How to Read Japanese Newspapers

Being able to read Japanese newspapers is considered to be one goal for becoming “fluent” in Japanese. For some it might be a sign of fluency, for others a challenge, and perhaps a few just enjoy reading the news and keeping up-to-date with what’s going on in Japan.

This post looks at the difficulties of reading Japanese Newspapers and highlights things to keep an eye out for. As well as suggestions for further readings and other resources to help you become a Japanese newspaper master.

Rikkai-kun doing its stuff

One magical tool which will be useful for reading the following post (and online newspapers) is Rikai-chan for Firefox and Rikai-kun for Chrome, which are apps you can use that, when turned on, will reveal the reading and English meaning of a kanji or kanji compound when you hover over them.

Missing Particles and Verbs

In the days when the internet wasn’t a thing there were these magical paper items called newspapers which were used to inform people of world and local news. However, every newspaper had limited space and a lot of news to report. This resulted in a phenomenon where quite often the articles are shortened by cutting out some kanji in certain compounds, and removing connecting expressions and particles.

For example:

Reading Japanese Newspapers

Reading Japanese Crime Articles by Stephen Smith

from Reading Japanese Crime Articles by Stephen Smith (download with the DL Books link)

So paper published newspapers are still very popular, but I brought up the point of the internet because, just like English language newspapers, the internet has had a huge impact on how Japanese news is published. As the internet doesn’t have a limited amount of space articles tend to be told with some of the missing verbs and particles missing from newspapers. NHK News is a good example as they not only avoid removing items from articles, they also avoid the common dictionary form, and instead try to use the politer teineigo (ます form). This makes NHK news articles a lot easier for novice news readers to get into.

Headlines 表題

This feeds into the above statement that newspapers like to remove particles and verbs from their articles, especially in the headlines. This is still the case even for online news articles.

The removal of verbs and particles from Japanese headlines is, I feel, very similar to how English news articles are written with snappy headlines to grab the readers attention.

Reading Japanese Newspapers

Tabloid Japanese papers

Property cash buyers at ‘record high’ (BBC News)

or 

Put in your orders with the ‘Spanish waiter’ (The Sun, a tabloid)

The Japanese do the same, give you enough information so you get an idea of the article, but not enough so you have to read the thing. While also cutting it down for space reasons

欧州中央銀行 金融政策を維持 (NHK News)

or

安保法案「6・19強行採決」亡国の密約スッパ抜く  (週刊ポスト, a tabloid)

As you can probably tell from the Japanese headline, WALL OF KANJI. This is because, as mentioned, certain particles and verbs are removed, making them appear to be a single kanji compound. But that’s really not the case.

Items that are often removed/changed for headlines


Particles are removed (most often を, が, の)

i.e  寒さ緩んで節分 ->  寒さ緩んで節分が来た  (The Cold has abated, and Setsubun is here)

i.e 患者の謝礼受け取るな -> 患者の謝礼受け取るな   (Don’t accept gifts from patients)

寒さ緩んで節分

The verb する (especially when it normally comes after kanji compounds that use する)

i.e    台風10号自動車並み速さで北上 ー>  台風10号自動車並み速さで北上している  (The Typhoon No.10 is moving northward at the speed of a bicycle)

i.e  道路渋滞 -> 道路渋滞した  (The road has been blocked/There is a traffic jam)

Verbs and adjectives that come at the end of the sentence. 

i.e  東京で国際柔道大会 ー> 東京で国際柔道大会が開かれる   (The Tokyo Judo Tournament begins)

i.e 元校長に有罪判決 ー> 元校長に有罪判決がおりた (The former headmaster’s sentence (decided if he’s guilty or not))

Verbs following を are left out (the を remains)

i.e 新聞へのご意見を ー> 新聞へのご意見をお寄せ下さい   (Please send your opinions to the newspaper)

Long modifier + noun is common for headline brevity

i.e 小柄だった江戸時代の庶民 -> 江戸時代の庶民は小柄だった    (The common people of the Edo period were small)

Reading Japanese Newspapers

(The above examples are all from “An Introduction to Newspaper Japanese” by Osamu and Nobuko Mizutani of the Japan Times)

へ to imply movement

‘へ’in a headline indicates that somebody is moving towards doing something, i.e. they haven’t done it yet, but are considering it or planning it.

i.e 大阪の送水トンネル 35年ぶり全面点検へ (For Osaka’s water supply tunnel, after a gap of 35 years, plans are being mooted for an inspection of the whole of the surface.)

(from “Reading Japanese Crime Articles” by Stephen Smith)

To decipher these walls of kanji it’s really a matter of practice and learning kanji. You can use software such as the previously mention Rikai-kun and Rikai-chan (sorry I don’t know any others for other browsers). The best policy is to read it 2 kanji at a time. Most kanji compounds are no more than 2 kanji (or 2 kanji compounds merged into 4), and understanding the meaning becomes easier once you break down the headline or sentence into individual words.

It really is a matter of the more you read the easier it will become.

Resources for Reading Japanese Newspapers

Newspaper Japanese – A newspaper vocabulary and kanji course, by J-Talk Online which was released today on Memrise!

 

Newspapers:

Online Newspapers – A list of all the Japanese newspapers you can find online

NHK News – Easier and clearer than most newspapers, often with videos

Mainichi Shinbun

Asahi Shinbun 

Yomiuri 

Books:

“Reading Japanese Crime Articles” by Stephen Smith. (You can get a digital copy through itunes)

“An Introduction to Newspaper Japanese” by Osamu and Nobuko Mizutani of the Japan Times (published 1981, still relevant but might be hard to find), Amazon (US).

新聞で学ぶ日本語 (Shinbun De Manabu Nihongo) – Appears to be an updated version of  “An Introduction to Newspaper Japanese” as it is written by Osamu and Nobuko Mizutani. Can purchase this book through JP Books (UK), or Amazon (JP).

Reading Japanese Newspapers

Japanese through Newspaper Articles

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