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Why do we love Japanese fiction so much when it is so elusive?

Japanese fiction needs to be read slowly. It deserves that. You cannot rush through it – even if it is a crime pot-boiler or a love story. It needs patience. Like a good brewed cup of tea. The beauty of Japanese fiction sometimes is only best understood when you read more and more of it and do not generalise it as one flooded by suicides or dark plots.

My introduction to Japanese fiction began when I was sixteen and picked up my first Yukio Mishima. Mishima’s works are dense, full of longing and, yes, suicides as well, talking of a Japanese era gone by – one of aristocrats and empires and emperors. His books are one of a kind – The Sea of Fertility Tetralogy is epic in its scope and story-telling. Moreover, the translation is just perfect. And that is where my love for Japanese literature took place.

Yasunari Kawabata is another underrated Japanese writer in my opinion. He wrote only a dozen books in all, most of them not even translated into English.But the ones that have been are small gems of brilliant literature. His language is simple and subtle, almost like haikus. Reading him is like enjoying a cup of sake and not being too greedy about it as even one cup satiates the mind and soul.

Kawabata wrote of the social issues of his time. A love story between a Tokyo dilettante and a Geisha is depicted beautifully in Snow Country, while one more ill-fated love story appears in Thousand Cranes. Kawabata’s short stories are full of eroticism (which is not in your face) and desire that stems and grows. In short, he is one writer I would urge you to read.

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9 Essential books by Japan’s Nobel Prize-winning writers

With the announcement of the 2017 Nobel Prize winners, British contemporary author Kazuo Ishiguro joins the small but extremely talented cohort of writers from Japan or of Japanese descent to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of picking up a work from one of these prize-winning authors, here are 9 essential novels to add to your reading list.

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Kenzaburo Oe

Kenzaburo Oe was born in 1935 and came of age during the post-World War II US occupation of Japan. While much of the literature from this period is marked by a bleak or despondent mood, Oe’s works are known for their sharp yet somehow uplifting humor. Many of his books are inspired by his own experiences raising a son who was born with brain damage. Oe was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1994.

Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids (1958)

Oe’s first novel Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids, or 『芽むしり仔撃ち』 Memushiri kouchi, published in 1958, tells the story of a group of young troublemakers who find themselves alone without adult supervision when plague breaks out during the war. The book has been compared to both William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Albert Camus’s The Plague.

A Personal Matter (1964)

Originally titled 『個人的な体験』 Kojinteki Na Taiken, the 1964 novel A Personal Matter is the dark comedy of a man who struggles with the birth of his developmentally disabled son.  The book is highly regarded for its existentialist meanderings and black, lyrical beauty.

Yasunari Kawabata

Yasubari Kawabata (1899-1972) became the first ever Japanese writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968. He’s known for his masterful command of prose, achieved through sparse yet hauntingly beautiful language that draws on traditional Japanese aesthetics.

Snow Country (1937)

The 1937 story Snow Country, known as 『雪国』 Yukiguni in Japanese, is considered by many to be Kawabata’s greatest masterpiece. A romantic tragedy about a married man from Tokyo and the geisha with whom he had fallen in love at an onsen resort many years before, the novel’s poetic descriptions capture the dreamlike beauty of the snowy onsenvillage with an almost haiku-like delicacy.

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Four Japanese were nominees for ’64 Nobel literature prize: documents

Four Japanese writers including novelists Junichiro Tanizaki and Yukio Mishima were nominees for the 1964 Nobel Prize in literature, according to documents released by the Swedish Academy.

The documents, made available at Kyodo News’ request after a customary 50-year period of secrecy, also showed that Tanizaki made it as far as the six-candidate shortlist for the prize that year. Continue reading