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How to Learn Japanese Through Reading: A Survival Guide

Reading Japanese
I was looking through some resources to help answer someone else's question when I found this guide. It is a handy breakdown of why it's a good idea to learn by reading Japanese, with tips on what to do, and not to do when preparing to read and when reading. At first, I just skimmed through it, and realized that it had some great pointers. So, I wanted to share it with the rest of you ^_^

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June 26, 2017



For beginners I would suggest Japanese graded readers (レベル別日本語多読ライブラリー) by ask:


or the iPad version:


These are stories from very simple, short ones using less vocabulary, simple grammar and rarely kanji (with furigana) to more longer ones, using a greater vocabulary, more kanji and more advanced grammar.

The subject of the stories varies, there are stories for children, fairy tales, stories out of daily life in Japan and there are also adapted stories from famous writers and more.

Additionally there are very professionally produced audio recordings of every story, spoken by professional actors. It is a must have for beginners and it is fun to go ahead in this series. My absolutely favorite story is 野菊の墓, last story in Level 4, Vol.1).

If you are a beginner, you´ll feel like you can read and understand Japanese (and you do!).

Here are some sample pages with sound:



White Rabbit Press also does graded readers. I have one of them on the iPad - they are nicely made.


Shame there's no Android version, most people be able to use it.


there is an android version already. But it probably won’t help you after a year. I bought two of those on an android phone a week ago.


This was a super motivating article to read! I've been thinking about finding some short things to read in Japanese, but I was hesitant about my ability to actually read them. But this solidified my determination, thanks so much for sharing! :)


Try the manga Yotsuba. The main character is a toddler so she talks in very simple language and it's funny too!


Thanks for the recommendation! I'll have to look into finding it! :)


I wonder if the author is right about avoiding translated materials - using those (like Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland etc.) has worked well for me in studying other languages.

Are translations into Japanese really that bad?


I don´t really know, but I´ve read 星の王子さま and あのときの王子くん (The Little Prince) and I love it more than any other translation (also German). May be the french version may be better, but I am not able to read or understand any french.

And translated material is common in Japan, i. e. ガフールの勇者たち (Guardians of Ga'Hoole). I wouldn´t say, that translated material is so bad at all. And it may be interesting to read something, you already know in your own language (as it was in my case with The Little Prince), so that you can recognize things more easily. But you have the choice to choose also real Japanese stuff.


Honestly, Le Petit Prince might not be the most beginner-friendly French book despite its status as a classic, as it uses the passé simple enough to be confusing, and aside from literature, it is essentially extinct, and even there it is becoming rare.

That doesn't mean it's inaccessible, but it's something to be aware of. The passé simple is not covered in Duo or most anything else.


Sorry, I didn´t suggested The little Prince for beginners. But anyway: If one is really enthusiastic and wants to learn and read a language, why not choosing any material, he wants? In my case, my first book was indeed 星の王子さま. Using your own motivation is important for the progress, I think. I wouldn´t take care of original or translated material, only what I am interested in.


Of course. I just wanted to point out that in its source language, there might be a little roadbump.


I don't think it would matter significantly, at least at a basic level, as per the article, some kind of bi-lingual solution is suggested anyway. Going both ways helps to understand, but I'd usually prefer native materiel, as it is the source of the target language, and thus, has not been filtered.


That's some pretty solid advice. That's pretty much exactly what I did.

The first time I tried to read anything entirely in Japanese, it was 「よつばと!」. Despite being oft-recommended for beginners due to its simple dialogue (with ふりがな), episodic nature, and accessible and endearing story and characters, it probably took over an hour for one chapter. I was certainly lacking some knowledge at the time. I still think it isn't the easiest thing for an absolute beginner, and tadoku.org even scores it 3/5 in difficulty. There's a lot of hand-written kanji without furigana, and Yostuba talks like a child, which in manga is also represented by a lack of kanji, which can be difficult to parse, but it's still pretty easy to follow.

Really, I know kanji might scare a lot of you, but they aren't so bad. If you haven't realized it by now, the lack of kanji is often even more confusing. Even easy texts are hard at first, but it gets easier, and you really can't get into kanji too early. I don't think you need to learn kanji themselves all that intently, but just vocabulary. You'll start to make connections with kanji and pronunciations naturally.

The following might be going a bit overboard for absolute beginners, but it's almost certainly going to come up before long.

It can be a bit more intensive, but I recommend trying to fit some manner of frequency-based study in. Balancing it can be troublesome because common words may use relatively rare kanji, for example, but knowing the most frequent words and kanji in priority can help. This will often align well with kanji by grade.

Frequency is a useful tool in any language, it's just more complicated with Japanese.

2001.Kanji.Odyssey or Kanji in Context are popular courses that try to layer knew knowledge upon existing knowledge gradually, starting with more frequent elements. It might not be entertaining, but it seems to be effective. This is very similar to Duo in approach, but much more annoying to navigate. It's an old standby though.

When it comes to cementing kanji into the mind, Heisig's Remembering the Kanji has worked for many, or at least the methodology, which is essentially going from simple to complex kanji, with mnemonics, as complex kanji almost always contain simpler kanji. As long as you understand the age-old principle though, you can take the jouyou kanji and bushuu ("radicals") from lists, order them in a spreadsheet by stroke order and start from the beginning, or export that to Anki, etc.

That has its own problems in that simple-to-write kanji are not always commonly encountered. It's really for remembering how to write and recall, not so much read and recognize, but being able to do so does help, and it can still help to prompt the memory.

For those that need more and have somehow not come across it by now, there are a lot of powerful tools for Anki specifically for Japanese that can help in being efficient with combining everything. It can take some work, but it can definitely be worth it if that is your thing. There are a lot of decks already that may be enough for some things, but don't expect to not have to do anything yourself.

There are plenty of apps too that have a lot of kanji and vocab already present and ordered. Obenkyo, Tsukiji, Kotoba, Kanji Tree, and Mondo may be of interest for those on Android at least. Obenkyo and Kanji Tree have writing practice too (but don't neglect paper entirely). These are all free, as I imagine a lot of potential learners may be young or just strapped for cash, and are things I personally have experience with.

Just remember that nothing alone is perfect. A lot of the above can get seriously overwhelming if you allow it and might not be fun. It's probably better you have some fun and go slower than to burn out. All that studying will ever be able to do is support you at best. In the end, you just have to consume native material and use the language, no matter how slow or difficult it is.

However you learn, just incrementally add things for review to your software of choice that you've encountered "in the wild". You'll figure out your pace eventually. I'm of the opinion that Japanese isn't that hard relative to other languages, but studying it in a sensible manner can be overwhelming as it is so different from English or romance languages.


Maybe is not for beginners (jlpt 5) but if you want to read the news in Japanese with furigana, you can try News Web Easy from nhk: http://www3.nhk.or.jp/news/easy/index.html They have political news, cultural news etc explained in an easy way.


Awesome, thanks JadenPotatoes! :D


Thank you for this! I posted not too long ago looking for recommendations for content to begin reading, and this article has some helpful links and is very encouraging!


I might have been trying to find reading resources for you when I found this. I was originally trying to locate a reading series my sensei back in uni loaned me. But, I was unable to find them :( So, I'm glad that you found this post useful at least. :)


Thank you so much for trying! I very much appreciate it.


When I started to learn Japanese I had fun with the stories on Botさんのおはなし


It was very funny and it is real Japanese.


This is perfect! It's exactly what I was hoping for! I've also been trying my luck with an old Sailor Moon graphic novel I found (アニメブックス according to the cover) that happens to have furigana. It's a struggle, but I'm still having fun with it. Anyway, thank you so much for sharing this resource! :D


I have also posted this I am really good my other profile


I didn't see it. :(


People downvoted it and I ask why Any they hadn't even read it


Additionally I would learn Japanese through certain manga and anime. For me, the whole work of Mijazaki Hayao offers is interesting stuff to learn Japanese. Some animes have a daily life story, as 耳をすませば (Whisper of the Heart) are very good to get used to daily Japanese.

As a suggestion for manga, it maybe something like センセイの鞄https://booklive.jp/product/index/title_id/172238/vol_no/001

The advantage of reading manga or watching movies and anime is, that you can connect what you see and what you read and hear with, which will develop your ability to understand Japanese.


Probably my personal favorite Ghibli film. <3


Thanks for sharing this. I feel that reading a book is a great way to learn new vocabulary, however the Japanese that is written in a book can differ than that of spoken Japanese.

For example, think of how an author would describe a winter scene. They could use words or descriptions that while are technically are true, when it comes to speaking, it would sound a little odd to speak poetically in every day conversation. So be mindful of the way you are learning new vocabulary.

For me, being able to read the news either on the internet or in a newspaper is the best way to learn new vocabulary because they use common, everyday words that people should know. If one can understand the news, one can speak everyday standard Japanese.

This is just my opinion, of course.


"no textbook for learners of English would ever dream of writing “you know” as “y’know” This totally reminds me of DuoLingo translating some Japanese into English as "Can I get some fish". "Get some" is not proper English. It should be "Can I have some".


You guys might enjoy Erin's Challenge. It's a website made by the Japan Foundation for learning Japanese and it has these scenes of a girl on her first day of school. The videos are done in live action, then repeated in manga. You can watch/read them straight through but you can also watch line by line and all of the subtitles are switchable between Kanji, Kana, Romaji, and English. It also includes the full script for each lesson and review questions. https://www.erin.ne.jp/en/


Oh my skies, this is so cute! It's also very helpful. Thanks for sharing! :D


It is realy impressive, how many official and good stuff has been made to teach Japanese.

If you are very enthusiastic and have already learned to read a bit kana, I would recommend the textbook series みんなの日本語, which is completely in Japanese. But the series is accompanied by a book with grammar explanations and translations of the questions in different languages.

More information here: http://www.3anet.co.jp/english/books/books_01.html


I highly recommend this series as well. And there's a separate book that translates all the words and example sentences from the textbook, so one can reference the grammar explanations.

The textbook being all in Japanese may seem discouraging, but it helps when studying, because you are forced to read only Japanese. And when needing a translation, you have to actively find it.

If you are not a person that wants that, but still wants a great series, I would also recommend the revised Genki Series. It has lessons that are like the Minna no Nihongo Series, but it has the English translations inside the actual textbook, so no need to buy a separate book.

Either Series is recommended by most Japanese Language Schools.


I have it too, and use it ... sporadically. (It is rather dry: no gamification! No points! No levels! No cute owl outfits, either.) But it has taught me quite a lot.


The Japan Foundation is known for producing the best Japanese Language Learning Content. You can also find the TV Program of Erin's Challenge on YouTube. However, since his was a DVD learning program, the videos on the internet do not have the translations for the grammar explanation, but someone only added the translations of the skits.

But if you are up for a great challenge and watch it and immerse yourself, it is a great building block for the basics. This series does a great job of teaching the viewer very useful grammar that is used in a lot of daily conversation.

I also recommend this Series.



I wish Erin's Challenge were available for those of us using iOS - I've heard good things but flash player no can do.


Thank you very much!

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