Title: ナミヤ雑貨店の奇跡 （なみやざっかてんのきせき)
Author:東野圭吾 （ひがしの けいご）
Reading level: Adult
My rating: 4 out of 5
I would put this in the magical-realism genre. It's realistic fiction but involves letters travelling through time. The Namiya general store (zakkaten) is run by an old man who answers the letters of people who write in asking for advice. He originally does this in response to a child's joke, when kids asked him things like "how can I get 100% on a test without studying or cheating?" he answers them seriously (I won't give away his answer to that particular question), but then he gets a reputation and people begin writing in with serious quandaries, like a boy whose parents are planning to run away in the night to escape debts they can't pay. The old man can't live forever but somehow the Namiya general store continues to operate as a place to get good advice. The novel is told via the stories of various advice-seekers and as the stories continue it turns out they are all connected in unexpected ways.
I told my Japanese coworker about this book and she told me she loves Higashino Keigo but hadn't heard of this book. I'm taking a break to read in English for a little while but want to check out his other books eventually.
Reading level: middle school
My rating: 4 out of 5
This is a nonfiction/memoir of a guy who did a ton of outdoor adventures: the Pole to Pole, climbing Mt. Everest, learning traditional star navigation in Polynesia, flying air balloons... It's written for the middle school level and I found it pretty easy to understand despite some specialized vocabulary (for mountain climbing etc) because specialized vocabulary terms are often explained in a separated text box also with diagrams/illustrations, sort of like in a textbook. It is arranged into sections and chapters and each chapter is very digestible, around 5 pages or less. He tells not just about what it's like to train and prepare for these expeditions but also things that you wouldn't necessarily think about and that really stuck with him. It was very interesting. There are also lots of color photos from his adventures, each one with an explanatory caption. I was actually describing this book to my mom and she asked me who the author was because she wanted to read it too, but I don't think it's been translated into English.
Reading level: elementary
My rating: 3.5 out of 5
I actually thought this was short stories when I picked it up, but it turned out to be a short novel. A young boy sees someone who looks exactly like him and ends up being tricked into entering the world of dreams. It turns out each person has their own dream world and this tells of the boy's journey from one person's dream world to the next. Like the other stuff of Shin'ichi's that I've read, the vocabulary and sentence structure are simple and easy to follow. The few times I was tempted to look up the meaning of words, they ended up meaning exactly what I suspected based on context clues.
Side note... a little sad this community has gone defunct. I'm trying to get back into reading Japanese, so I'll post this in case anyone is still watching.
Reading level: elementary
My rating: 4 out of 5
I loved this little collection of stories! This is far and away the easiest Japanese fiction I've ever read. There are kanji, but there were absolutely zero that I wasn't familiar with, and the vocab is fairly simple as well, with key words repeated often.
It's a bunch of (very) short stories about inventors and robots and space aliens and the like, but it's not what I think of as science-fiction. Each story is self-contained, easy to follow, and has a simple but fun twist at the end.
I highly recommend this book to anyone as their first foray into reading in Japanese, especially for anyone accustomed to reading manga with furigana who's uncertain about reading an actual book.
Reading level: ?middle school+
My rating: 2 out of 5
The title of this book comes from the phrase 五体満足, said of babies who have all four limbs and their head intact. 五体不満足 is the autobiography of Japanese celebrity Ototake Hirotada, who was born without arms or legs. I found this book on a list of recommended reads for Japanese middle schoolers, and it was also recommended by one of my Japanese teachers.
Some parts of the book were really interesting. It was fun to read about his experience in elementary school, and all the creative adaptations that allowed him to attend a mainstream school. I also enjoyed reading the vignette-like recounting of a few incidents of problems he ran into because of his disability.
However, most of the book was repetitive, excessively hyperbolic, and boring. Ninety percent of what he wrote was praise and thanksgiving for all these opportunities he had and people that he met, without much context and without any interesting description -- exactly the kind of stuff that would have gotten me a remonstration to "show, don't tell" if I turned it in to an English teacher. It read more like a thank-you speech or an essay for a scholarship application than an autobiography.
There were also quite a few parts where I wasn't sure exactly what he was trying to say, so maybe it reads better if your Japanese is more advanced than mine... this was harder than the previous two books I read, so I'm not sure I quite agree with whoever wrote that middle school books list.
I'm wondering if everyone else has forgotten about this community, or if you are just all too busy to read/post...
Title: 蛍・納屋を焼く・その他の短編 Hotaru・Naya wo Yaku・Sono Ta no Tanpen
Author: 村上春樹 Murakami Haruki
Reading level: High school
My rating: 4.5 for 納屋を焼く, 2 for 躍る小人
I read 蛍 a long time ago for a Japanese class (before I had ever heard of Murakami Haruki), and later I read it again when I picked up this book. It is actually the first part of ノルウェーの森, which I had read in English in the interim. That was a few years ago and I don't really remember it well enough to write a review.
However, I've had a few friends recommend 納屋を焼く and decided to finally actually read it. I loved it! A very well-written suspense story. I didn't have to look up any vocabulary, as it was all comparatively simple. Encouraged, I plowed onwards to 躍る小人, which was also a very simple read - I ended up having to look up only one word in the whole story. However, I was unpleasantly surprised by the ending of the story, which was pretty much just a disgusting cop-out of a conclusion. So I'm not sticking around for the other two stories in the book, at least not for a while.
I'm not sure what I'm going to read next. I'm partway through a dense science-y book about vegetarianism (ベジタリアンの医学 by 蒲原聖可 Kamohara Seika), and I also feel like maybe I should temper the short fiction with newspaper articles, so I might wait a bit before I start a new book.
Title: 世界史ミステリー事件の真相：歴史の闇に葬られた未解決事件を追う Sekaishi mystery jiken no shinsou: rekishi no yami ni houmurareta mikaiketsu jiken wo ou
Author: 瑞穂れい子 Mizuho Reiko
Reading level: Adult, but light-novel; non-jôyô kanji have furigana.
My rating: 3.5/5
The 世界史 in the title was a bit misleading, as there was only one story (about Egypt) that isn't about European or American history. However, the book still described a good variety of mysterious happenings. I really liked that each story was self-contained and only 4-6 pages long, because that made reading it with my short attention span pretty easy. For the most part, the stories were actually quite interesting and several of them were quite suspenseful. There was a lot of repetitive vocabulary and phrasing, so once I got a certain way into the book, it became easier and easier to understand. I wouldn't say it was particularly well-written, but I think it was a good choice for a "tadoku" book... and I even learned a few historical tidbits! :)
How is everyone else doing on their reading? 頑張ってくださいね！
To introduce mysef, belatedly:
My name is Emily, and I've been studying Japanese for at least ten years. (I'm starting to lose count.) I passed JLPT 1 last year, and also moved to New York, where at last I can find Japanese books! In the past few years I've had a hard time with Japanese because I'll give myself a hard time over not reading enough, or not reading enough "real literature," so I buy some books - but I have a hard time with them, so I don't read them, and I give myself a hard time for not reading them. So my goal for this year is to stick with children's books and light novels for a little while until I get back into the habit.
In my real life I'm a librarian and writer, and I really, really like Bump of Chicken and Shiina Ringo. My favorite Japanese writer is Murakami Haruki.
Title: 獣の奏者１ (Kemono no Souja 1)
The Beast Player
Author: 上橋菜穂子 Uehashi Nahoko
Reading level: Upper elementary. All kanji have furigana, but Uehashi uses a pretty rich vocabulary.
My rating: 4/5.
Speaking of anime adaptations, the first episode of this one airs tonight on NHK.
Erin lives alone with her mother Soyon; they are slightly outcast from the village where they live because Soyon comes from the tribe of Allyo, a nomadic people charged with preventing the reoccurrence of a terrible tragedy that happened some time long ago. Soyon had married out of her tribe, but is now widowed, and she has a job caring for the "Touda," battle serpents who "cannot and must not be tamed," but are tamed nonetheless by a soundless flute.
When all the "fangs" (the front-line troops) among the battle serpents suddenly die, Soyon is suspected of their murder and sentenced to death.
I liked this very much. The emotional tone reminds me of some of Miyazaki's fantasies, especially Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi -- a preteen girl, separated from her parents and trying to make her own way in the world, but with a sense of security provided by caring guardians. There's also a deep concern with the environment, and the relationship between people and animals, that reminds me of Miyazaki. Uehashi creates a very deep and real and interesting fantasy world. The only quibble I have is that the beekeeping sections seem to go on for very long. This was originally published as a hardcover in two volumes, and it's being reissued in paperback now with more volumes, so I imagine that affects the pacing.
By the way, Uehashi Nahoko is also the author of the "Moribito" series, which is being published in English.