Once you’ve got the two kana scripts and some kanji down, it can be exciting to start reading actual books in Japanese. The only problem is where to find them!
For whatever reason, it’s a lot trickier to buy Japanese books than English ones on the internet. I’m mostly talking about digital books, since it’s a lot more effective to learn the language with them than their physical counterparts.
The primary reason is because it is quicker and easier to look up the meanings of new words. But at any rate, I wanted to share with you the places where I get my books from.
Here’s Where I Buy Them
The first and most obvious choice is to go somewhere that allows you to buy the books. I also have some free places that I’ll talk about next, but I’m starting with the paid options first since the quality of the books is higher.
The first place I get them is on Amazon. There are a lot of different versions of the site, such as the one designed for Japanese people which has the biggest selection.
But if you live outside of Japan, then you usually have to use the one that is associated with your country. For me, that’s the USA so the available Japanese book selection is much smaller.
There are ways to get around the geo-restrictions of Amazon, but they are beyond the scope of this post and I don’t use them myself.
All you need to do is type (in Japanese) the name of the book, or copy and paste it, and then you should be able to buy the books for your Kindle.
This is where I buy the Harry Potter books in Japanese.
Due to the way that Kindle books are formatted, it can be a pain to copy and paste things since it automatically adds in a really long citation.
That being said, you can usually highlight a new word and the dictionary will pop up with its meaning. This makes it helpful from a learner’s point of view.
The other option that is available for buying Japanese books is a place called eBookJapan which is owned by Yahoo! Japan.
This site is entirely in Japanese, so if you struggle with reading kanji then it might be a bit of a challenge.
The thing that I like about it is that it has a large selection of books (and manga) that you can buy with a credit card and then start enjoying right away.
The only thing is that you have to read it on their site through your internet browser, and it’s also formatted in such a way that you cannot copy and paste the words.
This means that it’s not a great resource for making flashcards out of the sentences you encounter. It’s also a bit tricky for looking up new words that you don’t know.
All that being said, it’s a really easy way to get a hold of Japanese light novels that you may be interested in reading, so I wanted to include it in the list.
Now lets move on to the free stuff.
Here’s Where I Get Them For Free
There aren’t a lot of free, legitimate places where you can get books but Project Gutenberg is one of them.
This is a site dedicated to providing the public with books that are now in the public domain.
They even have a small section for Japanese books.
What’s great about this is that you can download these Japanese books in many different formats (including Kindle) and then read them on any of your electronic devices.
One of the downsides is that their selection is fairly limited.
Another thing to keep in mind is that most of these books are pretty old. Since these are public domain books, they were written back in the late 1800s or the early 1900s.
The reason why I bring this up is because they tend to use older kanji that is now considered outdated.
That being said, the old versions (e.g. 學校) are usually pretty similar looking to the modern versions (e.g. 学校).
They just tend to be more complicated that what is commonly used today.
Project Gutenberg is an English website that just happens to have some books from other languages, but there is actually a Japanese website that also provides books that are free to the public.
The website is called Aozora Bunko.
They have a huge selection of material that you can go through and pick from. Similarly to the eBook Japan option earlier, Aozora Bunko is entirely in Japanese so it might be tough for beginners to navigate it.
If you have a book title or author name in mind, then you can enter it into the search bar and look for it that way.
Otherwise you can just look around and see if there’s something that catches your fancy.
The Best Site To Read Japanese
I mentioned earlier that I recommend people read digital books instead of paperbacks since it is a lot easier to look up words.
One way that you can do this on eReaders is to simply highlight the word and let the built-in dictionary show you the meaning of the word.
But the biggest problem that I always run into is that the dictionaries have no idea how to handle conjugated words.
If it’s something simple like a noun, such as 忠犬 for “faithful dog” then there is no issue.
But if a verb such as 走っている for “running” appears, then the system doesn’t know to reference 走る which is the standard dictionary form.
That’s why I do the vast majority of my Japanese reading on LingQ which makes every Japanese word clickable and has a lot of user generated definitions that you can choose from. You can also make your own as well.
It’s actually a really cool system. Basically, you read and listen to a lot of Japanese stories and each time you learn a new word it gets added to your own personal dictionary as a “known word.”
Words that are new to you are colored blue. You click on one of them and then choose a definition to associate with the new word.
This then turns it yellow which lets you know that you are in the process of learning this particular word.
Once you’ve seen it enough and can remember it, you then change the color to white which makes is a “known word” for your profile.
One of my favorite things about LingQ is that you can import books, so that you can use this system to read any digital stories that you have.
In addition to that, they have a pretty big library already so that you can start reading lots of Japanese books even if you don’t own any to upload yourself.
Bilingual Books Are Great
There is one situation where physical books work really well for language students. It is bilingual books.
The one I like the most right now called “Japanese Stories For Language Learners” and it has a couple of classic Japanese short stories in it.
It’s written in both English and Japanese (hence the bilingual-ness) so that you can understand the overall story and each scene.
In addition to that, there is also an index at the end of each story that shows the Japanese word and it’s English translation so that you can break down each sentence to really understand the full meaning.
I haven’t seen a lot of these kinds of books available, but I know of a handful that I’ve considered getting so that I can check them out.
In my experience, the hardest thing about reading Japanese books is that there are just so many new words!
And since a lot of them use different kanji, it can be really time-consuming to look them all up.
But if the book you’re reading has been designed to help you learn these new words, then it becomes a lot easier and therefore a lot more enjoyable to read them.
That’s why I’m working on creating one right now.
I’m Working On It
Since there really aren’t a lot of Japanese bilingual books out there designed to help students read complete stories and learn the many new words that appear in them, I decided to help alleviate the problem by creating one myself.
It’s actually a pretty cool story, and it utilizes a lot of English loan words so it should be easier for people to understand.
Don’t worry though, the vast majority of the vocabulary is Japanese. There’s a lot of kanji!
I’ll be sure to provide more information on it as I get closer to completion, but for now I just wanted to finish off this list of resources by letting you know that I’ve got your back in this department.
I’m working on something to help you out. Be sure to check back often to see where the project’s at!