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Breaking into Japanese Literature: Seven Modern Classics in Parallel Text [Large Print] [Perfect Paperback]

Giles Murray
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 Mar 2003 4770028997 978-4770028990 large type edition
Seven famous Japanese stories in different genres - from comedy to hor ror - 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.

Product details

  • Perfect Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Kodansha International Ltd; large type edition edition (5 Mar 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 4770028997
  • ISBN-13: 978-4770028990
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 14 x 19.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 452,257 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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From the Publisher

Preface [slightly abridged]

** Aims

This book is designed to propel you beyond the humdrum world of magazine and newspaper articles into the rewarding but relatively impenetrable world of Japanese literature. Breaking into Japanese Literature presents only complete and unedited short stories. Extracts from longer works have been deliberately avoided. This guarantees that you can enjoy a full aesthetic experience and a sense of uncompromised achievement. The seven stories in this book are all recognized masterpieces. The two authors, Natsume Soseki and Akutagawa Ryunosuke, are both literary giants who form part of the Japanese national curriculum. The seven stories cover a variety of genres: "The Nose" is a comedy; "In a Grove" and "Rashomon" are fast-paced thrillers set in ancient Japan; and the four tales from Ten Nights of Dreams are thrilling, hallucinatory accounts of love, death, suicide and murder.

** Three-level Structure

The book is divided into three increasingly challenging levels.

Level One consists of four stories from Soseki's Ten Nights of Dreams (1908). The Dreams are very short -- only two or three pages each in the original Japanese -- and are composed in short, simple sentences. The repetition which Soseki uses to create a dreamlike atmosphere has the convenient side effect of providing automatic kanji review opportunities. For all their gothic subject matter, the Dreams offer very practical study benefits: they contain a very high proportion of the 1,945 common-use kanji characters that all students of Japanese have to master.

Level Two consists of two Akutagawa stories, "In a Grove" (1922) and "The Nose" (1916). These two stories are about five times longer than their predecessors in Level One, while the sentences of which they are composed are also lengthier and more involved. "In a Grove" was selected not only for its exciting subject matter (robbery, rape and murder), but because its unusual structure -- with seven different narrators retelling the same story with slight variations -- again provides unconscious review opportunities. "The Nose," despite some difficult religious and historical vocabulary, is a humorous fable with a simple story line. Apart from its significance as Akutagawa's breakthrough work, "The Nose" also provides some comic relief in this slightly noir collection.

Level Three features a single Akutagawa story, "Rashomon" (1916). "Rashomon" is about the same length as "The Nose," but is more densely descriptive -- and thus more difficult -- than any of the other stories. This atmospheric story is historically significant both as the title story of Akutagawa's first collection and as one of the inspirations for Akira Kurosawa's celebrated 1951 film.

The illustrations and prefaces on the title pages should help you locate the story that is most to your taste. Most important though, is to choose a story of the appropriate ability level. Starting with one of the shorter Dreams is definitely a good idea.

** Core Components

Reading Japanese literature unassisted can be frustrating. This book is designed to help you bypass all those feelings of bewilderment and irritation. With the story in Japanese on the left-hand page, the English translation on the right-hand page and the dictionary running along the bottom of both, each double-page spread is totally self-contained. There is no need for any dictionaries. Since everything you need is right there in front of you, you can read the stories fast enough to enjoy them as works of literature. On the one hand, the custom dictionary means you will not waste time deciphering words of little practical use, like proper names or official titles. On the other hand, it means that any useful kanji characters or expressions that occur are there ready to be memorized. It's no pain, all gain.

** Element 1: Japanese Original

The Japanese text is based on the Iwanami bunko editions of Soseki's Ten Nights of Dreams and Akutagawa's "In a Grove," and the Shincho bunko editions of the two other Akutagawa stories. These editions were selected because they reflect modern kana usage. Further modifications have been made: some words that are rarely seen in kanji anymore have been written in hiragana, and hiragana superscript has been added to difficult words that even some Japanese would find puzzling, as well as to a number of simple words that the reader might recognize if not for the kanji.

The Japanese text has been printed across the page (rather than from top to bottom) to allow for easy cross-referencing between the two languages. Large point-size makes the kanji physically bigger and thus easier to read. Generous line spacing also enhances readability while providing space for notes.

** Element 2: Literal English Translations

The translations follow the Japanese scrupulously. I have striven for direct semantic parity, omitting nothing and taking nothing away. Thus, if there is a noun in the Japanese, it is rendered -- as much as possible -- by a noun in the English. The old woman in "Rashomon," for example, is referred to as "the old woman" if that is how she is described in the Japanese. I have tried not to substitute the pronoun "she," and I have tried not to make things more complicated by turning a simple "old woman" into a "crone," "hag," or "droopy-dugged trollop." With a few exceptions, sentence order and paragraphing in the English also follow the Japanese. The overriding aim is to help you figure out what in one language corresponds to what in the other.

The style of the seven translations is not completely uniform. Soseki's four Dreams -- which are short and relatively simple -- have been translated literally (making them easy to follow), but with a hint of the literary (encouraging you to think about word choices and style). The English deliberately echoes the lushness of nineteenth-century authors like Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe who influenced Soseki in the first place.

The three Akutagawa stories, which make up the two more-advanced levels of the book, are considerably longer and harder than the Ten Nights of Dreams. I have therefore translated them in a plain, austere manner, since too much polish would just be a distraction.

** Element 3: The Zero-Omission Dictionary

The running dictionary at the bottom of the page provides a translation of words in the order that they appear in the text. The dictionary covers every kanji-based word in the book, as well as the more difficult hiragana words. Note that when a kanji word appears twice or more on the same page, it is listed only on its first appearance, but with a [special] icon to warn you that it will recur. If a kanji character belongs to the 2,230 characters (including all the 1,945 common-use characters) featured in The Kodansha Kanji Learner's Dictionary, its entry number is provided in square brackets after the English definition. This means that you can track down the individual characters with ease and master their on and kun readings, meanings, compounds and so on in a time-efficient way.

The dictionary does not include basic particles, ko-so-a-do demonstratives, the auxiliary -so (as in nemu-so "looks sleepy"), or the copula da (including desu and de aru). It assumes knowledge of simple hiragana words (such as anata, ikutsu, suru or naru) that every student learns at beginner level. It also omits some phrasal conjunctions, such as soko de (at which point), sore kara (after that) and suru to (whereupon), which can be understood by their constituent parts....

Giles Murray

About the Author

GILES MURRAY lives in Tokyo where he works as a writer, translator, editor, and copywriter. He is the author of Kodansha International's best-selling "anti-textbook," 13 Secrets for Speaking Fluent Japanese, and appears as Jeremy Hilditch in the Japanese for Busy People: The Video series. Among his translations are Master Modeler: Creating the Tamiya Style (the autobiography of Shunsaku Tamiya, president of Tamiya Inc.) and Love Hina, a manga series about a bespectacled youth who becomes the janitor of a girls' dormitory.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
It is tempting to link the female protagonist of this story to Soseki's sister-in-law, Tose, with whom he was in love until her premature death in 1891. Read the first page
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Browse Sample Pages
Front Cover | Copyright | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply amazing! 2 Aug 2004
Format:Perfect Paperback
This book is great; The paper is great, the layout is great, the overall look is great, just from the feel and a quick look over the book you feel it should cost twice as much ^^. The content is awesome, Side-by-side Japanese and English with a dictionary underneath. You will need to understand a little Japanese to get the most out of the Japanese versions but the stories are interesting and rewarding even if you just read the translations. The illustrations and commentry complete this package, the only bad thing I can say is "Why aren't there any more books like this!"
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format:Perfect Paperback
Having spent several years studying Japanese without reading a single piece of literature, I bought this book and have found it very helpful. The size and layout of the book is attractive, with the short biographies of the authors a useful addition. The best feature is the way that all the vocabulary and kanji readings are given on the same page as the text, meaning you don't have to consult a dictionary or leaf through pages as you go. I've also listened to the sound files on the internet, which really add another dimension to the book. My only criticism is that it would have been nice to have had more variety in the stories selected, including some less Gothic in style, but this volume is well worth having. If only there were more books like this to simplify the process of reading Japanese.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for the aspiring learner 3 Dec 2008
Format:Perfect Paperback
I fully concur with previous reviews. This collection of short stories is not only well-selected and annotated (some of the most famous and influential short stories and authors in Japanese literature are here), the format also makes it a very useful and enjoyable learning aid.

Since the stories are not recent works, the language is occasionally a little old-fashioned. However, anyone with a good grasp of the basics of Japanese grammar and a willingness to learn will enjoy this book immensely. Beginners will feel a rewarding sense of achievement at piecing together sentences and narrative, while more experienced readers will find the direct comparison of Japanese and English storytelling an enlightening experience, especially where idiosyncracies and colloquialisms are expertly rendered.

The stories themselves are well-chosen, both for their steadily increasing complexity of language and for their interesting representation of Japanese literature and historical culture. While the first few (from "Ten Nights of Dream" - Natsume Sooseki) are somewhat sombre - reminiscent of Poe, whose influence the editor recognises - all of them are engaging pieces. Even the very first story, barely a few hundred words in length, conveys a strong sense of emotion and powerful imagery, without being too florid or abstract for a relative beginner to understand.

This is a wonderful learning resource and I would strongly recommend it for all but the most basic or advanced students of Japanese - I hope to see more of its kind in future.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What more could you want? 25 Aug 2004
Format:Perfect Paperback
Well, if you do inist you want to begin to read Japanese stories, why not start with this volume where everything is there for you.
The text is full of Kanji.
The stories selected need little background, but there is a set uup for each section and the whole thing in English.
There is some indication of the difficulty.
The stories are all apparently online as read text, though I haven't availed myself of this yet, it should make a more challenging point. Listen for reinforcement, or listen and read or listen alone and try to write it out. Should be good.
The stories are authentic and attractive.
You have all of the words listed that you need in phonetic characters and translated, so you can read without having a wide vocabulary.
Perhaps the trouble is to be discipllined enough to make sure you study/retain what you read. But it certainly seems a good method of beginning to read Japanese for language learners.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great for learners 2 Oct 2010
Format:Perfect Paperback|Verified Purchase
The best way to learn any language is to surround yourself in it. I found this book great for practising reading hiragana and kanji, as well as reading up on classic Japanese literature and culture. There's a website with downloadable Mp3 files that go with the book, but I haven't really looked at these. Overall a very good book.
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