10 Bilingual Japanese Books for Every Language Level

With more than 2,000 common kanji, learning to read Japanese can be daunting.

Bilingual Japanese books are an excellent learning tool to ease into it. 

They’ll obviously help you improve your Japanese reading skills, but that’s not all.

They can also boost your vocabulary, expose you to various grammatical structures and show you conversational Japanese in the form of dialogue. 

Plus, you’ll improve your understanding of Japanese culture, including its idioms and colloquialisms. 

In this post, you’ll get 10 of the best bilingual Japanese books to add to your reading list, organized from easiest to most advanced.


Am-I-Small-japanese-bilingual-book 1. Am I small? わたし、ちいさい? by Philipp Winterberg 

Level: Beginner

This charming book captures the essence of a universal childhood question and is great if you’re just starting out on your Japanese learning journey. 

The tale follows a young protagonist as she navigates the world, pondering her size relative to others. With simple language and sentence structures, you can easily follow along with the story while picking up new vocabulary and grammar. 

The English and Japanese text are on the same page, so you don’t have to flip back and forth to see the translation. 

Children’s books are perfect for new language learners, and this one is especially helpful with its bilingual text, vibrant illustrations and engaging narrative. 

2. “Japanese Stories for Language Learners” by Anne McNulty and Eriko Sato

Level: Beginner to Intermediate 

japanese-stories-for-language-learners This beautifully illustrated book presents five captivating tales in both English and Japanese, engaging learners in a linguistic and cultural adventure.

The stories range from traditional folktales to 20th-century literary gems and each ones comes with translator’s notes, vocabulary lists, grammar explanations, discussion questions and exercises, transforming the book into a set of comprehensive language lessons.

Two renowned folktales, “Urashima Taro” and “Yuki Onna,” are followed by three modern classics. The included free audio recording features native speakers reading the stories aloud, allowing you to work on your listening skills as well.

This book takes you on a journey through Japanese literature that will deepen your language comprehension with plenty of support and extra learning tools.

3. “Reading Japanese with a Smile”

Level: Beginner to Intermediate

Reading Japanese with a Smile: Nine Stories from a Japanese Weekly Magazine for Intermediate Learners (English and Japanese Edition)Taken from the weekly magazine Shukan Asahi and edited by Tom Gally, these nine stories take a close and curious look at contemporary Japan

These stories are all true, engaging and short enough to sample in bursts. Each story is followed by a simple translation, a short glossary of words and phrases, a list of reverse derivations of verbs and adjectives and detailed notes on culture, vocabulary and grammar.

The repetitive format of the book reinforces vocabulary several times. First, the entire original story and the English translation are presented face-to-face. They’re followed by the original story presented again one or two sentences at a time with furigana and notes included.

4. “Mangajin’s Basic Japanese Through Comics” by Ashizawa Kazuk

Level: Beginner to Intermediate

Basic Japanese Through Comics Part 1: Compilation Of The First 24 Basic Japanese Columns From Mangajin Magazine (English and Japanese Edition)“Mangajin’s Basic Japanese Through Comics” (parts one and two) is a great resource to deepen your cultural understanding of seemingly basic material.

With the help of comic excerpts and politeness levels, this book elaborates on simple words like はい and all the social situations and nuances that come with it.

The comics used tend to focus on daily life in school or the office, in real situations that you may just come across in Japan.

Politeness is indicated by levels 1-4 to give readers a hint. Among the topics covered are the many uses of あの, すみません and even ばか.

5. “Read Real Japanese Fiction: Short Stories by Contemporary Writers”

Level: Intermediate

Read Real Japanese Fiction: Short Stories by Contemporary WritersThis book presents six stories written originally for Japanese audiences. The texts challenge readers with modern, provocative works of horror and offbeat poetry.

The text runs from top to bottom, right to left, with a face-to-face English translation on the side.

There’s a short introduction to each text, a glossary in the back and the enthusiastic footnotes of editor Michael Emmerich thoroughly explain nuances of culture, usage and grammar.

The stories range from light and sweet to strange and poetic, by authors such as Kawakami Hiromi and Tawada Yoko. As an added bonus, a CD is included for you to listen to while you read along with the text.

6. “Japanese Myths, Legends & Folktales” by Yuri Yasuda

Level: Intermediate

japanese-myths-legends-and-folktales-bookcover This captivating book invites readers into the enchanting world of Japanese folklore. It’s meant for children and older language learners who want to practice their reading skills with material they can get lost in.

The book offers both English and Japanese versions of traditional tales that have woven themselves into the cultural fabric of Japan.

As you flip through the pages, you’ll encounter a rich tapestry of mythical creatures, heroic legends and age-old folktales that have been passed down through generations—along with gorgeous illustrations by two well-known Japanese illustrators.

The book not only showcases the beauty of these narratives but also provides a valuable language-learning experience, enabling you to explore the stories in both languages simultaneously.

7. “Exploring Japanese Literature”

Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Exploring Japanese Literature: Read Mishima, Tanizaki, and Kawabata in the OriginalThis book is Giles Murray’s sequel to #2 on the list. This one contains three pieces of writing from literary giants Yasunari Kawabata, Yukio Mishima and Junichiro Tanizaki. Their works are must-reads for any student of world literature. 

The texts are extremely descriptive and heart-wrenching, ranging from poignant romance to gruesome realism

Each story is printed in large-type Japanese on the left with English translations on the right and a glossary running along the bottom. As a bonus, the book also features mini-biographies, evocative illustrations and a companion website where learners can discuss interpretations of the reading.

While the Japanese text is suitable for advanced learners, intermediate learners can also follow along and refer to the English translation when needed.

8. “Read Real Japanese: Contemporary Writings by Popular Authors”

Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Read Real Japanese Essays: Contemporary Writings by Popular AuthorsThis collection of essays by eight popular authors is the companion to Emmerich’s stories.

Intended for a slightly more advanced audience, the book is arranged by serious learners of the Japanese language. Featured writers include Banana Yoshimoto, Haruki Murakami and Seiko Ito.

This is a perfect reader to start breaking out of textbook Japanese. Each text is coupled with extensive notes on grammar, nuance, usage and those pesky particles.

The notes also give great insight into why the translators decided on a particular word or phrase, which may be handy for aspiring translators. And, like Emmerich’s version, it comes with a CD for you to listen to as you read.

9. “A Tie Between People”by Seiko Kawakami Mieczkowski

Level: Intermediate to Advanced

a-tie-between-people-japanese-reader “A Tie Between People” navigates the depths of human connections and emotions, providing an avenue for dedicated Japanese learners to delve deeper into the language. 

This collection of poems and short stories explores the intricate threads that bind individuals together. Through the evocative prose and heartfelt verses, the book delves into themes of love, loss and the shared experiences that make us fundamentally human.

Each piece is written in Japanese with the English translation along with grammar insights, exercises, vocabulary and illustrations

The author is a professor and seasoned Japanese language expert with two decades of experience teaching at the college level. Through this book, she’s created a captivating and instructive experience for readers. 

10. “Breaking into Japanese Literature: Seven Modern Classics in Parallel Text”

Level: Advanced

Breaking into Japanese Literature: Seven Modern Classics in Parallel Text“Breaking into Japanese Literature” starts with basic short stories and, as the reader’s confidence grows, so does the length of complexity of the material.

Edited by Giles Murray, the reader is designed to stand alone—all definitions and furigana are included on-page, and English translations are on the right side while Japanese is on the left.

Additionally, each new kanji is listed with a number that corresponds to the “Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary,” which allows you to quickly reference new and related vocabulary.

The stories themselves cross a variety of genres from surrealism to period drama. Each story is prefaced with a quick biography of the author and related works, and sound files are available for free online.

How to Read Bilingual Japanese Books

These books are designed to challenge as well as encourage your reading fluency. Here’s how to get the most out of your time reading them:

  • Look for books at or slightly above your level. Since bilingual books give you the English translation, you can go for books a bit higher than your current level and therefore learn new vocabulary and more advanced grammar structures without getting overwhelmed and giving up. 
  • Try to test your comprehension of the Japanese text first, before looking at the English. When you do compare translations, take note of the similarities and differences between the two languages. 
  • Choose a book that interests you and let yourself enjoy it. It doesn’t all have to be serious study time! If you relax and take it page by page, you’ll probably forget you’re learning because you’ll be too engrossed in the stories themselves.

To supplement your reading practice with some engaging multimedia, you can use a language learning program like FluentU.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

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Each of the bilingual Japanese books on this list will expose you to a variety of texts and themes, all made accessible through English translations.

Though challenging, before long the texts will blossom along with your language skills!

You can find even more engaging, level-specific material on White Rabbit Japan. Just go to the “Japanese Language” menu and select “Reading Material.” You’ll find graded readers, manga, literature and bilingual texts, all sortable by level.

And One More Thing...

If you love learning Japanese with authentic materials, then I should also tell you more about FluentU.

FluentU naturally and gradually eases you into learning Japanese language and culture. You'll learn real Japanese as it's spoken in real life.

FluentU has a broad range of contemporary videos as you'll see below:


FluentU makes these native Japanese videos approachable through interactive transcripts. Tap on any word to look it up instantly.


All definitions have multiple examples, and they're written for Japanese learners like you. Tap to add words you'd like to review to a vocab list.


And FluentU has a learn mode which turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples.


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Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

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