Japanese reading report

This week I read a little more of 蒲団 and ended up deciding to drop it. It ended up being more difficult than I wanted to deal with…not impossible by any means, just not very fun to read. The Aozora Bunko text helpfully has a lot of furigana so the weird kanji usage wasn’t a problem, and the grammar is definitely not kobun level, but it just felt like a slog for some reason. I made it most of the way through chapter 2 before quitting. Will probably revisit it sometime in the future but not right now.

In need of another novel to take my 11th slot for the year I decided to pick up something new by 恒川光太郎, and some of his books happened to be on sale so I grabbed two of them. I read the first chapter of 南の子供が夜いくところ, which seems like it’s going to be another long-form work rather than a collection of short stories, but also (from the beginning of chapter 2) seems to feature multiple perspectives; the first chapter was largely in third person but started using ぼく for some exposition at the end, and the next chapter started with 私. So far the story has followed a boy whose parents were going to involve him in a 一家心中 (an interesting word to learn) due to paralyzing debt, until they were offered a way out by a somewhat suspicious woman who has now taken the boy to live on an island with a bunch of other kids. He’s started having weird dreams and it seems that the lines of reality are going to get blurry from here on.

I also read 無能なナナ vol. 5 and 6. It seems like we’re in for another genre break and Nana’s character arc has gotten pretty intense. I already bought the next volume and I’m almost out of new ones to buy.

My third manga this week was ミステリと言う勿れ, which is a josei series that’s apparently gotten explosively popular recently (over a million sold per volume and the latest release was at the top of the manga charts for a while) and yet is somehow flying under the radar because well…nobody seems to cares about josei manga. It was really really good. Just two (long) chapters in the entire 単行本 and both of them are basically one-room character dramas driven by the main character’s knack for perception and his unconventional way of looking at scenarios. It’s funny and tense and has very effective character development. I got a few of them for free a while ago so I’ll be continuing for sure.

I finished the last few episodes of Fate/stay night (unlimited blade works) and I guess I’m not sure if I’m supposed to track down a sequel or what. The last 2/3 of the last episode seemed really weird, introducing new characters, establishing some new stakes and whatnot.

Finally, I started watching 虚構推理 yesterday and just finished it today. Quite enjoyed it and I’m pleased to hear that there’s a season 2 planned, though I’ll probably end up reading the manga or the novels before it airs (need to figure out how exactly the books work beforehand). It’s not a bad thing by any means, but there are lots of sections where you can just tell that this was originally a novel. The monologues are truly something.

は・が・も: The Focus Particles

“Quick question; what is the difference between は and が?”

It’s a quick question, to be sure, but it doesn’t have a quick answer. Canned lines like “は is the topic particle” or “が is the subject marker” are rarely of any help; the English and Japanese notions of “subject” don’t map 1:1 to each other, and the concept of grammatical topic is unlikely to strike home intuitively for a native English speaker. These one-line explanations are perhaps useful to people who have studied linguistics formally, but as a fan of more naturalistic language learning processes I (personally) never find them to be helpful, and I have no interest in diving into theory in order to make sense of them.

My chosen strategy was to tolerate the ambiguity and just read until I had had enough exposure to the Japanese language that I was able to form a somewhat intuitive understanding of these two particles (plus one more which I feel is often overlooked despite serving a similar function). You can absolutely do this too, and in fact I would strongly recommend that rather than approaching the problem by trying to learn “when to use は vs が”, you instead pump the brakes on output and focus on getting exposure to a LOT of the language so you too can build up this intuition.

However, since I fully recognize that I’m probably a little weird for being comfortable with this kind of delayed gratification (and since the question above is just so, so common), I thought I’d try to put into words the simple one-line rules that I personally use to conceptualize these two (or three) tricky particles.

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Japanese reading report

This week I finished 京都寺町三条のホームズ vol. 4, which means I’m finally actually caught up with the anime. Probably won’t be reading vol. 5 until next year though, unless I complete the rest of my goals early. It’s not difficult per se; the writing style is enjoyable and easy to follow along with, and the words I don’t know tend to have furigana (a nice coincidence) so I can look them up easily, but the sections with long temple names are a slog and it seems like there were way more of them in this volume. In any case, it ended nicely so I’m glad I have the next two books ready to go.

Despite wanting to read something a little easier next, I had already decided to read 蒲団 by 田山花袋, basically just to dip my toes into 文豪 with a somewhat short book. I’m only a few pages in right now so I don’t have too much to say besides that I’ve noticed he uses a lot of weird kanji and furigana (whether because this is an old book or for creative reasons; I’m leaning towards the latter because of one example in particular — 他人[ひと]の所有[もの]).

Finished Planetarian, which is a fun milestone considering that my introduction to Japan in general came from Katawa Shoujo way back in 2012. I enjoyed it quite a bit. There were some annoying sections with a lot of military terminology kanji soup but the majority of it was pretty smooth and I was able to coast through the entire final chapter without pausing to look anything up, which is always nice. Reading this has confirmed that I definitely have a long way to go on my reading speed, since it took me almost three times long to read as the average on VNDB, but I’ll get there eventually.

Since my copy of Monster Hunter Stories 2 has finally arrived, I imported my progress from the demo and I’ve been playing that a bit today. Planning to put at least half an hour in per day. So far nothing really jumping out at me in terms of difficulty or whatever; it’s been smooth sailing just like the demo.

I only ended up watching two more episodes of Fate/Stay Night this week. which I’ve discovered is actually Unlimited Blade Works (WHOOPS, guess that explains why Rin is so much in focus). Didn’t expect the big Archer reveal and a lot of the monologuing went right over by head but I got a copy of Realta Nua off ebay so I’m sure all will be made clear in due time.

Finally, I read vol. 6 of トニカクカワイイ. 制服姿司 is too powerful for this world.

Getting out of the output rut

I still have a long way to go before I can call myself “fluent” in Japanese, by any definition. While there are many areas in which I can smoothly follow along with no issue, every time I crack a book that deals with an unfamiliar domain or subject, it hits me all over again just how extensive my English vocabulary actually is, and how lacking my Japanese vocabulary is in comparison. But my “input fluency” is far and away better than my “output fluency”, and this is a point that I’ve been struggling with for some time now.

The underlying idea of extensive reading is that after enough exposure to native material, you’ll not only become able to intuitively understand your target language, but you will also reach a point where you can suddenly start to produce it as well. It’s taken a long time, but I do feel like I’ve started to see the fruits of my labor in this respect. I’m able to communicate effectively with people online (albeit still with some difficulty and a lot of uncertainty). However, I’m keenly aware of the fact that if I were to have a face-to-face conversation, in real time and without the benefit of a sentence bank, I would be floundering. I’d like to fix that.

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Japanese reading report

This week I started reading Planetarian, which is technically a partial reread since I started it way back in Feb. 2017. For whatever reason I never finished it though, and I’ve been planning to get back to it for a while. According to the steam achievements I think I’m about halfway through it now? I’m enjoying it quite a bit. There’s a fair amount of vocab that’s new to me but I’m using the JPDB prebuilt deck which I can scroll through on my phone as I read and it’s been pretty smooth.

I stayed on track with 京都寺町三条のホームズ vol. 4, getting a bit ahead yesterday thanks to one scene that had really good momentum. I’m still planning to finish this one at the end of next week (and no earlier) so I can focus on other things as well and not feel like I’m always rushing.

Also watched up through ep. 20 of Fate/Stay Night. I know very little about this series but I had always assumed Saber was The One, so I’m surprised how much the anime seems to favor Rin (and wondering how much more of a role she could possibly play in Unlimited Blade Works?). Not complaining though.

Sekiro’s straw doll

A youtuber I follow recently uploaded the video below. There’s an “unsolved mystery” regarding the writing on a talisman that features in the model, but a bit of digging around on Japanese internet led me to some interesting discoveries. The following text was originally posted as a comment on the video itself, but I figured I would preserve it on my own blog as well since it involved a decent amount of research.

The “writing” on the talisman has its roots in Daoist magic (符籙 in Chinese, 呪符 in Japanese; English wikipedia has an article on it called “Fulu”), where the symbols are basically formed from kanji components but don’t actually make up real characters at all. These talismans are usually written in seal script, which ranges from “I can read it if I squint” to “how the heck is that supposed to be the same character”, but even so, the writing here is really more like drawing ; while it does contain valid characters like 竜 (dragon) and 王 (king), they aren’t arranged in such a way to suggest that they’re intended to either produce composite kanji nor that they should be interpreted on their own. There are also some other characters which are likely chosen for their appearance alone, like the one that looks like 丑 missing its bottom stroke, or 弗, which can be taken to mean “dollar” but considering the time period I think it’s more likely just the right-hand component of something like 沸. Other parts have no basis in writing at all, like the mirrored squiggles that extend from the bottom of the 田 character, or the cartouche that encloses the bottom two thirds.

Here’s a post (all in Japanese unfortunately) that has some interesting insights into this talisman and also some others that are found elsewhere in the game:

One other thing I’ll point out, is that this guy is definitely a wara-ningyou (lit. straw doll), but he’s not constructed in the typical way of tying together two straight bundles of straw. He’s actually made from a shimenawa, which is a type of rope which is used to cordon off sacred areas and provide protection from evil. The talisman itself (according to that link above) is a warding-against-evil type, though the author points out that depending on how the talisman is affixed, the effect can be reversed, resulting in an invitation for possession by an evil spirit. It’s not obvious which is the case here, but it’s an interesting thing to consider.

Japanese reading report

A combination of a tough week of work plus two of the most difficult chapters of 京都寺町三条のホームズ so far made for a disappointing amount of reading being done. I decided to adjust my pace for this book to four weeks in total, which does mean that I’m now caught up now and will hopefully have an easier time in the future.

Anyway, I finished chapter 1 (which got a lot easier after they mercifully stopped discussing all the famous temples to visit and started talking about antique dolls instead), and I’m probably about two thirds of the way through chapter two. This one has its own difficulty but it’s mostly just due to the fact that it’s a mini mystery that deals with a bunch of entangled relationships and keeping all the people organized in my head can get a bit overwhelming. Definitely not as bad as the previous chapter but there were still parts that were kind of a slog.

I also watched the first 11 episodes of Fate/Stay Night, which to a large extent is definitely going over my head. The day-to-day bits and the overall story are easy but when they start talking about the mechanics behind Servants and 令呪 and stuff my brain kind of stalls. I’m planning to read the VN at some point eventually so I guess I’ll fill in the pieces when I get there.

Book review: 青春ブタ野郎はバニーガール先輩の夢を見ない (Rascal does not dream of Bunny Girl Senpai)

This is one of those titles that’s enough to make me rule out the series at first blush, which is almost exactly what happened a couple of years ago when the anime first launched. I don’t remember what changed my mind about it, but it ended up being one of my favorite shows and I’ve been wanting to continue with the novels for some time now. Since Kate recently watched it (for the first time) I took the opportunity to rewatch it (without subtitles this time), and once I finished the anime I decided this was as good a time as any to pick vol. 1 as my next book this year.

As good as the anime is, honestly the old adage “the book is always better” still holds very true here. All the key scenes and plot beats are present in both, but the writing feels sharper and the dialogues always have a few extra lines which, while it makes sense to cut them in order to fit an episode’s runtime, are often delightful and hilarious and I frequently found myself grateful that I decided to read the books from the beginning rather than starting at vol. 6 (which picks up immediately after the end of the show). The anime does a great job of conveying the two leads’ chemistry, but it feels extra charming here for some reason, and the side characters feel even more well-developed. Specifically, I felt that the (still ridiculous) “Schrodinger’s cat” explanation was a bit better justified in the book, and that the stakes of the final arc felt higher and the payoff more satisfying.

I’ll definitely be continuing the series pretty soon and would highly recommend it (the first five books have been translated into English as well).

Japanese reading report

I started the week with BLUE LOCK vol. 1, since there’s an anime coming out soon and the teaser intrigued me. It’s a pretty wild concept, basically a fusion of sports and battle royale. Pretty funny at times and it has good action. I got vol. 2 for free a while back as well so I’ll at least read that at some point. It’s hard for me to imagine following a sports series, but it had me hooked enough to read the whole thing in one sitting so who knows.

The rest of the week was a bit of a disaster thanks to the release of Deathloop. I didn’t manage to stay on track with 京都寺町三条のホームズ vol. 4; I’m about 20 pages behind right now so I’ll have to crank up the pace a bit over the next two weeks. It doesn’t help that this first chapter has been quite painful so far…it’s literally Aoi asking for help designing an itinerary for her friends, and then pages and pages of difficult temple names and history. Really hoping it picks up soon.

Yesterday I read 呪術廻戦 vol. 3, which is actually my 52nd volume of manga this year, completing my goal over three months early. Not as good as last year but I deliberately set a low number because I wanted to focus on other things as well (to mixed results). Anyway, this volume was fun. I can’t believe I didn’t realize that Nanami’s name is a reference to his 7:3 ratio technique when I was watching the anime.

Japanese reading report

I started the week with 無能なナナ vol. 4, and like, what the heck. The cliffhangers keep on coming I guess. The anime apparently ended exactly with the last chapter in this volume and I bet it would feel pretty bad to be an anime-only for this series. Really good, gonna be continuing it next week.

I was bullied into reading 呪術廻戦 vol. 1, so I did that too. (along with vol. 2 at the end of the week). I’ve been getting a lot of new words here for some reason, not just made-up curse stuff but also normal, very slightly sciency words. I’ve already seen the show so I’ll be in review mode for a while but my sister is hassling me to catch up so she can talk about it with me, so I’ll probably be prioritizing it for the next few weeks.

I surprised myself by finishing バニーガール先輩 on Friday, one week and one day ahead of schedule. I had originally set a more leisurely pace since the page count was higher than what I’d been reading previously, but apparently I didn’t need to worry. The second half of the book was as good as the first and there were a bunch of little details that got lost in the adaptation. Once again glad I decided to reread the whole series instead of skipping to book five or whatever.

I think I played a bit more of monhun stories 2 this week? It might have been last week and I forgot to mention it. In any case I’m probably getting close to the end of the demo now, hoping to get my full copy sooner than the estimate. I haven’t clicked with the series in the past but I’m enjoying this one quite a lot.

Last up, I rewatched all of 衛宮さんちの今日のごはん. Each episode is only 10 minutes so it doesn’t really count as a full series but I’ve been thinking a lot about that LDK setup they have and missing the days when I would have people over to cook for. I already know all the food terms and I think that’s probably the most difficult part so, so nothing really to report here. I should probably grab the game now that it’s finally out.

Oh, I totally forgot: the wanikani absolute beginners book club is reading 大海原と大海原 (wadanohara and the great blue sea). Coincidentally vol. 1 was free on cmoa so I read the whole thing in one day thinking I could help out with some grammar questions and whatnot. Honestly I’m not sure if it’s a great beginner manga? there’s a lot of grammar that I expect people to have trouble with (it uses ぬ in the very first sentence and people were talking about whether they could afford to just…not learn what ぬ meant). In terms of the story and subject matter though it’s basically a manga for babies so I don’t see myself continuing it even though there’s only one more book in the series. I did learn the word 大海原 though so hey, I guess it works out.