Your dream has come true, you’re finally in Japan! You’re surrounded by the busy nightlife and a sea of neon signs, which unfortunately you can’t read. In order to enjoy hanging out in manga (Japanese comic) cafes, make plans to meet native speaking friends online, find that izakaya (bar) you’ve read about tucked away in a side street, order from a menu at that cool-looking sushi joint — you need to be able to read.
Let’s be honest, though, textbook reading can be dry and dull. It’s harder to read Japanese than many other languages because of kanji (the complex written Japanese characters) and that means learners can easily become disheartened. Finding resources in Japanese can also be quite overwhelming, especially for beginners.
What’s So Great About Short Stories?
- They’re enjoyable.
Reading is such a great way to learn. It puts you in charge and allows you to work at a pace that suits you. It’s almost one of the most enjoyable and relaxing ways to learn. Short stories are a great entry point to get you warmed up and ready to take on a novel.
- Reading will open up your world.
Because of kanji, reading in Japanese is a skill which might require more attention than if you were studying a language with a Roman alphabet. However, reading will reward you with access to a whole world of exciting Japanese culture.
- You’ll hit multiple skills at one time.
Reading will aid you in consolidating kanji, vocabulary, learning natural word choice and seeing grammar used in context. Short stories are especially good, as they enable you to pick up speed. So you’ll see improvement in your overall reading ability.
- There are so many options.
Luckily, after growing tired of reading books for small children, with a bit of searching I found there’s a whole world of great reading material out there and you don’t have to stick to just children’s stories. There are biographies, mysteries, folklore and a lot more. Everyone will find something they like!
3 Great Ways to Find Easy Japanese Short Stories
What’s easy for a learner who is strong at kanji and vocabulary may not be for someone with the same amount of time learning Japanese under their belt. I’m going to talk about JLPT levels, and you can take a practice test to find out your approximate level here from N5 (easiest) to N1 (toughest).
You don’t need to take the test to read these books, it’s just that terms like “intermediate” can be quite vague and JLPT levels are standardized. I’m even going to try to suggest some short stories for advanced learners. There are so many wonderful short stories that are more challenging out there, it’d be a real shame to skip over them!
Take Advantage of Online Platforms
There are several online platforms designed to help Japanese learners get to grips with reading.
- Kindle — Kindles can be wonderful tools for learning Japanese. You can even add dictionaries that function to define a word as you hover over it on a Kindle, meaning that you’ll be able to get through more challenging texts with less frustration.
- White Rabbit Japan — This site has an online store that delivers to many countries. They have a great selection of Japanese reading material, including many of the books mentioned in this article. White Rabbit makes some Japanese Graded Reader iPad apps that are really good and include audio and vocabulary lists. They’re reasonably priced, they have native audio and furigana (the hiragana or katakana readings of the kanji printed above the kanji) is included, so you can practice listening or even shadow the story to get more bang for your buck.
- Aozora Bunko — This is a huge free online library similar to Project Gutenberg. They have an English search page, but you can use the Japanese one if you’re more confident with kanji.
- Satori Reader — The recently launched website is well worth checking out; it curates level-appropriate content for you and increases with difficulty as you learn to keep challenging yourself. The site is mostly articles, so not short stories, but it’s definitely a good place to practice non-fiction reading.
- Wasabi — Another useful site where you’ll find some free reading materials.
Pick Your Favourite Genre
- Short stories about animals
- Nekomaki is a simple manga, which isn’t overly heavy on text about some incredibly lazy cats. There are two volumes, you can buy both volume one and volume two on Kindle, the first volume is even free! The kanji doesn’t have furigana, but as there isn’t so much text reading should be quite easy going for intermediate learners.
- 100万回生きたねこ」(ひゃくまんかい いきた ねこ), “The Cat that Lived A Million Times” is a tale of reincarnation and attaining enlightenment and an understanding of identity through experience.
- Traditional folktales
“The Treasury of Japanese Folktales: Bilingual English and Japanese Edition” is a beautifully illustrated book that will allow even beginners to learn about Japanese traditional culture and values through folktales.
Discover Famous Japanese Authors
- Haruki Murakami
- Haruki Murakami is probably the most famous living Japanese author outside of Japan. His unique writing style and compelling insights into the human condition have led to him becoming globally respected
- Because his books are so popular, many of his works are cheaply available in English, making it possible to buy both English and Japanese books and use them as parallel texts, which broadens your study options.
- Ichiyou Higuchi
- Ichiyou Higuchi is so well respected that she appears on Japan’s 5000 yen bill, she died at the age of just 24, but wrote a number of short stories during her brief life.