When I started learning Japanese I drilled vocabulary, grammar and kanji. In my young mind language = words. For many years that was all I focused on, figuring that listening and reading was only achievable from learning this core information.
Yes, vocabulary, grammar and kanji are incredibly important. But they mean nothing if you don’t read. You don’t magically learn how to read just from learning this information. You learn to read by reading. Reading then supplements and adds to your knowledge of vocabulary, grammar and kanji.
But reading does SO much more than that.
First Attempts to Read
From the first time I went to Japan I bought books for that “moment I could read in Japanese”. I never tried to read any of those until after I had passed JLPT N2.
And I have no idea how I passed N2 without reading books!
I tried to read a few times. I picked up a book and read the first two pages, put it down and never touched it again.
False starts were common when I tried to start reading novels. It was frustrating, slow and hard. Every single time I felt…
“I can’t do it, I need to learn more.”
But this was NOT true. Once I pushed through the false starts I finished reading the first volume of 魔女の宅急便 (Majo no Takkyuubin aka Kiki’s Delivery Service).
Even after reading 1 book my Japanese ability made a jump. It was a jump I could not sense while I was reading but noticed after I’d finished.
After every book I’ve read I’ve felt a jump in ability.
Why You MUST Read in Japanese
I only started reading books and new articles on a semi-regular basis about a year and a half ago. I only started reading books and articles after 9.5 years of studying Japanese! My Japanese has been incredibly stunted because of time.
Even at a beginners levels (JLPT N4) you have the core knowledge for starting to read. There will always be words/kanji that you don’t know, but by exposing yourself to them sooner you can boost your Japanese ten-fold.
Reading in Japanese is great for:
- Vocabulary and kanji reading ability.
- Comprehending Japanese ideas.
- Learn about Japanese culture and mannerisms.
- Find out about current affairs.
- Pick up new words and language.
Of course it’s important to pick texts that are a good level for you. Starting to read 空の境界 (Kyoukai no Kanata aka The Garden of Sinners) by Kinoko Nasu as a beginner is just asking for stress, frustration and de-motivation. This is an incredibly difficult fantasy novel that looks at religious philosophies and psychological concepts.
Pick something that matches your level and what you’re interested in. This can be a little tricky if you don’t know what your level is. But you can make a good guess based on the genre and the audience.
Some great books for beginners are children’s novels (such as Aoi Tori Bunko novels). And light novels for young adults (such as the books I listed in 5 Japanese Light Novels (in Japanese) for Beginners)
How You Can Read in Japanese
Starting to read in Japanese can be difficult. First picking a novel / blog / news articles to regularly read can be hard. Then starting to read can be a challenge.
Once you’ve found your first book and pushed through you begin to learn what you like and what you want to read more of.
What you can read:
- Children’s Books
- Light novels & novels
- News articles
- Travel articles
Where to get these:
- Amazon.co.jp (including Kindle)
- Aoi Tori Bunko (novels for younger readers)
- NHK News / NHK News Easy
- Tango Risto (app for reading articles with furigana)
- Ameba (blogs on various topics)
Tips for Reading
1. Keep a vocabulary list of book-specific terms. This means words that come up frequently that you struggle with and universe specific vocabulary (non-standard Japanese).
Keep this list with your book at all times. Maybe use it as a bookmark?
2. Just like the 2 Week Japanese Reading Challenge, make a note of just 5-10 new words/kanji per reading session. Study them in a spaced repetition flashcard program.
The fewer terms the better but more than 0. This prevents your mind being over-run with information but keeps it learning something new.
3. Read aloud. This helps with pronunciation as well as kanji and vocabulary memorization. It can also help you focus on what’s going on rather that reading without focusing (which can easily happen).
Other Useful Articles
- 5 Japanese Light Novels (in Japanese) for Beginners (light novel suggestions for JLPT N4/N3+ level people)
- Reading Japanese Intensified – Review of Tango Risto (application for reading news articles for all levels)
- Reading Practice for Beginners
- Beginners Japanese Reading