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.


  • Hi Harvey, here is a tip for reading PDFs on the kindle:
    Press the Aa button, go to Screen Rotation and select the second (horizontal) format. Then press Aa and select 150 or 200% (whichever is better for the PDF). When the box comes up hold down the shift button and scroll so that the text is closest to the edge of the box and click the center button. This will make it so that you only need to scroll a few times to get through the whole document, and it should continue onto the next page. Each PDF size is different but you can usually get it work nicely just by rotating the screen.

    Also not sure if you’re interested in manga but there is an app called Mangle that will convert jpegs and so on to a nice and very readable kindle size.

  • Link to Mangle for those interested. Windows/Mac/Linux!

  • Looking at the Kindle some months ago, I read that you needed to install some 3rd party hack to view Japanese fonts. Is that still the case?

    • This new one supports Japanese right out of the box!

      Sometimes with Chinese I get mojibake, but Japanese always works!


      • I’ve been flirting with the idea of a Kindle for over a year now, and the addition of Japanese support seals it – mine should be arriving on Thursday :) Thanks for the info!

        • Great! Let us know if you find any particularly useful sources of Japanese content :-)

          Since I have posted this I am pretty much using the same routine for Japanese stuff – and it’s great!

  • Its a real shame that you can’t get Japanese language books on the Kindle (except for the old ones). I suggest that they get a move on providing this service or piracy might become a problem. After having tried to buy them, if I could find them through other means I just might.

  • FYI, if you login to your gmail account at, then go to, you can check mail on your Kindle.

  • I’ve recently been turned on to 森 鴎外 as another author available on Aozora Bunko that I should read.

  • Just on PDFs, it turns out there’s a way to convert these to a more readable format through Amazon that works quite well.

    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.

  • Nice suggestions!! Thanks a lot.

    I got my my Kindle 3 last Friday mainly to read Japanese books. It handles well PDFs and mobi files created from HTML (I use Calibre). It is awesome.

    But the problem is: it doesn’t have a Japanese to English dictionary. I searched all through the internet and found a way to convert Edict (free jp-en dict) into a mobipocket file. But it seems that Kindle does not recognize Japanese words, so it does not look up the dictionary.

    Maybe the problem is the search algorithm of kindle. It possibly expects that is separated by spaces. I don’t know. :-(

    It really bugs me!! Does anyone know whether it is possible to look up Japanese words in kindle in the first place.

    • A J->E or J->J dictionary on Kindle would be brilliant, and I’ve been looking at this too. One option I thought of was adding Kindle notes to Japanese words with the furigana. Adding them manually would be painstaking, but it would be neat to add them programmatically to the file before it gets copied to the Kindle. Nice idea in theory, but all the notes kind of clutter up the screen.

      Plus, parsing Japanese is a real challenge. Plugins like Rikaichan and libraries like MeCab do a pretty good job, but they’re not perfect. So, I’m not holding my breath that Japanese dictionary support will be officially added to the Kindle any time soon, but maybe there are ways to get 90% there.

  • You could also take the html version and print to a PDF printer like CutePDF..

  • Thankyou for putting me on to the email pdf converter, that’s just what I was looking for! :)

  • If you know where to get more contemporary books (obviously not from Aozora) you can use the link below. Just paste all the text you want converted and hit the PDF button. Works like a charm ;)

    And here’s a head-start for files, 5,000 txt books…

  • Thanks for the tips, Harvey.
    I tried Instapaper yesterday, but for some reason, kanji does not show up properly on the Kindle. It seems that the only way I can get kanji to show up from random websites is to save it as PDF (Macs can do this when you choose to print something).

    If you put “convert” in the subject line when emailing a PDF to amazon, it works really well… except for Japanese text. Again, the Kindle fails to render kanji properly.

    Am I doing something wrong here??

    • Hey Ken, do you have the Kindle 3? I heard that the Kindle 3 was the first to really support Japanese. Maybe it doesn’t work with other models. Or…

      With Instapaper you’re using the .mobi file right? If so, I have no idea what you’re doing wrong! I don’t have to do any PDF tricks…


      • Hi Harvey, I have the Kindle DX. I have a suspicion that you’re right about Kindle 3. I hope Amazon updates the other Kindles w/Japanese support.

  • Anothe good source of japanese news is

  • HEY! the txt to pdf tool seems amazing, it’s exactly what i’ve been looking for since i can’t get korean fonts to work on my kindle dxg. english and copy/pasted japanese both come out find but korean just comes out as a jumble.. does anyone know a way around this? vertical text is 100% fine with me since thats how pre 1995 documents are written anyways. If someone could figure this out and tell me it would be amazing! here’s some sample text:
    리벳가 4번지에 살고 있는 더즐리 부부는 자신들이 정상적이라는 것을 아주 자랑스럽게 여기는 사람들이었다

  • you know what, I just figured out how to use cute pdf and I think that’s gonna work out fine for me ^^ thank you for reccomending it!!!! it’s exactly what I needed!

  • Hey!

    Thanks for great tips! Works great with the conversion page.

    In relation to PDF’s of all kinds Kindle has a problem with it. I use “calibre” a free library software to convert all my pdf’s to MOBI format and it works great. (Strangely the conversion does not work on Japanese coding XD)

    As morphine stated before Mangle works great for reading Manga on Kindle.

    Hope I help as well :D

  • Thanks so much for this! Exactly what I have been looking for!!

  • Quick question. Has anybody found a good way to read books on the iphone? I want something that has a quick popup window with a eiwa kanji breakdown. An ebook reader that does that? The Sony one does it, but it’s extremely unfriendly. The Kindle method of just moving the cursor over the word and getting the dictionary breakdown is beautiful. How hard would it be for Amazon to make one? I don’t understand, with the huge success of the Kindle, why we haven’t seen one yet. Especially since, Japanese had been at one time, and possibly still are, the largest consumers of newspapers.

  • Does anyone know how well it work with manga?

  • I love this post because it has a lot of information. I am new with kindle so I’m still about all it can do.

    I just wanted to leave a comment to say thank you, but then I started reading all the comments which are full of information too! Thanks everyone!

  • Harvey:

    I am hoping you can advise me on this.  I am thinking of buying a Kindle for my mother for her 80th birthday.  She is from Japan, living in the US.  I am hoping that she can download books in Japanese to read for pleasure, plus perhaps a newspaper or magazine in Japanese.  I have checked with Amazon and the US sight has some books, but in that I can not read Japanese myself, I am not sure if they are books she would like to read.  Are there other sights that she would be able to download books in Japanese from?  And how about a subscription to a newspaper or magazine?  She is not tech savvy in the least and I would need to set up the Kindle for her, ideally before I give it to her.

    Thank you in advance for any assistance or advice you can offer.


  • I have been trying to figure out how to do Aozora -> mobi, and to display nearly ANYTHING in vertical text on a device of any sort that I own (ie., not iPad) for a long time now. It’s been driving me crazy. Thank you so much for this post! I am going to do my own blog post directing my readers to your site as soon as I get a chance, since I have often posted about various readers available for Aozora in the past.

    Anyway, thank you for saving my sanity. :D Happy reading to you!

  • Hello, if you need to convert pdf files to mobi or epub formats for your Kindle, I recommend to have a look at this free toolkit which is simple and easy to use, including a friendly interface.