Nonfiction Picture Books

I am a big fan of nonfiction picture books as a way to help Japanese language learners to take the next step after graded readers. Fiction picture books, folk tales, and books for the very young have vocabularies and grammar that native speaker children learn from their parents and grandparents, but nonnative speaking adults wouldn’t come across in their textbooks. Some folks are fine with it and figure it out, but others will be frustrated that they can’t understand something that a tiny tot can.

Nonfiction picture books are short – maybe 32 or 46 pages – and have plenty of illustrations to help with understanding the text.
I have a number of them in my READ Japanese collection, including biographies, history, social issues, etc.

Some, aimed at older Japanese kids are longer. The following series averages 80 pages. The reading age is just 小学生 but I would say that it would be really good for students in their 3rd or 4th year of Japanese – particularly students who are working on a project and want to read at least 1 book in Japanese.

At the moment I can’t remember if I have ordered these or not, so I am going to put the link in so I can come back to it.SDGs=Social Development Goals.
This set of 10 books covers a range of topics from poverty to pollution. It explains the issues in a story and then provides more information. The publisher is Kodansha, 2020-

For a list of the titles and ISBNs see ehonnavie here

Sample pages and an article about the series is here at

More on Permissions, Rights, and Translations – Japan Writers’ Association

Japan Writers’ Association 日本文芸家協会 is listed on several of the publisher home pages as handling rights for many of their authors.

On their page for Copyright Clearance there is a great deal of important information for you. To the right there is a list (choice of excel or html) of the authors they represent. When you open the list you will see if they have full or partial representation for each author. Below that are excel spreadsheet files for newly added authors, authors who have canceled their contracts, and authors they used to represent who are out of copyright from 2010 on. A careful look at these pages will save you a lot of time.

Once you have determined that the author you are interested in is represented by the JWACC, you need to check and see which request form 申請フォーム (shinsei fōm) you should fill out. Most of the forms about about broadcasting, putting images or excerpts on the web, using paragraphs in exams, requests for reprints, games, etc. But no.17 is the one that you need. 許諾申請についての相談用フォーム (kyodaku shinsei ni tsuite no sōdan fōm). On this form, you designate whether you are checking about an author that they have partial representation for or something else. This is the form that I think should be used to check and see if the rights are available to translate a particular book or story of an author they represent. If anyone knows for sure, I would be very grateful for confirmation.

Just a reminder that Japanese copyright rules are 70 years after the death of the author (and not 70s after publication of the work) so any of the stories by someone like Yoshiya Nobuko who published stories in the 1920s but lived until 1973 are protected by copyright. And, yes, 吉屋信子 is represented by JWACC.

The JWACC has a pdf dated 2016 著作権Q&A 翻訳権 is covered under article 27 of the copyright law.

A translation is considered a derivative work (in Japanese 二次的使用) along with adaptation (like creating a manga based on a novel). 二次使用 and 二次的使用 are different. Niji shiyo is a reuse (publishing it in an anthology for example) but without any changes. Nijiteki shiyo is an adaptation. Good and easy explanation <a href="" here="" at the Nihon Jido bungakusha kyokai copyright guide.

Permissions, Rights, and Translations

This is a huge topic and yet a relatively simple one. It wasn’t really a problem in the old paper-based world because if you translated something that you loved, it was a private affair. You might share it with your friends or turn it in as an assignment, but it wasn’t public or published. Now that so many people are posting things to the Internet and they are being made widely available, it is critical that people understand rights and permissions so that they don’t get into trouble.

I have to admit that it is taking me a long time to really understand the process – both theoretical and practical – since I am not a translator myself. But I have been on a quest this summer to get a better handle on it so that I can advise people more accurately about their options. And this has meant talking with published translators about their experiences and their advice. Almost everyone has at least one or more bad experiences that they don’t necessarily want to share, and I don’t blame them, but if we can sluice their experiences we can get the nuggets of gold out and that would be an excellent thing.

I started out by thinking that translators needed to contact the copyright holder for permission, and so I was always careful to show people colophons and how to read them. But as one translator pointed out to me, that is really more about legalities of royalties than permissions, and the publisher is usually the gateway to permissions.

So how do you track down the right department in a publishing company and how do you make contact? On a website, you need to look for either the foreign rights department or the rights department.

Here is an example:
Kodansha 講談社
Look for the about page – in Japanese 会社情報
Then you will see a section called 版権・著作権・出版物.
The contact information is divided up by the kinds of rights/license requests.
Foreign rights falls here:
TEL: 03-5395-3576 / FAX:03-5395-7058

Notice that this is no form or email contact information provided for overseas users. The English link on Kodansha’s home page takes you to a brochure, but at least that provides some information. Kodansha USA – should be a good source, but at the moment (August 2020) its website only contains audio files for its Japanese language textbooks.

Iwanami Shoten 岩波書店
Iwanami makes it really easy. Click on the English page and right there is an email address for its Foreign Rights and Permissions Department. Thanks Iwanami!

Bungei Shunjusha 文藝春秋社
At the bottom of the main page is a link for all kinds of inquiries:) Scroll down until you find the section on copyright and permissions 著作権に関するお問い合わせ. Partway down you will see an email address for the Rights Business Division ライツビジネス部 mail : I heard from a friend, that it may take a few weeks to process requests because of the volume they receive, but they will respond.

Shinchosha 新潮社
In the case of Shinchosha, the 会社情報 page just gives the basic facts about the company. Instead you have to look at the very bottom of the page for the お問い合わせ page. There is a list of headings for inquiries, but nothing about overseas.
転載、教育利用などにおける小社刊行物の利用について is the section you want. It says that almost all rights are handled by these two organizations.
And for the ones not covered by these two, there is a form you can fill out to ask.

What to Read?

One of the questions I frequently get from students who are thinking about becoming literary translators is what they should read. That is a question that every librarian loves to hear. “Oh let’s talk books!” But this is no easy task. There is so much good literature being published that it is impossible to stay on top of the totality of it. Why not let others take the first swipe.

Contemporary Japanese Literature is a website maintained by Kathryn Hemmann. The site includes a lot of book reviews, recommended reading lists, and essays.

The Japan Foundation published a newsletter for many years called Japanese Book News. It looks like it hasn’t been published for a few years though. I am leaving it here because there is a lot of good information in its back issues, but I am sad that it isn’t being maintained.

A few sources that I am taken with include:
Monkey Business magazine is such a fabulous magazine for anyone interested in Japanese literature in translation. One of the fascinating things (to me) is that it is not just contemporary literature being translated here. Lots of really fabulous translators get published in Monkey Business and are able to build a solid portfolio of translations before tackling full length works.

Words Without Borders. Really nice translations of Japanese literature and take a look at the Educators’ section for ways to use the stories in class.

Wasafiri magazine is a British-based magazine of international creative writing. It often includes English translations of Japanese literature and occasional special issues on Japanese literature like this one Issue 102: Japan: Literatures of Remembering

Granta is a publisher based in Great Britain that includes a number of translations of Japanese literature, art & photography, and essays. Lovely stuff and such a pleasant way to keep up with new publications.

Asymptote presents work in translation alongside the original texts, as well as audio recordings of those original texts whenever possible. You can search by author, translator, language of the original or click on the map.

Literary Hub is an amazing site full of good writing, information about publishing trends, and often includes book reviews, interviews, and lists of books that should be translated. Use the search box to find the articles related to Japan.

This is a blog post in process. I will continue to add to it and edit it as I find links.

Figuring Out What Has Been Published in Translation

Student assignments, and even individuals interested in doing JE translation usually start from the proviso – select a story that hasn’t yet been published in English.

The standby source used to be the Japan Foundation’s Japanese Literature in Translation database. It doesn’t provide full coverage – you will find some translations missing – but it is pretty darn good.

Allison Markin Powell maintains a database called Japanese Literature in English. It is definitely worth your time to check both the Japan Foundation database as well as Powell’s.

David Boyd pointed me to the 3% Database, which used to be housed at the University of Rochester and maintained by Chad Post is now available through Publishers Weekly. Translation Database . One unique feature of this database is that you can search by the gender of both the author and the translator.

For the purposes of aspiring translators, rather than student assignments, David Boyd kindly pointed out another excellent source of information from Japan Foundation – an annual list of which books were awarded translation and/or publication funding support. I hadn’t realized that this source of information was so useful, but it really is and it is worth checking all the regions because some really good English translations are coming out from all kinds of countries. Support Program for Translation and Publication on Japan

JE Literary Translators on Twitter

I am currently working on a library guide for Japanese language learners who are interested in becoming translators. There is so much information out there in interviews, podcasts, tweets, and articles that it can be overwhelming. But the more I read and talk with people earning a living as translators, there are certain patterns that begin to emerge and that makes it easier to compile a library guide to help them get started.

My interest in this area is natural as a librarian. People want to read Japanese literature in translation and if they are also learning Japanese some will want to try their own hand at translation. Most Japanese language and literature programs include courses on translation theory and in the upper level language courses students are given the opportunity/assignment to try their own hand at translation. Some programs even include practicums where students have the opportunity to really work on their translations and receive feedback and mentoring.

But one of the areas that I didn’t see being covered in detail in these courses was about the business end of translating. Do you start with a full translation and then approach publishers? Can you submit a CV to a publisher and get freelance translation jobs? How does one get permission to translate a particular text, how do you contact the copyright holder or publisher and what kinds of language do you use to make a good impression and accomplish your task. How does one become a professional translator?

I was not prepared to answer any of these questions. I’m a librarian and a reader, not a translator nor a publisher. My initial concerns were about copyright and not violating copyright by naive and overenthusiastic translators. And so, I knew just enough to let people know that they can’t “publish” translations without permissions, but I didn’t know enough how to guide them through the process of actually getting permission and seeing their translation in print. Questions from students about how to become professional translators was even further from my wheelhouse, but I could at least point them in the direction of professional translators if I could find a way to do it without inconveniencing the professionals. And that is how this journey started.

I started out by following a number of active translators on Twitter. This was fabulous for me, and I highly recommend it for interested students as well. So easy to follow, pick up information, and not inconvenience anyone. Here is a brief list of some of the translators I have been following:

  • Emily Balistieri @tiger
  • Jocelyne Allen @brainsvbook
  • Polly Barton @pollyfmbarton
  • Louise Heal Kawai @quietmoonwave17
  • Morgan Giles @wrongsreversed
  • Lucy North @japanonmymind
  • Alison Watts @sashikolady
  • Takami Nieda @TNieda
  • Avery Udegawa @AveryUdegawa
  • Kathryn Hemmann @kathrynthehuman
By following these translators, as well as seeing who they follow, I can learn more about talks, competitions, and upcoming publications.

Manga websites

For people who are looking to try a variety of manga, a number of websites offer free previews, but more importantly free volumes of a whole range of titles.

Each website offers different options, and often uses its own proprietary reader, even if the titles are the same. So, it makes sense to do some exploring before deciding which one(s) you prefer as a go-to source.

In my case, I sample here and there, but because I am limited to using a US credit card, there are only a few options for me to actually buy digital copies of the manga that I want to read.

I have been using eBookJapan the longest. It has made some changes recently by merging with Yahoo! Japan so that Japanese folks can use Yahoo! Japan money, but I am still able to use a US credit card.

BookWalker is another site that I have looked at this year. It includes manga, light novels, novels, nonfiction, game strategy books, and interestingly enough doujinshi. There is a sister site called BookWalker Global for the English translations of manga and light novels. So, flipping between the two can really be useful if you are the type who wants to read first in English before dipping into the Japanese (or vice versa). There are lots of manga that are available for free for a limited amount of time.

Now the BookWalker Global website does allow payment by PayPal. There are also notes about licensing restrictions (the English language editions not allowed to be sold in Japan) And if you are wanting to look for the Japanese original of a manga/light novel that you enjoyed, look at the product details towards the bottom of the page.

CMOA is an example of a comics/light novel website that offers a monthly subscription to either unlimited or limited (missing BL, TL, light novels aka the good stuff) but only accepts credit cards issued in Japan. So, that lets it out for me. BUT, there is a free login option that you can use to either read through the browser or use the reader. The reader (bookshelf) application is available for Windows, iPad, and Android.

If you want to use the website for research – looking at rankings, genres, etc. The categorization is pretty good and I really appreciate the adaptation (which titles have been picked up for anime, movies, dramas) information.

twitter feeds

Here are a handful of twitter feeds that you may find useful for your studies.

An Australia-based Japanese teacher from Kyoto. My blog gets updated daily from Mon to Sat. Please follow EasyJapaneseE in Facebook, Instagram & YouTube!

Hiragana Ninja Flag of Japan Nihongo
ひらがな忍者©︎ / For Everyone to Learn Japanese / Created by みつお

Inhae – French of Korean descent – Japanese learner – Goal: read books in Japanese Right-facing fist – N1: passed in 2019 Grinning face with smiling eyes- blog: reviews in English of Japanese novels Books

JLPT Challenge Questions
I’m a freelance Japanese teacherFlag of Japan I’m going to ask the JLPT question every day

Flag of JapanLearn JapaneseFlag of Japanwith Taro
Watch the full video with subs on YouTube!!! An intro video for beginners in Japanese to learn Hiragana and essential Japanese words in daily life.

Reading Japanese 日本語
やさしいにほんごを読(よ)みましょう。リプライにはお返事(へんじ)します。Reading Japanese can be fun! Will reply to your message.

Eve Kushner
I’m writing (and selling) 1 study essay about each Joyo kanji (that’s 2,136 essays!), exploring all of its facets to help people understand deeply and remember.

Learn Japanese through manga with Yotsuba Four leaf clover in this video Yotsuba finds something that’s a bit scary!

Read Japanese
Author and Publisher of Japanese Textbook

Team JapaneseFlag of Japan
We love the Japanese language. Our mission is to make learning Japanese fun and easy for all!

Japango -Free online magazine for Japanese-
Japango is a free online magazine to study Japanese for those who want to learn and speak the Japanese language.

online bookstores

Amazon Japan
Amazon Japan will ship books to the United States. They come fairly quickly. I have used it in the past when I needed a book and wasn’t making a trip to Japan in the near future. We do use it at work when we have rush requests.
Amazon Japan’s Kindle Store is not available to people who do not have a Japanese address. This is unfortunate, but it is life. There are a small number of Japanese books in the US Kindle, but very few.
I really love this online bookstore for locating books. I used to be a big fan of Junkudo and used its online bookstore to order books and have them held for me at a store closest to where I would be staying during my Japan visit. Junkudo has stopped its online service, is the online shopping presence for Junkudo, Maruzen, and Bunkyodo. I really do find it easier to use and gravitate to for book searching over There is an ebook component and a print book component to the website. It is possible to register without giving any credit card information or personal details, and download the free books. I see from the website that it advertises a service called Buyee – an online proxy shop for people wanting to buy Japanese things (like from Yahoo Auctions) from overseas.

I just revisited to figure out why I haven’t been using this for Japanese ebooks and found that it is not a good store for me as a resident of the United States to use for a couple of reasons. For the print part, I would have to use a proxy service to buy and deliver the books for me. For ebooks, I can use the honto app on my Mac, but there is not one for my iPad/iPhone and that is a serious drawback because I really enjoy using the dictionary feature on the iPad/iPhone and now that I have started using the dictionary lookup on my iPad I am not giving it up.

Kinokuniya Bookstore
Kinokuniya has both a physical and online presence. It also has its own proprietary browser called Kinoppy. In theory Kinoppy books are available to users outside of Japan – one of my students used it – but I have also read that the number of titles is very limited. There is a separate search engine for overseas users. So I am on the fence about this one and would appreciate feedback.

eBookJapan is the service that I used the most until recently because it let me use a US credit card and had lots of books and manga that were free or had good previews, But when it was bought out by Yahoo! Japan and newly purchased books no longer download into the app. I much prefer reading on my iPad than the monitor or my laptop, so this makes eBookJapan less appealing to me.

The BookLive reader says that it is available either through the Apple App store or Google Play. I am not seeing it in my App Store though. It is possible that it is only available through a Japanese login. I tried using the preview feature on my iPad, and am unable to get the dictionary feature (press your finger on the word you want to look up to invoke the dictionaries) to work. So this makes it less useful to me.

BookWalker 日本ストア is my current go-to site for Japanese ebooks. It is very clearly aiming at a light novel and manga crowd, but it contains much more than that. For the zine folks, you will find 同人誌 available there. I have found most of the books that I would have bought in print here, and now that I am not making frequent enough trips to Japan to be able to stock my shelves with Book-Off priced books, I can still satisfy my reading urges here. And, more importantly, the viewers works like a charm.

BookWalker Global
The BookWalker Global Store is for English language books and manga. It really looks like it is for light novels and manga. One of the things I really appreciate about BookWalker Global Store is that it provides the Japanese title for translated works so that I can go back and easily locate the original. Also your login and bookshelf are the same for the Japan and the Global Store, so it is all neat and tidy.