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8 Great Japanese Books in Translation That Aren’t by Haruki Murakami

We love Murakami, and all the cats, jazz, whiskey bars, mysterious women, and glimpses at modern Japanese life that populate his books. But there’s a world of magnificent novels out there by Japanese authors who don’t receive as much U.S. press for their work. If you’ve already devoured Murakami’s story collections (like Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman) and his acclaimed novels (including Kafka on the ShoreThe Wind-up Bird Chronicle, and IQ84), it’s time to add these contemporary Japanese books to your end-of-summer reading list. There’s something for everyone: mysteries and thrillers, teen horror, relationship dramas, and twisted, yakuza-related crime stories, all taking place in locales that may be unfamiliar to American readers. Each will get your imagination churning and your passport begging for stamps. Here’s a sample of our favorite modern books from the land of the rising sun.

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‘The Ryukyu Kingdom: Cornerstone of East Asia’: A look at Okinawa’s distant past

By Iain Maloney

On May 15, Japan will mark the 45th anniversary of the return of Okinawa.

For 27 years prior, the U.S. administered the islands, a continuous period of occupation that began after the Battle of Okinawa in June 1945. This makes the new translation of Mamoru Akamine’s “The Ryukyu Kingdom: Cornerstone of East Asia” both welcome and timely. Many Okinawans today still feel like the put-upon runt of Japan’s prefectural litter.

Okinawa enjoys very little investment, its people have relatively low employment prospects and the prefecture shoulders the burden of hosting and supporting 50,000 U.S. armed forces personnel. For many Okinawan people, this has meant putting up with noise, threats of air crashes (such as happened in 2016), and a string of crimes committed by U.S. servicemen.

It is worth remembering amid all this that the island chain was once an independent kingdom, and according to Akamine, something of an important power broker in the region. In fact, he goes so far as to call it, in his subtitle, a “cornerstone of East Asia.” Read more

Source: Japan Times


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‘Target Tokyo: The Story of the Sorge Spy Ring’: Uncovering a little-known chapter in history

By Kris Kosaka

Even some dedicated Japanophiles are unaware of an important international espionage ring that operated in Tokyo before and during World War II.

“Target Tokyo: The Story of the Sorge Spy Ring” by Gordon W. Prange is an exciting introduction to this complicated chapter in Asia’s history. Richard Sorge, a half-Russian German national, led the international ring to protect Communism from the growing power of Imperial Japan. Sorge and his ring meticulously collected information and conveyed analysis to Moscow in the years leading up to the war, and later advised Stalin during crucial battles. Read more

Source: The Japan Times


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‘Fireworks’: Short stories and fables from Angela Carter’s two years in Japan

By J.J.O’Donoghue

“Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces” brings together a beguiling mix of first-person narratives from English novelist Angela Carter’s two-year hiatus in Japan at the tail end of the 1960s, and they are as brilliant as they are bizarre.

It’s a slim volume — the longest story is shy of 30 pages — and taken together the book is a strange mix of reality and magic realism. Carter, who died in 1992, opens with “A Souvenir of Japan,” in which she recounts going to a fireworks festival an hour’s ride from Shinjuku: “Above our heads, the fireworks hung dissolving earrings on the night.” Carter is with her unnamed lover — “a connoisseur of boredom,” whose presence and long absences, playing pachinko and going out on the town, torment her. Read more

Source: The Japan Times


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‘Pachinko’ author Min Jin Lee on how Japan’s ethnic Koreans keep beating the odds

By Nicolas Gatting

“I got lost all the time,” says writer Min Jin Lee with a charming laugh, sitting in a hotel lobby in San Francisco’s Japantown.

Before a promotional appearance at a bookstore, she spoke to The Japan Times about writing her new novel “Pachinko,” a historical saga tracing four generations of a Korean family in Japan.

Despite the acclaim of her fiction debut “Free Food for Millionaires” in 2007, which was a best-seller in the U.S., Lee suffered existential self-doubt when producing her follow-up: the first English-language novel about the experience of Japan’s ethnic Koreans.

“I thought, ‘Nobody wants this book and I’m an idiot for having worked on it so hard,’ ” says Lee, who admires writers such as Leo Tolstoy and Charles Dickens. “But to succeed in writing, you must be willing to look stupid for a long time. ‘Pachinko’ took so long because I got it wrong so many times.” Read more

Source: Japan Times


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Home but Not Home: Four Generations of an Ethnic Korean Family in Japan

By 

PACHINKO
By Min Jin Lee
490 pp. Grand Central Publishing. $27.

Min Jin Lee’s stunning novel “Pachinko” — her second, after “Free Food for Millionaires” (2007) — announces its ambitions right from the opening sentence: “History has failed us, but no matter.”

“Pachinko” chronicles four generations of an ethnic Korean family, first in Japanese-occupied Korea in the early 20th century, then in Japan itself from the years before World War II to the late 1980s. The novel opens with an arranged marriage in Yeongdo, a fishing village at the southern tip of Korea. That union produces a daughter, Sunja, who falls in love at 16 with a prominent (and married) mobster. After Sunja becomes pregnant, a local pastor offers her a chance to escape by marrying him and immigrating together to his brother’s house in an ethnic Korean neighborhood in Osaka. Together, they embark into the fraught unknown. Read more

Source: NY Times


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‘Picture Bride Stories’: Stories of the resilient women who traded Japan for the cane fields of Hawaii

By Nicolas Gattig

“I thought if there was a way to walk across the ocean (back) to Japan, I would have done so.” This is how Haruno Tazawa remembers her early experience as a “picture bride” — the name for the more than 20,000 women who, during the period of restricted immigration between 1908 and 1924, left Japan to marry Japanese men mainly in Hawaii after only seeing them in photographs.

In “Picture Bride Stories,” Barbara F. Kawakami interviews 16 of these women who sailed to Hawaii, including Tazawa. A rich tapestry of immigrant lives, the book is narrated with generous sweep and great anthropological detail. A recurring theme is the hardships many of the women endured on the sugar plantations where they worked. Read more

Source: The Japan Times


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Professor Who Wrote of Korean ‘Comfort Women’ Wins Defamation Case

By Choe Sang-Hun

SEOUL, South Korea — A professor whose book about Japan’s World War II-era military brothels angered Korean women who once worked there was acquitted on Wednesday of defaming the women.

The professor of Japanese literature at Sejong University in Seoul, Park Yu-ha, published “Comfort Women of the Empire” in 2013. She has since faced civil and criminal complaints from nine South Korean women who said they were forced to work at the brothels during the war.

A year ago, Ms. Park lost a civil lawsuit when a court said she had defamed the women with “false” and “distorted” content in her book and ordered her to pay each of the nine 10 million won, or about $8,500.

But on Wednesday, Ms. Park won the criminal case. In a case closely followed by the South Korean news media, a judge in the Eastern District Court in Seoul ruled that her academic freedom must be protected. Read more

Source: NY Times


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Mishima and the maze of sexuality in modern Japan

By Damian Flanagan

In June 1948, novelist Osamu Dazai committed suicide. The 38-year-old, who had just completed his masterpiece, “No Longer Human,” and whose fame was peaking, jumped into Tokyo’s Tamagawa Canal with his mistress, Tomie Yamazaki, and drowned.

With his acid wit and nihilistic vision, Dazai had been the key author who benefitted from the easing of censorship after Japan’s defeat in World War II. He scandalized and fascinated postwar society with his personal lifestyle — fathering children out of wedlock — and the fearless manner in which he depicted nontraditional relationships.

He undermined one of the key tenets of sexuality in modern Japan by suggesting that “romantic love” doesn’t always lead to marriage and happiness. Read more


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Japan: Sumito Yamashita claims 156th Akutagawa Prize

By Daisuke Kikuchi

The 156th Akutagawa Prize was awarded to 50-year-old author Sumito Yamashita for his book “Shinsekai (New World),” which explores his teenage experiences, the selection committee of the prestigious literary award announced Thursday.

“It’s delightful,” said Yamashita during a news conference held at a Tokyo hotel soon after the announcement.

Yamashita won the award after being nominated three times before.

“I may not have enough understanding of novels,” but winning the Akutagawa Prize “is incredible,” he said.

Born in 1966 in Kobe, Yamashita was long an established playwright and actor but started working on novels in 2011. The story in the book is of his actual experience of attending a theater school in Hokkaido where he supported himself and lived alongside the other students. Read more

Source: Japan Times