I thought it could be fun to list the longest and shortest books I have read in Japanese so far and see which ones were the easiest. I list novels only, so no non-fiction and no short stories or essays.
5 Longest novels I have read in Japanese (over 500 pages)
727 pages:『アキラとあきら』 by Jun Ikeido 池井戸潤 – Business novel
This is one of my favourite books! It was not difficult to read overall, but there is a lot of economic stuff in it, so some passages ended up being quite a challenge to me. If you are familiar with anything related to bank loans and investments – and know the vocabulary in Japanese – this book should be quite an easy read. If not, there are a lot of recurring words, so the book becomes easier as you get used to the specialised vocabulary.
617 pages: 『流星の絆』 by Keigo Higashino 東野圭吾 – Mystery novel
I read this one a long time ago, and I don’t remember the story well. I feel like this is not my favourite Higashino overall, but it is hard to remember what I disliked in the novel. In any case, Higashino’s writing style is so fluid that this book did not feel like a 600 pages book at all. I did not have difficulty reading this book, even though it belongs to one of my earlier readings.
595 pages: 『ノルウェイの森』 by Haruki Murakami 村上春樹 – Coming of age novel
This book was a big surprise in terms of Japanese level. I was shocked at how easy it was to read. The Japanese level is not high at all (I would say you can read it with a good N3 level?), and Murakami’s style is so easy to read, so smooth and agreeable. I really enjoyed the writing style, but the story not so much. Overall, I was not a fan of this novel, but I learned that Murakami is very easy to read in Japanese, something I wish I had known sooner…
562 pages: 『パラドックス13』 by Keigo Higashino 東野圭吾 – SF
I remember loving this book, and similarly to the previous one, it did not feel like reading a long book at all. After an inexplicable phenomenon, everyone seems to have disappeared from the surface of the earth except for a bunch of people who will have to survive together. The SF elements are just there to set up the story, but the novel is more about how people will manage (or not) to get along with each other. I don’t usually read SF, but I really loved this book, and I found it easy to read (I was studying for the JLPT N2 at the time).
535 pages: 『罪の声』 by Takeshi Shiota 塩田武士 – Mystery novel
This one is the most difficult book of the “long books”, and it did feel like a long book! The story is about an extorsion case and is inspired by a true event. I found that some passages felt quite long, there are a lot of characters to remember and the case is rather complex. Overall, I loved this story, but this one did feel like reading a long book!
5 Shortest books I have read in Japanese (under 200 pages)
168 pages: 『コンビニ人間』 by Sayaka Murata 村田沙耶香 – Literary Fiction (Akutagawa Prize)
For a work of literary fiction (and a winner of the Akutagawa Prize), this book was not as difficult to read as I expected, but it is still more difficult than the “long” books listed above. It is a great novel that I heartily recommend. If you think that it might be too difficult to read in Japanese, you could read it in parallel with its English translation by Ginny Tapley Takemori.
179 pages: 『JR 上野駅公園口』 by Miri Yu 柳美里 – Literary Fiction
This short novel is by far the most difficult book of the list! I read it in parallel with the excellent translation by Morgan Giles, and I am pretty sure that I would have given up if I had read the Japanese alone. Some passages were quite difficult with long explanatory or descriptive passages, and overall I think that I just don’t like Miri Yu’s writing style.
DNF – 180 pages: 『火花』 by Naoki Matayoshi 又吉直樹 – Literary fiction (Akutagawa Prize)
This is the only DNF of the list. I did not make it very far in this novel, it was difficult to read, I did not like the author’s style and the story did not interest me much either. That was quite some time ago, so I guess that I would be able to enjoy it more now that my Japanese is better, but I don’t really feel like picking it again.
183 pages: 『蹴りたい背中』 by Risa Wataya 綿矢りさ – Literary Fiction (Akutagawa Prize)
Also a Akutagawa Prize winner, this book might not be very difficult, but it is not easy either. Its length, its topic and the fact that Risa Wataya was very young when she wrote it made me think that this book would be easier than it really is. When I tried to read it the first time, I gave up because I could not go pass the first pages – it was much too difficult for my level at the time. I came back to it not long ago, and I found the beginning a bit challenging, so no wonder that I gave up the first time.
189 pages: 『僕たちはみんな大人たちになれなかった』 by Moegara 燃え殻 – Literary Fiction
This might not be the most difficult book I have read in Japanese, but it is one that felt difficult to read. I read it quite a long time ago, and my level was not very high at the time. Maybe I should re-read it today, but this novel struck me as being difficult to get into if you didn’t share the author’s references. Overall, I was not able to really enjoy this book.
If we were to compare the hours I spent reading all these books, I am pretty sure that it took me more time to read the 5 short books than the 5 longer ones.
It seems obvious that a short book is not necessarily an easy one and that longer books are not necessarily difficult, but when you are a language learner looking for easy books to read, it is tempting to go for shorter ones. If I could go back in time and give myself some advice, I would recommend to avoid picking books just because they “look” easy. Don’t pick a book just because it is super short, the title inspires you and the cover looks cool (I’m looking at you 僕たちはみんな大人たちになれなかった).
If everybody is talking about a book because it just got translated or won a literary prize, I will be tempted to read it, but these books are often not the easiest to read. I bought 火花 during one of my trips to Japan, it had won the Akutagawa prize and just got its bunko version, and there were piles of it in every single bookshop I went to. If I had made some research about the book instead of letting myself be lured by its beautiful cover, I would have realised that it was above my level and that the story was not for me anyway.
On the contrary, I should not be intimidated by longer books if they belong to a genre I am truly passionate about. Even now that I am used to reading genre fiction in Japanese, I still tend to avoid books over 500 pages. Seeing how quickly I devoured the 700 pages of アキラとあきら, I feel more confident in buying longer novels now.
Anyway, I find this list very interesting. I did not try to put easier books in the long books list and difficult ones in the short books list. I simply went over all the books I have read, and the longer ones happened to be the easier ones, while the shorter ones were all challenging works of literary fiction, including books I found very difficult and a DNF.