Manga Recommendation: ふらいんぐうぃっち/ Flying Witch

Author: Chihiro Ishizuka

Genre: Comedy, shounen

No. of volumes: 6

Recommended for: JLPT N3

Furigana: Yes

Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: Yes, anime (12 episodes)

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This manga is about a young girl called Makoto. She moves from Yokohama to Aomori prefecture to live with her relatives. Her move is to achieve a specific goal: to complete her training to become a fully fledged witch! The manga follows Makoto’s progress as she learns about her new environment and finds out what it really takes to become a witch.

Although the plot reminds me of Kiki’s Delivery Service (‘girl leaves home and settles in a new place in order to become a real witch’), the manga has its own charm which makes it an enjoyable read. Makoto’s character is very easy to like despite her ditziness. The manga is very often funny but also does a good job of also delivering on some heartwarming moments.

In terms of language, I would recommend this to JLPT N3 learners (people close to N3 might find it difficult although not impossible to read). Most of the vocabulary is commonly used and the use of furigana makes it even easier to look up unknown words. Similarly, the grammar used is not too difficult. On the other hand, the main characters who are mostly teens do use quite a bit of casual language which may take some getting used to. Another thing to watch out for is the use of Tsugaru ben, the dialect used in Aomori which can be quite different to standard Tokyo Japanese!

Like Shibata Bakery, this is a great manga to read when you want something more lighthearted to read. If you like Kiki’s Delivery Service/ 魔女の宅急便・まじょのたっきゅうびん, I recommend giving this a try. The anime adaptation is available on Crunchyroll and is a good place to start and see if you like the plot and characters.

As always, you can read a sample of the manga on the EbookJapan website.

Happy Reading! 読書を楽しんでね!

If you do try reading any of the recommendations, please let me know how you get on in the comments.

Image: By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47408696

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Should you listen to a language at a slow speed or normal speed?

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I like to listen to Olly Richards’ “I Will Teach You a Language” podcast, and I happened to listen to Episode 232 called “Why you shouldn’t listen to slow audio”. He argued that the content that you listen to is more important than whether it is being spoken at normal speed or not.

Having given it some thought, I agree with him in that when people struggle with listening skills, it is usually down to the content being too difficult rather than the speed at which it is spoken at. This does pose a frustrating problem for us language learners: we struggle to listen to our target language, which is in part because we haven’t been exposed to the language enough.

Despite this, I think it is important to persevere with listening to something in your target language, even when you do not understand anything at all. This is why it is so important to find something in your target language that you enjoy, whether it be an interview with your favourite music artist, a TV show or anime.

 

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Finding something you love to listen to is the best way to stay motivated

 

Looking back, it is having this motivation to watch or listen to something at native speed that eventually improved my own listening comprehension skills. When I was studying for a Japanese exam (GCSE Japanese, which is probably closest to JLPT N5) I went from struggling with the exams to finding them fairly straightforward within a few months.

Looking back, the only thing that changed within those few months was that I began to watch a lot of Japanese TV/ drama (sometimes with English subtitles, sometimes without). Being a beginner in Japanese, it was extremely difficult to pick out what was being said apart from a few words here and there. However, the most important thing that happened as a result of doing this was that I got used to Japanese spoken at a native speed rather than at a slower speed. Combined with revising the vocabulary covered in my test, this made tackling the listening section much easier.

Similarly, I found that just spending more time listening to Japanese as it is naturally spoken helped with the listening section of the JLPT test (I have some last minute tips on how to tackle the listening section here).

Eventually, you want to get to the point where you understand your target language at a native speed, so it is important to start working towards this as early as possible. Therefore, as a language learner, maintaining a balance between material you listen to as immersion and material you use to study is key, as I wrote about in my post on podcasts.

So, the next time you are testing out your Japanese listening skills, try listening at regular speed before slowing things down. By listening to the material more than once, you might find that you are able to understand more than you initially thought!

I’m interested to know if you agree with Olly and I or not and why – let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Top 8 Japanese TV shows to watch on Netflix

As I’ve covered in a previous post, Netflix can be a really great place for Japanese listening practice, with new shows and films being added all the time. Unfortunately, sorting through the Netflix site to find Japanese shows can be a bit tricky. Here’s my list of some of the best shows to watch in terms of Japanese study, in no particular order:

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僕だけがいない街 Erased (Drama)

No. of Episodes: 12

Subtitles: Japanese and English available

Satoru Fujinuma is a worker at a pizza shop who is also pursuing a career as a manga artist. Satoru also happens to have the strange ability to go back in time, known as ‘revival’. After finding his mother dead in their apartment, he ends up travelling 18 years in the past, just before the time of an attempted kidnap case which involved some of his classmates. Can he use this ability to change the past for the better, saving his mother and his classmates in the process?

This adaptation of a manga immediately draws you in and there are plenty of suspenseful moments to keep you hooked. Together with some cool special effects and strong acting performances particularly from the child actors, there is plenty to enjoy here. Having lived in Hokkaido, part of me loves this drama for partially being set there and portraying a part of Japan that isn’t often shown on screen.

Language difficulty: This is probably the easiest drama to understand on this list. The sentences tend to be short and mostly everyday language. The main characters are from Hokkaido, and some of the dialogue reflects this: examples include the ~べ(さ) ending, and the use of 「なした?」instead of 「どうした?」but aside from this is not too difficult to follow.

 

ファイナルファンタジーXIV: 光のお父さん/ Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light

No. of Episodes: 8

Subtitles: Japanese and English available

Just seeing the title of this drama on Netflix may not instantly appeal to some, but I wouldn’t let the strong gaming theme put you off.

The main character Akio Inaba has always struggled to communicate with his father, who has always put his career first. When his father suddenly resigns from his job, Akio takes the opportunity to buy his dad a Playstation 4 and a copy of the online game Final Fantasy 14. Akio hopes that he can use his character in the game called ‘Maidy’ to not only help his father with the game, but also to get to know his father better.

Even though Akio and his father are hardly in the same scene together (as most of their interactions are via the game), you really get the sense that they do care about each other despite never properly putting it into words.

There are strong performances between the main characters, particularly Osugi Ren as Mr Inaba. Whilst a bit dysfunctional, their familial relationship comes across as very realistic and natural. As a result, the use of Final Fantasy 14 as a key part of the story doesn’t feel too forced and means you don’t have to be a fan of the game to enjoy this drama. The supporting characters are also entertaining and help to lighten the mood of the drama.

Language difficulty: Most of the language used is every day with the exception of some gaming/ fantasy terms. Some of the scenes in the drama take place in an office, so there is also an opportunity to hear polite language which contrasts with the more casual language used in the game. Having Japanese subtitles helps to make the drama more accessible to Japanese learners which is always a plus!

 

南くんの恋人 My Little Lover (Drama, 2015 version)

No. of Episodes: 10

Subtitles: Japanese and English available

Note: This drama is also available to watch on Viki for free!

This drama is based on a manga by Shungicu Uchida.Chiyomi Horikiri is a high school student living in a small town in rural Japan. After going out in a storm one night, Chiyomi ends up being shrunk to only a few inches tall. She is discovered by her neighbour and childhood friend, Shunichi Minami, who has been unusually distant with her recently. Can she get their friendship back on track, and find a way to grow back to her normal size before her family and friends find out?

I wasn’t expecting to like this drama, but I was pleasantly surprised by how the relationship between the two main characters develops. The premise of the show is linked to the story of 一寸法師 (Issunboushi, the inch high samurai), a traditional Japanese children’s story. Part fantasy, part school drama, the show manages to have a strange sense of realism despite its unusual premise. Whilst the performances by the two leads is strong, I really like the cast of supporting characters. In my opinion, they really help to balance the dramatic parts of the show with well-timed humour.

Language difficulty: Being a drama with mostly young people, this is another good drama to hear how young people talk to each other. Despite the rural setting, there aren’t any unusual dialects to deal with here. The drama mostly uses everyday language, so this is very accessible for students of Japanese.

 

深夜食堂 Midnight Diner (Drama)

No. of Episodes: 10

Subtitles: Japanese and English available

This is another show adapted from the best selling manga. The main character, the runs a small diner in the back streets of Tokyo. This place is unusual in that it only operates between midnight and 7am, hence the title. Each episode is named after a dish available at the diner, and focuses on different patrons to the diner and their stories, with a special focus on the relationships around them. There can be a lot of drama but the stories always end on a positive note, with tips on how to make the recipe from the title of the episode.

There is a really interesting mix of stories and characters in this series. Some examples include a man who is suddenly left to his son, a university professor who falls in love with a Korean woman, a girl who always knits a jumper for the person she has a crush on, and many more. The proprietor is mostly quiet but always lends a sympathetic ear and often offers quiet encouragement.You get the feeling that the diner provides a much-needed respite from the pressures of their lives in Tokyo.

Language difficulty: You will hear everyday language in the drama, which is made a bit easier by the availability of Japanese subtitles. Due to the nature of the show there is a variety of characters from different walks of life and so speak in various ways, so it is a useful series to watch for that reason.

 

名探偵コナン Case Closed (Anime)

No. of Episodes: 52 (episodes 748-799)

Subtitles: English available

Note: These episodes are available to watch on Crunchyroll for free!

Shinichi Kudo is a high school student who often works with the police to solve cases. After ingesting a poison which transforms him into a child, he begins working under the name Conan Edogawa and moves to live with his childhood friend, Ran Mouri. Ran’s father is a detective and so Conan often accompanies him on investigations, sometimes using tranquilizers and a voice changer to solve the case in Mr. Mouri’s place. The Netflix selection of episodes come from much later in the anime adaptation of the long-running manga.

Although each episode follows a similar format, there is quite a variety in the types of cases. Conan will sometimes be with Ran, or his school friends when he gets caught up in a mystery – the supporting cast help to balance Conan’s serious attitude in getting the cases solved. Some cases are resolved within one episode, although there are some which take two or three episodes, which helps keep the format fresh. There are often a few red herrings during the course of the case, but it all wraps up nicely by the end and is explained well.

Language difficulty: Despite being a mystery drama, the majority of the vocabulary is common everyday language. The background of each case is always explained in some detail, but in an easy to understand way.

 

和風総本化 Japanese Style Originator (TV show)

No. of Episodes: 54

Subtitles: Japanese and English available

This TV show is all about Japanese culture, with a special emphasis on the cultures and traditions unique to Japan. Each episode is based on a certain theme, with a series of videos focusing on topics related to that theme. There is a panel of guests who watch and comment on the videos (if you’ve seen a Japanese panel-style show then you’ll know the drill here). Every so often there will be questions on the topics covered which the guests will have a go at answering.

Whether it be new vocabulary or the history behind things you see in Japan every day, you are bound to learn something new from every episode. With 54 episodes which are usually at least an hour long, there is plenty to keep you watching. This is highly recommended for Japanese learners!

Language difficulty: Due to the nature of the show, there is a fair bit of uncommon vocabulary relating to Japanese culture but are explained by the narrator in a way that is easy to understand. In typical style for a Japanese TV show, there is often text on screen which will help you follow what is going on if you are only using Japanese subtitles/ no subtitles at all. The discussions between the guests on the show is fairly straightforward to follow too.

 

テラスハウス Terrace House (TV show)

No. of Episodes: 46

Subtitles: Japanese and English available

NB: There are actually two seasons of this on Netflix: ‘Terrace House: Boys & Girls in the City’ and ‘Terrace House: Aloha State’, which is set in Hawaii.

Terrace House is a reality TV shows where a group of young strangers live together in a share house in Tokyo. The show observes their interactions and how relationships develop when put in such a situation. Each character has a different background and over the course of the show, we get to see where they work and play outside of the share house, which gives a better insight into their personality.

Clips from developments within the shared house are watched by a group of guests (a mixture of presenters and comedians). They share their opinions on the clips at various points through each episode, which normally sparks a lively discussion.

This is definitely a guilty pleasure for me: as with any reality TV show, the longer you watch the more you become invested in what happens to them. I find it fascinating to observe how the dynamics change when new people join the show. I also find it interesting to see how the guests who comment on the show differ in their opinions on the developments in each episode.

Language difficulty: If you are looking for a show where young people speak Japanese as you would hear it on an everyday basis, this is the show for you. Everyone speaks in a casual way and mostly use everyday language. The availability of Japanese subtitles makes a bit easier to adjust to the casual language if you have trouble catching what is said.

 

おくりびと Departures (Film)

Film length: 125 mins

Subtitles: English available

The main character, Daigo finds himself having to move back to his hometown in Yamagata Prefecture when he loses his job as a cellist in Tokyo. He finds a highly paid role, which happens to be preparing the deceased for funerals. He keeps this new job a secret from those around him, including his wife Mika, due to the stigma surrounding his new line of work. Whilst he struggles at first, he soon finds himself getting used to the intricate processes of the 納棺 (のうかん/ encoffining ritual).

We very much learn about the 納棺 process as Daigo does, having taken the job without knowing anything about it. You can tell that there was a lot of effort spent on portraying this ritual in a respectful way and it does not surprise me that the film led to a revival of this increasingly rare ritual. One thing I didn’t expect before watching おくりびと is that despite the theme of the film, there are some funny moments too. I think the main actor does a great job of conveying the mix of emotions he experiences having moved back to his hometown.

Language difficulty: With the exception of some funeral related terms and the Yamagata dialect, it is mostly everyday language used in the film. The funeral related terms are explained as these terms are mostly new to the main character.

 

This ended up being a much longer post than I was expecting, but I hope you find something interesting to watch if you are a Japanese learner with a Netflix subscription. Are there any shows that you would include on your own list? Please let me know in the comments!

Author Spotlight: 小川未明 Mimei Ogawa

AuthorSpotlightMimeiOgawa

Mimei Ogawa (real name Kensaku Ogawa) was born in Joetsu City, Niigata Prefecture in 1885. He attended Waseda University in Tokyo and had a couple of his works published before he graduated. It was around this time that he began to champion the development of children’s literature, later becoming the first chairman of Japan Children’s Literature Association in 1946.

Like Niimi Nankichi, Ogawa was famous for writing a great number of children’s stories and is considered the founder of modern children’s literature in Japan. He was well known for having his stories in realistic settings and often highlighted the plight of the vulnerable in society.

Fortunately, his stories are available for free on Aozora Bunko, and some are available with furigana. Most of these stories are appropriate for upper beginners/ lower intermediate and above (JLPT N4-N3).

As I normally do in these posts, here are a few of his short stories I recommend to get you started.

牛女(うしおんな) / The Ox Woman

Perhaps one of Ogawa’s most famous stories, this is about a woman who is known as ‘The Ox Woman’ for being large but also extremely kind hearted. However because of her and her son’s disabilities, she is sometimes the subject of mean jokes. Even after she dies she makes sure to watch over her son and the villagers who showed kindness. JLPT N4 learners should be able to give this a go – the Aozora version has furigana which makes things a bit easier.

しろくまの子

This is a very short story about a little polar bear who doesn’t listen to what his mother tells him and ends up in trouble. If you are a JLPT N5 level learner, I would try reading this story!

The vocabulary may not be words you have learnt yet, but the grammar is very straightforward (with the exception of the classic negative verb ending ぬ (きかぬ = 聞かない・聞きません) and a couple of relative clauses). This story is also almost entirely written in hiragana, with spaces between the words to help you out.

ねことおしるこ

A short story about a boy called Sho who is often scolded by his sister. After he goes missing one day, his sister realises that she may have been the one in the wrong after all. This is a quick read which reflects Ogawa’s style of short, simple stories that give you something to think about. I’d say this is about JLPT N4 level – a mix of casual and polite registers might be a bit confusing, but aside from that the grammar and vocabulary is not too difficult.

Please let me know if this post encourages you to read one of Ogawa’s works, or if there is an author you would like me to cover in this series!

Manga Recommendation: 夢色パティシエール/ Yumeiro Patissiere

Author: Natsumi Matsumoto

Genre: Shojo

No. of volumes: 12

Recommended for: JLPT N4

Furigana: Yes

Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: Yes, anime (50 episodes)

 

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I have briefly covered this manga before in my What I’m Reading post from October but thought it deserved its own recommendation!

The protagonist Ichigo Amano is a 14-year-old who, on merit of her extraordinary sense of taste, is admitted to the prestigious Saint Marie Academy. Unfortunately, she has no experience of actually cooking the delicacies she enjoys so much, unlike her highly gifted classmates. The manga follows Ichigo on her journey to becoming a pastry chef, making friends and learning a lot of important lessons along the way.

As you might expect from the shoujo genre, this manga is strong on the themes of never giving up, following your dreams and the power of friendships. This makes for a wholesome and enjoyable read, with a nice moral behind it. I recommend reading it when you are having a bit of a tough time with something and need some motivation.

In terms of language, I would put this at around JLPT N4 level. Aside from some French culinary terms, this manga is full of everyday vocabulary and expressions. I have not found Yumeiro Patissiere to be too heavy on slang or casual language in general. Together with the fact that furigana is provided, this shouldn’t be too difficult for upper beginners to try reading.

There is also an anime adaptation which can be found on Crunchyroll or YouTube – if you can follow the Japanese used in this, you will have no problem with the manga it is based on.

As always, you can read a sample of the manga on the EbookJapan website.

If you like this manga, you may want to check out my other food-related manga recommendations:

Happy Reading! 読書を楽しんでね!

If you do try reading any of the recommendations, please let me know how you get on in the comments.

 

Image: By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24925343

10 Japanese words which sum up the New Year period in Japan

We are in the last few days of the year and it is almost 2018, the year of the dog in the Chinese zodiac. The New Year, or お正月(おしょうがつ) as it is known in Japanese, is one of the biggest celebrations in the Japanese calendar.

There are a lot of traditions associated with the New Year period, so what better way to learn a bit about New Year in Japan than to learn some new vocabulary? Here are ten words which should help you get a feel for how New Year is celebrated.

1. 年賀状/ねんがじょう Postcards

The custom of sending ねんがじょう cards started hundreds of year ago, as a way of sending new year’s greeting to relations who were too far away to visit in person. These are normally sent to the post office around 15th December in order to ensure delivery on 1st January.

Whilst the popularity of electronic messages are growing, the custom of sending cards is still widespread – you can buy premade cards or design your own. Modern cards even make use of VR!

2. 門松/かどまつ Kadomatsu (literally ‘pine gate’).

As the name suggests, these pine decorations are put in pairs in front of homes to welcome the kami Toshigami. It is believed that Toshigami visits homes to bring happiness on New Years’ day if he is invited into the home with かどまつ. かどまつ tend to consist of pine, bamboo, plum flowers and flowering kale. These are normally put out around Christmas time and stay outside until about 7th January.

3. 年末のお掃除/ねんまつのおそうじ End of year cleaning

This is the time of year when Japanese people undertake a thorough clean of their homes. It is thought to help purify the home to help welcome Toshigami in the new year. It is a great time of year to discover new cleaning products and tips. You may end up finding things you thought you had lost during the year!

4. 紅白歌合戦/こうはくうたがっせん Red and White Song Battle

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The こうはくうたがっせん (usually abbreviated to こうはく) is a singing competition that takes place in the evening on New Year’s Eve (大晦日/おおみそか in Japanese). The competition has been a regular fixture on broadcaster NHK for over 60 years. Each year sees popular artists split into two teams, a red team for the female participants and a white team for the male participants (hence the name of the contest) who sing to become the overall winners of the competition.

5. はつもで First temple visit

The first visit to a shrine or temple to wish for health and prosperity for the coming year, called Hatsumode, is considered essential during the first few days of the year. Most people will do this before dawn on New Year’s Day, although some people visit on New Year’s Eve in order to witness 除夜の鐘/じょやのかね where a bell is rung 108 times just before the end of the year. Each ring of the bell signifies the 108 worldly desires thought to cause suffering in Buddhism.

6. おみくじ Fortune

During the first temple visit of the year, many Japanese people will write their wishes on little wooden plaques known as 絵馬・えま. They may also take the opportunity to get their fortune, called おみくじ. You draw out a paper slip and hope for a good result for the coming year!

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7. 御節料理 おせちりょうり Osechi ryouri – New Year’s dishes

おせちりょうり is an assortment of dishes traditionally eaten during the first few days in the new year. Each food is thought to bring different types of prosperity for the coming year and are presented in a special box resembling a traditional bento box. You can read more about the kinds of おせち dishes at Just One Cookbook.

8. 餅/もち Mochi rice cakes

Aside from おせちりょうり, もち is eaten during the New Year period. Many communities will take part in the tradition of 餅つき/もちつき, the process of pounding the rice to make the rice cakes.

You may also come across 鏡餅/かがみもち in a Japanese house around the New Year. かがみもち (literally ‘mirror rice cakes’) are traditional decorations formed with two round pieces of もち stacked on top of each other and adorned with Japanese fruit that symbolise good omens for the forthcoming year.

9. お年玉/おとしだま Otoshidama

New Year’s for Japanese children is a lot like Christmas for children in the West, in that it is when children receive gifts from parents, friends and relatives. The gifts are in the form of おとしだま, gifts of money for children as a blessing for the coming year and are usually presented in a special envelope.

10. 福袋 ふくぶくろ Lucky bags

Around the New Year, many shops will sell lucky dip bags containing a number of the store’s items at a good price. Certain shops’ ふくぶくろ are extremely popular so you may need to line up outside the store to get hold of one. Even convenience stores sell lucky bags!

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By Nissy-KITAQ (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

So that is my list, which turned out to contain quite a bit more than 10 new words!

What is your favourite New Years’ tradition (Japanese or otherwise)? Please let me know in the comments!

‘Appy Mondays: Human Japanese

Apps for learning Japanese tend to focus on a certain aspect of the language, such as learning kana or learning vocabulary. This is fine as a supplement to classes or following a textbook, but not so much when self-studying. There are few apps that offer a more comprehensive approach from the very beginning, and Human Japanese is one of them. Whilst I wouldn’t suggest solely relying on one resource, Human Japanese is free at the earlier levels (called Human Japanese Lite) and is a pretty good alternative to one of the popular textbooks.

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The app starts from the very beginning, starting off by familiarizing you with the sounds of Japanese and how they differ from English. The app then takes you through hiragana before moving on to basic Japanese grammar and vocabulary across 44 chapters. You must complete each chapter before moving on with no option to skip (although this can be changed in the settings). At the end of each chapter, there is a quiz to test your learning. I would say that the app does a good job of covering reading, writing, speaking and listening equally.

One of the main advantages of using an app over a textbook when self-studying is having audio integrated into the app; Human Japanese takes advantage of this by having lots of example sentences and audio.

Human Japanese App Screenshot

I think this is a good choice for those who have had no prior experience learning Japanese (or any language for that matter) as it takes you through the basics of Japanese whilst imparting a lot of relevant and useful information along the way. This does mean that the app is text heavy, which could well be intimidating and it may not feel like you are making progress as quickly. Even so, I highly recommend this for newcomers to Japanese who are intending to study the language in some depth. There are a lot of things explained in the earlier chapters that I wish I had learned from the very beginning! One aspect to Human Japanese that I like is that once downloaded the app can be run entirely offline, which reduces the temptation to go online and get distracted.

The lite version gives you access to the first 8 chapters or so – if you like these chapters, you can purchase the full app for £9.99. The app is available on Android, Apple Store, Windows Phone, PC & Mac. I suggest taking advantage of the ‘Sneak Peek’ feature and look at the previews of each chapter (especially if you have already started studying Japanese).

There is also a Human Japanese Intermediate which may be suitable if you have already studied the basics – the official website has chapter lists to give you an idea of which app may be the best for you. The intermediate version of the app probably finishes covering the main aspects of grammar for JLPT N5 and a bit of JLPT N4, but also has chapters on things like sentence ending particles -の/ んです, よ, な which are often left to a later stage of Japanese learning.