I came across the Hir@gana Times magazines while browsing in Kinokuniya the other day. It advertises itself as being a magazine for ‘read Japanese study’. Curious, I decided to buy a copy. It wasn’t cheap for sure, SGD 11.50 for a thin magazine. It was even more expensive than the other magazines with Arashi in it, considering the thickness. Intrigued by the content, I bought it nonetheless.
The magazine turns out to be pretty interesting. The wide variety of articles and topics makes the magazine a fun read, though those looking for a more serious read would be disappointed as most of the articles are fairly short. It’s understandable though, since it’s a magazine geared towards general Japanese learners. The easy to read, large (or larger) font makes reading less intimidating, and of course, there’s an English translation for everything, laid out in parallel with the Japanese text (and that takes up space too!) With articles and topics ranging from special interviews, to travel/sightseeing in Japan, to business to manga… There’s something in the magazine for everyone, whether you’re just a casual learner of the language, or a more serious learner who’s living in Japan and studying/working there. Overall it’s more geared towards new learners of the language, probably around N4 – N3/N2 level, but I guess for N1 JLPT test takers, you would be expected to be reading things like the Japanese newspaper already. I recommend N4 because of all the kanji and vocabulary used. They don’t purposely dumb down the text, so complete beginners may find themselves struggling a little. Still, the furigana (hiragana pronouciations for kanji characters) provided together with parallel English text makes it easy for anyone to read the magazine.
Apart from articles, a huge section of the magazine is devoted to Japanese learning and practise. Through sections such as learning Japanese through manga, readers can not only learn the language, but also the Japanese culture. New learnings may also find their vocabulary and tricks to remembering kanji useful. While I advocate breaking down kanji to their constituent parts for easier learning, some of the memory tricks they provided for remembering particular parts of the word feels a bit forced and far fetched. Of course, I’m mostly part of the stage of recognising and remembering kanji, having been through that with Chinese as a kid, so I don’t need such tricks to help me remember my kanji. I imagine a non-Chinese learner would find the clues useful though. Again, as the exercises is geared towards general Japanese learners, it’s around N3 level. (Disclaimer: Having taken N4, N3 and N1 levels after self learning and no formal instruction, this is just a very rough gauge on my part. Side note: I think I failed N1, but that’s another story for another day.)
One section that I particularly liked was the new expressions and buzzwords section. Languages are living things, constantly changing and shaped by the people using it. The Japanese language is no exception. New trends, buzzword, phrases and expressions are constantly appearing… And it can be hard to keep up, especially if you are not physically in Japan, constantly browsing on Japanese social media sites/accounts, or are not part of the ‘hip’ crowd. As someone who is neither physically in Japan nor constantly browsing the Japanese blogosphere, I’m most delighted by this section. While it probably won’t help in JLPT exams, it would definitely help me keep up with the language changes and in understanding variety show talks.
A quick search on the web revealed the Hir@gana Times home page. Subscriptions of the monthly magazine is available for both the print and digital versions. Print version subscriptions are available to those overseas (outside Japan) too, though at a higher cost because of the shipping. You can subscribe directly from the website here. A 1,000 yen discount is provided for those who are renewing their subscription. As seen in the picture, digital versions of the magazine are available on the Google Play store as well as Apple’s Newsstand. With the digital version, you get an audio recording of the magazine too. As much as I love physical copies of stuff, the digital version is more value for your buck, especially for Japanese learners residing outside of Japan. You can save on the shipping fees, and get an audio recording too. I’d probably subscribe to it once the September issue is out. It’s definitely cheaper to subscribe online than to buy it from Kinokuniya… If I can even find the magazine there in the first place.
For those on a budget, do check out the past articles on the Hir@gana Times. Articles from issues 1 year ago are posted for free on the site, though you have to switch between English and Japanese language at the top right hand corner to see both versions of the article – no parallel text is provided on the website.
That’s all for now, hope you’ll find this magazine useful in your Japanese learning adventure!