Currently viewing the category: "Japanese Language Learning Resources"

NHK, Japan’s national public broadcasting organization, has more than fifty free educational TV programs available through their “NHK for School” site. Each program also has a summary available for it, and many have extra clips or supplementary materials as well. This is an amazing resource for language learners, and I decided to translate the main menu so that Japanese learners can more easily find programs they’re interested in for whatever level they’re comfortable with!

The Land of Stories Key Points for Reading and Writing Japanese Words Out Of A Gourd The Land of Stories (Classic) The Master of Communication and his Lovely Assistant Contemporary Literature Classical and Chinese Literature Number Detective Zero Mathematica 2 The Thinking Crow So Many Wonders (3rd Grade) So Many Wonders (4th Grade) So Many Wonders (5th Grade) So Many Wonders (6th Grade) I Love Mysteries Investigating Mysteries World of Mysteries Mystery Intelligence Agency Micro-World Science 1 Science 2 Field Observation Biology Physics and Chemistry Know Your Maps I Can See Japan! Door to Society Amazing History Exciting Japanese Culture for Kids Japanese History Citizens Geography Panta-Kun of the Milky Way Bath-House Ganko-Chan of Buzz-Buzz Forest Miss Conscience Ethics Documentary School Life At Home and Outside Your Body and Health Colorful! Knock Out Bullying Educational Guidance Genbaruman Studying Disaster Prevention Conveying Your Point Eye on the Media What Would You Do? Tomorrow's Earth Info/Media English 101 Stretchmen 5 Hyper Stretchmen Smile! Image Map

The main program pages all follow about the same format, so they’re easy to navigate.

  • You can switch episodes by looking at the very top of the page for the words 2013年度 and ほうそう回. Clicking the first will allow you to select different years (if available), and the second will allow you to select a different episode.
  • There’s a little intro graphic underneath the top menu with links to things like what the program is about, who the characters are and so on.
  • The video and the outline are available under the heading ばんぐみ. Clicking on the image, or the word どうが, will take you to the video, while あらすじ is the outline.
  • To the right of the video are clips, supplementary materials and materials for teachers.

All of the translations are my own; if there’s any official translations for any of these program names I never found them. Some are more literal than others. I’ve used an asterisk to show which ones have subtitles (which can be turned off, as well)

With more than 50 programs, even I haven’t watched an episode from each one, but so far I really like the “So Many Wonders” series (ふしぎがいっぱい), “Amazing History” (歴史にドキリ), “Smile” (スマイル), “I Can See Japan” (見えるぞ!ニッポン) and “The Master of Communication and His Lovely Assistant” (お伝と伝じろう; probably the translation I took the most liberty with!) If you find any you particularly like, write a comment about it!

Thanks to my friend Tsubasa for help with some of the title translations, and to Image Maps for the imagemap function!


I suppose it’s a little too similar to my previous post, but registration for the 2013 Tadoku Contest round 4 is open! Milo is gradually switching to taking one nap a day, instead of two naps a day, but I should still have time to get some reading in.

EhonNavi now has over 1,000 Japanese picture books available for free! If you are new to tadoku, whatever your ability level is, it’s probably one of the best ways to start. I find that word count is, with a few exceptions, the best way to judge a book’s difficulty level, and so I’ve been reading through them and sorting them by estimated word count. So if you’re a beginning learner, pick out a book from the list! If it turns out to be too hard, find one with fewer words, and if it’s too easy, find one with more words. If you’re advanced enough not to need this kind of guidance, Ehon Navi split the available books by age and that’s probably the best way to find ones within your level. Either way, don’t forget Sakai-sensei’s tadoku guidelines: don’t look up words while reading, skip parts you don’t understand, and if you’re not enjoying the book, get another one.

To access all these free books, you’ll have to register. For help with this, please see my registration walkthrough. And don’t forget that the site is finicky; they want you to be using Windows and Firefox and it might not work otherwise, you have 15 minutes to load the story, and you can only read a story once. For more information on how to successfully use the page, please refer to the EhonNavi entry in my list of reading material.

Tagged with:

All of these books are available for free online, once you’ve signed up for EhonNavi. Click here for my EhonNavi registration walkthrough. To read the book, find the orange button marked 全ページためしよみする, but be aware you can only read the book once and EhonNavi is rather buggy, or maybe just picky; they recommend IE or Firefox on Windows. They’re sorted by word count, because not all picture books are the same difficulty, and in my experience it’s the quickest way to find out how hard the book really is. In the interest of not taking forever to catalog them, I just have the name translation and word count.

I’ve added a ♬ next to books I think have some cultural content. This is pretty subjective, of course.
I’ve added a ❤ next to books I particularly liked.

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I added EhonNavi to my online resources page, but I wanted to make sure that you all saw it! I’ve known about the site for a long time, but I thought it was just for rating picture books and finding new ones; it turns out that it also has over 350 full picture books available for free!

From the home page, 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 green icon that says 全ページ試し読みする to read it. You have to be a member to read them; if you haven’t signed up already you’ll be prompted when you try to access a book. (Keep reading for my registration walkthrough.)

You can only read a book once, and apparently they’re serious about that: if you reach the end of the book, then try to go back to the beginning, everything will be pixelated. If there’s an error of some sort (the program crashes, etc.) you should be able to re-access the book, as long as you do so within 15 minutes. Once you have read the book, the option to read it will disappear, but you can still read the limited preview.

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. (I have a Mac and it loads sometimes, but when it does most of the images are pixelated; with Windows XP Service Pack 2, it loads up to 99% and hangs. So at the moment I can’t use it.)

The first row of books are new arrivals, the second is ranked by popularity and the third is sorted by sales. Underneath that, there are recommendations for babies (赤ちゃんにおすすめ), children 3 and older who aren’t in school yet (3歳から未就学児におすすめ), elementary school students and older (小学生以上におすすめ), and ones for adults as well (大人にもおすすめ). Underneath that, you can also choose by writer, theme and so on.

I hope that this will be a great resource for those of you who can access it! I think it might be the very best thing currently available online for beginners, too. I’ll welcome any reviews or information about any of the books, and probably make a separate page for that. There is a lot to explore on EhonNavi, and I’ve only just started really looking into it, so if you find anything else that might be of particular interest to extensive readers, please post a comment or e-mail me!

With over 350 fun-looking books and clearly marked difficulty levels, now there’s no excuse not to try tadoku! (Except, of course, if you aren’t running Windows XP SP3…) Happy reading!

Registration walkthrough:

Registration page. The only required fields are the ones with the red buttons that say 必須 (required); you can leave the others blank.

Confirmation page:

Welcome page:

And then go back to the main page and click 全ページ試し読み!

Choose a book, then on the book’s page, click 全ページ試し読みする:

At the moment, Kokoro no Ehon is my favorite site for basic Japanese reading material. It’s a collection of original kids’ stories, most between 150 and 350 words, which makes them the equivalent of fairly basic picture books. Considering that you might pay between $5 – $20 for a real picture book with just as many words and pictures, this is a great find! There are other story collections online, but this one distinguishes itself by the pictures (which are helpful for learners, not just for decoration) and by the fact that these are all new stories, so you’re spared from yet another version of 桃太郎. If you’re new to extensive reading, even if you’re not new to studying Japanese, try some of these stories!

You can see the list of stories by clicking タイトル一覧 or directly through this link. The stories are color-coded by theme, and the themes are not all that important so I’ll leave figuring out what they are as an activity for the reader. There’s an English version of each story, but pretend it’s not there. (All of the titles are the official English ones, though.)

The stories are sorted by the number of estimated words, so to find them search for
the title. There are 24 stories listed here, for a total of 270 pages and 5,464 words.

The Postman
11 pages, 25 words (est.) Level 1

おやすみ やまねくん
Good Night, Little Yamane
12 pages, 40 words (est.) Level 1

まてまて マロン
Wait For Me, Maron
12 pages, 60 words (est.) Level 1

うっき うっき O モンキー
The Eeky Eeky Monkeys
11 pages, 100 words (est.) Level 1

12 pages, 100 words (est.) Level 1

I Wish
12 pages, 144 words (est.), Level 2

Wanta lives on the 6th street
11 pages, 165 words (est.) Level 2

Rokko the Sea Otter
11 pages, 165 words (est.) Level 2

Pea, Charcoal and Straw
11 pages, 170 words (est.), Level 2

Ku-chan the Racoon
12 pages, 180 words (est.) Level 2

Aya’s Dog
11 pages, 215 words (est.) Level 2

The Song of Starry Sand
11 pages, 220 words (est.) Level 2

Wanta and the Crow
11 pages, 225 words (est.) Level 2

あかどん あおどん きいどん
Akadon, Aodon and Kidon
11 pages, 235 words (est.) Level 2

Sue’s Summer Vacation
11 pages, 275 words (est.) Level 2

Buckwheat Dumplings
11 pages, 275 words (est.) Level 2

ねぼすけ クンちゃん
Sleepy Kun
11 pages, 275 words (est.) Level 2

やさしい トントン
The Gentle Tonton
11 pages, 275 words (est.) Level 2

Roupa’s Lunch
12 pages, 300 words (est.) Level 2

The Swallow and the Old Man
11 pages, 325 words (est.) Level 2

The Moon Was Watching
11 pages, 325 words (est.) Level 2

The Two Lazy Men
11 pages, 385 words (est.) Level 2

ぼく とびたくないんだ
I Don’t Want To Fly
11 pages, 385 words (est.) Level 2

Kappa in Mikazuki-ike
11 pages, 500 words (est.) Level 2


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.

I made another trip to the library recently, and I was faced with a daunting realization: I’m running out of the level 3 and 4 books that I like. At the rate I’m going they’ll start getting harder soon; I can certainly read harder books, but not as quickly or fluidly as I’d like…

When we moved from Michigan to Washington State, we didn’t initially have a very clear picture of where we would settle down. Seattle? Tacoma? Olympia? Bremerton? Bellingham? I admit it: “quality of the library system” was an important criteria for evaluating potential places to live — would you believe I had a dream that we moved somewhere with no interlibrary loan system — and I scoped out several different libraries even before we moved. (Later, when looking for apartments, “proximity to library” was another important qualification.)

Of course, I was most impressed with the Seattle library system’s Japanese language selection. We ended up moving to Tacoma, but it’s been in the back of my mind ever since that a Seattle library card could be mine for around $80. After all, there are more than 600 Japanese children’s books spread out between the various branches — that puts the 125 children’s books held at the Tacoma library main branch (no direct link, but you can search for JAJ) to shame. I just love any excuse to take the train up to Seattle, so getting there every so often wouldn’t be a problem… I was going back to look at exactly how much a prized Seattle library card would set me back ($85 per year, incidentally) and I saw something that hadn’t registered when I looked at that same page back when I lived in Ann Arbor: the Seattle public library has reciprocal arrangements with various other libraries in the area. Tacoma’s not one of them, but Pierce County is, and as it so happens, Tacoma and Pierce County have their own reciprocal system, where someone living in Tacoma can get a Pierce County card and vice versa.

So the question was this: are library cards transitive? I’ve never before in my life felt the need to have three separate library cards, but that was before I started running out of appropriate books. The day I suspected that this might be possible, I went out and got a Pierce County card — just in case. As it turns out, even though I’m from Tacoma, that Pierce County card and a valid picture ID with my current address qualified me for a Seattle library card after all! I called ahead to ask, then took the train up to Seattle the very next day. I returned home with 26 books♪ I had been to the main library before and had been duly impressed by the rows of Japanese children’s books, but I didn’t truly appreciate their value until I started extensive reading and had to start looking not just for any old book, but for books at a certain level.

If you happen to be in Washington State, take a moment to see if you qualify for a Seattle library card. For an extensive reader, it’s worth the trip. If not, are there any major libraries — public or part of a university or college — in your area with some Japanese books that you might be able to get access to? Hopefully, this may be a possible path to gathering more resources for other extensive readers as well.

Incidentally, the Pierce County library system has enough Japanese books to have made it worthwhile for me to pick up a library card in its own right. My parents live in Pierce County, and when we stayed with them for two weeks after moving while figuring out where we wanted to live, I borrowed my dad’s card to check out a couple of books. (He handed it over, and then, with some embarrassment, handed over a $20 to pay his fine. So that’s where I get it from, I thought. It hasn’t escaped my notice that getting books from three different libraries opens me up to three times the potential library fines…) Actually, a shiny new library in University Place, which is part of the Pierce County system and about 20 minutes away from me, opened in February. Had it been open when we moved to Washington, that might have bumped University Place up a few notches in my potential destination calculations!

By the way, the reason I divide my book reviews not just by level, but by library, is that I hope to be extra useful to other readers in the area and perhaps even to put together an extensive reading group at some point. I should have started that already, but to be honest I’m extremely shy. If you’re in the area and interested in something like that, feel free to e-mail me and maybe that will help me become more motivated!