The perfect Japanese reader
The second in Kodansha’s excellent “Read Real Japanese” series. Whereas the other book, Read Real Japanese Fiction focused on fiction stories by popular modern Japanese authors, this one focuses on non-fiction essays, including some that are about the nuance of the Japanese language itself, so you are learning about Japanese in Japanese.
Basically, any student of Japanese needs both of these books. For a long time there was a dearth of quality Japanese readers. Some, like A Japanese Reader are so dense and academic as to put off all but the most dedicated student. Some, like Mangajin’s Basic Japanese Through Comics, are fun to begin with but don’t get you very far. The biggest problem has always been that middle ground, that 2-kyu level where you need some help getting over the hump from constructed text and into the real world. Even the previous release from Kodansha, Read Real Japanese, relied too heavily on romaji.
Most of the authors in “Read Real Japanese Essays” will be familiar to anyone who reads Japanese literature, like Murakami Haruki (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle) Yoshimoto Banana (Kitchen) Ogawa Yoko (The _Professor’s Beloved Equation). Some of them are more obscure, like short-story author Mitsuyo or poet/novelist Machida Kou. Each author is given a short biography, and there is a nice breadth of style and subject. Probably my favorite essay was Machida’s, where he showed how important the ~masu, ~da and ~de aru sentence endings were in Japanese by putting the lyrics to the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy In The U.K. in polite ~masu form. Mitsuyo’s essay on why men shouldn’t cook was also very funny.
The eight essays are:
Murakami Haruki – Little White Lies
Sakai Junko – Admonishing Young People in Trains
Kakuta Mitsuyo – On Cooking
Yoshimoto Banana – On Beauty
Machida Kou – No Matter How he Writes, a Creep is Still a Creep
Ogawa Yoko – Concerning “The Professor’s Beloved Equation”
Hirano Keiichiro – Thoughts on Mutability
Levy Hideo – Living in the Land of the Bungakusha
All of the essays are challenging and interesting. The pages are split with the original Japanese on the right, and a break-down translation on the left. Kanji are given with hiragana readings only once, which force you to learn the reading rather than rely on the furigana. The end of the book has a dictionary of the intermediate and advanced words for you to refer to.
I also really enjoyed having the CD to listen to while reading through the essays. It sets a challenging pace, being read at normal speed, and is excellent training for anyone looking to pass a JLPT exam.