3 Easy to Read Japanese Starter Books

River gorge in Nishi-Usuki-Gun, Miyazaki Prefecture

Many people have trouble entering the reading world. Some people can’t get through the entrance. Others make it through only to retreat. If you can’t quite push yourself all the way in and propel yourself forward just yet, you may want to try giving yourself a handicap: a Japanese graded reader. Check out three great series below to pique your interest in some great Japanese books out there.

But first a brief message from Adshap, who was originally a little turned off by the concept of this post because he thought that these Japanese readers would get in the way of immersion:

“After thinking it over, I realize that some people’s main goal in learning Japanese is to read the classics of Japanese literature as well as very difficult novels that would take quite a high level to comprehend. The length of time required to understand them in their original form may take too long, causing frustration and eventually giving up. While I don’t believe readers are for everyone, as they can actually halt your studies in some instances (especially those with English translations of full passages themselves in addition to just words/phrases), I can see that they might be helpful for some people. If something works for somebody to keep them moving forward and keep them positive, then there is definitely some value in giving it a try.”

And now on to the recommendations!

レ ベル別日本語多読ライブラリー from White Rabbit Press
Japanese Level: ☆ to ☆☆

These leveled readers provide extensive reading opportunities even for learners at the very beginning of their journey with Japanese. Not children’s books, but something that gives you a chance to completely immerse in the reading experience without relying on an English crutch. There are five levels, which go from N5 on the JLPT test to N2, and the stories in each volume cover everything from soybeans to sakura to Japanese folktales, giving you plenty of cultural information along with your reading practice. The higher levels even include a simplified version of one of the great classics of Japanese children’s literature, Dazai Osamu’s story “Run, Melos.” They’re way pricey, mostly because each story comes with a separate audio CD, but they are well worth the cost if it’s going to get you into smooth reading.

Read Real Japanese series – “Fiction” and “Essays”
Japanese Level: ☆ to ☆☆

The Read Real Japanese series takes essays and short stories by big-name Japanese writers and presents them with furigana, English glosses, grammar explanations, and a short dictionary in the back. This might make immersion purists cringe a little, but these books are an excellent introduction to the twists and turns of sophisticated writing. The literary chops of the authors – from Murakami Haruki to Kakuta Mitsuyo – are unbeatable.

You can find some of the series fairly cheaply on the American Amazon.com here, here, and here.

“Breaking Into Japanese Literature” and “Exploring Japanese Literature”
Japanese Level: ☆☆ to ☆☆☆

Breaking Into Japanese Literature and Exploring Japanese Literature tackles some of the major classics of Japanese written world, with powerful authors like Tanizaki, Soseki, and Mishima. These older literary works often include archaic vocabulary and a very unfamiliar formal style that you most likely aren’t used to. That doesn’t mean these are bad books. They’re just not books for beginners. They’re worth it for you if you really like these writers and you need a little hand up to deal with the original texts, especially if you’re already at a high intermediate level. But if you are at a high intermediate level, you may be better off spending some time in the friendly clearing of contemporary writers before wading into the swamp of pre-war, pre-writing-reform literature.

Emily Horner blogs at 日本語で悠々

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Reading, reading, and more reading. Can't get enough of Japanese books.


3 Easy to Read Japanese Starter Books — 2 Comments

  1. The ‘read real Japanese’ books actually have audio CDs as well, and the editor recommends that you listen to them before even looking at the stories, to see how much you already understand. The essays and stories have also been arranged in order of ascending difficulty.
    What I liked about these books is that they made for very easy reading right before bed. Every page or so I took a look at the translations of the parts I didn’t really understand right away and then I could move on with the story/essay.

  2. I usually read visual novels on my PC. When i first began, i tried reading some books, but the wall of text really scared me. I could hardly progress. So i tried visual novels. In visual novels all the text is broken up in little parts. every part has from a sentence to 3~4 sentences. When you’re done reading you click on the visual novel and you get the next part. Before you realize you’ve already read a book longer than LotR. VNs helped me get faster and also made it easier for me to face “real” novels.

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