From the monthly archives: June 2011

I’ve come across various books that are collections of short stories or essays designed for different elementary school grades, and I think that they might be useful for those of us doing extensive reading in Japanese.

Pros:

  • Because they’re divided by grade, you already have a good idea of how difficult they’ll be.
  • I’ve read two of these kinds of books; they were both level 3 by my system, but both of them had more content than the average level 3 book, which usually has around 1,000 – 3,000 words: “New Stories That Linger In The Heart for First Graders” had around 5,300 words and “Heartwarming Stories for Second Graders” had around 4,700. So at least at the lower grades, one of these books will most likely last you longer than an average book.
  • They seem to be fairly widely available (I haven’t checked every book on my list, but Kinokuniya had both of the books that I’ve read), not too expensive new, and if you can get them used many of them are extremely cheap.
  • They’re divided into different stories by different authors, so one book gives you not just varying subjects to amuse yourself with, but also examples of how short stories in Japanese are written and what different writing styles are like.
  • There are fewer pictures; depending on your reading level this might be a good thing or a bad one, but it does mean that there’s more room for words.
  • There are different kinds of collections: some based on literature, some about science, and even some about ghosts.
  • If you try one book and particularly enjoy it, finding the next book is as simple as moving up a grade or seeing if there are more books at the same grade in a related series; you might also be able to look up other books by an author who particularly caught your attention.

Cons:

  • Of the two books I’ve read, not all of the stories were extremely interesting in and of themselves, and I’d go so far as to call “Heartwarming Stories for Second Graders” boring (and my threshold for being amused is generally pretty low). I am sure that some series are better than others, but I think that these are probably the kinds of things you read to add to your general ability and not so much for their own sake. The books generally felt, to me, like extensions of what kids might read in school, so they had that vibe of “what adults think would be beneficial for proper child development.” That can be a good point if you’re interested in Japanese educational culture or want to try to mimic that experience. (If you want fart jokes instead, my Zorori series review is right this way.)
  • Just because these are for kids doesn’t necessarily mean they’re easy: I would recommend that someone new to extensive reading get some experience reading shorter stories or graded readers before tackling even the ones for first graders, because with less pictures and more text, even the book for first-graders I read was on the harder end of level 3.
  • e_dub_kendo points out that that they have the potential to get pretty repetitive, especially if you pick up some of the more specialized ones like the collections of fairy tales.

I’m going to list as many of these series as I can find, but I’ve only read two of these books: if you read any of them, feel free to send me a short review with what kinds of stories it had, what level it was, the approximate number of words and your rating. Also, if you find any other series like these, let me know and I’ll add them.

I’ve added Amazon links because it’s easier to collect them all in one place this way, I like to be able to see the covers and I certainly wouldn’t complain if someone used the links to order through (as an affiliate I get a percentage), but check around for the most cost-efficient way to buy before you actually order any of these, because the odds are good it’s not Amazon. Click here for suggestions on where to find these books.

新心にのこる◯年生の読みもの
New Stories That Linger In The Heart For 1st-6th Graders
The book for first graders had ten short stories, and the subjects were varied: there were standard pieces of short fiction, a non-fiction piece, some folk tales and a story by Nankichi Niimi, a famous children’s author. (This one: 一年生たちとひよめ. It was unabridged, but had fewer kanji.) Had a soft cover, so would cost less to ship if shipping costs are calculated by weight. ★★★★☆
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


なぜ?どうして?科学のお話 ◯年生
Why? How? Scientific Stories for 1st-6th Graders
I haven’t read any of these, but Kanjiguy highly recommended the one for first-graders. Each story was about 2-3 pages long, so with 183 pages that’s quite a few stories!
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


10分で読めるお話 ◯年生
Stories You Can Read In 10 Minutes for 1st-6th Graders
Fembassist has been reading these, and says they’re mostly short stories from Japan.
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


10分で読める名作 ◯年生
Classics You Can Read In 10 Minutes for 1st-6th Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


10分で読める物語 ◯年生
Tales You Can Read In 10 Minutes for 1st-6th Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


10分で読める伝記 ◯年生
Biographies You Can Read In 10 Minutes for 1st-6th Graders
This series isn’t completely available yet, but I assume they’ll be going to 6th grade eventually!
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


なぜ?どうして? みぢかなぎもん◯年生
Why? How? Answers to Everyday Questions for 1st-6th graders
Another new series.
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


なぜ?どうして?科学なぞとき物語 ◯年生
Why? How? Stories about Solving Mysteries of Science for 1st-6th Graders
I guess someone has found that there’s really a market for books like these.
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


心があったかくなる話 ◯年生
Heartwarming Stories for 1st-4th Graders
The 2nd grade book of this series was level 3, 158 pages and 4,700 words (est.), and contained 14 stories. The stories were all slice-of-life short fiction, and, to me, weren’t as interesting or varied as the ones in 新心にのこる1年生の読みもの; it is pretty much what you would expect from a book with this kind of title. Hard cover. ★★☆☆☆
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


ほんとうに心があったかくなる話 ◯年生
Truly Heartwarming Stories for 1st-4th Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


心にしみるお母さんの話 ◯年生
Mother’s Heart-Piercing Stories for 1st-4th Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


読書の時間に読む本 小学◯年生
A Book To Read During Reading Time for 1st-6th Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


読書の時間に読む本〈2〉小学◯年生
A Book To Read During Reading Time (2) for 1st-6th Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


読んでおきたい ◯年生の読みもの
Must-Read Stories For 1st-6th Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


齋藤孝のイッキによめる!名作選 小学◯年生
Takashi Saitō’s Selection Of Classics To Read At One Go for 1st-6th Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


齋藤孝のイッキによめる!音読名作選 小学◯年生
Takashi Saitō’s Selection Of Classics To Read Aloud At One Go for 1st-3rd Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


米村でんじろうのイッキによめる! おもしろ科学 小学◯年生
Yonemura Denjirō’s Interesting Science To Read At One Go for 1st-3rd Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


日本のむかし話 ◯年生
Tales of Old Japan for 1st-3rd Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


◯年生の読みものー理科や算数が好きになる
Reading Material for 1st-6th Graders: Start To Enjoy Science And Math
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


おばけ・ゆうれい話 ◯年生
Ghost and Spirit Stories for 1st-3rd Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.



(There are also older versions of these that are very cheap used: おばけ・ゆうれい話〈1年生, おばけ・ゆうれい話〈2年生〉, おばけ・ゆうれい話〈3年生〉)

科学なぜどうして ◯年生
The Whys and Hows of Science for 1st-3rd Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


世界のわらい話 ◯年生
Funny Stories from Around The World for 1st-3rd Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.



(There are also older versions of these, although the used price for them isn’t always better than the used price for the newer ones. 世界のわらい話〈1年生〉, 世界のわらい話〈2年生〉, 世界のわらい話〈3年生〉)

グリム童話 ◯年生
Grimm Fairy Tales for 1st-3rd Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


アンデルセン童話 ◯年生
Andersen Fairy Tales for 1st-3rd Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


ことわざ物語 ◯年生
Proverb Tales for 1st-3rd Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


(There is an older version of this series as well, which may be cheaper used: ことわざものがたり 一年生 , ことわざものがたり 二年生 , ことわざ物語 三年生 )

イソップ童話 ◯年生
Aesop’s Fables for 1st-3rd Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


世界の名作童話 ◯年生
Famous Children’s Stories from Around The World for 1st-3rd Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


親も子も読む名作 ◯年生の読みもの
Masterpieces for Parents and Children: Reading Material for 1st-6th Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.

 

もしかしたら名探偵
Perhaps, Great Detective
作:杉山 亮(すぎやま あきら, Sugiyama Akira) 
絵:中川 大輔(なかがわ だいすけ, Nakagawa Daisuke)
Level 3 本, 146 pages, 2,200 words (est.) ★★★★★
Part of the ミルキー杉山の名探偵シリーズ (Milky Sugiyama, Great Detective Series)
Hardcover

I read Akira Sugiyama’s わんわん探偵団 (The Doggie Detective Agency) some time ago and loved it, so when Emmie sent me a picture of the books she was sending me that included one by the same author, もしかしたら名探偵, it made it even harder to wait for them to arrive! When I read it, I found that it was a level 3 book, unlike わんわん探偵団 which is level 4, and better yet was part of a series. Before I was fifteen pages in, I knew this one would be getting its own review.

The series is narrated by ミルキー杉山 (Milky Sugiyama), a struggling detective who’s separated from his wife and has to take odd jobs to make ends meet. In this volume, he tackles three cases: a stolen painting, a lost book and a mysterious cipher. Each story is divided into two parts: the “case” and the “solution,” and if you’re on the ball, you should be able to come up with the answer before Milky does. (I got one out of three, not being particularly perceptive when it comes to mystery stories, even ones for kids.)

Difficulty

I’ve read a lot of level 3 books at this point, and in my experience even the good ones are rather on the childish side, but even though this book is decidedly for children it’s about an adult, so it has a more sophisticated voice — for example, the reader is informed (slightly obliquely) about Milky’s marital and financial woes. The sentences are fairly complex, but they’re sparse and thoroughly illustrated, so they don’t feel overwhelming and unknown words can generally be guessed from the pictures. There are around 2,200 words altogether, which is more than most level 3 books, but the book is just longer than most level 3 books; I think that the generous amount of illustrations and the relatively small number of words per page put it slightly on the easy side of level 3. Still, it didn’t strike me as condescending or tedious, just somewhat simplified and even purposely laconic at times. I imagine that’s not an easy balance for a writer to strike, and if there are many other level 3 books out there that pull it off I haven’t found them yet. Because of the level, length and content, I think this would be an ideal series for someone who was moving away from picture books and towards chapter books. (And I’d love to recruit the author to write graded readers in Japanese…)

The illustrations are quirky and fun, and there’s a lot of writing in the background on signs, posters and so on, so even though there’s not a good deal of kanji in the text itself and what there is is basic, there’s some incidental kanji practice to be squeezed out of the pictures.

Sample text
This is four pages of text; all kanji have furigana in the original text.

おれの名は ミルキー杉山。
たんていだ。
いつもわくわく していたいから、このしごとを やっている。
こんどの事件は、こうだ。
きのう、びじゅつかんから 絵が、一まい ぬすまれた。
ガードマンが ここ一時に みたときには、あったのに、二時には、きえていたのだ。
びじゅつかんには まどがない。
だから、はんにんは おきゃくのふりをして いりぐいちから、はいってきたに ちがいない。
一時から二時のあいだに おきゃくは、四人しか いない。
となると、どろぼうは そのなかにいるってわけだ。

How to get it

Here’s the list of all the books in the series:
もしかしたら名探偵, あしたからは名探偵, そんなわけで名探偵, まってました名探偵, あめあがりの名探偵, いつのまにか名探偵, どんなときも名探偵, なんだかんだ名探偵, かえってきた名探偵, よーいどんで名探偵, ひるもよるも名探偵

Please refer to my post about buying books online for advice. This series seems to be fairly cheap used, if you can get it that way, and some of them are in stock at Kinokuniya (for $16-18) and at YesAsia (for $18.49); there’s always Amazon (watch the shipping and handling fees) and bk1 as well.

You can see if any of them are at a library close to you with worldcat.

I’m posting a day late since I was out of town, but as of Saturday I was at 220,526 words. Didn’t read quite as much as I wanted to during the week, but made up for it on the weekend. Haven’t updated my book lists or sidebar either…. Well, that can wait.

I’m excited that this blog has been getting some attention recently! I think the most logical way to promote extensive reading among Japanese learners would be to try to reach Japanese teachers, since they’re in a better position to create libraries available to multiple students and those of us studying on our own have to fend for ourselves. Still, I get the sense that many of the people who have found this blog through Twitter should do even better with extensive reading than I have, provided they can find enough of the right kind of material. I wish I had discovered extensive reading earlier and spent less time puzzling out texts above my level, but that did mean I was exposed to a lot of words, and although most of them didn’t sink too deeply into my mind at the time, many of them were then later reinforced by extensive reading. My impression is that many other people studying on their own have also immersed themselves into listening, reading and so on, and I bet they have their own stores of latent vocabulary that will be brought to the forefront and strengthened through extensive reading.

I hope I’m doing a good job explaining what exactly I’m getting at… I was mostly writing this blog for my own reference, and it shows, so I should do more to make it useful to other people. I was rather enjoying having a blog that no one read, though. My paperdoll page gets about fifty times the traffic this one does… Not that I am complaining!

Update (June 28): Hey, they’re starting to confirm my theory! ^^ Check out Operation Subarashii: Read More and Extensive Reading meet Incremental Reading, or How to (多読)tadoku without a 日本語 library.

 

I hit 200,636 words last night! I’ve been getting fairly bored of level 3 books, so I brought home books with a wider range of difficulties from yesterday’s trip to Nikkei Bunko. I feel like I’ve been writing about extensive reading more and reading less this last week, so I will probably be fairly quiet this week.

The Read More Or Die Tadoku Contest registration is open, and the contest will start on June 1. The idea is to keep track of how many pages you read by sending the totals to a Twitter bot. I ran across the contest before I even started this blog, but I’m not very competitive so I didn’t even consider joining in. Now that I’ve met some of the people involved in it like LordSilent and Lan’dorien through Twitter, it sounded kind of fun, and I’m in for this round!

Emmie has started a bilingual extensive reading community on Goodreads. If you’re interested in extensive reading, join the group to discuss recommendations and meet other tadoku addicts. I added some topics asking for recommendations of Japanese books, so those may be good to keep an eye on. Take some time to think about all the books, comics, movies and so on that you loved as a kid and add those to the other recommendation threads!

I decided to try to start an extensive reading group through the Tacoma Japanese Language and Culture meetup group. Two people came to the first one, and they were both beginning readers, so luckily the level 0 graded readers I had ordered had arrived by then, and both of the people who came really enjoyed them. Since then, the other levels (which I bought used from Lan’dorien) have also arrived, and I plan to review them for the blog soon.

 

“Don’t use a dictionary when you’re reading” is the first of the three extensive reading principles my friends told me about — and yet it took me months to stop using one. I rationalized it, telling myself that I remembered words and their associated kanji more efficiently if I looked them up, that looking up a word on my computer took such a short time that it didn’t break my flow, that with limited access to books I had to squeeze all the utility from them that I could. These things weren’t not true. But the two largest reasons I clung to the dictionary were because I felt intensely uncomfortable when I didn’t know a word and years of formal classes in Japanese and French had trained me to look up everything.

When I stopped using the dictionary, it felt like a sacrifice. It didn’t seem like it would actually make that big of a difference, and it felt like I was actively throwing away a useful resource: I stopped only because I had faith in those three extensive reading principles.

Now I’ve been consistently reading without a dictionary for about three months, and if I’m reading a book within my level, I’ve learned to unconsciously use the surrounding words, pictures and grammatical context to figure out unknown words. For example, this sentence from Roald Dahl’s “The Giraffe And The Pelly And Me” (こちらゆかいな窓ふき会社, about a level 4 book by my system) provides an opportunity to illustrate my thought process:

と、突然、大きなふろおけが、三階の窓から飛び出し、道のまん中に落ちて、すさまじい音をひびかせてくだけちゃった!

The three words I didn’t immediately know in this sentence were ふろおけ, すさまじい and くだける. As I read ふろおけ, I first slotted it as a noun I didn’t know because it was preceded by a な adjective and followed by the particle が. So some unknown, but large, noun flew out of the window. I associated it with ふろ and ふろしき, but at the time didn’t have much else to go on (and it could have been entirely unrelated to either) so I continued. すさまじい is an い adjective and describes 音, and I can assume that this word describes the sound of some big thing flying out of a third floor window and landing in the middle of a street. As for the last one, its ending and placement in the sentence made it obvious that it was a verb, and by this time I had so much extra information that I quickly reformulated the sentence in English, in the form of a fill-in-the-blank test:

“Suddenly, a big __________ (noun) flew out of the third floor window, fell right in the middle of the street and, causing a __________ (adjective) noise, __________ (verb)!”
(My apologies to Roald Dahl. The purpose of these mental fill-in-the-blank tests is just to quickly isolate and identify unknown words.)

I can’t really figure out what “noun” and “adjective” are just from a sentence like this — although I start to have an idea about the adjective, and I imagine it to be unpleasant — but there are a limited amount of verbs that make sense in context. Something in the range of “broke” or “smashed” or “crashed,” perhaps?

So from one read-through of the sentence, I’m fairly sure I understand one of my three unknown words, and I’ve got a good lead on another. At this point, I assume that if the first one happens to be important it’ll show up again, or that there is a possibility of figuring it out from whatever comes next. Sure enough, a toilet follows the ふろおけ out the window, lending some weight to the idea that this word is related to ふろ. It makes sense, insofar as it makes sense at all. And in this case, the book has pictures, and on the next page there is a lovely illustration of a toilet sailing through the air, soon to join a smashed bathtub.

So now I know for sure that ふろおけ is “bathtub” (and I would have been about 80% sure without the picture) and from that, I can conclude that すさまじい, whatever other meanings it may have, at the very least holds the meaning of “the sound a bathtub makes when it flies out of a third story window and crashes on the ground.” That’s not the dictionary definition, perhaps, but it’s a good start.

In this case, ふろおけ was figured out mostly from the surrounding words and the picture and slightly through grammatical context, すさまじい from both the surrounding words and grammatical context, and くだける mostly through grammatical context and slightly from the surrounding words. Now that I’m writing about them for my blog I’m likely to remember all of them, but in the course of normal reading I would probably remember ふろおけ forever, as it’s a very basic word, it’s connected to another very basic word and it flew out of a third floor window. I might have a chance of remembering くだける and すさまじい, depending on what context they appeared in and how soon I saw them again. However, even if I hadn’t been able to guess a single one of them, I still would have been able to derive considerable meaning from the sentence because it’s at my fluent reading level and because I’ve stopped focusing on individual words. If a word is important to the story, it’ll be repeated and I’ll pick it up eventually, and if it’s an important part of the language at this level, it’ll be repeated in this book or another one. So I can still form a picture of the meaning even without knowing every single word my eyes pass over. (And if I can’t, then I skip it and keep going, and then if I keep having that problem that just means the book is still above my level and it’s time for another one.)

I’ve detailed my thought process here, but when I was actually reading, this was all nearly unconscious and almost instantaneous. This ability to figure things out almost immediately from grammatical context, surrounding words and pictures is what I got in exchange for sacrificing my dictionary habit and my pride. The dictionary would have delivered the same result in about the same time frame (assuming I didn’t get distracted by checking Twitter), but relying on it never gave me an opportunity to develop those skills. I also think that practicing on short, simple sentences made it easier to guess words, again aiding in the skill development.

When I first started reading without a dictionary, I felt as if I was just reinforcing the vocabulary I already knew and not learning new words, and I felt uneasy about the idea that I was just staying in place. (I even wrote about it in my first weekly update.) At first, as a bargain with myself, I would look up words after I finished a book. Later on, I would look up some words after I finished a book. Now I look up words only if I really liked the book or I was particularly curious about the word for some reason. I know I hardly retain everything I figure out in this way, but I do feel like I remember enough that I don’t worry about whether or not I’m learning enough vocabulary.

The only thing I miss about using a dictionary is making the connections with kanji. For example, すさまじい is also written 凄まじい. I know 凄い, so that’s another clue I could have used if the word had been written in kanji, and it’s something I would have missed if I hadn’t looked up these words while writing this blog entry. This may not be a problem for those of you who actually memorize on’yomi and kun’yomi properly: I can’t for the life of me remember those readings in isolation, so I don’t even bother trying anymore. Still, as the books I read get more advanced, more kanji starts to appear — which often actually makes them easier. Actually, I mentioned earlier that I guessed that ふろおけ was “bathtub” because the next big noun to appear was “toilet,” but the truth is that I didn’t know the word for toilet before, either. But it happens to be 便器, and it happened to be written in kanji, and so it immediately made sense to me because I’m familiar with both of those kanji already. I often think it’s funny that extensive reading has a large following among Japanese people learning to read English, but because of kanji, the technique is perfectly suited for those of us who are learning to read Japanese!

If the idea of extensive reading appeals to you, but you’re hesitant to stop using the dictionary, I hope this will encourage you to give it a try. For me, it’s proving to be a central part of the process, even though I didn’t understand what the big deal was when I first read about the three principles.

 

Free Japanese Children’s Stories and Fairytales

Ehon Navi: Picture Books for Happiness

With over 1,000 free Japanese picture books, EhonNavi is like living next to a library! Sign up here, it’s quick and free. (I wrote a walkthrough to help with this part.) Once you’re logged in, click the link on the right that says 全ページ試し読み to see the available books; click a book and find the yellow icon that says the same thing to read it.

Four picture book covers There are books for everyone here! The list of available books has a section where they can be sorted by age. I’ve also started sorting them by word count. The lower the word count, the easier the book. I’ve mostly focused on adding the very easy ones so far, so that even beginners can start reading.

You can only read a book once, and if there’s an error of some sort you should be able to re-access the book, as long as it’s within 15 minutes. The recommended OS is Microsoft Windows XP Home Service Pack 3, with Internet Explorer 8.0 or Firefox 3.6 and Flash Player 10 installed. It may not work as well with WindowsXP Service Pack 2 or Mac, and Chrome is not supported. I read them on a Mac with Firefox, and it works consistently for me, but I have to follow a procedure. When I open the book, the first thing I do is flip through the pages, waiting until each one loads. Once I’m at the end with all of the pages loaded, I’ll go back to the beginning and read. If the loading stops and some of the pages are still pixelated after waiting a few minutes, I have to shut the whole browser down, then open it back up again and start reading again. (Just closing the window with the book in it and trying to open that again never works for me.) Hopefully it’s not like this for everyone… Remember, you have a 15-minute window to load the pages, but once you have them loaded you can keep the window open indefinitely.

It’s a little picky, but I think this is the best resource out there for Japanese picture books, so please give it a shot!

福娘童話集 (Hukumusume’s Fairy Tale Collection)
With hundreds of fairy tales, short stories and fables, you’ll never be hurting for reading material as long as this site is around! Start with the stories that have been made into picture books. Many of the other stories don’t have pictures, making them better for more advanced readers. Try 日本の昔話 (Japanese Folktales), and if those are starting to feel like you’ve read them a billion times, try the 江戸小話 (Short Stories from Edo), or make a habit of reading 今日は何の日? (What Day Is It Today?)

心の絵本 (Picture Books For The Heart)
Nicely illustrated short stories, mostly little folktale types of stories featuring cute animals. (They are even written in all hiragana and katakana, no kanji; this is a pain for adult readers who already know and would like to practice kanji, but it is exactly what you’ll find in a real picture book.) Click here for word counts and levels for some of the stories. (Again, the lower the word count, the easier the story.)

デジタル絵本サイト (Digital Picture Book Site).
This site has around a hundred picture books, all illustrated by children. My only problem with it is that there are a lot of compression artifacts around the text for most, though not all, of the stories, and it really bothers me, considering that actual kids books start with nice, clear, large text. If the poor quality of the text is a problem for you, start with the stories in large text — there’s about thirty of them.

The Great Chokochoko Library
A collection of reading material, sorted by level. There’s various types of material available: stories, articles and so on. It seems to be geared towards a more traditional type of reading practice, with no pictures and long wordlists.

日本昔ばなし (Old Stories Of Japan)
I would recommend the other story sites over this one because it might be too tempting to rely on the English translation; there are, however, many Japanese fairy tales available here, and my impression is that they use more advanced kanji than the other two sites, so it may be worth a look.

Japanese books from the International Children’s Library
There are only a handful of stories in Japanese, but I do like to see kids’ books from the Showa era, so I’m including it anyway.

Gakken Books for Supporting Reconstruction
Gakken has made some of their books available for free in PDF form to help support the children and families still living in shelters after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, as well as volunteers and nurses. The page is divided into three categories: picture books/reading material, games that can be played without special equipment and disaster nursing.

船 (The Boat)
This is, unfortunately, just one story, but if you are thinking about buying the よむよむ文庫 Japanese graded readers (or of course, just for reading practice in general), try this Level 1 (beginner) story, which was put up as a sample of the series.

ふぁんた時間 (Fantasy Time)
More of a listening resource than a reading resource, but that’s good to have too! Each story has a link to its corresponding Aozora entry, so you can read along while listening if you like, or read the story first if you prefer. (This may also be a good way of finding more reading material by the same authors on Aozora, which I think is a hard site for a beginning reader to find suitable content on.) Stories with a green button marked 立ち読みする have lovely illustrations and text to go along with the audio.
These are generally more complicated than stories from Hukumusume or the Digital Picture Book Site.

ゆめよみおはなし ひなたぼっこ (Dream-Reading Storytime: Basking In The Sun)
This used to be available as a podcast, but I can’t tell if it is anymore or not. It’s a mother and her son reading stories from different sources such as Aozora and 福娘童話集, and it’s really charming! There are links to all the stories, so you can read along.

Intermediate Reading Resources

青い鳥文庫 ためし読み!(Aoitori Bunko: Trial Reading!)
Aoitori Bunko is a line of classic books and original fiction aimed at children between around 3rd grade and 6th grade; I would estimate most of their books are level 6 or so. This page has previews of dozens of their books, so check it out if you are a fairly advanced reader and looking for a new book or series to try!

マジック・ツリーハウス 立ち読み (Magic Tree House: Trial Reading)
The Magic Tree House series has been translated into Japanese, and you can read around a dozen pages from each of the books here, so you can test them out and see if they’d be at your level and fun for you.

「いろいろな場面/「4こままんが」(Various Situations / 4-Panel Manga)
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find 擬音語 (sound words) and 擬態語, (emotional state words) to be extremely hard to learn just from context, so one of my friends was kind enough to find this site for me. It presents those kinds of words in context and in comics.

青空文庫 (Open Air Library)
Aozora is similar to Project Gutenberg, with impressive amounts of public domain material freely available. As far as extensive reading goes, though, I think it’s really only likely to be of use to someone already reading at a fairly high level (level 5 and up by my classification system), and they use the ruby tag for furigana, which displays kanji readings in parentheses if you’re using a browser that doesn’t support the tag. (Chrome, Safari and Internet Explorer support it.) If you’re not yet at the level where you can read advanced material without decoding it, I think even the time spent trying to navigate this site to find something interesting and suitable to read would be better spent elsewhere. Still, if you can handle advanced material without decoding, it might be time to try some authentic literature here. You could start with 宮沢賢治 (Miyazawa Kenji), who wrote children’s stories such as 注文の多い料理店 (The Restaurant of Many Orders), or 新美南吉 (Niimi Nankichi), whose 手袋を買いに (Buying Mittens) is a classic.

近代デジタルライブラリー (Digital Library from the Meiji Era)
I suspect there is fun to be had here if you are not only a fairly high-level reader, but also patient with the interface and able to cope with unexpected things like old-style kanji and orthography and horizontal Japanese read right to left. There’s Japanese kids’ books in the 909 section (use the テーマ検索 link to get there), you could search for stories you already know like 桃太郎, or start with this page about children’s stories, from the announcement of the merging of the 児童書デジタルライブラリー (Juvenile Literature Digital Library) with this site. I can’t say I’m seriously recommending this for most extensive readers, even if there are children’s books — I just think it’s so amazing that something like this is available to the world.

News Sites for Kids

NHK NewsWeb Easy
News written in easy Japanese. Of the news sites I’m listing here, this one is the simplest. The language is simplified and there’s a pop-up dictionary for words that a reader might not know. Plus, there’s audio to go along with it, you can make any place names or names of people show up in a different color and you can follow a link back to the original article if you want to challenge yourself a little more. I wouldn’t recommend any of these to a beginning reader, but if you’re an intermediate reader and you want to start reading the news, start here!

こどもアサヒ (Children’s Asahi)
News articles written for grade-schoolers and middle-schoolers from the Asahi Shimbun’s sister paper, こどもアサヒ. There’s also a digital version of the full newspaper that you can subscribe to for 1720 yen a month. If anyone actually does this, please tell me how you liked it!

毎日小学生新聞 (Mainichi Grade-Schooler Newspaper)
Articles and so on for grade schoolers from the Mainichi Shinbun. I haven’t spent much time reading this one, but the sense I get from it is that it uses harder language and fewer supports than NHK News Web Easy, and that there’s more types of content, such as interviews and explanations of words used in the news.

I’m always on the lookout for more online reading resources, so feel free to post them in the comments! I’m particularly interested in low-level resources, because those are the kinds of things that are the most useful, but the most hard to find if you’re a beginning reader. I presume that anyone who is able to read things like the texts at the Japanese Text Initiative already knows how to find them.

One of the biggest problems with extensive reading for people studying Japanese is that having ample amounts of reading material is the cornerstone of the whole experience, but it’s hard to get that reading material for those of us not in Japan. Particularly at the beginning stages of learning a language, there’s the twin demons of scarcity and expense: at the moment, if you don’t have a teacher who’s into extensive reading or access to a well-stocked library, there aren’t too many alternatives to buying books, probably online, and that’s an expensive proposition.

I’m going to write more about ways of getting books, but for now I’m just going to write about the best methods I’ve found:

Buying used books

The cheapest possible way I’ve found to get books so far is to buy them used, have them sent to a friend’s address in Japan, then have your friend box them up and ship them through surface mail.

There’s two sites I’ve used to order books so far: Amazon.co.jp and book-off online. Amazon has, by far, the larger selection, and many books are quite cheap used; however, there’s a shipping fee of ¥250 for all used books. If they’re new, the shipping is free. Book-off online has fewer books, but its major advantage is that shipping is free if you buy more than ¥1,500 worth of books. So for books that you want, look them up on both sites; add ¥250 to any used book price you see on Amazon, then compare prices. As far as I know, you can’t combine shipping for used books through Amazon’s resellers. (Drat.)

This requires knowing what books you want, which is tough if you can’t see the actual text… That’s why I’m particularly interested in finding series of slightly old books, books with multiple stories in one volume and books that are particularly long for their level.

The books should be sent as printed matter, and there’s a 5 kg (11 pound) weight limit (2 kg, or 4.4 pounds, for books sent to Ireland or Canada). Sent through surface mail, which will take 1-3 months, it should be around ¥2700 for a package right at the weight limit. Emmie was able to send sixteen books in one package to me in this way, but it will depend on how heavy your books are — a lot of the ones she sent me were picture books, so were relatively thin. (That package arrived in about a month and a half.) For repaying the shipping fee, you could use PayPal or buy an Amazon.co.jp gift card.

Of course, there’s always the problem of finding someone who’ll help you with this. I’m lucky that Emmie is kind enough to do this for me, but even though she’s got a heart as big as a house I can’t exactly volunteer her to everyone learning Japanese! It’s a big favor to ask of someone, and if Emmie hadn’t initially offered, I’d probably still be just thinking about it as a potential plan. I wonder if there’d be a possibility of one of the Japanese buying services out there like J-List or White Rabbit offering collections of cheap used books at various difficulty levels, or about collections of subjects?

Buying new books

If there’s a new book you want, it seems that it’s usually just about as cost-effective to buy it from Kinokuniya as it would be to buy it on Amazon.co.jp, because the markup isn’t generally too bad and shipping is reasonable (and is even free if you buy more than $100 at once). (Shipping new books directly through Amazon.co.jp is pretty darned expensive: ¥2,700 per shipment of books/videos to North America, plus a ¥300 handling charge per item.) YesAsia is also a possibility; their prices are usually higher than Kinokuniya’s, but they offer free shipping starting at $39, so depending on how much you’re ordering it could even out.

I’ve found Kinokuniya’s website to be a little hard to navigate. For example, you can get free shipping if you order $100 worth of books at one time, but those books all have to be from the same store. So if you ordered $50 of books from the Seattle store and $50 of books from the San Francisco store, you wouldn’t get the free shipping. However, you can’t search for book availability by store, so if you were bent on getting that free shipping you would have to keep directly searching for books you wanted until you found enough of them at the same store. Luckily, regular shipping isn’t horribly expensive. You can also special order books, and as I understand it, you can direct them to ship all of the special ordered books at once, meaning you should be able to combine the shipping. However, I haven’t ordered anything from Kinokuniya online yet; when I do I’ll write more about it.

Kanjiguy suggested bk1, which is based in Japan and all in Japanese; it offers more shipping options than Amazon does, and there’s no handling fee. Read through the shipping options before placing an order, if you go with them, because shipping overseas seems to be calculated only after your order is complete, so you can’t compare the final price effectively.

I’ll leave it there for now; if I’m missing something about either of these methods, or if there’s a cheaper way of getting books that you can think of, please let me know!

 

So I met Emmie through the tadoku.org boards, which was a tremendously lucky thing for me in many ways! We’ve become friends and she’s great fun to chat with on Twitter, and also she offered to send me some of her children’s books that she didn’t need anymore if I paid for shipping. Well, they just arrived this week! (I asked her to send them through the cheapest method, surface mail; this is because I am a cheapskate who now measures things like dinners out and new skirts in terms of how many Japanese books they could buy.)

There’s some books right at my current reading level, some above it and some picture books, which I’m glad for because I’m going to try to start some extensive reading groups in this area and nicely-done picture books are always good to have around! It was fantastic, and it really made me feel lucky not just to have found out about extensive reading, but to have met so many wonderful people in the process!

If this wasn’t enough evidence of Emmie’s kindness, she’s also allowing me to use her address, so I can buy used books online and have them sent to her, then she’ll send them over to me and I’ll pay her back for shipping. I will write more about this process, exactly what the costs are and so on. In the meantime, I’ve ordered fifteen books, and am looking forward to seeing them arrive at my door!

In other news, I wrote a little more about extensive reading. I had this exchange with my husband while writing it:

“What are you doing?”
“I’m writing a long blog post about extensive reading.”
“I was prepared to make a joke about how that was compared to all your very short blog posts about extensive reading, but I think I’ll refrain.”

As for my actual reading progress, I’m up to 176,441 words, and I’m starting to think I may get bored of level 3 books before I hit 200,000.

 

This is a list of all the Level 6 books that are part of my own collection; it’ll be updated as I keep reading (and buying) them.

From Extensive Reading in Japanese, the definition of a Level 6 book:

Level 6: Easy unabridged books for adolescent native readers from twelve to fifteen years old. These books still include furigana; and there are few pictures. The content is more complex. Some specialized vocabulary items appear.

I’ve added Amazon links for the benefit of having title images and just in case anyone wants to subsidize my reading, but if you’re interested in ordering any of these, I’d also recommend you look them up on Kinokuniya’s website or YesAsia.com and compare prices and shipping costs. They may also be available at a library near you or be available through inter-library loan; you can look them up at WorldCat.org. Finally, if you’re in the Tacoma area, I’m setting up a weekly extensive reading group through the Tacoma Language and Culture meetup group; feel free to join the group and come read any of these!

Also, all title translations are my own unless otherwise indicated, names are family name first, then given name, and 作 and 絵 mean “author” and “illustrator,” respectively.

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This is a list of all the Level 5 books that are part of my own collection; it’ll be updated as I keep reading (and buying) them.

From Extensive Reading in Japanese, the definition of a Level 5 book:

Level 5: Beginning at this level, material is quantitatively and qualitatively different from the lower levels. Level 5 books usually have more than 100 pages and fewer illustrations. Some kanji have furigana, but not all of them. Stories are fully developed and more detailed. Japanese native readers would be ten to thirteen years old.

I’ve added Amazon links for the benefit of having title images and just in case anyone wants to subsidize my reading, but if you’re interested in ordering any of these, I’d also recommend you look them up on Kinokuniya’s website or YesAsia.com and compare prices and shipping costs. They may also be available at a library near you or be available through inter-library loan; you can look them up at WorldCat.org. Finally, if you’re in the Tacoma area, I’m setting up a weekly extensive reading group through the Tacoma Language and Culture meetup group; feel free to join the group and come read any of these!

Also, all title translations are my own unless otherwise indicated, names are family name first, then given name, and 作 and 絵 mean “author” and “illustrator,” respectively.

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