Using Your E-Reader for Evil (And a Little Japanese)

It seems, right about now, that everyone’s getting their hands on an e-reader. And, considering the community I’m involved in, there’s a lot of interest in using those new toys to read Japanese books and manga on the go. Well, over the last few weeks, with the help of the #ajatt crew (on irc.rizon.net), I’ve accumulated a nice selection of tools to help you get just about any Japanese book or manga you want living comfortably on your e-reader, with plenty of amenities to keep them (and you) happy.

Calibre

Now, for the basics. If you don’t have it already, you probably want to download Calibre. It’s a nice, easy to use e-book manager, which also handles simple conversions between e-book formats, so if you’ve got something your e-reader can’t handle, Calibre can probably convert it for you.

You may notice that Calibre can convert CBR and CBZ files (comic book files, basically just image archives with their extensions changed) to PDF or EPUB, but the image processor is pretty lackluster, making manga/novel scans pretty ugly, a problem which leads us to our first tool.

Mangle

Mangle is a simple tool for batch-processing images (such as manga pages) to be used on the Kindle. You can read more about it on the program’s website. Assuming you have a Kindle of some variety, it’s a great way to get your manga ready for on-the-go reading. But not all e-readers are created equal (har). The nook, which happens to be my e-reader of choice, actually doesn’t have the same usable resolution as the Kindle in reading mode. The UI takes up roughly 70 pixels of vertical space, and so, if you use Mangle straight out of the box for a nook, you’ll end up with images just slightly too big that have to be resized, which ends up really ugly.

Making use of the information here (potentially NSFW), I slightly modified the Mangle source code to add a couple profiles for nook users. You can get the updated version of Mangle here (EDIT: Link removed. Get the updated version here.), with the source code included. (Note that I had to fight really hard to get Python to build the code, and I’m not even sure if I did it correctly, so if you’ve got any problems running the modified version, I can try to help, but I make no guarantees.)

In the modified version of Mangle, you’ll find two new device profiles: “nook” and “nook (double-size).” The first outputs images with a maximum resolution of 600×730, and the second, as you might expect, has a maximum resolution of 1200×1460. I don’t actually think the double-size profile will be of use in the near ever, but I threw it in anyway, in vain anticipation of a PDF reader with zoom capability that doesn’t make you want to rip your nails out–ひぐらし-style.

As a nook user, I personally recommend you enable the “Draw frame around images” option, which guarantees all images will be the same resolution (600×730 in the regular profile). This is because Mangle does not increase an image’s size to make it fit one of the given dimensions. It will only make images smaller. If you have an image smaller than the maximum dimensions, this ensures the image remains centered and doesn’t get enlarged, which looks equally bad to the nook’s downsampling.

Anyway, once you’ve got your images converted, you can, as it says on the Mangle site, just put them straight on your Kindle. However, there are, as I hear, issues with the Kindle’s image display ordering, so I recommend you pack the Mangled images up in a ZIP or RAR file, and change the extension to CBZ (for ZIP) or CBR (for RAR).

After you’ve done that, you can drag the CBZ/CBR file into Calibre and convert it to PDF. I recommend, on the “Comic Input” page, clicking the “Disable comic processing” option, so Calibre doesn’t try to mess with the images any more. From there, you should be set to send the PDF off to your e-reader.

But what, then, if the book you want to read is in text format, not image format? FEAR NOT! In fact, FEAR LESS! Getting Japanese text onto your e-reader is actually a lot simpler, and a lot cooler. There are two ways listed here. I recommend the first.

青P

A couple weeks ago, I came across this post by JapanNewbie about how he uses his Kindle. In it, he posted a link to a site called A2K, which hosts a tool called 青空キンドル (Aozora Kindle). On that page, the author recommends checking out a tool called 青P (Ao P), which he thinks does the same thing as his tool but offers more customization options.

Well, he was right. It does what his tool does and much more. And that’s why it’s my tool of choice for converting Japanese text documents (particularly those in the Aozora Bunko format) to PDFs for my nook. 青P is the second tool on this site.

One thing to note when using 青P: it seems the included fonts are not embedded into the PDFs properly, and so you’ll want to pick an external font. For consistency between tools, I recommend IPA Mincho, which is the same font used by A2K.

Now, 青P’s default settings don’t work very well for e-readers. You’ll probably find the text is really small, and I don’t imagine most e-readers can reflow the complex PDFs generated by 青P properly. You can fiddle with the settings as you want, but I’ll post the ones I’ve found to work best for me: (EDIT: Check out the update to this post for settings more suited to e-readers.)

(Note, click 詳細を表示 to display these options.)

  • 縦書き: Selected
  • 用紙サイズ: A6(縦)
  • フォント
    • 本文: ipam.ttf, 15.0
    • ルビ: ipam.ttf, 7.5
    • ページ: ipam.ttf, 10.0
  • 行間: 11.0
  • 文字の間隔: 0.0
  • 段組: 1
  • 段の間隔: 0.0
  • ページ番号位置: なし
  • 余白: 5.0 (all around)
  • 余白反転: Checked
  • 挿絵直前で改ページ: Checked

All around, those settings seem to make the PDFs look just about perfect on my nook. My only complaint is that the page sizes offered don’t exactly match the nook’s screen size, so everything’s aligned against the left of the screen, and there’s a little bit of unused space on the right, but all things considered, it’s nothing to complain about.

nook-Exclusive Calibre Plugin

If you have a text file not in the 青空文庫 format, and 青P doesn’t output to your liking, or you don’t think it’s worth your time, or you’re copying over books in a language other than Japanese (so, pretty much never), AND you have a nook, you can always take advantage of a quick and dirty Calibre plugin I wrote which links EPUBs generated by Calibre to fonts in a “my fonts” folder in your nook’s root directory. This should allow you to get past the fact that the nook, despite having perfectly good Asian-language fonts on the device, doesn’t actually use them in its reader software.

You can download the plugin here. It should be pretty self-explanatory. Just install it in Calibre, find the “ePub: Link to Nook Custom Fonts” plugin under “File type plugins,” and click “Customize plugin.” There’s a full set of instructions included.

Rawr

Hopefully this helps you on the way to turning your e-reader into an evil world-devouring monster. Or something even better.

This entry was posted in E-Readers, Japanese, Tools. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Using Your E-Reader for Evil (And a Little Japanese)

  1. Pingback: all aboard the kindle bandwagon « Lan'dorien's Mysterious Journey

  2. Greg says:

    You, sir, are amazing. Thank you for sharing!

    My target is Chinese, so I’m going to fiddle around with that and see how the results are.

    • I’m glad you thought it was useful! I’m not sure how much of this actually applies to Chinese material, but I’m curious to see how well it works for you. 🙂

      • Greg says:

        Out of curiosity, do you typically go and say.. “download”.. each image one by one?

        (There’s a great website for Chinese manga translations online, where I can get the images).

        Now I just need the eBook reader!!

      • I’m aware of those sorts of websites, but I don’t typically use them. One by one just sounds like such a pain, you know. 😛 But e-readers are awesome, and you should definitely get one! 🙂

      • Greg says:

        Just reporting back to say it worked really nicely! It’s really great having these handy PDFs (even without an e-reader). Thanks for the tips!!! 😀

        Out of curiosity, why do you prefer the Nook?

      • Glad to hear it worked out for you! 🙂

        I personally decided on the nook because my parents both have one, which means we can all share the books we buy from Barnes & Noble. I can’t say I have much of a reason beyond that. It does its job, and it does it well, so I’m pretty much satisfied with it. 🙂

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  8. Keith Baker says:

    Just wanted to let you know that Mangle won’t allow Japanese filenames. Here’s the error:
    File “book.pyc”, line 350, in onBookExport
    UnicodeEncodeError: ‘ascii’ codec can’t encode characters in position 28-29: ordinal not in range(128)

  9. Tess says:

    Apparently my Calibre doesn’t like the plug-in, and I can’t get it to work. I downloaded the file, but then when I go to install it into Calibre, It’s not there to install. Please help!

    =[

    • I’ll start off by saying I don’t actually recommend using the Calibre plugin at all. The files produced by 青P, especially using the updated settings, look so much better and are less of a hassle to deal with.

      To answer your question… I’m not entirely sure what could be happening. The only thing that comes to mind is that you might have extracted the zip file, and Calibre wants its plugins still zipped up. Beyond that… I dunno. I haven’t used it since I made this post almost a year ago.

  10. Ken says:

    I found your post when I picked up my PaperWhite and was really excited to try out some Aozora novels. Mostly everything worked great, but only one problem: for some reason the J-J dictionary would only pick up the first character of a compound, rendering it fairly useless for me. I started modifying the Ruby code for that a2k site and screwing with LaTeX (which was a learning experience in itself) but couldn’t seem to fix it. Then I ran into:

    http://ebookyaro.blogspot.jp/2012/10/kindle-paperwhite-epub3.html “Kindle Paperwhite 青空文庫 epub3 テキスト を読む” (by way of http://forum.koohii.com/viewtopic.php?pid=195871 ) and it works flawlessly. Extract kindlegen (from Amazon) into the application directory, select “Kindle PW” as the device (top right, 端末設定), click ファイルの選択 (bottom right) and output a .mobi file — copy to your device’s documents folder and you’re done.

    It likely won’t help you, but perhaps it will be of use to someone else who stumbles in here!

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