Download Japanese Books for Free with Aozora Bunko!

Like books? Like free things? Like your books free and in Japanese? I’ve got some great news for all you mousy nerds looking to get your book fix: there’s a Japanese site dedicated to making books free and available to the public to download and it’s all legal!

The project is known as Aozora Bunko (青空文庫), or “Blue Sky Library.” You can think of it as the Japanese equivalent of the English Project Gutenberg. The idea behind the project is simple: to digitize books that are out of copyright and make them available to everybody. That means that Japanese literary classics such as The Tale of Genji and Botchan are fair game (especially since the copyright for Genji ran out oh, a few hundred years ago).

Generous, current-day authors who want to give away their books for free can also give their permission to the site to distribute their books.

Not only does Aozora Bunko provide tons of Japanese literature for free, but the site also fights for more books to enter the public domain so that more books are available to the public for free. Neat!

The site and all the books are obviously all in Japanese, so this isn’t a site for Japanese beginners who are still learning their hiragana. But more advanced learners of Japanese and intermediate masochists might want to challenge themselves and give this site a try. I mean, the more things you can use to study, the more Japanese you’ll end up seeing and eventually the more you’ll end up learning.

You can access the books as HTML, plaintext, or eBook; but be warned, their eBooks are in .ebk format. The .ebk format seems pretty uncommon in the west, but there are ways to convert the books to PDF, read them directly on iOS, or read them right on your Windows computer.

Interested? Check out Aozora Bunko here.

EDIT: People have suggested other apps in the comments below. You might also want to check out:

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  • Anonymous

    There needs to be an AWESOME button for this.

  • Kiriain

    I love this. I wonder how many titles they have right now…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joseph-Becker/100000511603008 Joseph Becker

    Cool stuff!

  • Kyokochan93

    Nice, however, I’m not advanced enough to use this site. Do you know some sites with children stories and Furigana? That would be perfect learning material for beginners.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    I agree :D

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    I’m not sure of the exact numbers, but hundreds and hundreds.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Unfortunately, I don’t :(. I’ll keep my eye out though, and make a post about it if I find one.

  • Othique

    I ditto jonniez. I’m stoked about this..

  • Othique

    OH! Also.. for Kyokochan and anybody else with the same issue. If you have Firefox you can put a few add-ons that’ll help with Aozora Bunko. There’s Furigana inserter, so everything has furigana and also rikaichan so it’ll give you the definitions of the kanji by scrolling your mouse over the words. And they’re free, of course…

  • Giraffe

    I thought you were gonna do a shameless plug and link for the Rendaku article when I saw “Aozora” in the article name. :D

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Glad to hear it!

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Very good point about rikaichan. I hadn’t heard of Furigana Inserter before, I’ll have to check it out.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Hahaha, good point! I hadn’t thought of it, but I missed out on a great opportunity for a shamelss plug :(

  • Adam

    Another thing that should be mentioned that isn’t in the article is that there is also an iPad app available called iBunkoHD that can be used for reading all of the material available in Aozora Bunko

  • Rebecca C

    I’m not advanced enough (or insane enough) to try to read this stuff yet, but the page is bookmarked for the future. Thank you! This is awesome!

  • Rebecca C

    I’m not advanced enough (or insane enough) to try to read this stuff yet, but the page is bookmarked for the future. Thank you! This is awesome!

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    No problem, hope it’s helpful in the future. :)

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Ah cool, I didn’t know that there was an iPad app for iBunko, too. Thanks for pointing that out!

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    No problem, hope it’s helpful in the future. :)

  • http://shoujikishindoi.blogspot.com/ Rene

    Bookmarking it now! thanks for sharing! =)

  • Nihonnikonni

    Apart from the i文庫S (iBunkoS) app noted in the post I also would like to recommend another iOS app called “Wakaru”. It comes at the same price as iBunkoS but offers some additional features:
    * reader for Japanese eBooks, PDFs, clipboard (see below)
    * built-in furigana for any of the aforementioned text sources
    * optional word look-up by tapping a word in the text
    * built-in web browser that also offers the furigana and look-up-by-tap
    * direct download of Aozara books into the eBook reader from the built-in browser
    * and many more

    Just have a look at it – it’s awesome! (I’m not affiliated in any way with them – I just like their app and think it might be helpful for the rest of you)

  • Kyokochan93

    I’ll, too. If I find something, I’ll say so.

  • Cuavsfan

    For those with an iPhone / iPod Touch I highly recommend a program called skybooks.
    http://sb.aill.org/

    In addition to downloading books directly from Aozora, you can also add your own text files.  Also, you can select a word and quickly look it up on Google dictionary (internet required) or in one of several other dictionaries on your iPhone (no internet required).  I use it with Daijirin and it works great.
    http://www.monokakido.jp/iphone/daijirin.html

    One last note.  Aozora includes Japanese translations of a lot of famous English fairy tales, etc., so for those who aren’t quite ready to tackle Genji they might be worth trying.  Reading something where you already know the basic story can make things a lot easier because you don’t have to worry if there’s a bit you don’t fully understand.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    You’re welcome :D

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Oooh, very cool, looks like a nice app!

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Very good point. Thanks for the app recommendations and the advice.

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  • Kyokochan93

    http://life.ou.edu/stories/
    That seems to be good. Only easy Kanji, a translation with vocabulary list after the text.

  • Juliet

    As someone else meantioned, Rikai-chan, Furigana Inserter, etc. for Firefox are great. If you don’t use Firefox, Hiragana Megane: http://www.hiragana.jp/en/ will add kana to websites (one of their samples is, in fact, Aozora Bunko).

    Kid’s Corner: http://www.wiredforbooks.org/kids.htm has Beatrix Potter books in various languages including Japanese (sorry, it uses kanji; no furigana – but it’s not much and you could just print out the pages and add furigana using a kanji dictionary). It even includes audio on some! Listening + Reading = Woot!

    The International Digital Children’s Library has many foreign language children’s books, including a several in Japanese (hiragana, furigana); it’s pretty cool: 
    http://www.childrenslibrary.org/icdl/AdvancedSearchCategory?selIds=13&viewIds=3&rnum=1&pgct=12&text=&lang=English&view=cover&sort=title&match=all&location=everywhere&ilang=English

    *The FukuMusume Fairy Tale Collection http://hukumusume.com/douwa/betu/index.html is so awesome it deserves its own article. Hundreds of stories, audio, you can pick by genre, some are bilingual, etc. I only just discovered it myself, so I can’t tell you much more, but wow.

     http://dir.kids.yahoo.co.jp/artsoup/Books_and_Reading/ lists a bunch of sites with reading material. You might like these children’s stories http://www.jx-group.co.jp/hanataba/stories/No41/ (again, you’ll have to add furigana).
     —
     Aaaand random page containing the tale Okatarou: http://aureaovis.com/story0407.htm

  • Gevans30

    do you have any books on Gozen Tomoe?

  • http://twitter.com/mydlands JulieM

    You could try this website and see if it suits your needs.

    International Children’s Digital Library:  http://en.childrenslibrary.org/

    It has books in many languages.  Not all languages have the same amount of books, but it’s free.  Good luck!

  • soledad

    Kanji De Manga Volume 1 .. can any one please till me where i can find  this book /!?

  • http://www.facebook.com/nandomcd Fernando Macedo

    You can try the Night on the Galactic Railroad (銀河鉄道の夜, Gingatetsudou no Yoru) by Kenji Miyazawa. It’s a classic for all ages, and should not be kanji heavy. Take a look: http://www.aozora.gr.jp/cards/000081/files/456_15050.html

  • http://www.facebook.com/nandomcd Fernando Macedo

    Super!
    Aquestion: Will I encounter too much strange kanji (out of the jouyou list) in the very old books?

  • http://www.facebook.com/bastien.cacatos Sébastien Cacatos

    They will be in 旧字, unsimplified characters as they are still in use in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, where they are called 繁體字 (or 正體字).

    It will be indicated on the listing of books whether they are 旧字 or 新字.

    The characters underwent simplification reforms around the 1910s (?), and books don’t take that long to enter the public domain in Japan, so you can still find a wealth of simplified characters books on Aozora.

    If you read novels, you are going to find a lot of unusual characters, yes. But they quite often have the furigana (kana) reading above.

  • Gabriel 93

    Thanks a lot I really do appreciate you sharing this with us