Now that you’ve progressed a little bit in your study of Japanese, you are probably wondering where you can get your hands on some authentic Japanese reading material. I have asked myself the same question and hit a wall of kanji and grammar questions when delving straight into Japanese books by Japanese authors. So what to do? The answer: “Read Real Japanese Fiction” (ISBN: 978-4-7700-3058-0) edited by Michael Emmerich. You might be familiar with another title from very same series called “Read Real Japanese Essays” (ISBN: 978-1-5683-6414-8) which was edited by Janet Ashby.
Out of the two books, my feeling is that “Read Real Japanese Fiction” is the easiest one to get started with. The sentences in this book seem very straightforward once you read the provided grammar explanations. Also, the fact that this is a compilation of fictions stories means that they are a little strange and interesting. This means the stories are more likely to grab your attention and keep you reading. The more you read, the more Japanese you’ll learn, so I see that as a win-win!
The structure of the book is simple. There are 6 works of fiction in this book, each from a different contemporary Japanese author. Each piece is introduced with a short description in English about the author and some other works by them you might wish to check out later. Then comes the story itself. On the right-hand side you have the actual Japanese text with kanji and furigana (Japanese characters written above the kanji to help with pronunciation) and on the left-hand side you have the English version of each sentence. Now, if that wasn’t helpful enough, they have actually rearranged the Japanese sentences on the left-hand side so that you can more easily grasp how the structure of the Japanese relates to the English translation! The English translation is interspersed within this arrangement so that you can break down the translation piece by piece. I think this is a remarkable method and really helped me see the logic in the composition of the original reading material.
When the translation on the left-hand side of the page is not enough, there are grammar explanations in English for the trickier sentences in the back of the book. Each sentence is numbered for easy lookup. The explanations are very clear and remove all doubt about the meaning of the sentence. They also explain a bit how the structure of the sentence affects the story as a whole. One example of this is when one of the explanations draws your attention to a certain animal character who insists on speaking in very polite speech (remember, these are fiction stories!). A word of advice to the reader though: Use two bookmarks!!! This is real Japanese, so you will find yourself flipping to the explanation in the back quite often. I keep one bookmark for the story I am reading, and another bookmark in the grammar section corresponding to that story. There is also a small dictionary in the back where you can find a translation for just about every word you would want to look up in the stories. Luckily, the edges of the dictionary pages are marked with a gray square (one for each starting kana character) so you can quickly flip to the part of the dictionary you need without using another bookmark. Very handy! The book also comes with a CD so you can listen to a reading of all the stories and work on your oral comprehension skills as well.
Have you had luck finding any digestible Japanese reading material that you could study and learn from? Tell your fellow Japanese learners by leaving some titles in the comments.