The Ultimate Japanese Reading Resource Guide
This guide is for those who want to learn Japanese in an enjoyable and efficient way but unsure of where to start. Our four-step series will cover how to improve your Japanese vocabulary, reading, listening, and speaking. Using free and easy to access Japanese learning resources; and tips and tricks on how to improve your studying habits and approach to learning.
This guide is designed to be something that you can refer back to as you progress from beginner to intermediate and even through advance if you want to take that step. We put our heart into this guide to be something I wished I had when I started out. I think I would have been able to study smarter and save months to a year if I had had access to these materials and ideas.
Making reading part of your learning routine!
“I don’t have enough time!” Sound familiar? We want you to move beyond this belief because there are many ways to incorporate reading practice into your daily routine. It doesn’t require a large commitment, just a concentrated effort.
When it comes to adding a new habit, getting started is the real challenge. Our suggestion is to start small. Even something as seemingly meaningless as reading the names of stations on your commute to work. Short doses are reading practice are easy to incorporate into you life.
Four skills will improve your Japanese. Listening trains the ear, vocabulary challenges your memory, writing stimulates your hands, and reading stimulates your eyes. These are all components of complete fluency. Reading is simple to disregard because, when compared to speaking or writing, it doesn’t seem that important. Most people view it as a passive skill. What’s a passive skill? Something you’ll just pick up on the way. In this case, it’s reading in Japanese. However, in the long run, it will be essential for your language practice. For example, if you plan to challenge the JLPT test, you will face a reading comprehension section. Many people say this is the most difficult aspect of the test and have regrets about not focusing on reading.
This article will cover the resources you need to create a solid Japanese reading practice.
What if I don’t like to read?
If you don’t want to read, no one can force you to read; but you will be losing out on such an important factor in developing your Japanese skills! In general, reading will keep you mentally stimulated, and is a great way to improve your concentration (let’s be honest, something we all need to work on now and days.) Reading will also expand your vocabulary. You learn more vocabulary when you read because speakers tend to use a limited range, when you read you are exposed to a broader range of words. You would commit 10 minutes a day if you could learn words twice as effectively?
Maybe you don’t like to read because you find it difficult to focus? Learning to focus is also a skill you can developing! To start, you should turn off all distractions. This means your TV, phone, email account, etc. Just like starting a new regime at the gym, invest time into it. Try to read a chapter/article a day without getting distracted, and work your way up from there.
Maybe you need background noise when you study. I’d suggest white noise. Youtube has an endless stock of these. Cafe backgrounds, binaural beats, ASMR - just to name a few. If you listen to music, studies have shown it is much more effective to study to study to music with just instrumentals.
If parting with your electronic device is a real struggle, here are a couple of softwares which will do the hard part for you.
For computer users try:
For mobile users try:
As long as it is written in Japanese, you can use it as a resource! If you live in Japan, there are a smorgasbord of resources. Thanks to the internet, even if you live somewhere else, there are still a variety of options.
If you don’t know where to start, below are a list of tried and true resources.
Books: Beginner and Above
Start at a library and see what you come up with. You might be surprised what books your local library has in store. Otherwise a load of sites online sell Japanese books. Amazon is a great place to start because there are options such as buying second-hand.
If you are a complete beginner, I recommend any type of children’s book. You might feel silly, but it makes sense right?
For low intermediates, i’d suggest you start with non-fiction. Fiction can often be too difficult. Non-fictions books such as autobiographies use language that deal with ordeals people experience everyday. Advanced learners should feel free to drift into the realm of technical books.
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Manga: Beginner and above
Manga is the gateway for many people’s interest in Japanese culture and can also be central to your reading practice. Manga is a great resource for reading because the pictures provide context which makes it more simple to comprehend what you are reading. There will be times when you will be able to guess what the word means thus reducing the use of a dictionary.
I have spilt some manga up to match what level they would be well-suited for. Beginner level manga focuses on the life of children or animals and use a minimum amount of slang. Intermediate level manga begins to delve into more advanced Japanese. Advanced mangas have more complex plots and include vocabulary you would find in a JLPT N1 test.
High Beginner: Shirokuma Cafe, Yotsuba.
Intermediate: ダーリンは外国人, Hajime no Ippo, Captain Tsubasa.
Advanced: Death Note, Tokyo Ghoul, and Attack on Titan
Newspaper: Beginner and above
Not only a great reading resource, but you can also keep up to date with what is happening in Japan. You might think only advanced learners will benefit from newspaper, often because being able to read a newspaper is hailed as an achievement of a fluent speaker. However, there are many options available for beginner students.
Japanese newspaper are filled with names and places which can be difficult to remember. Even native speakers struggle with names of cities if they don’t often encounter it. Sites such as hiragana times were created this in mind. They write about real news but relay it with simple Japanese. The online site NEWS WEB EASY even provides furigana.
Subtitles: Intermediate and above
Reading subtitles will let you practice your reading and reading speed, although if you are a beginner you shouldn’t worry about how fast you can. The principle here if that you can understand it.
One way you can put this into practice is by rewatching a tv show you have already watched. You are already familiar with the plot and characters so this allows you to identify what aspects you need to work on - vocabulary or grammar.
Although I wish I had to time to review and suggest the best show for your learning, I don't! So check out these awesome sites who have great recommendations.
Recipes: Intermediate and above
Calling all chefs! Try your hand at Japanese food by following japanese recipes. Cookpad is the most popular cooking site in Japan, and has a bunch of easy to follow recipes.
Traditional Japanese Children’s stories: Beginners
Because these stories are meant for kids, the language is very simple. You’ll also get a look into traditional Japanese culture. Who could forget the wonderful tale of Momotaro? Below is an excellent site with a collection of Japanese fairy tales as well as their English translations.
The Environment: Beginners and Above
For those living in Japan, another source you can use is just advertisements and signs you see on buildings and trains. I often find it helps with putting kanji or vocabulary I’ve already learnt into context, as well as putting it into long term memory. Many warning signs will also include other languages so that could also help if you don’t understand the sentence. Even if there is no translation, sometimes I will take a picture and put it through google translate. By doing this you can explore and learn at the same time.
Instagram: Beginners and Above
You're already on social media so why not make it a learning resource? You can do this by following accounts dedicated to posting Japanese vocabulary, grammar... Or you can create your own "studygram" where you can post things you are learning. Here is a taste of some of the many accounts you could follow on Instagram.
@mainichi.me - Posts a new word everyday. They also have a Google Chrome extension where you can learn a new word everytime you open a new tab.
@yukiko_ymgw - Daily posts by a native Japanese speaker. It mostly includes handwritten journal entries as well as brief Japanese lessons.
@renshuu - Includes helpful posts about Japanese culture, words, and grammar.
@nihongo_flashcards - Daily posts about everyday language along with beautiful illustrations, pronunciation, english equivalent, brief description of the word, and example sentences.
@j_aipon - An Instagram account run by a native Japanese speaker, which includes posts on themed vocabulary and easy to follow grammar notes. Her posts also include audio, so you can practice your listening at the same time.
@japanese_memo - Recommended for intermediate learners because not much English is used. This account includes many sentence examples to show how to use particular sets of vocabulary or grammar. He also has a facebook page.
@uknowjapanese - This is great for beginners or anyone who wants to learn new words or practice reading katakana. Each post features a katakana word as well as a cute illustration. There is also a website where you can purchase these cute and educational katakana images as posters.
How To Use These Resources
With so many options as your disposable, what is the best way to choose what to focus on? I’ll answer those questions and more below.
Step 1: Choose something at your level
Choosing something beyond your comprehension would substantially aid your progress, and it can also be a disheartening. Keep your interest for Japanese alive and don’t overwhelm yourself with resources you don’t understand.
If you are not sure if this is the level for you, try going through the first couple of pages and see how many words you can recognize. If you don’t understand most of it, it’s probably not the right choice. If you can understand most of it but are still struggling with a few words, I would say that is the level for you.
Step 2: Choose something you are interested in
Keep yourself engaged with what you are reading. Put down the book if you yawn when you think about it. Having a lot of interest in subject makes it much more easy to keep you wanting to read more. A health nut might find it fun to read something on modern health trends in Japan.
Step 3: Choose something which will be relevant to your daily life
This is a step mostly for beginners to intermediates who don’t feel comfortable at a conversational level. If you want to be conversational quickly, you’ll want to learn vocabulary you can use everyday so stick to slice of life resources instead of technical works.
To sum it up, Here is the simple guideline to choosing what to read:
- Choose something at your level
- Choose something you are interested in
- (Optional) Choose something which will be relevant to your daily life
Passive reading vs active reading
Did you know there are two different types of ways we can read? These are passive reading and active reading. Most of us passive read, this is typically when you read for fun. On the other hand, there is active reading, which is what we should use whenever we study.
Active reading is when you are engaged with the text; you ask questions about the meaning of words, and you reflect on what you read. Here’s one method you can try out, you'll probably find that you will retain much more information than usual.
1. Read the text
Read the complete text and then create a small summarization about what you read, either in your head or by jotting it down. Ask yourself - what was the main point of this story, what was the author trying to say?
Read the text again and note down what you have trouble understanding. Use whatever resource you need to figure out the vocabulary or whatever the grammar point means.
3. Incorporate the new knowledge
By this point, you’ll be quite familiar with text. Try reading the entire text, referring back to your notes whenever you need to. Return to your summary you made at the beginning and fill in the blanks.
4. Final reading
The final reading will solidify the new information you’ve studied. Return to the text over the next couple of days to keep the information fresh in your head.
Tip: Create flashcards to go with the text. You’ll be able to focus on what you struggled with without having to return to the text.
If you reading online, I recommend using rikai kun or chan. I mentioned these over in our vocabulary post. The plugins make looking up Japanese words much more simple. Just hold ‘shift’ and hover over the word, the definition will pop up.
Don’t let reading become something you think you will learn as a byproduct of studying Japanese! With so many Japanese reading resources, it’s hard to not find something you like. When you do find something you like, try to incorporate the reading strategies I’ve mentioned above and you’ll find your skills quickly developing. Like I always like to reiterate in all my posts, language learning is a marathon not a race so be kind to yourself and if you dedicate time and effort you’ll become fluent before you know it.
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