This week we're traveling to Japan. Land of the rising sun, home of sumo and sushi, a country both inaccessible to Westerners and full of cliche's. Ever since my father took a business trip to Japan, when I was about six, I've wanted to travel there myself. In college I took a class on Japanese literature and the history of Tokyo, since then I've tried to read as much Japanese literature as possible. From stories of long-lost love to a hard-boiled detective looking for clues Japanese literature has something for everyone. Below are just a few of our favorites!
Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami
We considered recommending Murakami's IQ84, but that book gave us genuine nightmares, and it's super long. For something more amenable to the vacation time frame we love Sputnik Sweetheart. Murakami is a true master of his form, we'd encourage you to read any of his books, but Sputnik Sweetheart is so firmly based in Tokyo you begin to feel as if you know the city as well as the narrator.
Real World by Natsuo Kirino
We love Natsuo Kirino's books, her novels explore the underbelly of Tokyo, taking place far away from the glamorous lights downtown Tokyo. This novel explores the relationships between a group of girlfriends when one of them runs away, or is kidnapped, by a boy from their neighborhood.
Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto
Banana Yoshimoto is a prolific and popular Japanese writer. Goodbye Tsugumi takes place in both Tokyo and a small town on the sea. Seeing both an urban and a rural setting will give you a good picture of what you might encounter as you venture outside of Japan's urban centers.
A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oe
This is a required text for anyone interested in Japanese literature. Kenzaburo Oe won the Nobel Prize for Literature for this tale of a father grappling with the birth, and birth defects, of his son. Not so much a novel grounded in place, A Personal Matter, gives you insight into the mind of a man struggling with monumental life changes as well as cultural changes beyond his grasp.
The Edogawa Rampo Reader trans. Seth Jacobowitz
Rampo is a master of the detective genre. Compared to Dashiell Hammett, Edgar Allen Poe, and Raymond Chandler Rampo takes the reader deep into the criminal underworld of Japan. A strong example of the concept of "Erotic-grotesque-nonsense" Rampo's tales of murder and intrigue are a great primer for those interested in Japanese literature.