Tadoku Tuesdays (4) What I’m Reading (in Japanese) in Sept 2018

As I did in the last Tadoku Tuesday post, I am going to write about two books I have read recently or am reading, as well as any new additions to my book collection. Both of the novels I focus on here happen to be by two famous contemporary Japanese authors, Banana Yoshimoto and Kotaro Isaka.

 

The Novel I’m Reading: 「アムリタ」 Amrita by Banana Yoshimoto

It’s a little bit difficult to give an overview of the plot for this novel, but I have tried my best!

Sakumi is dealing with two major events in her life; memory loss caused by an accident as well as the death of her younger sister Mayu. Prior to the accident Sakumi had been making ends meet with a part time job, but then realises that she wants to pursue a career in writing. Her little half-brother Yoshio then develops telepathic abilities. As her memories begin to resurface little by little, she begins to come to terms with the circumstances of her sister’s death and gains the courage to work towards what she truly desires in life.

I’ve previously written about another of Yoshimoto’s novels before, which had not been translated into English. This time I thought I would try reading one of her more famous novels, which on the whole has been well received.

I wouldn’t say that the plot is particularly enthralling, although there are some interesting characters which help keep the narrative engaging. There are lots of dream like passages, which give the novel a mystic feel and are vividly depicted. Despite this, Sakumi as a narrator feels very grounded and relatable, even though situation she finds herself in is not.

This is a fairly long novel that has been split into two parts. I have finished the first half of the book and enjoying it so far, but knowing that there is another 200+ pages to read I do wonder what developments are going to occur which will keep me interested.

If I had to estimate the book’s difficulty in terms of language I would probably put it at JLPT N2 level. Banana Yoshimoto’s writing style is on the whole quite straightforward, although at times there can be long rambling sentences that might take a bit of careful reading.

 

The Novel I Recently Finished: 「神様の制度」 Kamisama no Seido by Kotaro Isaka

This novel is actually a compilation of several short stories, which all involve the same narrator. Our narrator is only known as Chiba and works as a agent of death (a Grim Reaper of sorts). As an agent of death, his task is to spend time with the person he is assigned to, and decide within seven days if that person should die.

This is the first novel I have read by Kotaro Isaka, and I really enjoyed it. Like Amrita, this novel also looks at the themes of life and death. Having said that, the tone of this novel is completely different. Isaka has written stories spanning many genres, and elements of this come into play in the novel. He somehow manages to infuse the variety of short stories with suspense and comedic moments in a very satisfying way. As a death god, there are a lot of ‘fish out of water’ moments where he is trying to understand human feelings and motivations, which provided a lot of humour that I was not expecting. There is a wide variety of characters presented in the stories and through the narrator’s eyes, we get to learn a lot about the people he is assigned to. I found it very easy to get engrossed in each of the stories.

In terms of language level I’d probably recommend this for JLPT N3 level learners. I think this would make an ideal choice for someone looking to read their first novel in Japanese. I find Isaka’s writing style easy to follow; he tends to write in shorter sentences that still manage to convey a lot of information. Being a series of short stories, it is much easier to digest than attempting to read a longer novel in one go.

There is a sequel called 神様の浮力 “The Buoyancy of Death” which was released a few years ago. I would like to read this in the future, although the novel seems to have more mixed reviews from fans of the original.

I will certainly be reading more of his works in the future, although with such a large catalogue to choose from I will struggle to decide what to read next!

 

Books added to my To Be Read pile:

I am trying my hardest not to amass too many books (because then it gets even harder to decide what to read next!) and have only added one book to my collection recently:

「舟を編む」 Fune wo Amu / The Great Passage by Shion Miura

Mitsuya Majime is an introverted man with a passion for reading. He takes the opportunity to transfer from the sales division to the dictionary department, where he is under the guidance of the highly regarded editor Kohei Araki. Araki’s team is undertaking the task of completing a dictionary called “The Great Passage”. The book follows the team’s pursuit of making the very best Japanese dictionary.

This has been on my wishlist for a long time, so I was super happy to finally buy this book! Given the subject matter, this could be a bit of a tough read in Japanese. Fortunately, I also purchased the ebook version of its English translation (“The Great Passage”) which I can use to help me with any tricky parts. I haven’t yet decided whether to try and read both versions in parallel or not.

There’s also an anime adaptation and a live action film, so I think starting with one of these two to give me a grounding in the plot and characters will make reading the novel a little bit easier.

So that’s it for today’s post – you can take a look at アムリタ and 神様の制度 on the Amazon JP website and read the first couple of pages if you are interested in checking them out.

What are you reading at the moment (in Japanese or otherwise)? Do you have any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments!

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Manga Recommendation for Japanese Learners: Let’s Dance a Waltz

Today’s manga recommendation for Japanese learners is ‘Let’s Dance a Waltz’ / Warutsu no Ojikan (ワルツのお時間), a manga series created by Natsumi Ando.

 

 

Quick Facts

Author: Natsumi Ando (安藤なつみ)

Genre: Romance, slice of life

No. of volumes: 3

Recommended for: JLPT N4/ upper beginner

Furigana: Yes

Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: No

 

Plot Overview

Tango Minami is a high school student whose family run a ballroom dance studio. Having danced from a young age, he teaches at the studio to earn pocket money but keeps his connection to the dance studio a secret from his school friends. One day, a girl turns up looking for a trial lesson. The girl, Hime Makimura, is a shy student who is looking for a way to break out of her shell. Hime falls with love with dancing from the very first lesson, but Tango realises that they are both in the same class at school! Can Tango manage to keep his ballroom dancing a secret, whilst helping Hime to become a better dancer?

 

Why do I recommend the manga?

First things first, this is in many ways a typical shojo manga – the female protagonist is a shy girl who learns to find confidence in herself, assisted by the charismatic and popular male lead. The plot develops pretty much exactly as you would expect from this genre of manga. Having said that, the ballroom dance aspect helps to keep the narrative feeling fresh.

Hime (meaning ‘princess’) really hates her name as she feels she could never be a princess in anyone’s eyes. Therefore it is heartwarming to see her find a natural talent and passion for ballroom dancing. Whilst this is a ballroom manga, the manga is more focused on the emotional impact dance has for Hime. Tango also grows as a person through his interactions with Hime, which helps him feel like a more rounded character by the end.

At just three volumes, this manga is a short but enjoyable read.

 

Recommended Japanese language level

I consider this manga to be appropriate for JLPT N4 or upper beginner level and above. You may be surprised to learn that the vocabulary used in this dance-themed manga is not too difficult. There are a few terms that are specific to dance, and these terms tend to feature a lot of English loanwords. As the main protagonists are high school students, there is a bit of slang used but if you are used to manga slang conventions, this should not pose too much of a problem.

 

As always, you can read a sample of this manga on the EbookJapan website to get a feel for its difficulty by clicking the blue ‘無料立ち読み’ button.

If you do try reading any of the recommendations, please let me know how you get on the comments. I am always on the hunt for beginner friendly manga, so if you have any suggestions please let me know!

 

If you do like this recommendation, you might also like:

  • Manga Recommendation: Orange (also takes place in a high school setting)
  • Manga Recommendation: Oremonogatari (also a lighthearted slice of life manga)

 

Happy Reading!

Tadoku Tuesdays (3): What I’m Reading (in Japanese) in May 2018

tadokutuesdayMay2018

This post is going to be a bit different from previous posts (you can find my previous posts in this series here and here). Normally I write about 2-3 books that I have been reading recently. I really want to narrow down the number of books that I am trying to read at any one time so that I can focus on the books I want to finish. My aim is to read one book at a time, with a manga for the days when I want to read something a bit different.

So going forward, each post will cover is one novel and one manga that I am currently reading, and I will probably also touch upon a couple of books I’ve picked up and will be excited to read in the future.

 

The Novel I’m Reading: 「神様の定食屋」 Kamisama no Teishokuya by Satsuki Nakamura

The main character is 25-year old Tetsushi, who leaves his comfortable office job to help his little sister Shiho run the family restaurant after their parents suddenly die in a car accident. Not having helped out at the restaurant or had any experience with food, he struggles to adapt to this new way of life. One day, he makes a wish at a shrine for help which has an unexpected consequence. After leaving the shrine, he ends up sharing a body with the soul of a recently deceased woman called Tokie.

Tetsushi shares his body with the souls of different people, through which he not only learns about food but also about the importance of life itself. Despite the supernatural theme, there is something very realistic about the main character’s reaction to the situation he finds himself in. As he hadn’t been very involved with the restaurant previously, he quickly develops a greater understanding of his sister, his parents, and how important their little restaurant is to its patrons. There is a lot of time taken to describe some of the dishes served at the restaurant; the dishes themselves play in nicely with the theme of how food can bring people together.

This is a book that I bought on a bit of a whim from Bookwalker a couple of months ago and started to read fairly recently. I like how the themes of food and family are woven together, and the souls that Tetsushi meets are nicely fleshed out characters with interesting stories of their own. I am excited to see how this book ends!

If I had to estimate the book’s difficulty I would probably put it at JLPT N2 level, as the vocabulary used can be quite tricky and more literary in tone than most stuff I read.

 

The Manga I’m Reading: 「のだめカンタービレ」 Nodame Cantabile by Tomoko Ninomiya

Megumi Noda (nicknamed Nodame) is a talented although eccentric pianist. She crosses paths and instantly falls in love with Shinichi Chiaki, the top student at the music college she attends. Shinichi finds it hard to appreciate Nodame’s sloppy approach to music playing at first, due to his perfectionist tendencies. They both have their own musical challenges to face, but ultimately have a positive influence upon each other as time passes.

I saw the drama adaptation of this manga some time ago; in fact, it was probably one of the first Jdramas I watched (it is available to watch on Crunchyroll if you are interested). I absolutely loved the drama version and now that I am reading the manga, I can tell that the adaptation has been pretty faithful to the source material.

The main characters Nodame and Chiaki are great together and it is interesting to see how their relationship develops. I am not particularly musically minded, but I still love the musical setting of the manga and how music is used to bring people together.

In terms of language level, I’d probably put this at JLPT N3 – musical terms aside, the vocabulary isn’t too tricky, but the lack of furigana increases the difficulty a little bit. I believe that there are bilingual versions of the first few volumes available.

You can read a sample of the manga here.

 

Books in my To Be Read pile:

There are two physical books that I have purchased recently:

  • 「ホームレス中学生」 Hoomuresu Chuugakusei by Hiroshi Tamura

I’ve wanted to read this book for a very long time, so I was really excited to find this book on eBay a few weeks ago. I know that this novel is based on a true story, where the author (now a famous comedian) recalls his experience of finding himself homeless as a young teenager. The book was very popular when it was first released in 2007, and there were a drama and film adaptations made soon after.

  • 「ステップファザー・ステップ」 Steppu Fazaa Steppu by Miyuki Miyabe

I’ve only recently ordered this book and it hasn’t arrived yet, so I can’t really comment in much depth on this one. I’ve never read anything by Miyuki Miyabe before (and she has such a huge body of work!) so I will be excited to read it when I finish my other books.

As convenient as it is to buy ebooks, it is nice to sit down with an actual book when I get the time, so I am very much looking forward to reading them!

 

So that’s it for today’s post! What are you reading at the moment (in Japanese or otherwise)? Do you have any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments!

Manga Recommendation: Oremonogatari

There’s been a bit of a delay getting my latest blog post out, apologies.

Today’s manga recommendation for Japanese learners is My Love Story!!/ Oremonogatari!! (俺物語!!), a manga series created by Kazune Kawahara. This is a nice comedy/ slice of life manga that I think is pretty simple to follow, even for upper beginners.

Quick Facts

 

Author: Kazune Kawahara (河原和音) and Aruko (アルコ)

Genre: Romance, comedy, slice of life

No. of volumes: 13

Recommended for: JLPT N4/ upper beginner

Furigana: Yes

Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: Yes, anime and live-action film adaptations

 

Source: ebookJapan website

 

Plot Overview

This manga is about a high school student named Takeo Goda. Takeo is very tall and muscular which can make him look intimidating, but he has a very kind and caring personality. Whilst his athletic prowess earns him the respect of his male classmates, he is used to his best friend Makoto Sunakawa getting all of the female attention. One day, Takeo crosses paths with Rinko Yamato who actually appears to be interested in him. Is this a chance for Takeo to have a love story of his own?

 

Why do I recommend the manga?

This manga has the right mix of funny and heartwarming to keep you reading. Takeo as the main character is so charming and likable that you find yourself rooting for him from the very beginning, despite his obvious lack of common sense. The manga goes straight for the type of humour you would expect from a character like Takeo, although it always feels good-natured.

His best friend Makoto acts as a nice counterbalance to Takeo’s headstrong personality, helping to keep him grounded. I like how the manga sidesteps the all-too-common love triangle; Makoto very much encourages the budding relationship between Takeo and Rinko.

Similarly, there are a variety of other supporting characters who are mostly there to support the romance in one way or another. As a result, the story can seem a bit formulaic in parts, but the way the characters are written helps to keep things engaging.

 

Recommended Japanese language level

I consider this manga to be appropriate for JLPT N4 or upper beginner level and above. Most of the dialogue is short, and aside from the way Takeo himself talks, there isn’t too much slang to deal with.

In addition, being a slice of life manga, there isn’t any specialist vocabulary to contend with. Together with the presence of furigana, I think this is a great manga to try and read in Japanese if you are looking to read manga in Japanese for the first time. It also helps that the manga volumes aren’t too long, and I find that once I start reading I can get through the volumes pretty quickly.

As always, you can read a sample of this manga on the EbookJapan website to get a feel for its difficulty by clicking the blue ‘無料立ち読み’ button.

There is an anime adaptation of this manga which is available on Crunchyroll. The live-action film adaptation was released in 2015 and you can find the trailer for it here.

 

If you do try reading any of the recommendations, please let me know how you get on the comments. I am always on the hunt for beginner friendly manga, so if you have any suggestions please let me know!

If you do like this recommendation, you might also like:

Happy Reading!

Manga Recommendation: ダーリンは外国人 / My Darling is a Foreigner

Today’s manga recommendation post for Japanese learners actually contains pictures from one of the physical volumes of the manga (thanks to eBay!). I normally buy my manga digitally but do own some physical volumes, which I might cover in another post someday.

Quick facts

Author: Saori Oguri

Genre: Slice of life

No. of volumes: 6

Recommended for: JLPT N3

Furigana: Yes (mostly)

Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: Yes, a live action film.

Note: There is also a volume of the manga in English

20171114_112811

 

Plot overview and my thoughts on the manga

This manga is about the author (who is a manga artist) and her husband, Tony. Tony is an American who came to Japan in the 1980s and is a bit of a language geek. The manga centers on their daily life and relationship, usually from Saori’s perspective. In some ways, Saori and Tony are very different to each other, and not just because of the language difference. Later volumes of the manga focus on how the couple adapts to having a baby and moving to Germany.

I was initially a bit apprehensive about reading this manga, as I thought that perhaps the manga would fall into the common trope of ‘a foreigner struggling to adapt to or understand Japanese culture’. However this is not the case – there is no dumbing down to explain things to Tony as he is fluent in the language (the target audience is Japanese after all). The general tone of the manga is lighthearted and whilst it does mention their cultural differences, it is never done in a way which implies a certain way of thinking is more superior than the other.

20171114_113031

As you will see from the photos, the art style is not typical of most popular manga. I think that this only adds to the charm of the manga. Both Saori and Tony as central characters are interesting to read about, as they have their own quirks and it is their interactions which make normal situations quite humorous. The manga reminds me of the Korean webtoon “Penguin loves Mev” which is also about the daily life of a Korean/British international couple.

20171114_112954

 

Language level

In terms of language level, I would put this at JLPT N3. There’s quite a lot of slang as it is mostly dialogue – having said that, the language used is usually everyday level. Whilst there is furigana, the manga has a mix of printed Japanese and handwritten Japanese (the handwritten Japanese parts usually reflect Saori’s thoughts as opposed to what she says out loud). The handwritten parts do not come with furigana and therefore may be trickier to understand.

There is also a live-action film starring Mao Inoue as Saori. I’m not really a fan of the film, having watched it sometime before I actually read the manga it was based on – I didn’t feel like the film was able to convey the couple’s personalities enough. You should be able to find the film on YouTube if you do wish to check it out.

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

Happy Reading!

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

Tadoku Tuesday (2): What I’m reading (in Japanese) in February 2018

whatimreadingFeb2018

It’s been a few months since I last did one of these posts (the last one I wrote was back in October). I’m trying to increase the number of books and manga I read in Japanese this year, and so far I’ve managed to stick to my target of reading at least 10 pages of a novel or manga every day (hopefully I can keep it going!). Here’s a couple of books that I’ve started or finished recently:

「きみにしか聞こえない」 by 乙一 (2001, light novel)

Note: this book is available in English and has the title “Calling You”

This light novel is a collection of 3 short stories (it is also available in manga format). I’m about halfway through it at the moment so will only mention the first two stories.

The first story is the story from the book’s title. Ryo is a high school girl that finds it difficult to connect with people. She imagines that she has an imaginary mobile phone and is shocked when her phone rings and she is able to have a conversation with another person in the real world. Through the imaginary phone, she gets to know two people: a boy called Shinya and a university student called Yumi. Shinya, in particular, becomes a good friend to Ryo, encouraging her to come out of her shell. However, tragedy strikes when they finally decide to meet. The second story is called 「傷」and is about a boy who discovers that his classmate Asato has the ability to transfer wounds and scars from one person to another.

There is a film adaptation of the first two stories: I have watched the adaptation of きみにしか聞こえない and enjoyed it, so reading the story gave further nuance to the plot and characters.

This is probably the easiest story to read on the list but is still probably around JLPT N3 level. I find Otsuichi’s writing style quite easy to read and the vocabulary used hasn’t been too tricky so far despite the supernatural elements.

 

「どんぐり姉妹」 by 吉本ばなな (2010, novel)

This is a novel by famous author Banana Yoshimoto, although not translated into English as far as I am aware. Two sisters called Donko and Guriko live together and run an online advice page called ‘The Acorn Sisters’, the same as the title of this book. The website is called that because when you put the names together their names spell out the Japanese for acorn.

The book is written from younger sister Guriko’s perspective. The sisters had an unsettled childhood; having lost both parents in an accident, they spent several years moving between different caregivers. A large part of the book focuses on how this has influenced both sisters into adulthood and how it affects their approach to advice giving.

I bought this book on a bit of a whim, but I soon found myself getting into the story. Yoshimoto does a great job of fleshing out the sisters’ personalities and their motivations. Having sisters myself, it made me think about my relationships with them and how they have developed as we have all gotten older.

Banana Yoshimoto’s works tend to be easy to read, but in terms of vocabulary used I would probably recommend this for JLPT N2 level learners.

 

神様が嘘をつく by 尾崎かおり (2016, manga)

Note: This manga has also been translated into English and is known as “The Gods Lie”

This is a manga that I read about on someone else’s blog a few months ago – unfortunately, I can’t remember who wrote about it otherwise I would link to them here.

Natsuru Nanao is a young student who is passionate about football. One day, he happens to run into his classmate Rio Suzumura and finds out that she has been looking after her younger brother without a parent or guardian for some time. She begs him to keep this a secret as she is afraid of being separated from her brother. Natsuru does so but also does his best to spend time with the Suzumura siblings, helping out whenever he can. As his feelings grow for Rio, Natsuru’s emotions towards the whole situation become more complex.

I won’t spoil any other plot details, as it is better to read it without knowing too much. It is a very sad story but does end on a hopeful note. I have to say that I love the art style of this manga too – there is something about the way that the characters are portrayed that seems very realistic.

In terms of language level, I’d say that this is an appropriate read for JLPT N3 level learners. The main characters are young so there is slang, but aside from that, intermediate learners should be able to read it. I found that once I started I managed to read the majority of it in one sitting because I got engrossed in the story (it is a single volume manga but has 5 chapters).

You can read a sample of the manga here (click on the green “立ち読み” box under the picture of the book cover).

 

So that’s it for today’s post! What are you reading at the moment (in Japanese or otherwise)? Do you have any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments!

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)

Flying_Witch_volume_1_cover

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