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: http://www.aozora.gr.jp/cards/000879/files/43016_ruby_16663.zip

  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 @free.kindle.com 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 @free.kindle.com 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 Instapaper.com account. Then, you can go to Instapaper.com 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 Instapaper.com, 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]free.kindle.com, 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.

Japanese Podcast Recommendations – Part 5

No Longer Human

This podcast is an audio reading of a famous piece of Japanese literature called Ningen Shikkaku, by Dazai Osamu. The text of Ningen Shikkaku is available for free on Aozora Bunko, so you can listen to the audio while reading through the text. Perfect study tool!

I recommend saving the HTML page from Aozora Bunko to your computer, and then loading that into Stanza for the iPhone or iPod Touch. This way you can have the story read to you as you read along on the go! Very handy. Some day I will put together a blog post introducing tricks you can use to make your iPhone or iPod Touch the ultimate tool for studying Japanese, and when I do, this will be in the list for sure.

If you don’t want to subscribe the podcast itself, here is a link to all the Ningen Shikkaku MP3s.

You can also get a copy of an English translation of Ningen Shikkaku (No Longer Human) on Amazon. If you get book, and also take advantage of the links I have introduced, you’ll have the full Japanese text, an English translation, AND the audio of the Japanese text. What more could you ask for? Well… maybe a vocabulary list… but use your dictionary. You’ll be fine!

You can read more about Osamu Dazai on Wikipedia if you’re interested.

So now you’ve got the audio, the Japanese text, and an English translation. All the tools you need!

Enjoy! If anyone has any other Japanese-language podcast recommendations, do tell!

– Harvey

Other Japanese Podcast Recommendations:
Nikkei Trendy
Manyoushu
Ueda’s working person Profile!
Oeda Mariko – Nikkei Moyamoya Talk

Japanese books for Kindle from TheJapanShop

Have a Kindle? Want to use it to learn Japanese? This eBook might be a good place to get started.

Learn Hiragana on the Kindle

TheJapanShop has an inexpensive Kindle eBook available that will teach you Hiragana from scratch.

I highly recommend Hiragana as a starting place in your quest to learn Japanese. Once you learn to read and write Hiragana, you will literally know every single sound that can be made in the Japanese language. Most learner books that include Kanji will have the hiragana readings provided as well, so this is a critical step in the learning process. There are only 46-something Hiragana, so if you really put your mind to it, you can certainly master the Hiragana in a couple of weeks. Do it!

The book content was created by the creator of TheJapanShop.com and his Japanese wife, so you can expect that the quality is excellent.

If anyone else out there is using a Kindle to learn Japanese, I would love to hear about it! Let us know your routine in the comments below!

– Harvey

Links:
Hiragana, The Basics of Japanese on Amazon.com.

Contest: Win $25 of TheJapanShop.com Goodness!

Hello everyone!

As you may or may not have noticed, TheJapanShop.com has a new website!

In celebration of this momentous occasion I’m collaborating with TheJapanShop.com to give away $25 dollar TheJapanShop.com gift certificates to 5 lucky readers!

How to Enter the Contest:

Do all of the following:

  • In the comments on this post, let us know which TheJapanShop.com products you would spend the $25 gift certificate on! Be specific! We’re curious to know what you are all interested in.
  • Mention how you like the new TheJapanShop.com website, please be specific if there is something you like… or hate! Brutal honesty is encouraged!

AND/OR!

If you are on twitter, retweet my tweet about this contest for another chance to win! Every person who retweets will have their name added to the pot.

RT @JapanNewbie Win $25 bucks to spend at http://www.thejapanshop.com any way you like! Details here! http://bit.ly/cptrV2

If you do both the tweet and the blog comment I will enter you into my super random winner generator twice, doubling your chances to win! (You can still only potentially win once though. Heh.)

The contest ends on Sunday 9pm Japan-time, so get your submissions in! Winners will be announced on Monday.

To get us started, if I were to enter this contest I would put the money towards the Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar. My Japanese level is beyond most of the content in this book, but my wife is occasionally teaching Japanese to beginners and this would be a great reference for her students. I used an earlier version of book when I was in high school. It saved my life.

Regarding the new TheJapanShop.com site, it’s much better than the previous site. I don’t like how currently the search box defaults with the text “Search” though. Just a pet peeve, would rather it be blank. I bet they’ll get that fixed soon!

Good luck everyone!!!

– Harvey

An Interview with an upcoming JET CIR

Hello JapanNewbies! Today we’ve got another interview for you. A “getting to Japan” success story if you will. Akeem has been accepted to work in Japan as a CIR in the JET program and will be arriving in Japan on July 27th. Which is like, tomorrow, pretty much.

Akeem first contacted me long ago, in JUNE 2008(!!!) when the possibility of working in Japan was just an idea he had. Through a lot of hard work he has finally worked it out and he’s heading for Japan. That’s two years man! If this isn’t proof that persistence pays off, or something, I don’t know what is.

Heading for Japan

I hope this interview serves as an inspiration to those who want to work in Japan some day, and also as sort of a roadmap for people who want to know the possible avenues they should consider to make it to Japan. Here we go!

Thanks Akeem. So to start off, could you tell us when your interest in Japan started, and specifically when you started seriously considering moving to Japan to work full time?

My interest in Japan started when I was young. I used to watch this funny TV show that taught you how to count in Japanese in song form. In high school I got addicted to Japanese music and anime. It was only until I got into college that I could take formal classes. I applied to be an exchange student and Keio University and was accepted. That year changed my life. Since returning from Japan in 2006, I’ve been trying to get back. While holding down a corporate desk job.

Your story is surprisingly like mine! I started studying in high school, got hooked on anime and Japanese music, and studied abroad at Nanzan University in Nagoya… that year changed my life as well.

Was the exchange program you went on part of a larger program? Or simply a school provided opportunity?

The exchange to Keio was part of an exchange program through my university. If you are at the University of Washington, please visit this site about the exchange program to learn more.

Moving on, what was the most difficult aspect of making the final decision to move to Japan for you?

Since I’m following my dreams, the decision was not so difficult. Perhaps the logistics are the most concerning part. Trying to throw away your current life, car, motorcycle, and general junk you accumulate through living can be tough.

Do you already speak Japanese? If not, are you worried that this might be a problem when you arrive?

Yes, I already speak Japanese fairly well. However, I’m most concerned with specific details that a CIR has to perform like interpretation and translation. I know I’ll be sweating bullets when they ask me to interpret on the topic of something like environmental issues.

Sounds like your Japanese is solid already. Good stuff. Are there any books or online resources you recommend for people trying to push their Japanese to the next level?

Essential.

Personally, I prefer to listen to and speak Japanese more than reading and writing. I think that every learner should have the Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary for Kanji lookup. If you are into reading more advanced Japanese, I really enjoy Read Real Japanese which contains many short stories by contemporary writers.

Akeem Approved.

For speaking and listening, I love to watch dramas. jdorama.com has some great resources for seeing what’s out there in the Japanese drama scene. I prefer the dramas because they contain more natural speech and give you a better context for how language is used compared to anime. I’ll often spend time repeating certain phrases to make my Japanese sound more natural. I’ll also keep track of a bunch of YouTubers who speak Japanese to get some varied types of input. I love to watch 大笑い shows to learn a bit more about Japanese humor.

How long did you actively work on this big move?

This process started back in September of 2009. The JET application process is long and rigorous. There are dozens of pages to fill out, transcripts to get and letters of recommendation. Then there is the interview, an FBI check, a ton of waiting to hear the result of each step and finally getting rid of all of your stuff to make the big move.

I had no idea there was an FBI check. Geesh.

What options did you initially consider regarding your move to Japan? Could you describe your success with each of them? Any in particular that you would recommend, or others that you would advise others to avoid?

I’ve looked at and considered a bunch of options. I looked at trying to get a job directly with contracting agencies in Japan. I’ve put out resumes and made calls to discuss my skill set and probabilities of getting a job. I’ve worked with contracting agencies in America that specialize in finding work for people that are J/E bilingual. I’ve had a couple of interviews through them but nothing panned out. I even flew to the Boston Career Forum looking for a job to no avail. I also interviewed in China for a bilingual job, got an offer and had to turn it down.

I would recommend looking at all of these avenues. I went into each of them with the mindset of furthering my Japanese. I’ve had to write resumes and go through interviews in Japanese. They have all really helped me understand my deficiencies in the language and what employers are really looking for.

This is a big question, but could you tell us anything about the entire CIR application process that you think would be hard to find out otherwise? I know lots of people would love to apply to the JET program.

The information about the program and application process is bountiful on the internet. Don’t be afraid of the interview. Go into it with the mindset of showing them your character and you cannot go wrong. Leave the interview having said all that you want to communicate.

What are you most looking forward to regarding the big move? How long do you think you’ll stay in Japan once you move there?

Ramen ramen ramen! Did I mention ramen?

Sounds like you and Ramen Fanatic would get along just fine!

I love Japanese food and will knock grandma out of my way to get another bowl.

Please don’t do that if you live in Osaka, the grandma might knock you out instead.

On a more serious note, I’m looking forward to new challenges that the CIR position will present. If everything pans out, I’d like to eventually move into the IT field in Japan. I have a very technical background that I wish to put to good use.

I think he's more packed now...

Is there anything interesting about your move planning that you think would interest our readers?

If at all possible, get out of the place that you are living about a week before you depart. Stay at a hotel or live with friends until your departure date. This gets rid of the stress of having to get rid of something at the last moment.

Any links to those job placement agencies that you used that were especially promising?

In the US:
Pasona – Jobs here are focused for J/E bilingual people around the US.

Boston Career Forum – You should go at least once.

In Japan:
SkillHouse.co.jp – Jobs are mostly IT oriented.

Any final words for others who hope to move to Japan some day?

Do whatever you can to stay active in the Japanese community where you are. It will surprise you how connected some people may be. This could easily turn into an opportunity for you.

Thanks! We’ll catch up with Akeem again once he is in Japan!

Thank you again for this opportunity.

Good luck with everything!

Related Links:
Akeem’s website: http://neomeruhen.com/

NeoMeruhen’s YT Channel – YouTube channel which chronicles the process of what it’s like becoming a JET CIR.

Jason “MyArgonauts” – The best YouTube Channel on JET in existence

Official CIR Website

Official JET Program Website

Check out this other Japanese-learner interview with @Sandkatt.

– Harvey

Start at the Beginning – Level 0 Reader

Hey Everyone! This one is for the actual Newbies out there.

I learned through the White Rabbit Press newsletter that they now have a Level 0 Japanese Graded Reader. This means that no matter how newbie you are, you can use this to start reading Japanese. No more excuses! You don’t even need to know Kanji (they provide the furigana readings). This type of exercise is a good change of pace from memorizing random vocabulary and studying grammar.

Level 0 Graded Reader

Graded Japanese readers are basically texts that use a fixed amount of vocabulary, set grammar patterns, and a set number of Kanji, so that students can get through them while learning the Japanese appropriate to their level.

I’m a fan of the graded reader approach for studying foreign languages. I used a few graded Chinese readers here in China when I was first getting started. They really help to get you over the fear of seeing a bunch of foreign language text all at once.

Eventually you’ll need to start reading Japanese text you find in the wild, but for an absolute beginner that’s not always practical, and can be a bit overwhelming. These readers will help ease you into reading more and more Japanese. Then with time, making the jump to “wild” Japanese won’t be as intimidating.

After you get going with these readers I would recommend supplementing your studies with Japaense in the wild to keep you on your toes. The “wild stuff” will serve as a good reminder that most Japanese isn’t artificially tailored to what you are supposed to know, as is the case with the graded readers. So, I recommend building a skeleton foundation of knowledge with the readers, and then adding the meat with Japanese from the wild.

Think of it like this. When you go to the gym to practice boxing or something you’ll probably meet with your instructor and hit the pads that he wears on his hands using the punches that you know. When you get into the ring with a real opponent they’re obviously not going to move like the pads and wait for your practiced punches… but that doesn’t mean that the drills in the gym weren’t worth it! (Disclaimer: I don’t box.)

Use graded readers as your predictable punching bag for Japanese language learning. Use random tweets from super game designer @Kojima_Hideo or super housewife @youtomama0307jp as your real live opponents. (Don’t hit @youtomama though, she’s nice.)

がんばれ!

– Harvey

P.S. Zonjineko likes Graded Readers too!

Tae Kim’s Japanese Grammar Guide on iPhone

Big news.

Tae Kim’s incredible, and free, Guide to Learning Japanese is now in iPhone/iPod Touch form.

There is no reason not to have this on your iPhone… Unless I guess you are out of disk space… in which case I urge you to delete your music.

It's Awesome.

Get Tae Kim’s Japanese Grammar Guide on the iTunes Store!

The original guide is here in web, PDF, and other forms on Tae Kim’s Website.

– Harvey

Super-frog Saves Tokyo by Murakami Haruki

Was telling a friend about my favorite Murakami Haruki works over lunch a few weeks ago and started talking about “Super-frog Saves Tokyo,” which is in the collection called “After the Quake.”

If you’re looking for this in Japanese, the Japanese title of the story is 『かえるくん、東京を救う』and the collection is called『神の子供たちはみな踊る』, which is named after another story in the collection.

I had only ever read Super-frog Saves Tokyo in Japanese, and wasn’t aware that an English translation was available, but there is!

Here is an English translation of Super-frong Saves Tokyo that I found on the web. Not sure how that got there…. But if you like it, you’ll probably also like the other short stories in the collection, so do pick up the book.

Enjoy!

Also on Kindle: After the Quake on Kindle

– Harvey

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