Want to get better at Japanese?
Reading is one of the best ways to improve your language skills.
It’s especially important to read a lot when you’re learning a language with a different writing system, like Japanese.
Hiragana, katakana and kanji can be overwhelming at first. But with enough reading practice, reading these characters will become natural!
Reading consolidates all that vocabulary and grammar you’ve spent all that time learning. When you come across new words in a story or article, it’s much easier to remember.
And best of all, it’s free!
So if you’re wondering how to learn Japanese effectively, I really do recommend making regular time to read.
Here’s a selection of great websites for completely free Japanese reading practice online, whatever your level:
If you’re a beginner, you’ll probably want to stick to resources in hiragana only.
(Not sure what hiragana is? First check out my post on how to read Japanese for a quick introduction to the Japanese writing systems!)
Children’s stories are perfect Japanese reading material for beginners! Try these websites to start with:
This lovely site has several traditional Japanese fairy tales. The stories are written in very simple Japanese and they have English translation line-by-line underneath. All Japanese children grow up hearing these stories, so it will be useful for you to study them to better understand Japanese culture!
Hukumusume is another site full of traditional Japanese children’s stories. This is an absolutely huge site and it is written for Japanese children (unlike the site above, which is written for Japanese language students), so it can be a bit hard to navigate. I recommend that beginners start with this page which has stories translated into English.
Once you’ve read those, you can explore the rest of the site here. Most of them don’t have English translations, but they are written in very simple Japanese (hiragana and katakana) so you can have a go at translating them yourself! This page lists the stories by Japanese school year. Start with １ねんせい (1st grade, which uses hiragana only) and work up to 6th grade as you learn more kanji! Many of the stories also have audio or video tracks.
EhonNavi is an amazing site that lets you read hundreds of different Japanese children’s picture books, all for free! Unlike the above sites, there are lots of modern books (not just traditional tales). You can browse books by age, from 0 up to 12. Yes, there are even books for babies with just one of two words per page, making this a great resource even for complete beginners!
The only downside is that you have to register. The whole site is in Japanese, so it’s a bit difficult for beginners. This site has fantastic instructions with lots of screenshots to help you get set up.
It’s unusual to find reading materials for beginners that aren’t children’s books, but I found it! This site publishes very short news articles. You can click the buttons at the top to switch between romaji, hiragana, and full Japanese (with kanji). You can also download a pdf of the article if you want to write notes. Key vocabulary is listed in English below. The ‘Headline News’ section contains very short articles for beginners. The ‘News of Japan’ section has slightly longer articles. Only the most recent article in each section is available for free. You can also pay for membership to read the archives.
Another source for Japanese children’s picture books online. This site is not so user-friendly, but I included it as an extra resource in case you have problems with the above sites. Just click on an image to go to the book. Then click the yellow ‘next’ button at the top to turn the pages. One problem with this site is that the writing is an image file, so you can’t copy and paste words to look in a dictionary. You can increase the text size from the homepage.
At the intermediate level, you will be able to understand longer sentences and more difficult works. You can also read some kanji. You need some reading resources that introduce these features of the language, but you still need a bit of help understanding new words.
We have just the thing for you! Here are some sites for Japanese reading practice for intermediate students:
Watanoc is a ‘free web magazine in simple Japanese’. The name comes from ‘wa’ (Japanese) ‘tanoshii’ (fun). It has a lot of articles of different lengths and different levels, so it’s suitable from beginners to intermediate. The topics include food, culture, events and funny news. After each title, it tells you the approximate JLPT reading level (N5 is the easiest). Also, if you hover your mouse over a word, it will pop up with an explanation in English! Highly recommended for upper beginners and lower intermediate.
Hirogaru is a cute site for Japanese learners. It has short texts and videos on lots of different topics. In particular, it has a lot of articles on traditional Japanese culture, such as calligraphy, tea ceremony and martial arts. There are vocabulary lists (with English translations) of key words for each topic.
Matcha is a cool Japanese travel and culture magazine. It’s available in 8 different languages, including an easy Japanese version! Like NHK News Web Easy, it does use kanji but always with furigana (pronunciation guides) above. Most of the articles are available in English too. You can read the English version afterwards to check your understanding (use the drop down bar at the top to change the language). Be careful though, because the translations aren’t always the same word-for-word.
This is a blog about many aspects of everyday life in Japan. Each paragraph is written in Japanese, with translation in English underneath. A small number of posts have French translations, too. You can choose to turn the furigana (pronunciation guide for kanji) on or off. Unfortunately the blog is no longer updated, but there are several years of posts to read through.
Yomimaru is a great blog that shares links and resources for Japanese reading practice, and it also has some original articles in easy Japanese. You can search by topic or by JLPT level. Great for intermediate and upper beginners, as long as you know hiragana and katakana. Search for articles in the category JLPT N5 if you’re lower level.
NHK is Japan’s national news service. On this site, you can read NHK’s top news stories each day in simple Japanese. It’s aimed at Japanese elementary school children, as well as foreigners learning Japanese. The site has furigana (pronunciation guides) on the kanji, and Japanese dictionary definitions that pop up when you hover over a word. Many of the stories have videos too. The site has several new stories each day. If you enjoy reading about current affairs, this is a good site for you.
Short news articles, school lessons, games and bulletin boards in simple Japanese, aimed at elementary school kids. There is no furigana on the kanji so this might be a bit advanced for some users.
Hiragana Times is a magazine that publishes articles about Japan in simple Japanese with furigana, alongside an English translation. You have to subscribe for full access, but you can read a free sample magazine here. If you want to subscribe there are digital and printed versions. You can also read full sample articles on the main website, but without furigana. You can switch between English and Japanese from the drop-down menu at the top to compare translations.
A small collection of Japanese fairy stories with furigana, audio, vocabulary lists and English translations. You can play the audio at different speeds, so this is also a useful site to practise reading aloud and work on your pronunciation! The Japanese texts contain kanji and a bit more advanced than the children’s stories in the beginner section above.
This is from the same site as above but I wanted to list it separately because it’s so useful. If you dream of reading Japanese manga in the original, but you need some extra help, this is a great place to start. On this page you can read Give My Regards to Black Jack, a bestselling Japanese manga about a young doctor. Alongside the original manga, there is the Japanese script with English translation and language notes.
This site is a bit old-fashioned now and is not updated, but it is still a useful source of Japanese reading materials. The texts include blog articles, student compositions and essays. Click into the article you want to read. The reading screen has a frame at the side showing dictionary definitions in English. You can click on words you don’t understand to get a translation.
If you are an advanced Japanese learner, I recommend using real Japanese materials as much as possible. By this I mean books and articles written for native Japanese speakers – not for language learners.
The ultimate goal is to speak fluent Japanese, the way native speakers do. You will learn the most natural language by using real life sources.
The good news is, it’s incredibly easy to find real life Japanese resources online! You can also find resources on literally any topics.
I recommend thinking about what you read in your native language for fun. What do you read in your spare time, just because you love it? Find the Japanese version of that! This means you’ll be more likely to stick with it. Plus, you’ll learn new words specific to your hobbies and interests.
This is also a good time to change your phone, computer, Facebook settings into Japanese and create an immersion environment.
Here are a few websites to start you off. I tried to choose a selection of websites from different genres. Remember, this list is just to give you some ideas! When you know advanced Japanese, you can read whatever you want ?
NHK – the Japanese national broadcaster. As well as reading the news online, you can stream radio and watch some TV shows (might be blocked depending on location)
Yomiuri Shimbun – national newspaper (conservative)
Mainichi Shimbun – national newspaper (moderate/left leaning)
Asahi Shimbun – national newspaper (left leaning)
Aozora Bunko – free digital copies of books for which the copyright has expired
Project Gutenberg (Japanese) – another site for free out-of-copyright books
Shousetsuka ni narou – a site where wannabe authors publish their work online for free to get reviews
University of Virginia Japanese Text Initiative – a huge library of Japanese texts online, and you can even choose to read with furigana
Kotonaha – kind of a weird but fun site where users vote O or X (for or against) on different issues and leave comments.
Yahoo Questions – people ask and answer questions on all kinds of topics.
Girls Channel – a bulletin board, kind of like Reddit but just for girls. Good for learning internet slang and girls’ talk.
Mixi – a Japanese social network. Difficult to join if you don’t live in Japan by you can read news articles and some users’ public diaries without signing up.
Ameblo – a Japanese personal blogging platform similar to Blogspot or Livejournal. You can browse blogs and articles by topic.
Kinarino – women’s lifestyle blog covering food, fashion, travel, interiors and more
Magazine Lib – you can read pdf versions of many different Japanese magazines online
Comicwalker – free manga from the publisher Kadokawa. You can read the comics online, or there’s an app too.
Sai Zen Sen – you can read some Japanese manga online for free
Comico – another site with some free Japanese manga to read online
Rocket News – short funny news articles
Hatena Bookmarking – a social bookmarking site. Users share interesting articles from around the web.
1000moji – user-submitted short stories in 1000 characters
Lifehacker – interesting tips and tricks, and tech news
Toyo Keizai – a well-known business and finance magazine
BuzzFeed Japan – you probably know this one! Funny and interesting things from around the internet
Drama Note – blog with detailed synopsis and reviews of Japanese and international dramas
The Rising Wasabi – satirical news site
Kotobaya – not very up to date, but an interesting blog about the Japanese language in Japanese
Do you know any other good sources for free Japanese reading practice online? Please share in the comments!
Rebecca is the founder of Team Japanese. She spent two years teaching English in Ehime, Japan. Now back in the UK, she spends her time blogging, self-studying Japanese and wrangling a very genki toddler.