I recently did something I should have done a long time ago. I read two books. They were about Kirby and the gang but… I say it still counts! Reading a book may not be quite as fun as playing a game, but it’s pretty close and arguably better practice so I wanted to write a bit about the challenges and give a couple of tips to get started.
Out of games, manga, and novels, I’d say novels are the most intimidating. Hundreds of pages of just words with no pictures or fancy graphics to give context and fill in the gaps. It leaves no ambiguity about whether or not you actually understood what you were reading. It was intimidating for me as well. I’ve read plenty of short stories and excerpts aimed at Japanese learners, but a real book for native speakers? It’s a little scary. But if finding out about kanji didn’t scare you off when you were getting started on your Japanese journey, you may just be brave enough for the challenge.
When I read the Kirby Plant Robobot novelization, I looked up almost 200 words! Some I wanted to check I was remembering correctly, some were words in a context I hadn’t come across before, and many were totally new to me. Sometimes I’d look up a word and then have to look it up again 10 pages later because I forgot I wrote it down. It actually comes out to a little less than one word per page which doesn’t sound as scary. All of this is to say don’t lose confidence if your vocabulary is lacking. Games, books, newspapers, things made for native speakers are how you’re eventually going to have to expand your vocabulary so embrace it.
You’re also going to come across words and phrases that aren’t going to show up in your online dictionary of choice. If you Google these phrase with a とは or 意味 on the end, the Japanese internet will show you the way. It can be tough to read the definition for a Japanese word in Japanese or to follow a Yahoo Answers thread about a phrase in Japanese, but I think it’s something you should be prepared to try when going in. Some that I had to look up can be found in the Kirby vocabulary list.
Where to Start
This is tricky because you need to take your Japanese level into consideration, but also challenge yourself. If you’ve read graded readers in the past, but don’t have a next step to go to, It’s hard not to recommend Kirby. The Kirby novelizations are probably meant to mid-elementary to early middle school level, but the jump is pretty substantial because all bets are off as far as phrases and vocabulary and they aren’t made with considerations for language learners in mind. They’re very generous with furigana throughout though, so you’re never totally in the dark when you come across some new and funky kanji. If you’ve managed to play through a JRPG in Japanese, you probably won’t struggle too much if you have a dictionary nearby.
But if you’re a little worried, don’t be afraid to read a passage multiple times. It can be frustrating to read a page and not be totally sure what happened, but I think that’s because we tend to forget that learning a language is actually really hard. One little tip I think helps in these situations is to go ahead and read the next paragraph or page and then go back and read both parts again with your knowledge of the future helping provide context.
The publish also provides a pretty generous ~ 30 pages for each book on their site to read. It’s a great way to dip your toe in so it’s easy to recommend to intermediate and even fairly advanced learners that are looking for something fun to read.
Publisher webiste: https://tsubasabunko.jp/product/kirby/
Just click ためし読み and give it a look!
What Else Is out There?
I’ve been looking into what I want to try next and it turns out there are a surprising number of game novelizations. I even saw novelizations for Death Stranding and Kingdom Hearts III recently so they get churned out pretty quickly. Pretty much the entire Kingdom Hearts series has been novelized, with each game usually being made up of a couple books. Early Dragon Quest games also got novelizations by Enix in the early 2000’s. There were even new copies of the three Dragon Quest V books at my local bookstore. I’ve also come across Octopath Traveler side stories, Final Fantasy VII side stories, and even an Ace Attorney book. Will Kingdom Hearts actually make sense if you read the books? Probably not. But if it gets me reading and practicing, I won’t complain.
There’s a lot out there and a lot to get excited about, so whether it’s games or books, don’t forget to have fun while you’re studying Japanese. Trust me when I say it’s about the journey… Because it literally doesn’t end. You might as well make it fun sometimes.
Do you have any books you’re looking forward to reading in Japanese? Are you trying to gather courage to jump into books? Leave a comment (or a tweet) and let me know what you’re thinking or if you have any questions.