I recently shared on Twitter how I had just finished reading a novel and felt inspired to write something useful about it.
The following are a few hacks I’ve developed/picked up while reading Japanese novels.
Hope you find them useful for your own reading!
Bookmark Names and Terms
Not that you should highlight every name or term, but instead write frequently used universe terms and names onto a piece of paper used as a bookmark.
These are great because you can quickly reference terms as you come across them without having to flick back to a previous page where the furigana, the reading, appears.
Normally in Japanese novels, when names or unique terms (e.g abilities or spells) appear for the they first time they will almost always have the furigana. Some novels will just have the furigana at the start of every chapter, while others will have them every two pages.
But either way names will appear multiple times without the reading. So having a memo with the kanji and readings is incredibly useful.
I wouldn’t write down every new word, unless it’s a term that the author really likes to use. When I come across a kanji or word I don’t know well I’ll guess it’s reading or meaning. But then look it up after the 3rd time it’s appeared.
(One time an author really liked using 躊躇 over and over. Which I knew meant “hesitate” but didn’t know the reading was ちゅうちょ until I looked it up.)
This is my bookmark from 「コーヒーが冷めないうちに.」
You can see I’ve only written the characters names because it was an easy read.
These notes don’t need to be anything impressive – just tools for helping you read!
Use Your Imagination More
Often when we’re not used to reading something in another language we focus more on the words than what’s being said. With Japanese we often focus on how to read the kanji, making sure we go over every word. This means that you get to the end of a page and you don’t actually know what just happened.
I’ve found it helps to take an extra step towards imagining what’s happening in the scene.
Imagine the characters, how they move, how everything smells, the atmosphere. Picture the scene in your mind as you read the words. Try not to get too caught up on the words.
Track With Your Finger
This is a speed reading technique I decided to try with Japanese and was amazed by how effective it was (especially in combination with the above imagining technique).
All you do is move your finger along the line of text and let your eyes follow. This will force you to quickly read without focusing too much on the words.
I found when using this trick that my brain picked up the meaning of the paragraph pretty well and I could clearly imagine the scene. But without getting bogged down on trying to remember the reading for a kanji.
And a few times I even remembered the kanji reading better because my brain had to react on instinct; quickly pulling out the information without letting me second guess.
Change How You Read Based On How You Feel
You don’t have to read the same way every time.
Sometimes I want to look up every new word and write them down. Sometimes I want to speed read and focus on enjoying the story. And sometimes I want to read out loud so I know I know the reading for the kanji. But it all depends on the book and how I feel.
It also helps to adjust your approach based on the difficulty of the book. Often if the book is particularly challenging, I focus more on imagining the scenes. If the book is surprisingly easy I’ll try speed reading.
I also have just two Japanese novels that I read on the go. One easy one and one more challenging. I switch between these depending on how I feel too.
There is no “right” or “wrong” way to read novels in Japanese. You shouldn’t feel the need to stick to a single method, otherwise it might turn into a chore.
Keep things flexible and change your approach each time to keep things enjoyable. After all, reading Japanese novels should be fun!
Other useful articles:
5 Japanese Light Novels (in Japanese) for Beginners
Reading Japanese Texts in an Innovative Way