I hope that you are all well and managing to get through this period of isolation for those who live in countries under lockdown. There are a lot of books that I want to talk about this month, so you might find titles that interest you in this post!
I finished the four books of my “currently reading” section of March, I read and finished four other books during the end of March and the beginning of April, and I am currently reading four new books.
As usual, this post will mainly focus on the Japanese level of each books.
Books I finished
I am very glad to announce that I have finished all the four books that I was reading last month:
- 『草花たちの静かな誓い』by Teru Miyamoto
- 『アンカー』 (Anchor) by Bin Konno
- 『もっと、やめてみた』by Pon Watanabe
- 『ファーストラヴ』by Rio Shimamoto
I have talked or will talk more about these books in my reviews, but I did not like 『アンカー』nor 『ファーストラヴ』. However, I loved 『草花たちの静かな誓い』and 『もっと、やめてみた』so much I will read other books by Teru Miyamoto and Pon Watanabe this year. As soon as I finished their books, I planned on reading more, and it did not take me long to carry out my plan (see below)!
I also finished four other books that I started after writing my last reading journal entry:
『お茶の時間』by Miri Masuda (益田ミリ)
I think that Miri Masuda’s manga are perfect for Japanese learners who want to read something easier and shorter than a whole novel, but don’t usually read manga.
『お茶の時間』is composed of several short autobiographical stories. The format is perfect for learners, because there is not a lot of text and the stories are all short.
If you have never read Miri Masuda, and if you are looking for something to read as a Japanese learner, I heartily recommend her fictional series すーちゃん. But if you prefer autobiographical manga, then 『お茶の時間』is a really good choice.
I personally read すーちゃん when I had still a low intermediate level in Japanese. I took what I understood, was okay with not understanding some chapters, read it several times, felt proud and happy every time I was able to follow the story.
『まる子だった』by Momoko Sakura (さくらももこ)
Another perfect book for Japanese learners! 『まる子だった』is composed of several short stories (all around 12 pages long) about the author’s childhood.
This is not a book for children, but it is not a difficult read. Momoko Sakura talks about her childhood so you will mainly find daily life situations and a setting around family and school. The short format of the stories makes them easier to read or study. Also, if you know the anime ちびまる子ちゃん, it is easy to picture the places and characters.
You will not find furigana on every kanji word, but I found that there are more furigana than in other books I read.
To give you an example of the level, this is the beginning of the first story:
I think that this passage is representative of the book’s difficulty. The author does not describe complicated things, and I find that there were never really difficult parts in the whole book. There might be some challenging words from time to time depending on your level. For example, I didn’t know the word ちり紙交換 (ちりがみこうかん), and looking it up allowed me to learn something interesting. The ちり紙交換 is a waste paper collector who collects waste paper for recycling in exchange for toilet paper. He makes a round in his truck, advertising his presence with a megaphone. This is why Maruko can hear his voice from the classroom.
I highly recommend this book! I think that you can give it a try if you are working towards N2.
『私をくいとめて』 by Risa Wataya (綿矢りさ)
Risa Wataya is well known for winning the Akutagawa prize at the age of 19 for her novel 『蹴りたい背中』. 『私をくいとめて』is about the daily life of a woman in her early 30s, still single and often talking to an imaginary interlocutor.
Similarly to Haruki Murakami, Risa Wataya is the kind of author that I would like to appreciate more, but I don’t seem to be able to see what makes their novels so special for many. I read Risa Wataya’s novel 『勝手にふるえてろ』in translation, but I don’t remember it well. It might be the kind of book that I enjoy while I read it, but that do not leave a strong impression afterwards…
I tried to read 『蹴りたい背中』in Japanese some time ago (maybe it was three years ago?) In any case, it was too difficult for me at the time, and I gave up after only a few pages. I thought it would be easy to read because it is a short a novel, and even though I read it in translation, 『勝手にふるえてろ』did not seem like a difficult novel in terms of language.
When I tried to read 『蹴りたい背中』, I was at a time when I needed to be extremely focused to understand what I read. As a result, I can remember vividly the first scenes of the novel. I will never forget, for example, that I learned the word 顕微鏡 (けんびきょう, microscope) thanks to Risa Wataya!
I am glad to see I can read『私をくいとめて』without problem today, I would even say that it was on the easy side to me, and I was able to read quickly. I think that in the range of literary fiction, Risa Wataya is not difficult to read, but I would not recommend her novels as a first book for Japanese learners. If you are used to reading light novels or genre fiction, and want to start reading literary fiction, Risa Wataya can be a good choice, provided you like her style.
You can read the first two pages of 『私をくいとめて』 on the publisher’s site.
『部屋がキレイになりました』by Pon Watanabe (わたなべぽん)
As I said, as soon as I finished Pon Watanabe’s manga 『もっと、やめてみた』I planned on reading other books by this author. I picked the two autobiographical manga 『部屋がキレイになりました』and 『部屋もっとがキレイになりました』, and I have just finished the first one.
This manga was only available in large format, and I must say that it was much easier to read than the pocket edition of 『もっと、やめてみた』. I don’t usually have difficulties reading small fonts, but I do prefer the bigger format when there is a lot of information on one page.
This manga is easy to read, it allows you to learn useful vocabulary of everyday life, and Pon Watanabe’s drawings give a lot of context, so it becomes easier to guess the meaning of words you don’t know. I think that Pon Watanabe is easier to read in Japanese than Miri Masuda because the drawing style is different. In Miri Masuda, the drawings do not always help you to understand the text, but in a manga like 『部屋がキレイになりました』the drawings give a lot of information.
However, be aware that kanji words do not have furigana on them. Some text is, I think, handwritten by the author, and might be a little difficult to read for Japanese learners at first. On the other hand, it makes for a good reading exercise, and it is easy to get used to it.
I heartily recommend this manga if you are interested in this topic. I will talk more about the content when I write my review, but it is the best thing I have ever read, watched or listened to about cleaning your house.
It looks as if I have read a lot of books since March 15th, but 『お茶の時間』and 『部屋がキレイになりました』are two manga that can be read very quickly, 『まる子だった』is a short book (216 pages only for the short stories) and reads very quickly too. 『私をくいとめて』is a short novel of 242 pages.
And these are the four books that I am reading at the moment:
『ぼくらの七日間戦争』by Osamu Soda (宗田理)
First published in 1985, 『ぼくらの七日間戦争』 is the first book of the popular series for children “ぼくら”. This book targets a readership of primary and middle school students.
The book I bought is from the collection つばさ from the publisher Kadokawa (角川). The targeted readership is “小学上級から”, and the book has full furigana. There are also some illustrations by はしもとしん.
This book is easy to read and entertaining enough for adults to enjoy. It is still a book for children, but it does contain an interesting plot, and I am completely into the story, wanting to know what will happen next. I don’t usually read books for children because even if the Japanese level is easy, the story is often not engaging enough for an adult reader. To give you an example, I disliked the two popular books 『未来のミライ』and 『君たちはどう生きるか』.
If you want to see the level of 『ぼくらの七日間戦争』, you can read the first pages on the publisher’s website.
The only thing that I found a little difficult was to remember who was who because a lot of characters are introduced in the first chapter. Thankfully, all the main characters are introduced at the beginning, with illustrations, so I was soon able to distinguish them and see what their characteristics are.
I am also listening to the audiobook while reading, and I heartily recommend it. The whole book is read by voice actor Kengo Takanashi (高梨謙吾) and his performance is so good! I can usually say which character is speaking during dialogues because Kengo Takanashi gave them all a different way of speaking. There are also background noises and sometimes, music, that makes it easier to visualise what happens.
If you are looking for some easy material to practice your reading and listening at the same time, then I recommend the book and audiobook of 『ぼくらの七日間戦争』!
『BUTTER』by Asako Yuzuki (柚木麻子)
I am not far enough into the story of 『BUTTER』 to know exactly what direction the plot will take. It is inspired by the real Kanae Kijima who was sentenced to death for fraud and murder, but the book is more about character development than true crime.
I was anxious when I started this book because I never read this author before, the book is very long (almost 600 pages), and I don’t know why but I thought it would be difficult to read. I was relieved to see that『BUTTER』is not as difficult as I thought it might be. However, it belongs to the books that I read very slowly.
I think that I have just reached a point where I can read some easy books relatively quickly, especially if there are a lot of dialogues. For example, 『ファーストラヴ』and 『私をくいとめて』mentioned above were both novels that I read quickly. However, books like 『BUTTER』ask more focusing from me and I think that my reading pace is twice or even three times slower than when I read 『ファーストラブ』.
I also sometimes need to check things that are mentioned in the novel. It is not necessary to understand the story, but I feel that not doing it would take away something. For example, if the novel talks about ウエスト クリスマスケーキ, I understand that we are talking about a Christmas cake from a company named ウエスト, so I don’t need to look it up to continue reading. However, the cake is not just mentioned in the novel, it will be described and will play a modest role in the plot. Googling ウエスト クリスマスケーキ only takes two seconds and gives a good idea of how these cakes look like.
Another example are the cookies Morinaga (森永製菓のクッキー箱). The protagonist does not know whether to buy the Marie, Moonlight or Choice boxes. I guess that this is something you know if you live in Japan, but I had to google it to see how the biscuit boxes look like. When the protagonist chooses the yellow “Choice” box because it has a butter photo on it, I felt like I knew what we were talking about. Checking this kind of details makes me feel closer to the story, but of course, it slows down my reading.
『錦繍』by Teru Miyamoto (宮本輝)
As I said earlier, I loved Teru Miyamoto’s novel 『草花たちの静かな誓い』, and I wanted to read more by this author, especially novels that take place in Japan (rather than California).
It seems that all his books have very good reviews on Amazon. I plan on reading the novel that won the Akutagawa Prize 『螢川』which will allow me to complete a part of my reading challenge for 2020 (read winners of literary awards). But for now, I picked 『錦繍』because it looks like everyone who has read this book has loved it.
It is an epistolary novel, which is also one of the reasons why I chose this one. I love epistolary novels, but I haven’t read many of them in Japanese (as far as I remember, the only one I read is 『往復書簡』by Kanae Minato).
It is a short novel of 262 pages, but I read it slowly. I do not find it difficult to read, but it is the kind of books that I will read slowly. There are almost no dialogues (it would be strange to write a dialogue in a letter), and there is a lot of emotions to take in with every letter, so I sometimes find that I need to take a break.
I am nearing the half of the book, and I heartily recommend it if you feel at ease with reading challenging books or literary fiction in Japanese. I feel that it is one of my best books I have read in my life, the kind of story that stays with you long after you close the book.
『無人島に生きる十六人』by Kunihiko Sugawa (須川邦彦)
I bought this book because I wanted to read an adventure novel, but I didn’t know that it was inspired by real facts. To be honest, it is hard to tell whether the story is close to the facts, or if there are fictional additions, and I could not find much information online about the real story behind. My feeling is that this is a work of fiction inspired by real events rather than a work of nonfiction.
The story is about the Ryusui maru that crashed near Pearl and Hermes Atoll in 1899, leaving its 16 members crew struggling to survive on a deserted island of the atoll.
I personally do not find this book easy to read, even though I cannot point out what exactly I find difficult. There is some vocabulary related to navigation, but the book never gets too technical. On the contrary, it looks like it is especially written for people who are not familiar with maritime terms. Knowing words like anchor, mast and deck seem to be enough to understand the descriptions. However, I find these descriptions always tiring, and I am often tempted to skip some of them, something that I usually never do.
To give you an example, this passage is when the Ryusui is experiencing difficulties:
Given that I had already looked up some maritime words that had appeared earlier in the novel, the most difficult word in this passage was 船橋・せんきょう, because I didn’t know the meaning of the word “bridge” in English. The bridge of a ship is the platform from which the ship is commanded. It is where you find all the machines and equipment necessary to navigation. I was not expecting to find a bridge on a sailing boat, so the appearance of this word in the text just to say that there was no bridge on a sailing boat was just unnecessarily confusing to me, haha.
Now that I re-read this description, I don’t find it difficult, but there are a lot of descriptive passages such as this one in the first part of the book (around 90 pages). Maybe I find them difficult simply because I am not used to reading this kind of stories in Japanese, after all, it is the first time I read about maritime adventures in Japanese.
I am really reading a lot in Japanese at the moment. I think that I will be able to finish 『ぼくらの七日間戦争』, 『錦繍』and 『無人島に生きる十六人』before my next reading journal post on May 15th, but I don’t think that I can finish 『BUTTER』, because it is such a long novel and I read it too slowly.
I think that I have found a good rhythm with reading four books at the same time, especially if one of the four is a book for children or a manga. I will keep this rotation for the next months, only starting a new book when I finish or DNF one of the four I am currently reading.