Recommendations for modern Japanese novels?
March 13, 2010 4:46 PM   Subscribe

Great Japanese novels?

Going to Japan in two weeks, and want some good Japanese novels for the 29+ hours on the plane. I've read the Wind-up Bird Chronicle and After Dark by Murakami, and would like to try some other novelists. I prefer modern works.

Any favorites?
posted by DMelanogaster to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oe.
posted by CutaneousRabbit at 4:51 PM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Want something that you can't put down on the plane? Then you want Out by Natsuo Kirino.
posted by meerkatty at 4:52 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm a big fan of Banana Yoshimoto.
posted by Shesthefastest at 5:09 PM on March 13, 2010

Beauty and Sadness by Kawabata
Spring Snow by Mishima (the first installment of the Sea of Fertility tetralogy)
Kokoro by Soseki (also titles "The heart of the matter" in some editions)

I will suggest more titles later (heading out the door)
posted by TheyCallItPeace at 5:13 PM on March 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

Yes, A Personal Matter--though Oe's writing seems very unlike the "typical" Japanese style (to me; I'm no expert). But Murakami is not very Japanese either; most of his influences are American. (Incidentally, I think I read that Oe used to be dismissive of Murakami, but changed his mind after reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.)

Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata--a very "Japanese" one (very descriptive suggestive; expresses strong emotions in a very understated way). Kawabata got the Nobel prize, but it still seems like not that many people have heard of him.

The most famous Japanese writer who might count as "modern" is Yukio Mishima. His most famous work is the Sea of Fertility series (though I have only read the first book, Spring Snow, and couldn't really get into it).
posted by k. at 5:15 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Be advised that Mishima has quite the background.

Speaking of left field, Nanami Shiono writes renaissance Mediterranean historical fiction
posted by IndigoJones at 5:20 PM on March 13, 2010

Forgive my typos above. Another popular modern writer is Kobo Abe. Kazuo Ishiguro, a popular British writer born to Japanese parents, wrote about Japan but does not consider himself Japanese. I liked his Never Let Me Go (not about Japan but very understated like Kawabata), but disliked An Artist of the Floating World (which takes place in Japan in the post-war period).
posted by k. at 5:21 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Now I'm remembering that I've read two books by Banana Yoshimoto and loved them. And I've read The Woman in the Dunes (and seen the movie). Loved them. Oh I think I tried An Artist...etc. and couldn't get into it.

Loving these suggestions, and I've already placed library holds on some by Kirino, including the one recommended above.

yes, Mishima, of course. Quite the cult guy when I was a college student in the late 60's. (maybe still is?)

thank you. If you have more, great.
posted by DMelanogaster at 5:25 PM on March 13, 2010

Yoko Ogawa's Housekeeper and Professor was a popular novel from a few years back.
posted by cazoo at 5:34 PM on March 13, 2010

BTW, Underground by Murakami is fascinating if you haven't read any of his non-fiction.
posted by cazoo at 5:37 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I came in to recommend both A Personal Mater and Beauty and Sadness. Other favorites of mine are The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki and Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa.
posted by smich at 5:38 PM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oops, I missed the "prefer modern works" part. Musashi isn't modern, but it's such a fun and interesting read.
posted by smich at 5:42 PM on March 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

The three-cornered world by Soseki.
posted by smoke at 5:51 PM on March 13, 2010

Japan at War, an Oral History
posted by KokuRyu at 6:28 PM on March 13, 2010

Akasaka Mari's Vibrator and Takahashi Gen'ichiro's Sayonara, Gangsters were both translated into English relatively recently and are (I think) worth checking out.
posted by No-sword at 6:55 PM on March 13, 2010

Norwegian Wood and Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami are also worth reading. I know you're looking for other novelists but these two books are early works that for some reason are ignored by most critics and folks who've just discovered him. Norwegian Wood is his first book and thus a bit immature, but it's fun to see his talent developing, but Wild Sheep Chase is a masterpiece. I think it's his best book and more people need to read it.

There's a second translated Murakami, btw. Ryƫ Murakami writes gritty, drug-addled novels, sort of like Burroughs or maybe Irvine Welsh. I read Coin Locker Babies and Almost Transparent Blue and enjoyed them both. But you've got to have a tolerance for that sort of thing.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:01 PM on March 13, 2010

Besides the obvious ones, (Murakami, Kawabata, Oe etc.) I must recommend Kenzo Kitaka's Winter Sleep. A really strange and wonderful novel about a painter who has recently gotten out of prison. I'd describe it as hardboiled fiction about the nature of art. It's really quite striking.
posted by Kattullus at 7:04 PM on March 13, 2010

Fumiko Enchi, in particular, Masks. Tanizaki is good as well but I am sure that there are even more modern folks like Murakami.
posted by jadepearl at 7:51 PM on March 13, 2010

Tanizaki's The Key is a very nice story involving unreliable narrators, written as excerpts from the separate diaries of a couple.

Ibuse's Black Rain is also a great book, although quite heavy, since it tells the story of survivors of the bomb in Hiroshima.

I never really got into Murakami novels, always having felt that there was something a bit off with the translation, but I quite enjoyed The Elephant Vanishes, a collection of short stories.

Although Oe has been brought up a number of times already, I cannot suggest A Personal Matter strongly enough. I also rather enjoyed Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age! , which I think is a great complement to A Personal Matter.

Mishima is a great example of "love the art, not the artist", so I stand behind my suggestion of Spring Snow. The second book in the tetralogy (Honda, or Runaway Horses), can drag on a bit about right wing Japanese ideology (which Mishima was a champion of), but the other two books are quite good (The Temple of Dawn, The Decay of the Angel). However, if you cannot get into the first book, I doubt you will enjoy the rest, as the tetralogy really revolves around everything in the first book. The ending of the tetralogy, as well as Spring Snow, is as close as one can get to "devastating" in a novel (on par with A Farewell to Arms in that sense)
posted by TheyCallItPeace at 8:01 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

And I would like to second Underground by Murakami -- very haunting work of non-fiction about the survivors of sarin attacks in Tokyo.
posted by TheyCallItPeace at 8:06 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, Underground. I find this book haunting for Murakami's struggle to remain neutral in the face of horror.
posted by SPrintF at 9:00 PM on March 13, 2010

Nthing Underground. You have to be in the right frame of mind to read this book, but it's well worth reading.
posted by smich at 9:14 PM on March 13, 2010

I'd suggest Kwaidan: Stories & Studies of Strange Things, an anthology of folktales collected by Lafcadio Hearn, a Greek journalist for National Geographic who lived in Japan for over twenty years around the turn of last century. He has a great appreciation for the gruesome.
posted by soviet sleepover at 9:25 PM on March 13, 2010

1969 by Ryu Murakami would make much better airplane reading than his other books but if you like horror, then try In the Miso Soup.
posted by betweenthebars at 9:33 PM on March 13, 2010

Runaway Horses by Mishima is the most phenomenal book I have ever read. Artistically amazing and highly passionate. I haven't read Spring Snow though, nor the books two after Runaway Horsesas I am waiting till my Japanese is good enough to appreciate the original. Temple of the Golden Pavillion might be good, especially if you're going to Kyoto. You have to prepare for highly descriptive and complex writing when you set about reading Mishima, though.

The poster above me mentioned In the Miso Soup. That might be ok since it's set in the current day (unlike Mishima which is dated 30+ years, or Soseki which is dated 100+ years). However, the writing in In the Miso Soup is pretty simplistic, and some of the themes cliche. And the climactic scene is plain dumb.

I haven't read much Murakami but what I have read didn't really seem too "Japanese". You can tell he's been influenced by Western literature a lot. Even the Japanese version is easy to read, which always suggests too much foreign influence in my opinion.
posted by thesailor at 4:14 AM on March 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

thesailor: "I haven't read much Murakami but what I have read didn't really seem too "Japanese". You can tell he's been influenced by Western literature a lot. Even the Japanese version is easy to read, which always suggests too much foreign influence in my opinion."

That's possibly the most arrogant thing I've read all week.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:27 PM on March 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I highly recommend David Mitchell's number number9dream . While he isn't Japanese he did live there for a number of years. It was nominated for the Man Booker and is set in the present. I read it on a 24 hour flight leaving Japan and couldn't put it down.

Joakim Ziegler, much agreed.
posted by Wantok at 5:46 PM on March 14, 2010

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