Japanese literature is my favourite genre of books to read. My passion for #OwnVoices Japanese books cannot be put into words. It is a powerful and all-encompassing love that ignites my soul and keeps the bibliophile in me alive. When I picked up Battle Royale by Kōshun Takami for the very first time, it completely revolutionised my identity as a reader. Ever since then, I am constantly on the look-out for more and more Japanese literature books to lose myself in.
Today I wanted to share with you ten #OwnVoices Japanese books that are currently on my must-buy and to-be-read lists. As always, I will have the title, author, genre, release date, and synopsis listed for each book, as well as a brief explanation for why it has caught my interest, aside from the obvious, of course. All the books listed are adult novels.
Last Winter We Parted by Fuminori Nakamura
🔥 Hard-Boiled Mystery, Psychological Thriller
🔥 September 2015
🔥 A young writer is commissioned to write a full account of a bizarre and grisly crime. He arrives at a prison to interview the convict, a world-renowned photographer named Kiharazaka, who has a profoundly unsettling portfolio, one that is filled with photographs of an acutely obsessive fascination for his subjects. Standing accused for the murder of two women, both burned alive, Kiharazaka will likely face the death penalty. But something isn’t quite right. As the writer digs deeper into the case, he begins to doubt the photographer as a killer at all. An inner struggle of maintaining reason and justice starts to brew in the young man. Is Kiharazaka truly guilty, or is he simply protecting someone else?
🔥 It’s been a long time since I have read Japanese psychological thrillers and I absolutely love them! They can be extremely dark and fucked up, just the way I like them. They also tend to be paced and built tension in such a natural way that you don’t realise how deep you’re in until that twist arises to take your breath away.
Go by Kazuki Kaneshiro
💜 Coming-of-Age, Fiction Literature
💜 February 2018
💜 Sugihara is a Korean student in a Japanese high school and has spent much energy defending himself against various sorts of bullying. Yet, none of that pain could ever have prepared him for the bittersweet affections that would stem from falling madly in love with Sakurai, a Japanese girl. Engrossed in their shared love for classical music and foreign films, the duo grow closer and closer to one another. One evening, upon facing a personal tragedy, Sugihara confides in Sakurai that he is in fact a Korean, unlike what his name implies. Caught in the tide of conflict between an opportunity at self-discovery and the prejudices of others he cannot control, Sugihara must decide who he wants to become and where he wants life to take him next.
💜 This reminds me a bit of Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami in the sense that tragedy leads to self-discovery and that transition from adolescence to adult, and it has me absolutely intrigued and eager to see how their journey shall unfold.
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
🍙 Fiction Literature
🍙 June 2018
🍙 Keiko Furukura had always been viewed as a strange child, and her parents always worried how’d she survive in the real world. So, when she accepts a job in a convenience store while studying at university, they are delighted for her. For Keiko, working in the convenience store provides her with predictability mandated by the store’s manual, dictating how workers should behave, how they should speak, etc. She begins to mimic her co-workers’ attire and speech patterns to better play this expected part. However, eighteen years pass and at age 36, Keiko finds herself in the same job, with no boyfriend experience, and only a handful of friends. While she feels content in her life, she’s keenly aware that she is a disappointment to societal expectations for women; a feeling exasperated by her family’s growing concern for her. Then a similarly withdrawn and sceptical man walks into the store, upsetting Keiko’s contented existence in ways she never expected.
🍙 Books such as this one—ones that follow seemingly humdrum lives of normal, everyday people—are some of my favourite types of narratives to read as they tend to be a critique or examination of the societal expectations that people, particularly women, are forced to conform to. Not only in Japan, but across all of Asia, women have very distinct things that are needed of her to be viewed as a successful and worthy member of society; things when not met cause great discord between her existence and her place in the communities that she’s a part of. Books like this tend to be brilliant, evocative, and very insightful.
In Black and White by Jun’Ichirō Tanizaki
✒️ Psychological Mystery, Fiction Literature
✒️ January 2018, Originally written in 1928
✒️ A writer named Mizuno has created a story about the perfect murder. His fictional victim is modelled on an acquaintance who also happens to be a writer. Right before the story’s publication, Mizuno realises that the man’s true identity and name has made it to the pages of his manuscript. Try as he might to remedy the error, he finds that he is too late. Terrified that an actual murder shall occur, and that he would be the prime suspected culprit, Mizuno goes to great lengths to establish an alibi by venturing into the city’s underworld. Nevertheless, he quickly finds himself being further entrapped by his twisted, paranoid fantasies.
✒️ I love Tanizaki. That man had one strange and darkly imaginative mind. I haven’t read anything by him that I haven’t devoured or adored.
The End of the Moment We Had by Toshiki Okada
🏩 Psychological Thriller, Short Stories
🏩 September 2018
🏩 This book is a collection of two tales. In the first story, a man and a woman meet in a nightclub in Tokyo on the eve of the Iraq War. They end up going to a love hotel and then spend the next few days in a scorching affair. The story is written in a stream of consciousness that causes the reader’s perception to shift and melt, creating a narrative that revolves around, not what is happening, but on the reader’s ability to perceive the minds of the protagonists. The second story, a woman living in a damp flat starts to obsess over the filthy state of her dwelling. While being in bed, the reader is exposed to the drama and intense tension of her inner life, one that keeps spiralling further and further into her memories and anxieties.
🏩 I love mind-fucks and these two stories sound like they fit the bill entirely. I have also been greatly enjoying the Pushkin Press Japanese Novella series, of which this title is a part of.
Spring Garden by Tomoka Shibasaki
🌷 Fiction Literature
🌷 November 2017
🌷 After getting divorced, Taro is completely cut off from his family and lives alone in one of the few occupied apartments on his block, which is to be torn down as soon as the remaining tenants vacate. Since his father’s death, Taro is a solitary and introverted individual. However, he soon finds himself drawn to the woman upstairs, Nishi. As she passes on the strange tale of the sky-blue house next door, Taro finds himself in a peculiar relationship with her.
🌷 This tale sounds like it has elements of magical realism while focusing on deeper motifs of loneliness and interpersonal relationships, which is totally my kinda chai, and it’s also a part of the Pushkin Press Japanese Novella series, which I’m trying to collect all of.
Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami
🍻 Fiction Literature, Romance
🍻 November 2017
🍻 Tsukiko is a 38-year-old office worker who lives alone. One night she runs into her former high school teacher, whom she has only ever called “sensei.” He is thirty years older than her, retired, and seemingly a widower. As they spend more time together, they develop a small acknowledgment of each other that gradually turns into a uncertain intimacy, and finally emotional love.
🍻 I normally do not like romance at all, but I have never read a Japanese romance story that I haven’t fallen in love with or found a deep appreciation for. It may be the mundane and genuine ways that people find love, or how much I can relate to the societal impacts of taboo romantic relationships that are explored, or even the heart-breakingly real and empathetic tragedies those stories are laced in. Whatever the reason, Japanese romance narratives blow me away and this one sounds perfect for me.
Ichi-F by Kazuto Tatsuta
🚧 Non-Fiction, Graphic Memoir
🚧 March 2017
🚧 On March 11, 2011, Japan suffered the largest earthquake in its modern history. In its wake, three nuclear meltdowns occurred at Fukushima Daīchi Nuclear Plant. This is a story about Kazuto Tatsuta who took a job at the plant; an amateur artist that was tasked with cleaning up the Fukushima Daīchi Nuclear Plant, which workers began to refer to as “Ichi-F.” The manga highlights all of the gruelling work, trials faced by local citizens, and of the unique camaraderie that blossomed between everyone as they faced the insidious and invisible threat of radiation every single day.
🚧 I feel like this is a very important piece of non-fiction to read and a very important event to understand. It changed the lives of the people in that town, and I want to educate myself on the conflicts, struggles, and emotional hurdles that arose due in part to the terrible natural disaster that led to the reactor’s meltdown.
The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide
🐈 Fiction Literature
🐈 January 2014
🐈 A couple in their thirties reside in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo. They work from home doing freelance copy-editing and no longer have much to talk about. Then one day, a cat invites itself into their modest kitchen. It ends up leaving but returns again the next day and the next and the next. Soon they are buying treats for the kitty and finding themselves having pleasurable talks about the animal and all of its little quirks. The couple start to feel happier and more colourful in their lives; feeling the promise of tomorrow.
🐈 Firstly, there’s a cat. Secondly, there’s a cat that builds rapport with lonely individuals. Thirdly, there’s a cat that shows people who seem to be finished with life that there is still much joy to be found in it. Lastly, this sounds remarkably beautiful.
I Want to Kick You in the Back by Risa Wataya
👟 Fiction Literature, Novella
👟 April 2015
👟 Hatsu is a first year in high school and is having a difficult time fitting in with her fellow classmates. Then she meets Ninagawa who is an outcast that is obsessed with pop idols and models. Aside from idols, he doesn’t really have any interest in other girls. Steadily, Hatsu develops a strange impulse towards Ninagawa. She doesn’t love him or feel infatuation for him. Instead, what she feels is a powerful desire to kick him in his back.
👟 The novella sounds like it’s going to be weird, which I’m all for, but it also sounds like it’s going to be a story about the flippant feelings that teenagers have and how it drives them towards ridiculous behaviours, usually out of frustration from being lonely or having the desire for meaningful companionship.
I am hoping to get my hands on all of these books before 2018 is up! If I had to choose the three that I want to read the most out of the entire list, it’d be: I Want to Kick You in the Back, In Black and White, and Last Winter We Parted.