Finished reading my first novel in Japanese! (N4/N3)

To celebrate a big birthday this year, I took two months off work unpaid. I originally intended to travel to Japan for some of it but when it became clear that would be unfeasible, started to think about alternatives (including canvassing the WK community), eventually settling on the idea of trying to read my first novel. I only started reading my first kids books last April so it felt like a bit of a stretch, and I did also buy a manga as a back-up challenge in case I got really stuck.

Today, 8 weeks into my 9 weeks off, I finished reading the novel!

The novel I picked was パンとスープとネコ日和 by 群 ようこ. I picked this completely scientifically because a)someone I follow on instagram mentioned how much they enjoyed the TV series and b)it had cat in title. And then it arrived and my brain was like ‘oh my god it’s all in Japanese’.

Before my holiday started, I read the first few pages to see if it was going to be achievable or if I’d be better off just sticking with the manga rather than facing crushing disappointment. The first few pages describe the central character coming home from work and feeding her cat and it was all so familiar to me (I have a very old grumpy rescue cat) that I though ‘I can do this!!!’. Then my holiday started, I went back to reading it and it went into pages and pages of in-depth description of her complicated family background that involved specific terminology relating to buddhist temples, and I thought I might have bitten off more than I could chew.

The original plan had been to read 3-5 pages per day, and learn the vocabulary that I looked up as I went. I quickly had to abandon the latter half of this plan after I looked up 200 words in the first week (it would eventually be 1376 for the entire book of 208 pages) but I did speed up, and during one particularly crucial part of the plot I read 30 pages in one sitting.

I’d say I probably knew around 70% of the grammar covered in it - some of which I’d learnt really recently as part of Minna No Nihongo Chukyu 1 - and a lot of what I didn’t know was in the direct speech. The way the book was written made it easy to follow the story nontheless though, as the characters would usually be described as having grumbled or complained or congratulated after their speech, and so I could at least get the sense of what was being said, if not follow the exact words. There’s also a lot of very every day passages in it, describing food preparation, and cat behaviour (although if you are a cat lover, you will almost certainly cry reading it, I’m warning you).

From a vocabulary perspective, I was amazed how much WK vocab came up in it, especially words that I’d never seen in the wild before. It renewed my commitment to learning kanji and I’ve started to pick up the pace on WK recently after being on a go-slow for the last year. I’ve also noticed a general improvement in my japanese recognition in other media and - perhaps more importantly - confidence in recognising words so that I’m not diving for my dictionary app at every moment.

My plan now is to go away and make a start on learning some of the vocabulary I looked up and then try to re-read the book early next year, with the benefit of more grammar and fewer words to look up. There’s also more books in the series that I’m intending to read afterwards.


Thanks for this post. I feel encouraged!!! I will get there one day!!!


Thank you for sharing your reading adventures with us :slight_smile: !

This feels slightly daunting :frowning: . What kind of words were those? Some uncommon ones or ones you simply never had in your Anki decks? Also, what’s the overall kanji density of the book? Does it sometimes resort to kana in words commonly written in kanji or is it a mix? With your current kanji knowledge, did you have to look up some kanji still?

You mentioned N4/N3 in the title of the thread, but did you find some structures way beyond that level? For instance, N1 or higher yet?

Glad it helped someone!

There were quite a lot of words written in kanji that I’d usually come across in kana - like たばこ written as 煙草 - or that when I looked them up my dictionary insisted they were usually written in kana. I presume this is just a stylistic choice because it’s a novel? As it’s the first one I’ve read, I couldn’t say. So I would say it’s pretty kanji dense. There was furigana for some words but a couple of times these were actually words I knew from WK! A lot of times I’d know one or two of the kanji in a word but not the other, which was annoying, but it made looking them up a lot easier at least.

My flashcards (I don’t use anki) are self-compiled ones with a mix of vocabulary from Minna No Nihongo and words that I’ve come across in the childrens books I read before this or that I’ve come across from watching subbed YouTube vlogs. So I think the reason I came across so many different words in this was partially just because it’s a very different context to those sources. For example, there were a lot more words describing emotional states, whereas Minna No Nihongo tends to focus on teaching you how to use photocopiers.

For grammar: I didn’t really look up any grammar while I was reading. I found the grammar I knew was usually enough to enable me to figure out what was going on, and my aim was to ensure I understood the story. A few times when I got a bit confused about the relationships between some of the characters, I kept reading and it was stated more explicitly a sentence or two later. It was very different to doing JLPT reading texts where they’re making things deliberately confusing so that you can’t just guess at the answer but have to really prove you know the grammar.

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I see… yes, it makes that kanji is preferred if it’s a novel. For words like たばこ and animal and plant names, it’s definitely a stylistic choice, because they can be written in hiragana, katakana or kanji (いるか vs イルカ vs 海豚) :slight_smile: . I would be totally okay with it, since getting through those first novels is for sure a challenge.

Mmm, makes sense! I’ll bear that in mind.

Cool, that’s re-assuring! I have a bit of a turtle’s approach to reading new texts - I often read the same sentence a couple of times to get the rhythm right (especially for longer sentences) or to make sure the sense of it really sinks in, and write down clauses, phrases or entire sentences I find interesting.

Haha, yeah, JLPT texts are definitely something else :smiley: .

Super big thanks for feedback and good luck with the new books!