Tag Archives: Japan

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Convenience Store Woman Sayaka MurataTranslated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori, ‘Convenience Store Woman’ by Sayaka Murata tells the story of Keiko Furukura, a socially awkward woman in her mid-thirties who has been working at the Hiiromachi Station Smile Mart shop for the past eighteen years. She feels under pressure from others, particularly her family, to appear “normal” and meet society’s expectations, by which she must find a career with more prospects or get married and have children.
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Ghosts of the Tsunami by Richard Lloyd Parry

Ghosts of the Tsunami‘Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone’ is Richard Lloyd Parry’s account of the devastation caused by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake which struck off the coast of north-east Japan on 11th March 2011 and the 120-foot high tsunami which followed less than an hour later. Much of the international news coverage at the time focused on the destruction of the Fukushima nuclear reactor. However, ‘Ghosts of the Tsunami’ centres on one particular human tragedy, namely the avoidable deaths of 74 pupils who should have been safely evacuated from Okawa Primary School. Continue reading

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Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

Men Without Women Haruki Murakami‘Men Without Women’ by Haruki Murakami is the renowned Japanese author’s first new collection of short stories to be translated into English in over a decade. Echoing Ernest Hemingway’s collection of the same name, the seven tales in this collection are indeed about men experiencing loneliness and isolation without the women who are now absent from their lives for various reasons. The stories have been translated by Ted Goossen and Philip Gabriel who have both worked on many of Murakami’s previous books.
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The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders Soji Shimada

Translated from the Japanese by Ross and Shika Mackenzie, ‘The Tokyo Zodiac Murders’ by Soji Shimada opens with the last will and testament of Heikichi Umezawa written in 1936. Heikichi is an artist obsessed with alchemy and astrology who outlines his plans to create the supreme woman Azoth by killing and dismembering his female relatives. However, the murders he had planned in his confession are carried out by someone else several weeks after Heikichi himself is murdered in a room locked from the inside. Having baffled investigators for decades, the case remains unsolved over forty years later in 1979 until Kiyoshi Mitari and his sidekick and narrator Kazumi try to crack one of the most intriguing locked room cold cases of all time. Continue reading

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The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami

The Nakano Thrift Shop Hiromi KawakamiMy next Women in Translation Month read is ‘The Nakano Thrift Shop’ by Hiromi Kawakami, translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell. I really enjoyed reading Strange Weather in Tokyo a couple of years ago (also known as ‘The Briefcase’ in the United States) and I was pleased to see another novel by Kawakami published by Portobello Books earlier this month with another excellent cover design by Natsumi Hayashi. Originally released in Japan in 2005, ‘The Nakano Thrift Shop’ tells the story of Hitomi Suganuma who starts working as a cashier selling second-hand goods in a thrift shop owned by the mysterious Haruo Nakano. He has several ex-wives and is having an affair with Sakiko while his older sister Masaya is an artist who regularly pops in and offers guidance. Meanwhile, Hitomi is largely preoccupied with another employee, the introverted Takeo, who helps Mr Nakano with house clearances.  Continue reading

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Death by Water by Kenzaburo Oe

Death by Water Kenzaburo OeTranslated from the Japanese by Deborah Boliver Boehm, ‘Death by Water’ by Kenzaburo Oe tells the story of Kogito Choko, an author aged in his 70s reflecting on his long career. For many years, he has struggled to write the “drowning” novel based on his father’s death shortly after the Second World War. Kogito returns to his rural home town to look at his father’s red leather trunk which his mother had instructed him not to open until ten years had passed after her death. However, it soon transpires that the contents of the trunk do not provide him with many answers, leaving Kogito limited time to unlock the secrets he needs to finish his book. Continue reading

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Wind/Pinball by Haruki Murakami

Wind Pinball Haruki Murakami

Shortly after ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage‘ was published in 2014, it was announced that Haruki Murakami’s first two novellas ‘Hear the Wind Sing’ and ‘Pinball, 1973’ would be retranslated and reissued in English. Originally published in Japan in 1979 and 1980 respectively, the English translations by Alfred Birnbaum have long been out of print. Despite Murakami’s cult status followed by increasing commercial success across the world and with rare copies of the original translations selling for hundreds of pounds on eBay, it’s surprising that the novellas haven’t been reissued sooner. Last year, new translations by Ted Goossen were finally made available in one volume under the shortened title ‘Wind/Pinball’. Continue reading

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The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

The Hare with Amber Eyes Edmund de Waal‘The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance’ is Edmund de Waal’s highly acclaimed memoir tracing his family history through a collection of objects. In the early 1990s, De Waal studied ceramics in Tokyo as part of a two-year scholarship where he met his great-uncle Ignace (Iggie). Following Iggie’s partner’s death, de Waal inherited 264 Japanese miniature wood and ivory carvings known as netsuke often representing animals, people or mythical creatures. Traditionally used as toggles to attach carrying pouches to Japanese robes, netsuke were originally designed to be useful everyday objects rather than purely decorative ones. De Waal became intrigued by the story behind the collection and how it came to be passed down through the generations of his family across the world. Continue reading

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Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Colorless Tsukuru TazakiAfter selling more than one million copies in its first week of publication in Japan in April 2013, ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage’ by Haruki Murakami has been one of the most highly anticipated novels of the year arriving in bookshops in the UK earlier this month. It tells the story of Tsukuru Tazaki who had four friends in high school whose names all coincidentally contained a colour: Akamatsu (‘red pine’), Oumi (‘blue sea’), Shirane (‘white root’) and Kurono (‘black field’). During his second year of university, Tsukuru’s friends announce without warning that they no longer want to see him or talk to him ever again and refuse to tell him why. Now in his mid-thirties, Tsukuru meets Sara who thinks he should finally come to terms with what happened and find out why he was suddenly shut out by his friends all those years ago. Continue reading

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Parade by Shuichi Yoshida

ParadeSet in Tokyo, ‘Parade’ by Shuichi Yoshida tells the story of four twenty-somethings who share an apartment together. However, when a homeless teenager called Satoru moves in, nobody seems very sure who the newest resident really is, why he is living there or if he is connected with the shady activities of their neighbours and the recent violent attacks on local women. Or, as Yo Zushi writing in the New Statesman put it: “Imagine if Friends had ended with the revelation that Chandler was a psychopath – and that Joey, Monica, Ross, Phoebe and Rachel weren’t bothered by it.” Intrigued? I certainly was.

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My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki

My Year of Meats I really enjoyed ‘A Tale for the Time Being‘ by Ruth Ozeki which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize last year. I was lucky enough to get my copy of her debut novel ‘My Year of Meats’ (or ‘My Year of Meat’ in some older editions) signed at the shortlist readings event at the Southbank Centre in October and this week, I finally got around to reading it. Originally published in 1998, it tells the story of Jane Takagi-Little, a Japanese-American journalist and documentary film-maker who is producing a series called ‘My American Wife’ for Japanese television. Sponsored by BEEF-EX to promote American beef in Japan, the aim of the programme is to promote a “wholesome” image of America. However, as Jane travels across the United States searching for suitable families to participate in the series, she becomes more alarmed by the methods of meat production and plans to expose them in the programme. Meanwhile, the story also follows Akiko, a Japanese housewife married to Jane’s abusive boss, and eventually their lives converge. Continue reading

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Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

Strange Weather in Tokyo‘Strange Weather in Tokyo’ by Hiromi Kawakami (also known as ‘The Briefcase’ in the United States and Canada) tells the story of Tsukiko, an office worker in her late thirties who meets one of her old high school teachers by chance in a sake bar. His name is Harutsuna Matsumoto but she calls him Sensei. They strike up an unusual relationship and continue to meet from time to time without prior arrangements as the seasons pass. Continue reading

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Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman and The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami

The Elephant VanishesBlind Willow Sleeping Woman

Haruki Murakami is one of my favourite authors but after reading all three volumes of ‘1Q84‘ when I finished my degree, I decided to take a break from his writing for a while. Somehow, two years seems to have gone by in a flash and his next novel ‘Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage’ is due to be published in the UK in August. I borrowed Murakami’s collection of short stories about the Kobe earthquake ‘after the quake’ from the library some time ago but I thought I should finally investigate the other two volumes of his short stories that I had yet to read. I recently bought ‘The Elephant Vanishes’ from a charity shop (by recently, I mean about eight months ago) and ‘Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman’ has been on my shelves for some time. Continue reading

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A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

A Tale For The Time BeingShortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize, ‘A Tale for the Time Being’ by Ruth Ozeki tells the story of a diary written a decade ago by a Japanese teenage girl called Nao which is washed up on an island off British Colombia in a Hello Kitty lunchbox after the tsunami in 2011.  The diary is discovered by a novelist called Ruth who tries to find out what happened to Nao and her family, including her great-grandmother, Jiko, a Buddhist nun and her great-uncle, Haruki, a kamikaze pilot in the Second World War.  

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The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

‘The Buddha in the Attic’ by Julie Otsuka is a strikingly original book.  Written in the first person plural (“we”) , a chorus of voices, told from the point of view of a group of Japanese picture brides who move to the United States shortly after World War One, recount their story through sparse descriptions of the journey to California by boat, their mostly unhappy marriages, their children and their experiences of acclimatising to life in a new country.  However, their world is suddenly turned upside down again by the bombing of Pearl Harbour and they find that they have to leave. Continue reading

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1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

1q84Wow.  What can I say?  I loved it.  All 925 pages of it.  Haruki Murakami’s magnum opus is a crime thriller and a love story set in 1984 and a parallel world of 1Q84 (Q for question mark) with elements of magical realism.  Told through Murakami’s characteristically surreal and dream-like prose, ‘1Q84’ is a spectacularly addictive read.

The thing about ‘1Q84’ that you can’t ignore is that it’s… well… very long.  It’s certainly the longest novel I’ve ever read anyway.  Before I started reading it, I found the sheer length of the book quite daunting given that it is unusual for me to take over a week to read a novel especially when I’m not working.  But the way in which the stories of Aomame and Tengo gradually become more and more entwined through the mysterious religious cult of Sakigake in the parallel world of 1Q84 is highly absorbing.  It was so brilliantly written that I still didn’t want it to end. Continue reading

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The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

The Devotion of Suspect XTouted as ‘the Japanese Steig Larsson’, Keigo Higashino manages to live up to the hype with crime thriller ‘The Devotion of Suspect X’ which is fast becoming a worldwide best-seller following its huge success in Japan.  The story of how a mathematician helps his next door neighbour cover up the murder of her abusive ex-husband is not so much a whodunnit but more of a how-did-they-do-it with just as much suspense and intrigue as a more straightforward murder mystery plot. Continue reading

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Underground by Haruki Murakami

Underground‘Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche’ is a non fiction work by Haruki Murakami about the terrorist attacks on the Tokyo subway in 1995 by members of the Aum cult.  I am a big fan of Murakami’s fiction and admit that I only picked up the book from the library because it had his name on the cover.  I also didn’t know too much about this particular incident before reading about it this week but ‘Underground’ seems to have been the best place to start as it is a balanced and insightful view of the dreadful events of 20th March 1995 whilst also exploring further questions about the Japanese mentality towards their everyday lives. Continue reading

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Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami

Dance Dance Dance Haruki MurakamiLast summer, I set myself the slightly insane task of reading two novels a week purely for pleasure, in other words, not related to my degree course.   Originally, this ‘project’ was only meant to last for my sixteen week summer break and had been something I had been looking forward to for a long time as I had had only limited access to English language books when I was studying in Paris for a year (the time when I really should have started writing a blog).  I expected that I wouldn’t be able to continue the pace during term time.  However, nearly ten months later, possibly at the expense of getting a decent result in my degree, I am still managing to read two novels a week, having possibly borrowed more fiction from the university than the non-fiction I am supposed to be reading for my course.  Some people ruin their degrees by drinking too many Jagerbombs at toga parties.  I, however, may ruin my degree by spending too much of my time reading 653 page novels by Jonathan Franzen instead of journal articles about political analysis.  And if my blogging word count starts getting higher than my project word count…well, that’s when I’ll know I have a bit of a problem. Continue reading

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