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Japanese Literature in 12 Genres: Where to Get Started

Japanese Literature in 12 Genres: Where to Get Started

  • There's a lot of Japanese literature to love, whatever your favourite genre might be. From Japanese fantasy to mystery to romance, it's all here. Dive in!
japanese literature genres

Japanese literature is everywhere. The nation’s stories and novels get turned into manga, anime, and movies. Their authors are as famous and legendary as Hollywood’s actors and directors. And Japanese literature is big across the world. Japanese novels are often quick to be translated, and no matter how niche they may seem, they will find an audience.

We love the literature of Japan more than any other country, and Japanese authors have swum in the deep waters of every single genre. Whether you’re looking for literary fiction, Japanese horror books, or Japanese mystery novels, you’ll find a few new favourites here.

If you’ve always wondered where to start with Japanese literature, especially if you usually prefer a specific genre like romance or fantasy, this guide to Japanese fiction will help you find the perfect book for you, whatever the genre. Here, you’ll find twelve genres, each with at least two unique Japanese book recommendations from us personally. Enjoy, and happy reading!

Check out other articles we’ve written on this topic:

Metropolis Magazine: ‘Five Japanese Novels to Read in 2020
Tokyo Weekender: ‘10 Contemporary Japanese Writers You Should Know
Savvy Tokyo: ‘8 heartwarming Books to Read this Winter
Japan Objects: ‘20 Best Japanese Authours of all Timeand ‘Junji Ito: 10 Best Stories from Japan’s Master of Horror’

Classic Japanese Fiction

There are two meanings of the word ‘classic’ when it comes to fiction. There’s the official meaning, which is ‘any book that’s over 100 years old’ and then there’s the colloquial meaning which is, ‘anything the zeitgeist deems a classic’. So, for classic Japanese fiction, let’s have a bit of both.

Here, you’ll find some classic novels from times and eras long gone, and others from the last century which are now hailed as unparalleled modern classics of Japanese literature not to be missed.

The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

Translated by Kencho Suematsu

the tale of genji

The Tale of Genji has quite the legacy. Not only is it the first Japanese novel, but it is widely considered to be the first novel ever written. Written by the Kyoto noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu in the 11th century CE, The Tale of Genji takes us on a journey alongside the son of an emperor: Hikaru Genji.

Genji is no longer in the line of succession, and spends much of the novel’s story forming and then ruining relationships with various women in Kyoto. The novel is a fascinating insight into the lives of Japan’s nobility back when Kyoto was the capital of Japan. It’s also a witty and smart novel that still holds up as one of the great works of classic Japanese fiction.

Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

Translated by Edward G. Seidensticker

snow country

Many of his novels have the feel of a bell chime, opening with a loaded image that continues to resound throughout the rest of the story before drawing to a close with the final pages of the book. For example, in his most famous work, Snow Country, the novel opens with a train ride through the mountainous countryside in which the narrator, staring out the window, superimposes the reflected face of a beautiful female passenger onto the darkening night sky and landscape outside.

Kawabata’s sparse yet wholly poetic opening is a masterstroke of foreshadowing in a novel that will confront the relationship between art, beauty, lust and love, in a near ethereal landscape, shown through a fragmented and sometimes drunken narration in which the main character finds himself unable to truly feel present and real before the beautiful geisha he has an affair with. It reaches a harmony in the way the final image of the novel is of a brilliant moon hanging above that same night sky and illuminating the shocking climax.

(Taken from our Author Spotlight on Yasunari Kawabata)

The Silent Cry by Kenzaburo Oe

Translated by John Bester

the silent cry

Oe’s writing stems from his interactions with his own Japan, but while Ishiguro’s Japan is one somewhat fantastical, Oe’s is one of political turmoil, social struggle, and the fight for change.

The Silent Cry tells the story of two brothers, the narrator and introverted academic Mitsusaburo, and his borderline-eccentric younger brother Takashi, who has just returned to Tokyo from New York.

After Mitsu and his wife make the choice to leave their handicapped infant child in an asylum, and Mitsu struggles with learning about the suicide of a friend (in a particularly and oddly erotic manner), he and his brother Takashi return to the village of their youth, to do business and battle with a Korean slave-turned-CEO known as ‘the Emperor of Supermarkets’ who wishes to expand his empire.

(Taken from our article on Japan’s Nobel Prize Winners)

I Am a Cat by Natsume Soseki

Translated by Graeme Wilson

I Am A Cat

Natsume Soseki might be the most popular name in Japanese literature. When it comes to living authors, many first think of Haruki Murakami, but Soseki is certainly Japan’s most beloved author. He was a cynical man in many ways, and wrote novels that got to the faulty hearts of people in a sometimes earnest and sometimes cheeky way.

His cheekiest novel is a work of satire written from the perspective of a cat. The cat spends the novel relaying to us the events that go on in his house, which mostly concern his owner, a teacher who does his best to appear proud and to fit in with the noble middle classes of early 20th century Japan.

If you want a real classic of Japanese fiction, any book by Soseki will do the trick, but I Am a Cat is without a doubt his most light-hearted and witty piece of fiction, though it is a bit on the long side.


Read More: The Best Japanese Books of 2020


Japanese Literary Fiction

Literary fiction means different things to different people, but generally it is mature, thought-provoking, grounded fiction based in reality. And Japan has literary fiction to spare. Let’s look at some of the best literary fiction by some of the best authors in Japan writing today.

In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami

Translated by Ralph McCarthy

in the miso soup

Ryu Murakami is often, unfairly, and unflatteringly referred to as ‘the other Murakami’. His books are intensely clever and cynical examinations of the dark underbelly that always exists in Tokyo but rarely gets discussed in public or in the news. In The Miso Soup is a perfect example of exactly this.

Most of Murakami’s novels are set in and around the popular neon district of Shinjuku, where people shop, eat, and drink at all hours of the day. If you’ve ever played the Yakuza video games, this district is what Kamurocho was based off of.

As for In The Miso Soup, the novel concerns a young man named Kenji who works as a guide in Shinjuku, showing visitors all the best hangouts and nightlife. He sacrifices a night with his girlfriend in order to show around a strange foreigner who pays well but may harbour a dark secret.

The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada

Translated by David Boyd

the-factory

The Factory follows three protagonists who all work at an unspecified factory in Japan. The factory seems to make and distribute all manner of things and consumables, and its mass spans miles and miles. A character remarks how the factory “really has it all, doesn’t it? Apartment complexes, supermarkets, a bowling alley, karaoke … It’s like a real town. It is. Much bigger than your average town, really … We’ve got our own shrine, with a priest and everything. All we’re missing now is a graveyard.”

And so, the factory has successfully become an inescapable place where humans live and work. Soon enough, they will die and be buried there. No longer can they separate home from work. No longer can they escape work. Work provides everything for them. The metaphor here is clear; it’s clever, it’s frightening, it’s Kafkaesque.

(Taken from our review of The Factory)

Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri

Translated by Morgan Giles

tokyo ueno stationn

Yu Miri was born in Japan to Korean parents, and as such is a South Korean citizen and occasional recipient of racist bias and abuse in Japan. Despite this, she has had a phenomenally successful career in Japan as both a playwright and a writer of prose. Although born in Yokohama, Japan’s second largest city, she now lives in a small town in Fukushima, close to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant which suffered a meltdown following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami which claimed thousands of lives.

Kazu, the novel’s protagonist, was born in the same year as Japan’s emperor, and both men’s sons were born on the same day. While the emperor was born into the height of privilege, Kazu was born in rural Fukushima, a place that would later be ravaged by destruction in 2011. While the emperor’s son would go on to lead a healthy life, Kazu’s son’s would be cut short, and Kazu himself would live out his final days as one of the many homeless barely surviving in a village of tents in Ueno Park.

The narrative of this exceptional novel tells the life of Kazu after death; his ghost haunts Ueno Park and often quietly observes the movements and conversations of strangers passing by. These overheard conversations work as distractions which lead Kazu into, and then bring him back out of, flashbacks and memories of his wife, his son and daughter, and key events in his own life which are frequently tied to Ueno Station and the park.

(Taken from our review of Tokyo Ueno Station)

Japanese Horror Books

This category was tricky to fill in for the simple reason that, in Japan, horror often crosses over with other genres. Most horror novels are also political, feminist, speculative, or literary. Japan approaches horror with sharp wit and a political mind a lot of the time. With that in mind, a few of the books in other categories on this list, such as Out and Japanese Ghost Stories, could also be considered horror books.

There is one writer in Japan who does horror better than anyone else. And, as well as being a writer, he is also an artist. Junji Ito is one of Japan’s greatest living mangaka and he is the country’s master of horror. So, let’s take a look at two of his finest works.

Shiver by Junji Ito

ito shiver manga

Shiver is Junji Ito at his finest. It isn’t a long-form manga story or an adaptation. Instead, Shiver is a collection of Junji Ito’s best short stories. And it’s in these stories where Ito is at his finest, narratively and artistically.

Most of Junji Ito’s stories introduce a terrifying concept like a swarm of balloons with human faces that hunt down the people they resemble and hang them, or a supermodel who may or may not eat people alive. They’re bitesize, eerie, grotesque, and heart stopping stories of absolute terror.

Frankenstein by Junji Ito

junji ito frankenstein

Junji Ito is Japan’s master of aesthetic horror. His stories are wholly his own, and the frightening power that they have is greater than that of most of the world’s most successful horror writers. Ito has managed to disturb and shock me with greater effect than any horror writer I’ve ever read, and he deserves to be better known across the globe. Maybe this adaptation of Shelley’s novel, created with real heart and soul, will be the thing to make him more of a household name. I certainly hope so; it’s bloody perfect.

(Taken from our review of Frankenstein)


Read More: Reading Manga: 11 Places to Begin


Japanese Fantasy Novels

When Japan approaches fantasy, it is often through manga and anime. There are a lot of incredible fantasy manga out there to enjoy, with my personal favourite being Kentaro Miura’s Berserk. When it comes to Japanese novels and fiction, the border around the fantasy genre isn’t so clear cut. It is often more strange and abstract.

Here are two very different Japanese fantasy novels. One is a lesser-known historical fantasy sci-fi hybrid that is full of intrigue and fan. The other is a celebrated novel by Japan’s most famous author but is still undeniably a fantastical tale.

Automatic Eve by Rokuro Inui

Translated by Matt Treyvaud

automatic eve

Automatic Eve is unbridled fun distilled into a Japanese fantasy novel. Set in an alternate history where the empirical line of succession is female rather than male, a technological marvel known as Eve is tangled in the lives of the various men we meet and follow as this political and personal novel ebbs and flows.

The fun of this novel comes in its unique setting of steampunk automation amongst samurai, shogun, and ancient castles. That, and the way the novel’s narrative shifts, twists, and turns page after page. An exciting and engaging book, and one of the best modern Japanese fantasy novels around.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Translated by Jay Rubin

Murakami Where to Start

In The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle we are lost in the life of Toru Okada, a thirty-year-old suburban husband. Having recently left his job with a positive attitude toward change and a fresh start, it is jarring and contradictory to see that Toru’s attitude towards life is entirely passive and apathetic.

Toru has no plan and has seemingly taken to not caring as a means of coping with what may create in many others a deep and palpable anxiety.

This novelis an enormously abstract journey, taking place in a dry and still world. Toru Okada, our unsuccessful and futureless protagonist, is constantly at odds with his brother-in-law, the obviously psychopathic and hugely successful intellectual, Noboru Wataya.

(Taken from our review of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle)

Japanese Mystery Novels

If you’re an anime fan, you’ll know that Japan does mystery and crime fiction really, really well. Manga and anime like Death Note and Monster are beloved amongst fans of the mystery and crime genres. But what about Japanese novels?

In the 20th century, many fledgling Japanese authors fell in love with the popular European crime fiction that had swept the world, especially the works of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. Their charming detectives and locked-room mysteries sparked the imaginations of many Japanese writers. Here are two Japanese mystery novels born from the fires of that spark.

The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo

Translated by Louise Heal Kawai

the-honjin-murders

Seishi Yokomizo, who died in Tokyo back in 1981, carved out a real legacy with his series of detective stories. In the character of Kosuke Kindaichi – first introduced here in The Honjin Murders (originally published in 1946) – Yokomizo invented his own Sherlock Holmes.

The Ichiyanagi family are a proud, wealthy, high-class family, and one of their sons, Kenzo, is due to marry the young Katsuko. On the night of their wedding, they are murdered by a mysterious assailant who flees into the night, leaving nothing but a handprint and a bloodied katana in the snow.

The mystery of The Honjin Murders is, of course, finding out whodunnit. Who killed the newlyweds; is it someone we know or a stranger; what is their motivation; how did they get in and out?

(Taken from our review of The Honjin Murders)

Murder in the Crooked House by Soji Shimada

Translated by Louise Heal Kawai

murder in the crooked house

Both this and the above novel were translated by Louise Heal Kawai and published by Pushkin Vertigo, who reliably put out the very best of international literature, especially Japanese mystery novels.

Murder in the Crooked House is a locked room mystery which, also like The Honjin Murders, is set in the snowy wilderness of rural Japan. This is another novel with a near superhuman detective capable of solving any mystery. But this house of dead ends and secrets may just prove too much for him when an impossible murder needs to be solved.


Read More: Books to Read Before You Visit Japan


Japanese Feminist Literature

There is a strange dichotomy in the world of Japanese literature: novels by men are often picked up and translated into English faster than those by women. And yet, most of Japan’s best writers are women. Not all of them write explicitly feminist literature, but many of them do. The most legendary example being the fierce and fantastic Natsuo Kirino.

Here is one of Kirino’s finest books (you’ll find another further down), and another book that might only be two years old but is already destined to be a future classic of Japanese fiction.

Out by Natsuo Kirino

Translated by Stephen Snyder

out natsuo kirino

As I’ve said, there’s no writer of Japanese feminist literature like Natsuo Kirino, and Out is one of her most ferocious, unrestrained novels. Out follows the story of a woman who works a dead-end job in a factory, exhausted by also having to be a mother and support her useless and unfaithful husband.

When our protagonist snaps and murders her husband, she turns to her fellow female factory worker for help covering her tracks. Soon enough they will need to fend off not only the police but the local yakuza crime family. Out is an angry, exhilarating Japanese crime novel and a masterpiece of Japanese feminist literature.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

Sayaka Murata Convenience Store Woman Japan

Keiko Furukura is thirty-six and has worked part-time in the same convenience store for eighteen years (as, in fact, has her creator). She has seen eight managers – whom she refers to only by their numbers – and more co-workers than she could count. She is entirely content with her life, and has never asked for anything more; not a better job, more money, nor even a partner to share her life with.

She is a cog in the convenience store machine, as much a part of the furniture as the fluorescent bulbs and door jingles (even the Japanese title, ‘Konbini Ningen’ or ‘Convenience Store Human’, reflects this with clarity: Keiko is not a woman, she is a human part of the store machine). As a result, this cog has never managed to fit the greater machine we call ‘modern life’.

(Taken from our review of Convenience Store Woman)

Japanese Queer Literature

Queer literature is big in Japan. You just need to know where to find it. And where is that? In manga. Queer manga is everywhere, and it ranges from literary to romantic to pornographic and everything in-between.

Let’s take a look at two outstanding examples of queer literature in the world of Japanese manga: one is a commentary on the nature of homophobia in Japan, and the other is a real personal account of life as a queer Japanese woman.

My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tagame

my brothers huband

For the bulk of his career, fifty-four-year-old manga artist Gengoroh Tagame has focussed his creative energy into producing gay erotica. He has been a driving force for gay men in the world of Japanese art, influencing countless gay writers and artists.

My Brother’s Husband exists as an allegory for Japan’s traditionalist views of the other, specifically LGBTQ+ people.

The manga tells the story of a Japanese man who, after his brother died, is visited by his brother’s husband: a friendly Canadian man named Mike. With the help of his jolly daughter, our protagonist must learn to get over his homophobia and learn to love in a way he never has before.

(Taken from our review of My Brother’s Husband)

My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness by Kabi Nagata

My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness

My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is the story of Kabi, a woman who decided against attending university, and spent her early twenties in a haze of depression, drifting through jobs at stores and bakeries and, when she finds the energy to do so, she writes manga. She neither avoids nor seeks out friends, companionship, or sex. She simply exists.

She begins with one eating disorder, and moves onto another. She loses her job, and finds another. She lives with her parents, and often fails to find the will to leave her bedroom.

Eventually, as we see in the flash-forward opening pages, she arrives, age twenty-eight, at a turning point. She decides to hire a female escort and a room at a love hotel, in order to learn and understand all that she believes she has missed out on in her youth. These sexual desires and experiences which she has distorted into fear and anxiety in her mind.

(Taken from our review of My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness)

Japanese Dystopian Fiction

Dystopian fiction has had something of a renaissance in recent years. Perhaps it has something to do with the times we’re living through. Japan is no different. Some of the smartest, most insightful and introspective dystopian novels are coming out of Japan right now, and here are two of our favourites.

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

Translated by Stephen Snyder

the memory police

The Memory Police is set on a nameless island of almost entirely nameless people – a popular practice in modern Japanese literature. On this island, things disappear at random. What this means is that people on the island will often wake up to find something either vanished out of existence, like roses, perfume, or ribbons; or things still physically exist but they no longer work or be used, like the only ferry which can leave the island.

Once something has disappeared, it is soon after forgotten by almost everyone on the island, and then they may go on with their lives, unburdened by the loss of the disappeared thing. Two kinds of people do not forget, though: the Memory Police, and a small minority of civilians who are taken away by the Memory Police if it is discovered that they are failing to forget what has disappeared.

Our protagonist is an author whose mother kept mementos of things that have disappeared and was eventually taken away by the Memory Police. Our author, however, does forget and lives in fear of what may vanish next.

(Taken from our review of The Memory Police)

The Last Children of Tokyo by Yoko Tawada

Translated by Margaret Mitsutani

Yoko Tawada Last Children of Tokyo Japan

In recent years Japan has become known globally for its aging population, a generation living longer than that of any other nation (due to astonishingly healthy foods and lifestyle trends) and also for its rapidly declining birth rates (thanks to, well, a lot of things – long and stressful working weeks and a disinterest in sex among young people are often cited as two popular reasons). These rising and falling figures make for scary reading in the papers, and even scarier stories.

As The Last Children of Tokyo begins, Yoshiro, a retired author, has passed his hundredth birthday and still spends every morning out jogging with his rent-a-dog (there are few animals left in Japan, and certainly no wild ones). His great-grandson Mumei, however, was born, like every member of his generation, with grey hair and failing health. His life expectancy is poor, and his bones will likely fail him before he exits his teens.

(Taken from our review of The Last Children of Tokyo)

Japanese Historical Fiction

Many Japanese writers choose to write in the present, whenever their own present might be or have been. It’s in the world of manga where you find a lot more historical fiction (such as Vinland Saga, Vagabond, and Kingdom).

That said, here are two excellent modern works of Japanese historical fiction for you to enjoy. One was even recently made into a beautiful and moving film by Martin Scorsese, and the other is by my personal favourite author of all time.

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

an artist of the floating world

Some readers familiar with Ishiguro’s work might immediately want to call me out by pointing out that he is, in fact, a British author. And that’s true, but Ishiguro is also Japanese; he was born there and lived his early years there before moving to the UK. So, while he does write in English, he is Japanese and has an authority to write about Japan.

Ishiguro is also, as I’ve already mentioned, my favourite author, and An Artist of the Floating World is my favourite Ishiguro novel. It’s a complex piece of historical fiction set after the events of World War II. Our protagonist, Ono, was once a great painter, but during the events of WWII he began making right-wing propaganda art which, after the war ended, discredited him as a traitor to the ideals and morals of Japan.

This novel is an intense exploration of personal politics, moral duty, and betrayal. It follows Ono closely and allows us time to live with him and his decisions, as well as how his family and friends now treat him. An absolute masterpiece of Japanese historical fiction.

Silence by Shusaku Endo

Translated by William Johnston

silence endo

Western religious is not popular in Japan, but it is not unheard of. Shusaku Endo was a Japanese Roman Catholic who wrote a definitive piece of Japanese historical fiction about faith and religious discrimination in Japan which was later adapted to film by Martin Scorsese.

That novel is Silence, which is set during the Shimabara Rebellion of the 17th century. It tells the story of several religious European men in Japan who were all based on real historical figures. Our protagonist is Sebastiao Rodriguez, a Portuguese priest who has come to Japan to help the Christian population who have been forced underground.

It’s a moving tale of Japanese historical fiction that builds in intensity and does a great job of staying dynamic as its writing style shifts from journals to letters to traditional narration.


Read More: Goodnight Punpun: A Masterpiece of Millennial Fiction


Japanese Romance Novels

Japanese authors approach love in myriad ways, much of it complex and unique. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa, for example, is less about romance but very much about love.

If you’re looking for Japanese romance novels that stand apart from the rest – romance novels that are smart, witty, charming, and beautiful – these two novels will absolutely not disappoint.

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Translated by Megan Backus

kitchen banana yoshimoto

Mikage’s youth is spent in a shroud of death. We are hit with the death of Mikage’s grandmother and an offer to be taken in by a young man of whom her grandmother was a great admirer: Yuichi Tanabe. Yuichi lives with his mother, though it is quickly revealed that Eriko was in fact, at one time, Yuichi’s father.

And so here we have a love story. But one that reads like a puppet show, with Mikage tied to death’s right hand, and Yuichi to his left. Kitchen shines brightest as an elucidation of the awful transience of life in its every facet. So much of what we do slips through our fingers without us ever being aware of it.

(Taken from our review of Kitchen)

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

Translated by Allison Markin Powell

Strange Weather in Tokyo Hiromi Kwakami

Strange Weather in Tokyo is a cultural examination of post-war Japan packaged into a touching, life-affirming love story for the ages. Deep in the trench which separates the old and the new, our protagonist Tsukiko is reunited with her old high school Japanese teacher. She refers to this man only as ‘Sensei’ and through the course of the novel it’s difficult not to become truly invested in the individuals you meet. Kawakami creates distinct, memorable, and charming characters who you are truly rooting for throughout the novel.

Strange Weather in Tokyo is a clash of modern and classic Japanese culture and customs, and of modern and weathered dating methods. The writing is clean, to the point, and surprisingly fast-paced. There are some real memorable points of this novel that make for a completely engrossing narrative.

(Taken from our review of Strange Weather in Tokyo)

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Translated by Jay Rubin

Murakami Where to Start

Easily Murakami’s most accessibly and narratively straightforward novel, Norwegian Wood lacks all the otherworldly strangeness and violence that he is known for, and instead offers us a novel inspired by his own life – think of it as his David Copperfield.

Set during the university years of a young man named Toru, this novel recounts his love affair with the girlfriend of his own late childhood friend, lost to suicide; all the while, she is struggling with her own depression and her time living in a kind of mental health retreat.

(Taken from our guide to reading Murakami)

Japanese Folklore Books

Japan has some of the richest folklore in the entire world. Or, at least, the best documented and most accessible folklore. With ghost stories, yokai, and folktales that have been passed down and recorded for a hundred generations, Japanese folklore is an obsession for many people.

Here is one collection which documents some of the most legendary works of Japanese folklore, and another that is a clever modern feminist folktale by an author we’ve already covered but who has diversity in her work to last for years.

Japanese Ghost Stories by Lafcadio Hearn

japanese ghost stories

Lafcadio Hearn was an extraordinary man. Born in Greece, raised in Ireland, he spent much of his adult life as a writer in the United States. Eventually, far later in life, he arrived in Japan and found such a fascination in the folklore of the country that he enlisted the help of local friends to compile a collection of Japanese ghost stories.

Japanese Ghost Stories is the perfect place to start if you’re looking for some Japanese folklore books to read all about the ghosts, fantastical beasts, and yokai of Japanese history. It’s a beautiful collection of eerie, strange, romantic, unsettling ghost stories from across Japan’s history, recorded here in English for us to enjoy.

The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino

Translated by Rebecca Copeland

the goddess chronicle

This is not strictly a book of Japanese folklore. Rather, it is a beautiful modern fairy tale written by one of modern Japan’s greatest feminist authors. I’ve already sung Kirino’s praises as the author of Out, but here she delivers a very different story indeed.

The Goddess Chronicle has the tone, fantastical nature, and narrative tropes of a Greek myth, and is today regarded as one of the best modern Japanese folklore books. The novel tells the story of two sisters born on a strange island. One sister is selected to become the island’s next Oracle, while the other, Namima, is forced to serve the dark realm.

It’s a novel about fighting fate, as Namima breaks away from the island and her destiny to venture out into the world of darkness and danger.

Japanese Children’s Books

I don’t claim to be an expert in children’s literature, but I do know a smart and imaginative book when I see it. Below are two beloved works of Japanese fiction, one that has been transformed into one of the biggest and best anime movies of all time, and the other is a manga loved by children across the planet.

Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono

Translated by Emily Balistrieri

kiki's delivery service book review

Best known as one of Studio Ghibli’s most beloved movies, directed by Hayao Miyazaki back in 2003, Kiki’s Delivery Service, much like Howl’s Moving Castle, began its life as a children’s novel. But while the novel of Howl’s Moving Castle was written by a beloved Welsh author, Kiki began her life in Japan, created and written by Eiko Kadono in 1985.

Coinciding with the release of the film in the West, an English translation of the novel hit shelves in 2003. Now, however, we have a fresh new translation for 2020 by Emily Balistrieri. And what a heartfelt, warm, and sweet translation it is. Kiki, with all her tenacity, sensibility, and cleverness feels more alive than ever, and through Balistrieri’s translation Kiki’s attitude is truly infectious.

Case Closed by Gosho Aoyama

case closed

Few manga are as beloved as Case Closed and few protagonists as adored as Detective Conan (named after the legendary Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle). This long-running manga series tells the story of a teenage genius detective who has been forced to drink a potion that transforms his body into that of a little boy while still retaining his genius mind.

There haven’t been many stories with a premise so perfect for young boys with a love of mystery to enjoy. It reminds me of just how perfect the once popular DC comic Captain Marvel (now known as Shazam! Due to a long-running legal dispute) was for American boys in the early 20th century.

There's a lot of Japanese literature to love, whatever your favourite genre might be. From Japanese fantasy to mystery to romance, it's all here. Dive in! #booklists #booklist #japan #japanese #japaneseliterature #bookish
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