Keigo (敬語) got you stumped? One way to learn to understand keigo –– sonkeigo (honorific language; 尊敬語) and kenjōgo (humble language; 謙譲語) –– is by consuming keigo-heavy media. Of course, the best way to learn is by doing something you enjoy; in my case, I really love reading manga (漫画). If you also like manga and want to work on your keigo, read on!
Why read keigo to learn it? Seeing phrases written out in context is useful, and the reader can stop to write down or double-check phrases in a way that is impossible at the conbini or a restaurant. Since not everyone works in a super formal office, getting any keigo practice in is really critical to being able to understand keigo that is spoken to you and, hopefully, to be able to learn some key phrases and expressions as well. Put whole sentences in your flashcards to perfect your keigo!
Part 1: 「ベルサイユのバラ」(The Rose of Versailles)
Level: around N1*
Text: 5 volumes, ~400 pages/volume. Text amount (compared to art): heavy.
Story: In 1972, the manga-ka (漫画家) Ikeda Riyoko （池田 理代子） set out to write a manga about the life of Marie Antoinette, but the true star of the work is the fictional Oscar Francois de Jarjeyes, a woman raised as a man to succeed her father in the military. Oscar becomes Antoinette’s bodyguard, and the story focuses on how the two deal with romance, gender, and the oncoming revolution in their separate spheres. The story covers roughly 1755-1810 with a focus on the years leading up to the fall of the Bastille and the beginning of the French Revolution.
Keigo: Much of the story is set in the French Court, where everyone uses keigo when speaking to the other royalty and nobility.
- There is also a lot of causal and masculine speech along with the keigo, so you can round out your speaking-style education.
- There are good notes about important historical events and figures if your world history is rusty.
- There is a ton of furigana, which is good for all those ranks and military terms you may not know.
- Even though this is a manga, it is very text-dense, and Ikeda’s poetic speeches are a fun challenge.
- This is a hugely popular manga, and the majority of your (female) coworkers have read it. Great conversation starter!
- The majority of the text has furigana. It’s a double-edged sword.
- Some people are turned off by the 70s shoujo manga (少女漫画) style—lots of big eyes (Antoinette and Rosalie are repeat offenders), sparkles, and flowers.
- For Oscar and Andre fans, you have to make it through vol. 1 before their storyline really picks up.
Recommended for people who are interested in
- gender studies, gender-bending, non-heteronormative romances
- the history of manga, especially shoujo manga
- European history, particularly the end of the ancien regime
- epic manga (it doesn’t get much more epic than this!)
- strong female characters
- any manga or anime The Rose of Versailles influenced, most notably Revolutionary Girl Utena (革命少女ウテナ) and Ouran High School Host Club (桜蘭高校ホスト部)
- the Takarazuka Revue (宝塚会劇団)
Buy it: By IKEDA Riyoko (池田理代子). Published by Shueisha (集英社). Originally serially published in Margaret in 1972-3, the manga has been collected and reprinted several times since 1994. The current reprint was released in 2009 and is available on Amazon.co.jp and nearly all bookstores. BookOff almost always has the manga, though it may be the ~2005 release. (The covers are different, but the content is the same.) 3250 yen for the five-volume boxed set, or 650 yen/volume new. (This is the same price, but not all stores may have the boxed set.)
Stay tuned for Part 2!
*For the levels, I’ve tried to describe the level of grammar/kanji/vocab and concepts by using the JLPT levels. “Around N1” means “post-N2 and at least studying for the N1.” (Because keigo is considered to be intermediate-to-advanced Japanese already, the potential reader should have studied or be studying basic keigo.)