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Children’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Manners and Keigo (Polite Language)
監修 (Editors): 坂東 眞理子(ばんどう まりこ, Bandō Mariko)、蒲谷 宏(かばや ひろし, Kabaya Hiroshi)
Level 3 絵辞典, 173 pages, 7,000 words (est.) ★★★★★

This book provides very detailed, yet simply written instructions to kids on subjects such as table manners, proper behavior at the doctor’s, how to talk politely to teachers, how to get along with other people and so on. As you may have guessed from my previous review, I like to get simpler books from the library, but actually spend my money on books that stand up to rereading and provide a lot of reinforcement of new vocabulary within themselves. With this book, if you have ever had a problem with the 〜したりする pattern you will perfectly understand its use within ten pages, because instructions like “don’t make a lot of noise or run around in the library” are usually given in that form. Furthermore, the word きちんと — properly — will be burnt into your brain. Because of the extensive illustrations and the short, simple texts, even words you don’t know at all are pretty easy to guess from context, and because of the amount of repetitive text, those words often show up again and become easier to remember each time.

On another level, I find the process by which children learn polite behavior in any culture fascinating. I grew up watching how my mom and dad behaved in public and my own behavior was corrected by teachers, my family and so on, so of course I’m comfortable with my manners as an adult American. Still, I always felt not quite right while I was studying in Japan, and since I only stayed for a semester, that was hardly long enough to lose that feeling. Much of the content in this book is universal: don’t throw trash on the street, don’t run around during funerals, say “thank you” and be careful with other people’s possessions. Still, there are a lot of bits of etiquette unique to Japan: when and how deeply to bow, chopstick manners that go beyond those staples Japanese homestay students learn, “don’t stick your chopsticks straight into the rice” and “don’t pass food from your chopsticks to someone else’s” and even what to do with your hands if you’re sitting in seiza. (Girls are supposed to keep their hands in their laps, flat and arranged in a 八 shape, and their knees together; boys have their knees spread apart a little, with their hands in a loose fist on each knee.) If you had grown up Japanese, your mother would have pushed your little head down into a correct bow; short of being reborn or finding a friend who’s comfortable with criticizing an adult as if they were a child, a straightforward text is your best bet to understand the forms. Even if you aren’t planning on having to get along in Japanese society any time soon, it’s greatly amusing to see the “don’ts” of polite society laid out so bluntly. I do love the section on cleaning up one’s language — for example, don’t say うん to your teacher, say はい, and drop でかい for 大きい. The process of how non-native speakers learn polite language is completely different from the experience a Japanese kid is going to have, and it’s fascinating to see it from the other side. (I, too, have heard the tales of non-Japanese job seekers getting jobs because their keigo was better than that of the native Japanese graduates; I don’t know if that’s a real thing, or if it is the kind of story we language learners tell each other to lift our collective spirits.)

I also wonder to what degree the book is idealized; how much of it is what parents really want from their kids, and how much of it is how the authors think kids should behave? One section says「おやすみなさい」と言ってねる (Say “goodnight,” and go to sleep) which is reasonable, but shows an illustration of a child bowing as she says goodnight to her dad. Is it common for kids to bow as they say goodnight? Is it a hyper-correct reflection of (perhaps perceived) upper-class behavior, or general idealized behavior? Is it a personal dream of the author’s or illustrator’s, as yet unrealized by any kid anywhere? There is a very interesting lang-8 diary — or series of lang-8 diaries, perhaps — to be made out of my questions about the book; I haven’t been writing much for the past couple of months, but I am bound to go on a Japanese writing kick at some point, and when I do I will report back.

Apparently one of the writers, Mariko Bandō, is the president of Showa Women’s University and a prolific writer; I found this New York Times article about a book of advice for modern Japanese women and this article about her background and philosophy helped to put this book in context somewhat.

The estimated count of 7,000 words is a definite lowball – each set of two pages has a short section directed towards the parents, and I didn’t count those. (I estimate the おうちのかたへ sections would add another 9,000 words all together, bringing the estimated total closer to 16,000. They are not horribly hard (although with no furigana they’re officially off the extended reading classification chart) so consider the book doubly useful for an extensive reader: it has something to go back to later when your skill has improved. There are so many pictures that even if you didn’t know Japanese, you could generally tell what’s being explained. By Hitosugi and Day’s classification system, I think it’s about a 3, but it has a rather healthy amount of kanji (I imagine so that it’s accessible to young kids, but still useful to older ones).

Running a random page through Reading Tutor, the vocabulary level was rated “easy” and there were 18 different kanji used; going by the old JLPT difficulty levels, 22% were level 2, 44% were level 3 and 33% were level 4.

Sample text
Note: All kanji have furigana in the original text.


Where to find it
I picked this one up at Kinokuniya as well, and you can order it online from them for $42 plus shipping. You can get it through as well, where it is ¥2,520 new ($30.41 at the time of writing).

I haven’t looked very much into websites for children about manners, but you could try こどもEマナー教室 (Children’s Classroom for Good Manners). Or, post a comment if you run across any other useful ones!

This is an incomplete list of all the Level 5 books available from the Tacoma Public Library; it’ll be updated as I keep reading 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 and compare shipping costs. 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.

A Handshake from Jirō
作:岸川 悦子(きしかわ えつこ, Kishikawa Etsuko)
絵:土田 義晴(つちだ よしはる, Tsuchida Yoshiharu)
Level 5 本, 125 pages, 5,700 words (est.)

My first level 5 book since I started this project, it wasn’t precisely hard, just long and with a higher proportion of unknown words than I tend to like. I understood the content and most of the details but missed just enough to annoy me, so apparently a book this level is currently about my limit, and I will try to stick to books that are a little easier for a while. I wonder if most level 5 books are about on this level, or if it’s a bit on the easy side since the narrator is a dog?

I’m actually feeling a bit of relief about reading these higher-level books because I missed having kanji around. For a Japanese language learner, used to thinking about kanji mastery as a benchmark, books in all hiragana are lonely; besides, kanji are fun, remove ambiguity and make reading quicker. It is kind of a joke among people who do translation for rom hacking; a hacker with little experience with Japanese will think saying “Translating this game should be easy! There’s no kanji!” is actually a selling point to prospective translators. To better ones than me, perhaps.