Readers' Favorite

April 12, 2017

Japanese Literature

by Alison DeLuca

Amazon affiliate links are used in this post.

I love Japanese writers for their fearless approach to storytelling. This is obvious in manga and anime, where anything goes. You want a kid who owns a God notebook that can kill anyone? Death Note will suck you into that world. Want flying heroes who fight naked super-giants? You got it, in Attack on Titan. How about a town haunted by spirals? Uzumaki is here for you in all its gory glory.

The Pillow Book
Refusing to be dictated by society, Japanese writing confronts sex, relationships, nature and magic. Literature has evolved from The Pillow Book by Lady Sei Shōnagon, a 990’s marvel comprising hundreds of intertwined characters, and The Book of Genji by Lady Murasaki Shikibu – also known as the world’s first modern novel.

The Pillow Book’s characters – all 400 of them – grow old and interact in an incredibly superhuman feat of writing. It’s difficult enough to track several people in a novel, let alone an entire court filled with them.

This is why I love Japanese literature. Most books from Japan concentrate on the people, no matter the genre. Even a murder mystery concentrates on character development – and not in an obvious way.

Probably no one is better at this than Haruki Murakami. In Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of The World, Japan’s most famous writer develops two mysteries while also investigating the nameless narrator’s mind. Set in a futuristic Tokyo (more specifically, an underground city) and a mysterious Town populated by people who have no shadows.

The story is strange and compelling. If you are looking for something completely different, Hard-Boiled Wonderland is a great choice.

My favorite Murakami novel is Kafka on the Shore. Like Hard-Boiled Wonderland, it’s told on two different levels. One is the story of Kafka, a 15-year-old runaway who hides out in a library. The other centers on Nakata, a man who can communicate with cats.

If this sounds dry, think again. Murakami unleashes mystery, science fiction, and unbound sexuality in this wonderful inner and outer journey.

Another Murakami book I loved is nonfiction. Underground is a detailed account of the Sarin poison gas attack on the Tokyo subway, perpetrated by members of the Aum cult. The author said the news accounts concentrated on the attackers, instead of the victims.

Underground is an account of the attack but, more importantly, an intense retelling of what happened to many of the victims the day of the attack and after. It’s a fascinating historical account that offers an intriguing look into the country’s collective psyche.

I need to read more Japanese fiction. My next read is Banana Yoshimoto, who’s known for Kitchen and Moshi-Moshi. Like Murakami, she crawls right into her characters’ heads and brings us with her.

It’s a lot of fun to explore, and one way to do that is through books. Reading novels from another country is like a journey to a new world, one populated with beautiful and mysterious stories.

Alison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.  She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain. Currently, she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey. Connect with Alison on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and her blog.

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  1. My daughter loves Japanese manga and anime. While she loves the stories and characters, it was also the beautiful visuals that started her on her art journey. WeekendsInMaine

  2. Thanks for writing about Japanese literature. I never really thought about seeking any books like that out, but after reading your post, I believe I will!

  3. Japanese literature has a distinct flavour for sure.
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