Reading, Reading, Reading…

I am a strong believer that, if you are going to learn Japanese, you should dive into learning Kanji from the very beginning.  (Reading, them, I mean.  If you want to dive into learning how to write them from the beginning, more power to you, but that’s not what I’m talking about.)

The idea is that you want to be able to read, and that means knowing the Kanji.  (And, yes, furigana and very nice in that they make your life easier, but they are also a crutch that you should get away from when you can.)

The great thing about reading is that you get hit with Kanji, grammar, vocabulary, set phrases…it’s a veritable wonderland of Japanese goodness.

The hardest thing is finding stuff to read that is at your level.  If you are a beginner, there are graded readers out there for you.  If you are advanced, just pick up any newspaper or novel.  But, what if you are in between?



Sorry, I don’t know.  That’s the struggle I’m having right now.  Where can I find interesting stuff that is at the right level for me?

Mostly, I can’t.

Still, I am crawling my way through my first Japanese novel.

This one:


Don’t be fooled by the fact that is looks like it is for kids.  This book is full of wordplay, puns and very poetic descriptions.

A kind Japanese friend in Tokyo that I speak with each week (hooray for Skype) went out and purchased a copy of the book for himself so that, when I have troubles, I could just tell him the page number and he could look at it for himself.  After reading one paragraph, he said, “Sometimes when Japanese people write books, they choose Kanji because they like how they look on the page, but they don’t always make normal words.”

Oh, boy.  The word in question was 平池林 which apparently means something like “a flat forest”.  I suppose it could mean “a forest on a piece of flat land”?…maybe?

Anyway, this has sent me back to the DVD to watch the movie again.  It is a movie I know well, but I am watching it in Japanese with know subtitles but with “pause” and “rewind” handy so I can listen and listen again to what people are saying.  Boy, do they speak fast sometimes!

So, the end result of all this is that I have something which is fun and interesting but somewhat beyond my level to read, but I’m reading it anyway with some kind help from others, and it feels really good to be able to do that.  I have already picked the next book, which is getting waaaaaay ahead of myself, since it is going to take me awhile to finish this one.

So, if you’re reading this, chime in and list a Japanese language accomplishment that you have reached or are moving toward.  Anything from “I have learned the daily use Kanji” to “I have passed the JLPT N1” or “I learned all the hiragana”.  Big or small, share one.



Am I Learning? (Why, yes, I am.)

What am I learning by trying to read reading a book in Japanese for the first time?

It’s a good question, and I’m glad I asked it.

1. My vocabulary is much smaller than I thought it was.  I am running into a lot of new words.  Now, you could look at this as a negative (“You shouldn’t be trying to read that book.  It is obviously too hard for you!”) or as a positive (“You are really learning a lot of new words.  Good for you!”).  Which of these is the right way of looking at it depends on one’s tolerance for frustration, I suppose.  Right now, I’m going with the second way.

2. You can fail to understand a lot of words, phrases and even sentences and still know what’s going on.

Of course, it would be nice to understand every single word, but you can’t let the fact that you don’t understand everything get you down.  Can you follow the story?  Yes?  Good enough for now.  (In this, I am, of course, helped by the fact that this is the novelization of a movie that I have seen.)  However:

3. There are a lot of things in the book that aren’t in the movie.  This is good.  It means more reading, and it also explains some things that just got glossed over in the movie.

For example:  In the movie, Satsuki and Mei are riding in the back of a truck full of luggage driven by the father and another man.  (Who is he?)  Satsuki sees a uniformed man on a bicycle and tells Mei to hide because it is a policeman.  It turns out to be a postman instead, and the girls happily wave to him.  (Why did they want to hide from the police?)

These things are explained in the book.  (In case you’re wondering, the second man is Mr. Fujiyama, a lifelong friend of the girls’ father, and they were hiding because a busybody annoying aunt told their dad that he would get fined if the police knew the girls were riding in the back of the truck with the luggage.)  But I was able to understand the book well enough to get those questions answered.  (To be honest, I never did wonder who the other man was, since I barely noticed him in the movie, but the girls’ concern over spotting a policeman did leave me curious.)

Where was I?

Oh, yeah.

4. Looking up Kanji is much easier when you can just hit cntrl+c. When you are looking up Kanji from a book, you get to look up radicals and have all kinds of fun.  (Though I will confess that 梅 almost drove me nuts.  It was my own fault.  I was the using the radical 田 when I should have been using 毋.  What can I say?  It’s a 文庫本 so the print is very small.  Anyway, I couldn’t get it.  This particular Kanji annoyed me for some reason, so I scanned the page, snipped the kanji in question, used a Japanese OCR site to convert it to a usable format and then entered into  It means plum in case you were wondering. This means, by the way, that it was just a description of the scenery and therefore not at all significant for the forward progress of the story and probably didn’t justify all the effort I went to, but, hey, now I know what it means.  Also, this parenthetical comment has gotten ridiculously long by now, so let’s close parentheses, shall we?)

5. Reading is still fun, despite all the extra effort required.

Anyway, I’m going to tackle another page now.







So, the book I’m reading…

is this one:


Yes, I’m sure it would be considered a young adult novel or something like that, but I’m not troubled by that.  It’s still a novel in my book.  (See what I did there?)

So far, my memrise course for the book contains 34 vocabulary terms, so it’s increasing by leaps and bounds, especially when you consider that I am only on page 13!

The hardest sentence, though, came right at the beginning:  五月の五月と五月をのせて父さんは、メガネをかけ、白いシャッポをあみだにかぶって、たのしげにうたう。

This is the second time that I have tried to read this book.  The first was quite some time ago, and this sentence stopped me in my tracks.  Most of it was fine:  the father, wearing glasses, with a white hat cock-eyed on his head, was having fun singing.  It was what he was singing that was messing with my mind.


I was baffled enough to try Google translate, which was precisely no help.  I asked a couple of Japanese friends who were as baffled by the thing as I was.

This time, I simply blipped over the sentence and kept reading.  After all, it couldn’t be that important, could it?  It it wasn’t, I could do without it for now, and, if it was, maybe there would be something later on to explain it.

It was, and there was.

So it turns out that the father has two daughters (which I knew from the movie).  Their names, as I also knew, were サツキ and メイ.  (I did see a possible connect through English between メイ and the month of May, but that didn’t seem to make much sense.)

A few pages later, the book casually comments that the Kanji for サツキ is 五月.  Aha. A page letter it informs me that メイ in English is 五月.  So that connection I saw turned out to make sense after all.

So 五月の五月と五月をのせて could ends up being In May, with Satsuki and Mei on board (they are riding in a truck) which makes perfect sense but will try the patience of the poor language learning.  This is not only work play, but word play that stretches across two languages!

Okay, then.

Back to work.



Let It Go

I apologize if you now have a song stuck in your head.

I was thinking about reading in Japanese.  As I make my way through my first Japanese novel,  I am meeting all kinds of new words, and I have created a memrise course to put many of them into.

Some of the words may be of use to me later.   For example, I may well see 地平線 in another book, but I’m not sure when I’ll see 考古 again.

(Almost as if trying to confuse the unfortunate Japanese learner, the book hit me with 高校時代からの考古学校仲間…yes, I can read that, but having 高校 (こうこう) and 考古 (こうこ) so close to each other…)

Anyway, back to letting it go…

When you are reading, there is a natural tendency to want to look up every word that you don’t know. This is a bad idea. It’s perfectly understandable to want to understand every word and be able to add it to your vocabulary, but you won’t always have the opportunity to do that in real life. Sometimes you can figure out the meaning of a new word from context, and sometimes you should just…well…

Yes, sometimes you have to look a word up, because you can’t get the meaning of a sentence or even a whole paragraph without it. And, sometimes, you should look new words up so that you can actually add them to your vocabulary, but sometimes you need to just move on and try to make sense of things without looking the word up.

This, at least for me, sometimes requires the use of willpower. I really do want to know the meaning of every single word in the book. But I also want reading the book to be a pleasurable experience, and that’s not going to be the case if I’m looking every single word I don’t know up. At least, not at this stage of my learning!

Again, I apologize if a song is inadvertently becomes stuck in your head. I know it’s stuck in mine at the moment.



Reading a Novel

So, although I have may have bitten off more than I can chew, I am (very slowly) reading an actual novel in Japanese.  Here are the most annoying things about reading a novel in Japanese.

1. Looking up Kanji that you don’t know

2. Spending time looking up a Kanji and then discovering that it is one you have already studied and shouldn’t have had to look up.

3. Trying to look up a Kanji that you can’t figure out the radicals for.

4. Spending time trying to look up a Kanji and then finally realizing that you have been using the wrong radical.

5. Successfully finding the meaning of Kanji only to realize that you have looked up the wrong Kanji because you were looking at the wrong line in the book.

6. Kanji.

Hm.  I am sensing a theme here.

Well, back to work.  I have some more Kanji to look up.


You na? Um…

Okay.  This is a little poetic…


Let’s break this one down.  Again, I like to start with the heart of the sentence, and, in a sentence like this, that will typically be the part after the comma, so let’s start there.


こんな – this with the feeling of this kind of

落ち着かない – This one took me a minute.  It is the adjective form of the verb 落ち着く、which means settle down or calm down.  In this case, it is negative, so, as a negative adjective, it would mean unsettled or something like that.  I learned this word from an audio story in which someone kept telling someone else 落ち着いて、落ち着いて – Calm down!

生活は – life followed by the topic marker

もう嫌 – to be sick of something

だ – casual form of です

So we end up with something like, I am sick of this unsettled kind of life.

Now the first part of the sentence:


時間に追われるような – the verb here is 追われる which means to be chased by something.  In this case, by 時間 – time.

Now, I have to honest here.  I don’t see what use ようなis in this sentence.  It means like or as or maybe this is some different usage that I haven’t encountered before.  If somebody out there knows, please chime in.

In any case, without the ような we end up with Being chased by time, I am sick of this unsettled kind of life.

That wasn’t a bad sentence except for the mysterious ような .

I am making sure to read in Japanese every day.  I think that will really help me make progress.


Sad stuff again?!!

Seriously, what is it with Japan and sad things?  I am gradually making my way through this textbook, and every chapter starts with a reading.  Many of these readings are about sad things.  Look at the one from the current chapter.  Here’s how it starts:


Now, in case someone out there can’t read that, let’s break it down.  After all, we want to wring every last drop of sadness out of this thing, right?  *sigh*


We want to start with the heart of the sentence.  Assuming that the first part of this sentence is a prefix, let’s look at the second half.


主人が亡くなって – my husband died

もうすぐ – soon

三年になる – it will become three years

Soon, it will be three years since my husband died.  It might work better in English as my husband died almost three years ago.  Let’s tackle the first part and find out.

出張 – a business trip

途中 – during

突然 – sudden

飛行機 – airplane

事故 – accident

We have a couple of possessive の in there and a で at the end making it clear that the second half of the sentence is due to the first half.

So, we end up with something like Due to a sudden plane crash during a business trip, my husband died nearly three years ago.

Oh, boy.

But wait!  There’s more!



墜落の原因は – crash + possessive particle + origin, cause + topic particle – the cause of the crash

いまだに –  still

不明 –  unknown

だ – casual form of です – is

Well, that one’s easy.   The cause of the crash is still unknown.

遺言 – a will, as in a last will and testament

も – too

残さず –  without leaving  (残す means to leave, but the suffix ず means “without doing the verb”)

遺体 – a corpse, the remains

帰って – to return home

こなかった – did not come

So, let’s put it all together, shall we?

Due to a sudden plane crash during a business trip, my husband died nearly three years ago.  The cause of the crash is still unknown.  He died without leaving a will, and his remains never came home.

I have to confess a certain lack of eagerness to finish this particular reading, but I have to in order to do the homework.