Some Book Recommendations with Reading Samples

I’ve read a few Japanese books by now, all of them were very enjoyable, so I want to write down some impressions here and for what level I’d recommend them. With text samples, so you can judge for yourself.

Kiki’s Delivery Service (魔女の宅急便) by Eiko Kadono

Impressions

The first Japanese novel I read from start to finish. It was already covered in the book clubs, so I won’t get into too much detail. It is easy to read in terms of kanji usage, but beginners shouldn’t be fooled by that. You need to have a decent grasp of Japanese language in order to read this book with ease (and probably any longer book not strictly written for learning purposes). Grammar and vocabulary are not too advanced, but Kadono often uses language in a playful, non-straightforward way which might make it confusing if you still struggle with the words and grammar itself. I felt that the lack of kanji actually sometimes makes it harder to read. Also uses a LOT of onopatopoetic words that any non-Japanese person will probably not be too familiar with. Still, this is a good entry point and a good "tadoku" book. You will be able to make good progress if you don’t obsess over trying to understand everything. It’s also a wonderful series full of magic in the mundane, charming characters and you will be able to witness the growth of Kiki over a long span of time.

Read books 1-4 so far, all of them are more than worth their time.

Sample

夏休みもおわり、雨傘山から、学校にもどったとんぼさんから手紙が来ました。「キキ、ぼく、ちょっと自慢です。ぼくが夏休みのあいだ雨傘山でくらしたことを知った、エッテ先生は、エッて驚いてから、『ほほーう』ってしばし無言。それから『いろんなことがあっただろ。あそこはなかなかなところだからな。いい経験をしたね』って、ほめてくれたんだ。そしてね『君の経験を生かして、飼育室の室長に任命しよう』っていってくれたんだ。これってすごいことなんだよ。一年生のぼくがなるなんて。飼育室は、たて八メートル、横六メートル、そこに温度計やら、はかりやら、流し、冷蔵庫、それに関連図書の本棚二つ、もちろん大小取り混ぜた飼育箱、飼育しているものは蟻から、大きいものでは蛇まで、ざっと五十種。掃除をしたり、えさをやったり、成長観察日記を書いたり。いっしょに仕事をする仲間は三人だから、けっこういそがしいんだ。とってもおもしろいよ。」

Kemono no Souja (獣の奏者) by Nahoko Uehashi

Impressions

The anime adaption is by favorite anime series ever, so I was naturally curious to read the source work, especially since the anime only adapts the first two volumes out of four + one "gaiden" book (side story). But it took me three attempts to make it through the book. It was actually the first Japanese book I tried to read, and I was overwhelmed at first with new vocabulary. Uehashi uses a very rich vocabulary, including many words you won’t hear in daily conversations, and the Asian-inspired medieval fantasy world does not make it easier. I had to look up 30+ words on the first page, and only managed to read up to page 100 in my first two attempts. I then discovered that it is MUCH easier to just read the eBook version, convert it to HTML and use one of the rikai addons to hover-lookup words. Saved me so much time.

After getting used to the vocabulary, I think intermediate / upper intermediate readers will have a lot of fun with these books. There will always be parts that feel a little overwhelming, especially when it gets political or delves deeper into biology, but the grammar and sentence structure itself is not too hard.

And it’s a such wonderful story, too. Lots of time dedicated to the development of the main character Erin and how she perceives the world. Entire chapters are about bee-keeping and how it helps Erin understand the world better until eventually her curiosity and love for animals lead her to develop a bond with a winged beast people are not supposed to get too close to. She then unwillingly gets dragged into a political conflict. Despite everything, it never gets too idealistic. It is always made clear that humans and those winged beasts, despite both being intelligent creatures, can never truly understand each other. Uehashi is excellent at describing fantastic, yet believable worlds. The fantasy elements are not too pronounced, there’s no magic and no superpowers. Everything feels organic and the setting is clearly Asian/Japanese as opposed to typical Western fantasy books. The lore is also very rich. But best of all, the reader gets to witness Erin’s development over 20+ years. I love these books so, so much.

But they are definitely NOT recommended for beginners. Too many uncommon words and use of role language for that. The bunko version has few furigana and usually only once for every word (with some advanced words without furigana entirely), so pick the Aoi Tori version if you want lots of furigana.

Sample

母の白い手が、闘蛇の巨体をゆっくりと慎重になでていくさまが、瞼の裏に浮かん だ。じっと闘蛇を見つめる、静かな母のまなざしが、エリンは大好きだった。

母は、闘蛇のなかでも、常に先陣を駆け、敵陣を食い破る役目を担う最強の闘蛇 --〈牙〉たちのお世話を任されている。友達のサジユの父や、チョクの父だって、 〈牙〉たちがいる岩房は任せてもらえない。闘蛇の世話役である闘蛇衆が、母の獣ノ 医術の腕をそれほどに高く買っているのだと思うと、エリンは誇らしさで胸がはちき れそうになる。

Tunnel no Mori 1945 (トンネルの森1945) by Eiko Kadono

Impressions

Another book by the other of the above-mentioned Kiki novels. This, however, is a wartime novel, with strong autobiographical elements. It’s about a little girl, Iko (nickname for Eiko?), who moves from Tokyo to the rural outskirts to escape the regular bombings. It’s also about her relationship with her father, step-mother and kids at her new school. Everything is written through the eyes of a child and feels very authentic. Considering the theme, you might expect a full-blown tragedy like Grave of the Fireflies, but this is not the case. While the war always hovers over the story like a dark shadow, the essence of this book is very mundane and not very dramatic, although sad things definitely do happen. Very recommended in any case. Also has some beautiful illustrations.

As for the language, it’s a bit more advanced than Kiki and has some historic vocabulary, but definitely not too hard. I’d recommend it to lower intermediate readers and upwards, or beginners who want to challenge themselves.

The comparatively low page count also makes it a good entry point for someone who doesn’t want to get overwhelmed by an epic like Kemono no Souja.

Sample

昭和十五年、五歳の時、私を生んだおかあさんが死んだ。それでおとうさんのおかあさんで、東京の本郷に住んでいるおばあさん、タカさんに、私は預けられた。

「こんなご時世なのに、商売がいそがしくってねえ。それに店のもんが全部兵隊にとられちゃって、私ひとりじゃ、どうにもならない。かあさん、しばらくイコをおねがいしますよ」

こんなご時世というのは、今、私たちの国、日本は近くの大陸で戦争をしていて、それが終わらないどころか、もっと大きな戦争にまでなっていくかもしれないというのだ。大人たちは一日に何回も、こんなご時世だから、戦争だから、と、口にする。「日本は大勝利、万々歳ですよ」「こてんぱんに、やっつけてやりましょうよ」「いざっていうときは、日本には神風が吹きますから」こんな風に、戦争になったら瞬く間に日本は勝つと、みんながみんな、威勢がいい。世界が変わるぞー、と言っているみたい。なんだかおもしろいことが起きそうだと、私もうきうきしていた。

Shizuka na Hibi (しずかな日々) by Michiko Yazuki

Impressions

This book is very nostalgic and mundane. It’s about a boy in 5th/6th grade who lives alone with his single mother but moves to the rural home of his grandfather during the course of the story. He is very shy and never had any friends, but finally starts to get more socially involved when he meets another more outgoing boy. They become good friends and have a couple of adventures during their summer holidays. The book also depicts the difficult relationship he has with his mother, and the intimate relationship he develops with his grandfather who initially makes a cold impression. Very mundane story, but it hits all the right spot, is written in a very introspective way, and both children and adults are very well-written and believable.

The language and grammar are relatively simple, but it uses more advanced vocabulary and kanji than books I’d recommend for beginners. I think Shizuka na Hibi is a good read for intermediate readers.

Sample

夏の夜ははじまりが遅くて、空はまだ明るさを残している。ぼくたちは寿司桶を前に、間をもたすために幾度となく外を見た。襖を開けたままにしてあるから、台所から居間、縁側、その先の庭まで全部見渡せる。

木戸の上に、夏の夕暮れ色の空が五センチほど見える。ほかのだれかが遠くからぼくらを見たら、そっくりな親子たちと言うだろう。ぼくたちは、寿司をひとつつまんでは咀嚼(そしやく)して、ひと息ついてお茶を飲み、外を見る。三人同じタイミングで、その動作をくりかえしている。

Konbini Ningen (コンビニ人間) by Sayaka Murata

Impressions

Out of this list, this is the only book aimed at adults first and foremost. Considering that, it is not too difficult. The book is written in a very straightforward way, partly owed to the protagonist who has autistic traits and tackles everything in a very pragmatic manner. Obviously uses vocabulary you wouldn’t find in children’s books, but it’s definitely a long shot from more poetic literary works.

As for the content, it’s about a 37 year-old (iirc) woman who cannot and does not want to fit in and is basically happy with her work in a Convenience Store, and a young mysogynist man who always curses the society, but in truth desperately wants to fit in. The book was eye-opening for many people in Japan because it shows that not everyone can lead a life according to the expectations of the society.

It’s also pretty short.

I’d recommend it for intermediate or upper intermediate readers. Nothing too difficult, but it might get exhausting if you don’t have a solid foundation to build upon. The book is also not split into chapters which means there are no convenient places to stop reading.

Sample

もし、本当に老いてコンビニで働くことができなくなったら自分はどうなるのだろう、と考えることがある。6人目の店長は、腰を痛めて働くことができず、会社を辞めていった。そうならないためにも、私の身体は、コンビニの為に健康でありつづけなければならないのだった。

翌日、約束通り午前から買い出しを手伝い、ミホの家まで運んで準備をした。昼にはミホの旦那さんやサツキの旦那さん、少し離れた所に住んでいる友達たちも集まり、懐かしい顔ぶれがそろった。

十四、五人ほど集まった中で、結婚していないのは私の他に二人だけだった。夫婦で来ている友達ばかりではないので何とも思わなかったが、結婚していないミキは「私たちだけ肩身が狭いね」と私に耳打ちした。

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Oh hey, your post came back. :joy:

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It hath returned! :ghost:

Can I suggest you maybe collapse some of the information, to make it a little less intimidating to read? Like the samples, perhaps. If you’re new to discourse, you can do it with:

[details=“Text Sample”]

sample goes here

[/details]

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But I love reading walls of text!

I only read the section on 獣の奏者 since I recognized it…

Now I skimmed through the rest though. So on that note:

This is the worst. I’m looking forward to reading more “normal” books with proper kanji use.

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Good suggestion! Should be easier to read now with the detail tags.

@seanblue
I know what you mean. If even basic words like 暮らす, 終わり or 始まり are written without kanji – and that is often the case in Kiki –, I personally think it hurts the text flow a bit. I think having more kanji and an adequate amount of furigana would make it easier. On the other hand, this, too, is good practice to improve your own reading capabilities by learning to segment the text even when there are no kanji to help you.

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Ooh, looking nice!

Also definitely agree re: furigana. It’s very overwhelming as a beginner to be presented with an unending string of hiragana.

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I wonder if I want to read this. Hmm hmm. It seems interesting. And the protagonist is named エリン. I have an affinity.

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I can only recommend it. It’s a beautiful story. The vast amount of new words in the beginning may be discouraging, but it gets easier quickly once you’ve read a few chapters.

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If you like fantasy you’ll probably enjoy it. The anime was fantastic, and covers the first two books out of four. I probably won’t get to it this year with so many other books already on my shelf, but I’ll probably try to read it next year.

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Thanks for the recommendations. I’m loving コンビニ人間.

I’m not much into fantasy so I kinda stopped looking too often into the Book clubs here, been under the impression that that was the favorite genre.

Would you happen to have a similar recommendation? Daily life, straightforward type of novel. Before this novel I was under the impression that I was sort of bound to read books aimed at kids for quite some time, so now I’m eager to found something similar. :cowboy_hat_face:

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But コンビニ人間 is fiction. :slight_smile:

I don’t have any similar suggestions for you, but I’m definitely interested in what others have to say because I really liked コンビニ人間.

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I guess I meant fantasy :sweat_smile:

But yeah, looking some other forums now, seems that it caught a lot of attention with japanese learners for some of the same reasons I like it. Easy to read aimed at a more mature audience.

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Maybe I should update this thread with the books I’ve read since. Yeah, I’ll do that when I have time.

I read 佐賀のがばいばあちゃん in May and absolutely loved it. It’s more or less an autobiographical book completely different from コンビニ人間 in terms of style and ton. But it’s straightforward, daily life, easy to digest and super funny and heartwarming. Might even be my favorite Japanese book so far (and I only bought it by accident).

I wrote some more here: 多読/extensive reading challenge

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The book we’re reading with the intermediate club right now, キッチン, is similar to コンビニ人間 in that it isn’t too difficult in regards to vocab and grammar used. It is very daily life, and kind of straightforward-ish? Like, it all follows a certain theme, and there’s no confusion why stuff happens. But also kind of not straightforward at all. :sweat_smile: There’s a lot more metaphors and philosophical themes in this one compared to コンビニ人間, and that can be a challenge! I’ve been enjoying it a lot. :slight_smile:

The author, 吉本ばなな is pretty well known and has written a lot of other books as well (as has the author of コンビニ人間). Other books written by an author whose style you like might be a good bet too. :smile:

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:open_mouth: you sure weren’t giving any spoilers there…

any synopsis available?

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You can check the nomination in the intermediate book club thread.

I also don’t think fantasy is the favorite genre of the club, since none of the selected books fall in that exact category. It was SF, horror, horror-ish?, action with fantasy, whatever the hell Kino is (SF?), slice-of-life with SF elements, literature, literature.

If anything, I’d say there’s more of a bias toward SF, but it’s not even that clear.

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Thanks, that put a couple of books under my radar. :slightly_smiling_face:

I actually stumped with the synopsis here as well

Who knows, maybe some of those could make it to the club in the future. I’m saving 「きらきらひかる」as a candidate :slightly_smiling_face: .

Well, two of those were already picked up :stuck_out_tongue: きらきらひかる sounds interesting too.

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You’re welcome. :eyes: Personally not a big fan of uninvited spoilers. Unless you want some?

I’ll link you the nomination post in the intermediate book club thread. It has the Japanese and English summaries as well as sample pages so you can see the writing style for yourself.

I recently discovered a book review blog that you might want to roam for interesting books:

I just briefly skimmed it but one book stuck out to me so far: むらさきのスカートの女, by Imamura Natsuko.
The review even compares it to コンビニ人間 style-wise.

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