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.


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 '15 at 18:57
  • 4
    If there's a fourth volume, I think the series will be numbered.
    – jogloran
    Sep 13 '15 at 19:01
  • Definitely 編 > 篇 for the purpose of Japanese-as-a-foreign-language.. Sep 14 '15 at 9:55
  • 「上巻・下巻」もありますよね。。
    – Chocolate
    Sep 14 '15 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 '15 at 5:40
  • That is very interesting. Sep 15 '15 at 17:03

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.