The View from Here: What to read from Japan
Continuing The View from Here series on literature from around the world, we travel to Japan with the help of Meredith who blogs as Dolce Bellezza. From her home in the suburbs of Chicago she keeps a close eye on Japanese fiction and hosts a Japanese fiction challenge each year to share her love of literature from this part of the world.
Let’s meet Meredith
I have been an elementary teacher for 32 years, and it is one of the great joys of my life. But, another passion of mine is the love for literature. When blogs were first coming into existence I found a few related to books, and I knew I wanted to be a part of that. Discussing books with fellow readers was such a rare thing for me, because while there are book clubs, so many of my friends and acquaintances did not want to read translated literature as I do. So, my blog has leaned more and more toward toward that genre.
Q. You are the host for a Japanese literature challenge. Why does fiction from this pat of the world appeal to you so much?
I have hosted the Japanese Literature Challenge for ten years, which surprises even me. It was most popular in its second year, during which I “met” many of the people with whom I still blog. But even today, those who love Japanese literature still look forward to the event which begins in June and ends in January. I have always held a fascination for Japan, particularly with origami which I use constantly in my class for lessons and rewards. I wanted to learn more about Japan’s authors, and through my own challenge and its participants, was able to expand my knowledge of Japanese literature.
Q. What was the first book by a Japanese author that you can recall reading and enjoying? What made it so special?
The very first book I remember reading was Kafka on The Shore by Haruki Murakami. I loved it so much, I have since read it three times. But, I do not presume to know all of what he’s saying in that, or any of his other, novels. I love that Murakami suggests, in his own words, that readers should be “wide open to possibility”. To me that means there is not just one interpretation of the life lessons he so ingeniously writes about.
Q. Authors like Huruki Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto have done a lot to bring Japanese writing to the attention of people around the world. What about writers from an earlier phase in the country’s history – are there some ‘classic’ works of fiction we should look at?
Some of the books that I would term classic Japanese literature are by authors such as Yukio Mishima, Yasunari Kawabata, and Junichiro Tanizaki. I have particularly enjoyed Naomi by Tanizaki, and The House of Sleeping Beauties by Kawabata.
Q. One comment often made about Japanese fiction, is that plot development and action have often been of secondary interest to emotional issues. Has that been your experience or would you say that’s a fairly simplistic assessment?
One of the most difficult things about coming to Japanese literature, for me, was that there often wasn’t the beginning-middle-end I had come to expect from western literature. Once I could suspend my disbelief, and look at the writing more as a “slice of life”, I could enjoy the books much more. It was a necessary change of mind set for me, otherwise I felt rather lost in a Japanese novel. Unless it was a crime thriller, of course, of which the Japanese are so stupendous at writing.
Q Which contemporary Japanese authors do you think we should be paying more attention to?
I wish that I knew more about the contemporary authors outside of the crime/thriller genre. I have a great passion for the young writers of this genre, particularly Keigo Higashino and Fuminori Nakamura.
Has this whetted your appetite?
If this has given you an enthusiasm to discover more about Japanese literature, there is still time to join in the Japanese Literature Challenge because it runs until January. The idea is that participants would read at least one work of Japanese literature – be it classical or contemporary, mystery or thriller. See the introductory post here If you are looking for inspiration there is a recommended reading list available too.
32 thoughts on “The View from Here: What to read from Japan”
Oh, I missed this when it was published, somehow – I down in Melbourne I think visiting our brand new, first, grandchild!
Anyhow, I love Japanese literature though read far more before blogging than since. One of my first was Tanazaki’s The Makioka sisters, which remains a standout. I’m not so much into crime but have read one by Natuso Kirino. It was fascinating. I’m a bit of a Murakami fan too – including his short stories.
I enjoyed meeting Bellezza!
Oh dear – I just see that I didn’t miss it at all – I just forgot that I’d read it! I must be getting OLD!
Well I am reassured to know I am not alone….
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I love Japanese literature but haven’t read so much in recent years. The first one to make a big impression on me was Tanizaki’s The Makioka sisters. I’ve read quite a few of the older writers – Kawabata, Mishima, Ariyoshi – as well as more recent ones like Yoshimoto and Murakami. I’ve also read one crime novel by Kirino. So many of them – no matter what age they are – seem to have the same sort of reflective, almost disconnected tone. Love it.
Definitely notice a reflective tone – they can be very introspective from what I’ve seen though my reading hasn’t been that extensive.
I would throw Shusaku Endo’s name out there too. I’ve just finished the novel considered to be his finest, Silence, which is being made into a film by Scorsese (review up on my blog next week!)
I will never forget Silence. What a profound book, which still has me thinking about “defending” Christianity, of which I feel quite strongly about. Also, Endo’s book Wonderful Fool is outstanding (in case you have not read it).
Keep them coming – we can build quite a strong list here with different recommendations
thanks so much, so nice to know a bit more about Meredith. I really enjoy Japanese literature as well. Haruki Murakami is my favorite Japanese author, but I enjoy many more as well
Bellezza’s recommendations seem to have struck a chord with so many people
yes, her site is a gem
What a brilliant post! Great that you did this and it’s very interesting on so many levels! x
The thanks go to Bellezza who did all the hard work!. I just pressed a few buttons. Joking aside I’m glad you enjoyed the post
Fabulous post Booker T! I’m a huge fan of Murakami but have not ventured much beyond him. I shall definitely be exploring some of the other authors listed here.
I’ve not got into Murakami – I have a feeling the magical stuff isn’t my cup of tea but I do like the other authors (limited admittedly) that I’ve tried.
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Such an interesting post and many thanks for the list. I’ve read a few writers on it but there are many more that I haven’t come across. I would like to recommend a contemporary author: Hiromi Kawakami. Both Strange Weather in Tokyo and The Nakano Thrift Shop are thoroughly enjoyable.
The Strange Weather in Tokyo is indeed wonderful. Strangely enough, the title was changed to The Briefcase when it was translated here. I agree the author is wonderful, and I look forward to the other title you gave here which I have not read.
Yes, I noticed that. I wonder why!
Ive heard the title Strange Weather but know nothing about it so now off to look it up
Karen, what an honor it is to be included in your highlight of Japanese literature. Thank you for this post and all the wonderful books you expose me to. xo
It was my pleasure entirely. I think the comments speak for themselves how much people appreciated your help and guidance for those of us without your knowledge
What a fantastic list! I’m reading very slowly Kenzaburo Oe’s Rouse up O young man of the New Age – It’s about William Blake and also his severely disabled son. It’s very intense and I keep having to stop reading and go off and read something else lighter but I am enjoying it and it’s not like anything I’ve read before.
Kenzaburo Oe’s writing is so powerful, especially when he writes about his relationship with his son. A Personal Matter is a great book of his, and so was Death by Water, which was listed on the Man Booker International Prize long list this year. I haven’t read the one you mentioned, but I would like to.
this will be a new author for me but the one Vicky mentions is calling to me
that does sound appealing Vicky – I assume we mean William Blake the poet? He has always fascinated me. How many kinds do you hear about that see a prophet in a tree and not just one of the common garden ones at that
Great post! I need to explore Japanese literature, not having read even the popular books I see around the blogosphere. Thanks for sharing!
Its worth having a go at one or two because the style does seem to be rather different
Am slightly embarrassed to admit I’ve never ventured beyond Murakami! But I recently bought the Japanese crime thriller Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama so this gives me the excuse I needed to pick it up and try it!
Ive only started dipping my toe in the water too Col. But its great to know there are so many people to try and thankfully we have a guide to know where to begin
Fascinating – thanks for this post! I read tons of Mishima back in the day, and I really must get back to Japanese lit!