みんなの日本語 [Minna No Nihongo] – Including Me

Hi folks. I’ve realised that I don’t write about books very often on this blog. There’s a reason for that – I don’t read many, as my Japanese reading ability is nearly non-existent. I read a few things in English but that doesn’t seem very relevant.

Well, today there is a book that I’m reading, and it is in Japanese. It is a Japanese textbook called “Minna no Nihongo.”

minnanonihongo

This is a bit weird for me. Having embraced the “All Japanese, All The TimeDIY methodology of learning real Japanese sentences, I had been avoiding textbooks. And teachers.

But then I found I really wanted to talk to people. And the only place to find them was the internet. (I mean, it was the only place to find people who spoke Japanese. If I’d wanted to learn a Somerset accent I’d have my pick of people to choose from in real life.)

But, without ever having had a lesson or anything, I found that I had no courage with which to approach a potential language partner. I made an italki profile but then couldn’t bring myself to inflict my dangerously bad Japanese onto anyone. (Note: Lack of confidence is a major issue for me in everything that I do.)

So I hired a teacher instead (she’s paid to endure my bad Japanese!). And then I got a textbook.

I was afraid that using a textbook would feel too slow, and it does. However, I feel like using it on a one-to-one basis with a Japanese teacher (who, by the way, is a native Japanese speaker) is really plugging up some gaps in my knowledge and making me more confident to speak. So maybe some of the vocabulary is a bit basic – there are basic things that I didn’t know. (Like “shoe” – how’d I learn “planet” and not “shoe”?) And the verbs are all super polite – well that’s not really a problem. I’ll need to be super polite when speaking, at first, because I don’t know anyone. (And I’m still watching enough anime to learn how not to be polite.)

Minna no nihongo is completely in Japanese. That’s why I got it, as opposed to anything else. And that part of it is really awesome. I can read aloud from an entirely Japanese textbook. That is something I completely taught myself. I go a bit slow and I’m frustrated with how bad I am at it, but I can do it. And the more I do it, the better I’ll get. So I can feel like I’m making progress, and that makes it fun. (When it’s no longer fun, I’ll stop doing it.)

Lost, Found, and Lost Again: Japan Centre, London

Unlike a lot of people, I like London.  I liked it enough to live there for two years, just not enough to not leave.  I still enjoy going back to visit, but there is a slight problem – I tend to get lost there.

It’s so simple – how could anyone get lost?

Not physically lost.  No person who can read English has been lost in central London since a few years before the Olympics, when they put signs with detailed maps on every street corner and made the signs on the Underground stations much more noticeable.  (This is based on…nothing.  But it’s super obvious, I mean, come on.)

Instead I mean mentally, emotionally lost.  During my time in London I may not have experienced the full range of human emotions, but I think I hit most of the negative ones – frustration, excitement, despair, wonder, melancholy, satisfaction, I’m-being-overly-dramatic, but it was a very intense time.  So when I go back, every bit of everything I see looks exactly like London and I’m off down the shadier back alleys of memory (Brick) lane.  I used to enjoy being reminded of it all again but now I find it supremely exhausting.  A broken-off piece of my soul will be forever wandering the streets of London in the dark.

I was last there on Tuesday, for one day, for work (moving up in the world, apparently). I tacked a few hours onto the end of my trip, but not just to wander and dream and feel things and get confused.  Oh no, I’m getting past that now, as I have things to do.  This time, I was on a mission to Japan Centre.

Japan Centre is a supermarket, cafe, and bookstore on Lower Regent St.  I’d ordered Japanese groceries for delivery from there before (for when Tesco sushi just won’t do) but hadn’t yet been able to visit the shop.  It was smaller than I’d expected, but unlike every other Asian store I’ve ever been to, absolutely everything was Japanese (not just a token few blocks of silken tofu).  I really wish I’d had more of an appetite/more money/more ability to carry things because it all looked so interesting.  I ended up spending most of my time in the bookstore at the back.  I came out with a Weekly Shonen Jump I can make neither head nor tail of and some free newspapers in Japanese.  (Gotta start somewhere.)

So then I went to JP Books, which was next door and downstairs.  And the “found” feeling I had from being on a support-my-study-of-Japanese mission started to fade.  JP Books is in an all-Japanese department store (you can even pay in yen).  Everyone there was Japanese.  I had to remind myself that I was allowed in, it was okay to go in – I speak English and in London that’s really enough.  Being in the bookstore brought home the fact that although I’ve been immersing myself in Japanese and studying kanji for several months now, “You know nothing, Jon Snow“.  I let the disorientation happen for a bit and then I left.

Is there a moral to this story?  I have a long way to go in the pursuit of Japanese.  But it beats drifting aimlessly around London for a few years.

Free Japanese eBooks for Kindle

I love my Kindle and spend as much time with it as possible.  I realise that this makes me a pathetic Amazon slave, and I’m okay with that.

So now I’ve taken the plunge and decided to properly learn Japanese to fully-functioning adult level (still in the early stages of that now but I’ll let you know how I get on).  Khatzumoto at AJATT (All Japanese All The Time – is it weird to call him my personal hero?) has this to say about owning books before being able to read them.  As I’d rather not pay shipping from Japan, I thought I should see about getting some Japanese eBooks for my Kindle.

See? It totally works.

That’s when it all started to go wrong.  First of all, my Kindle (purchased in January 2012 from Amazon.co.uk) has the following language settings:  Deutsch, English (United Kingdom), English (United States), Español, Français, Italiano, Português (Brasil).  Um.

A bit more research (okay, mostly the product description for this book) revealed that although you can buy eBooks for Kindle about Japanese, the inability of uploading Japanese text to Amazon means that all the Japanese characters have to be put in as images.  (Which just sucks.)

Add to this the fact that the release date for Kindle in Japan keeps getting pushed back and back (at the time of writing, it’s looking like it will finally happen in October) and the fact that you can get all the Harry Potter eBooks in Japanese for everything except Kindle, and my dream of staring at Japanese on my Kindle and not understanding it seemed to be fading into unreality.

But, don’t worry!  I’ve now found a handy little workaround, thanks to Instapaper and the ability of the Kindle to, for reasons unknown, display Japanese text. Here’s what you do:

  1. Go to Instapaper and create a free account.
  2. Drag the “Read Later” bookmark to the Bookmarks toolbar of your browser.
  3. In your Instapaper account, go to “Account Settings”, “Manage my Kindle settings” and follow the instructions to set up Instapaper to send articles to your Kindle.  (I recommend doing this even if you’re not interested in reading Japanese.  It’s so handy for saving long Internet articles to read later.)
  4. Okay now that that’s done, time for some books.  There are html versions of books in Japanese at Aozora Bunko, which is like the Japanese equivalent of Project Gutenberg.  If you’re like me and your Japanese sucks, all I can say is, “fake it ’til you make it!”  I just kept clicking and scrolling until I found the html links.  (If it’s really hopeless, here’s Little Women.)
  5. Once you’ve got a Japanese book in html on your screen, click “Read Later” on your bookmark toolbar.
  6. Done.  The book will be sent to your Kindle, or you can go back to Instapaper, download it and whack it on there manually.

Hopefully Amazon will sort the whole Japanese thing out soon and it will be possible to get books in Japanese through their site.  Until then, there’s the above.

So, what’s with the title?

If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me that…I’d have as many nickels as you’d expect someone to have in a country that used pounds sterling.

Totally stole the title of this blog from this guy.

Never mind that.  I’ll tell you anyway.  The snappy title of this blog (A Fantasy of Far Japan, not “A Fantasy Off Arjapan” or anything else that doesn’t make sense) is not something I came up with myself.  Actually, I nicked it from a dead guy.  I’ll explain.

Back in early June of this year, after I became fascinated with Japan but before I made a commitment to learn the language, I was desperate to learn as much as I could about the country and culture.  When I say “desperate”, I mean, I cared enough to read books but not enough to pay for them.

Enter free Kindle eBooks. I searched the free books for “Japan” and came up with A Fantasy of Far Japan Summer Dream Dialogues by Baron Suematsu Kencho.  One-click, download, done.

The book kept me occupied for many a daily bus commute.  I found it to be a very easy read.  The premise is that this Japanese guy is in France, making up conversations he would like to have with French people to explain about Japan to them.  Yes, making up conversations and then writing them down and calling them a book.  It’s a brilliant idea that I wish I’d thought of.  I make up conversations in my head all the time!  I should get paid for that!

So, it’s very dated, of course, having been published in 1905.  But I like dated things (like the Brontës and Sherlock Holmes and all the other books I’ve read for free on my Kindle).  And the title, after all, is brilliant enough to steal and re-purpose.  And I probably learned something from it.

Anyway,here’s the whole thing, thanks to Project Gutenberg.  See for yourself.