The Ultimate Guide to Japanese Reading

By Meridian and Natasha | Updated November 11, 2019

Learning Japanese is a challenge and this article will focus on reading skills. This article is one small part on our series on how to learn Japanese on how to learn Japanese.

Japanese Reading 1

This guide is for those who want to learn Japanese in an enjoyable and efficient way but unsure of where to start. Our method is sharing free and easy to access Japanese learning resources, and tips and tricks on how to improve your studying habits.

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.

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    Making Reading A Part of Your Daily 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 Japanese reading 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 your Japanese reading practive adventure small. Even something as seemingly meaningless as reading the names of stations on your commute to work. Short doses of reading practice are easy to incorporate into your 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 the Japanese 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 Reading

    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?

    Improve your Focus, Improve your Reading

    Maybe you don’t like to read because you find it difficult to focus? Learning to focus is also a skill you can develop! To begin your Japanese reading practice, 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 music with just instrumentals.  

    If parting with your electronic device is a real struggle, here are a couple of software that will do the hard part for you.

    For computer users try:

    FucusMe

    SelfControl

    For mobile users try:

    Offtime

    AppDetox

    Reading Resources

    Japanese Reading 2

    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.

    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.

    Traditional Japanese Children's Stories

    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?

    Update : My friend just created an awesome manga called Crystal Hunters with both English and Japanese versions that even a beginner can read and comes with a beginners guide with the words for vocabulary in each language. You no longer need to feel silly.

    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 deals with ordeals people experience every day. Advanced learners should feel free to drift into the realm of technical books.

    Here are lots of free reading material for all levels!

    N5 and N4 reading material 

    Traditional Japanese Children's Stories 

    両国語

    e-hon

    N5, N4 and N3 reading material 

    Watanoc

    Hirugaru Nihongo

    Match 

    N3 reading material 

    NHK - News Web Easy 

    N3 and N2 reading material 

    Wasabi Japanese Grammar 

    Wasabi Japanese Grammar - Manga 

    N2 and N1 reading material

    NHK

    Yomiuri

    Asahi

    BuzzFeed Japan

    University of Virginia Library

    N1 reading material 

    Gutenberg

    Syosetsu

    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 organized manga 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 in mind. They write about real news but relay it with simple Japanese. The online site NEWS WEB EASY even provides furigana.

    Beginner:

    Hiragana Times

    Intermediate:

    News Web Easy

    Advanced:

    Asahi

    Japanese Reading 3

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    Beelinguapp

    This is a recently developed smart phone app that allows you to compare audio book text in your native language to that in your target language. Previously, you would have to buy two books and compare the two or you buy the books in Japan that has English on one side and Japanese in the next. However, with this app, but the paragraphs that you want to read are highlighted in both languages so it is easy to find the translation without having to search.

    This type of app is also useful in that when reading an audio book you do not really need to use a dictionary if you are an intermediate level student. This app is not free, but can upgrade your Japanese studies by helping you save you a lot of time in looking things up. They also have a karaoke feature that may be worth checking out. Regardless, the digital book side to side feature alone is quite useful.

    Beelinguapp

    The Enviroment: 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 learned 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 every day. They also have a Google Chrome extension where you can learn a new word every time 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.

    Subtitles: Intermediate or 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 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.

    FluentU

    Kotobites

    Recipies: Intermediate or 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.

    Cookpad

    japanese read 5

    How to Use Japanese Reading Resources

    With so many options at your disposal, what is the best way to choose what to focus on? I’ll answer those questions and more below.

    Step 1: Find Something that Matches your Level

    Choosing something beyond your comprehension would substantially aid your progress, and it can also be disheartening. Keep your interest in 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: Find Something that You're Interested In

    Keep yourself engaged with what you are reading. Put down the book if you yawn when you think about it. Boost your Japanese reading practice by selecting a subject that you love. Whatever makes it easier to keep you reading, is the best Japanese reading practice for you. A health nut might find it fun to read something on modern health trends in Japan.

    Step 3: Find Something that's Relevent 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 every day 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:

    1. Choose something at your level
    2. Choose something you are interested in
    3. (Optional) Choose something which will be relevant to your daily life

    Passive versus Active Reading

    Japanese Reading 5

    Did you know there are two different types of reading? 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 use whenever we study. A solid Japanese reading practice skill is to mix up both styles.

    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?

    2. Reread

    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. Apply your New-found Knowledge

    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?

    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.

    Final Remarks

    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.

    Japanese Language School 8

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