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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).