Three Exciting Coming-of-Age Books by Japanese Authors


The ‘Coming-of-Age Day’ is celebrated in Japan on every second Monday of January as a national holiday since 1948. It is called 成人の日 – Seijin no Hi.
Japanese who turn 20 are celebrating this day, because from now on they are fully grown-ups with every right and responsibility legally speaking. And from now on they are also allowed to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes. Young women are dressing up on the ’Coming-of-Age Day’ in a long-sleeved kimono and men in formal suit and tie.

Coming-of-age is an exciting topic described in world literature as in Japanese novels as well. The following books are good examples of what it feels to become an adult in Japan.

Kafka on the Shore by Murakami Haruki
What is it about?
It is a surrealist novel about a 15-year-old boy leaving his father behind and going on a secret journey. With only one photo in his hand, Kafka Tamura searches for his mother and sister, who left him and his father behind years ago. Read the full review on Japan Kaleidoskop.

Title in Japanese: 海辺のカフカ (Umibe no Kafuka) 2002.
Translated by Philip Gabriel. Vintage International (Cover 2006).

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Ôgawa Yoko
What is it about?
This is a story about an extraordinary friendship between the 10-year-old boy named Root and a retired math professor, who is slightly losing his memory because of brain damage. In the beginning they share only their passion for baseball, but soon the professor needs more help.  Read the full review on Japan Kaleidoskop.

Title in Japanese: 博士の愛した数式 (hakase no aishita sûshiki) 2003.
Translated by Stephen Snyder. Vintage International (Cover 2010).

Kitchen by Yoshimoto Banana
What is it about?
It is about a young woman dealing with life after the death of her beloved grandmother. A new friendship with a boy and his transgender mother. It is about mourning a profound loss and the beginning of a new life. All in all an emotional and touching debut novel of the now so famous Japanese author. Read the full review on Japan Kaleidoskop.

Title in Japanese: キッチン (Kitchin) 1988.
Translated by Megan Backus. Grove Press (Cover 1988)

Book Review: Revenge by Ogawa Yôko

revengeOgawa Yôko  小川 洋子 is a highly praised female Japanese author, born in 1962. She began writing short stories in 1986. She started with Agehachō ga kowareru toki  揚羽蝶が壊れる時 (The Breaking of the Butterfly) and won the Kaien literary Prize instantly for her debut. Since then she wrote about ten novels and many short stories. Many of them are translated into Chinese, Korean, French, German, English and more languages.

My favorites are The Housekeeper and the Professor 博士の愛した数式  and Hotel Iris ホテル・アイリス. I have not read all of her works yet, so I was especially excited to read one of her recent story collections. I chose Revenge.

To begin with, it was not a joy. Yôko Ogawa has a strange style. She begins with a pretty, nice setting, her protagonists are often young and innocent, sometimes a little naive. Everything is clean and nice in the beginning and then, there is something disturbing, disgusting appearing on the scene. Not for everybody’s taste. And I must admit, that I was kind of disturbed by some of her stories. Yes, I have to admit, I did not like most of the stories.

It took me some time, to write a review about this book, and first I thought, I do not want to write about it, but on the other hand, I finished reading it, and there are some stories I would recommend. The Last Hour of the Bengal Tiger, Old Mrs J. and Tomatoes and the Full Moon.

The thing is, you have to read them all, because what Ogawa Yôko  did, she binds them altogether. All stories are independent, but some of the characters are connected to other stories. The main character or theme of one story appears aside in another story seen under different light, surprising the reader many times. So she webs the stories altogether without making a novel out of it. Therefore I have to admit, she wrote an excellent work and you have to take it all, if you like it or not.

Ogawa Yôko: Revenge, 2013. translated by Stephen Snyder.

Book Review: The Housekeeper and the Professor by Ogawa Yôko

6688335Ogawa Yôko is a well-known female author from Japan, who has written more than 20 books since 1988. Only few have been translated into English though. But they soon became well-known works.

Ogawa Yôko’s Hakase no aishita sûshiki, 博士の愛した数式 won the Yomiuri Prize for Literature in 2004 and was made into the movie: The Professor’s Beloved Equation in 2006.

The story

A brilliant mathematician who suffers from brain damage is constantly loosing his memories every 80 minutes. He helps himself by pinning paper notes onto his suit in order to remember people, events and important things in his surrounding.

With the arrival of the ninth housekeeper he gets to know a warm loving woman and her son. He calls him Root because of the shape of the boy’s head, reminding him of the square root symbol.

The professor is living in his own universe of numbers, math formulas and mathematic knowledge. Asking the housekeeper her shoe size and telephone number becomes a regular introduction ceremony as he looses his memory of her either. As he is telling her exciting stories about prime numbers, perfect numbers, dignified numbers and formulas, she is getting hooked on number theories.

Root and the professor share the same passion for baseball and soon become friends. The professor is also fathering him which leads to heart-warming scenes.

One day the mathematician wins a math contest. The housekeeper thinks this should be celebrated and the birthday of Root is chosen as the right day for a party. On that day the professor suddenly suffers from a blackout. His 80-minutes-schedule breaks down. Everything changes, as they have to separate, but they will find a new way.

The story is lovely. It is about true friendship and overcoming man’s suffering beyond prejudices. The language is light and clear. Ogawa Yôko is telling her stories with so much love for her characters and minutely observed details, which spring into your heart and make you happy. She is a very talented narrator. I hope, all her books will be translated.

小川 洋子: 博士の愛した数式, 2003. Ogawa Yôko: The Housekeeper and the Professor, 2003.

Book Review: March was made of Yarn

March Was Made of YarnSubtitle: Writers Respond to Japan’s Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Meltdown.

This is an anthology of contemporary Japanese authors and translators dealing with the disaster of March 11th  2011 published by Elmar Luke and David Karashima in 2012.

The Japan Foundation supported the publication and therefore proceeds will go to charities in Japan.

It is an inside view of Japan of the March 11th, the aftermath, and the consequences. The stories bear mixed emotions of sorrow, helplessness, love, and  loss, yet the desire to live on and cope with the situation.

It took me a long time to read this book with about 17 pieces of art and non-fiction articles of Yoko Tawada, Kiyoshi Shigematsu, Yoko Ogawa, Hiromi Kawakami, Mieko Kawakami, Shinji Ishii, Ryû Murakami and others. The stories are gripping, but let me feel powerless once in a while,  yet some of them are encouraging on the other side.

The Island of Eternal Life by Yoko Tawada presents a science fiction scene of 2017, where planes no longer fly to isolated Japan. A horrible scenario.

Hiromi Kawakami rewrote her well-known short story God Bless You of 1993 for this anthology.

The title is adopted by March Yarn of Mieko Kawakami about a couple. She is pregnant and has a surreal dream on the March 11th about giving birth to a baby of yarn.

All writers try to see the situation from a different angle. I recommend reading it and let the stories speak for themselves.