Reviews

Japanese Short Stories for Beginners – Book Review

One of the best ways to learn natural Japanese is to read lots of native content. There is a wonderful resource that you can use called: Japanese Short Stories for Beginners: 8 Thrilling and Captivating Japanese Stories to Expand Your Vocabulary and Learn Japanese While Having Fun.

What a name, am I right?!

That title basically tells you everything that this book is about, but it doesn’t give you a lot on information on the important details regarding the format of it.

If I did not already own it, then the two main questions that I would want to know before getting it would be:

  1. Is it written in all three of the Japanese writing systems?
  2. Does it have pronunciation help for unknown kanji?

Lucky for you, I already own it and now you get to reap the benefits of my actions by reading my review on it below.

I hope you enjoy!

An Overview of the Book

The book starts off with a little introduction on the philosophy behind its creation.

It basically states that one of the best ways to get better at Japanese, is to read lots of Japanese stories. I happen to whole hardly agree with them and have written my own articles on the topic before.

The book then gives a little history on the Japanese language such as the kana scripts and kanji, but also talks about the vague nature of Japanese communication in general.

FYI: This book use all three Japanese writing systems and no Rōmaji!

I thought the part on Japan’s indirect way of communicating was really great since you don’t often hear about that aspect of the language emphasized quite as much as it should be.

Then you get to the stories and they are all laid out in this same pattern:

  1. A short English sentence.
  2. The same sentence, but in Japanese this time.
  3. Then at the end of the story you get:
  4. A vocabulary list on the common words used in the story.
  5. A short multiple-choice quiz to see if you remembered what you read.

I think this format is great for a couple of reasons:

Reason #1 By having the English sentence first, your brain gets primed for the Japanese sentence that comes next.

Since you will most likely already know some of the Japanese words that will be used, your brain is ready for them and only has to take a little extra time on the new words and grammatical structures that appear.

I believe this order is superior than giving you a Japanese sentence full of unknown words first, and then providing a translation afterword.

It’s just my experience, but I’ve always found the order used in this book (English first) easier to learn than the reverse.

Reason #2  The vocabulary list is a nice way to highlight the most useful words from the story. You can focus on memorizing them first and leave the lesser used ones for a latter time (if ever).

Reason #3 – And finally, the quiz is great since most people retain information that they’ve just learned better when it is immediately tested.

This book isn’t the “end-all-be-all” resource for learning Japanese. But it is an excellent way to spend more time with the language and improve your comprehension of it.

You can see it on Amazon by clicking here if you want to. The only bad thing is that the Kindle version doesn’t have furigana. Read on to discover why that’s actually not necessary when you read using the Kindle App!

I Got it on Kindle, Here’s Why it’s the Best Version:

One of the greatest things about technology is how quick and convenient it makes everything.

That includes learning Japanese too!

The Kindle version of the book doesn’t have any furigana (hiragana for a kanji’s reading), so you might be worried about looking up unfamiliar characters.

Have no fear. The Kindle App (not the cloud-read for browsers) comes with free, downloadable dictionaries!!!

Here’s what you do:

  1. Once you have the book, load it up to a page with Japanese written on it.
  2. Highlight a Japanese word by clicking and dragging on it.
  3. This will cause the Kindle App to automatically download a Japanese dictionary.
  4. While this “dictionary box” is up, click on the Settings Icon (it looks like a gear) and select “Progressive Japanese-English Dictionary”

Now anytime you highlight a word, the dictionary will show you its pronunciation and it will also provide you will an English definition of the word.

How’s that for being awesome?!

My Thoughts on the Content Itself

I don’t actually think the plot of these stories are as… hyped? Yeah, they’re not quite as amazing as the title of the book would have you think.

I believe the title of the book is really just a marketing deal where it’s meant to grab your attention.

Having said that, I actually did enjoy them. Like I mentioned, they are super simple because the point is to help you get better at Japanese. If you want to read a masterpiece, you’re gonna have to already be pretty good at Japanese.

Go into it with the mindset of “Hey, I am going to learn some Japanese in the enjoyable format of reading short stories.”

Trust me, it’s a much more entertaining method that reading from a Japanese text book.

Where Can You Get it?

You already know this one.

 

 

This is where I got it, and I recommend you do as well.

If You Do End Up Getting it, Then…

I want to know what YOUR thoughts on it are!

Be sure to come back here and let me know what you like about it, and also what you think it could have done better.

Also, I’m always on the lookout for other great materials, so if this book reminds you of one that you currently have and enjoy, let me know about it so I can check it out for myself!

Leave a comment below!

4 Comments

  • Win Bill

    In the past, someone told me that to learn a foreign language, the best thing to do is to live in the native country so that you can absorb and language and the culture. The language itself is difficult because understanding the culture itself is tricky. Reading Japanese stories really is the “shortcut” to learning the language itself. It is because stories can show the subtle poetry that you normally “lose” in translation from Japanese to English. You learn directly from the story itself to see what is actually “funny” and “amazing” in the culture. This also speeds up learning. For example, from Hajime no Ippo, “Ippo” is actually the Chinese characters “one step”. I never learned what it means in Japanese, but I am assuming that it means the story implies that Ippo gets strong “one step at a time”. This is only my opinion. So what do you think?

    • Nick Hoyt

      Yeah, I would agree that if you are able to move over to the country where everyone speaks the language, you can quickly pick it up as long as you force yourself to talk to lots of natives in the language. 

      Thankfully for those who can’t, technology has made it possible to get a hold of tons and tons of useful material like books and shows so that you can really immerse yourself no matter where you are. 

      Reading short stories is definitely one of those ways you can spend more time with the language and get better at it bit by bit.

      And having a bi-lingual version is useful when learning through reading, so you spend less time looking up new words.

      As for Hajime no Ippo, in Japanese it means “The First Step” and I’ve never read the manga myself, although I have absolutely seen it around when browsing through things on the internet. 

      That name makes me think of the Chinese saying “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” so perhaps the name of the series comes from that? That’s just my guess!

  • stella

    Hi Nick, The book “Japanese short stories for beginners” sounds like they will be fun to read. I must say that I do not know how to speak or read Japanese so I will normally not go for books like these but from what I understand, you said the books are translated on kindle and are fun to read. I will like to give it a try, after all, it’s never too late to learn a new language.

    • Nick Hoyt

      Yeah that’s a good point. They aren’t short stories that already existed from a Japanese author that have been translated into English, but rather they are completely new stories that were crated with the intent of helping people learn to read Japanese better.

      So the stories are presented in both languages at the same time. And when I say short, I mean REALLY short! It only takes about 5-10 minutes to read each story. 

      Even though the point of the book is to get better at the written Japanese word, you will probably want to already know how to read both Hiragana and Katakana in order to make it a lot easier on yourself.

      As I mentioned in the review, the Kanji can be looked up as you encounter them with the Kindle dictionaries.   

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