Sometimes when you are studying you just aren't in the mood to read dry history and dusty literature. As a literature buff myself, even I admit to getting burnt out sometimes. But what do you do when it happens? You can't just stop studying until you're in the mood again (I mean you can, but I wouldn't recommend it).
This book is for those burnt-out times. Tom Gally's Reading Japanese with a Smile promises to be made up of real, funny, Japanese stories. It contains nine total, which are really just articles and what seem to be gossip pieces, from a column of Shūkan Asahi 週刊朝日 magazine called "Dekigotology" or デキゴトロジー in Japanese. They are all supposedly true, interesting, and out of the ordinary. Not overly so, just enough to make you smile or laugh while you read it.
Simple, Funny Content
This is a pretty short book. It has only nine stories, after all, and most of them are just about 2-3 pages in Japanese. They are not really full pages either. You'll probably blow through them quickly if you are over the intermediate level. It is the commentary added after each story that is really useful. It breaks down the entire story sentence by sentence. Then each sentence has vocabulary, verb conjugation explanations, annotations, and background information (marked as 語, 動, 注, and 文, respectively).
Besides the amusing content of the stories themselves, the real gem of this book lies in this commentary. Sometimes it goes into great detail about what a certain phrase means, and other times it explains a reference from something in Japanese culture, or what exactly is so important about what someone said that made the rest of the characters gasp. It is in this section that you are going to learn. So even if you don't read through the Japanese by itself, I highly recommend going through the commentary.
You'll also learn how things are written in a Japanese magazine. This might sound trivial, but I had no idea how they kept names anonymous until now, or some of the other ways they shorten company or location names. These are things I never learned from standard textbooks or literature, and I certainly don't read the newspaper so I had no way of knowing.
Here is where you will find my biggest complaint. While the content is great, it is presented in such an unappealing, downright messy way. The section containing the original Japanese article and English translation is perfectly fine. The Japanese is on the left (with occasional furigana) and the English is on the right. But then you reach the commentary and you have to sift through Japanese, followed by romaji, followed by English and sometimes an explanation too, then a slash and it goes right into the next entry.
Sometimes you also find added information in brackets or parentheses too. I found myself wondering if there was some kind of push by the publisher to make everything take up as little space as possible, like they didn't want the book to be too long or had a set page minimum. If they had taken the time to organize the commentary better I think it would be a way more useful text. Luckily, once you get through the mess you will find really beneficial information. I just wish it was not so hard to piece through.
Reading Japanese with a Smile - Verdict
I guess the biggest question was… did I smile while reading this? The answer is yes, easily. There were at least two occasions where I started laughing out loud to myself. My boyfriend asked what on earth was so funny, to which I tried to explain the social faux pas this poor young man committed, making his girlfriend's family think he was going to take over for her father as head of their yakuza gang.
The real hurdle is getting through the messy formatting. The stories are solid and the notes are great, they are just hard to read at times. Other than that, this is a really fun, light book that will help you through those tough road block moments when you are learning Japanese.
If you want to start reading and getting used to Japanese news format, this book is great. It’s like if you took some NHK Easy material and had a teacher sit down and write explanations for you. That being said, it’s pretty short, and while the material is quite funny, it won’t be a good fit for everyone.