Japanese Readers Series #1: Yuurei no Sodekake


Personally, I get a lot of mileage out of learning vocab out of context first and then "stumbling" upon it while reading (I had a whole class that used this method once and it was great). If you are like this, or you'd like to try it, I suggest learning whatever vocab you want to learn out of context before you try to read through the text, and reading may cement its meaning better for you.

The vocabulary is ordered in decreasing frequency (most frequent words at the top). I used the Leeds corpus for the ratings (although I'm currently researching better options for this that contain more words!). If a phrase was a compound or inflected word, its frequency is listed as 0 with a reason. If the phrase is a compound but one of the seed words is in the frequency corpus, I included it in the proper place in the list. If the word is not on the top 15,000 most frequent words, it is given a frequency of 0 and listed as "too infrequent." Vocab is highlighted into rough frequency bins on the table. I suggest that you learn words that are about your level, but just refer to the gloss for more advanced words (many beginning students try to learn everything at once, but there's plenty of time to learn words you'll only come across once in a while!).

I listed links for the grammar skills needed to completely understand this text. As with the vocab, learning these ahead of time might prime you nicely for cementing the knowledge when you read the text. Or you can just use them as a reference and let the text wash over you, if that's more your style. It's not quite as easy to judge frequency with grammar (you can cross reference JLPT lists if you'd like, but not everything is on the JLPT!), so just learn what seems interesting or useful to you.

Depending on your proficiency level, I suggest you ignore words or grammar points that are much more advanced or infrequent than you generally encounter right now. You can always come back to these materials at a later time and delve deeper. Remember that language learning is about getting comfortable with ambiguity, uncertainty, and NOT knowing everything right now. Get SOMETHING out of it and you have succeeded.

I've included a rough translation of the text. I did it kind of quickly and made it more literal than smooth/idiomatic on purpose, as I find this helps me learn better. It's a reference tool, not a bible :)

Try reading aloud or listening to the audio (if it works!). I find the full kanji version easier to read, but you might prefer the all-hiragana version.

Take notes, make flashcards, read about grammar, and feel free to ask questions!

Text Links

Vocab List

Kanji Reading English Gloss Frequency Reason for N/A Frequency
言う いう to say 1263.36
今日 きょう today 412.67
聞く きく to listen 392.28
来る くる to come 369.72
作る つくる to make 296.6
次の〜 つぎの〜 the next ~ 271.58 compound word but 次 is 271.58
買う かう to buy 254.9
かける to hang something on something else 168.92
こえ voice 155.19
呼ぶ よぶ to call out/to call 149.08
もと root/origin (can also metaphorically mean place something or someone is) 138.74
帰る かえる to go home 135.16
実は じつは actually 129.91
話す はなす to speak/to say 123.18
近くの ちかくの nearby 92.02 compound but 近く is 92.02
死ぬ しぬ to die 88.79
若い わかい young 83.95
むすめ daughter/girl 74.48
ところが however 71.89
先日 せんじつ the other day/recently 62.28
古い ふるい old 55.28
あの世 あのよ Heaven (literally "that world") 53.53 compound but 世 is 53.53
現れる あらわれる to appear 43.87
喜ぶ よろこぶ to be happy 43.19
ふね ship/boat 42.32
捨てる すてる to drop/to throw away 41.73
一言 ひとこと a single word 40.03
なみだ tears 39.8
消える きえる to disappear 39.47
約束の やくそくの promised 37.01 compound but 約束 is 37.01
運ぶ はこぶ to carry 31.82
代わりに かわりに in exchange 30.03 compound but 代わり is 30.03
ひき counter for certain animals 29.19
辛い つらい painful 28.85
せっかくの something you went to all the trouble for 27.96 compound word but せっかく is 27.96
迷う まよう to wander in a lost kind of way 25.3
壊れる こわれる to break/to break down 18.93
諦める あきらめる to give up 16
貧しい まずしい poor 14.39
ばん night/evening 13.92
今夜 こんや tonight 13.5
まつ pine (tree) 12.29
引き上げる ひきあげる to raise up (transitive) 10.89
揃える そろえる to align/to coordinate 10.83
えだ branch 10.54
わし I/me for an old person 8.15
引っかかる ひっかかる to be caught on something 6.48
お寺 おてら Buddhist temple 5.53
幽霊 ゆうれい ghost 5.15
大物 おおもの a big thing 5.11
めったにない rare 4.78 compound but めったに is 4.78
拭く ふく to wipe 4.8
そで sleeve 3.79
かすかな faint/dim/weak 3.38
可哀想 かわいそう pitiable/something or someone to feel sorry for 3.31
恨み うらみ grudge 3.05
漁師 りょうし fisherman 3.03
葬る ほうむる to bury 2.67
フッと with a "whff" 2.28 compound but フッ is 2.28
溺れる おぼれる to drown 2.25
夜釣り よづり night fishing 0 too infrequent
どうしたことか for some reason 0 compound
一匹 いっぴき one fish/dog/cat 0 compound
釣りざお つりざお fishing rod 0 too infrequent
弓なり ゆみなり arch 0 too infrequent
手応え てごたえ response 0 too infrequent
釣り糸 つりいと fishing line 0 too infrequent
〜の先に 〜のさきに at the end of (an object) 0 compound word
亡骸 なきがら corpse 0 too infrequent
和尚 おしょう Buddhist priest 0 too infrequent
弔う とむらう to hold a funeral service for 0 too infrequent
手厚い てあつい courteous/warm 0 too infrequent
迷わず まよわず without wavering/without wandering 0 inflected word
心残り こころのこり regret 0 too infrequent
何なり なんなり whatever/anything 0 too infrequent
好きな人 すきなひと a person one loves 0 compound
嫁入り よめいり wedding/marriage 0 too infrequent
縁談 えんだん proposal of marriage 0 too infrequent
さぞ certainly 0 too infrequent
よしよし “there, there,” words of soothing encouragement/solace 0 too casual for a corpus
今となっては いまとなっては now that it's right now 0 compound
手遅れ ておくれ late/too late 0 too infrequent
消え去る きえさる to leave by way of disappearing 0 compound
あくる the next 0 too infrequent
嫁に行く よめにいく to marry (brides traditionally went to live with their husband's family, so they “go bride”) 0 compound

Grammar Used in This Text


The Pine of the Ghost Sleeve

Long, long ago, a fisherman brought his boat out on the river to do some night fishing. However, for some reason, he couldn't catch a single fish that day.

"I guess I'll give up for tonight and go home."

As soon as the fisherman thought this, there was a tug on the line. It was a rare big one.

He was delighted and began to reel it in, when...

"...Huh? Gyaahhhhh!"

There was a dead girl's body at the end of the fishing line.

"W-waahhh, namuamidabutsu, namuamidabutsu (a Buddhist chant. Cultural note: Japanese people generally follow the naturalist Shinto religion, but observe Buddhist traditions around birth and death)."

There was no way the fisherman could just throw the corpse away, so he brought it into his boat.

"Ahhh, the poor thing..."

The fisherman carried the girl's body to a nearby Buddhist temple and had the priest perform a funeral service for her.

Starting the next night, the girl's ghost began to appear under an old pine tree at the temple.

"We buried her out of the kindness of our hearts (the implication here is, why tf is she still hanging around?). I wonder if she still bears a grudge about something in this world or something," the priest thought, finding it mysterious. As he thought this, the girl’s ghost appeared and said,

"Thank you for yesterday. I want to go straight to Heaven (there's a typo here in the kanji version, should be 行きたい), but I have one regret...Will you listen?" she said in a faint voice.

"Please tell me, whatever it is."

"Okay. Actually, I was supposed to marry the person I love, but because my family is poor, they couldn't make a bridal kimono for me. So the proposal went to waste."

"That must have been very painful. It may be too late now, but I'll arrange a bridal kimono for you."

When he said that, the ghost wiped her tears and disappeared.

The next day, the priest bought the kimono as promised, and hung it on one of the branches of the old pine tree. In the middle of the night, the girl's ghost appeared, changed into the kimono, and left. (Ending this sentence with でしょう implies that no one saw it, but the speaker infers that that's probably what happened, because...) The bridal kimono was gone, and in its place on the branch was a sleeve from the kimono the girl had drowned in.

From that day on, that pine tree was called the "Pine of the Ghost Sleeve."