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Hat tip to the always on top of things Reddit. Looks like a non-Japanese (aka USA, for now) Amazon Kindle store now stocks books in the Japanese language. This opens up some huge opportunities for study, though it does currently have its share of problems. I spent the weekend reading terrible books and trying things out, though, so I’d be able to share them with you here.

Available Japanese Books On Amazon USA

Now as we go through this article, don’t get your hopes up too high. Just about everything has a “it’s good … but” sort of phrase attached to it. Doesn’t mean you won’t be able to study with it and have an awesome time, but there is a lot of room for improvement.

First up is the selection. The reason (I’m guessing) why the Amazon US store is able to offer Japanese books at all in the first place is because of the books that are being offered. I’m not really up on what’s big book-wise in Japan right now (okay, maybe a little bit), but I can tell you for sure it certainly isn’t these books. The Japanese books available on the Amazon US store are either old, self-published, or both. Definitely not the cream of the crop, but if you’re using these for studying, then who cares, right?

But, being that the books aren’t exactly “top notch,” you do get some perks. First of all, they’re available to you in the first place. That’s nice. Second, they’re super cheap. In fact, many are free (with many more free if you have an Amazon Prime account).

Go ahead and browse the Amazon Kindle Store for books in the Japanese language. You’ll see what I mean.

But, beggars can’t be choosers. I just went through and literally judged every single book by its cover (and price), downloaded a ton of cheap / free books, and started going through them.

Downloading And Reading

The cool thing about the Kindle is you can buy and download a book to any number of devices; your phone, your tablet, your Kindle, and even your computer is game for becoming a Kindle reading device. This would be really great (and I imagine it will happen eventually, but not now) if your Mac/PC version of Kindle actually supported Japanese text. For now, these Japanese books will only work on:

  • iOS / Android Devices (tablets, phones)
  • Kindle Paperwhite
  • Kindle Fire

So, your options are a bit limited right now. I hope that changes in the near future as it really limits things for studying. I for one am looking forward to when I can read Japanese books on the Kindle app for my computer. It’ll make looking things up a lot easier, for sure. Cloud (browser) reader also isn’t compatible.

Luckily, a lot of people have iOS or Android devices these days making it possible, though slightly more difficult, to study Japanese via Japanese books from the Kindle store.

Studying

This is the important part for you all, right? Right off the bat, studying with Japanese Kindle books could use a lot of improvements. There’s quite an inconsistency between books too. Some books are okay to study with while others are nearly impossible. I’m guessing it has something to do with how the author submitted the book to the Kindle Store, but beyond that I’m not sure. Luckily they’re so cheap (and often free) that you can just download a bunch until you find something you like.

Here are the issues I had with the iPad version, though I’ve read that they carry over to Android versions as well. While none of them make it impossible to study, they all make it more uncomfortable and less efficient.

Issue #1: Dictionary / Lookup Feature

For some books, when you try to select some text to look it up, it just selects the entire page, making it impossible to look up words you don’t know. For the ones that do work, it’s not really smart about what it selects (iBook books, for example, do a pretty good job grabbing actual words). So, you’ll spend a little time adjusting the selection tool to grab the word you want. This wouldn’t be too bad if it was the only issue. Words that have been conjugated usually don’t come up with definitions at all when you highlight them. After a while, you’ll find this pretty irritating, so you’ll just end up looking up a kanji the old fashioned way.

Also, while I actually kind of like this, when the dictionary does work, it’s only going to show you the Japanese definition in Japanese. I’ve always thought reading these is a good way to study Japanese, but for some it will be a deal breaker. It will always show the readings of words so you can look them up on jisho or something, though (that is unless it’s having one of its conjugation issues, though you can select the individual kanji, get the reading, and look it up from there).

Lastly, if you thought readings would help, sometimes they’re just plain wrong… well, they’re right, but not for the word you’re trying to look up. I found several instances of this, which makes me think that beginners will want to stay away. Intermediate / advanced students should be able to figure out when something doesn’t look right, though.

Issue #2: No Copy/Paste

Many of the ebooks highlight too much (and you aren’t able to adjust it)

This is somewhat the same as Issue #1. If you can’t copy and paste words, it’s harder to look them up. You’ll need to have a computer nearby / available to look things up with, making it a little less convenient for those of you who don’t want to bring your iPad and laptop to the coffee shop. Them first world problems, mang.

But, It does work…

… and I think it will get better. At least, one can hope and dream. If you were just allowed to use the built in dictionary instead of whatever they’re providing, and if only the dictionary worked more of the time, you’d have yourself a nice tool to study with. Once this is compatible with your computer – oh man, forget about it – it’ll be amazing.

Studying with Japanese ebooks is like a dream come true, too. So long as you have the kanji skills it will allow you to study Japanese anytime anywhere. Here’s one method on how to study with Japanese Kindle books:

  1. Read through as much as you can in one sitting. Depending on your level, that could be 1 page or 20 pages (or more). Highlight / write down the words / kanji you don’t know somewhere else. I use Evernote for this.
  2. Look up, study, and learn said words that you wrote down. Put them into an SRS (Anki, perhaps?).
  3. After you’ve studied the things you didn’t know, try to read through it again. This time mark the words you still don’t know and study them again.
  4. After you can read the pages comfortably-ish, read it out loud. Reading out loud is much better practice and you’ll figure out what you do or don’t know. There’s a reason why they make kids read their books out loud while they’re learning to read.
  5. Rinse and repeat.

The key here is to do this a little bit every day. Small, consistent steps will make for big progress in the long run. Can you imagine what your Japanese would be like even if you only studied and did this to one page per day? In a year you’d know a lot of words, become much more familiar with grammar, and be able to read a lot more. Most people sit around doing nothing for a year. This kind of study really does make a difference as long as you do it every day. Plus, it will get faster and faster (or you’ll be able to study more and more) as you get better at it.

Verdict

While it does have its flaws, this is a pretty nice way to study. It certainly beats studying with a physical book (in my opinion), and it is bound to get better (I hope). Literally all I want is a desktop / browser version to be compatible with the Japanese language books. If that exists and you can copy paste words I will be a happy little boy. For now, I can see past the problems and still get a lot out of it.

Also, getting this on other Kindle stores would be nice too. Not everyone is in the USA, though I imagine like many other things it will eventually make its way onto other Kindle Stores as well (at least we can dream).

If you’re a high-intermediate or advanced learner of Japanese, I highly recommend giving this a shot. If you’re more on the beginner side of things and know less than… oh, let’s say 750-1000 kanji at the moment, keep studying your kanji until you’re ready. I hear WaniKani is sending out invites more speedily now (wink wink nudge nudge).

Now go check out the Japanese books on the Amazon US Kindle Store.

  • http://www.myjapanesegreentea.com/ Ricardo Caicedo

    Thanks for the article, koichi. How hard is it to sign up for the Japanese Amazon and buy ebooks there with a credit card outside Japan?

  • Jeff Bezos’ son

    One question for the almighty Koichi: let’s say I download a kindle book on my Android, then can’t I convert the file to a pdf or something?

  • http://twitter.com/Musouka Musouka

    You can use Calibre to strip the DRM if any (plugin required) and/or convert the AZW format to PDF or ePub or other supported formats.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    You should ask your father, but in order to do that you have to remove the drm from the book. There are occasionally ways to do that, but they’ve gotten patched away in the past. So, if you can find a way to remove drm from them, in theory it might work, though I don’t know how the formatting would respond to being converted. Probably would depend on each individual book and how they were originally put together, I imagine.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Well there you go, Jeff Bezos’ son, better answer than mine :p I’m going to have to try calibre

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    You’ll need to use a VPN located in Japan, I hear. Basically just doesn’t allow you to buy anything if you’re not in Japan. After that, you may or may not need a Japanese credit card, though I don’t *think* this is the case (I’m probably wrong).

    Or, just go to Japan and spend your entire trip buying ebooks. That might work too.

  • piderman

    “Also, getting this on other Kindle stores would be nice too.”

    I can confirm that in the Netherlands I can get Japanese books from the US store (same “crappy” selection). Hopefully this’ll continue when we get our own version.

  • http://twitter.com/jakeadelstein Jake Adelstein

    I’ll test it out this week. I think since I can buy Kindle books in Japanese via my Amazon count which uses my American credit card that it’s not a problem. But I’m not sure.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Hey btw can your dad give me amazon prime for life plz thx

  • SB

    Where does one get the Japanese-Japanese dictionary? Can’t find one on my US-version Paperwhite.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I had to download one. I think when you select some text it asks you if you want to, at least it did on my iPad.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Cool, would love to know!

  • DAVIDPD

    Cool Beans. Technology!

  • missingno15

    Nothing beats real books (震え声)

    With that said, hopefully the inventory opens up and I’ll be able to read some books by 秋元康.

  • MrsSpooky

    imiwa? (formerly kotoba!) is an iOS dictionary that’s excellent! I use that all the time with my Japanese lesson notes on the iPad. bummed there’s no MacOS version, it’s just iOS. It’s very good.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joel.alexander.980 Joel Alexander

    So, I’m guessing the Kindle DX is not on the list of Japanese-capable readers?

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    sorry, don’t think it is :(

  • gorghurt

    as Koichi said you will need a japanese ip. I configured tor and polipo for this, but any proxy should work. I could use my prepaid Mastercard from http://www.mywirecard.com/. but afaik you need to set your kindle home adress to japan. i use virtualbox and buildroid/androvm to emulate an android 4 device(my phone is 2.3) for the android app, its a good way if you have no smartphone and such.

  • gorghurt

    I you want to read those books on your PC you can use Virtualbox and buildroid/androvm.

    I bought some japanese ebooks from the japanese Kindle store, using a proxy server.

    And if you want to make more things like copy and paste the text, you could, in theory, disable the drm and convert the books to other formats with something like calibre.
    dont know if its legal in your country so i wont provide instructions or links. google has everything. Theres a guy caled ALF out there.

    The most anoying thing about ebooks is drm and local restrictions. they said nothing when i bought real books, but when they are digital….

    ps:
    sorry for my bad english

  • Jon

    I managed to get a thing in Japanese on my mom’s kindle fire months ago. The selection was very tiny, but I found a couple of manga in Japanese when I was looking at my mom’s kindle fire when she first got it. I wasn’t very good at Japanese then, though, so I gave up on it after several pages.

  • foozlesprite

    Calibre is pretty awesome. I wrote a novel for NaNoWriMo this year, and for some reason Scrivener wouldn’t export the .mobi correctly. So I exported it as a .txt or a .pdf, and then used Calibre to convert those to .mobi, worked like a charm.

  • conpanbear

    Waiting for my Kindle Paperwhite to come in the post, and Japanese character support was one of the perks that help me choose which eReader to get. I’d done some research, so I’m fairly certain you can read Japanese text on any of the other, more basic/older models of eReaders if they are in .pdf form. Please correct me if I’m wrong :)

  • derio

    Wow… that lineup of books is totally pathetic. I know there are good self-published books out there, but finding them really is looking for a needle in a haystack. Most of those titles look like mediocre fan-fiction.

  • byronomo

    I’d love to know as well. I have no idea why device manufacturers and publishers make this so difficult. It’s as though they refuse to acknowledge that bilingual people exist (let alone bilingual people who spend time in 2 countries) who like to buy media in more than one language. I bought a Sony Tablet in the US last year and was absolutely SHOCKED that, while I was able to configure the device to Japanese language, there was no way for me to use the Sony E-book store (even when using my address in Japan and Credit card).

    Please let me know if your test worked and, if so, how you were able to accomplish buying Japanese e-books on your US-purchased Kindle.

  • Dr. E. Takata

    I ordered a textbook for a Japanese class. The dealer for the 1st book failed to ship. I learned this a month after placing the order. So I ordered from another seller, which reneged, and finally a 3rd dealer did not deliver. I called and was told a book would be shipped over-nite. I got it the day after the class ended. I never heard any apology from Amazon. This is extremely poor service, and I have had the hardest time contacting anyone that could explain why you Amazon does not follow up after an initial order fails.

    And why don’t you post a number to call to try to get service? Put it in a conspicuous place. I had to hunt quite a bit to find this complaint area.

    Dr. E. Takata

  • Evercelle

    Is there a particular reason Japanese isn’t supported for older kindles? My mom and I both have Kindle 3, but she’s able to read Chinese e-books on hers. Or is the font for hiragana not available?

  • Ryan

    Any reason why a kindle touch isn’t compatible? I bought one about a year and a half ago explicitly because it supports Japanese fonts, which I have confirmed in a variety of non PDF ways. It supports everything but furigana, so why can’t I now use it to read Japanese ebooks? I’m totally stumped, and more than a little bummed. I have an android tablet, but really prefer reading on the kindle touch.

  • Ryan

    My kindle touch supports Japanese both via instapaper and MS Word files converted through Amazon’s service. I can’t understand why the ebooks aren’t supported, but I’ve downloaded one and can only use it on my android tablet. I’m very bummed because I love reading on my b/w kindle.

  • Ryan

    I don’t get it. I got a kindle touch a year and a half ago specifically because it DOES support Japanese, which I’ve confirmed with instapaper and by having Amazon convert a Word file that was in Japanese. I’ve also used a PDF to kindle format conversion site. The only hitch I found was that words with furigana don’t appear, which is a bummer, but fine. So why won’t the ebooks work? No idea, but I’m pretty unhappy about it.

  • http://twitter.com/famblykittens Fambly kittens

    I’m getting tons of Japanese books on my Kindle Fire that I didn’t order. I delete them and they are back just like a bad neighbor in the morning. It’s making a mess of things. I didn’t pay what I did to have that crap put on my machine or in the cloud to make a jumbled mess.

  • Jean-Christian Imbeault

    In case this is of interest, I couldn’t find any suitable Japanese/English dictionary to use with my new Japanese Kindle
    Paperwhite so I went and created one myself and published it on Amazon.

    If anyone is interested the ASBN for it is B00AKIUDAY

    You can find it here:

    http://www.amazon.co.jp/dp/B00AKIUDAY/
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AKIUDAY/

    If it is not available in your country feel free to send me a private email/message and I will see if I can get it published in your country.

  • kraemder

    I figured out how to remove drm so I can read the Japanese on a much more friendly learner’s device… like dokusho or rikaisama. Anyway, some tips on how to find actual Japanese written books on Amazon would have been nice. I am finding nothing but porn without any written word at all. O.o Not that I mind adult literature but there isn’t any literature here…