I have a couple of Japanese novels and textbooks that have the kanji 上 & 下 on them. Now, intuitively, I would say that the 下 kanji would be the book I start with. Whereas the 上 would be the one I finish up with. But I'm not sure.

This is an example of what I'm asking about:

Where do I begin? I appreciate your help.

2 Answers 2


The opposite is true: 上篇{じょうへん} is the first volume and 下篇{げへん} is the second, corresponding to the traditional writing direction.

If there's a third volume, they will be labelled 上、中、下 in order.

  • 2
    Out of curiosity, what happens if there's a fourth volume?
    – Blavius
    Sep 13, 2015 at 18:57
  • 4
    If there's a fourth volume, I think the series will be numbered.
    – jogloran
    Sep 13, 2015 at 19:01
  • Definitely 編 > 篇 for the purpose of Japanese-as-a-foreign-language..
    – user4032
    Sep 14, 2015 at 9:55
  • 「上巻・下巻」もありますよね。。
    – chocolate
    Sep 14, 2015 at 12:13

I often find that novels that I'm familiar with here in the US are split up in to 2 or 3 parts, leading to these 上 and 下 volumes. Patrick Rothfuss has a great blog entry as to why this happens. His example involves German to English translations, which he says are 30% - 40% longer, and I believe the same is true for Japanese translations. Once books get to a certain size, they get really hard to bind durably so that they don't physically fall apart.

  • 4
    Smaller books are also easier to read on the train :-)
    – user1478
    Sep 14, 2015 at 5:40
  • That is very interesting. Sep 15, 2015 at 17:03

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