Beginner Japanese Book Club // Now Reading: シャドーハウス

CC @fl0rm @Radish8 @windupbird @Asterlea for my nomination of 放浪息子 right above this, since each of you expressed some interest in it.


I’m already looking at the sample pages :grin: but thanks for the tag.

it looks interesting, but I have some struggles without furigana since my wk level ist quite low :sweat_smile:
But I still could understand a lot and since there is still time before the next book will start I might be able to catch up on the kanji part

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Next book would start around September 1st I think. You could learn a couple hundred more kanji by then depending on your pace.

I just found out that googling for “Japanese beginner book club” (and similar) returns this forum topic multiple times on the first page. :grin:


夏目友人帳 / Natsume’s Book of Friends


While most fifteen-year-old boys, in one way or another, harbor secrets that are related to girls, Takashi Natsume has a peculiar and terrifying secret involving youkai: for as long as he can remember, he has been constantly chased by these spirits. Natsume soon discovers that his deceased grandmother Reiko had passed on to him the Yuujinchou, or “Book of Friends,” which contains the names of the spirits whom she brought under her control. Now in Natsume’s possession, the book gives Reiko’s grandson this power as well, which is why these enraged beings now haunt him in hopes of somehow attaining their freedom.

Without parents and a loving home, and constantly being hunted by hostile, merciless youkai, Natsume is looking for solace—a place where he belongs. However, his only companion is a self-proclaimed bodyguard named Madara. Fondly referred to as Nyanko-sensei, Madara is a mysterious, pint-sized feline spirit who has his own reasons for sticking with the boy.

Based on the critically acclaimed manga by Yuki Midorikawa, Natsume Yuujinchou is an unconventional and supernatural slice-of-life series that follows Natsume as he, with his infamous protector Madara, endeavors to free the spirits bound by his grandmother’s contract.


Personal Opinion

It’s a fun story. On the one hand, we have this lonely boy, looking for normal friends and family. On the other, this fantastical world dipping into traditional Japanese mythology. The Slice Of Life aspect keeps it easier to read. It feels like a Japanese fairy tale. It also has an anime adaption that you can test your understanding on.

Pros and Cons for the Book Club


  • Full Furigana
  • Slice of Life aspect frequently uses common vocabulary
  • Unconventional story


  • Some specialized vocabulary
  • It used to be pretty popular, so you may have already read it / watched the anime


First Three Pages of Chapter One

Additional Pages

Difficulty Poll

How much effort would you need to read this book?

  • No effort at all
  • Minimal effort
  • Just right
  • Challenging
  • Impossible, even with everyone’s help
  • I don’t know (please click this if you’re not voting seriously)

0 voters

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I think we should probably open up voting for the next book in a week or two. That way everyone has a week to vote and enough time to buy the winning book before we start it.

I’ll add the most recent nomination to the list tonight (unless someone else wants to sooner), but once that’s done everyone should try reading the samples and vote on each book’s difficulty (if you haven’t already). And last chance to nominate more books for this round!

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I tried reading all of the nominations one right after another before the last one came in so that I could compare them more objectively, and my main conclusion was “Japanese is hard” :sweat_smile:

Guess this is a chance to have another go…


Some look hard, but they all look so good / interesting. I want to read them all!


@Radish8 I’m replying to your comment from the Floflo thread but thought it might be better posted here.

Someone nominated Penguin Highway for the Intermediate Book Club, but another person there thought it might be too easy and would be better suited for the Beginner Book Club. I have a feeling the difficulty might be between the two group’s levels, unfortunately. Have you tried any samples? I’m curious what you think.

I haven’t read a sample, no, but I’d imagine it would be a bit difficult for the Beginner club too. There is a Tsubasa Bunko version of it as well though, which I assume is easier? There is a sample for that, um… here:

I can give it a read later on today, but you might have a better idea of e.g. how it compares to Kiki.


I’ll check out the sample again to refresh my memory. But it still might be hard for me to compare it to Kiki since I now have all the knowledge I gained by reading Kiki. I’ll try my best to look at it objectively, but I don’t know that I’ll be able to.

For what it’s worth, of the handful of samples I’ve tried reading since finishing Kiki, 絶叫学級 (which has been nominated) was by far the easiest.

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OK, I just had a quick look.
Two immediate thoughts on the start of the first chapter

  1. So. Much. Furigana.
    I know some people hate it, but it does make it a lot easier to look up words you don’t know.
  2. It’s written in first person by a narrator who describes himself as 小学校の四年生 in the second paragraph. So it’s not going to be too complicated… is it?
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@Radish8 @Kyasurin I just finished reading through until the second penguin icon page break. Here are my initial thoughts:

  • It is much easier than the beginning of Kiki, and I think that’s mostly because of the narration. Kiki was narrated by some outside/neutral narrator, so the text was much more detailed and complicated. As Kyasurin said, this book seems to be narrated by the elementary school age kid, so the text is much simpler. I didn’t get to any dialog, so it’s hard to say how that part would compare.
  • It’s more difficult than Aria, but as I said seems easier than Kiki. For additional comparisons, it seems to be about the same difficulty as 絶叫学級 and also much easier than ご注文はうさぎですか.
  • Regarding the kanji and furigana, it looks like it includes more kanji than Kiki, which is good. Trying to parse kana for words that are normally written in kanji was one of the hardest parts about reading Kiki. Also, something random I noticed is that all the kanji have furigana, except for number kanji, which is kind of weird.

I’ve noticed that other places too. Sometimes other most basic kanji as well (probably first grade kanji, sun, moon and similar), sometimes seemingly only the numbers. And you go “yeah sure, numbers are easy, but I’m pretty sure that one has a fairly unusual reading (like いっせん for 1000), so it would still make sense to show it…”

Unusual for early learners perhaps, but I doubt that would be confusing to a native child. If the child knows that 一 is いち and 千 is せん, and presumably also knows the spoken word いっせん, I think they’d be able to extrapolate that 一千 is the same word.

Regardless, I do think it’s weird to only exclude number kanji from using furigana instead of all first grade kanji.

I know, here at least, children learn the symbols for numbers long before letters. I assume children in Japan learn to recognize the number kanji early, so even when all other need furigana they sometimes get excluded for that reason?

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I’ve only read through a couple of paragraphs, but I felt like I was able to get the gist even if I didn’t know 100% of the vocab. It doesn’t seem like it has a lot of long, unwieldy sentences.

It seems like it might be an option for the book club, if you and @kyasurin find it much easier than Kiki. I don’t know whether books are just destined always to be too difficult, but it would be nice to have a couple of options on the table (especially as some people aren’t interested in manga).

My concerns are that Amazon says it’s 368 pages, which seems quite long (maybe there are lots of pictures?!), and that the contents page only seems to break it up into 4 ‘episodes’, which might make creating a reading schedule a bit of a pain. Taking a couple of months per book seems optimal, so if it’s too long that might be a deal-breaker.

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Yeah, I think 368 pages is a deal breaker. 魔女の宅急便 was about 240 pages. 絶叫学級 is 192 pages and 時をかける少女 is 158 pages. Based on page length alone, either of those would probably be a better choice than Penguin Highway.

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Ah yep, that seems way too long then. I wonder how many words the original is in comparison to the Tsubasa Bunko edition…