Category Archives: books

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.

Honto.jp
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, Honto.jp is the online shopping presence for Junkudo, Maruzen, and Bunkyodo. I really do find it easier to use and gravitate to honto.jp for book searching over Amazon.jp. 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 Honto.jp 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
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.

BookLive
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
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.

Graded Readers

レベル別日本語

There really is nothing better for beginning readers (besides their textbook) than graded readers. Graded readers are designed to be read at a 98% comprehension level, using limited vocabulary and grammar. There should be absolutely no reading pain when you are reading a graded reader as long as you choose the right level for your current skill set.

Graded readers for English language learners have been around for a very long time and are now very sophisticated. Graded readers in other languages, especially Asian languages, have been much much slower to arrive. While I am not exactly sure why, I think one reason is that many of us learned our language at university and wanted to read the literature. So instead of reading simple stories, we read difficult texts looking up word after word (and before that character after character so we could use dictionaries). In Japanese, for example, it has taken us quite a while to bridge the gap between textbooks (taught by language instructors) and selections of literature (taught by lit faculty).

Bridging the gap can be done by encouraging students to begin adding graded readers to their language learning practice. Books where there aren’t vocabulary lists or grammatical explanations needed because they know almost every single word already and can guess the few they don’t by context. This way, they gradually build up speed, endurance, and confidence to the point where they can tackle regular publications in a field of interest. The challenge though, has been getting enough graded readers at the very beginning levels to satisfy the needs and interests of students who want to read.

The NPO Tadoku graded readers belong in every library collection or reading room/classroom. These are available in print or as e-books. The print editions were originally issued with audio CDs, but the organization has now made the sound files available through their website because so few people have CD players anymore. The books in this series are popular with my students, and they often comment on the humor in the stories.

One of the benefits of more instructors offering tadoku courses is that they have begun writing their own tadoku books and sharing the books written by their students. Many of these have been gathered together at the NPO Tadoku website, and provide even more resources for L2 Japanese readers. I highly recommend them. So much good stuff out there, and I expect to see more and more of it shared freely.

I am also interested in the Oxford Brookes University Let’s Read Japanese series. This is more like what I would expect to see at a university level, and some of my students who shied away from the simplicity of the NPO Tadoku books were much happier with this series. Especially the upper level students. Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough of them.

My suggestion to students who are at the beginning levels is that they concentrate on graded readers until they are at level 3, then start reading a range of graded readers, manga, picture books, and anthologies. I have added picture books to my tadoku collection but they can be hard for students because of the use of hiragana only, slang and unstated cultural concepts. My suggestion would be to read those with a senpai or instructor. Well, read with me. I would love it.

At level 4 they have enough vocabulary and fluency to read all kinds of things, and by level 5 they are pretty much out of graded readers and should be reading regular materials.

The NPO Tadoku has created a leveled search engine for their graded readers and regular materials that they have set levels for. Many of us have tweaked those levels for our own students, but it is a great search engine and it will help us to narrow down choices for reading.

Some of my favorite picture book series

I have a few favorites that I would love to see included in all collections that include Japanese picture books.

日本の童話名作選(にほん の どうわ めいさくせん)is advertised as 大人の絵本. It would be easy to misinterpret this as an “adult picture book” but really the series is a collection of really famous stories beautifully illustrated that all Japanese likely read as children either in picture books or in school textbooks.

These books are all listed in the Kaiseisha catalog as 小学校中学年から. There is a lot of text on each page with kanji that has furigana. I often recommend these books to 3rd and 4th year students who want to read Japanese literature and enjoy picture books. They could also read the same text in text-only collections like the Saito Takashi Ikki ni yomeru series.

This series includes a range of authors that you would expect to see in picture books like Miyazawa Kenji 宮沢賢治 and Niimi Nankichi 新美南吉, but also includes Akutagawa Ryunosuke 芥川龍之介 and Lafcadio Hearn 小泉八雲.

Another favorite is the 怪談えほん published by Iwasaki Shoten. There are at least 15 titles in this series now. They are favorites of our students – although the onomatopoeia is a challenge to them.

The popularity of this series has spawned another series that I am looking forward to reading called Ehon Tono monogatari 絵本遠野物語 published by Chobunsha 汐文社.

Fukuinkan has a number of good series. One that is really worth checking out – especially for readers who are not fond of “baby books” is たくさんのふしぎ傑作集. This is a subseries of the 科学絵本 and many of my favorite are tagged as 科学・図鑑(かがく・ずかん). There are lots of wonderful books about Japanese sweets, the history of books, wildlife, etc. Others are history books illustrated by Nishimura Shigeo 西村繁男 like 絵で読む広島の原爆 and his 絵で見る日本の歴史.

I have in my personal collection (that I haven’t yet donated to the library) books published by アリス館 on kabuki and sumo. These are beautiful picture books published as part of 日本の心 series. They are long since out of print, but Alice-kan has several other series that are worth considering.

Free Graded Readers for Japanese

I will absolutely do what I can for our students while they are in college, but I hope that they realize that “once your librarian always your librarian” and that they should stay in touch when they need something. Many do, and that is great. Some though, are shy because they have let their Japanese lapse because of life and are worried that it will be too hard to pick it up again.

Fear not! This is where the now increasing number of free graded readers will come in very handy. Start again and see how quickly you make progress.

The NPO Tadoku has been collecting information about free graded readers and compiling it here on their website: https://tadoku.org/japanese/free-books
If you scroll down to the bottom you will find even more links to books created by students and instructions that are available for free. The KC読よむよむ collection from the Japan Foundation Kansai Center is a lot of fun and includes audio clips for some of the books.

Also – linked from the Tadoku Website and clearly influenced by KC, Yomimono Ippai is a great source of tadoku readers – many written by students. http://www17408ui.sakura.ne.jp/tatsum/project/Yomimono/Yomimono-ippai/index.html