Japanese Language Audio Books on iPad with Rye Studio

In an effort to boost my pitiful Chinese abilities… I got an App!

A company called Rye Studio makes a series of picture book apps for iPhone and iPad that read you a story while showing you the text in Chinese. Listening to target language text being read at native speed while reading along is a great way to pick up new vocabulary if you ask me.

What’s that you say? You’re not studying Chinese, you’re learning Japanese! Of course! Well, the kicker is that you can watch the story while reading and listening to it in a variety of languages… including Japanese in most cases! (Not that I’m spending all my time in China looking for Japanese language sources… no not at all… I just happened to notice this and decided to tell you about it… yeah that’s it…)

Mulan in Chinese!
Mulan in Japanese!

(Doesn’t looking at all the Chinese characters that appear in both the Japanese and the Chinese make you crazy?)

And rest assured, the Japanese seems to be being read by a native speaker as far as I and my Japanese wife can tell. So yeah, it’s high quality stuff.

The following Rye Studio stories are available in Japanese:
The Little Snail かたつむり
Mulan ムーラン
The Magic Brush and Maliang 魔法の筆と馬良
The Monkeys Who Tried to Catch the Mooon 猿とお月さん

There are lots more as well!

Also, these apps all run on your iPhone or iPod Touch as well. The screen shots in this post are all from the iPhone and iPod Touch screens. Note, it’s a universal app, so you only have to buy it once and you can run it on both of your devices.

Well worth a look!

Tadoku Again! What to Read?

Kafka! Again!

Tadoku is coming again!

I haven’t performed very well in the Tadoku competitions. I do read a lot of Japanese daily, because it’s my life, but I have trouble sticking to whatever novel it was that I picked for the contest. Also, I’m too lazy to record pages of games or random webpages that I read. So, I only record the books. Anyway, excuses over. I’m going to pick up where I left off in Kafka By the Shore 海辺のカフカ and join Tadoku again this time!

I think I need to learn to abide by this Tadoku philosophy from Professor Sakai of tadoku.org. (Saw this from Lingosteve’s blog, props!)

1) do not look words up in the dictionary
2) if you are stuck, move on, don’t ask questions
3) if you do not like what you are reading, get something else to read.

I have an OCD habit of writting down any unknown Japanese that I encounter, looking it up, and adding it to my Anki deck. This slows me down. I love it though… but I guess Tadoku is not the time for that. I’ll try to kick the OCD habit for one month and just read more (or die)!

Are you going to Tadoku? What are you going to read?

If you haven’t decided on anything yet here are some ideas…

Anything on Aozora Bunko.

Use Japanese Literature at Bedtime to get MP3s of famous Japanese stories available on Aozora Bunko, and read while listening. Awesome.

Get some of the readers from TheJapanShop.com. Full disclosure, I’m friends with TheJapanShop.com owner, but seriously, the stuff is legit. They are traditional Japanese stories, read by a native Japanese speaker, and you get the Kanji readings and English translation as well. The audio files are all separated so if you like you can listen to the straight-up no-help Japanese. Good stuff. For example, 注文の多い料理店 by Miyazawa Kenji.

Liana has also posted links to tons of great stuff. Check out her list of extensive reading material online.

Anyone have other ideas for stuff to read?? Do tell!

Related Posts:
How I use my Kindle
Podcast Recommendation – Audio for Ningen Shikkaku

How to use Aozora Bunko to get free Japanese books

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.


    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.


Break into Manga Translation with Manga Digital Guild

Lot’s of people who study Japanese hope to get into translation some day. And when it comes to translation, many people hope to do manga or game translation, why? Cause the content is freaking fun! But how to break into the field? A friend recently introduced me to Digital Manga Guild, and it seems to be a legit way to get some experience, and to get paid as well.

If you’re serious about giving this a shot your first step will be to take one of their tests.

You can test in many aspects of the translation process, including translation, editing, and lettering. You can even form a group and plan to work together on projects.

The workflow, click to enlarge

I have never tried Digital Manga Guild myself, but it does look like a legit opportunity. They even have a profit sharing scheme going, so if you stick with it you should eventually make some change.

Translation is always great because it forces you to figure out language that you may not be familiar with, and it’s a real skill that can serve you well in the future. I encourage peeps out there to give it a shot! And if you do, let us know how it goes!


– Harvey

Listen to Shitakiri Suzume over and over again

Shitakiri-Suzume, an Amazon MP3 Download

When you listen to a story that you know in your target language over and over again, you learn. It’s a proven fact!* So, put said story on your iPhone or iPod and listen to it on your commute, or while grocery shopping. Guaranteed results. Listening to Shitakiri Suzume (The Cut-tongue Sparrow) will improve your Japanese, and will also introduce you to some Japanese folklore that every Japanese person knows, increasing your cultural knowledge! This is a new audio-only product from TheJapanShop.com team, I checked it out, and can vouch for its awesomeness.

For $8.99 you’ll get 11 mp3s that present the Japanese knowledge locked inside Shitakiri Suzume in a variety of formats. You can also purchase each mp3 individually for just 0.99 cents. If your Japanese is beginner-intermediate and you only have $1.99 to spend, I would recommend getting the “Shitakiri Suzume in Japanese Normal Speed” MP3, and the “Line by Line Japanese and English Part 1” MP3. This way you can hear the entire store start to finish all in native-speed Japanese, and also hear it broken down and translated line by line. Good stuff. If you’ve got a little more cash I would take a look at the audio Vocab lists.

For $8.99 cents you get…

  • The story read in Japanese by a native speaker at normal speed.
  • The story read alternating sentences in Japanese and English, both by native speakers.
  • The story read in Japanese by a native speaker at slow speed.
  • A audio vocab list in which the word or phrase is read in Japanese, and then followed by the English meaning.
  • All of these are separate mp3 files so you can easily select your study method. You can also purchase them individually for $0.99 each.

All the audio is recorded by the folks at TheJapanShop.com, so if you have used their ridiculously popular Japanese Phrases App (free version) you’re going to be hearing some familiar voices!

Even if you don’t want to spend 8 bucks on the entire package, just getting the normal speed story mp3 at $0.99 is a ton of value for the price in my humble opinion! Check it out.

– Harvey

*Probably. I dunno. It worked for me anyway!

Interview with Yuka-sensei

We have another interview for you! This time with my good friend, Yuka the Japanese teacher!

Sensei in her graduation kimono

Why did you decide to come to the U.S. to teach Japanese?

I received a scholarship to study TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) while teaching the Japanese language at Boston University.

The initial motivation to come to the U.S. again (I was an exchange student in upstate NY for 9 months) was the urge to explore outside Japan more after going around the world on a cruise ship as an interpreter. Also, I did not have such a great experience in NY because of my lack of understanding of the American college lifestyle, so this time I wanted to achieve what I could not do last time I was in the U.S.

Interesting.. what about American college life didn’t you understand that gave you a hard time? We’re curious to know what about the American lifestyle might be tough for Japanese people.

I did not like the crazy parties on campus especially because my next-door neighbor was a DJ… Also, I did not like some students’ crazy drinking on the weekends. Also, since I was in upstate NY and there were not so many Asian people, the school cafeteria did not serve rice at all. The difference in food was one of the biggest culture shock experiences for me and made me miss Japan a lot.

Another thing that was difficult in upstate NY was to make “American” friends. I lived in the International House, so I was able to make a couple of really good international friends. But, it just felt like no American students were interested in me and I was sometimes too scared to talk to native speakers of English. I felt very self-concious when I spoke English and I did not want them to judge me based on my English.

Wow, thanks for sharing that, and you should know that it’s very courageous of you to give study in the US another shot. Many people would have just been done with it! Nice job! Now, could you briefly describe your job now?

I teach first and second semester Japanese at BU. I teach two sections of 20 students. So, each semester, I have about 40 students in total. We have a 50-minute class four days a week and we cover all the four skills of language. We use the textbook Genki and the first semester covers from Chapter 1-6 and the second semester covers Chapter 7-12.

I have students from different backgrounds such as students from Korea, China, Mexico, the Philipines, Vietnam, and the U.S. They are very studious and many students study Japanese not because it is a requirement of the department but because of their genuine interest in the language and the culture. This is my 3rd semester to teach Japanese at BU, but as I get used to teaching and gain more experience, I can predict my students’ mistakes and change my instruction styles depending on the “teacher instinct.”

I love my job and I would like to continue teaching Japanese in the future although I am thinking of applying for a PhD program in one or two years from now.

So what were your initial impressions of people who study Japanese in the U.S.?

I was very impressed with my students’ ability to speak. Also, I am very happy to see students who are are very energetic and genuinely interested in the language. Although the first two chapters of Genki are very overwhelming for native speakers of English or Spanish since they need to learn “hiragana” and “katakana” in less than a month, once they grasp the broad picture of what the language is like, they seem to succeed very quickly after that.

Do you think that learning Hiragana and Katakana in a month is unreasonable? How do most of your students handle that pace?

I think it is reasonable to learn Hiragana and Katakana in a month because they are the two core alphabets in Japanese and I believe that students would learn better by “recycling.” In other words, rather than being stuck at the same learning stage, I believe it is better to move on to the next stage and come back to the previous stage later and review it again and again. Students would inevitably have to see the two writing systems anyways, so I do not think it is unreasonable at all to learn Hiragana and Katakana in a month (although it may be difficult for some students).

What are your recommended textbooks for people learning Japanese at the level that you teach?

I recommend the textbook “Genki” that we use in our school. The textbook is great in that it has a number of picture prompts and has CDs (You need to purchase them for the current edition, but the new edition, which will come out next year, will come with CDs.) Also, it has a website called “Genki Online” which has a lot of useful resources. You can easily self-study Japanese using the resources online.

Another textbook that I recommend is “Minna no Nihongo.” It is the most-commonly-used Japanese textbook in the world and it is translated into many languages. Although it would be a great textbook for native speakers of English, grammatical explanations in other languages could be confusing for some who do not know any English because the textbook was written for native speakers of English and then later translated into many other languages.

What do you notice about students who are able to learn Japanese well? Do they do anything different from those who… well… don’t?

The second language acquisition theory of “Interaction Hypothesis” states that students need to interact with others and negotiate meanings to acquire a language. What I notice in my class is that students who are outgoing and interact with me or other people who speak Japanese have a great command of speaking whereas very serious straight A type students score high in quizzes and exams. Thus, I do not think the academic grade necessarily reflects their true linguistic ability. However, each student has his or her own learning style and those who already know how to study a language and know multiple learning strategies succeed in the language in the long run.

Thanks for your time Yuka! I know you’re busy keeping all those students in line so we’ll leave it at that.

Thanks for having me! It’s fun to share!

Good luck with the rest of your studies and work!!!

– Harvey

If you’re into Interviews you might also like…

Interview with Translator @Durf
Interview with @Sandkatt
Interview with a new JET CIR
A JET CIR Interview

Interview with @jyemenai

@jyemenai and his Pepsi bottle

Hello JapanNewbies! We’ve got another interview for you. This time, with @jyemenai, who has recently returned from his first trip to Japan, which also happens to be his first trip overseas!

Let’s get right into it.

Could you tell us briefly what the KCP program is all about, and why
you decided to participate in it?

KCP International is a school in Shinjuku Tokyo that uses total immersion to teach Japanese to its students. The class is taught entirely in Japanese, with English-support available after classes if needed. It’s for people from all over the world. There are Americans, but each class normally doesn’t have more than five or so, some with only one. The rest of the student body is comprised of Chinese and Koreans, meaning you can’t always rely on English to get through the class.

It was pretty random as to why I decided to participate. My university offered basic-level Japanese courses and I decided to take them, even though I already knew 80% or so of the content. This was a good thing, as in order to qualify for the special program I was a part of, I needed to take the language for two semesters. During the beginning of my second semester taking Japanese, a few of my classmates and I got an email from an office at my school and they told us that we had been offered a chance to study abroad. I jumped at the chance, not really sure of what or how it was going to happen. A friend of mine and I were accepted, and that’s when we were told about KCP and given details of the school.

So how long were you in Japan on KCP? What places did you visit? How many others were you traveling with?

I was in Japan for about 7 weeks, from late June until the middle of August (2010) — KCP’s “Summer Short Term,” which is only available for Americans. I stayed in a male-dormitory-like building with other Americans who were attending KCP, as well as native Japanese college students at other universities, and even a few older males. The female friend from my university I came with stayed in a female dorm not too far away from us.

We went all over Tokyo: Shinjuku, Harajuku, Roppongi, Akihabara, etc. You name it, we probably went. The only place outside of Tokyo that I went to was Aizu, which was a part of a school trip we had. It was beautiful there. We got to experience a lot of things, like seeing “Japan” being made (it’s similar to the Chinese ceramics called “china”), as well as eating negisoba and locust (the actual name for this escapes me right now)!

A pic @jyemenai took in Aizu
Another Aizu pic

Was this your first time to Japan? What was your Japanese level like when you left?

Yup, first time in Japan. Not to mention, it was my first time out of the country as well (I think I know how to handle my next 13+ hour flight now, too!).

After learning basic Japanese I never had actual classes. In high school I slacked off until the end (then realized I actually liked Japanese), so I only retained the ability to read hiragana and katakana, as well as some vocabulary and grammar points.

My university didn’t offer Japanese until recently, so I was “self studying” and learned a bit more. I would assume my level at the time of arrival in Japan was simply “basic.” I could understand bits and pieces However, after having been to KCP and living in Japan, I’d say I learned a lot more.

They shove kanji down your throat there, but since it’s all around you, it becomes a lot easier to learn. The grammar I picked up was useful, some of which I already knew and got a refresher on, and other parts were totally knew. We had a lot of opportunity to speak, in and out of class, so I feel a bit more comfortable with that. I could go on and on about what we did and learned. Lol.

How has this opportunity immediately impacted your life in relation to your Japan studies?

Studying abroad with KCP has changed my life. I’m pretty lazy, so a part of me thinks I’ll never actually be able to become fluent. But after returning, I know that I’m going to keep trying, lazy or not. I have a drive now that won’t let me quit.

Soon, I’m going to start studying hard so when I do return to Japan and KCP, I’ll hopefully be able to skip a level (out of the 6 or so levels, I tested in to Level 2). I also want to try to take the JLPT next year; I’m shooting for N3, but I’ll take N4 if I don’t feel ready. I want to become fluent even more now than ever before.

Was it expensive to participate in this program? And, was it worth it? Many people put off going to Japan because it’s costly. Any advice for them?

Not at all, actually. The office that sent out the invitations to study abroad — the IC-CAE — paid for EVERYTHING. The plane tickets, the schooling, the housing, and even gave us a stipend. The only thing I had to pay for was my passport and shipping a few papers overseas, which is nothing compared to what it could have been. I got extremely lucky with that opportunity. My advice for anyone looking to study abroad is to research different venues that might enable them to go cheaper, if not free.

You mentioned “when I do return to Japan and KCP.” Is this a given already? You’re certain to be heading back to Japan?

It’s a given in the sense that there’s no way I just can’t go back. I’m going to see if the program that sent me before can send me again. I’ll do whatever it takes.

Many other people may feel “stuck” at the basic level. Do you have any advice that might help people get out of that rut?

Hmm… The only advice I can think of is to just enjoy it. The more you actually enjoy studying, the more you will grasp the things they’re trying to learn. When I had to self-study, I didn’t really know what to do. I knew I shouldn’t cram too much down my throat at once, because I knew I would just give up if it got too tough, since I didn’t have anyone forcing me to keep going. So instead I simply watched anything that interested me in Japanese, making sure to pay attention to the words they were saying and not just reading the subtitles; listened and tried to translate Japanese songs, where a lot of vocabulary and even some grammar can be found; and recently began playing some Japanese games.

Kanji Sonomama for DS

That sounds like AJATT techniques to me! Good stuff. Any specific textbooks or websites that you have encountered in your Japanese studying that you consider essential?

Essential… Hmm, well it’s not exactly a textbook but it is a dictionary, Kanji Sonomama. If you have a DS, it’s a godsend.

For actual books, though, I’m not sure. When I was self-studying, I pretty much picked up anything that could’ve been useful.

I really liked “501
Essential Japanese Verbs
,” even though it doesn’t have any kana in it. It’s pretty much a dictionary that provides (pretty much) ALL the different forms of those 501 verbs. It really helped when I was starting out and didn’t know what a particular form a verb meant.

Another book, “Basic Japanese Idioms,” is also pretty interesting. Like in any language, we have phrases we say that don’t exactly mean what we’re saying; this book goes into the Japanese ones. And of course, “Remembering the Kanji.” And, I loooove Tae Kim’s grammar guide.

A pic @jyemenai took in Akihabara

Your first time overseas! So tell us, your #1 positive and #1 negative surprise upon arrival in Japan. Also, what will you never forget about Japan in general…

I guess my most negative surprise would be that everything seems more expensive when compared to America. This might have been because I was constantly taking out money from my American saving accounts, so I always encountered the ever-changing exchange rate. But things just tended to cost more. And the with the fact that 100 yen was a coin and not a paper dollar, I continued to equate them to American quarters and spend them as such (those capsule machines got a looot of my money!).

The #1 positive surprise… Probably the food. I’m used to eating a lot of normal American foods, and I’m pretty picky even with those. So, when I initially got to Japan, I stayed away from certain things. Somehow, in my 21 years of life, I had never eaten curry before, so I had my first taste in Japan. I believe curry (from Japan) has officially made my top five favorite foods list; it’s just that amazing. Not to mention Japan made me overcome my dislike for most seafood.

I’ll never forget the constant walking I did in Japan. For a good reason, that sticks out in my mind the most. I wasn’t used to walking that much, so when I got there I had to get accustomed to the lengths I would be taking to simply get to a vending machine that served a soda I liked (from my dorm, the Pepsi machine was about five minutes away). Not to mention the walk to the train station, then to the connecting station, then the walk to the school in Shinjuku. Needless to say, when I weighed myself back in America, I found out I lost 15 pounds. :)

So what do you want to do with your Japanese in the future? I see in your twitter profile that you are a future profile. Could you elaborate a bit on that and what you’re doing to prepare for that now?

I really want to be a translator. I’m not exactly sure of what I want to translate yet, but I know I want it to be interesting (like maybe games, manga, anime). To help prepare for that, since I’m still in school with a lot of things to do, I’m just attempting to translate songs I listen to and things I find on the internet to help me get used to the entire process, which is tedious! But I know with enough time, I’ll get used to it and love everything about it.

OK That’s a wrap! Thanks so much for sharing all of that @jyemenai. I’m sure it will inspire JapanNewbies around the world. If anyone would like to subject @jyemenai to further questioning, feel free to leave a comment, and I’ll be sure to drag him back over here to answer it. Until next time!

– Harvey

Related Links:
Interview with @Durf!
Interview with @sandkatt!
Interview with a new JET!

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