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Studying by reading

I am not usually the kind of person to look up every unknown word as I read in Japanese, but as I am reading フランス人は10着しか服を持たない I have found myself looking up and jotting down words here and there, sometimes to get the correct reading so that I may remember it seeing as a word appears several times throughout a chapter, or to get the meaning. Maybe it’s easier to do this with this book precisely because it is not a novel, thus stopping to look up words doesn’t ruin the reading flow as much as it would have if it was.

Exposing my terrible handwriting, don’t judge me too harshly

I have not studied ‘properly’ this year at all. I took the JLPT in December of last year (feels like a century ago), and after failing the N1 for a second time I lost all motivation to sit down with textbooks. I didn’t much enjoy N1 materials anyway so I haven’t been able to force myself back into it.

But I have read several books, in Japanese, and while I might not have been studying the ‘traditional’ way of looking up words/grammar, writing them down, making flashcards, quizzing myself, etc., after years of making flashcards and never using them I believe I am better suited to remember these things by repeated exposure in more natural settings, i.e. by reading books. By seeing the kanjis for train stations everyday I am able to remember their reading. Same with people’s names, buttons on websites, tags on instagram, buzzwords in advertising, blog posts on topics I am interested in. By seeing the words over and over in their natural habitat so to speak, I can (hypothetically) recall their meaning or reading even if I were to be exposed to them in a new or different place.

The first two pages of the first novel I tried to read in Japanese (during my year abroad at the university) looked like this:

From 世界から猫が消えたなら by 川村元気

It was so full of words I didn’t know the meaning of, or reading of, or both. It was so disheartening and took out all the fun of reading, it wasn’t even reading anymore, just working. There was so much work trying to write the kanji correctly into the electronic dictionary so it would recognize it and give me the meaning. I stopped “reading” a couple of pages later and didn’t pick it up again until over a year later. And when I did pick it up again I swore to not suck all the fun out by relying on the dictionary and so I didn’t. I did my best to read and understand from context, and I enjoyed the story immensely.

This formed a habit of not using a dictionary when reading that still continues today. Rarely will I stop to look up words when reading novels. Does that mean I can now read and understand every kanji and every word and every grammar point? Not at all. But there is no pressure to either. I read for my own enjoyment. I know kind of what most means and if I don’t know the exact reading or meaning I don’t sweat it, I will just input the meaning or feeling of a word in whichever language I feel I understand it in.

I am hoping to one day take and pass the N1. I have no immediate use for it and so the need to study seriously is not there as of now. While I would want to believe that by reading and enjoying books as I am now, I will accumulate the knowledge required to pass, I know it is not so. But until the need arises for me to have the N1, I will continue my studying in the way I like; slowly and comfortably with my beloved books.

読書の秋 

Today is 秋分の日 (shuubun no hi) or the autumnal equinox day, meaning summer is officially over and autumn is starting!

In Japan you often hear 食欲の秋 (shokuyoku no aki) or 読書の秋 (dokusho no aki), which loosely translates to ‘autumn of appetite’ and ‘autumn of reading’ respectively. I haven’t heard it much about any of the other seasons, only autumn. Once when I went to a Japanese class at a community center, the old grandma that was volunteering as the teacher introduced this topic to us, and had us “make our own autumn”, so basically what our image of autumn is, and what would we like to do or focus on during this season.

You can put just about any two-kanji word in front of の秋, 紅葉(kouyou, autumn leaves), 旅行(ryokou, travel), 勉強(benkyou, study), 健康(kenkou, health), 運動(undou, exercise), 睡眠(suimin, sleep), etc. The list is only limited to your own imagination. You also do not have to be bound just by the two-kanji words, some make long and funny ones like “Autumn of it’s getting increasingly difficulty to get out of bed in the mornings”. Just have fun with it!

My top three this season is:

  • Appetite (I want to eat all the nabe I can fit into my body)
  • Reading (my tbr list is getting uncontrollable as you will see)
  • Autumn leaves (they are my favorites)

Today’s title is 読書の秋 so I will be talking about the books I see myself reading this fall.

The line-up
My kindle app

I am still not even halfway through Murakami’s 一人称単数, and I feel like a bad Murakami fan. But I finished 3 books in Japanese in a short time in the beginning of August and kind of burnt myself out with reading Japanese so the next books I read were all in English and so Murakami got pushed to the side. But I will get to him during this autumn.

Rainbow / にじ is a poetry collection with the poems in both English and Japanese! It’s super thin so I could get through this quickly, but I would prefer to take it slowly and think a bit about each poem.

The short-story collection サキの忘れ物 is as per my post about it still as beautiful as ever and I am enjoying the title story!

As I mentioned in my last post, I love books like フランス人は10着しか服を持たない, it gives me a bit of motivation to change and I am learning a lot about French culture!

It was finally cool enough here the other day to wear my flannel dress

I also started The Makioka Sisters. I finished Jane Eyre and on that day I went by the bookstore and got three new books and started two of them. I have no self-restraint. I felt like they wrote too much on the back, but I am determined to enjoy the story anyway.

I started re-reading Hard-boiled wonderland and the end of the world a while back on my e-reader, but I’ve been busy with other books so I haven’t taken the e-reader out in a while. I need to get back on that, as at the moment I am lugging around The Makioka Sister, the Lessons from Madame Chic, and the サキの忘れ物, and my bag is heavy and my back is not pleased about the extra weight.

Books I have yet to start but that I want to get to:

  • The sequel to Lessons from Madame Chic
  • 若草物語
  • 舟を編む
  • 木曜日にはココアを
  • ラヴレターズ
  • Tess of the d’Urbervilles
  • The letters of Jane Austen

I really love reading old letters written between people, it is such an underrated art in this day and age.

What is everyone’s 〇〇の秋, and what are you reading this season?

Morning bliss

Mornings where I don’t have an alarm on are few and far between. Even on Sundays when I don’t have work I feel the need to have on alarm as to not somehow waste the day.

But this Sunday I decided not to. There was no piano class either so I didn’t have to think about that. I had a lovely bath the night before, put on a new set of pajamas and then I slept for as long as I wanted. I woke up feeling relaxed, I even spent an extra hour, awake, in bed.

I didn’t get out of bed before it was already eleven and I only did so to get the cat and get back into the bed.

Yesterday my order of matcha had come in, so I made a cup of matcha latte (from scratch! No starbucks sachets today) and sat down with a new book; Lessons from Madame Chic or フランス人は10着しか服を持たない by Jennifer L. Scott.

I like these kinds of books, they always inspire me to be better (not for forever unfortunately, I am but a fickle creature)

A cup of matcha latte in one hand, a book in front of me, and my darling Darjeeling by my other hand.

I am getting closer to my perfect image of autumn, I am just missing a chair, colder weather, and a classic.

How are everyone’s Sunday mornings like?

A quiet Sunday in September

Woke up early and did a sweep of the house. Did some much needed dusting, mopped the floors, vacuumed the carpet, hung out laundry, cleaned the kitchen counter, aired out all the rooms, and did some reorganizing in the stock closet. Everything felt clean and fresh and in order.

Went to my piano lesson and started a new piece. When I had tried it by myself earlier I could not grasp it at all, but the teacher showed me and it all just seemed so simple. It really makes a difference having a teacher to help. I will enjoy this piece, it’s a classical piece, as compared to the previous piece I was working on which was a pop-song, and I found I can’t really get into pop-songs with the piano yet. I prefer more calm, soothing, slow classical pieces.

After my lesson I went to the second-hand store and found a beautiful momiji tea bowl and had to add it to my tea-cup collection. As soon as I got home I baked an apple cake (but without apples as I don’t like them getting warm and mushy) and made some milk tea with Mariage Frères’ French island vanilla black tea and used my new tea bowl. The momiji design made me happy, and this tea is my favorite. The cake came out well too, making it a great time.

I did a facemask and wanted to take a long bath while watching a movie, but was chuffed when the application kept translating the titles making it difficult and the movie I wanted was only available dubbed into Japanese, though I wanted to hear it in its original language as I like the main actress. I had a bit of a childish tantrum and tirade on twitter and felt that maybe I am not as much as an adult as I’d like to be, when things don’t go as I wish I revert right back to a whining baby. It is almost too embarrassing to admit, but there you have it.

As the movie part didn’t go through, I decided on reading instead and it made for a lovely bath. I continued Jane Eyre, and it was around where Mr. Mason is bit by Rochester’s crazy wife aka his own sister.

After my bath, I did some measuring around the house and found that I could increase storage space if I moved things around a bit, in the hope of making it a bit more functional. One of my great pleasures is to organize and declutter. That is not to say that the house is always spotless of course. I have found that there is a big difference between wanting to have clean dishes and wanting to clean dishes.

Excluding my little hissy fit, today has been delightful. If all Sundays could be as this one, I can’t have any complaints.

The end of summer

I hear the cicadas less and less. The continous noise that was summer is starting to quiet down, becoming a distant memory. While it is still too hot for my liking and to be called autumn, we will get there.

I am over the moon excited for autumn. I can wear all my favorite pieces again, and the new pieces I bought. I got a new dress for autumn, a brown flannel one, and then I got a white leather belt to go with it. And to be able to wear my beloved boots; bliss.

Japan seems to have a new flavour at starbucks every month, but I have yet to see the infamous pumpkin spice latte. While I have nothing against sweet potato frappuchinos and chestnut lattes, I’d like to get one with pumpkin spice once in a while too.

I am most excited about seeing the 紅葉 (momiji) ; the autumn foliage. Watching the leaves turn from green to yellow, orange, red. Breathtaking. I’d like to be able to take Darjeeling out for a walk too, to see her play with the leaves. Such a precious image.

I want to light a candle, bake cakes, take a bath with bath salts. Have the whole apartment smell of cinnamon and chai. And read books, mostly classics. Autumn is not the time for light contemporary books (in my personal opinion). The image in my mind is of cold evenings spent wrapped up in a blanket with a cat on your lap, a hot chocolate or milk tea in one hand, and a classic like Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights in your other hand. Maybe I’ll do the Japanese Little Women this autumn, it fits my requirement of being a classic AND it will give my Japanese some practice.

What things come to mind when you think of autumn?

a lost article of “Saki”

I found what I believe is the most “me”-cover I have ever seen and so I consequently had to buy this novel.

Feast your eyes upon this:

It has a book, tea, pancakes, a deer, plants, flowers, sugar… all the things I love. As usual I don’t know what it is about, but with a beautiful cover and an interesting title, you know as well as I do that I am compelled to get it (*hoarding intensifies*)

I love the simplicity of the book underneath the cover, nothing fancy but yet beautiful. Also that they decided to put the title in English!

Maybe I should rename my blog to “Me gushing about beautiful Japanese books that I find”

Upon closer inspection I realize that it is not a full length novel but actually a short story collection. I find myself a bit disappointed but that is life. The cover is still beautiful and I am hopeful that all the stories will delight me, especially the title story 「サキの忘れ物」

Japanese hardcover of Little Women aka one of the most beautiful Japanese books I have seen so far

I intended for this blog to be a place of writing, but some times words don’t cut it.

For instance; in the event that you find a beautiful Japanese hardcover of Little Women

If you think I was able to leave it at the bookstore you are sorely mistaken. I might have deprived a Japanese person of the wonder of Little Women and for that I am sorry, but this book was meant to go home with me.

After Kuri’s post on book covers in Japan you might wonder why I have one, but it was solely to protect this beauty until we got home.

Not once, but twice I was soaked to the bone getting off the bus and being caught in a torrential downpour before I was back home safe and sound with my copy still untarnished

I am in love with the cover, even the back of the book has a dear little illustration!

I want to dive into this at once, at the same time as I am apprehensive regarding whether I will be able to read it in a satisfactory manner. Considering the age of this work I am afraid that they might use older words and phrases with which I will not be familiar with.

The glorious index page featuring all the sisters at work

From the little front flap:

メグ、ジョー、ベス、エイミー。

世界でもっとも愛されている四姉妹のかけがえがない、

しあわせな日々へようこそ。

Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy. Welcome to the joyful days of the irreplaceable and most beloved four sisters in the world.

But since it is a book for readers both young and old, there seems to be plenty of furigana for the younger ones (or for us struggling foreigners, I thank thee) so it might not be too bad, and as I am more than familiar with the plot I do believe that I might not get too lost after all.

I am unable to get over how pretty this is.

I will probably update on the progress of reading it, but I make no promises on when that will be. For now, just enjoy the beauty of it.

Tsundoku

Current tsundoku or TBR pile (I am currently reading the Murakami one though) of physical books

I have gotten better at not doing tsundoku. When I was younger I amassed hundreds of books but didn’t read them all. And even if I didn’t even plan on reading a book, I could not let go of it. That would be sacrilegious. It didn’t help that when I was studying at university, there was a £2 bookshop where every book was only £2. I dragged suitcases of books back home.

Enter the year 2016, I have finished university, and am planning on moving abroad (again). I’d read Marie Kondo’s book and cleaned out as best as I could the little room I was staying in. Now it was time to tackle my room at home.

I piled all my books on the bed.

(Not all, had already done a pre-konmari during a vacation so there was about 90 books atop my closet at the time)

I went from 304 to 124. It took a lot to get to that number. But it is as they say, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Last time I was home I got rid of even more books and have only about 40 left, but even now I look at the books left and think “I don’t need that one, nor that one…” so I am itching to go back and get rid of more.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t stopped loving books. But I just want to surround myself with my favorites, the ones that truly “spark joy”.

When I used to hoard books, I also was very reluctant not to finish a book, it felt wrong somehow. So even when I didn’t really like it, I had to stick it out. And then of course, not get rid of it, stick it back on the shelf so I would have to look at it every day. And my tsundoku pile (or mountain more like) would never get smaller. The pile would haunt me, taunt me. I would feel bad, stress would pile on and it was frankly, tiring.

Now I am more comfortable to not finish a book if I find that I am just not that into it, and even to get rid of it (not throwing it in the trash of course).

Thus, my books don’t pile up anymore in impossible-to-finish piles. I might buy many books in a short amount of time, but I won’t get suffocated by the unread amount.

I guess it also helps that I am living in Japan where Japanese books are cheap (to me) but they take longer to finish so I mostly don’t overbuy, and foreign books are expensive so I won’t buy one unless I truly want it on my shelf.

This went on a long tangent it feels like. And my tsundoku pile isn’t getting smaller by going on tangents so I better get back to reading.

52-hertz whales 「52ヘルツのクジラたち」

I picked this up at the nearby Tsutaya, where they were having a summery display, but while this book is blue, fitting with the summery theme, it is anything but a light beach read.

What drew me to it was the cute cover and the interesting title. I bought it not knowing what it was about. It said something about a lonely whale on the cover, but quickly flipping through I deduced it would not be about a whale but actual people so I bought it.

Coming home I googled “52-hertz whale” and found out it is an actual whale. A whale of an unidentified species that calls at 52 hertz, while other whales call at around 10-30 hertz, so no one can hear its call and it remains alone. From this you might think that the book will be about lonely people and it was.

While not a very happy story throughout, you keep reading. You get invested. You want them to be happy, to find happiness. Not a light read or as easy-going as for example 「麦本三歩の好きなもの」but nonetheless a captivating read. I only cried once, I swear.

Neither we, nor the locals in the book, know much about her. It took me twenty pages to figure out her name. It is Kiko. But, her friends call her Kinako, the few she has at least. The opening line is:

明日の天気を訊くような軽い感じで、風俗やってたの?と言われた。

“So did you do sex work? I was told as lightly as if asking about tomorrow’s weather.”

She is having some work done to the house she just moved to, a house out in a small town where gossip is the local currency amongst the grandmas. We see that she is not very friendly, I wouldn’t go as far as to call her unfriendly, but she keeps to herself. And she might be harboring a lot of stress or anger or both. She wants to be left alone, to live quietly by herself. She thinks of someone called An, and we get the feeling they were close but something happened and she is torn up about it. Maybe that’s the reason she came to this place, to escape.

There is a sense of tragedy, that something terrible has occured, but the book keeps you in the dark, keeps you guessing. That is not to say it is all doom and gloom, you have some little sparkles here and there but the overall feeling is sad, lonely, searching for something.

While I loved the book and gave it 5 stars on goodreads, it can be quite a heavy book, emotionally, and so be warned.

A thing I learned from this book was about an old hiragana for ‘e’. It looks like this: ゑ

One of the character’s name is さちゑ. Since it looked like る, or looked like it was in there, I thought it was an old way to write “ru” or maybe a kanji for “ru”. I posted on my instagram story with “what the f is this?? A kanji?” (I know, my language is very lady-like), and kept reading her name as Sachiru.

Two people (a coworker and “my” japanese mom whom is actually my friend’s mom) were nice enough to school me in the history of old hiragana. So I learned that her name is not Sachiru but actually Sachie. The only reason I can think of for the author using this old-ass hiragana for that character’s name is only the fact that she (the character) is an old lady. Maybe there are other reasons, however they are not apparent to me.

I’m a book flasher

Early Friday morning, standing on the train on the way to work with a mocha in one hand and my phone in the other.

Looking around the train I spot someone reading a book, the same book that I’m also currently reading, but not at that exact moment of course as my hands are occupied and I am trying my best to remain standing. (The book was 店長がバカすぎて)

I want to reach out, tell that person that ‘hey, I’m reading that too!’, maybe we could talk about it. If I could’ve sat opposite them, whip out the same book, flash it around, then maybe our eyes would meet, recognition, maybe share a smile and a nod.

But as it is not possible on this packed train, I tweet about it and continue looking out the window and the scenery rushing by, disappointed that life is not like in the stories we read.

A sip of my mocha and time to get off the train, never to see that person again.

At least I still have my book.