Week 3: 佐賀のがばいばあちゃん 👵🏼

I once discussed this with my language partner who is in his early fifties, so this information is a bit dated, but he said that in middle school in one year they would get a summer holiday assignment to read one of 人間失格、我輩は猫である and one other that I forgot, and write a report about it. I found it a bit surprising that they read those books in middle school already, but compared to Germany, we probably read similar stuff in school around that time (you know, literature, not children’s books). How about the US? What do schoolchildren read in school nowadays?


I remember when I first said to my tutor that I was reading 魔女の宅急便 she said something along the lines of “uugh I remember having to read that for school and write an essay” :smile:


Huh. On one hand I probably shouldn’t underestimate kids, but my impression is that those books are pretty full of old kanji and the like, so it’s a little surprising at that level they’d be assigned books that I’d assume feature a whole lot of stuff they weren’t directly taught quite yet by that point. I mean I know being surrounded by the language all your life, their knowledge well outstrips anything you get by just looking at the jouyou list, but still. Thanks for the info!

Edit: actually you did say the person telling you that was a bit older so the writing would be slightly less distant at that time – I’m not engaging my brain currently

My only knowledge of that comes from the movie but that one seems so fun and whimsical to be school reading, haha.

Honestly, I hardly remember what I had to read in middle school… I know at one point there was a Greek myth play, Hades and Persephone thing. I want to say it was around that time we read at least part of the Diary of Anne Frank. Nothing else comes to mind. I was very much someone who, even if I liked books, reading anything for school was automatically tainted by the associating with school so I think I dumped all that from my memory hahaha.

High school is easier to recall – had to do a Shakespeare thing every year (which I can assure you is certainly not something highschool kids enjoy). There’s class segmenting into honors and the like by then that split up the readings, but some other stuff a lot of people had to read was like Slaughterhouse-Five, Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, etc. In my last year I took AP English (which is sort of a pseudo college level class taken in highschool to get some advance credit if you pass the test at the end) and that was a mix of the best and worst stuff I read in high school haha. Assigning us The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand) over the summer was criminal! There’s also Heart of Darkness which I think had literary value but at least at that age I could not make sense of practically anything in that dense writing. But we also had some options to pick some stuff we independently read and among them was stuff like Catch-22 and Siddhartha that I rather liked.


Okay, thank you !

Yeah, the pikapika shoes ! I guess he kept using the pikapika shoes but as he used them they became less shiny ? That’s what I understood.

But isn’t it kinda the same eslewhere ? I mean, I am from France, and in middle school I had to read Molière or other books (not so much, but still) that were written in old French. That means it had an awful lot of words that I didn’t know. It was super hard to understand but I could use a dictionnary. Guess Japanese kids may have something similar and a way to look up for kanji. Moreover, they can ask their teacher or parents in case they don’t understand something.
And at the end of middle school, I was assigned books such as Liaisons Dangereuses (this book is basically about a girl who is supposed to get married soon, is in love with another man and have sex with another man so she can learn how to please her husband and lover. And there are other characters as well and it’s all about having affairs. Love this book though.) or Sartres’ book (awfully difficult, I couldn’t reach the end. It was way too hard for me).

On another note, I almost finished chapter 4, only 1 page left so here my thoughts about it (since I doubt it is going to change for just a page) :

Chapter 4

I saw someone mentionning eating the fish bones, in my case I wasn’t that surprise because I know some people eat them, especially grilled small and thin ones. For them it is like fried food. I don’t like it though, so I don’t eat that.
Every chapter is a heart break for me because there are a lot of things that felt so normal for me that our boy can’t even dream of. Like, doing sports. Having toys. I mean, he couldn’t even have a self made toy made out of a watermelon. His grandma took it for cooking. And he doesn’t get angry at all. For me that was the worst, even throwing a tantrum is a luxury. :pleading_face:
War is sure a tough thing. I don’t understand why people would make one, but this is another story, uh.


Hmm, somewhat? I know what you’re saying, but on the other hand, I went searching a little to try to jog my memory and I genuinely think we didn’t start into the harder older stuff until high school. Other middle school books were like Hatchet, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Outsiders, that kinda stuff. Much more kid-accessible stuff, to my memory. Japanese just went through a much more intense overhaul of the writing system and grammar in a pretty short time, I think. Most of the English books even in highschool might have been a sorta literary in prose, but they weren’t THAT different. I look at The Great Gatsby and maybe there are some fancy words but I’m not thinking we genuinely don’t talk or write like that anymore, y’know? That was mostly just Shakespeare (and I guess Heart of Darkness but that was essentially university level), which we still usually had our hands held through.

Maybe it’s a little gentler, lower requirements in America. I mean, I have very few good things to say about my experience with public education, heh… Of course everything varies by state so much here I honestly don’t even know how generalizable my experiences are on the wider scale.

Oh yes 100%, hard agree with that. It’s creating a little bit of dissonance for me with how he seems to be writing it fairly lighthearted but I read this stuff and I’m just sad for him. Glad things seem to have turned out well for him in the end anyway.


To be fair, the books I mentioned are also written in modern Japanese. There may be some unusual kanji, and some words will be written in kanji that are nowadays mostly written in hiragana (but many modern authors have differing views on this), but they use modern grammar and everything. And even for older works, you can find modernized editions where the now outdated kanji and kana and grammar points have been replaced. (You can see that in Aozora Bunko, for example, it is annotated for each book whether it is 新 or 旧 for kanji and kana, respectively).


Gotcha. Yeah I haven’t actually read them for myself of course and I only have the outside learner’s perspective on what even makes a piece of writing hard, which I can guarantee doesn’t entirely line up with how a native would see it. Just people who have read them, especially 人間失格, have given me the impression it’s full of “that word isn’t used anymore” situations.

Though I also thought 我輩は猫である was old enough to be noticeably different in grammar, am I wrong about that? I know there’s a further difference for the really classical stuff, but…


Honestly, for France, the books choice depends on the school and on the teacher. So while my teacher of second year in middle school made us read boring kids books, the year after our new teacher made us read some Zola or The perfume from Suskind (not especially difficult in a language aspect, but rather on a theme aspect :joy: ). So, my point is, in France, you don’t have strict guidelines about the books students should read. It’s just that student need to read at least one play book for example. So, depending on your teacher you may end up ith any kind of books. I even read a fairytale psychanalize form the advice of one of my teacher. I don’t know how it is in other countries, is there any kind of guidelines ? Or is it up to the teacher to freely chose the books ?


I see, interesting! Here I can’t seem to find good information on entirely how it’s chosen, but I know they’re definitely more constrained. Like when I say a Shakespeare work every year, that seemed to be a hard requirement. There were different Shakespeare works for different levels of English (honors or not) but you were always doing Shakespeare. And I’m pretty sure within the same level when there were multiple teachers they were all reading the same things, if I recall correctly. I couldn’t tell you how much the requirements that existed were taken from general state requirements vs how much might have been the school itself, though. I’ve been doing a little searching but mostly all I’m finding are more abstract sort of “learning outcome” guidelines than anything on exact reading selection.


You probably mean the sentence 革靴はあっという間にボロボロになり、近所の子供たちと同じ下駄ばきになった。So yes, his shoes became scruffy, and he started to wear clogs like the other kids. It’s a bit surprising that there wasn’t a scene with his grandma chiding him for his ボロボロ shoes at this point, but I guess that these are the same shoes he wears when he goes running later on, right? (I doubt he would have several pairs and I assume he doesn’t wear clogs when he’s running.) So that scene just comes later :slightly_smiling_face:


I think so too. Because later his grandma picks on him because he runs with his shoes and he is going to destroy them.


Yeah, so there are multiple levels at play here. You are right, it’s older than I thought (from 1905), and it’s one of the examples where you can get the same text with old and new kanji and kana on Aozora:

Old version (just ignore the first section which is a foreword.)
New version

As you can see, the old writing style is a bit funny (more things are expressed in kanji, e.g. 居る instead of いる, and they use repeaters a lot). But the grammar (which is identical for both texts) is not far from normal grammar. I just read the first few sentences and could only spot ぬ (i.e. ない) but everything else looked unsurprising. (Ok they use some more kanji e.g. 無い instead of ない but that’s not grammar, right).

In contrast, I just bought a translation (!) of an even older Japanese book into modern Japanese.

This is sometimes very much independent from the actual language :sweat_smile: E.g. sometimes it’s difficult for me to understand who is talking to whom, and what they refer to, as things are sometimes expressed in very vague terms…


I’m also done with Ch3 for now. Ch4 is in the following days.

They actually wore out completely and he switched to even wearing 下駄 at some point if I didn’t misread that. Though I’m not sure if he kept them at least to do the running?
EDIT: The discussion moved too fast. This point was already discussed ^^

I feel the same way but after now having finished the 3rd chapter he at least got a short giggle out of me with the whole: I ignored everything grandma said and continued running, naturally wearing my shoes ^^.

Is anyone else feeling the author is pretty inconsistent with his dialect btw? There are parts when the Grandma speaks without any dialect: 自信を持ちなさい。but the direct sentence before she used dialect. Feels a bit strange sometimes…

Btw love the discussion for 3 and 4 on the grammar and content side so far!


Ahh ok, yeah I guess if it’s smaller grammar differences like that I wouldn’t expect natives to bat an eye at it. I mean, I know ぬ at this point since it has survived enough in certain phrases and the like. Good to know anyway, because I’d really like to read Natsume Soseki sometime. Thanks for going to all that effort to check it!

Oh absolutely, a lot of my issues right now stem from somehow losing sight of the subject or something. I was actually recently reading a translator talking about challenges and they mentioned how in English we expect so much more “X said” or some more elegant phrase outright pointing to the person dialog comes from and that just doesn’t happen in Japanese. I’ve already noticed it, a little piece of one of the stories I was reading in Zoo 2 had this big dialog back and forth that you had to intuit the speaker of by either the content of what they were saying or I suppose the exact quirks to how they talked.


I wouldn’t say that our present book is a children’s book.

I think that the boundaries between books for children and books for adults are not very clear. There are books like Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince or 星の王子さま) or Lewis Carroll’s Alice books that seem to be written for children but also address some subjects concerning the adults.

In my school time, there were some ‘mandatory’ classical authors like Goethe (Faust) or Molière, but normally the teacher would choose the books to be read in class. For example, in middle school we read Böll’s Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum, which treats terrorism and sensational journalism, and Malraux’s La Condition Humaine (Man’s Fate) on Chinese insurrections in the 1920s.


That’s a good point. I’ve seen some people around here call Yotsubato a children’s manga and even though it’s simple and about a child, it always seemed to me like something that would be better appreciated by nostalgic adults. Given how this book opens with a big list of economic events in Japan I don’t think it’s outright aimed at children, haha. But I understand the feelings of parts of it connecting at a child’s level if that makes any sense. Which honestly might just be a compliment when the book is trying to relay experiences of childhood.


Definitely ! Actually, simple writing style or stories about children don’t necessarily a book aimed at children. But ! An accessible book for children can be good reading material to make them know more about the society.
For example, the book we are reading isn’t a child’s book. However, for middle school kids, it could be an interresting read as they could learn more about the reality of war and the economic impact of it. They can also learn part of Japan’s history with the point of view of someone who actually experienced it. So this makes it a good book for everyone.
That’s how I see it, for my point of view.


A bit of background knowledge:

Shimada originally didn’t intend to write this book at all. He’s not a writer, after all. But occasionally he would go drinking with Takeshi Kitano aka Beat Takeshi – they’ve been good friends for decades. And when Shimada told him stories about his grandma one day, Kitano really pushed him to write this book so the whole world knows what an amazing person she was.

The first version of the book, however, was rejected by publishers, so Shimada eventually self-published it and sold it directly at events (mostly talks he held). Only a few copies were sold in the first few years, but the feedback he received kept him going. It was only until much later that a publisher decided to pick it up under a different title. It was also adapted into a movie directed by Shimada himself.

So I don’t think Shimada had any particular target audience in mind at all. But the casual style probably means that just about anyone can enjoy the book. I don’t think Shimada considers himself a writer – he is a manzai comedian and a public speaker first and foremost.


Oh thanks for the info! I had no idea about the connection, but I love Takeshi Kitano for his films. If anyone’s going to tell you go out of your comfort zone and make something even if that’s not “the kind of thing you do” it’s the guy who designed Takeshi’s Challenge, haha. That’s really cool. I do hope to check out the movie based on this book when the club finishes, too. Manzai’s interesting as well but I can’t really watch it now for obvious enough reasons.


Puhh finally done with chapter 4 right on time again. This week was fairly stressful so I’m happy I got done in time nontheless.

This chapter was great excercise for N2 grammar.

Chapter 4 had words again where I knew the meaning but the reading had 2 possibilities. I HATE THESE WORDS IN JAPANESE WITH A PASSION!
They are such a minefield for learners of the language since authors always assume the reading is clear for a Japanese person. So no furigana is needed. And looking it up mostly yields stuff like “well yeah both readings are possible” which is as helpful as nothing. Also I have to learn to recognize two different sound patterns and associate them with the same meaning for no real benefit. Grrrrrrrrrr…

Some examples:
仏心 ぶしんorほとけごころ?
家 うちorいえ? (I think I know the difference but always have to think which fits the situation better…)
食 probably しょく but theres also じき…

How is the voice in my head supposed to get into a reading flow if I stumble over such trifles and fall down huge rabbit holes…
Any strategies you can recommend for these cases?