11 Top-notch Japanese Audiobooks to Practice Your Listening Skills
Sometimes, written Japanese can seem like an entirely separate language from spoken Japanese.
But in fact, reading skills and listening skills complement each other to a high degree.
Luckily for learners, there’s an excellent way to develop both of these different skills at the same time: studying with audiobooks.
This post will show you 11 great Japanese audiobooks that can help you hone in on your listening skills.
- 1. “The Spider’s Thread” (蜘蛛の糸)
- 2. “Rashōmon” (羅生門)
- 3. “In a Grove” (藪の中)
- 4. “Kokoro” (こころ)
- 5. “Botchan” (坊ちゃん)
- 6. “Ten Nights of Dreams” (夢十夜)
- 7. “The Boat on the Takase River” (高瀬舟)
- 8. “The Restaurant of Many Orders” (注文の多い料理店)
- 9. “Learn Japanese – Word Power 101”
- 10. “Librivox’s Multilingual Short Works Collection #4”
- 11. “Red Candles and the Mermaid” (赤いろうそくと人魚 – 小川 未明)
- Why Audiobooks Are Great for Learning Japanese
- How to Find Quality Japanese Audiobooks Online
1. “The Spider’s Thread” (蜘蛛の糸)
“The Spider’s Thread” is a Buddhist-themed story that takes place in Heaven, Hell and the space in between.
A vicious criminal gets an opportunity to escape from Hell, but for that he must overcome his own ego. Will he succeed?
2. “Rashōmon” (羅生門)
This is one of the most well-known of Akutagawa’s stories, which is set in a dilapidated medieval Kyoto.
A lone servant takes shelter from the rain in a ruined city gate, and discovers that he’s not alone there.
3. “In a Grove” (藪の中)
A murder incident is described by several different witnesses, each of whom gives a conflicting account of the events.
This is a very famous story, largely thanks to Kurosawa Akira’s film “Rashōmon,” whose plot is a hybrid between this and the above-mentioned story.
4. “Kokoro” (こころ)
Arguably Natsume’s most popular and most “Japanese” novel, “Kokoro” tells of a special relationship between a student and a mysterious older man who becomes a very unusual mentor to him.
Despite being a long text, “Kokoro” is highly suitable for studying purposes because it’s written in straightforward language and divided into 110 very short chapters.
5. “Botchan” (坊ちゃん)
This sarcastic novel about a novice teacher from Tokyo who goes to a wacky school in the countryside is a great introduction to Japanese humor.
Although harder to read than “Kokoro,” this is a highly recommended text if you’re an intermediate or above.
6. “Ten Nights of Dreams” (夢十夜)
This is a cycle of 10 independent short stories.
Each story is self-contained and describes a different dream, and the texts are the perfect gateway to Natsume’s work.
7. “The Boat on the Takase River” (高瀬舟)
This story follows a boat that carries criminals from city to city.
On this journey, there is a strange passenger that seems to be a bit too optimistic for a prisoner, and the police are intrigued to know his story.
8. “The Restaurant of Many Orders” (注文の多い料理店)
This story by Miyazawa Kenji follows two hunters that become lost and stumble upon a mysterious restaurant.
9. “Learn Japanese – Word Power 101”
This free audiobook is a must-listen for beginners with little to no experience with Japanese.
Besides the 101 Japanese words you’ll be learning, you’ll also learn practice phrases and example sentences to help with context.
10. “Librivox’s Multilingual Short Works Collection #4”
All the Japanese stories in this compilation are read by the same voice actor, who speaks slowly and clearly.
Beginners can definitely benefit from this audiobook series.
11. “Red Candles and the Mermaid” (赤いろうそくと人魚 – 小川 未明)
This beautiful poetic story tells the tale of a mermaid raised by an old human couple who make money by selling candles.
The mermaid paints beautiful artwork on the candles and the couple begins to make a lot of money.
However, things take a turn for the worse when the couple decides to sell the young girl to a merchant.
Why Audiobooks Are Great for Learning Japanese
If you manage to get your hands on a story that you can read and listen to at the same time, it means some very big things for your learning.
First of all, you can look up any word in writing that you didn’t recognize in hearing. This gives you the opportunity to understand 100% of the words you listen to.
Second, you can instantly and effortlessly know the correct pronunciation of every word in the text, without guessing or wishing you had furigana to rescue you.
This is an extremely useful thing in Japanese, as it removes one of the most stubborn obstacles to fluent reading.
How to Find Quality Japanese Audiobooks Online
The best keyword to search up and find great Japanese audiobooks is 朗読 (ろうどく) or “reading aloud.”
There are many source texts freely available online for you to use together with audio recordings.
If you do a simple search with the title of a famous text and the keyword 朗読, you’ll usually find numerous versions of it being read aloud on YouTube or other popular websites.
The number one place for recordings of Japanese literature is 青空朗読 (あおぞらろうどく — Aozora Rōdoku), which has free recordings of public-domain texts that are available in text-only versions on Aozora Bunko.
Another website with superb and free Japanese audiobooks is LibriVox, which is especially useful for finding longer, novel-length books.
If you come across any unknown words in your Japanese audiobooks, a dictionary reference is helpful to have on hand.
If you want even more listening practice, check out the FluentU language learning program—it uses authentic videos to teach you how natives actually use their language!
Now you know 11 great Japanese audiobooks and the resources you can use to find more! Happy listening!
And One More Thing...
If you love learning Japanese with authentic materials, then I should also tell you more about FluentU.
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FluentU has a broad range of contemporary videos as you'll see below:
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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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