Scientific Taskforce – Murder in Moscow by Konno Bin

黒いモスクワ – 今野敏

Audiobook.jp has added two novels featuring the team of eccentric crime solvers called ST. I listened to Case File: Blue when it was the only one available and appreciated it as a straight forward mystery for listening practice, but I wasn’t too into the story as it centered around a ghost. It turns out a ghost comes into play in this one as well—I guess Konno likes ghosts—but I found this one had more to offer.

First, most of the book was set in Moscow. The Japanese investigators interacting with the FSB, former KGB, officers was an interesting dynamic. It raised the question of how much the organization has been influenced by its history versus how it has changed with Russia’s evolving political landscape.

I enjoyed the descriptions of Russian scenery, customs, and food. I have no idea if they were accurate, but I like having a window into another culture from a third culture. Even if there are stereotypes, they are likely subtly different from the stereotypes I would be exposed to in my own culture. Hopefully, this kind of interaction can slowly paint a more accurate picture.

The other reason I preferred this novel to Case File: Blue is the references to martial arts. ST member Kurosaki, is featured in this book as seen by the use of “black” in the Japanese title, which is one of the characters in Kurosaki’s name (they all happen to have colors in their names). Kurosaki is at an advanced level in several schools of martial arts. In this novel, he is a rising star in a fictional school. I couldn’t understand the details of the martial arts descriptions, but the part I could pick up was something fresh to listen to. If you are deep into martial arts maybe you would enjoy this aspect of the book, as long as you don’t take it too seriously.

There is nothing else like Konno’s novels on Audiobook.jp, so I highly recommend them if you searching for a light and fun mystery story. Although the title is quite intense, I look forward to listening to the remaining book, Murder by Poison.

この頃Audiobook.jpで今野敏のSTシリーズのオーディオブックが二冊発売されました。今まで今野先生の作品の中で青の調査ファイルしか売られていなかったですから、それを楽しく聞きました。面白い推理小説として、それに日本語の聴解練習として、かなり好きでした。だが内容は幽霊の話を中心としていた点にはあまり気に入らなかったです。今回の作品にも幽霊が出ます。もしかして今野先生は幽霊が好きかもしれないですね。だが幽霊は別にして、今回の作品の方がよほど面白い点が多かったです。

一つ目の面白い点はモスクワの設定でした。日本人の捜査員とロシアの旧KGBであるFSBとの交流を見るのが好きでした。外からの見方を通して、FSBという組織が歴史や政治的の進化にどのように影響されているということは注目されてます。

ロシアの景色、伝統、や食べ物の描写は面白かったです。どのくらい本物のロシアを描かれているかわからないですが、それでも第三者の文化の見方からロシアの文化を見るのが好きでした。ロシアはどのような国と言えば、アメリカ人としての先入観があります。日本人なら微妙に違う先入観があるでしょう。そういう違う先入観を比べたりすると、脳内のロシアのイメージは少しずつ真実に近寄るかもしれないと思います。

青の調査ファイルより好きだった他の理由といえば、それは武術が出ているからです。タイトルは「黒いモスクワ」ですから、やはり黒崎というSTメンバーは注目されています。彼はいくつかの流派の武道に高い地位を持っているらしいです。この小説では、空想の流派の中伝免許を誰よりも早くとってうわさと嫉妬の対象になっていました。僕は武術に詳しくないですが、それにしても武術を説明している部分は面白かったです。何かの武道の経験を持ちの方はこういう要素を気に入るでしょう。ただ、軽く読んでいただければいいと思います。

Audiobook.jpで今野先生の書いているような作品は今野先生のもの以外はないです。軽くて楽しい推理小説を探しているなら、当作品を推薦します。これから、タイトルは少し怖くても、もう一冊の「毒物殺人」を聴くのを楽しみにしています。

Does Learning Chinese Help Your Japanese?

After finding that my efforts to go deeper into Japanese were providing diminishing returns, I decided to start something new and began learning Chinese (Cantonese). I was thinking that I would have to be prepared to accept a decline in my ability to use and understand Japanese, and to some extent that has been true. I haven’t been able to read as many Japanese books as usual lately. However, to my surprise, I find that there are some instances where learning Chinese has actually improved my Japanese ability. I ran into a sentence today where I found two specific instances of the benefits of learning Chinese for my Japanese ability. For those of you that may have fears and concerns that starting another language is the simple tradeoff of giving up depth in your L2 for gaining breadth with a new language, I would like to introduce this discovery.

The sentence I ran into was part of the creed for a Japanese company:

一、虚飾を排し和衷協力誠実事に當る

I didn’t know the word 和衷 (harmony – but not like musical harmony) and I had never seen the character in Japanese before. But fortunately, I had just learned the word 折衷, in Chinese, which means, “to compromise”. I can’t say this completely solved the unknown for me, as I still didn’t know the exact meaning of the word or how to read it. It did, however, allow me to be more familiar with the characters than I would have been if I had not begun studying Chinese. I think that is a subjective benefit, which is very valuable. A more objective benefit was that I could type the word with Cantonese input and copy it into a Japanese dictionary to discover the meaning.

The second benefit was with the word 當る. In this case, a more traditional form of the character 当 had been chosen for the creed, probably to make it look better. This was easy to recognize as it is used in many common words in Chinese that have a direct correspondence in Japanese. One example would be 當日, which corresponds with 当日. If that isn’t enough, my Chinese dictionary, Pleco, shows the simplified version of characters next to the main entry, and I can see that 当 is the simplified version of 當 every time I look up a word including that character.

These are two concrete examples, but I think that a lot of the benefits are too vague to articulate. In conclusion, I think that the breadth you gain from learning Chinese will actually help you gain more depth in Japanese.

Finally, I also want to note that I recently saw a video from famous polyglot Steve Kaufman stating a similar observation. Now we can go on and learn that shiny new language and be sure that, assuming we are still actively using them, our other languages are not only safe from decline but may stand to benefit as well.

Japanese Audiobook Review: I Want to Eat Your Pancreas by Sumino Yoru

(君の膵臓を食べたい – 住野 よる)

This story starts with the funeral of a high school girl, so you know it’s going to be depressing from the beginning. However, preparing the reader at the beginning in some way makes it more light-hearted than if Sumino decided to spring it at the end.

Sakura, a buoyant and outgoing high school girl who is terminally ill, meets an introverted boy, who prefers to live out his life engrossed in novels rather than dealing with the world. They form a deep bond over their shared secret about her illness.

I like that the story involves a lot of daily life activities, such as school, eating, and travel. Not living in Japan myself, it is always fun to read about daily life. Also, the story’s focus on normal activities means there is a lot of every day back and forth conversation, which I enjoy even if it’s just because it’s in Japanese.

The best part of the book was the evolution of the relationship between Sakura and the main character, as well as their individual development. He’s not actually a true hikikomori, as Sakura calls him, although he may be on the path to becoming one. While she, on the other hand, is the kind of person that needs to have others around to realize she’s alive. They begin to learn from one another in a relationship that would have never happened under normal circumstances.

On the audiobook side, there were a couple of things about the recording I want to mention. Sakura calls the narrator nakayoshi-kun, meaning something like, “person I’m close to,” and there is always a pause before the kun. It seems like during the first reading an incorrect name was used, then they went and overlayed the correct name. It makes me wonder what they said before. Also, Sakura’s laugh is quite annoying, but maybe it’s supposed to be that way.

The language is simple, with lots of dialogue, and the story is filled with everyday interactions. This is a great candidate if you are looking to get into your first fiction audiobook in Japanese.

Japanese Nonfiction Review: A Rolling Hong Kong Gathers No Moss

(転がる香港に苔は生えない – 星野 博美)

Usually, I write about fiction books, but I’m making an exception for this nonfiction work by Hoshino Hiromi for three reasons. First, I’m beginning to learn Cantonese so I want to read books in Japanese that help me get a better understanding of the culture associated with the language. Second, I took a vacation to Hong Kong in the early 2000s and was fascinated by the lifestyle—Hoshino decided to actually live the lifestyle. Finally, I think it is an interesting and unique book and want to share it.

Hoshino’s goal was to live in Hong Kong surrounding the handover from England to China. She goes there on a student visa—though not particularly interested in the school part—and lives in a modest apartment. She meets all kinds of people, less of the elite bankers and cosmopolitan Hongkongers that Hong Kong may bring to mind, but the everyday middle-class or working-class people as well as new immigrants. Much of the book is her conversations and interactions with these people, shedding light on different aspects of the local culture.

Continue reading “Japanese Nonfiction Review: A Rolling Hong Kong Gathers No Moss”

Japanese Book Review: The Tropics by Morimi Tomihiko

(熱帯 森見 登美彦)

I don’t normally write in-depth summaries of the books I read, but this one had an intricate enough plot that I wanted to do it for myself, and hopefully, someone else will come across this and find it helpful. This book has the most complicated plot I have read. Early on, we learn that one of the characters carries around a notebook to keep track everything that happens, a lesson he learned after his copy of The Tropics, a mysterious book that no one has ever finished, disappeared.

I took this as a hint and began writing down what happened as I read. If you plan to read this book I would suggest doing the same, or to save time, you can use my summary as a map.

Obviously, this includes spoilers, so if you plan on reading the book come back when you’re finished. Here goes:

Continue reading “Japanese Book Review: The Tropics by Morimi Tomihiko”

Japanese Audiobook Review: Snow In the Desert

Snow In the Desert by Isaka Kotaro (砂漠 – 伊坂幸太郎) is a coming of age story spanning the four college years of five friends. Surprisingly, it never showed up on any of the lists of recommended books on Audiobook.jp—I was only able to find it by searching for Isaka Kotaro directly—so I would like to recommend it here for anyone searching for fiction on the site. I’m guessing it is not a great seller as an audiobook or they would be promoting it more heavily, but on Amazon.co.jp the reviews were decent. I wasn’t too excited about the book, as the synopsis didn’t draw me in, but from the very beginning, I found it enjoyable to listen to because of the narrator, the characters, the relaxing tone. Also, it reminded me of what it was like to have plenty of free time.

Continue reading “Japanese Audiobook Review: Snow In the Desert”

Short Story Translation: “Edgelands” by Haruka Asahi [Part II b]

“Edgelands”(さいはての地 ), a short story by Haruka Asahi (朝陽遥) is part of a fantasy/adventure series, which includes “Rainlands“, of which a translation is published at SelfTaughtJapanese.com. I have the author’s permission to publish the translation of this two-part story. This is the second half of the second part, the end of the story. The beginning of the story is posted here. I would like to thank Locksleyu from SelfTaughtJapanese.com for help with translation checking and proofreading.

Synopsis

They call this place Edgetown—a small mountain village overlooking a vast, blazing wasteland. They say that no one can survive beyond this point, but young Noi can see the faint outline of a mountain in the distance. 

Does anyone really know what is on the other side, or is it just that no one has ever dared the perilous journey? 

Noi, refusing to accept baseless rumors, waits for nightfall to begin his journey…

“Edgelands”, set in the same universe as “Rainlands”, is a testament to the yearning of a human soul.

Continue reading “Short Story Translation: “Edgelands” by Haruka Asahi [Part II b]”

Short Story Translation: “Edgelands” by Haruka Asahi [Part II a]

“Edgelands”(さいはての地 ), a short story by Haruka Asahi (朝陽遥) is part of a fantasy/adventure series, which includes “Rainlands“, of which a translation is published at SelfTaughtJapanese.com. I have the author’s permission to publish the translation of this two-part story. This is the first half of the second part. The beginning of the story is posted here. I would like to thank Locksleyu from SelfTaughtJapanese.com for help with translation checking and proofreading.

Synopsis

They call this place Edgetown—a small mountain village overlooking a vast, blazing wasteland. They say that no one can survive beyond this point, but young Noi can see the faint outline of a mountain in the distance. 

Does anyone really know what is on the other side, or is it just that no one has ever dared the perilous journey? 

Noi, refusing to accept baseless rumors, waits for nightfall to begin his journey…

“Edgelands”, set in the same universe as “Rainlands”, is a testament to the yearning of a human soul.

Continue reading “Short Story Translation: “Edgelands” by Haruka Asahi [Part II a]”

Short Story Translation: “Edgelands” by Haruka Asahi [Part I b]

“Edgelands”(さいはての地 ), a short story by Haruka Asahi (朝陽遥) is part of a fantasy/adventure series, which includes “Rainlands“, of which a translation is published at SelfTaughtJapanese.com. I have the author’s permission to publish the translation of this two-part story. This is the second half of the first part. The beginning of the story is posted here. I would like to thank Locksleyu from SelfTaughtJapanese.com for help with translation checking and proofreading.

Synopsis

They call this place Edgetown—a small mountain village overlooking a vast, blazing wasteland. They say that no one could survive beyond this point, but young Noi could see the faint outline of a mountain in the distance. 

Does anyone really know what is on the other side, or is it just that no one has ever dared the perilous journey? 

Noi, refusing to accept baseless rumors, waits for nightfall to begin his journey…

“Edgelands”, set in the same universe as “Rainlands”, is a testament to the yearning of a human soul.

Continue reading “Short Story Translation: “Edgelands” by Haruka Asahi [Part I b]”

Short Story Translation: “Edgelands” by Haruka Asahi [Part I a]

“Edgelands”(さいはての地 ), a short story by Haruka Asahi (朝陽遥) is part of a fantasy/adventure series, which includes “Rainlands“, of which a translation is published at SelfTaughtJapanese.com. I have the author’s permission to publish the translation of this two-part story, and I will begin by posting the first half of Part I of the original. I would like to thank Locksleyu from SelfTaughtJapanese.com for help with translation checking and proofreading.

Synopsis

They call this place Edgetown—a small mountain village overlooking a vast, blazing wasteland. They say that no one could survive beyond this point, but young Noi could see the faint outline of a mountain in the distance. 

Does anyone really know what is on the other side, or is it just that no one has ever dared the perilous journey? 

Noi, refusing to accept baseless rumors, waits for nightfall to begin his journey…

“Edgelands”, set in the same universe as “Rainlands”, is a testament to the yearning of a human soul.

Continue reading “Short Story Translation: “Edgelands” by Haruka Asahi [Part I a]”