How to use Aozora Bunko to get free Japanese books

Posted on 13. Feb, 2011 @ 7:06 am by in Books, Culture, Gadgets, Language Views: 15,031


Aozora Bunko is an excellent resource for free and legal Japanese reading material. Once you have downloaded Aozora texts you can read them on your computer, print them out, or even load them onto your Kindle.

If you like studying Japanese and have an interest in Japanese literature, then I’m sure you will find Aozora Bunko to be invaluable.

The interface for Aozora Bunko is completely in Japanese, so it can be a little intimidating if you’re not yet completely comfortable with the language. So, in this post I’m going to teach you how to use Aozora Bunko to get what you need.

The title of this blog post says Japanese books, but actually Aozora Bunko contains mostly short stories and, well, not so short stories. The famous Botchan 坊ちゃん by Natsume Soseki is an example of a book-length piece that you can find on Aozora Bunko. I once bought Botchan in a used Japanese book store for 50 yen, but now I can read it again on my Kindle for free! Yippie!

Ougai Mori, October 22, 1911

Okay, so let’s get into how to use Aozora Bunko.

Think of a story or author that you want to read.

This might be easier said than done if you are not familiar with Japanese literature. Not only do you need to know the title of the piece or name of the author, but you also need to know how to find it in Japanese. Moreover, Aozora Bunko only has works for which the copyright has expired, so you’re going to be looking at older Japanese literature here. Luckily there is a lot of really interesting older Japanese literature!

Some famous authors, their notable works, and the corresponding Japanese to get you started are…

我が輩は猫である (I am a cat), another famous Natsume Soseki piece, is not available on Aozora Bunko as of posting.

  • 与謝野晶子 (よさのあきこ Yosano Akiko)
    • Yosano Akiko’s modern (at the time) Japanese translation of The Tale of Genji is there.

    That ought to be enough to hold you for a while.

    Now, if you want something else and you know the name of the author or name of the story you’re trying to find, proceed to the next step.

    (NOTE: CLICK ANY OF THE FOLLOWING SCREENSHOTS TO ENLARGE THEM)

    Access Aozora Bunko at http://www.aozora.gr.jp/
    (Duh, but I want to be complete.)

    Search by Author or Title

    First, let’s see how to search by author.

    Say you want to search for Natsume Souseki. You have to search by last name on Aozora Bunko, so know that his last name is Natsume. Last name’s are usually listed first in Japanese.

    Then, you need to understand the order of Hiragana. If you want to find any name that starts with NA NI NU NE or NO, you need to click on what is labeled as the 「な行」under the 「公開中 作家別:」section.「な行」means, “the NA row.” Similarly, a name like Miyazaki would be listed under the MA line, so you would want to look at ま行。公開中 作家別 on the left there means “items that are currently available, arranged by author.”

    Click the NA-line link in the author section to find Natsume Souseki.

    Searching by Title

    To side track for a minute, if you want to search by the title of the story you are looking for, you’ll click the character that is the first character in the title of the work. For example, if you want to find 鼻 (はな) by Akutagawa Ryuunosuke, you would click on 「は」 in the 公開中 作品別 section.

    公開中 作品別 on the left there means “items that are currently available, arranged by title.”

    Use this area to search for a story by title

    Then, you have to flip through the result pages until you find what you are looking for.

    Having said that, it’s really easier just to use the Google-powered search box at the top of the main page if you know the exact title of what you’re looking for.

    Search by author or title directly if you know what you need

    Now, back to the author search.

    If you clicked on the な行 in the 公開中 作家別 section, you will arrive at a listing of all the authors that have a last name that start with な (NA). Find 夏目漱石 (Natsume Souseki) here, and click on his name.

    All available authors with last name ending in NA

    This will bring you to a listing of all the works by Natsume Souseki that are available on Aozora Bunko.

    Works by Natsume Souseki

    Let’s click the first title listed, イズムの功過.

    This will bring you to another page called the 図書カード (Library card) for that item. The download links for the text are at the bottom of this page.

    Scroll down to get the files

    If you scroll down to the bottom of that page you will see links to the story in various formats. The formats usually include a ZIPed Ruby thing, an eBook (ebk), and plain ol’ HTML. If you want to read it immediately on your computer just click the HTML link. Here’s the HTML link for イズムの功過 for example.

    The HTML link for the story

    That’s basically it. I hope that helps you find what you need on Aozora Bunko!

    Happy reading!

    Let me know in the comments if you have any questions and I’ll get right back to ya.

    Harvey

  • Richard

    If anyone reading this feels they’re not ready for Natsume Soseki and similar works yet, I recommend checking out some famous works for younger readers.

    Kenji Miyazawa (宮沢 賢治) is Japan’s most famous author for children. His most famous work is Night on the Galactic Railroad (銀河鉄道の夜), but that’s rather long and I’d recommend The Restaurant of Many Orders (注文の多い料理店) as a good starting place.

    Niimi Nankichi (新美 南吉) is another famous author, especially for Gon, the Little Fox (ごんぎつね), so that’s another one I’d recommend.

    They’re children’s stories, but I think they’re interesting for adults too. All of these are available on Aozora.

    • http://www.japannewbie.com Harvey

      This is excellent advice, thanks Richard!

      I have also read a lot of 宮沢賢治 and have to agree that it is both accessible and interesting.

      I didn’t know 新美南吉! Thanks for that one!

      Harvey

  • Mickey

    Can you recommend a book that has a lot of furigana?
    Thanks!

  • cristina

    Hi, this is Cristina from Italy. Thanks for your precise explanation. But I was looking for the Matsuo Basho’s Oku no Hosomichi and surprisingly cannot find it out. Very odd!
    Bye

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