Breaking into Japanese Literature

Japanese reading made simple and interesting

16 July, 2012 by

In the 11th century, a book commonly known as the world’s first novel was written by a woman calling herself Murasaki Shikibu. This was of course, the Genji Monogatari. One would need scholarly knowledge of the classical Japanese language to appreciate Shikibu’s work; more contemporary Japanese works however, do not. Breaking into Japanese Literature is a book that offers an introductory look into the more well-known authors and their works.

Breaking into Japanese Literature is a compilation of 7 short stories from renowned Japanese authors Natsume Soseki and Akutagawa Ryunosuke (you might know him as the namesake for the literary Akutagawa Prize). Soseki’s stories come from Ten Nights of Dream, while Akutagawa’s are In A Grove, The Nose and Rashomon.

Author introductions

Readers are given an introduction with a short biography of the author.

If you’ve ever learned Japanese you’d know that no beginner would be able to read a proper book in its native Japanese, much less literary classics. This book helps to ease readers into this with its parallel text format, allowing them to read it in Japanese and then check their own interpretations with the English text. Giles Murray, the author, explains that the book keeps to the source text meticulously, with no superfluous interpretation in its translation to help in readers’ own learning.

Illustrations & Synopsis

Illustrations and a synopsis to start off a short story.

The book also allows for improvement in one’s command of Japanese, with kanji being marked with reference numbers (to Kodansha’s Kanji Learner’s Dictionary) to aid any future referencing. The dictionary at the bottom of each page allows for quick referencing, with any new kanji being introduced placed there, along with the relevant meaning. Sound files are also available for free on the Internet, with professional actors reading out the lines.

Dictionary and Story Text

A spread contains Japanese and English text, along with a dictionary at the bottom.

The A5-sized book is a great companion on short commutes; The dictionary makes it great standalone reading material, and placing both English and Japanese text side-by-side makes it ideal studying material as well. Most importantly, it gives readers a taste of what it’s like to read Japanese literary classics, an experience that I find is rewarding all on its own.


Writer who also doubles as the photographer during event coverage. Mus' interests in Japan lie in the language, literature, popular culture and underground rock bands. Having an academic background in Japan, Mus is also particularly interested in the study of Nihonjinron.