Should you Read and Watch the Japanese Classics?

The “classics,” home of the inevitable “you absolutely must read/watch/listen to (insert amazing classic)!” Learning Japanese presents you with a barrage of these recommendations for your study material. But this is an area which I feel you must be very careful when treading upon. I don’t like many classics. I’m not interested in many classics. The idea of learning through the classics can be discouraging to a Japanese learner, taking away your confidence.

Free the guilt

When you are told to use a classic, start it and find you don’t like it, you may think something is wrong with your Japanese. If it’s a classic, it means everyone should like it, right? It is a work that has transcended generations. If you’re not liking it, then obviously it must be a problem with your Japanese.

Classics, juts like any other material, should always be given something similar to the 5-minute rule. If you don’t like it within the first five minutes, you probably won’t ever like it. It often will have nothing to do with your level or understanding of Japanese. It takes a certain mind set to enjoy a classic. Plenty of Japanese don’t enjoy classics as well. Never be guilty if you find yourself not enjoying a classic after a few minutes, and decide to swiftly free yourself from such menace.

With age comes rage

Let’s face it: classics are old. Their age may be anywhere from 30 to 300 years. This can present two problems to you.

1. It can be harder to relate to. Yes I know, classics are supposed to be some beautiful timeless stories that will never grow old and will remain in the hearts of humanity for an eternity. However, you live in a different world than these classics had. Keeping your attention is not what it used to be.

2. The language is usually significantly more difficult. Japanese swiftly changes and is a constantly evolving language. What you are used to with most of your media is the most modern version of Japanese. This will cause a huge dent in your understanding that may frustrate you.

The simpler way

To make classics more accessible to the younger generations, many of the much older ones have simplified versions, changing both the language and length. This is definitely a step forward in solving the second age problem above. However, the first problem is still present.

Another trend is to turn classics into manga, which seems to be a huge step forward in solving both problems. One major example is 源氏物語.

What to do with classics

I am not insulting classics. There are many greats that represent a very important part of Japanese culture. There are classics I like. There are classics you will like, and may even love. However, the point of this post is to keep you in the proper perspective when interacting with them.

Keep in mind the following, and you should be fine:

– Never feel guilt.
– Never feel obligation.
– Don’t go over your level for the sake of educating yourself quicker

Some examples of the top contenders?

Anime: Sazae-san, Doraemon (though these would be considered more recent classics in a very loose sense of the word)
Books: Anything by Natsume Soseki (坊ちゃん, 我輩は猫である, こころ)

And how about you?

If you are a lover of classics, and think they represent what is great about Japanese literature, the thought of avoiding them may disturb you. If  this is you, what classics do you like, and why do you think those specific ones are worth looking at.

If you have found nothing but annoyance with classics, which ones did you find to be overrated and a waste of your time?

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.

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