I love to hear comments such as these from my students: “I can read a Japanese book all by myself!”, “I understood the story!”, and “I enjoy reading books in Japanese!” This is why I decided to write my own Japanese children’s storybooks.
Lack of appropriate reading books for learners of Japanese as a Foreign or Second Language (JFL/JSL)
A major reason for me to write Japanese books is because, unfortunately, I have not come across many books published in Japan that can be fully comprehended by JFL/JSL learners. “I cannot find a book that my students can read by themselves“, “My students are not motivated to finish reading a book in Japanese”, “It’s too hard”, and “I don’t know which books are good for my son / daughter” are some example comments I often hear from teachers, students and parents.
During my career, I have been devoting myself to the teaching of the Japanese language at all levels. Naturally, I am always searching for effective teaching and learning resources. As for reading materials, such as, books, I am fully aware that there are many good Japanese books available. However, finding suitable Japanese books for JFL/JSL learners has been a continuous challenge. Sometimes, my students ask me if children’s books are easier to understand. Disappointingly, my answer has always been ‘No’. Unlike the English language, the children’s books in Japanese are not necessarily easier. In fact, children’s books in Japanese are often very difficult to comprehend due to a variety of reasons.
Children’s books employ both formal and informal language. Word choices and how sentences end change, depending on contexts, such as, ages of the characters in the book and the relationships between the speakers and listeners. In addition, many children’s stories, such as folk tales, are often written in a non-standard and/or less modern dialect. Unless the reader of a Japanese book has a Japanese cultural background, or has been exposed to variations of the language since childhood, or have reached an advanced level, reading books in Japanese becomes challenging.
To illustrate, the single word ‘I’ can be said in more than ten different ways: watashi, atashi, boku, ore, wagahai, ware, washi, jibun, wate, wai, oira, ora, sessha, wachiki and so forth. A sentence asking, “Shall we eat?”, can differ if a grandmother is talking to her grandson, or the grandson is talking to his teacher, or a bear is talking to a bird. Tabe yoo ka? Tabe masen ka? Taberu ka? Taberu? Tabeppe ka? Itadaki mashoo ka? are some examples of how this phrase could be used in Japanese .
Additionally, the fonts used in children’s books published in Japan are often not the standard fonts used in Japanese language study. Most of the learning materials for the Japanese language available worldwide use a standard font called ‘Kyokashotai’ (textbook font). Using non-standard fonts is problematic as it can cause unnecessary challenges for the reader and could discourage the readers from actually reading. As the readers have more exposure to various fonts, they will develop experiences and confidence to recognise and read various fonts in Japanese, just like children living in Japan.
Why I decided to write my own stories
Consequently, my frustration associated with the lack of suitable books, combined with my love of writing stories, has led me to the decision to create my own story books.
I enjoy reading and writing and have had a strong background in Japanese literacy since childhood. I received various awards for excellence in writing as a student. I was brought up in a family of teachers, where the importance of reading was embedded early in life. Reading is both fun and an effective literacy development tool.
Additionally, my mother, Mitsuko Tashiro, a former registered teacher with the Board of Education in Japan, has written sixteen children’s stories that have been published in Japan by publishers such as Kaiseisha, Kodansha, and Puplar publishing companies. Mitsuko was a member of JSLA (Japan School Library Association), a nationwide association promoting reading for young people and the development of school libraries and received two awards as a highly contributing member. Each year she acted as a judge, selecting ‘good books’ for public schools in Japan and was a member of the Tochigi Prefecture Library Association, playing a similar role. Now, Mitsuko enjoys her retirement, pursuing her passion for photography as a hobby. She is happy to share her books with us and join ‘Earle sensei’s Japan books’ (japanbooks.com.au) as a photographer and an overseeing officer.