Looking for literary Miyazaki (or a Japanese "the Famished Road")
November 28, 2014 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Please recommend (English language) books set in Japan, of the magical reality genre. I'm looking for well-written prose (or great translations thereof), quirky characters (with exaggerated traits), a touch of the supranatural (other worldliness), and ideally, a bit of humor in the mix. I love most of Rushdie's work and García Márquez', and thoroughly enjoyed Okri's famished road. What might I like?
posted by guy72277 to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
This might be a bit on the nose, but: any and all Murakami. I'd start with Kafka on the Shore, especially given your list of "wants".
posted by supercres at 7:55 AM on November 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

YES Murakami 1,000x. He is pretty much the definition of Japanese magical realism. Anything of his except for 1Q84 is worth a read. Kafka on the Shore and the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is where I'd start, or his short story collections.
posted by pravit at 8:03 AM on November 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think Murakami's short stories have a higher concentration of what you want than the novels do.
posted by BibiRose at 8:06 AM on November 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

Set in isolationist Japan, mostly focuses on a Dutch trading colony, but has some pretty sweet magical realism stuff happen too. I very much enjoyed it.
posted by permiechickie at 8:20 AM on November 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

Seconding the David Mitchell novel permiechickie suggests.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 8:27 AM on November 28, 2014

Artist of the Floating World is wonderful and beautifully written and meets your criteria. It's one of Ishiguro's best.
posted by guster4lovers at 8:31 AM on November 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Number 9 Dream by David Mitchell may fit the bill as well.
posted by The Hyacinth Girl at 8:33 AM on November 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Banana Yoshimoto's Kitchen.
posted by wintersweet at 9:00 AM on November 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

You might get more magical realism for your buck out of Yoshimoto's Amrita, but Kitchen is definitely the better novel (and funnier, and the characters are plenty quirky). Some other recommendations that are available in English:
  • The Bridgegroom was a Dog by Tawada Yoko
  • The Apprenticeship of Big Toe P by Matsuura Rieko
  • Kangaroo Notebook by Abe Kobo
  • Manazuru by Kawakami Hitomi
  • Sayonara, Gangsters by Takahashi Gen'ichiro
  • Island of Dreams by Hino Keizo

posted by No-sword at 9:51 AM on November 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'll third the recommendation of Murakami's short stories as being relatively thick with the traits you're looking for. I enjoyed The Elephant Vanishes, but I'll add this parody review of his latest novel as a minor caveat about how his work sometimes feels.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:36 AM on November 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Manazuru by Kawakami Hitomi. It's Hiromi, not Hitomi
posted by TheRaven at 11:47 AM on November 28, 2014

I actually read your question as "Murakami" rather than "Miyazaki" because that was the obvious Japanese name in context :) take that as you will.
posted by town of cats at 12:53 PM on November 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I disagree about 1Q84, for what it's worth, but I will swear with my dying breath that Kafka is the best one to read first.

I actually read your question as "Murakami" […] take that as you will.
posted by town of cats at 3:53 PM on November 28

posted by supercres at 1:10 PM on November 28, 2014

Nthing David Mitchell - especially The Thousand Autumns.
posted by kariebookish at 1:45 PM on November 28, 2014

Bridge of Birds (and the sequels) by Barry Hughart are fantastic and might be up your alley. They're set in ancient China, tho
posted by gnutron at 2:14 PM on November 28, 2014

You should also look at Lafcadio Hearn, who wrote several books about Japanese myth and folk stories about 100 years ago.
posted by zenon at 5:28 PM on November 28, 2014

Definitely Murakami. A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance Dance Dance are exactly what you're looking for.

One caveat, though: I and the other people in the thread are referring to Murakami Haruki. There's another contemporary Japanese writer by the name of Murakami Ryu, and while his grotesque, brutal urban crime novels are excellent, I don't think they fit your criteria.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:56 PM on November 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Murakami Ryu's "Coin Locker Babies" is magical-realistic enough, maybe -- just not very whimsical...

And yes, it's Kawakami Hiromi, not Hitomi. Thanks TheRaven!
posted by No-sword at 8:34 PM on November 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, thanks so much for all the recommendations everyone. I've the feeling my christmas stocking is going to be brimming with rectangular objects. Really looking forward to getting my nose stuck into some of these during my bus commute next year - bring on the traffic jams!
posted by guy72277 at 11:47 PM on November 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Echoing faint of butt. The first Murakami novel I read was Coin Locker Babies, and I was very, very confused, until I realized it was Haruki Murakami that had been recommended to me, not Ryu.

Hard Boiled Wonderland and The a End of the World is pretty much my favorite novel. Wind-up Bird Chronicle is also fantastic. South of the Border, West of the Sun is a nice, quieter novel, but it really does show off several of his recurring themes (to the point that Sputnik Sweetheart reads like the same novel with a different ending). I haven't gotten around to IQ84 yet, though I will at some point.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:09 AM on November 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Most Kobo Abe books and Junichiro Tanizaki's short story The Tattooer will fit the bill. Any Haruki Murakami should come first though.
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:14 AM on November 29, 2014

Just wanted to second The Bridegroom Was A Dog, though unfortunately I think the English translation may be out of print now. It's worth seeking out.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 9:24 AM on November 29, 2014

Moribito is a series of twelve novels, the first one which has been translated into English and received an honor for children's work translated into English. The author recently won the Hans Christian Andersen Award for her writing.

That should get the literary bona fides out of the way. The story of the Moribito series revolves around an exiled warrior who has undertaken a vow to save the lives of 8 people. The world and plot is very much filled with Japanese myth, though technically set in a fictional world (ie not Japan).
posted by pwnguin at 1:29 AM on November 30, 2014

I loved Picking Bones from Ash by Marie Mutsuki Mockett.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:08 PM on November 30, 2014

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