Learning to read Japanese can be a daunting task, especially for those who are new to the language and the writing system. However, for those who are planning to move to Japan, being able to read Japanese books is an important step towards fully immersing themselves in the culture and language. Although it may seem intimidating at first, with the right tools and resources, anyone can learn how to read Japanese. In this article, we will provide some tips and resources to help beginners get started on their journey towards reading Japanese books.
The allure of Japanese literature
Japanese books are not only a gateway to understanding the language, but they are also a window into the culture and people of Japan. In Japan, bookstores are not just a place to purchase books, but they are also gathering places where people can spend hours browsing the shelves, reading, and enjoying a cup of tea. While e-readers are becoming increasingly popular around the world, physical books still reign supreme in Japan, with many people preferring the feel and smell of a real book. The allure of Japanese books lies not only in the language they are written in but also in the unique art styles, stories, and perspectives that they offer. Whether you are interested in manga, literature, or non-fiction, there is something for everyone in the world of Japanese books.
For those interested in diving deeper into the world of Japanese literature, reading works by famous Japanese authors in their original language can offer a richer and more authentic experience. Authors such as Haruki Murakami, Yukio Mishima, and Natsume Soseki have achieved international fame for their unique perspectives and writing styles, and their works have been translated into multiple languages. However, as with any translation, nuances and cultural references may be lost, making it difficult to fully appreciate the intended meaning of the text. By reading the original Japanese text, you can gain a deeper understanding of the author’s intentions and the cultural context in which the work was created. Though it may be challenging for beginners to tackle such works, the rewards of being able to read them in their original form are undoubtedly worth the effort.
How to get good enough at reading Japanese
Learning to read kanji is a crucial step towards being able to read Japanese novels and other written works. Kanji are the Chinese characters that are used in the Japanese writing system, and they can seem intimidating to beginners due to the sheer number of characters and their complex shapes. However, with the right approach and some dedication, anyone can become proficient in reading kanji and start enjoying Japanese literature in its original form.
One popular way to improve kanji reading skills is through the use of language learning apps such as WaniKani. These apps use spaced repetition and gamification techniques to help users memorize kanji and vocabulary efficiently. WaniKani offers a comprehensive program that teaches over 2,000 kanji and 6,000 vocabulary words in a structured way, with lessons and reviews tailored to the user’s individual pace and progress. By incorporating these apps into your language learning routine, you can make steady progress towards becoming proficient in reading kanji and eventually, reading Japanese books.
As you progress in your Japanese language studies, you may start to feel confident in your ability to communicate using the language. However, the realization that material aimed at native speakers is a different kettle of fish can come as a shock. Japanese textbooks and language courses are designed to teach you the basics of the language, but they often fall short when it comes to preparing you for the nuances of real-life Japanese communication.
There is a myriad of challenges when it comes to understanding material aimed at native Japanese speakers. One example is the use of kanji that have multiple readings or meanings, which can be confusing for learners who have only studied textbook Japanese. Similarly, there are regional accents and dialects that can make it difficult to understand what native speakers are saying, even if you have a strong grasp of the language.
The differences between textbook Japanese and the language spoken by native speakers can be overwhelming at first, and it’s natural to feel frustrated and discouraged. However, with perseverance and practice, you can overcome these challenges and become more confident in your ability to communicate with Japanese speakers. Exposure to authentic materials like books and media aimed at native speakers is a crucial step in improving your language skills and achieving fluency.
My first book
When I read my first Japanese novel, “Miracles of the Namiya General Store,” it was a difficult mission that took me over a year to complete. I remember buying it, opening the first page, and having to use a dictionary to look up nearly every word. I was so let down. I struggled with the amount of new vocabulary and kanji that I encountered while reading. I would often get frustrated and had to take breaks from the book. However, the more I read, the more my reading speed and comprehension improved, and I eventually reached the end of the book.
Despite the challenges, I found reading the novel to be a rewarding experience. It gave me a glimpse into Japanese culture and society, and the story was both heart-warming and thought-provoking. It was a reminder that language learning is not just about memorizing vocabulary and grammar rules but also about gaining a deeper understanding of the people and culture behind the language.
If you’re struggling with reading your first Japanese novel, my advice would be to take it slow and enjoy the process. Don’t worry about how long it takes you to finish the book or how many words you don’t know. Instead, focus on the joy of immersing yourself in a different language and culture. With persistence and dedication, you’ll soon find that reading Japanese novels becomes easier and more enjoyable.
Once you make it
There is a certain sense of elation that comes with being able to read books in Japanese with ease, especially after years of studying the language. Now, 3 years after battling with my first book, I am able to finish a book in just over a week. I have read a variety of books, from the thrilling “Dying Eye” by Keigo Higashino, to the heartwarming “Mikka Kan No Koufuku,” and I am more than glad that I spent the time getting to the point where I can read them.
Of course, not every book is a masterpiece, and there are times when reading in Japanese can feel like a chore. However, the feeling of accomplishment that comes with being able to read a piece of literature in its original language is unparalleled. It allows you to fully appreciate the intricacies and nuances of the writing, and to gain a deeper understanding of the culture and society that produced it.
In conclusion, learning to read Japanese books can be a challenging but rewarding experience that offers a glimpse into the unique culture, art styles, and perspectives of Japan. The allure of Japanese books lies not only in the language they are written in, but also in the authentic experience they offer when read in their original form. While learning to read kanji may seem daunting, there are many resources available to help beginners on their journey, including language learning apps like WaniKani. Although it may take time and dedication to become proficient in reading Japanese, the journey is well worth it for those interested in immersing themselves in the language and culture.