I know I've mentioned it before, but I study in waves. When I'm in the mood to study, I burn through Kanji like nobody's business. When I'm not in the mood to study though, I pretty much just lay on my tatami for a month and a half... like nobody's business.
So one of the biggest challenges for me is finding things to help me study that don't feel like studying.
From what I understand, the reading portions of the 2kyuu JLPT can get pretty brutal, so I've gotten in the habit of picking up books in Japanese that look like the kind of stuff I'd be interested in anyway. I know a lot of people who use manga to practice like this. I recommend doing that too, although I personally find myself more likely to skip words I don't know if I can tell what's going on because of the pictures.
This book, though, is perfect for me. Only one picture per page with a nice block of accompanying text explanation, it catalogs the demons and ghosts of Japan without coming off too encyclopedia-esque. The writer, Mizuki Shigeru, is known for being the creator of the popular manga and anime ゲゲゲの鬼太郎 (GeGeGe no Kitarou), but is also considered THE leading expert/master of the 妖怪 (youkai: spirits, ghosts, etc) world. Try buying a book about 妖怪 that's NOT written by him. Seriously, try it. Cause I did. It was hard.
Well-researched and incredibly detailed (down to the 川獺's likely responses to a variety of questions), the book is even more valuable for its application as a study tool. Instead of taking the form of a usual encyclopedia, with formulaic entries that would yield the same pattern of words and phrases ad infinitum, Mizuki writes most of the pages I've gotten to so far in a kind of autobiographical style, relating his earliest encounters with the stories of these creatures, how and where he came across them, and how and where he believed he was likely to actually encounter them. While I expected a kind of specialized encyclopedic jargon that would be good practice for reading... other encyclopedias, I got a book that creates a short, but interesting, narrative for each creature profile with broader vocabulary that I can actually use and apply.
I'll note some of the examples of sections that you can find in his book below:
- 猫の神通力：The magical powers of cats! Hear about how all kinds of nekos, believed to possess abilities and knowledge beyond humans, have used their powers in days past: causing a small-town shrine to hover above the ground to bring back it's parishioners and save it from bankruptcy. (起死回生?)
- かに坊主:The Buddhist monk crab: A traveling monk stays the night in the abandoned Crab Temple of Yamanashi-ken. He's bothered by a strange figure in a monk's visage during the night, but finding nothing suspicious about this, he tells the figure to leave him alone and resumes his sleep. In the morning, when he learns of the mysterious disappearance of the temple's former inhabitants all in one night, he suggests draining the pond behind the temple building. When they do so, they discover not only the skeletons of the missing monks, but a gigantic evil looking crab!
This book is one in a series, so if you're interested in 妖怪 of China, or 妖怪 of the world, Mizuki's got your back.
Further recommendations for those of you who like 妖怪 too: