Reading Horizons For Japanese Literature Challenge

Events like the Japanese Literature Challenge give me a great excuse to have a rummage through the shelves and stacks of my owned but unread books (otherwise known as the TBR).

I was surprised to find I own more books by Japanese authors than I expected. Some of these clearly crept into the house when I wasn’t looking.

Let’s look a little more closely at what I could be reading over the three months of this year’s challenge.

Sixty Four by Hideo Yokoyama is his sixth novel but the first to be translated into English. It became a publishing phenomenon in Japan, selling at the astounding rate of a million copies in six days. This is the only crime novel in my little collection, focusing on the disappearance of two young girls. This is a massively chunky book , which is probably why I haven’t tackled it yet.

Then we have two authors of enormous international repute.

Haruki Murakami is an author I’ve been unsure about reading for some years because so much of his work seems to involve fantasy/surrealism elements. The only one of his books I’ve read is Norwegian Wood which I loved but which I understand isn’t typical of his style. Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is perhaps edging more towards the mysterious/strange atmospheric elements found in his best-known novels like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Kazuo Ishiguro is the author of one of my all time favourite Booker Prize winners with The Remains of the Day. Oddly however I’ve never read any of this other novels. As you can see I have two options: the very fat The Unconsoled and the considerably slimmer Nocturnes. I’m not entirely clear why I bought Nocturnes since it’s a collection of short stories and I don’t typically enjoy reading those. Maybe this will change my mind?

The last author in this little group is another that I’ve only dipped my toe into as it were. Yukio Mushima is regarded by many critics as the most important Japanese novelist of the 20th century. I was mesmerised by After The Banquet although I admit that I didn’t understand many elements of the book.

The Decay of the Angel that you can just see in the image is a book I bought in a charity shop but I couldn’t have been paying close attention because it’s the fourth title in  his famous  Sea of Fertility tetralogy I don’t have the first three parts so there isn’t much point in reading this yet.

Which brings me to the big question? Which of these am I going to read first?

I’m going with the Murakami.

It might be the only one I get to read for Japanese Literature Challenge this year. But as I explained in my post about my 2020 reading goals, I’m focusing this year on short events rather than long reading challenges. So if I get to read just one book per event, I’ll class that as success.

If you are familiar with any of the titles I’ve mentioned do let me know what you thought of them. Do you have any favourite Japanese authors I can add to my list for future years?? Do leave me a comment with your suggestions and recommendations.

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on January 13, 2020, in Japanese authors and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 42 Comments.

  1. I was born when the Japanese pop culture thriving in my country. I started reading as a leisure by reading comic books. But It think it kinda a prep for me to read Japanese literature.

    The first Japanese fiction I read was two or three books of Soseki Natsume, then I found Banana Yoshimoto, and eventually I started reading Murakami. Murakami’s works have led me to Shusaku Endo, Junichiro Tanizaki, Yukio Mishima, Ishiguro, and Kenzaburo Oe. I don’t know but the ambiance of Japanese literature is quite dark and gloomy regardless of the era. The books mostly tell about loneliness and “battles” between tradition and modernity. Yet, they are “simple” like the Japanese bonsai.

    Among them, I love Murakami the most. And what I love most about his works is that they feature many pop references, from jazz, movies, to books. And Murakami inspired me to dig deeper into magic realism, to find the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Salman Rushdie, Ben Okri, C.J. Koch, J.M. Coetzee, and Kafka.

    • Thank you for sharing this insight into your reading journey Morishige. It’s lovely to hear how enjoyment of one author led to you a different writer (Murakami) who became your favourite. You’ve given me some names of authors I have not heard of before so I shall emjoy exploring these

  2. Sheree @ Keeping Up With The Penguins

    Fantastic! Looking forward to hearing how the Murakami goes for you. If you liked The Remains Of The Day, I would highly recommend another one of Ishiguro’s, An Artist Of The Floating World (set in Japan, shortly after WWII).

    • finished the Murakami last night – loved it. will certainly look out for the Ishiguro you mentioned – its one I’ve heard of but we don’t have a copy of it in the house

  3. Last time I went shopping I ended up with Murakami, The Wild Sheep Chase and also Convenience Store Woman that ‘everyone’ is talking about. I really enjoy Murakami, having come to him through the SF-ish 1Q84 and then his first two, Wild Sheep is the third, which are more Grunge.

  4. Yeah! Murakami is always a good choice!! Did you see his 1Q84 made it in my top 12 of the decade?: https://wordsandpeace.com/2020/01/09/decade-of-reading-2010-2019-my-top-12/

  5. I also loved Norwegian Wood. Inspired by that, I read some of his other novels and short stories. But then along came Colourless and that was the end of Murakami for me – I didn’t enjoy it . I grew weary of his repetitive themes. I tried the Six Four crime novel and abandoned it after about 50 or so pages, the focus was on the hierarchy and bureaucracy of the Japanese police force ; frankly, it was boring. But you may feel differently.

  6. I love Mishima, but I can see the sense of not starting a series of books in the middle…. ;D How about some classic haiku from Basho??

  7. I haven’t read much Japanese literature, but of the ones I have I would recommend A True Novel by Minae Mizumura, Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima and The Ten Loves of Mr Nishino by Hiromi Kawakami.

  8. I never thought Murakami would be my kind of author. But he grew on me, I disliked the first book of his I read. And then loved everything else.

  9. Look forward to hearing about what you read Karen, I personally loved The Unconsoled.

  10. I loved Nocturnes even before I was a short story convert. I’ll just leave that there, Karen.

  11. The Murakami is a very good choice since his books are usually quite fast reads. I’m looking forward to reading your opinion on it 🙂
    Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled is definitely chunky, but he had written a short story initially as “practice” for this book, so you might want to give that a go first before committing to the novel – it’s called ‘A Village After Dark’ and it’s available for free online at The New Yorker 🙂
    Yoko Ogawa and Hiromi Kawakami are two female Japanese authors that you might enjoy reading, too 🙂

    • Just found that story on The New Yorker site so will definitely follow your suggestion to read this. I’ve read one or two by Ogawa and did enjoy them but Kawakami I’ve never tried. thanks for pointing me in

  12. Some great reading there! I’m not sure you can call Ishiguro a Japanese author, though: he’s been in the UK since infancy.

    • It’s always a difficult issue deciding on the nationality of an author who was born in one country and lived elsewhere. I find that happening a lot with authors from India.

      • I go by the language of publication: if someone writes in English then it’s not Japanese literature! 🙂 And his knighthood would classify him as a Brit, I’d suggest.

      • I go by the language of original publication: If someone writes in English then it’s not Japanese literature! 🙂 And his knighthood would suggest he’s a Brit.

        • Now that’s an interesting criterion. I’m going to think on this some more and check out other authors I’ve read to see if it makes me change any of their nationalities as I’ve listed them

  13. I’ll be interested in reading your reviews. I’m not “sure” about him yet. I’ve read
    Colorless Tsukuru and debated one other. I didn’t select any for the challenge.

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