading 『無人島に生きる十六人』. I am sure that it is a good book, but it just was not for me. There are mainly two things that annoyed me and prevented me from enjoying the story.

First of all, I cannot believe that this story really happened as it is told. If it weren’t for the 実話 on the back cover, I would have thought that this is a work of pure fiction and certainly enjoyed it more.

When you open the book, you first read a preface written by Kurakichi Nakagawa himself, thanking Sugawa for writing this book. Again, without the 実話 on the back cover, I would have said that this preface looked like a literary trick used by authors to give the impression that the fiction they wrote really happened (this preface does not appear in the Aozora version).

The story begins with the author, Sugawa, using the first-person to explain in which circumstances he met Nakagawa and asked to hear about his story. Then the point of view changes, and the first-person is now used by Nakagawa himself to tell his story:


At the end, we switch back to Sugawa’s perspective:


This obviously looks like a literary trick, the author saying that he heard the story directly from someone involved in it, and it is of course impossible for someone to tell such a long story in one go as is suggested here.

I was disappointed because I thought that I would read a true story, thinking this book might be non fiction. Of course, it is possible that this work of fiction might be inspired by real facts. I made some research to see if there really was a ship called Ryusui maru (龍睡丸) which grounded in Pearl and Hermes Atoll in 1899. I was not convinced by the results. It seems difficult to find information concerning the events that is not related to the book.

This annoyed me a lot, because I would be fine with reading a work of pure fiction, or an account of real events, but it is annoying to not know where we stand. My involvement and the way I read a book will be different if I know that it happened to real persons.

Secondly, I found that the book was very dry. There are a lot of descriptions and explanations of survival measures. I think that this might precisely be why many readers enjoy the book (it is exciting in a way to see how the men organise their life on the island), but to me it was a little overwhelming, especially in Japanese!

What put me off is not as much the large amount of descriptions as the almost complete disappearance of the characters. They have no personality, no emotions, nothing that characterises them. There are almost no dialogues. They hardly differ from one another. There are almost no passages that made me feel interested in the characters, we never get to know them. This made me lose all interest in the novel.

In the end, the characters are just indistinct Japanese sailors who do their job, show heroism, never flinch and work hard even though they are ill, hungry and thirsty. Not a single time is someone being shown as weak or failing. There is even this notion of living a pleasant and joyful life of the deserted island that is really not credible.

I still finished it, and I do think that it is a good novel, but it was clearly not for me. I was interested in the moral and psychological aspect of surviving on a deserted island (a character centered story), but this book focuses on the technical aspect of survival (organisation, constructions, installations…). If you like survival fiction book, it is definitely a title to keep in mind given that it is out of copyright and freely accessible online!

Reading challenge update:

Book Review: 『ハングルへの旅』by Noriko Ibaragi

About the book

Title: 『ハングルへの旅』(はんぐるへのたび)
Author: Noriko Ibaragi 茨木のり子
Published by 朝日文庫

Japanese poet Noriko Ibaragi (1926-2006) learned Korean in 1976, when she was 50 years old. Ten years later, in 1986, she recorded her experience of learning this new language in『ハングルへの旅』.


『ハングルへの旅』p. 85

『ハングルへの旅』is a beautiful story about learning a new language and a new culture. I heartily recommend it to everyone interested in language learning, or everyone learning both Japanese and Korean. As a language learner, I kept smiling at Noriko Ibaragi’s anecdotes, most of them I had experienced myself. And for someone who is interested in the relationships and history between Japan and Korea, seeing Korea through the eyes of Noriko Ibaragi back in the 1970s/80s was fascinating.

I kept finding similarities between Noriko Ibaragi’s experience with language learning and mine. Right from the beginning, I felt an immediate bond with the author. She opens her book talking about the answer she would give when people asked her why she was learning Korean. She says that this question annoyed her because there were all kinds of reasons that would be too long and complicated to explain. In the end, she ended up saying 「隣の国のことばですもの」.

『ハングルへの旅』is full of anecdotes that any language learner can relate to. For example, when visiting a tourist attraction in Korea with a friend, Noriko Ibaragi says that they chose to follow the guided tour in Korean rather than Japanese, even though they could understand only one third of it. Who hasn’t done the same? Reading this book made me realise that, even though learning a language has become much easier today than it was in 1976, the experiences we make as learners have remained the same.

『ハングルへの旅』also allowed me to learn a lot of interesting facts about learning Korean in Japan at the time. I learned for example, that Japanese and ethnic Koreans in Japan would often refer to the Korean language as 朝鮮語, but it sounded pejorative to Koreans, and South Koreans associate 朝鮮 with the North. When NHK launched a Korean class, instead of choosing between 朝鮮語 and 韓国語, they called it ハングル講座.

It was also captivating to read about the ethnic Koreans of second of third generations (在日), who once grown up, would start learning their 母国語 again. I like how Noriko Ibaragi does not talk about her experience only, but includes her classmates, friends and people she met along the way.

Noriko Ibaragi does not shy away from mentioning the two countries’ common past, even noting her own blunder when she complimented a Korean poet who was around her age on her excellent Japanese. She realises too late that this Korean poet belonged to a generation who was forced to learn and use Japanese at school during the Japanese rule of Korea . 「ハッとしたが遅く、自分の迂闊さに恥じ入った。」

She compares some features of Korean with Japanese and talks about her travels to Korea, things that surprised her and the conversations she had with strangers met during her travels. Whenever she talks about the differences between Japanese and Korean culture, language or customs, she always keeps an open heart and finds beauty and appeal in Korean particularities that are different from her country.

You don’t need to know or speak Korean to read this book (she gives a translation and reading for everything written in Korean), but you will find this book even more interesting if you do. There are chapters where Noriko Ibaragi talks about Korean words she finds interesting, Korean pronunciation, what she finds difficult in learning Korean, and so on. I think that these chapters could feel abstract if you are not particularly interested in the Korean language. That being said, 『ハングルへの旅』will remain a fantastic read even if you skip these parts.

Japanese level

I was bracing myself for a difficult book to read in Japanese, but 『ハングルへの旅』was not that challenging. There were some passages that I found difficult, but overall, it was a smooth read. I would say that I found this book more difficult to read than most mystery novels that I have read so far, but it was very engrossing, and constantly coming across things that I could relate to made the reading easier.

This is an extract to give you an idea of the Japanese level and show how the author adds Korean words into her text (what I wrote in brackets was furigana):

かささぎという鳥は「까치 [ッカーチー]」だ。
いつか百貨店 [べっくワジョム] で、小さな木版画を買おうとしてあれこれ見ていたとき、からすとも、かささぎともみえる鳥二羽を指さして、
「까치죠? [ッカーチージョウ](かささぎでしょう?)」
「그래요 [クレヨ](そうです)」
『ハングルへの旅』p. 199

I am sure that this is an experience any language learner can relate to! But if you are also learning Korean, maybe you can sympathise even more with her difficulty to get the 濃音 right…


Amidst all the tensions between the two countries, the 反日 movements in Korea and the 嫌韓 books or articles published in Japan, reading 『ハングルへの旅』was heartwarming. I have read one of those 嫌韓 books last year, out of curiosity, and I was shocked by the way the author constantly mocked or diminished Korea. 『ハングルへの旅』was written in 1986, but it is great book to read today.

Further readings: Noriko Ibaragi talks about Takumi Asagawa (浅川巧), a Japanese who worked in Korea during Japanese rule, and fell in love with Korean culture. He is buried near Seoul. Noriko Ibaragi mentioned that she read the book 『朝鮮の土となった日本人―浅川巧の生涯』(1982) written by Historian Soji Takasaki (高崎宗司). I am interested in the life of Takumi Asagawa, and I think that I might read the shorter『白磁の人』(1994) by Takayuki Emiya (江宮隆之).

2020 Reading challenge!

First step in completing my reading challenge for 2020!

Book Review: 『日本語びいき』by Yumi SHIMIZU

『日本語びいき』 is definitely one of my best books of the year! The author, Yumi SHIMIZU (清水由美), is teaching Japanese to foreign students and wrote this book for her fellow native Japanese speakers. Through 21 short chapters, she invites her reader to rediscover the Japanese language and let oneself be amazed by patterns that natives usually take for granted. Here is how she concludes her book:


About 『日本語びいき』


『日本語びいき』by 清水由美, ill. ヨシタケシンスケ, 中公文庫

First of all, I appreciated greatly the structure of the book. Each of the 21 chapters can be read independently and will not exceed 10 pages. I read them in order, but you could jump to the topics that appeal to you most (the author sometimes refers to previous chapters, but I still think that they can be read in any order). Being very short, the chapters are pleasant to read and I never felt overwhelmed with information or grammatical details. It also has funny illustrations by ヨシタケシンスケ.

The topics of the book are very wide, the author talks about grammatical particularities, pronunciation, hiragana as well as usages. For example, the chapter “らぬき、れたす、さいれ” is about the tendency to omit the ラ in the formation of the potential form of verbs 一段. Not omitting it would make the verb sound like the honorific form. However, it can lead to confusion, with over scrupulous people adding an unnecessary ラ to the potential form of 五段 verbs. I found this chapter to be one of the most interesting and instructive, but I read each chapter with great interest, often smiling to myself or nodding vigorously, haha!

If you are interested in the Japanese language for itself, and if you like talking about and discover curious facts like the strange transformation of “エロティック” and “グロテスク” into “エロ” and “グロ“… then this book is for you!

For Japanese learners?

I personally think that this book can benefit Japanese learners in many ways. The author wrote this book from her experience of teaching to foreign students. The particularity of the language she scrutinizes are often the ones that puzzled her students (for example, this: “ティッシュ持ってってってったでしょ” for “持って行ってと言ったでしょう”). More than once, she spoke of things that I myself had to struggle with, learning Japanese on my own.

Rather than saying that I learnt new grammatical forms thanks to her book, I would say that I understood better the ones I already knew. There are a lot of things that I wish I had known when I was studying basic grammar. For example, the chapter on the concept of ウチ vs ソト was very instructive.

The author also refers to English and shows how puzzling English can be for Japanese, as much as Japanese is for English-speakers. Somehow, through her examples, I ended up thinking that Japanese was not that difficult after all and that English can sometimes be much more puzzling!

I personally didn’t struggle too much to read the chapters of this book, but some were more difficult than others. The style of the author is pleasant and it is easy to follow her explanations. Although the book is written for Japanese, there are always ample explanations that allow a non-native to understand everything. It requires, however, to know well the basic grammar, as several topics are about the potential/causative form, the transitive vs intransitive verbs, and so on. To really enjoy reading the book, I think that having a good understanding of all these structures is necessary.

 I think that 『日本語びいき』is a book you can return to several times, picking a chapter you might not have understood well the first time and give it another try. This is what I will certainly do!

Differences with 『日本人の知らない日本語』

『日本語びいき』was first published under the title 『日本人の日本語知らず』which I think, was a better title. But certainly, it would have been too close to another great book on Japanese, namely 『日本人の知らない日本語』.

I have discovered 『日本人の知らない日本語』thanks to Kotobites (you will find a more complete description of the book here), and it has been one of my favourite manga at the time. I am thinking now that I should re-read it, as I have made progress since the time I first read it.

Being a manga, 『日本人の知らない日本語』is less intimidating and I would even say, easier to read. It is also funnier in the comical situations it presents. The book focuses on the Japanese teacher and the stressful, funny or puzzling situations her students put her in. These situations are the opportunity to stress particular aspects of the Japanese language that puzzle the students. It is also much about cultural differences, each student struggling with different things given their original country.

In『日本語びいき』, the author sometimes evokes similar situation with her students, but it is not the main topic of the book. The book focuses on the Japanese language itself and is much more focused on grammatical patterns than 『日本人の知らない日本語』. In such, it is a more challenging book, but nothing too difficult either.

The contents and the style of both books are very different, but I personally enjoyed reading both and heartily recommend them!


『日本語びいき』helped me to understand better some grammar points that I had merely memorised when I started learning Japanese. I liked how the author sometimes links linguistic particularities to the characteristics of the Japanese society or underlines the regularity of some grammatical patterns. While I don’t want to blame the grammar textbooks I have used to learn Japanese, I wish I had had a teacher like Yumi SHIMIZU!

Yumi SHIMIZU’s blog: 猫な日本語