Thursday, January 29, 2009

Reading Japan: 2008

I've really been enjoying discovering, through books, a little bit more about this place I temporarily call home. I love reading Japanese authors and getting a feel for that unmistakeable, subtle style that so represents the Japanese mind. But I also enjoy viewing Japan through the eyes of other gaijin (foreigners) like myself. So as part of my personal Reading Japan Project, I make a note of not only the Japanese books I read in translation, but also those by non-Japanese authors that focus on, or are set in Japan.
Here are the books that I read in 2008*:

Japanese authors (or those with Japanese ancestry):
(Unless otherwise noted, these books were originally published in Japanese).
Click on the titles to read my reviews, click on the book covers to read more at Amazon.
The Elephant Vanishes - Haruki Murakami
Tales of Moonlight and Rain - Akinari Ueda
Kira-Kira - Cynthia Kadohata (American, written in English)
Black Rain - Masuji Ibuse
Kafka on the Shore - Haruki Murakami
Farewell to Manzanar - Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston & James D. Houston (American, written in English)
A Geisha's Journey - Komomo & Naoyuki Ogino
Grotesque - Natsuo Kirino

Books about or set in Japan:
(Originally published in English)
The Ash Garden - Dennis Bock
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes - Eleanor Coerr
Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation - Michael Zielenziger
Clouds Over Mountains - Matt Joseph

It was a fairly nice variety of books last year with a bit of a WWII theme. From ancient folk tales, to bizarrely surreal modern stories. A mystery, a non-fiction discussion of the disconnectedness affecting young Japanese today, and the story of a new geisha. Plus several perspectives of Japan during WWII and its aftermath, both in Japan and the US, through the lens of fiction.

Of all of these, Kafka on the Shore stands out as my favourite. It's pure Murakami story-telling at its best! But I thoroughly enjoyed many others as well. The old tales in Tales of Moonlight and Rain were fascinating. Reading Black Rain around the time that we visited Hiroshima and the Atomic Bomb museum was very moving. And the amateur photographer in me simply loved the beautiful photos in A Geisha's Journey. So I'm pleased with what I read last year. If anything I'm now even more interested in reading about Japan so I hope to follow up this selection with more wonderful reads in 2009. These books are some of the ones I have on hand to choose from but I'm sure more will find their way in the door as well, and I'm looking forward to reading each and every one of them!

Oh and please start thinking about your favourite Japanese literature reads. I'll be having a giveaway soon to celebrate my 3rd blogiversary, and asking you to share your favourites, so make sure to come back on Saturday!

*All of these titles have been added to my Reading Japan Book List, which is a list of all the Japan-related books that I've read since starting this blog in January 2006. A link to that list is available via the Reading Japan tab in the link bar at the top of the page, and I will continue to add titles to the list as I read and review them.


  1. This is such a neat personal project. One of these days I do want to read Kafka on the Shore. Alright, off to think of the favorite reads - a 3rd anniversary, how exciting! :)

  2. I really liked THE ASH GARDEN. I am going to be able this week to spoil myself with some books and take care of others who have been so sweet waiting for theirs.
    I do not know which to buy so I will visit different blogs to get an idea and hit amazon market place :)))))))))))))))))))))))))

  3. Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes is a childhood favourite of mine, which I should re-read. I haven't read many other books set in Japan so will look out for these.

    I was very impressed by Shusako Endo's novel Silence though, and would reccomend it if you haven't read it.

  4. You keep adding to my wishlist, you know :P

    I look forward to the giveaway! I'll have to make an effort to answer with more than "Murakami Murakami Murakami" :P

  5. The best Japanese book I read is still Norwegian Wood, with the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle following, both by Haruki Murakami.

  6. Great project idea, and some really interesting titles. I'm hoping to read some Japanese authors later in the year when my self-enforced book buying ban comes to an end. Thanks!

  7. Iliana - Hard to believe that I've been blogging for 3 years! :)

    Sylvie - Oh, have fun deciding which books to get! :)

    Sarah - It was very moving to see some of Sadako's cranes in the Atomic Bomb museum in Hiroshima!
    I haven't read anything by Endo yet but I've heard of Silence. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Nymeth - Well it's only fair since you keep adding to mine! ;)

    mee - I've read both those books by Murakami and still think about Wind-Up sometimes. I read Norwegian Wood so long ago I really need to read it again.

    mariel - I'm impressed that you have a personal book-buying ban. I tell myself I should but I can never stick to it. I hope you find some good Japanese books to read.

  8. I love the idea of this project--all the better since you live there and can really experience what the author is trying to convey culturally. I read Farewell to Manzanar ages ago (very sad little book as I recall). I'd like to read more of Natsuo Kirino--I liked Out. I've never read anything my have a great list going there.

  9. Tales of Moonlight and Rain is on my wishlist.
    there are some great books here ;0)

  10. Danielle - There are so many more Japanese books and authors that I'd like to read so I think my project will be going on for a very long time. :P

    The Holistic Knitter - I hope you enjoy Tales of Moonlight and Rain when you get to it. :)


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