A Man by Hirano Keiichiro

I just finished listening to my first novel by Hirano from Audiobook.jp. The story mostly follows Kido, a lawyer looking into a strange case where a woman finds, upon his unexpected death, that her husband wasn’t using his real name.

This story explores several themes. One is the dilemma facing Kido as he tries to find a balance between caring about ideals and focusing on his family. He is at odds with his wife for his decision to volunteer to give legal counsel for victims of the Tohoku Earthquake and his attitudes underlying that decision.

Another theme is racial discrimination. Kido is a naturalized third-generation Korean. He was raised Japanese, but discrimination subtly shows up at different times in his life. As a Japanese citizen, he is caught between identifying as both the perpetrator and victim of discrimination, raising challenging questions about his identity.

The third theme in this novel was whether when you love someone, do you love them from the moment you meet them, or do you also love their past. If that past turns out to be fictional do you still love them? I liked the character Misuzu’s reply to Kido when he was getting too caught up in this theoretical dilemma. “If you fall in love with someone once, that’s not all there is to it. Over time, you just have to fall in love over and over again.”

With the variety of themes covered in this novel, I’m not sure how they are all connected, and I would have to listen to it again to get a better idea. Overall I think the themes may be loosely tied together by the question, “what is happiness?”

After listening to the novel, I found that an English translation is available. Also, I realized that the translator, Eli K. P. William actually writes English novels as well and has been interviewed recently by my friend and fellow blogger at Self Taught Japanese.






聴き終わったら、この作品はすでに英語に翻訳されていると気づきました。翻訳家のEli K. P. Williamは作家でもあります。それに去年、友達のブログにインタビューが載せていると気づきました。英語のみですけど、面白いですから読んでください。

Run, Melos! by Morimi Tomihiko

Morimi has re-written five Japanese modern-classic short stories with his own twist. He recreates the stories with his specialty, college students in Kyoto, bringing in references from his earlier works such as The Night Is Short Walk on Girl.

I was thrilled to see that one of Morimi’s works is available on Audiobook.jp. This one is more challenging to understand than other audiobooks I have listened to because of some of the decorative phrasing used in descriptions, but even without 100% knowledge of some of the advanced vocabulary used, the stories are still understandable.

The Moon Over the Mountain

This first story of the collection one was my favorite. Not just for the story itself but for where it led me. This story was written by Nakajima Atsushi. I found that he wrote short stories in the early 20th century that are set in ancient China. I have been working on learning Chinese lately, and I have found learning about China from Japanese sources is quite rewarding. The original story is, although short, quite difficult to read, so I haven’t worked through it yet. Once I get to it, I’ll share my thoughts in another post.

Another neat aspect of this story is the incorporation of Daimonji Mountain, which shows up in many of Morimi’s works including The Tropics

In a Grove

This story is about a student in a university film-making club who creates a film featuring his girlfriend and her ex-boyfriend rekindling their love. It takes the perspective of several different characters describing the same situation.

The final narrator uses a lazy way of speaking, possibly with Kansai intonation—it’s hard for me to pick out accents in Japanese. It was difficult for me to understand, but with the many other descriptions of the same situation, I was better able to parse what he is saying. I have a very hard time understanding conversation, as opposed to something like an audiobook, which is relatively slow and deliberate. I think listening to the final narrator a few more times will be helpful for my listening comprehension of conversations, where you need to be able to understand a wide variety of speaking styles, which are not always clear and deliberate.

Run, Melos!

This feature story is also the most humorous and ridiculous. While the original, by Dazai, based on a Greek myth was probably not so humorous, peach-colored briefs play a prominent role in this updated version.

Under The Full-bloom Sakura Forest

This one had the least humor and seemed more serious to me. Quite possibly I’m missing humor if it is there though. I really liked the structure of this story, but I can’t give away the details.

One Hundred Ghost Stories

This is a great story to tie everything together. A mysterious character organizes an event where one hundred ghost stories are told, with one of 100 candles blown out after each story. When it becomes pitch dark, the real ghost is said to appear!

Final Thoughts

This work will probably be most enjoyable if you have read Morimi’s other older works that are based on university students in Kyoto, such as Walk on Girl The Night Is Young, Tatami Galaxy, and Tower of the Sun. I haven’t read the latter two, but I have a feeling I’m missing references from those works. Overall, this compilation of short stories is an enjoyable way to get some exposure to modern-classic short stories, all while never leaving Morimi-world, which has been fleshed out in his other works.

Image of Daimonji used under Creative Commons License 



















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.






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 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.

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Japanese Audiobook Review: Mr. Tsubakiyama’s Seven Days

I recently listened to another audiobook from Audiobook.jp called Mr. Tsubakiyama’s Seven Days by Asada Jiro (椿山課長の七日間 – 浅田 次郎). I didn’t know much about Asada or this book beforehand, but I noticed excellent reviews on Amazon, so I thought it was worth a try.

I wasn’t into the style at first. After thinking about it a while, I realized it had to do with the setting, which I didn’t find engaging. Primarily, the setting is what draws me into a book—The windowless programmers’ compound on an isolated island, housing an imprisoned evil genius, in  All Become F. The dizzying maze of midnight Pontocho and Kiyamachi in The Night is Short, Walk on Girl.—This book’s opening, with flower-lined, calm and nearly empty streets leading to an administrative building, didn’t have enough of an edge to draw me in.

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Japanese Audio Book Review: Scientific Task Force, Case File Blue – Konno Bin

Finding a Japanese audiobook source

Sometimes it’s challenging to find time to read, but it may not be quite as hard to find time to listen to an audiobook. I have wanted to listen to current Japanese novels in audiobook form for years, but in the past I have not been impressed with the selection available.

I would like to listen to current fiction, but most of the fiction available when I first started searching consisted older works from the public domain or offerings that tended towards self-help. Since I couldn’t find anything I was interested in, I have been listening to podcasts to maintain my audio connection with the Japanese language.

Lately I took a another look at Amazon’s Audible and was surprised to see more current fiction like Convenience Store Woman and several mystery novels by Konno Bin. Filled with excitement about all the books I could now listen to, I applied for the free trial right away!

Only, I was quickly deflated by the geographical restriction for the credit card billing address. Amazon didn’t want my foreign money, and I still don’t have access to their small, but growing collection of current fiction read aloud by professional narrators.

Fortunately I found another source, called Audiobook.jp, formerly known as FeBe. The selection is much smaller, but the system is far less restrictive. I was immediately able to purchase Scientific Task Force, Case File Blue with no obstacle related to my geographical location. For a review of Audiobook.jp, check out SelfTaughtJapanese.com.

When I downloaded the iOS app and signed in, it synced right away making the book available for download. On the website, I was able to download mp3 files that seemed to be DRM-free, meaning I can listen to the book however I like, and I get to keep it regardless of the future of Audiobook.jp. I like this better than a monthly subscription, such as Audible’s, where you lose everything if you stop paying or they may decide to remove your favorites from the library. That said, for the increased selection, I would sign up for Audible in a  heartbeat if Amazon would allow it.

My first audiobook purchase

(ST警視庁科学特捜班 青の調査ファイル  – 今野 敏)

The novel I chose to purchase from Audiobook.jp is a police procedural mystery that is part of a series involving the Metropolitan Police Force’s Scientific Taskforce, or “ST”, consisting of several members with special skills. Here is a brief introduction of the characters, which appear in the many novels of the series.

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