Struggling to remember the thousands of different Japanese kanji? In the second entry to our 'Newspapers for Language Students' series, Madeleine's guide to the best newspapers for brushing up your Japanese skills.
People often find that, when learning Japanese, one of the hardest things to master is learning kanji, or Chinese characters. Kanji are used all the time, everywhere; they’re an essential part of the written language, so if you want to be able to read in Japanese, you need to start practising them!
Because kanji are logographic characters, rather than alphabetic or syllabic, they represent the meaning of a word and their pronunciation cannot always be guessed simply by looking at them should you come across one for the first time. It’s possible, for example, to see a kanji and remember what it means but be unable to pronounce it! There are also a lot of them – approximately 2,000 to 3,000 kanji are commonly used in Japan today. As a result, constant exposure to kanji is really helpful for learners, especially those intermediate learners who already know quite a lot of kanji and need to keep up their knowledge whilst learning more.
To this end, newspapers come in handy. Making sure to read an article or two a day just to keep your reading ability ticking over can yield massive benefits, and you’ll learn lots of new kanji along the way!
The Asahi Shimbun started publication in Osaka in 1879, and is one of Japan’s oldest and most reputable daily newspapers. It is one of five national newspapers in Japan, alongside the Yomiuri Shimbun, Mainichi Shimbun, Sankei Shimbun and Nikkei Shimbun. Asahi literally means “morning sun”, and has a circulation of about 10 million copies a day. The paper is generally considered to be quite-left leaning/anti-government when discussing politics in Japan, and is a broadsheet were you can find articles on the major political, cultural, economic and sports stories of the day.
As a result, Asahi Shimbun can be used to keep up-to-date with current affairs as well as with simply language learning. However, one of its best features is its daily opinion column Tensei Jingo. This is a bite-sized column (each column is limited to 607 characters) written by veteran Asahi journalists, offering takes on topics ranging from the arts to social trends which give an insight into modern Japan. As a fairly digestible opinion piece, the column is both accessible and interesting for learners of Japanese who might find simple news articles dry. On top of this, it’s very well respected and has a central place in Japanese culture – apparently it is frequently cited by students in university entrance exams!
The Yomiuri Shimbun is the biggest newspaper in Japan, and currently holds the number one spot for the largest newspaper circulation in the world. It can been seen as the Asahi Shimbun’s right-wing counterpart, and tends to side with the government a little more on contentious issues such as denuclearization and Japan’s relationship with its neighbours. Like Asahi, Yomiuri Shimbun is a great resource for keeping up-to-date with current affairs.
One of the Yomiuri Shimbun’s best features is its affiliate publication, Sports Hochi, which follows the big stories in Japanese sport. Baseball, football, golf, martial arts and horse racing – Sports Hochi has it covered! It’s perfect for any sports lover or anyone who isn’t particularly interested in constantly reading about politics and current events. The online site also covers some entertainment news, particularly focusing on celebrity Instagram posts and other social media content. It uses a lot of loan words and internet-slang, so it can be good for picking up a more colloquial style. So, if you’re interested in popular culture and sports, this is the one for you!
The Nikkei, short for Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Japanese Economics Newspaper) is the world’s largest financial newspaper – so it’s essential reading for anyone interested in Japanese modern politics or economics. Reading specialist papers such as Nikkei can be a really good shout for more advanced language learners, as it will really get you up-to-speed with more technical and niche vocabulary. For that reason, it can be a little unapproachable for intermediate or beginner readers, but that’s not to say you can’t try!
For the super adventurous, Nikkei publishes an opinion column entitled Deep Insight. This column is usually made up of quite long pieces which discuss complicated political and economic happenings, such as this article about how the US-Iran crisis will negatively affect Japan’s energy policies thanks to its reliance on Iran for oil. If you’re a university student or if you are studying Japanese politics in-depth alongside your language learning, then the Nikkei can really be an invaluable resource.
Outside of newspapers, if you want to keep up-to-date with Japanese news while picking up some oral language skills, then NHK Online publishes lots of video articles with written summaries underneath – it’s a great resource, and I used it a lot when I was at university!
Do you have any other newspapers, magazines, or media sites that you like to use for your Japanese studies?
Blog Post Crafted by Madeleine
Madeleine runs our Admin Team. Despite the fact that she read Japanese at university, Madeleine’s main passion in life is opera and she hopes to become the next Maria Callas some day...
Madeleine manages the staff on our Admin Team, liaising with tutors, clients and applicants. She is responsible for processing the ID, Qualifications, DBS Check and References for all our newly joining tutors.