How I use my Kindle

Hey everyone, I was lucky enough to get a new Kindle as a birthday present, but since have been getting a lot of questions asking how I am using it. So, blog post time!

Converted from Aozora Bunko to Kindle PDF using A2K
Converted from Aozora Bunko to Kindle PDF using A2K

Reading Aozora Bunko texts

Aozora Bunko is basically Gutenberg Project for Japanese texts. This means that on Aozora Bunko you can get a ton of Japanese stories, books, and essays for which the copyright has expired.

I love flexing my muscles with Japanese short stories, especially slightly older short stories. The language is smart and uses a literary vocabulary that you won’t get from listening to news podcasts or other sources. I have been reading a lot of Akutagawa Ryunosuke and Dazai Osamu recently.

By the way, check out my Japanese podcast recommendation posts here, here, here, and here, and here if you haven’t already.

[UPDATE 11/05/2010] Chris pointed me to this blog post over at Asiajin that shows an awesome way to convert Aozora Bunko texts to a sexy optimized-for-Kindle-reading PDF format. Getting Aozora Bunko texts on your Kindle using this method is easy.

  1. Find the Aozora text you want to read on your Kindle, and copy the URL path to the RUBY Zip File. For example:

    トロッコ by Akutagawa Ryunosuke is here, and the link to the RUBY Zip File is down at the bottom of the page here:

  2. Go to the a2k site (Aozora to Kindle)
  3. Copy the URL to the Ruby Zip File into the blank, and push the PDF化 button. The PDF download will start automatically.
  4. Put the downloaded PDF onto your Kindle (copy it over USB or email it to your email address).

You can see what the PDF looks like on a Kindle in this video created by @kengo.

It seems the bestANOTHER way for me to get Aozora Bunko stories onto my Kindle is to download the .txt file from Aozora, save it as .rtf, and then email it to my Kindle using the address that Amazon gives you in order to upload stuff to your Kindle. I could also transfer the files by plugging the Kindle into the computer via USB and uploading it, but even when I’m sitting at home I find the email method more convenient.

UPDATE (10/20/2010)
Some stories on Aozora are in HTML format and have Furigana above the Kanji. This is great when reading the HTML… but Kindle can’t read the HTML. Even if you copy everything and paste back to a text document the furigana goes all over the place. Not useful. To handle these files I usually go back to the 図書カード in Aozora Bunko and see if they have the same story in a different format, like a zipped txt file in that “ruby” format. Then I open that in a word processor (I usually use BEAN for Mac, but anything will work) and save as .rtf to my Kindle.
The method using the a2k site mentioned above preserves the Furigana!

Reading Japanese news loaded via Instapaper

I started using Instapaper on my iPod Touch a while back, but I like it for the Kindle even more.

Basically with Instapaper, you install a “ReadLater Button” onto your web browser. Then when you are surfing and find something you want to read later, you press the button and Instapaper saves the webpage to your account. Then, you can go to and download a .mobi file that is formatted for the Kindle that includes all of the articles that you saved.

Instapaper on the Kindle - click for larger pic

My personal routine includes going to this aggregate Japanese news website… opening the top headlines in tabs, and then going through and saving them all to Instapaper by clicking my ReadLater Button. Then I go to, download the .mobi file by clicking on the Kindle icon, save it to my Kindle by emailing it, and off I go.

I only wish that while reading on the Kindle I could easily grab vocab items I don’t know and look them into a dictionary. If there is some way to do this let me know!

Reading Gutenberg Project texts
Gutenberg is like Aozora Bunko for everything else. They have mostly English texts, but they also have Chinese and other languages as well. A lot of their stuff is available in formats already formatted for Kindle, so you can just download and go!

Reading random PDFs, mostly for school
The Kindle kinda fails in the random PDF department. The problem is that when displayed at 100% the text is usually too small, depending on how the PDF is constructed. Then, if you zoom in, the smallest zoom option is 150%, and that goes too far forcing you to scroll left and right down the page, cutting sentences in two. That is more annoying than… anything.

[UPDATE 11/05/2010]
However, some PDFs can look great if you use this awesome convert trick that chris mentioned in the comments.

Send an email to [your account][at], attach your PDF file, and make the subject line “convert”. Within a few minutes, a nice, text version should appear on your Kindle which you can resize like any other ebook.

So far I have had good luck with this method. It doesn’t work for all PDFs, but for a great many it does! Give it a shot!

PDF at 100% view. Too small to read.
150%, and nudged to the right a bit. Sentence clipping on right.

To make matters worse, from the 150% zoom after nudging, if I go the the next page or press down to view the bottom part, I have to re-nudge over to the right again. Lame!

Something needs to be done about this… Or people need to start making 6-inch Kindle friendly PDFs.

Reading random texts
I also just create .rtf files and load them on to my Kindle. For example, I have lyrics to songs by my favorite Japanese artists on there, so if I’m sitting in a plane or bus or something and listening to some music I can pull out the Kindle and read a long. This is especially useful with Japanese rap… like the stuff from Shing02! His lyrics are like short stories.

Lyrics to 星の王子様 by Shing02.

You can also add lyrics to the songs in your iPod Touch and read them on the iPod Touch screen, and I do sometimes. However, if I have some elbow room I would much rather read on the Kindle than on my iPod Touch screen. Also, you can even play MP3s on the Kindle. I haven’t tried this yet, but that could be very interesting… I could put the songs on there and read along with only one device. Will experiment with that later.

Great things about the Kindle

  • Battery life is amazing.
  • It’s so small I don’t mind carrying it around. Fits into my camera bag nicely.
  • Reading on it is easy on the eyes.
  • Plenty of free content available via Gutenberg, Aozora, and Amazon free books.
  • There are a lot of them in the wild here in Boston now. Makes me less fearful of being targeted for theft!

Things that I wish were better

  • Handles most PDFs like crap. Often text is too small, and zoom navigation is clunky.
  • I can’t buy Japanese books for the Kindle yet it seems…
  • Not every book I would like to read is available for Kindle.

Would I recommend buying the Kindle? If you’re someone who reads and travels a lot, and also, values the ability to travel light, then yes. If you mainly want it to read PDFs, then no… but I suspect the Kindle DX would be awesome in this regard.

That’s all!

– Harvey

Related Links:
Yearlyglot reviews his Kindle. Also follow him on Twitter!

Using Your E-Reader for Evil (And a Little Japanese)

[UPDATE 07/24/2012]
My buddy @lenawash mentioned that you can also get a lot of texts from the Internet Archive as well.