February 17, 2008

Kafka by the Sea Part 1: Japanese Vocabulary in half a modern fiction novel

This is a post that I've been waiting to make for a long time. Every weekend, I spend about one or two hours reading Murakami Haruki's "Kafka by the Sea" (村上春樹「海辺のカフカ」). I have been doing this for the past year, and finally today I finished the first book. Japanese books are often sold in two parts, so now I'll move onto the second and final part of this book. I expect it will still take another year for me to finish, unless I start trying to read it a bit on weekdays as well, but to be honest it is a bit difficult to read because I need to sit down somewhere with enough room to take notes in a notebook, and look words up in a dictionary.

This is the second novel that I've read in Japanese, and much more interesting than the first one, Keritai Senaka, by Risa Wataya, in which nothing much happened. I'm not going to write a review of Kafka by the Sea right now, since I'm only halfway through, but I enjoy it a lot so far. It has elements of fantasy and wonder that I usually really enjoy in Murakami's work. I've started reading a bit faster as time goes on, mostly because the story is getting interesting (and perhaps I'm remembering more words.)

What I would like to write about is the vocabulary with which I had trouble. I sat and wrote the words I didn't know in a little notebook, and then entered them into a simple text file when I finished each reading session. I also added little notes summarizing what when on (I didn't start doing that until later though, so it isn't a complete description of the first book.) These words aren't the only ones that I didn't know, just the ones that I wrote down - there are probably 10 words or so that I just skipped entirely because I was reading on the subway and didn't want to drag out my notebook, or something like that.

There were a total of 877 words that I wrote down in my notebook. Out of a 486 page book, that means there are about two words per page that I don't know on average, but the distribution is really not nearly that even. Of those 877 words, 103 of them showed up more than once. That means that of those 877 words, I couldn't remember about 11 percent of them. One of them in particular is embarrassing: I didn't know the word for "sentence", which makes no sense because I use that word all the time. I attribute it to the word showing up in a context that I am not expecting (literature instead of computer science stuff.)

There were two words that I wrote down four times, nine words that I wrote down three times, 79 words that I wrote down twice, and the rest occurred only once. The good news there is that at least I did seem to learn most words after writing them down twice: very few words occurred three or four times. Also, there are a lot of words here that I really don't need to know. Murakami likes to use strange words, and he will use less-common characters for them also. I don't think I need to know 咀嚼, soshyaku, to bite. Don't normal people just use 噛む, kamu (to bite / chew)?

On the off chance anyone else is interested in reading this novel, I'll put up my vocab list.


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Re: Kafka by the Sea Part 1: Japanese Vocabulary in half a modern fiction novel
I used to read the way you do, taking extensive notes, but my wife, who is a very accomplished student of Japanese, told me it's best to just read the term in the dictionary and skip the catalog of vocab words. Of course, everyone has their own study quirks, so there really is no "right way".

I love Murakami Haruki's books, and I describe his works to my friends and peers as Radiohead in the form of a novel. He's very abstract and surreal, though, and that can often make for difficult reading. If you're looking for something a little bit more down to earth, I recommend Banana Yoshimoto. She's descriptive, but uses straight-forward sentence structures; the kind of sentences you'd hear being spoken in daily conversation. You'll get through her novels much quicker after having been through 海辺のカフカ.
Posted 14 years, 9 months ago by Alex • • wwwReply
Re: Kafka by the Sea Part 1: Japanese Vocabulary in half a modern fiction novel
(I need to fix the template so these comment boxes are larger.)

I actually enjoy the note taking because it makes me look like I'm doing something serious. And I enjoyed looking back to see what words I entered multiple times.

I am also planning to take the JLPT2 in 2008 (I guess I had better look into signing up for that soon) and will check out the Kanzen series of books.

I hope I can find a way for myself to make time to actually study Japanese. I haven't made a directed study of the language for a few years now!
Posted 14 years, 9 months ago by FuguTabetai • @wwwReply
Re: Kafka by the Sea Part 1: Japanese Vocabulary in half a modern fiction novel
I finally made some changes so that the comment entry box is larger, and also field values are now sticky if there is an error entering the image verification thingee.
Posted 14 years, 9 months ago by fugutabetai • • wwwReply
Re: Kafka by the Sea Part 1: Japanese Vocabulary in half a modern fiction novel
I also do this kind of technique, taking notes of the words that i don't
understand. It takes time but there's no other choice, i need to take
down notes and go over it. Great tip for those who are also having this
kind of situation. Thanks for the nice post.

Posted 12 years, 11 months ago by tattoo design • @wwwReply

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