Tokyo has been a subject of literature for centuries, and continues to inspire writers today. These ten fiction and non-fiction works capture Tokyo’s unique character, revealing multiple aspects of the city from its arts scene to its pop culture, and down to the depths of its underworld.
After Dark, Haruki Murakami
Internationally acclaimed Japanese novelist, Haruki Murakami has published many works set in Tokyo, including Norwegian Wood, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and After Dark, which was originally published in 2004. In After Dark, Murakami depicts one night in the city from midnight until dawn, using a third person perspective to portray the many characters which occupy this night time sphere. From Denny’s Restaurant to a ‘Love Hotel’, the locations of the novel are reminiscent of the seediness of a bustling street in Shinjuku’s Kabukicho. Murakami captures the urban midnight landscape of Tokyo where different people’s lives interlink and where the boundary between today and tomorrow, reality and dream are blurred.
Almost Transparent Blue, Ryu Murakami
Ryu Murakami’s Almost Transparent Blue is based upon events from the author’s own life during the 1970s in Fussa-city, Tokyo, when he was in his twenties. Ryu, a hero of the novel, is living in an apartment located near the American military base in Fussa. On the margins of this base, Ryu and his companions lead a life of sex, drug and violence without any hope for the future. Although the story is depicted through Ryu’s perspective, Murakami maintains a sense of objectivity about everything which occurs, and relates it without any trace of empathy. Through the novel’s haunting emptiness, Murakami achieves a poetic depiction of the devastating life of the Japanese youth during the 1970s.
OUT, Natsuo Kirino
Natsuo Kirino’s OUT, the first Japanese novel shortlisted for the Edgar Awards Best Novel prize, is a story about four women working for a bento factory in the suburbs of Tokyo. Plagued by problems in their families and jobs, they are desperate to get out of such a tedious and repetitive life. This desperation manifests itself in a tragic form, as they are suddenly led into the violent underworld of Japan after one of them impulsively kills her abusive husband. In OUT, Kirino depicts the dark side of modern Japanese society with a profound insight into the reality of ordinary people’s lives right after the collapse of the ‘bubble economy’.
It’s been a difficult year — one that felt like humanity was living on a fracturing ice shelf. That uncertainty came from our exposure to wars and natural disasters, and even our struggles with “truth” itself. The best Japan-related books released in 2016 seemed to channel this feeling of instability by looking inside the growing cultural cracks. Here are 10 that went beyond old narratives about Japan and its people and delved deeper into Japan’s fragmented past, present and future: from alternative views of the Pearl Harbor attack to Japanese prostitutes in the American West and from radical 1960s anarchists to the story of an inspector trapped in a bureaucratic nightmare.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently announced his plan to visit Pearl Harbor to mark the 75th anniversary of the attack, making him the first Japanese leader to visit to the USS Arizona Memorial. “Countdown to Pearl Harbor,” Pulitzer Prize-winner Steve Twomey’s reappraisal of the events leading to the attack, is required reading for those wondering why the Japanese chose such a perilous path to World War II and why the U.S. fleet was caught unguarded. It goes far beyond the slew of op-eds, think-pieces and below-the-line arguments about Abe’s plan. Read more
Source: Japan Times
Andrew Lee reviews the Murakami novel in The Japan Times
Ryu Murakami is known for the sex-drugs-and-violence style of his fiction and “Coin Locker Babies” has it all.
Published in 1980 Murakami’s dystopian novel has been described as a cyberpunk coming-of-age tale, and it’s easy to see why.
Murakami was projecting several years into the future when he envisioned Tokyo in the late 80s as a violent town with a toxic heart, where criminals and social outcasts congregate. But there is little here that is actually “cyber”: technology is never part of the story. Instead, it’s a punk’s-eye view of the near future where anarchy is on the agenda — a tale of abandonment and revenge, and how when opposites attract the results can be catastrophic.
A subversive thriller about a North Korean invasion of Japan is laced with black humour: A Larman in The Guardian
Ryu, the “other” literary Murakami, is described on the front cover as “The Rolling Stones of Japanese literature”. On the evidence of his 2005 counter-factual novel, now published for the first time in the UK, he’s closer to John Lennon, in that his slyly subversive and witty take on Japanese-North Korean relations is written with an eye to commercial success despite its inherent cynicism, as it manages to maintain momentum over its near 700 pages.
Review of From the Fatherland, With Love, By Ryu Murakami, trans. Ralph McCarthy, Charles de Wolf and Ginny Tapley Takemori in The Independent
The “other” Murakami – Ryu, rather than the marginally older Haruki – is best known in the UK for short, sharp novels like In The Miso Soup and Audition, books that dig away at a contemporary Japanese culture obsessed with youth, sex and violence, and familiar to us through manga, anime and horror films.
Banks have failed, the yen has fallen and Japan’s economy has collapsed, leading to political turmoil. Its great ally, the United States, abandons it. Then comes the final straw: an attack by North Korean guerrillas posing as Korean tourists.
“From the Fatherland, With Love”, by veteran Japanese novelist Ryu Murakami, chronicles the political fumbling that is the Japanese government’s response and the eventual counterattack by a motley group of homeless, psychotic misfits using largely homemade weapons.
The book is written at least partly from the point of view of the North Koreans, echoing this year’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel: “The Orphan Master’s Son,” by Adam Johnson.
Murakami, 61, who has played in rock bands and dabbled in filmmaking, is often referred to as the “enfant terrible” of Japanese literature for the dark, satiric lens he turns on Japanese society. He spoke with Reuters about his book.