Reading young adult nonfiction books

It is hard to think that January is already over when I am still thinking about what I will do in 2020… I spent most of January reading, and this month’s post will be exclusively about young adult nonfiction!

The collection Chikuma Primer Shinsho (ちくまプリマー新書) from the publisher Chikuma Shobo (筑摩書房) is a collection of nonfiction books written for young readers. The books cover a wide range of topics, are short and easy to understand.

The collection was recommended to me on Twitter when I talked about my reading goals for 2020. These books are easier to read than adult nonfiction, and you can choose a topic that interests you to build target vocabulary, so they are perfect for Japanese learners.

I chose two books from this collection:

What I haven’t figured out is whether the books are classified by level. Of the two books I have read, one was extremely easy to read and the other one was rather difficult. I could not find any level indication on the books themselves. It is obvious that some books target a specific audience when the terms “for middle school students” or “for high school students” appear in the title, but apart from this, it is hard to tell the level. If you are interested in this collection, I recommend to choose your topics carefully, read the summary and look at the table of contents to try to evaluate the level of the book.

These are my thoughts about the two books I have read (I will not write separated book reviews for them):

『アイドルになりたい』by Akio Nakamori 中森明夫

I know close to nothing about the world of Japanese idols, but I am, if not interested in, at least curious about this aspect of Japanese culture. This title really caught my eye, and I thought that it would be very interesting to read what is said to young Japanese girls who want to become idols.

More than giving concrete advice or steps to pass an audition, the author talks about the kind of mindset that is required to become an idol. Some passages were very interesting and I learned a lot about Japanese idols through them. For example, the author explains that the most important thing to become an idol is not to be pretty, to dance well or to sing well, but to have the capacity to be loved by fans.

The author also gives a realistic overview of what it means to become an idol. For example, he insists on the fact that being an idol is a job, that idols are employees inside the entertainment industry, linked to a company by a working contract:

夢をつかむということは、つまり、夢を仕事にするということなんだ。p. 37

きみが「アイドルになる」ということは、「芸能界の一員として働く」ということなんだ。p. 38

He also says that idols have to work with people they don’t necessarily like, colleagues or fans. He also insists on the importance and the nature of the relationship between idols and fans:

芸能人ってのは、すべての人たちに対して身をさらしている客商売なんだ。嫌いな人は相手にしないってわけにはいかない。p. 50

アイドルのファンには、孤独な男性がたくさんいる。恋人がいない。友達がいない。今まで恋愛経験がまったくない。そりゃ、さみしいよね。そうして、こう考える。この世にたった一人でいい。自分のために、自分の目の前で、本物の笑顔を見せてくれる女の子がいたら…。その女の子のためなら、何だってできる。それがアイドルとファンの関係なんだ。きみは本物の笑顔を見せなければならない。アイドルになるために。それが、きみの…仕事なんだ。p. 52

ファンの多くは、アイドルを疑似恋愛の対象として見る。だからCDをたくさん買ったり、サイン会や握手会へかけつけたりして、お金を払う。そういうビジネスだ。p. 143

The author shows what is really required of idols instead of focusing on the shiny parts. He encourages his readers in their dream, but he does not try to make it look attractive. On the contrary, he wants to be sure that those who choose this path know exactly what lies before them. But nonetheless, after showing all the negatives aspect of the job, he fervently encourages his readers to become idols, and sends a passionate and ardent message to promote and spread this aspect of Japanese contemporary culture…

All in all, the book has interesting parts, and I have learned a lot about Japanese idols thanks to it. But as the author both states plainly the downside of the job and encourages his young readers to become idols, I couldn’t help but finding the book somewhat disturbing.

『アイドルになりたい』 was extremely easy to read. The author is obviously targeting a very young audience, he talks directly to his readers, and there is a line break after (almost) every sentence! This kind of writing is perfect for intermediate learners who want to start reading in Japanese. I am not particularly telling you to read this one book (unless the topic interests you), but the collection is certainly worth checking out if you are looking for easy reads.

『ある若き死刑囚の生涯』by Otohiko Kaga 加賀乙彦

This book is about Yoshiki Sumitama (純多摩良樹). Yoshiki Sumitama is responsible for the train explosion that killed one person and wounded 14 on the Yokosuka line in 1968 (横須賀線電車爆破事件). Arrested and trialled, Yoshiki Sumitama was sentenced to death in 1971 and executed in 1975. In prison, he wrote poems that have been published in an anthology in 1995.

『ある若き死刑囚の生涯』 is an “autobiography” that focuses on Yoshiki Sumitama’s life in prison, but it is written by Otohiko Kaga, not by Yoshiki Sumitama. Otohiko Kaga is an author who participated in the publication of Sumitama’s poems, visited him in prison and exchanged letters with him. He says that he wrote this book using the letters, the poems and several notes, but it is not clear how much of the text comes from Yoshiki Sumitama himself and how much was created by Otohiko Kaga. The book is written like an autobiography, using the first person pronoun, and even though it is written using genuine documents by Sumitama, I felt like I was reading a work of fiction or a fake autobiography, and that annoyed me.

I was a little disappointed in this book. I was interested in the daily life of death row inmates in Japan. I thought that I would learn concrete facts in this book, but it rarely describes the surroundings of Sumitama. The book is massively centered on Sumitama’s inner life, his poems, and his conversion to Christianity.

The book almost never talks about details of Sumitama’s daily life in prison, about the guards or other inmates. For example, he mentions at some point that another inmate has been executed. While this is surely an upsetting event for death row inmates, it is mentioned only briefly and Sumitama seems very detached. As a result, reading this book didn’t feel like reading an autobiography written on death row.

If you are interested in Sumitama himself and his poetry, this book is great. But for someone who wanted to know more about life in Japanese prisons in the 1970s, this was not the book to read.

Surprisingly, 『ある若き死刑囚の生涯』was rather difficult to read in Japanese, especially if we compare it to 『アイドルになりたい』. This is why I am surprised to see that the books are not classified by level because those two are extremely different.


If you are looking for easy books in Japanese, I recommend that you browse the collection. I will certainly read other titles in the future, so if I find an interesting one that is easy to read, I will let you know!