Saturday, May 12, 2012

Bilingual books Japanese/English

(Updated May 2013)

Are you learning Japanese? Are you fed up with grammar books and Kanji flashcards? Well, then, why not try to read real Japanese? Does this sound impossible to you? Actually it isn't, thanks to Bilingual books Japanese/English. Here are some of them:

My favorite book with texts in both Japanese and English is this one:

Why is that my favorite bilingual book?

  • it has stories originally written in Japanese, ie not just made up for foreigners. The real deal.
  • because I like the stories. They are fiction stories.
  • it has the original text and the English translation "face-to-face" so that you can read the original text and immediately see the translation (no need to turn pages or whatever)
  • it has a small introduction to every text in the preface so you can choose which one will be the most interesting for you
  • it has a great presentation of the authors (it is so nice to discover Japanese authors with a proper English text)
  • it has the Japanese format (reading from top to bottom, from right to left, and the starting page is on the opposite side of the book compared to "Western" books)
  • it has a small glossary with terms used in the book in case you want to look up for one term only (and try to figure out the translation by yourself)
And this is not even the best thing in this book. What I like even more than all this is the section between the texts and the glossary which is an explanation module of why this means that. What specific nuance has this word which disappears in the English translation, etc... This is a fantastic job and on a language point of view, this is what I like best. Here is a blurred image of it:

Copyrighted material used here as Fair Use: low quality (blurred) image used for review purpose

So what are the texts included in this book?
- Kamisama by Kawakami Hiromi: a nice short story that will tell you more about some Japanese traditions when someone moves (hikkoshi soba). Nothing religious here despite the title (which means "God").
- Mukashi yuuhi no kouen de by Otsuichi: I love this story but my wife (Japanese) finds it very scary. The end is just amazing.
- Nikuya Oumu by Ishii Shinji
- Miira by Yoshimoto Banana
- Hyakumonogatari by Kitamura Kaoru
- Kakeru by Tawada Youko

Other things:
  • Beware the paging: it goes from p1 to p143 on the "back" (back for Western people) and p1 to p112 on the "Western" front of the book. I say this because sometimes there are references to a page number but the book is divided in two. If the page reference does not make sense, look at the other half of the book.
  • There is also a CD where a professional narrator reads the text. I haven't used it myself so I cannot say how good it is but it is probably a good exercise for listening comprehension.

This is my second favorite book for bilingual texts Japanese-English:

8 authors instead of 6 but a bit slimmer. Those are novels and not fiction, so you may like this book better if you don't like fiction that much. I really enjoy the first one Nigashita Sakana ha Ookikatta by Mori Youko because:

  • it was the first text written for Japanese people that I understood (thanks to the translation etc... but still)
  • the Japanese expression used in the title is very cute and is well illustrated (don't want to give spoilers here, but I can say I use it a lot and Japanese people are impressed I know it
My wife was laughing a lot when reading the novel by Sakura Momoko but I personally did not see anything funny in it (either this is Japanese sense of humor or it was too difficult for me to focus on the humor part of it).

Otherwise, here are 2 books in the same series. I cannot comment on them as I haven't read them myself but feel free to try them:

Finally, there are more and more bilingual books but I am focusing already on the first two books (and I have this secret hope that one day, I may read a book without the English translation...).

About the author: 32 yo guy married to a Japanese woman and having a 3 yo boy. I have learned Japanese by living 1 year in Japan (Fukuoka) and I have kept some basic level by speaking it with my wife (I have a tendency to use a "feminine" Japanese, though). I don't have a huge vocabulary (using the same daily words again and again) and I forget kanji faster than I learn them. So my level is not so good and these books are still enjoyable by me, so give them a try!


  1. Nice list! I will definitely take a look at these books.

    I have been struggling to find good bilingual material online.
    So far I used:
    - it's a monthly magazine, not very expensive.
    - they have several interesting articles (all free)

    1. Thanks for your comment! I struggled a lot too! I even asked to people working at book shops but they did not know about any bilingual books?! This is why I wrote this article. Thought it would help people to find them.
      Also, I am also reading Hiragana Times. It is really nice. Sometimes, I wish there were explanations though about why this in Japanese gives that in English (check the last section of the second book for such explanations).
      I don't know about nippontalk, I will have to look into it.