What's new

Japanese Novels - suggestions and advice wanted

Joined
Mar 1, 2014
Messages
7
Hello there, I'm new so please be nice...

I couldn't find a topic that novels really fit into so this one seemed the best, sorry if it's in the wrong place!

Anyway, I would very much like to purchase a Japanese novel of some sort, I've been looking at the most popular ones (Norwegian Wood, The WInd-up Bird Chronicle, Hard Boiled Wonderland) but I'm a relative beginner (still only 1/4 way through the kanji), and although I do want to get one that's going to be challenging (something to work towards and learn from) I don't know if proper full novels like those would be a bit too heavy...

Does anyone have any input on those three, or any other suggestions for novels I should consider?

I'd also be happy to hear about any young adult novels that aren't too difficult, or ones that include furigana.

Many thanks in advance!
 

Mike Cash

骨も命も皆此の土地に埋めよう
Joined
Mar 15, 2002
Messages
16,454
Ratings
1,568
Try short stories.

In my opinion, the time would better be spent increasing kanji/vocab/grammar skills before tackling anything more than a few pages long. What you're looking at is not "reading" but spending huge amounts of time looking stuff up and decoding.

The benefit of shorter stuff is that it is easier to whip yourself through to the end so at least you can see how the thing turned out, rather than getting partway into a full-length novel and chucking it as an exercise in frustration instead of a pleasurable reading experience.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Mar 1, 2014
Messages
7
I do intend to try short stories too, but I was hoping for a bit more of a long-term endeavour, even if just to read a page a day to practise and get used to the language. Even if I do end up decoding every single bit it should help with my grammar understanding, no?

I will look into shorter stories as well though :) do you have any suggestions?
 

Mike Cash

骨も命も皆此の土地に埋めよう
Joined
Mar 15, 2002
Messages
16,454
Ratings
1,568
Grammar study is an infinitely better way to do it. I doubt you'll breeze through short stories at any higher rate than you'll slog through a book. What sort of Japanese things have you read until now? Newspaper articles? Magazine articles? Web pages?

Have a look at Aozora Bunko. You can find tons of free stuff there. It is the Japanese version of Gutenberg. If you have a Kindle you can put the files on it. Not sure about other e-readers.
 
Joined
Jan 14, 2009
Messages
1,660
Ratings
393
A good quick test would be to simply go on the Japanese version of Amazon, look for books labelled なか見! (look inside feature) and read the first couple of pages of one of the recent bestsellers. That will give you a reasonable idea of where you're currently at. I wouldn't recommend spending a lot of time "decoding" as a way of learning grammar. It's not that easy to look up a grammar point you're not familiar with and the return for effort/time input is low.

What sort of things do you like to read? There's no such thing as the "perfect" starter book, so it may as well be something you're interested in. If cost is an issue, look out on Ebay, you'd be amazed. I recently snagged more than a dozen books, second hand mystery/suspense novels, by someone selling up for less than ツ」2 each including postage. For that you have to have a little patience and not worry too much about getting a particular book (I go by genre and/or author).
 

Mike Cash

骨も命も皆此の土地に埋めよう
Joined
Mar 15, 2002
Messages
16,454
Ratings
1,568
Another thought, if you do have a Kindle, then word lookup is as easy as rolling off a log. Not sure what provisions are available for J<>E dictionaries in the thing, but the J<>J dictionary will at least give you the readings for anything that doesn't have furigana.
 
Joined
Oct 12, 2013
Messages
1,507
Ratings
293
I have the greatest admiration for the poster here called eeky, who is studying Japanese by reading the Japanese version of Harry Potter. To me it would have been a tedious slog to try to get through Harry Potter as a beginner, especially considering the specialized language of magic and fantasy, but he/she is persevering with it, and hopefully is getting a lot out of it. Respect. On the other hand, one of the other posters was using (I think) novels or comics based on the Ghibli movie "Kiki's Delivery Service", which seemed to me a very sensible way to practice, since (presumably) the person already knew the story, and therefore it was a matter of matching the Japanese dialogue with what the reader understood from having watched the English version of the movie. Plus, the story uses simple dialogue, but is still interesting for adults. The same could be said for Totoro, and maybe a few other Ghibli movies.

One other thing that helped me was to watch western films with Japanese subtitles ("western" meaning, films from the west, not films about cowboys, although those might be useful as well). As above, you understand the dialogue, and so just reading the Japanese subtitles makes you aware of how certain things are expressed in Japanese.
 
Joined
Jan 14, 2009
Messages
1,660
Ratings
393
There's definitely a point at which, even though it may be a slog, you start getting something out of it. IMO you need to be able to get at least the gist (reading something where you already know the story will help there), and then looking up words/asking about grammar points you're not sure of is a side activity. In the past, I've underlined (pencil, in books I own) or kept a notepad and noted down things I wanted to look up.

If you're stopping every second sentence because there's so much unfamiliar grammar/vocab you can't even start to get an idea of what the story is about, you'd probably benefit from putting that particular book to one side and going back to get some more grammar study or to preload on appropriate vocabulary. e.g. if you're reading a courtroom drama and there's a lot of legal terms popping up you don't recognise, go give yourself a crash course in the Japanese legal system and then come back to it.

One thing to consider is reading non-fiction. People always want to jump straight to fiction, but there's plenty of interesting non-fiction and something aimed at native speakers who aren't experts in a given field is ideal for picking up vocab in that area. Lots online, as well. Good search terms here are 入門 (primer), Xの基本 (the basics of...). If you want to read up about Japanese history, food, art, sport, whatever - there's undoubtedly something out there for native speakers who are either new to it or haven't read anything on the subject since they were made to in high school.

These are all comments I make from personal experience, incidentally. I don't mean to discourage anyone from trying, just to encourage you to take a realistic look about your current level and what you expect to get out of this, and how it's going to match up to your own frustration threshold.

Side note: to be honest, if you're still at the stage where you think you can measure your kanji knowledge as a percentage, I suspect real text may come as a bit of a shock to the system.
 
Joined
Mar 1, 2014
Messages
7
If you're stopping every second sentence because there's so much unfamiliar grammar/vocab you can't even start to get an idea of what the story is about, you'd probably benefit from putting that particular book to one side and going back to get some more grammar study or to preload on appropriate vocabulary. e.g. if you're reading a courtroom drama and there's a lot of legal terms popping up you don't recognise, go give yourself a crash course in the Japanese legal system and then come back to it.
Yeah I was thinking that might be the case, a full novel is more something to work towards than to decipher bit by bit.

Are there any books or short stories that might be more my style - basic and easy enough to get through without too much trouble, but challenging enough to learn from?

Also, as a separate question, are there many learning resources out there that are similar to Assimil in that they break down chunks of text bit by bit with a literal 'word by word' comparison to English? Or is that harder to come by?
 
Joined
Jan 14, 2009
Messages
1,660
Ratings
393
There are some bilingual books like "Read Real Japanese"/"Breaking Into Japanese Literature" - short stories by well known authors with Japanese on one page and on the facing page English line by line translation + notes etc.

Very short stories are known as ショートショート - you can find them as collections or online (blog ranking site). Blogs in general are good for giving yourself something short to read daily.

If you like manga you might want to look at comico (website and/or app).
 
Top