30 Dec 2011

Japanese lit reads 2011

I suppose it was inevitable really, that a love of Japan and a love of books would some converge into a love of Japanese literature, but it hadn't ever really happened until this year. Oh, I'd read a number of books about Japan, some of them were even written by Japanese authors. I loved The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzō, and In Praise of Shadows by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, for example, but both of those were really essays on wabi sabi aesthetics rather than J-lit per se. I also have a kinda pash on geisha, so I've read lots of geisha books too.

It took A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami - one of my 2010 book club choices to introduce me to the J-lit genre. And with this one novel I was seriously hooked. I started reading my way through this intriguing man's surreal and mysterious works, one by one. Then on to other authors.

And now it's the end of 2011.

And here is my list of Japanese books read in 2011:
  1. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

  2. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

  3. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

  4. Moonlight Shadow by Banana Yoshimoto

  5. The Housekeeper and The Professor by Yoko Ogawa

  6. After the Quake by Haruki Murakami

  7. The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto

  8. The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

  9. Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata

  10. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

  11. The Girl who Leapt through Time by Yasutaka Tsutsui

  12. The Stuff that Nightmares are Made of by Yasutaka Tsutsui

  13. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Some of them were better than others. If you want to try some J-lit yourself, The Housekeeper and The Professor is marvellous. I loved The Lake as well. The Girl who Leapt Through Time is okay for kids. Despite all of the hype, 1Q84 is a big disappointment. Apart from that one, though, Murakami is invariably pretty good. Dip your toe in and see if you like it.

People read for various reasons. Some read for self improvement. If I read this book it will make me a better person. If I read that one I will be a better Christian, even. Others read through a sense of obligation. Reading is good for you, so I must have three servings every day regardless of whether I like the taste of what I'm reading or not. Some read only what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. Some read to learn. I read for all these reasons, but most of all I read because I love to read. It gives me great pleasure to settle down with a good book. It is one of these bestest things in my peaceful world.

When I read J-lit I learn more about a country that intrigues me. I learn what makes this sometimes closed and enigmatic people tick. I learn about a different world view. I learn what they think about me as a gaijin. I learn what they think about about my Christian God. I love the sense of gentleness that pervades these books. They make me feel nice and peaceful somehow. They transport me to another world. (And with Murakami, then sometimes that's literally another world!)

Currently I'm reading Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore. Oh yes, I realise again why I like this man's work. And why 1Q84 is hopefully an aberration. Kafka is full of Japanese literary references. It's even set in a beautiful library:
Before coming to Takamatsu I found out some wealthy man from an old family in the suburbs had renovated his personal library into a private library open to the public. The place has a lot of rare books, and I heard that the building itself and the surrounding garden were worth checking out. I saw a photo of the place once in Taiyo magazine. It's a large, Japanese-style house with this really elegant reading room that looks more like a parlor, where people are sitting with their books on comfortable looking sofas. For some reason that photo really stayed with me, and I wanted to see this in person if someday the chance came along. The Komura Memorial Library, the place
was called.
Japan, Books and Murakami. What's not to love?! (Well, except the cat scene.)

If you want to know more about J-lit, In Spring it is the Dawn is my very favourite blog on the topic. Start there. She taught me everything I know.

While there you might want to join the Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge for 2012. I have. Next year I hope to read After Dark, Pinball, 1973 and South of Border, West of the Sun. Which will make me a Sheep Man. Maybe I'll even read more. I'll see. What about you? Wanna be a Hajime and read one book? Or maybe more?

Maybe like me, this will be the start of something new and exciting. I hope so. I'd love your company!


  1. Glad your finding great enjoyment in your Japanese literature! :)

  2. I read The Housekeeper and The Professor after you mentioned it on your blog. I thoroughly enjoyed it, so thanks for the recommendation!
    I'll have to check the local library to see if they've got any of these other titles, they didn't have any Murakami.

  3. One of the things I love about reading blogs is the book suggestions- have just requested 'The Housekeeper and The Professor' from my local library.
    Happy New Year!

  4. I've taken to reading Murakami in the past few years, and I enjoy his books. I don't know that I would ever have picked one up, except for the fact that we have limited access to English books. Somehow every foreign language bookstore has something by him. I just can't handle too many of them in a row. :-)

  5. Wow, kudos to you. You read way more Japanese books than I did.

    I read "Kitchen" which was not my style. I also read "A Boy Called H" which I recommend, but probably would be difficult to obtain for you.

  6. A Boy Called H looks marvellous. Now on my to read list! Thanks, J's mum!

  7. I just remembered the third book, which I had forgotten because it was a read-aloud. "Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window"

    It is the true story of a six year old who is expelled from public school for being naughty. She then goes to an alternative school where teaching styles are totally different.

    Again, it might be difficult for you to obtain. :-(


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