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You Can’t Afford Not To Buy Japanese Books

If you think [books are] expensive, try ignorance
Derek Bok, Bastardized by Khatzumoto 😀

there are golden houses in books and there are beautiful girls 1 in books2 Understanding Chinese Culture and Learning
Ting Wang
University of Canberra, Australia

Trying to get used to an L2 without buying books is like trying to go to college without buying books 3.

You’ll buy a big screen TV, but you won’t buy books?
You’ll buy nice clothes, but you won’t buy books?
You’ll buy a beer, but you won’t buy books?
You’ll get nice shampoo, but you won’t buy books?
You’ll go to the hair salon, but you won’t buy books?

Full stomach, nice shirt, empty head? Is that what’s “in” this year?

You’ll buy the books your school forces you to buy, but you won’t buy the books that you want? The books you’re mostly likely to read and re-read? The books that look cool to you? The books most likely to make you grow?

Books. The written transcript of the seminar.
Books. The wisdom of the world.
Them things that Hitler and QinShiHuangDi and every despot before, between and after them burned, and buried people for writing.
Those doohickeys that every potentate from Queen Elizabeth version 1.0 to the former CEO of Nike wouldn’t let you see.
That Africans kidnapped and enslaved in North America had their fingers torn off for even owning. 4 That the Korean ruling class actively prevented regular folk from enjoying.
That the Roman Catholic Church put a blanket death warrant on Martin Luther’s head for writing.
Written using symbols that were once reserved only for shamans, magicians and sorcerers.

Books. The difference between the people of  the bookthe Jews who make the pop culture you enjoy 5— and the people who sit around whining and grousing and making up conspiracy theories about the people of the book. “Disproportionate representation”? Classic harvest-time c###blocking. Where were you at sowing time? Where were you when they were “disproportionately” creating and enjoying home libraries?

What would you think of a doctor who wouldn’t buy books about medicine?
What would you think of an investor who wouldn’t buy books about finance?
What would you think of an engineer who wouldn’t buy books about engineering.
What would you think of an athlete who wouldn’t buy books about her sport?
A nutritionist who wouldn’t buy books on nutrition?

You’d think them horriby naïve. You’d think they didn’t mean it. You’d think they that weren’t real players, and that they certainly couldn’t be very good ones.

So what about you?
Are you a real player?
Or are you holding out for waterproof teabags to go with your bookless literacy?
Come on, now.
Don’t be ghetto.

Buy the books already.

What do you suppose your literacy would work on, even if you magically received it?
You do realize that it’s a dynamic skill that grows or atrophies based on practice, right?
Without books, even if you suddenly became literate, you would instantly start becoming illiterate.

Don’t pray for rain without digging ditches.
Don’t pray for literacy without buying books.
That’s not faith; it’s just stupidity.

Speaking of faith…
Would you buy a lottery ticket?
Maybe you would, maybe you wouldn’t.
There are 10 types of people and all that.

Would you buy a lottery ticket if you were friends with the people who run the lottery, and they were always willing and able to throw you a bone, ’cause when you’re here, you’re family, badadbing 6? If you had that kind of influence over it?

Would you buy a stock if you knew — knew — beyond a shadow of a doubt 7 that it was going to go up?
And how much of this stock would it be worth it to buy? How much of this stock would it not be a waste of your money to buy? All things being equal 8, at what point is a stock that’s guaranteed to go up not a good investment?
The question is its own answer.

Now, what about books?
Are books anything like this hypothetical stock of ours?
Could anyone make a claim that strong?
Probably not. I don’t know.
But you could at least say this: books are as close to that stock as you’re likley to get on a regular basis…without earning a royal buggering from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The stock is you. You invest in it by buying and reading books. And you’re allowed as much insider trading as you want. No one can touch you.

Pound for pound, word for word, a typical book is the cheapest and highest-quality information you will ever buy.

Buy the books already.
They’ll do you a damn sight more good than beer and jeans.
Buy those books, and one of these days, the books will buy you jeans…and, if Chinese proverbs are to be believed, hookers and blow and houses covered in bling as well. Them Chinese proverb writers: pandering to the MTV Cribs demographic since 2500 BCE 😛 .


  1. Heterosexual women are just SOL — this saying came out before Twilight 😛
  2. 富家不用買良田,書中自有千鍾粟;
  3. I like to open strong
  4. Slaves were expensive. Slaves cost money. One wouldn’t maim a slave unless one hoped to gain (or protect) something of immense value. If actions speak louder than words, then these actions are loudly proclaiming that: “books and reading, and their inverse — illiteracy and ignorance — are valuable enough to kill and maim and legislate for”.
  5. I like to open cans of worms
  6. I’m doing that Tony Soprano arm thing where you make a “V” in the general direction of your crotch.
  7. No shadows allowed! No doubt-shadows!
  8. I know…they’re not…otherwise, how do you explain how handsome I am?

  39 comments for “You Can’t Afford Not To Buy Japanese Books

  1. ShinigamiRyuk
    May 15, 2012 at 00:55

    This is definitely the second best post on the entire website! Thank you Khatz! I’m off to ebay to get my bookshelf up to date with my interests!

  2. フレヂイ
    May 15, 2012 at 04:05

    So true! I’ll be at Book-Off in L.A. in a couple weeks, to round up some bargains. 

  3. Narcface
    May 15, 2012 at 04:34

    I would get more books but I don’t even have grammar or Kanji down, I just started Hiragana and Katakana. It would be a waste of money to buy something I can’t even read.

    • Octonion
      May 15, 2012 at 06:50

      Hi Narcface,
      I have a few comments.  First, even if you can’t read something you can scan the page for kana that you know.  Seeing them live in their native environment makes a nice compliment to (and might be more fun than) reviewing them in your SRS.  This will also help you get used to the language.  You might notice that, for example, は and が and a few others seem to show up a lot.  Or you might see something like つもり a few times — you could look this up on and maybe even make a microMCD with it.
      Second, manga completely counts as books 🙂  Besides enjoying the art,  you might pick up on something like panels with food often have the character 食 in the text somewhere.  Or it might not even be that specific, you might just start to get a sense of the shapes that will come into sharper focus when you do Heisig.
      Third, having books in Japanese can keep you motivated, keep you excited and… I dunno, it’s just fun!

    • Sholum
      May 15, 2012 at 06:53

      How will you ever learn your kana if you don’t use them? Even after drilling the kana for a while, I still had to get used to seeing them ‘in the wild’ for them to really click.
      The kanji that I know the best are the ones that I’ve read in a book or game.
      Start with something easier. Books aimed at younger audiences won’t use as many kanji.
      RPGs are pretty much books as well. Go play Pokemon or something, it doesn’t use kanji. 
      Read manga. A great deal of it has furigana, so it’s not that big a deal.
      Japanese grammar is really simple compared to English. Just don’t over think it and you’ll be fine with learning a few basic things like the particles and certain conjugations.
      Even if you don’t understand much (if any) of the content, reading will still help you. And it’s a constant competency check as well. You’ll start to notice the things you’ve learned in the reading material and your reading speed will increase. Even if the only thing that happens immediately is an increase in kana recognition speed, doesn’t that count as progress? Isn’t that something that wouldn’t have happened (or taken much longer) if you didn’t actually read stuff?
      Besides, even if you don’t understand it now, you’ll understand it eventually.
      I’m not trying to sound rude or anything, but I think reading (books especially) is one of the best things in the world. I also find it to be one of the most unrecognized and forgotten things in the world. Reading is something that is important no matter what, especially when learning a language.

    • Strawberry Vibe
      May 15, 2012 at 07:48

      lol I find it funny how strong the opinions are that responded to this quick, simple question!
      I totally agree what’s being said, however, I’d also like to add that they’re also a great motivator. Like sure it’s great to think, “It’ll be awesome when I’m able to read books in Japanese… one day”, but when you’re talking about the physical book in your hand, it’s 10x more motivating.

      • Narcface
        May 15, 2012 at 16:24

        Woah I’m surprised I got so much feedback 😀
        Thank you all very much for your input. Everything you guys said makes a lot of sense! So I checked the japanese amazon store, but I couldn’t find how much shipping to Europe costs. Does anyone of you have experience with ordering from
        Thank you guys again, you really convinced me to give books a try! 😀

        • Rout
          May 15, 2012 at 22:09

          I haven’t had any experience with, or any Amazon for that matter, but I checked the shipping rates, and for books it’s 3400 yen to Europe + 300 yen handling charges. I’d try checking, actually, the selection might not be as vast as the Japanese store, but from what I saw, some sellers offer used Japanese manga at fair prices. And much, much cheaper shipping.

          • Rout
            May 15, 2012 at 22:12

            Scratch that, it was supposed to say amazon.COM, the American one, not the British one. Only 3.99$ standard shipping, may take a while but hey… it’s cheap.

  4. Sholum
    May 15, 2012 at 06:32

    Guy Montag defied the government for books. That tells you how awesome they are. Of course, you’d have to have read a book to know that story.
    I love books! They are the biggest driving force behind my desire to learn languages. Books have taught me so much about my first language that it’d be dumb to not read books in my L2. Even if I can’t understand everything in those books yet, I still read them. There’s no limit to what books can teach you and they keep teaching you whether you realize it or not. You just have to read.

  5. Kimura
    May 15, 2012 at 07:02

    What if I don’t even have the money for those not-book things because the economy is severely biased against college graduates with tiny work histories attempting to enter the workforce?

    • Sholum
      May 15, 2012 at 07:48

      There’s more than one way to skin a cat or, in this case, acquire money and/or reading material. Even if you go about selling refurbished junk you find on the side of the road (a potentially lucrative business opportunity if you live in a suburb or the city) you can make money on the side for things. 
      There are plenty of legitimate ways to make some extra change on the internet too. You probably won’t be paying the mortgage/rent or student loans with these, but you’ll have the extra money to buy books at least.
      You should start using coupons too; saved money is still money. Just make sure you don’t fall into that trap where you start buying things just to get the discounts even if you don’t need that item.
      Besides, the internet is vast. There are plenty of free things out there. There are even legal free things on the internet despite what the MAFIAA would have you believe. For example, if you are learning Japanese, you can get freeware doujin games and VNs (visual novels) to play and read. Whether you can find something to your liking is one thing, but such things do exist.

    • Strawberry Vibe
      May 15, 2012 at 22:40

      I’m in the exact same boat as you. Out of college, money spent, see no future, pay no rent, all the money’s gone, nowhere to go – sorry, couldn’t pass up a chance to quote the Beatles 😀
      Anyway, don’t worry, there are plenty of ways to get your hands on books! Here are some ways on how to do it:
      1) Best case scenario: buy a new, hardcover book of your choice on else on the internet. It will be the most expensive route, but hey, maybe you’ve got a birthday coming up. I bet Grandma will step up and give you the gift of Japanese literature! 
      2) See if there’s a Japanese/Asian cultural centre in your area. I bet when they hold conventions, there will be at least one stand selling used books. Now when people suggest this sort of idea, I usually shrivel up and call shenanigans on this being a legit way to get any sort of media, but seriously, without even trying, I had once found myself in a Japanese convention, standing beside a stand selling used Japanese books. Stranger things can happen.
      3) Embrace .PDFs and technology. Do you have a tablet/smartphone? Go look for books or raw manga and load up your devices! Or, if you still can get access to a college printer, print an entire book/volume of manga off. (Just do it when no one is looking :P)
      4) Re-invent the concept of “a book”. A book doesn’t have to be a few hundred pages sandwiched between covers; if it’s Japanese and it’s on paper, we can call it a book – I give you permission 😀 Go to Wikipedia, find an article you’re interested in, and print it off. Here, let me get you started:

      • Kimura
        May 16, 2012 at 03:54

        There’s an Uwajimaya within driving distance of the Japanese cultural internship I’m doing (too bad it’s an unpaid internship, but what would you expect from a nonprofit?). And holy crap do they have selection. If only I could use Rikaichan in the real world so I could actually figure out what the titles are 😉
        What smartphone? (Seriously, the only Thing What Lets You Talk To Others that I have is a seven-year-old GoPhone, a true unitasker that I can’t even call a cellphone because it doesn’t meet the current legal definition (which specifically mentions texting capability, apps, and internets).) But I take my laptop with me all the time, so I just need to find some free online manga what doesn’t require torrenting (I’m on a torrent-unfriendly ISP).
        Reinvent the book? Heheheheh… I’ll try that.

  6. Thomas Smith
    May 15, 2012 at 08:12

    Trying to avoid pontificating, and give some usable advice:
    Paper books are NOT suitable for adding to your SRS. Typing out a sentence to add to your SRS is bad enough, especially if you commit yourself to do 20-40 a day. Typing out an MCD from a paper book is just plain grim.
    If this article has inspired you to buy books, be sure to buy books that can be copied and pasted direct-to-SRS if that’s what you want to use them for.
    Personally, I find it’s quite nice to have a stack of ebooks for “proper”, SRS-based pwnage, and a second stack of paper books for use without a dictionary, when your out and about, where you can just gloss over the bits you don’t quite know, with the pressure off.

    • Sholum
      May 15, 2012 at 08:22

      I don’t remember SRS being mentioned in this particular post, but I have to agree with you. No matter how much I hate them, only E-books are convenient for use with an SRS.

      • Bradley Curry
        July 23, 2012 at 09:34

        Hi Thomas Smith and Sholum,

        Do either of you (or anyone else that has shunned paper books for MCD material) have access to a scanner? If so and you don’t mind the hassle, you can e-mail a scan to me and I’ll type it up so you can make flash cards. I think it’d be good for my typing and vocabulary skills (hard to type a kanji you don’t know how to pronounce) 

    • ライトニング
      May 16, 2012 at 11:38

      I don’t really see a problem with paper books and SRS, well, I use it. When I read i’ll mark with a pencil something I want to learn and go on. Then I just move over all of them at once. I’d say you could move 20 sentences in 10 minutes, not that bad.

    • Kimura
      May 17, 2012 at 11:40

      If anything, you get reading and typing practice out of it. Sure, you have to manually look up kanji readings before you can type it in (as I mentioned, it’d be great if there was an IRL port of Rikaichan), but basically you’re pre-reviewing the material before you actually start “reviewing” the deck. It’s more short-term efficient to add things that are digital to begin with, yes, but I think the “you have to look stuff up as you put it in” effect is slightly more beneficial in the long term. And like ライトニング said, don’t SRS-ify material of any format the first time you read through. Go through it once, maybe mark good places to make cards from, and then go back later and pick stuff out.
      Either way, use what material you want to use, and don’t give an Expletive Redacted about the source format.

  7. May 16, 2012 at 07:56

    Do you mean textbooks or just books in Japanese? 

  8. lc
    May 16, 2012 at 18:33

    I was thinking like a person above me “I’ll start reading books and stuff when i’ve learnt all the kanji”, but trying to read japanese sites and etc with a shaky grasp of kana(going along one syllable at a time, was too slow).
    I eventually came across the Kanon Visual Novel(I watched the anime long before I was even learning japanese) and i’ve only been playing for about 10-12 hours in total, but i’d say my reading speed has at least quadrupled, if not become 5x+ faster. You also pick up every day words from novels and stuff. I can now also read(albeit not fully understand) on the automatic scrolling level, so surely i’m doing something right?
    The most important thing is to read something you’ll enjoy, even if you don’t fully understand it! Just start ASAP!

  9. Rout
    May 17, 2012 at 04:15

    Slightly off-topic here (I… tend to that a lot, don’t I), but while we’re on the topic of Japanese and reading…
    I used to read a lot of books, but let’s just say that since I became a *cough* citizen of the internet, I began to spend less and less time on reading books and more time on reading blogs and other random sites. I particularly like blogs about alternatives to school, and about so called “free parenting” (curious, since I’m not planning to have kids), general self-help blogs too. Also, TvTropes I’m pretty addicted to as well as creepypasta. And well, anything interesting I stumble upon. Now, the problem is, I get around the English part of the internet rather freely, but the Japanese part of it seems like a big mess to me and thus I’m having some trouble finding stuff to read. Sure, I got myself some manga and light novels, but in the end, I know it’s more probable I’ll end up reading something on the internet. 

    So… anyone got tips for getting around the scary jungle the Japanese internet is? 

    • Sholum
      May 17, 2012 at 09:52

      This reminds me of a post I read over at a certain Japanese learning blog (the one where the mystical Square Fugu resides) about how most every Japanese site is designed to work on cell phones and IE6. This basically makes it so that almost all the sites not owned by huge companies are heavy on text, low on pictures, and overall look like American websites from the 90’s.
      So yeah, if that’s what you were referring to, then you’re pretty much out of luck. If you’re just having trouble finding interesting content, just keep looking. It’s out there… somewhere.
      Maybe you should try searching for an interesting topic on your favorite Japanese friendly search engine. Especially if it’s something that someone will blog about (which is anything, really). That way, you can read interesting blogs or follow interesting sites in Japanese instead of English (I think there’s an article about this somewhere on the site).

    • June 3, 2012 at 20:38

      Random search queries in Find an interesting word or phrase, search, and visit a few of the links. Sometimes it’s awesome.

  10. olimay
    May 17, 2012 at 14:14

    For those in the U.S., it appears Books Sanseido (三省堂書店) allows you to order online: 

    They don’t have a very wide selection, but you might be able to find something. It looks like they also offer (rather pricey) magazine subscriptions for those willing to make that extra investment. 

  11. Aaron
    May 18, 2012 at 04:25

    For anyone interested I just happen to have about 2000 Japanese paperbacks that I picked up recently.  Way too many for me to read myself.  I am selling some of them off in lots of 10 for $25 USD, and I’ll pay for shipping in the contiguous US.  I will ship them international, but I won’t cover shipping fees on those sales.  See my post under books on the AJATT plus forums, or just shoot me an email (
    Happy reading =D 

  12. May 18, 2012 at 11:49

    Agreed, but, at least initially, get books that have an English version you can use for a contextual translation of the Japanese (or whatever language you’re studying), fantastically useful.  I like Harry Potter, it’s available in 60-some-odd langauges and doesn’t use overly complex or obscure language since it’s written for kids but it’s very entertaining and interesting whether you’re a kid or an adult.
    Oh, and once you’ve learned enough of the language to be able to write simple sentences (shouldn’t take more than a few hours), get on Lang-8 and start WRITING in it, this forces you to learn how to actually use the language, not just interpret it.

  13. Sholum
    May 21, 2012 at 10:36

    I’ve decided to try something in order to make it easier to read books before you know tons of words. I’m going to undertake the painstaking procedure of converting an E-book to HTML. Why? Because I want Rikaichan and Denshi Jisho to be at my fingertips while reading and I want to be able to easily copy and paste sentences to make MCDs.
    So I’ve got my copy of ハリーポッターと賢者の石 and I’ve converted it into a .txt document. I decided to go by chapter and to add an overarching directory to use with all of the books, but it’s unnecessary.
    Anyway, my current method of keeping the format the same as the book involves me copying and pasting “<br />” onto every line of text.
    It’s a pain. 
    Does anyone know of a way to add code to the beginning of every line in a document other than painstakingly copying and pasting?
    Obviously, I’m not distributing this. I just thought it’d be interesting to share the idea assuming I can find a way to add a line break for every line without losing the use of my fingers.

    • Sholum
      May 21, 2012 at 11:19

      Just figured out how to add the line breaks automatically in Notepad++ so this will be a breeze to complete!

    • Sholum
      May 27, 2012 at 10:05

      Alright, it works well! Now I can read my books and not have to search forever when I don’t know or have forgotten a word. It should also be easier to make decks with new vocabulary now too.
      That’s what I meant to do this for and it looks like it will work just fine!

  14. Carl
    May 24, 2012 at 06:53

    That link about being ghetto made me rofl’ed. I always appreciate your humor and how you share your ideas. (So, one Korean book + timeboxing = a steady investment in my Korean bank). Thanks for this article.

  15. May 26, 2012 at 21:46

    Do you really have to spend money on books? There are so many ways to get free reading material online.

    • Rout
      May 28, 2012 at 00:00

      Some people prefer paper books. I, for example, strongly dislike reading manga or ebooks on the computer screen.

  16. Chris Dando
    June 13, 2012 at 18:39

    I’m not quite sure where to start. I’ve tried to play pokemon in Japanese but I’ve played it before so I just get bored. what I really want is a great fork of Japanese fiction. I know my hiragana and I want to work on my kanji, got any suggestions for a great Japanese book?

    • June 14, 2012 at 03:46

      In my opinion – which isn’t worth much – it may be a good idea to finish the kanji first before trying to read a book. It may be a valid idea to get books beforehand so they’re present when you need them, but I think you may be discouraged trying to read before having your kanji down. 
      That being said, online, you can probably find things like Japanese fairy tales that are written purely in hiragana.

  17. June 14, 2012 at 20:14

    I was thinking of going to Book Off last night.  But I was watching Nausicaa with the English subs off and cozy on my couch and wondering WTF is the plot?   Every now and then I understood what they were saying and then I didn’t.   I don’t understand many Ghibli movies even with English.  But oh, the purty pictures.   I will get off the couch and buy more books!

  18. December 29, 2012 at 09:57

    I thought earlier that trying to learn to ride a bicycle, without having access to one; or trying to drink water from an empty cup might be vaguely suitable analogies.

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