In 2021 there were some new Japanese titles on the market I was interested in. My impression is, there were less new English translations available, and the new titles tend to be popular crime fiction or YA books. Throughout the year I have read regularly but not as much as in the years before. I was a little picky with my reading choices and was rewarded with some surprisingly interesting novels and short stories.
So, here is my top ten-list of Japanese books I have read in 2021 although not all of them were published in 2021. (Japanese names are written in Japanese order, where the family name comes first then the personal name.)
10. The Lake by Yoshimoto Banana
… for sentimental reasons. A young woman is mourning over her deceased mother and moves to Tokyo. There she meets a man with a tragic family history. Both are struggling to cope with the past. Although it is difficult in the beginning, the protagonists find new hope and love eventually. Yoshimoto’s style is sensible, emotional without kitsch and original as ever. Full book review on Japan Kaleidoskop.
9. Breasts and Eggs by Kawakami Mieko
… by shooting star Kawakami Mieko. A controversial discussed book about a modern 30something female author in Japan. It is about modern family, birth wish and loneliness. Her writing style is exciting although there are minor deficits in the storytelling. Kawakami is a promising author and I will probably read more from her in the future. Full book review on Japan Kaleidoskop.
8. Where the Wild Ladies Are by Matsuda Aoko
An exciting short story collection based on traditional Japanese myths transferred into the modern Japanese world. Feminism with a twinkle in the eye and beautiful storytelling. Full book review on Japan Kaleidoskop.
7. First Person Singular by Murakami Haruki
A short story collection with Murakami’s typical ingredients: magical realism, love stories and music. There is nothing to complain about and I enjoy reading his books till the end of time. Full book review on Japan Kaleidoskop.
6. A Man by Hirano Keiichirô
This book is a surprisingly well-constructed crime novel. It is about identity theft, family drama, and discrimination of Korean citizens in Japan. Hirano Keiichirô is a talented writer who combines an exciting crime fictional story with a much-avoided historical topic in Japan.
5. The Woman in the Purple Skirt by Imamura Natsuko
Winner of the Akutagawa Award in 2019. Modern Japanese workplace, harassment, high tension environment. A Japanese female author I discovered this year. I would like to read more books written by her. Full book review on Japan Kaleidoskop.
4. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
A portrait of modern Japanese society narrated by a woman in her thirties who lives a life of an outcast in Tokyo. Sharp, mean, witty. Full book review on Japan Kaleidoskop.
3. Klara and the Sun by Ishiguro Kazuo
His first book after winning the Nobel Prize of Literature. The novel is told from the perspective of an artificial being named Klara. A modern, interesting perspective, and a play with words. A portrait of a society in a not so far future. Subtle, sharp observations. Full book review on Japan Kaleidoskop.
2. Death by Water by Ôe Kenzaburô
The Nobel Prize-winning author wrote again a book about coming to terms with the past. It takes place in wartime Japan and the present, he also weaves in his personal experiences as a father and writer. Longlisted for the 2016 Man International Booker Prize. Complex, philosophical and full of Japanese culture and history. Full book review on Japan Kaleidoskop.
1. At the End of the Matinee by Hirano Keiichirô
マチネの終わりに is the highlight of the year for me. I discovered the author this year. It is a love story of a male musician and a female journalist. Modern, romantic and tragic. The writing style is interesting and philosophical. The story takes place in different cities: Tokyo, Paris, New York, Baghdad, Madrid. Hirano writes about modern topics and weaves them into an emotional timeless novel.
My top 10-Ranking-Overview
- At the End of the Matinee by Hirano Keiichirô
- Death by Water by Ôe Kenzaburô
- Klara and the Sun by Ishiguro Kazuo
- Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
- The Woman in the Purple Skirt by Imamura Natsuko
- A Man by Hirano Keiichirô
- First Person Singular by Murakami Haruki
- Where the Wild Ladies are by Matsuda Aoko
- Breasts and Eggs by Kawakami Mieko
- The Lake by Yoshimoto Banana
So, that’s it. What are your favorite Japanese books of 2021?
Thank you for reading. I hope you all stay healthy. Take care. I wish you all the best.