Use Disney to Improve Your Reading

What comes to mind when I say the words:  “Study”? “Kanji?” “Reading in Japanese?” Work, effort, and not easy? As if having fun while reading or studying in Japanese was cheating.

Everyone wants to have a roller coaster ride of fun and kick-ass experiences, but these ideas are too seldom applied to the words above.  For myself, kanji and (consequently) reading in Japanese used to be something to be endured, because it was good for me.  Think the start of Mulan’s training montage.

The Japanese reading that existed in my life was usually short passages or test prep.  Always it was above my level, uninteresting, or super short.  I never developed reading fluency because it was always start and stop.

While challenges and test prep are not bad, they can wear you down and deplete your good will for Japanese.   For much longer than necessary, the idea of reading an entire book in Japanese would have collapsed me into a fit of laughter at the sure absurdity of it.  This was a vicious cycle.  Like Mulan, I was working hard but I needed to learn to work smart ala the end of her training montage.

We don’t need to see KANJI and READING like impenetrable citadels guarded by evil Disney dragons.  The situation can be overcome by choosing correctly leveled resources and concentrating on one task at a time.

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You can find my answer for Kanji here.  For developing reading fluency, for beginning – lower intermediate JALUP users check out this past article for graded readers and for upper intermediate JALUP users allow me to introduce you to the ディズニーアニメ小説版 (Japanese Disney anime novel series).

What’s it all about?

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ディズニーアニメ小説版 is a series of native books for Japanese elementary students made by  偕成社.  They are meant to be accessible from grade 3-4 but be relevant and enjoyable up through grade 6 and beyond.

Each book is a novelization of a Disney or Pixar movie like “Alice In Wonderland” or “Wall E.” There are currently 100 books in the series and the number is continuously increasing as more movies are released.  The series contains everything from classics like “Sword in the Stone” or “101 Dalmatians” and hits like “Mulan” or “Pirates of the Caribbean” to new favorites like “Frozen,” “Finding Nemo,” and “Big Hero 6.”

What are these books like?

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The books open with a full color character introduction section. The next part is a kind of summary of the major plot events using full color pictures from the movie.  The books are roughly 220 pages each and divided into chapters of about 10 pages. There are sometimes black and white pictures accompanying the main text.

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These books use all kanji taught in Japanese elementary school and have full furigana.  The narration and stories are written in a clear descriptive manner.  The writer has done a good job of capturing the pacing, feelings, and characters of the movies.

The vocabulary threshold can be a bit steep the first few chapters with the narration setting up the stories, but levels out quite well when the story picks up and is mostly dialog driven.  I have read several of these books and have found the experience pleasantly similar to that of the movies.

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What levels of Japanese is required?  Who benefits?

Japanese level: Intermediate and up

Good for people:

1) With current or nostalgic interest in Disney or Pixar
2) Looking for a good bridge from textbook or graded readers into native material.
3) With decent vocabulary and grammar, but have difficulty with kanji reading.
4) Doing 多読 (extensive reading) through a contest or as solo players.
5) Reading without a dictionary in a comfortable way with the goal of enjoying the story.
6) Wanting to build up their reading fluency.
7) Wanting to improve their reading speed and global text comprehension

Where can you get them? Price?

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In Japan, these books cost 700 yen full price and about 100 yen used at Bookoff.  You can get them online for about 5 USD to 14 USD depending on availability, age, and condition of the book. Go to any of the websites below and type “ディズニーアニメ小説版” into the search box. Then go from there.  You can scroll through the options then.  Check out Frozen and Mulan below.

– For outside Japan: or
– For inside Japan:,, or visit your local Bookoff.

Final question to you

Which Disney movie would you love to read in Japanese?

Related posts:

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A writer for Japanese Level up and a 4th Year JET. Has the ability to consume anime and J-dramas at an alarming pace and may be too in love with kanji.


Use Disney to Improve Your Reading — 9 Comments

  1. Thanks man! I just bought 3 of them. I’ll probably wrap them up for myself for Christmas though lol.

  2. This is a great tip. I will definitely be picking up a few of these in my next shipment from Amazon Japan.

    I can also recommend the following similar series for the Studio Ghibli movies. It is really nice quality – easy Japanese with furigana and lots of color pictures all the way through.

  3. This is awesome! I’ve always enjoyed watching Disney movies in Japanese when I get a chance, so reading them will be a treat ^^

  4. I read one of the books in this series last year and have another one on my shelf. I tend to prefer originally-Japanese novels, but these are certainly fun too.

    Among other non-Japanese things, Moomin is currently very popular (again) in Japan and I am reading 楽しいムーミン一家 because I loved the anime series. It is a little above this level (not full furigana, maybe 60%).

  5. Friendly tip: to get started on (the English) Amazon, search for “Disney cartoon novel version”. That’s how a lot of the ディズニーアニメ小説版 are labeled. Not all***, however.

    If you’re having trouble finding a particular title, don’t forget to try searching by ISBN.
    For example:
    Step one: find the item in Amazon Japan or another Japanese book site (by browsing or searching w/native title).
    Step two: use the book’s ISBN(s) to search (English-language) Amazon/wherever else is convenient.

    ***Like with many books, some of the ディズニーアニメ小説版 English listings have awkward/erroneous romanizations/translations or generic “___(English Title)___ [Japanese version]” with no other information besides ISBN.

    A few outliers (i.e. not included under “Disney cartoon novel version”):
    “The Little Mermaid”/『リトル・マーメイド―人魚姫』:
    “Beauty & the Beast”/『美女と野獣』:

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