Reading About the Pandemic in Japanese

With the sudden rise in COVID-19 cases in Japan over the past few weeks, I have once again found myself harvesting news reports for any tidbit that would induce just the right combination of apprehension and relief. My nihongo listening comprehension is not good enough to sit in front of a TV newscast and get what I need, so I try to extract what I can from written online news articles.

My news website of choice is NHK News Web ( While perhaps not as in-depth as some of the other outlets in Japan, it does have the advantage of being highly repetitive when it comes to word usage. This is especially true of coronavirus reporting, where the editors of some articles appear to simply copy and paste the latest data from their spreadsheets into a ready-made article template. For someone like me who is still acquiring the language, parsing articles in a common, consistent format increases the chance that I will understand the world around me.

A good example is the daily roundup of infection statistics that comes out sometime after midnight each day. The post released this past Sunday morning, covering data from Saturday, November 21, starts out with this gloomy news.


This roughly translates into the following.

It was announced that for [November] 21st, as of right now, 2,596 people were infected across the entire country. It was also announced that there were a total of 12 deaths on that day: 5 in Osaka, 3 in Hokkaido, 1 in Saitama, 1 in Aichi, 1 in Tokyo, and 1 in Kumamoto.

It’s grim stuff, to be sure. But because NHK emits basically the same opening paragraphs every day, I’ve started to glean the basic facts via skimming instead of by plodding through each and every word. Later paragraphs are not as easy, as NHK changes up the supporting content regularly.

Here is a list of some common words that frequently show up in reports about the current pandemic.

  • 新型しんがたコロナウイルス = novel coronavirus, sometimes abbreviated as コロナ
  • 全国ぜんこく = the whole country (referring to Japan in this case)
  • わせて = taken all together, good for adding up numerical totals
  • 発表はっぴょう = announcement, often as 発表されています, “has been announced”
  • 注意ちゅうい = caution, warning
  • 確認かくにん = confirmation
  • 過去かこ最多さいた = highest ever recorded; the 過去 part means “the past”
  • 10さい未満みまん = under age 10
  • 年代ねんだいべつ = by (10-year) age groups, used for age-related charts
  • 増加ぞうか = increase or growth
  • 患者かんじゃ = (medical) patient
  • 症状しょうじょうしゃ = a person showing no symptoms
  • 軽症けいしょうしゃ = person with minor illness
  • 重症じゅうしょう = serious illness or symptoms
  • 感染かんせん者数しゃす = number of infected individuals
  • 治療ちりょう = medical treatment
  • 医療いりょう施設しせつ = medical facility
  • 入院にゅういん = admitted to the hospital
  • 退院たいいん = recovered or discharged from the hospital
  • 死亡しぼう = deaths
  • 拡大かくだい防止ぼうし = preventing the spread, of the virus in this case
  • マスク着用ちゃくよう = wearing a mask
  • 自粛じしゅく = self-restraint
  • 不要ふよう不急ふきゅう = nonessential and non-urgent

If news about the virus is not your study material of choice, NHK covers all kinds of goings-on, and the opening paragraphs frequently offer that same level of straightforward structure that can make reading just a bit easier. The broadcaster also offers NHK News Web EASY, a selection of daily articles written in やさしい日本語にほんご with foreigners and elementary school students in mind.

Downloadable Content Available

Click here to access the vocabulary list for this article.

[Image Credits: イモ之助/]

Tim Odagiri

Tim Odagiri is an author, software developer, and the host of Japan Everyday. He has published more than a dozen books and hundreds of articles covering technology, current events, and now life in Japan. Find his latest books at

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