Currently viewing the category: "Short Stories"

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!
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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.
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10分で読める名作 ◯年生
Classics You Can Read In 10 Minutes for 1st-6th Graders
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10分で読める物語 ◯年生
Tales You Can Read In 10 Minutes for 1st-6th Graders
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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!
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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.
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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.
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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. ★★☆☆☆
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ほんとうに心があったかくなる話 ◯年生
Truly Heartwarming Stories for 1st-4th Graders
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心にしみるお母さんの話 ◯年生
Mother’s Heart-Piercing Stories for 1st-4th Graders
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読書の時間に読む本 小学◯年生
A Book To Read During Reading Time for 1st-6th Graders
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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
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読んでおきたい ◯年生の読みもの
Must-Read Stories For 1st-6th Graders
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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
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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
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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
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日本のむかし話 ◯年生
Tales of Old Japan for 1st-3rd Graders
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◯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
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おばけ・ゆうれい話 ◯年生
Ghost and Spirit Stories for 1st-3rd Graders
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(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
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世界のわらい話 ◯年生
Funny Stories from Around The World for 1st-3rd Graders
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(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
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アンデルセン童話 ◯年生
Andersen Fairy Tales for 1st-3rd Graders
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ことわざ物語 ◯年生
Proverb Tales for 1st-3rd Graders
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(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
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世界の名作童話 ◯年生
Famous Children’s Stories from Around The World for 1st-3rd Graders
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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
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1分で読める江戸の笑い話(落語を生んだ江戸の笑い話・こわい話1)
Funny Stories from Edo You Can Read In One Minute (Edo’s Funny and Scary Stories That Produced Rakugo, #1)
作 (Writer):加納 一郎(かのう いちろう, Kanō Ichirō)
絵 (Illustrator):中沢 正人(なかざわ まさと, Nakazawa Masato)
Level 4 本, 88 pages, 4,500 words (est.) ★★★★★
Hardcover

Forgive me if this is all familiar to you, but Edo (江戸) is Tokyo’s former name. It also lends its name to the Edo Period (江戸時代, 1603 ~ 1868), when political power was moved from Kyoto to Edo, turning an insignificant village with a castle in it into Japan’s major financial and cultural center. So even if all you know of rakugo (落語, traditional comic stories) is that one chapter in “Dave Barry Does Japan,” the 江戸 in the title is a clue that these stories are going to involve a lot of samurai, stingy rich guys, wise-cracking commoners and other staples of period drama.

There’s 41 stories, each two pages long and illustrated by a small picture, and each story is essentially a long joke. This is a great format for a book used in extensive reading, because if you’ve understood the story you’ll get the joke, if you don’t get the joke the essential clues are somewhere in those two pages, and if you still don’t understand, just go on to the next story! The only story I knew before reading the book was まんじゅうこわい (A Fear of Manjū), so they were all fresh to me and getting the joke always seemed like an accomplishment. Many of the jokes rely on understated, dry humor (which is like catnip to me) and they don’t generally need any outside knowledge to understand; the occasional references to other stories or concepts are usually explained in a footnote.

With so many books out there I covet I hesitate to actually buy an easy book, because once I’ve read it once or twice I get bored with it and don’t feel like there’s much value in reading it again, but this one combines the benefits of being at a low enough level that I actually can read the stories in one minute with having quite a lot of content to enjoy and reread. My hope is to collect the whole series, on the assumption that they’re all about the same level and draw from a common pool of vocabulary, but even just this one would be a fantastic addition to an extensive reading collection.

Difficulty
According to Hitosugi and Day’s classification system, I’d give it a 4. (I wouldn’t call the pictures “ample” exactly, but for some of the stories that baffled me at first they were a great help.) Kanji that are taught in first and second grade do not have furigana, but all other kanji do, so it is probably targeted to about that reading level.

Running a representative story through Reading Tutor, there were 39 different kanji used; 2 of them (5.1%) were JLPT level 1, 16 (41%) were JLPT level 2, 11 (28%) were JLPT level 3 and 10 (25.6%) were JLPT level 4. Based on the vocabulary, Reading Tutor rated it as “easy.”

There is some mild dialect going on in the dialogue; if you can handle the odd ない to ねえ shift, you’ll be OK. Also, there’s some Edo-period vocabulary defined at the bottom of each page it appears on.

Sample text
身投げ
昔、江戸の大きな橋には、番人がいて通行料を取る所がありました。
「近ごろ、この橋から身を投げる者が毎晩いるということだ。よく、見張っていろ。」
#身を投げる 水の中などに飛びこんで、自殺すること。
と、役人に言われて、橋番のおじいさん、夜もねないで見張っています。
すると、一人の若いむすめがやって来て、橋の真ん中に立ち止まり、じっと暗い川の流れを見つめています。
「あのむすめ、きっと川へ飛びこむつもりにちがいねえ。」
おじいさん、あわてて走り寄り、むすめをつかめました。
「これ、ここから毎晩身を投げるのはおまえだろう。」

How to get it
I bought mine at the Seattle Kinokuniya; you can order it online from them for $29.60 plus shipping if they still have it in stock.
It’s also available from Amazon; at the moment it’s ¥1,680 ($20.74 as of today) plus shipping. If you’re outside Japan, Amazon.co.jp’s shipping costs are most likely a rather weightier matter than Kinokuniya’s shipping costs, so keep that in mind.

I have a weakness for physical books, but if you’d like to try some Edo-period stories yourself without going to the trouble of finding this collection, you can read plenty at 福娘童話集 きょうの江戸小話 (Hukumusume’s Fairy Tale Collection: Today’s Story from Edo).