Saturday, January 30, 2010

Reading Japan 2009

After we moved back to Japan from England, a little over 4 years ago now, I became interested in reading Japanese literature to learn more about this place that I currently call home.  So a couple of years ago now I decided to set myself a personal, perpetual reading project to do just that.  The following is a list of the Japanese literature and Japan-related titles that I read in 2009. And since I'm not only interested in reading books from a Japanese perspective, but also from the outside looking in, as it were, I've included those books about, or set in, Japan by non-Japanese authors as well. You can see the Japanese books I read in 2008, or a full list of all the Japanese literature I've read since starting this blog in my Reading Japan Book List which is also accessible via the Reading Japan tab in the linkbar above. 

Fiction (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.


After Dark - Haruki Murakami
Rashomon and other stories - Ryunosuke Akutagawa
An Artist of the Floating World - Kazuo Ishiguro (British, written in English)
*Beyond the Blossoming Fields - Jun'ichi Watanabe
*Paprika - Yasutaka Tsutsui
*Be With You - Takuji Ichikawa
*The Old Capital - Yasunari Kawabata (review pending)

Fiction (about/set in Japan, by non-Japanese authors):
The Character of Rain - Amélie Nothomb (Belgian, originally published in French)
Big in Japan: A Ghost Story - M. Thomas Gammarino (American, written in English)

Emma, vol. 1 - Kaoru Mori
Monster, vol. 1 - Naoki Urasawa
xxxHolic, vol. 1 - CLAMP
Emma, vols. 2 - 7 - Kaoru Mori
Emma, vol. 8 - Kaoru Mori
Vampire Knight, vols. 1 - 3 - Matsuri Hino
*Battle Royale, vol. 1 - Koushun Takami, illustrated by Masayuki Taguchi (review pending)

Goodbye Madame Butterfly: Sex, Marriage and the Modern Japanese Woman - Sumie Kawakami
Polite Lies: On Being a Woman Caught Between Cultures - Kyoko Mori

A nice variety of books, I think, including modern surrealism, classic short stories, lyrical stories of life in Kyoto, fascinating historical fiction, contemporary love stories, memoirs, and true stories of modern women in Japan.  Some of the characters: the first female Japanese doctor, a precocious child, an English maid, a neuro-surgeon, a dream detective, vampire guardians, and high school students stuck in a deadly reality show.

I really enjoyed most of these, there were a couple exceptions, but if I had to choose a favourite, I'd go with Beyond the Blossoming Fields, because I found it simply fascinating to read about the life of the first official female Japanese doctor.  Another stand out of the year is the Emma manga series.  The story is lovely but the art is fantastic!  Amélie Nothomb's fictionalized memoir of her childhood in Japan was highly amusing, both non-fiction titles were occasionally eye-opening, I thoroughly enjoyed the traditional tales as told by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, and so on.

I actually wish I'd read more Japanese literature last year, especially since I keep finding more titles that I want to read, but I'm looking forward to discovering more wonderful Japanese lit in 2010.  And as you know, in addition to my personal Reading Japan Project to read more Japanese literature, last autumn I started a Japanese Literature Book Group and a Japanese Literature Read-along group here. There are some great books coming up on the schedule and I'm very much looking forward to reading and discussing these, and other, works of Japanese literature with you this year.

Titles with an asterisk are those that I read during the time period (July 30, 2009 to January 30, 2010) of the Japanese Literature Challenge 3 hosted by
Dolce Bellezza. I also read The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa this month for the Japanese Literature Book Group discussion. Technically it counts for the challenge but I haven't listed it above in the list of titles read in 2009, as it'll go on the list for 2010. The challenge only required us to read one book of Japanese literature so at six I guess I can say that it was successfully completed. You can see a list of all the reviews submitted by the participants for the challenge at the Japanese Literature Challenge 3 Review Site.  Thank you, Bellezza, for being a wonderful host, and for sharing your fascination of Japan with us.  I'm already looking forward to July and the 4th annual Japanese Literature Challenge! 

Did you read any memorable Japanese literature last year?

The small print:  The books mentioned in the post were purchased by me for my personal library, except for Beyond the Blossoming Fields, Paprika, and Big in Japan which were received free of charge from the respective publishers for review purposes.  Links in this post to Amazon (including book covers) or The Book Depository contain my Associates or Affiliates ID respectively.  Purchases made via these links earn me a very small commission.  For more information visit my About Page.


  1. This is awesome! I want to read every single one of those books!
    Maybe I'll start with Beyond the Blossoming Fields - it has a beautiful cover! :-)

  2. NICE to know there is a 4th Japanese Lit Challenge 2010. I may try to read more books than I did last year and finish the ones I started! That includes two by Murakami and also The Old Capital. You have read some good ones.

  3. I'm really really interested in the two non-fiction books you read, and a couple of your fiction books as well. Was a great challenge, this one. And also, a thank you to you as well, Tanabata, for hosting the Book Group and Read-Along. Looking forward to more discussions. =)

  4. I've heard so many good things about Haruki Murakami, I really want to read a book by him. Are they written in English, or translated??

  5. I saw an anime of Paprika, which was a bit of a strange story, as I recall. I have xxxHOLiC and Vampire Knight on my manga stack, and read a lot of Fruits Basket last year (probably my only Japanese books, too).

  6. I also wish I'd read more Japanese titles last year, and yes, the list is endless :)

    I'd like to apologize that I still haven't been a contributor to the group. Schedule has been tight as always. But I am looking forward to reading Wind Up Bird Chronicle with the group, and I already have the book!

    I hope to share more pleasant and enriching Japanese discussions with you this year :)

  7. Thanks for this list and your other list. I'm having fun making up my reading lists as I'm just dipping my toe in Japanese lit.

  8. brizmus - I love the cover of Beyond the Blossoming Fields too. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

    Harvee - I'm glad Bellezza will be hosting a 4th JLit Challenge later this year too. Not that I really need a challenge to motivate me to read JLit. ;)

    Michelle - The two non-fiction books that I read last year were both very interesting. Polite Lies is ever so slightly dated, but most of it is still very relevant. I look forward to discussing more books with you. :)

    monnibo - Murakami is definitely one of the most well-known modern Japanese writers. You should give one of his books a try! They are translated but the translations are usually very good. Most of his work has been translated by the same couple of translators, who are very familiar with his style. I've also heard that he writes somewhat straightforwardly in Japanese so his style isn't as obscure or poetic as some of the Japanese classics that are so difficult to translate.

    thekoolaidmom - I've seen the trailer for the anime movie of Paprika and it does look pretty wild. I've heard of Fruits Basket, but haven't tried it. I guess I wonder if it would be too "kawaii" for my taste. ??

    Mark David - I know it's hard to fit in all the books we want to read. I'd love to discuss more JLit with you though so I'm very glad to hear you'll be reading Wind-up Bird with us. :)

    Rebecca - You have so many great books ahead of you!


Thank you so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I love hearing from you and I read every single one!

P.S. In an effort to eliminate spam, I moderate all comments, so there will most likely be a delay between when you submit the comment and when it appears on the post. Please let me know if you have any trouble leaving comments here, and you can also chat with me on Twitter, if you prefer. Happy Reading!