Monday, July 30, 2012

日本の本 - Japanese Books

What I'm Reading: Anna Dressed in Blood - Kendare Blake
What I'm Listening to: Nothing. And I love it.

There is more to Japanese literature than just manga. I actually don't read manga at all, which is kind of bizarre because I’m obsessed with Japan. I actually prefer watching the anime (not dubbed though. I despise dubbed and anyone who watches it). Besides traditional Japanese literature, which mostly entails old ghost stories, I've read a few contemporary pieces for my class. My teacher has an . . . interesting taste in novels. She likes edgy books with lots of, uh, weird stuff. I also had her for a Japanese film class. I can’t say I share the same tastes in film either. But she did introduce me to a few novels that I liked.

Six Titles I’d Recommend:

Train Man (電車男) – Hitori Nakano (not an actual author, but a pun that refers to all of the people who were part of the conversation in the book)

The story is a boy meets girl romance. Train Man (username) is a shy otaku (essentially a geek) who confronts an obnoxious drunk on the train who is harassing a young woman. Later, she thanks him by sending a pair of expensive teacups. It would have ended there, but Train Man goes to an online message board seeking help on how to date her. There, he receives advice and encouragement from anonymous netizens.

The story is told as a series of chat room threads and is supposedly based on a true story. It was a huge phenomenon in Japan and it was made not only into the novel, but a movie, a television series, and a manga. I've only watched the movie so far, and I enjoyed it.

Though I was a bit sad that the main character had to change himself  to get the girl, I loved the book. It was funny and cute and totally Japanese. It's also what got me started on using Japanese emoji.

All She Was Worth – Miyuki Miyabe

Stealing it from the back cover:
When a beautiful young woman vanishes in Tokyo, her distraught fiancé enlists the help of his uncle, a police inspector, to find her. The detective quickly realizes that she is not who she claimed to be, and his search for her brings him to a dangerous financial underworld where insurmountable personal debt leads to crimes of desperation. Here, spending frenzies, stolen identities, and unscrupulous creditors can create a lethal mix.

Apparently, there's two drama series based off of it. Also, there's a Korean movie adaptation called Helpless that was released this year. I haven't seen it yet, but now that I've heard about it, I'm looking forward to it.

Overall, it's a fast-paced, suspenseful thriller.

The Woman in the Dunes (砂の女) – Kobo Abe

Entomologist Niki Jumpei is searching for insects that inhabit sand dunes near a remote village. After missing the last bus home, he asks the villagers for a place to stay. They lead him to a sand pit where there is a house at the bottom. Thinking only to stay the night, Jumpei climbs down the rope ladder to the bottom. Only, the villagers pull the rope back up, leaving the entomologist alone with the quiet woman who lives in the house. So begins Jumpei's captivity in the sand pit, where he must shovel every night in order to keep the sand dunes from taking over the village.

There’s also a movie, which follows the book closely. However, it’s a bit boring. There's long moments of silence and lots of scenes where the screen is just completely black. In fact, I did a paper on it regarding cinematic excess.

Through the Arc of the Rain Forest – Karen Tei Yamashita

Stealing from the back again because I have no idea how to summarize it:
This freewheeling black comedy features a bizarre cast of characters, including a Japanese man with a ball floating six inches in front of his head, an American CEO with three arms, and a Brazilian peasant who discovers the art of healing by tickling one's earlobe with a feather. By the end of this hilarious tale, they have risen to the heights of wealth and fame, before arriving at disasters--both personal and ecological--that destroy the rain forest and all the birds of Brazil.

As you probably got from the description, it's a bizarre read. Very satirical and pretty amusing. Kind of makes me want to just go out and write some random book that makes me look like a crazed druggie.

Also, the writer is a Japanese American and wrote the book in English. So that brings into question, is it American fiction or Japanese? We had a discussion about this in my class, but there really isn't a clear answer.

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (めくらやなぎと眠る女) - Haruki Murakami

This book is a collection of short stories. Murakami is an excellent author, and the majority of the stories are entertaining. This is a lot coming from me, since I don't care for short stories at all.
The Harp of Burma - Michio Takeyama

The novel is about a group of Japanese troops in the jungles of Burma, where they are losing a desperate battle against British forces. To overcome their homesickness and hardships, they sing and play music. Even though they face defeat, singing songs from their homeland gives them the will to live and helps them carry on through the senselessness of war.

From time to time, I enjoy WWII novels, so that's why this one made the list. There's also a movie adaptation called The Burmese Harp.

Have you read any of these titles? Do you have a Japanese book you'd care to recommend? I'm always looking for new titles.


  1. It's been a while since I read it, but Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes is a pretty good (if depressing) story. I had a teacher who confessed that every time she read it, she burst into tears. Check it out, it's really -- oh wait, it's written by an American author? Huh. Imagine that.

    Aaaaaaaaand on the opposite end of the spectrum, I'd recommend reading Battle Royale if you haven't before. It's like The Hunger Games, only Japanese. Oh, and there's more rock music allusions.

    At any rate, I've been thinking that I haven't read enough Japanese books. Maybe it's time for that to change.

    1. Hmm. I read the description of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. It seems vaguely familiar, like I had to read it in school before. I'll have to look into it again.

      I bought Battle Royale a year or two ago (before I had even heard of the Hunger Games). Haven't gotten around to actually reading it yet. But I've seen the movie, which was super gory and full of awesome.

      Thanks for the suggestions!