Three Interesting Japanese Books published in 2021

book cover Murakami Haruki First Person Singular by Murakami Haruki

This is a collection of eight short stories. Some of the stories were published before in “The New Yorker” or in “Granta”.

Murakami explores his past when he writes about mysterious encounters and  love in the days of his youth. “On a Stone Pillow” was one of the most delightful stories. “With the Beatles” and “Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova” are witty and enchanting because music is an important part.

As expected, the collection is written in Murakami’s unique style about everyday life with magical realistic moments, philosophical and not so philosophical thoughts.

Title in Japanese: 村上春樹: 一人称単数 , 2020.
Translated by Philip Gabriel, Knopf Publishing Group, 2021.

 

The Woman in the Purple Skirt

This is a weird and fascinating story told by a strange narrator “the woman in the yellow cardigan”. The atmosphere is thrilling. You get to know nothing about the narrator’s identity in the first half of the novel. Very quickly you will understand that something is disturbingly wrong because the “woman in the yellow cardigan” is stalking “the woman in the purple skirt”, but why?

The female author Imamura Natsuko won the Akutagawa Award in 2019 for this novel. She was born in Hiroshima in 1980 and was rewarded many times for her literary works in Japan.

Title in Japanese: 今村 夏子: むらさきのスカートの女, 2019.
Translated by Lucy North, Penguin Books, 2021.

 

An I-Novel
The book is a diary, an I-novel, which is a literary genre in Japan. It was written in English and Japanese alternately.

“An I-Novel” is about a Japanese woman, who immigrated into the United States as a child and spent her life there. Japan becomes a “Sehnsuchtsort” for her: a place for yearning, impossible to reach, an idealized place filled with sweet memories of her childhood. The text consists mostly of telephone calls with her sister and some backstories. The diary is an account about her daily life, her feelings of mainly grief and depression. Her feeling of homesickness becomes stronger and one day she decides to return to Japan and become a writer.

Mizumura Minae was born in Tokyo in 1951. She has published several books which have been translated into English. “The Fall of Language in the Age of English” and “Inheritance from Mother” sound interesting.

Title in Japanese: Mizumura Minae 水村 美苗: 私小説 , 1995.
Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter, Columbia University Press, 2021.

Book Review: Sanshirô by Natsume Sôseki

cover book sanshiro“Sanshirô was feeling very much alone and hemmed in by the restless city.”

A young man from the southern countryside of Kyushu comes to Tokyo. He wants to study at the local university. It is his first time being alone in a city such as big as Tokyo. The story is about his first steps into adulthood. Sanshirô learns how to deal with everyday life as a student and to manage the challenges of modern life. He falls in love with a beautiful young woman and must deal with friendship and betrayal. “Sanshirô” is set in 1907 with realistic descriptions of the historical Tokyo. It is a coming-of-age novel in the pure sense.

Natsume Sôseki 夏目 漱石 (1867-1916) is called the greatest modern Japanese writer. He was born in 1867. He wrote many well-known novels such as

and many more, which have been translated into several languages.

“Sanshirô” is his seventh book, published in 1908, first serialized in the “Asahi Shinbun”. It is based on the writer’s own experiences. Natsume Sôseki was a lecturer in English at the Tokyo Imperial University following the famous Lafcadio Hearn. In 1907 he quit his academical career to become a full time writer.

Evaluation
“Sanshirô” is a vivid and interesting novel with strong references to the historical background. The version of Penguin Classics with an introduction by Murakami Haruki and Jay Rubin makes it easy to understand the historical circumstances and to gain insights into Natsume Sôseki’s work. “Sanshirô” is an adorable classic Japanese novel.

Reviewed Title
夏目 漱石. 三四郎. 1908.
Natsume Sôseki. Sanshirô. Translated by Jay Rubin. Penguin Classics, 2009 (cover).

Three Interesting Spring Novels by Japanese Authors

book cover collage“Spring” is called “haru 春” in Japanese. The spring season lasts from March to May with its peak in late April and early May. The highlight is the “Golden Week” which is a national holiday.

Spring is associated with a new beginning, starting a new life and nature awakening from sleep. In Japan you see cherry blossoms, plum blossoms and hear chirping birds.

It is the time of cherry blossom viewing called “hanami 花見”. There are a couple of seasonal festivals (“matsuri”) in Japan. Some of the best known examples are the following.

The Sanja Matsuri is a spring festival celebrated in Tokyo. It is one of the biggest festivals with about 100 floats and a big crowd around the Senso-ji, on the third weekend in May. (Here are some pictures to get an impression about the crowd and the festivities. Link to: https://www.japan-talk.com/jt/new/sanja-matsuri-Tokyos-biggest-and-wildest-festival).

Aoi Matsuri is celebrated in Kyôto on May 15th at the Shimogamo Shrine and Kamigamo Shrine (for more information see pictures and explanations at https://matcha-jp.com/en/3892).

The charming Takayama Spring Festival is held on April 14th and 15th every year. See some pictures at  https://www.japan-talk.com/jt/new/takayama-spring-festival and https://matcha-jp.com/en/4233.

Thinking of spring, the following Japanese novels come to mind.

The Old Capital by Kawabata Yasunari
What is it about?
It is the most famous Japanese book by the Nobel prize winner. The love story begins in spring and takes place in extremely popular places at Kyôto.
Title in Japanese: 古都, 1962
Read the full review on Japan Kaleidoskop

Spring Snow by Mishima Yukio
What is it about?
“Spring Snow” is the story of a young man, Matsugae Kiyoaki, placed in Tokyo of 1912. He has been raised in the family tradition of the aristocracy. He falls in love with the elegant and sophisticated Ayakura Satoko.
Title in Japanese:  春の雪, 1968
Read the full review on Japan Kaleidoskop

Hear the Wind Sing by Murakami Haruki
What is it about?
“Hear the Wind Sing” is the first novel of Murakami Haruki published in the literary magazine “Gunzo” in 1979 and won the “Gunzo Prize for New Writers”.
Title in Japanese: 風の歌を聴け
Read the full review on Japan Kaleidoskop