After passing the JLPT N3 last July (yay!), I decided to further improve my reading level by consuming more Japanese literature. This novel — また、同じ夢を見ていた (I Saw the Same Dream Again) by 住野よる (Sumino Yoru) — is the first Japanese novel I managed to finish reading. When I say a Japanese novel, I mean that it’s not a manga, a graded reader, or a children's book.
The reason I picked up this novel is that I’ve come across the title multiple times whenever I searched for a book recommendation suitable for Japanese learners around the N3 level. Also, I like the cover — well they say to not judge a book by its cover, but really, the cover of Mata, Onaji Yume wo Miteita just compels me to even buy the paperback version (I’m usually more of a Kindle version kind of person). The cover, with a kind-of-bluish-cool tone, depicting the back of a girl with a cat on a balcony, captures the tone of the story perfectly.
The book also has an audiobook version, and it is actually what helped me to finish the book in less than two weeks. At first, I attempted to read the first few pages without the audiobook, but it took me quite some time to even finish the first chapter because I had to reread most sentences a couple of times and look up for some kanji readings.
Then, I signed up for a 14-days free trial of all-you-can-listen on audiobook.jp and start listening to the audiobook while reading the paperback version. Turns out I could keep up and understand most of the story that way. Furthermore, the audiobook is really great — they have multiple voice actors assigned to each character of the book. The voice acting is really great as well — it feels like listening to a drama CD.
The story’s protagonist is a grade school girl, Koyanagi Nanoka. Nanoka does not have any friends around her age, but she has a routine to meet up with her range of friends: a cat with a short tail, a woman with a mysterious occupation, a middle school girl who cuts herself, and a grandma who makes sweets and snacks for her.
Nanoka was assigned a class assignment by her school teacher, Hitomi-sensei, to think about what is happiness to her. The story mainly revolves around Nanoka developing relationships with each of her friends and eventually her classmate as well, while discovering true happiness. The story is told in a simple way from the perspective of Nanoka, thus she uses words that she, a grade-schooler would only know.
Nanoka as a character is very relatable which would make readers be sympathetic to her. She is clever for a girl of her age, but she is not that smart when it comes to people. She even went as far as not being want to do anything with other people after a conflict with her classmates. But of course, that wasn’t good, thus the people around her helps her to realize this.
I also think that the book laid out enough hints, albeit some are a bit early, on what is really going on, through Nanoka’s conversation with her friends. The story title itself also gives away some of this. The revelation was not a huge plot twist per se, and rather than the feeling of shock, it’s more of a satisfying feeling that I get at the end of the book.
Shiawase wa aruite konai, dakara aruite yukunda ne
Happiness doesn’t come by itself, that’s why we walk towards it
The book also has quotes on life and happiness sprinkled throughout the story. The above lyrics, for example, is Nanoka’s favorite song that she sings when she walks with the cat. When I looked it up, I found out that it’s from an actual popular song titled 三百六十五歩のマーチ (365 Days March).
There is also a favorite catchphrase (kuchiguse) of Nanoka that starts with:
Jinsei to wa..
Life is like a ...
which she learns from the comic book “Peanuts” (yes, Snoopy and Charlie Brown). Other popular media references were also mentioned throughout the book which kinda gives me a moment of “Oh I know that one”. Some that I recognized are the mention of The Little Prince, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Tom Sawyer, and Huckleberry Finn.
Overall, I really recommend this book to anyone that likes a simple story with a strong message. I started reading for the sake of improving my reading but ended up finishing the book because the story is really profound and nicely written. The feeling that I got when I finished reading the book is similar to when I finished watching the animated movie Soul by Disney Pixar (it’s a totally different story, but a kinda similar message was delivered).
If you’re learning Japanese and around N3 level or above, try to read the first few pages (the ebook sample are available for free on Amazon.co.jp), and decide from there. If you struggle at the first few pages (like me), try listening to the audiobook to assist the reading. Even if you’re not learning Japanese, I’d still recommend reading the English version of it for the sake of the story.