While I was browing at a book shop I stumbled across ‘Breaking into Japanese Literature: Seven Modern Classics in Parallel Text‘, by Giles Murray.

Seven famous Japanese stories in different genres – from comedy to horror – are presented here, in a bilingual format for students of Japanese. Each page of Japanese contains a full English translation and a guide to grammar and vocabluary. Each story is also prefaced with an author biography, story background and helpful hints for reading.

I was tempted to buy the book, but then I thought of all the books I haven’t finished yet which are sitting on my shelf. Have you read this book? Any opinions?

The audio files that accompany the book can be downloaded from the Breaking into Japanese Literature site.


  1. It sounds like it is a nice book to learn to read novels. Although, it seems that all those novels are available for free on the net and since the mp3s are free to download, I don’t see why you would need to buy the book unless you want the English translations.
    Honestly, after listening to the mp3s it doesn’t sound like the stories are particularly difficult. In comparison to the novel I have been translating, and other novels I have started reading, the Japanese is not that difficult.
    I suggest you buy a Japanese novel instead and challenge yourself to read that. I’m sure you’ll learn a lot more from the first few pages then from those (possibly simplified) stories.

  2. By the way, did you see my bookshelf on my blog?

  3. Tim, thanks for the feedback. Yes, you probably right about being able to find the novels online to accompany the mp3s. Would they match word for word, though?
    The reason you might want to buy this book is because it’s so easy to understand what is going on by following the translation and page by page dictionary. Also, each kanji has a reference to Kodansha’s Kanji dictionary, which is handy. So, I guess it’s for us lazy people who don’t want to search for each and every unknown kanji in their dictionary/denshi-jisho.
    May I point out that what you consider easy is probably not what I would! I have listened to the first mp3 and there are many words I don’t know. I tried to read Harry Potter in Japanese but it became very tedious very quickly. It took me an hour or so for each page, and even then I wasn’t completely clear on the meaning.
    I wasn’t able to find your bookshelf. Have I missed the obvious?

  4. http://www.aozora.gr.jp/
    All the reading material you’d ever need, however it might not contain many newer books.
    If coupled with something like rikaichan http://www.polarcloud.com/rikaichan/ , you won’t need to be continually searching dictionaries as well.

  5. I didn’t put the link up as i didn’t want to explicitly advertise, but since you asked here is the direct link.
    By the way, i would say those stories have been simplified, as they are old novels that normally have a lot more old words and so on that has been replaced with more modern stuff. But still i feel that it has been further simplified to intermediate-advanced level.
    Try reading 吾輩は猫である and you will notice that the classic version uses many old words and is much more difficult to read.
    In those mp3s, i listened to most except the first one and i could understand most of it with a few words that i didn’t quite know.
    Regarding difficulty, i find something difficult when i can’t follow what the whole passage is about. If i can get the general idea and a bit of detail, then i am comfortable with it.

  6. Off Topic.
    Have you seen this site before?
    Copy and Paste some Japanese and push the Japanese to Japanese button. It’s more useful than the Japanese to English one.

  7. Sorry for the slow reply. Thanks everyone, you’ve got some great links there. If I get time I’ll re-post them as a new topic.
    Tim, that is some book shelf! Have you read all that manga?
    SlyEcho, I’ve just installed Rikaichan and it’s amazing! Thank you. Your other link also looks great.
    Roy, I’ve tried the link you posted and agree that the Japanese-Japanese is very useful. I like the way it dynamically creates a mini dictionary for your Japanese passage.

  8. Thanks, i think i have over 350 Japanese novels and manga at the moment (most are manga).
    As for the manga, I haven’t read most of it. I have enough manga to last me for a long while. I would love to read them all, but because of time constraints, i barely find enough time to read them. In the end I buy them faster than i can read them despite how difficult it is to get my hands on them.
    At the moment, i can barely find enough room to put any more.. Ahh!
    (and if you read my blog, you’d know i’m going back to Japan in September to buy some more!)
    Well, i’m happy that i have a lot of things to read on the bus trip to and from work.

  9. I detest books that purport to be bilingual, because I’ll just end up reading one of the language.
    When I was learning Chinese, someone had a great idea to make me read classical English novels translated into Chinese, and I totally got lost as the translation of English names was horrendous.
    Right now, I’m reading, or rather, trying to read a Japanese high school history textbook–the one that China has made a huge hooha about.

  10. Tim, I only have one series of manga which I picked up before leaving Japan – which I haven’t read at all. I thought, ‘What if want to read some manga and I can’t get ahold of it back at home.’ I don’t know whether you know of it but I recommend ‘Book Off’ if you want to pick up cheap second hand manga.
    SaffronSaris, you’ve got a good point there. There are always downsides to shortcuts.
    You are reading a Japanese high school textbook? That is very impressive. Keep up the study!