Resource: Learning classical Japanese through Taketori Monogatari


The scholars of the East Asian Languages and Literatures Department at Ohio State University have produced a wonderful website for studying and practicing classical Japanese: Taketori Monogatari. The website dissects passages from this classic tenth-century tale (known in English as The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter) and breaks down the grammar and vocabulary within.

taketori3To begin, the “Learning Tools” area of the site offers an introduction to basic grammatical elements and terminology, divided into “Key to Word and Phrase notes,” “Tense, Modality, Evidentiality,” and “ari “be” as auxillary” sections. These can be opened in a scrolling embedded window on the page itself OR downloaded as a PDF. This is really useful if you intend to study these foundational elements offline first or want to have a hardcopy to follow along with while you work with the actual text.

When you click on “Table of Contents,” you move into the actual text, divided into passages. There are two options for browsing, based on your needs. If you want to work with a side-by-side readings of the classical Japanese and the English translation, click on the “Passage” links of the titles. Included at the bottom of the English translation is an audio recording of the original classical text being read by a native speaker, which is wonderful to familiarize yourself with the structure and rhythm of classic Japanese.

The second option is to click the grammatical lesson point emphasized in that passage. This method opens up a parallel window with the original text on the right and the window on the left divided between two collapsible sections, “Dictionary” and “Grammar.” As you read the text, you can use your mouse to click through each word while toggling its meaning and grammatical parsing. In some cases, there will be a “read more” option along with the grammar that opens up a much more detailed grammatical explanation. There is also a “hear” option so that you can listen to the pronunciation of each word.


The layout overall is easy on the eyes, simple to use, and offers convenient shortcuts for clipping pages and moving between passages. There are only a few passages presently uploaded, but hopefully more will come soon. Personally, I first learned classical Japanese through Professor Charles Quinn’s classes at OSU, and I assure you that this resource matches the level of detail and explanation found there. There are probably few other sites that will be able to meet the level of detail for learning classical Japanese found here. Definitely check out this extremely valuable resource if you’re just starting or even brushing up on your classical Japanese!

About Paula

Paula lives in the vortex of academic life. She studies medieval Japanese history.
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