So you want to practice reading Japanese but don't know where to start.
As well as normal textbooks you can buy so called 'readers' that have less (or no) questions, answers and grammar explanations and instead concentrate on passages of Japanese text generally with limited vocabulary lists. Textbooks may be a boring answer but buying textbooks has several advantages.
- 'Proper' Japanese.
- Specific difficulty level.
- Readings and vocabulary given for difficult words.
See also Selecting a Japanese Textbook.
Children's books and comics
If you want to learn 'real' Japanese but not be overwhelmed then children's books and comics can seem like a good idea. This isn't necessarily the case. Here are some points to consider:
- Japanese children know more Japanese than you do.
Sorry, but unless you're well advanced in your studies then the chances are that a primary school kid knows some Japanese words, constructions and phrases that you wouldn't be able to make head or tail of. This is where textbooks that include vocabulary and grammar explanations come into their own.
- Children speak a different language to adults.
Or at least use words that you wouldn't come across in adult conversation. If you don't want to end up asking when the next Choo-choo-train is going to arrive or excusing yourself because you need to go pee-pee then you need to take care to distinguish 'kids words'.
- Beware casual language and slang.
You will need casual language at some point and it doesn't hurt to understand slang but comics use them to excess. If you want to use your Japanese in business or to talk to people you don't know well then you need to be very careful not to use inappropriate slang.
- Most comics will give furigana for some or all kanji.
- Children's books and comics will generally use a smaller vocabulary and less kanji than novels.
- The pictures with comics and picture books will help you know what's going on even if you can't follow the text very well.
In conclusion I would say do read comics and children's books if you want to but don't attempt to learn Japanese just from them. Comics and such should be used as part of a balanced learning program that also includes classes and/or textbooks.
Got no money? No Japanese bookshops nearby and can't order over the Internet? For whatever reason there are often people looking for Japanese to read on the Internet.
Finding Japanese on the Internet is no problem at all but most of it will be boring and / or very difficult.
One useful site is the Mainichi Kid's news site. This uses relatively simple Japanese and gives the readings of all kanji used.
Reading Tutor is one of the better places to go for the late beginner, intermediate student.
Docomo Digital Library has numerous Japanese folktales in Flash format. Very few kanji, all of which have furigana (though you may have to right click/zoom in to read them.)
Yomiuri Children is newspaper children's section.
Progressive reading material, see Shirasagi's 08-09-2007 22:46 post.