Read in Japanese: self-improvement books

I am mainly talking about novels on my blog, but I am also reading some non-fiction books. I realised some time ago that self-improvement books were surprisingly easy to read in Japanese and can be a good start for anyone looking for easy reads.

Of course, I haven’t read enough books of personal development to state it as a general rule, but I would be prepared to bet that most writings in this domain are relatively non-challenging. Based on the books that I have read or am reading and the ones I have flipped through in bookshops, I found some characteristics that make these books easy to read in Japanese:

Easy to read for Japanese too

I think that these books want to reach a wide public, including people who don’t particularly like reading novels or complicated writings. Many of these books are designed for people who work a lot and don’t generally have the time or the energy to engross themselves in long reading sessions. As a consequence, the interior layout of the books are generally following these rules:

  • The book is well structured with short chapters and a lot of subchapters.
  • The writer uses short sentences and short paragraphs
  • The style is casual, it looks like the author is talking to us directly.

Clarity is the key

These books want to convey a message and, if possible, convince the reader. Usually, when you want people to understand and adhere to your message, the best thing is to state it as simply and clearly as possible. This results in:

  • The author does not use complicated style, sentences or kanji. It is not a novel, so the author does not try to “write well” but keeps it simple.
  • The same things are often repeated several times, to be sure that the reader understood them.
  • There are no unclear implications or underlying messages. The author does not imply things, he just states them clearly.
  • At the end of the chapter, we often find a short recap.
  • There are often concrete examples and anecdotes.

Publishers also participate

To make the book even more agreeable to read, publishers usually adopt a certain design:

  • These books are often sold in a rather big format, not like novels.
  • Contrary to novels, there is a lot of space on each page. It is perfect to take notes and write down vocabulary (if you don’t mind writing in your books)
  • The chapters are often divided into small subchapters (sometimes only 2 or 3 pages), which is perfect to make small reading sessions.
  • Some sentences that convey the main message are often written in bold or colour. This means that even if you did not quite understand what the author said before, understanding these sentences is enough to understand the main point. It is somehow comforting when one reads in a foreign language.
  • Some books have colour, graphics and drawings that help the comprehension.

It is not a story

The problem with reading novels in a foreign language is that the miscomprehension is cumulative. What I mean is, if you don’t understand a passage and move on, you may miss a key element for the story. Chances are that you won’t understand the next passage neither because you missed something previously. And so on. As a result, reading becomes more and more difficult until we finally give up.

Even though self-improvement books also convey a message, I never felt that one has to have read the first chapter to understand the second one. It seems that each chapter focuses on a different point. Inside each chapter, I also feel that there is a lot of small points that can be understood separately. As a result, not understanding a passage does not prevent you from understanding what follows. And anyway, the main points are often repeated several times or written in bold. Understanding only that is enough to move on.

Gratifying reads

Finally, self-improvement books are written for Japanese adults so that reading them is more gratifying than reading books for children or books designed for Japanese learners.

Contrary to children books, they talk about what adults know well: studies, work, relationships, self-esteem and so on. Moreover, the message they convey is never hard to grasp. They generally tell you how to improve yourself, trust your own choice, gain self-esteem or things like that. This means that it is never hard to guess what the author wants to say.

Last but not least, these books’ contents are generally very motivating!

My personal experience

I never read self-improvement books before reading in Japanese, it is not my favourite genre. The reason why I started reading such writings was to read something relaxing in Japanese. It is very gratifying to me to be able to turn the pages so quickly (because it is easy to read and because there is not so much text written on each page!). Especially when I am reading a difficult novel that gives me the impression to have made no progress at all, having such a book as a second read is very comforting.

There are usually very few unknown kanji to me so that I can do two things:

  • looking up words in the dictionary (something I don’t do when there are too many unknown words or while reading novels)
  • read out loud without stumbling much across words I can’t pronounce.

And now, I start appreciating self-improvement books for themselves (not just for studying Japanese), they are a source of motivation and positiveness.

3 books that I can recommend

The first book I read was 「自分を操る超集中力」by メンタリストDaiGo, published by かんき出版. Compared with the other books, this one is the most challenging regarding vocabulary. But it also has a lot of illustrations (I am not good at taking pictures, I know):

pages 95 and 71

As you can see, the main argument is marked in blue, and even if you don’t understand everything that is written, the drawing makes it clear!

As the title says, this books is all about concentration and willpower. I found some interesting ideas in it.

The second book is 「無意識はいつも正しい」by クスドフトシ, published by ワニブックス.

pages 67 and 68

Here again, you can see that some sentences are in colour, others are in bold. (the page on the left precedes the one on the right).

I find this book very easy to read. The subchapters are very short, the author does not use any difficult words, he gives a lot of concrete situation and examples to illustrate his point. I feel that the author always wants to be sure that the reader is following him. He takes special care in repeating the important things and dividing his speech into small bites.

As for the contents, there were things that convinced me, and others less, but it is overall an interesting and motivating read.

Finally, 「好きなことだけして生きていく」by 心屋仁之助(こころや・じんのすけ), published by PHP:

page 91

Here again, colour and bold to mark the important thing. As you can see, the sentences are very short and the author just start a new line with every new sentence!

As I said before, you can start reading this passage and understand what the author wants to say, even if you haven’t read what was before.

This book is maybe the easier of the three. The author talks about his own experience too, which makes it interesting. I was not convinced by everything he said, but there are also things that I adhere to. I would not say that I learned much, but I am always grateful when I can read something in Japanese without much effort!


I can’t say for sure that all self-improvement books are easy to read, but the two last titles I gave as examples are really easy. It looks like the authors had written their book following the rule “write your book using less than (number) kanji”.

All three books are published by different publishers, but all share the same layout characteristics.

There are a lot of books in this genre with the most attractive titles in Japanese!

14 thoughts on “Read in Japanese: self-improvement books

  1. I’ve never read a self-book in Japanese though I’ve come across them in bookstores. I am planning reading kondo mari’s joy of tidying up in japanese soon and i think this book technically falls in the jiko-keihatsu category.

  2. It is very gratifying to me to be able to turn the pages so quickly (because it is easy to read and because there is not so much text written on each page!). Especially when I am reading a difficult novel that gives me the impression to have made no progress at all, having such a book as a second read is very comforting.

    I agree with this in some ways but I absolutely hate paying for Japanese books that have so much blank space since the shipping price is always depressing… I’ve been reading in english too and I love how I don’t have to pay for it! I read physical books, ebooks, and audiobooks.

    in fact i got so interested in free I searched and found out out one korean library that lets me sign up for free and borrow ebooks and they do have books I want to read but the only way to read them is on the kyobo app on the phone (which i never do because kindles are gentler on the eyes) or the kyobo app on the computer (which one can set up by using an android simulator) or on the website (which offers limited font options so the text is way too small) but ultimately i don’t like looking at screens because they tire my eyes. so for now I’ll just have to read the physical korean books as well as the ebooks I downloaded illegally lol…

    maybe you should look into korean libraries in that area in case one of them has a considerable Japanese selection.

    btw speaking of the spark/joy of tidying up… how many books have you bought/hoarded at this point? lol. or have you been selling them to book-off or aladin or wherever as you finish reading them.

    1. True that these Japanese self-improvement books are a little pricey… I should have mentioned that. I mean, they are more expensive than novels but if we were to put all the text together (without all the blank space), it would certainly come up to less than 100 pages.

      One good thing with Japanese pocketbooks is that they are cheap and small, which means I can pack more of them on my bookshelves! I buy a lot of books, as you have guessed, but as Japanese novels are so small, my Japanese bookshelf still looks reasonable 😅. I don’t think that I will sell them, though I did sell almost all my former books before moving to Korea.
      I think that I buy books because, obviously, I like reading but also because I love books for themselves. But I am not that into Korean books because they are so big and incredibly heavy, it is impossible to carry them around and my arms ache just by reading on the sofa. They are expensive too. But anyway, I gave up almost all the books I tried to read because my Korean is not good enough to read novels. I never tried the Kyobo app though.

      1. lol so true about korean books. why are they so heavy?? is the paper higher or lower in quality? (I hear that the quality is low from 타일러 tyler on 말하는대로 which is on ondemandkorea and maybe youtube. ) I live in america but i got my korean books fairly cheap with free shipping since i bought from the used section of aladin. i totally know what you mean about korean novels.. when i first started LEARNING korean in 2011 i was lacking in vocab and i sure as hell wasn’t gonna learn vocab from reading novels and never planned on reading them (my strategy then was to learn useful/common vocab ie words that came out of korena people’s mouths on talk/vairety shows). but today as of 2018 i finished kim young ha’s short story compilation titled what happened to the guy stuck in the elevator since my vocab is decent. I like his writing style and the book is available online typed up by fans (googling with quotes is a god-send) so I found an efficient way to make anki cards from it using excel, readlang, naver translate (SINCE THERE is no rikaisama for korean) so I know I am learning from it and I ain’t wasting time by typing each word into google or naver DIC etc.

        1. I’d love to be able to read Kim young ha in Korean! I read a French translation of one of his novels and liked it, but I still cannot read his novels in Korean. I should work on my vocabulary…

          1. I only ended up reading it because I read two of his novels in English which I only read because I was reading everything about North Korea at the time.

      2. I FORGOT to mention the only upside to my korean library search was that I got free access to korean audiobooks (they don’t hvae a huge selection but it’s decent plus i have free audiobooks in english courtesy of the library to listen to anyway) and they happen to carry the title story what happened to the guy that got stuck in the elevator. I love having audio because it makes it that much more memorable. the only downside is it’s more like a radio drama than an audiobook lol.

        1. I have been looking for audiobooks in Korean too. I found this radio program on KBS called 소설극장 which was the best way to listen to audiobooks for free to me at the time. But it does not have the quality of an audiobook with professional actors reading. It was just someone reading the whole novel in a monotonous tone so I always ended up dozing off while listening to it. It’s been a while since I listened to the program, though, they may have improved the quality in the meanwhile! 

          1. If you wanna try the library i found its 경기도 사이버 도서관 and the compatible app is 오디언. Since you live in Korean I’m sure you can find a library with a bigger selection of audiobooks. Maybe Seoul library will let you join even if you don’t live in Seoul

            교보도서관 works too but this app has to be connected to the internet to play but for audien they let you download the file

            They only let you borrow it for 5 days but you can reborrow it.

            For one of the short stories I ended up with 90 words after using readlang which sounds like a lot but it’s not because I understood the story fine without those 90 words.

  3. Hey, this seems a good a place as any to ask…

    I was just curious if your kanji study also includes handwriting. I’ve noticed that my retention as well as my ability to distinguish between similar kanji greatly improves if I know the stroke order, but it’s hard for me to justify the time I’d need to spend learning to write a whole bunch of kanji when the practical applications of handwriting are few and far between….

    1. It is difficult to answer this question… I would say yes and no. No, because I don’t write the kanji when I am studying Anki for example, and I don’t make any kanji writing exercise now. But I did learn Chinese before and did a lot of kanji writing at the time. So now I don’t have to handwrite kanji to learn and memorise them, but I think that the hours spent writing Chinese characters, even if it was several years ago, are the reason why I can memorise new kanji without writing them down. In any case, I think that having a good understanding of the kanji’s structure (different components, stroke order, the radical) helps to memorise them. But maybe, observing them, rather than writing them, is enough? I am not sure, I wish I knew! 😮

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