Beginner Japanese Book Club // Now Reading: Ogawa Mimei: Collection of Children's Stories

しろくまカフェ
by ヒガ アロハ (Higa Aloha)

Summary
A slice-of-life story about a bunch of anthropomorphic animals who regularly meet in a cafe run by a polar bear. The series focuses on the interactions between these regulars, but frequently follows them to their respective jobs, which includes things like taking up part-time work at the local zoo.

Availability

Appears to have been reissued following its anime adaptation, but someone should independently verify this:

The original release (larger than a typical manga), which I have, appears to be out of print. It’s linked below anyway for reference.

The new edition is available digitally:

Personal Opinion
The setting and characters didn’t have the comedic feel or depth I was hoping for, so I haven’t read past the end of the first volume. That being said, it exudes Japaneseness and catching a pun to understand a joke is satisfying.

If the premise sounds like your kind of thing, you’ll probably like it a lot; if it sounds too surreal for you, as it did to me, at the very least, it’s excellent beginner reading practice.

Pros and Cons for the Book Club
Pros

  • In many ways, this is an easier read than Yotsuba, provided the reader’s vocab isn’t much broader than what WaniKani teaches
  • Stories are generally predictable, assuming familiarity with the animals involved, so the writing isn’t regularly throwing non sequiturs at readers
  • Visuals and dialogue tend to be in very strong agreement
  • Chapters are short
  • Full furigana, except for asides and recipe pages (see first additional image)

Cons

  • Most of the difficulty comes from the wordplay; every chapter includes a scene where a word or phrase is misinterpreted (with a visual aide) four times, and a lot of the jokes may fall flat if you don’t catch the puns
  • The humour is very hit-or-miss, depending on the reader

Pictures
The size of the manga made a few corners a bit fuzzy. You may need to download the files and zoom in.

First Three Pages of Chapter One



Additional Pages

The first one is too big for Discourse, hence the link.
https://photos.app.goo.gl/tpsnZtdyaK9EUV2r6

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 choose this if you’re not voting seriously)

0 voters

2 Likes

It seems harder than Kiki, but doable.

Unfortunately this also means you can’t build context from chapter to chapter. So other than getting used to the author’s writing style, you’re starting from scratch each chapter.

1 Like

I still see this as an advantage. It is the same family, just different pets.
With Kiki, the first three chapters were really essential to build background, and then some characters came back, but a lot of it was quite random. In one chapter you’re on a boat, talking about knitwear, another chapter you’re figuring out how to fix a broken clock.

But I agree it’s at the upper end of beginner, or low intermediate, as Kiki was.

Oh if it’s the same family there could still be quite a bit of overlap. Might not be too bad.

I think I’ll delete the old list of proposed books within the next couple weeks. So if anyone wants to renominate any of those books (before they forget what’s there), do it soon! (Not that you couldn’t go check the post history if you wanted…)

I do plan on renominating 時をかける少女, even if only so we can compare the average difficulty from its poll to the other nominations. But I think I’m going to intentionally hold off until after the next book is selected.

1 Like

It actually looks fairly easy. It’s one of the lowest word count on floflo, and this analysis that @jprspereira posted before also shows that kanji usage isn’t too crazy, plus 98% furigana coverage. (Which strikes me as strange, since the sample I have seen didn’t seem to have that much… maybe it’s because of different editions, floflo referes to that one as the “children’s book” edition or something similar)

3 Likes

The version I have (角川つばさ文庫) is loaded with furigana.

Reading it has been challenging, but more because it takes time for me to establish context to interpret what’s happening than to parse sentences or recall meanings.

I’d put it more lower-intermediate than beginner, but it might still be worth nominating to see how everyone else feels. The first five pages are pretty representative of difficulty, but there’s an extra challenge when the writing jumps between scenes and you need to figure out what the context is now from some clues that don’t exactly match what you’ve read before.

3 Likes

Yes, that’s the one they were talking about too.

The analysis website puts it as easiest, while (for comparison) Kiki is easy. YMMV

It’s supposed to be easy, but so was 魔女の宅急便 and best I can tell four people finished that book (one of which was LucasDesu). 時をかける少女 is likely a step between the beginner and intermediate book clubs, which is unfortunate. But if it gets nominated and people vote for it, then so be it. Especially since all votes going forward will at least be somewhat informed from the difficulty polls.

I believe this version has furigana next to all kanji.

放浪息子 (Wandering Son)

Summary

The story depicts a young student named Shuichi Nitori, described by the author as a transgender girl, and Shuichi’s friend Yoshino Takatsuki, described as a transgender boy. The series deals with issues such as being transgender, gender identity, and the beginning of puberty.

I was having trouble finding a good summary to put, but I settled on this one from Wikipedia

Availability

Amazon JP
eBookJapan

Personal Opinion

I watched the anime adaption, and found it to be really interesting and mature. It had some of the most realistic characters I had seen in an anime.

Pros and Cons for the Book Club

Pros

  • Unique story.
  • Strong character development.

Cons

  • Long series, so we’ll only get a taste of the overall story.
  • No furigana (though it doesn’t look like the kanji is that bad).
  • The premise could be a little niche.

Pictures

See pictures below or check out the 試し読み on the ebook page.

First Four 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

3 Likes

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.

3 Likes

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

1 Like

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:

13 Likes

夏目友人帳 / Natsume’s Book of Friends

Summary

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.

Availability

amazon.jp
eBookJapan

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

Pros

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

Cons

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

Pictures

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

1 Like

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!

1 Like

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…

6 Likes

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

2 Likes

@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.