Friday, 31 January 2014

Golden Kin-Yōbi: 5 - Stone Bridge Press & Peter Owen Publishers

Welcome to the last Friday of January and the final Golden Kin-Yōbi for 2014!  While parting may be sweet sorrow, I'm trying to ease the pain a little with a very special post - today's giveaway is a double :)

Two more publishers of quality J-Lit have kindly offered some prizes - American-based Stone Bridge Press and British-based Peter Owen Publishers.  These giveaways will be geographically limited:  the Stone Bridge Press books will be US and Canada only while the Peter Owen books will be for everyone outside those countries.  All clear?  Then it's time to introduce today's books :)

Stone Bridge Press have kindly put three of their recent publications up for grabs, two of which are from acclaimed writer Junzo ShonoEvening Clouds is a short novel, an elegant, lyrical description of everyday life in suburban Tokyo, while Still Life and Other Stories is a collection of tales which Stone Bridge publisher Peter Goodman describes as "one of the books I'm most proud to have published at Stone Bridge Press."

The third Stone Bridge offering is Masaaki Tachihara's Wind and Stone, a short novel which is described as "a disturbing tale of seduction, based on Japanese aesthetics and the artistic pursuit of destructive beauty."  The writer won the popular Naoki Prize and was twice nominated for the Akutagawa Prize, so this is bound to be a good read :)
The selection offfered by Peter Owen Publishers is also an impressive one.  There are two excellent novels by Shusaku Endo to be had: Volcano, a simmering tale of life in the shadow of sin and the natural world (my review here); and When I Whistle, an excellent story about dealing with right and wrong in the modern world (my review here).

The third of the books on offer is Ryunosuke Akutagawa's Kappa, a rare longer outing for Japan's supreme short-story writer.  Let's face it - if you have a country's major literary award named in your honour, your books must be worth a read... 

So, if you'd like to win one of these books, simply comment below, leaving your name, an e-mail address and the name of the book you'd like to win.  There's no need to follow me, either here, on Facebook or on Twitter (unless you want to, of course!) - anyone can enter (in their geographical zone...), and everyone has an equal chance of winning :)

Entries will close at 8 p.m. (AEST) on Thursday, February the 6th (that's 9 a.m. on Thursday, London time), and the winners will be posted here once they've been announced (the winners, naturally, will be chosen using some kind of random on-line draw thingy).  So, what are you waiting for?  Get commenting, and good luck! 

And, of course, we need to announce the winners of last week's prizes!

Oh, Tama! goes to Mihai
The Nobility of Failure goes to Paul
Blue Bamboo goes to M
I will be in contact with the winners shortly - thanks again to Kurodahan Press for providing some great prizes :)

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Readalong Two: 'Norwegian Wood' by Haruki Murakami

Welcome to the home page for the second of our two January in Japan readalongs :)  This time we're looking at Haruki Murakami's breakthrough novel, Norwegian Wood, and below you'll find links to the reviews and thoughts of all the readalong participants (this will be updated as I become aware of the posts!).

Before that though, I just thought I'd leave a few posers for people to ponder (and perhaps reply to in the comments section):

1) What did you think of Toru and his behaviour?
2) Did the tone of nostalgia strike a chord with you, or did you find it hard to empathise with the characters?
3) Norwegian Wood is a much 'straighter' novel than much of Murakami's work - did you enjoy the realistic tone, or would you have preferred his usual twists on reality?

P.S.  Did you know that the original title is based on a mistranslation?  In the original song, the 'wood' referred to is a wooden floor, but the Japanese translation is actually 'wood' as in a group of trees...  Murakami kept the mistranslation as it suits his themes :)

If you'd like to comment on these questions (or anything else...), please feel free to ;)  And now, the reviews...


Wednesday, 29 January 2014

J-Lit Giants: 12 - Banana Yoshimoto

We're back on Wednesday with the final J-Lit Giants induction for this January, and it may well be the most controversial so far.  While one definition of 'giant' might be a writer whose work shines out from among that of other writers, another might be that of a writer whose personality and work somehow hits a chord with a generation of readers, both at home and overseas - which brings me to today's addition...

Banana Yoshimoto was born with the less fruity name of Mahoko Yoshimoto in 1964.  She grew up in a rather liberal family, where she enjoyed an unusual (for a Japanese woman) amount of freedom.  She later studied literature, deciding to choose her new name (while the pseudonym itself is unusual, the idea of taking one is a long-standing Japanese tradition).

She worked on her writing while she was working as a waitress, and her first story, Moonlight Shadow, was a big hit.  This was followed by Kitchen, a book which led to instant success at home, which was then mirrored overseas.  Yoshimoto was to become a J-Lit star, a Japanese export suited to a cutesy image people in the west were developing of the country; in fact, she was perhaps second only to you-know-who in her branding in the west.
She has since written several more books, with around eight of her works currently available in English.  The majority of her stories centre on familiar themes, such as the loss of a loved one, the difficulty of settling down into adult life and - of course - the supernatural...

While Yoshimoto is a big name in J-Lit, reviews of her work have not always been positive, and many see her work as light and superficial.  Her response?
"A lot of my critics like to point out the fun, escapist side of my writing. Some even say that it is superficial and specially catered for popular consumption. Sometimes, I feel guilty since I write my stories for fun, not for therapy. But I am not deterred from my ultimate dream of receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature."
Well, that's confidence for you ;)  I have to admit that this quote comes from a blog which may or may not be hers (click here to see it).  However,while the quote is no longer on her English-language Wikipedia page (it used to be), much of the rest of the blog post still is.  True or not, it's all part of the image that is Banana Yoshimoto :)

I've now read most of Yoshimoto's work available in English, and I'm still not convinced.  However, while I struggle with some aspects of her writing, there's always something there that makes me come back for another try.  But where should the new reader begin?

1) Kitchen - The English version of Kitchen actually contains the title story, a two-part novella and the short story 'Moonlight Shadow'.  Both deal with the theme of grieving for loved ones and finding a way to move on with your life, and the stories are perfect examples of Yoshimoto's style and ideas.  If you don't like these, then it's probably best to just keep moving...

2) Amrita - This is one of Yoshimoto's longest books in English, probably her only full-length novel.  A stressed-out woman, on the verge of entering her thirties, has her life turned upside down by a simple slip on some stairs.  What follows is a story which has as its moral the importance of seizing the day - with some added ghosts, of course ;)

3) The Lake - Yoshimoto's most recent novel in English was longlisted for The Man Asian Prize, and it's a more nuanced work than some of her earlier efforts (even if the metaphor of the fog, which dominates parts of the novel, is a touch heavy-handed for some).  This is another tale of a struggling relationship, but one with a slightly more tangible root to its problems...

I've had my say - now it's over to you!  Are you a big fan of Ms. Banana, or is she a writer you love to hate?  Which of her books do you love (or loathe)?  Let me know in the usual place ;)

Monday, 27 January 2014

Guest Post - 'Strange Weather in Tokyo' by Hiromi Kawakami (Review)

Today's post is a break from the usual schedule as we play host to a guest review.  Jacqui (aka @JacquiWine on Twitter) has been a great supporter of January in Japan, and even though she doesn't have a blog, she wanted to share her thoughts on one of her reads - so I generously offered to hand the blog over to her for a day.  Jacqui's choice was Hiromi Kawakami's Strange Weather in Tokyo (previously released in the US under the alternative title of The Briefcase).  Over to you, Jacqui :) 

Sensei, I whispered. Sensei, I can’t find my way home.
But Sensei wasn’t here. I wondered where he was, on a night like this. It made me realise that I had never telephoned Sensei. We always met by chance, then we’d happen to go for a walk together. Or I would show up at his house, and we’d end up drinking together. Sometimes a month would go by without seeing or speaking to each other. In the past, if I didn’t hear from a boyfriend or if we didn’t have a date for a month, I’d be seized with worry. I’d wonder if, during that time he’s completely vanished from my life, or become a stranger to me.
Sensei and I didn’t see each other very often. It stands to reason since we weren’t a couple. Yet even when we were apart, Sensei never seemed far away. Sensei would always be Sensei. On a night like this, I knew he was out there somewhere.
p.59 (Portobello Books, 2013)

Strange Weather in Tokyo (translated by Allison Markin Powell) is the story of Tsukiko, a woman in her late thirties, who re-encounters one of her old high-school teachers (‘Sensei’, a man thirty years or so her senior) in a sake bar. They meet by chance one evening, and over the course of the following months a connection develops as they seek solace in food, beer and sake.  Their relationship feels quite unstructured; they rarely make arrangements to reconnect, and weeks can pass before their visits to the sake bar coincide. They are both essentially quite solitary individuals, but there’s a sense that they gain some comfort from these encounters.

The story is told through the eyes of Tsukiko, and there is an almost dreamlike, slightly surreal quality to the narrative as it unfolds over the course of the novel. We follow the couple as their relationship evolves and deepens; it starts with shared moments in the sake bar, and develops to include trips to a local market, a mountain hike to collect mushrooms and a cherry blossom party. There are some wonderfully-observed details in these passages; nature features as a theme, and we see the changing of the seasons as the months pass. Another passage features a description of Sensei’s house with its collection of railway teapots, and this adds to the slightly off-beat tone of the novel.  In a poignant scene, Tsukiko attempts to peel an apple whole, in one long curly piece (she had impressed a former boyfriend some years ago by managing to keep an apple skin intact). This time, however, the apple skin breaks part way round, and Tsukiko bursts into tears as the broken peel comes to signify her loss. Tsukiko had been very much in love with this former boyfriend, but she seemed unable to express her feelings, or demonstrate she cared for him. 

I loved the delicate, nuanced quality of the relationship between Tsukiko and Sensei. There are times when they seem to communicate predominantly through feelings, using few words, soundlessly conveying deeper emotions and an intimacy through thoughts and gestures. The unstated, yet deep, nature of their relationship contrasts somewhat with Tsukiko’s brief flirtation with an old classmate from school (Kojima) whom she bumps into at the cherry blossom event. There’s a sense that Tsukiko is only really content and able to ‘settle’ in some way when she is with Sensei:
Everything felt so far away. Sensei, Kojima, the moon – they were all so distant from me. I stared out of the window, watching the streetscape as it rushed by. The taxi hurtled through the night-time city. Sensei! I forced out a cry. My voice was immediately drowned out by the sound of the car’s engine. I could see many cherry trees in bloom as we sped through the streets. The trees, some young and some many years old, were heavy with blossom in the night air. Sensei, I called out again, but of course no one could hear me. The taxi carried me along, speeding through the city night. (p.92)

I found this to be a beautifully-written and moving novel, expertly and sensitively translated by Allison Markin Powell. I think it will stay with me for some time; the ending in particular brings real emotional weight to the story of Tsukiko and Sensei’s relationship. I read this last year and revisited it this month for Tony Malone’s focus on Japanese literature (January in Japan) and can recommend it to anyone interested in a quietly powerful book about loneliness, connections and the uncertain nature of relationships. 

Thanks, Jacqui :)  This was our readalong choice last year, and as I recall, most people enjoyed its understated nature.  But what do you think?  Was this one for you, or was it a little slow for your tastes?  And what's your take on the change of title (and cover...)?  As always, let us know in the comments - we'd love to hear your thoughts :)

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Nichi-Yōbi News: Week 4

January is fast moving towards its end, and there isn't long to go for this year's January in Japan (sigh...), but let's not dwell on that - there's still a lot going on for you to enjoy :)

A couple of weeks ago, via The Literary Saloon, I saw a piece on Haruki Murakami by translator and academic Michael Emmerich which would be of interest to the writer's fans.  It was only when I got around to reading the article that I realised that it was actually part of a wider series, 'Chasing Murakami'Click here to see all the articles available, or feel free to move on if Mr. M's work is not to your taste ;)

Another interesting translation-related piece I saw recently was from a site called J'Lit - Books from Japan.  It's one of those excellent sites that plugs away, promoting the country's literature, and one of its latest posts was on the translation of a lengthy piece of classic J-Lit, Ryotaro Shiba's Saka no ue no kumo (Clouds above the Hill).  It's a very interesting piece on the translation of a big, big book - and the rest of the site's well worth a browse too :) 

One of my favourite bloggers, me. of Nihon Distractions, keeps me up to date with what's available online in J-Lit, and there was a recent post with more great (mostly) free online J-Lit links.  Click here to see what the recent collection consists of, and don't miss the links at the bottom of the page to the first two posts.

As always, don't forget to check out the rest of the JiJ blog to see what you might have missed during the week.  Our latest J-Lit Giant inductee was Kenzaburo Oe (and about time too...) while this week's Golden Kin-Yōbi giveaway, courtesy of Kurodahan Press, features books by Osamu Dazai, Ivan Morris and Mieko Kanai.

That's all for this week, but before I go, I just thought I'd mention that our second readalong, of Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood, is scheduled for next Thursday (30/1).  Just to avoid confusion, this date is actually the one when everyone is *posting* their review (next time, I really need to find an alternative word to 'readalong'...).  I hope to see all your reviews then :)

Friday, 24 January 2014

Golden Kin-Yōbi: 4 - Kurodahan Press

It's Friday again, and that means it's time for another giveaway!  This week, it's courtesy of Kurodahan Press, a great small publisher which has a mix of new translations and reissues of out-of-print books, both from Japan and elsewhere in East Asia.  The selection comprises an eclectic mix of literary fiction, speculative fiction and non-fiction, and this giveaway will feature three of their books - with free worldwide delivery :)

First up is Osamu Dazai's Blue Bamboo, a reissued collection of several of the writer's short stories.  The collection shows the same great style as his more famous work, but it has a much lighter tone and is a joy to read.  It's a mixture of oriental fairy tales, autobiographical pieces and contemporary stories, all wonderfully translated by Ralph McCarthy.  I loved it - find my review here.

Next up, it's some non-fiction.  Ivan Morris was a well-known Japanophile (see my review of his Modern Japanese Stories anthology), and his work The Nobility of Failure is a study of several Japanese historical figures.  In his book, Morris attempts to answer a simple question: why does Japan celebrate its heroic failures?  It's an old book, but a good one, a fascinating insight into the Japanese psyche - and one I'd love to try :)

As is the third book today - although this one is a very different creature.  The latest Kurodahan release is a slice of more contemporary J-Lit, Mieko Kanai's Oh, Tama!  It's a warm, humorous tale set in Tokyo, where a man with many problems to address receives an additional headache in the form of a cat.  Oh, Tama! is a lighter work which sounds like something most readers would enjoy!

So, if you'd like to win one of these books, simply comment below, leaving your name, an e-mail address and the name of the book you'd like to win.  There's no need to follow me, either here, on Facebook or on Twitter (unless you want to, of course!) - anyone can enter, and everyone has an equal chance of winning :)

Entries will close at 8 p.m. (AEST) on Thursday, January the 30th (that's 9 a.m. on Thursday, London time), and the winners will be announced in the next Golden Kin-Yōbi post (the winners, naturally, will be chosen using some kind of random on-line draw thingy).  So, what are you waiting for?  Get commenting, and good luck!

And, of course, we need to announce the winners of last week's prizes!

The three copies of Natsume Soseki's Light and Dark go to:
Marina Sofia
Judith (Leeswammes)
and Emma (Words and Peace)

I will be in contact with the winners shortly - thanks again to Columbia University Press for the great prizes :)

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

J-Lit Giants: 11 - Kenzaburo Oe

It's Wednesday again, which means that it's time for another J-Lit Giant to be introduced, and it's a big one today.  He's one of just two Japanese writers to have been awarded the world's highest literary honour, the Nobel Prize for Literature - truly a worthy giant...

Kenzaburo Oe was born in 1935 in a small, secluded town on the island of Shikoku.  As a child growing up during the war, his experiences (mostly second hand) were to have an influence on his later writing.  Although he wanted to stay at home and follow in his conservationist father's footsteps, he eventually visited Tokyo at the age of eighteen and later moved there to work on his writing.

Greatly influenced by French writers, such as Jean-Paul Sartre, he began to write short stories and quickly won acclaim.  One of his first efforts, 'Prize Stock', the story of a small mountain village and a captured American soldier, won the prestigious Akutagawa Prize in 1958, after which he began to write short novels (e.g. Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids).

His life (and writing) changed forever with the birth of his son, Hikari.  The baby was born with a brain swelling which led to a mental handicap, and the trauma Oe felt was to overshadow his subsequent writing.  Many of his later works, including A Personal Matter, were semi-autobiographical works attempting to work through the writer's demons.

Besides his works about Hikari, Oe also wrote much about the war (especially in his early stories and in Hiroshima Notes, a book of essays) and the seclusion of his home town (The Silent Cry).  He gradually became an elder statesman of the Japanese literary scene, an influence on many younger writers (I can think of one prominent example...).  In addition to the Akutagawa Prize, he received many of Japan's highest literary awards (e.g. the Yomiuri Prize and the Tanizaki Prize) before being awarded with the Nobel Prize in 1994.  That wasn't the end of his career though; in fact, he published a new book (In Late Style) very recently :)

I haven't read a lot by Oe, compared to some other Japanese writers, but all three I have read (from his early career) are very good:

1) The Silent Cry - An intense, claustrophobic novel set in a place similar to Oe's real hometown.  While it's another attempt to deal with his disabled son, it's also a superb piece of writing about isolation from society.  Anyone wanting to see where Murakami got his inspiration should read this, as you'll be seeing hints in the first few pages ;)

2) A Personal Matter - A child is born, and a family's life falls apart.  A wonderfully honest account of the dilemmas facing a 1960s man who isn't ready for the task of bringing up a mentally-handicapped child.

3) Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids - A bunch of kids sent to a village in the mountains arrive to find it ravaged by disease.  What happens next?  A kind of Lord of the Flies in the Japanese countryside...

Bonus suggestion - My first encounter with Oe was 'Prize Stock', a forty-page story found both in The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories and the Oe collection Teach Us to Outgrow our Madness.  It's a great story which is extremely worthy of winning the Akutagawa Prize :)

There you have it - another giant inducted :)  What do you think - have you read anything by Oe?  What are your favourites?  Let us know by leaving a comment in the usual place...

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Nichi-Yōbi News: Week 3

We're more than half-way through January now, and January in Japan is motoring along.  This was a big week in J-Lit, so there are a few interesting links to show you this week - ikimasho!

First up today is an interesting piece from kamo over at this is how she fight start.  In lieu of a review of two short introduction books, we have a post on Japan as the archetypal sci-fi nation, with some fascinating thoughts on Japan and 'first contact' - click here to have a look :)

You may have heard of the Akutagawa and Naoki Prizes, but do you know exactly what they are?  The Japan News fills you in with some useful information on the two prizes in one of its recent articles.  It's good to have this background information...

...because the latest winners have just been announced!

The Akutagawa Prize was awarded to Hiroko Oyamada for Ana (Hole) while the Naoki Prize was awarded jointly to Makate Asai for Renka (Love Poem) and Kaoruko Himeno for Showa no Inu (Dog in the Showa Era).  This time round it's a female trifecta :)  For anyone interested, there's more information here courtesy of the English version of the Mainichi newspaper.  Don't hold your breath waiting for an English translation of the books though...

It's been a big week on the January in Japan blog too.  Wednesday saw Yasunari Kawabata's belated induction as a J-Lit Giant, while Thursday was the day when participants posted on our first readalong choice, Yoko Ogawa's The Diving Pool (reviews collected here).  Finally, this week's Golden Kin-Yōbi giveaway was revealed as Natsume Soseki's Light and Dark, his final work, and widely considered as his masterpiece - click here to have a chance of winning one of three copies :)

That's quite enough for one Sunday - time for Momotarō and I to have a well-earned rest.  See you next week...

Friday, 17 January 2014

Golden Kin-Yōbi: 3 - Columbia University Press

We're back with another Golden Kin-Yōbi, a day of opportunity for lovers of J-Lit :)  Our generous donors today are Columbia University Press, who release a wide range of fascinating Japanese books, both fiction and non-fiction.

Which of their books are being offered as prizes?  Well, it's one of their most recent publications, and it's a chance to try one of Japan's most famous writers - in a book which few English speakers will have read...

Natsume Soseki was the first of my J-Lit Giants, and in his home country he is arguably seen as the most famous Japanese writer of the modern era.  He is known for such works as Kokoro, Botchan, I am a Cat and Kusamakura, but one of his best books has just reappeared in English with a new translation by John NathanLight and Dark is Natsume's final work, his longest novel - one I've just finished reading and enjoyed immensely :)

Set on the eve of World War One, it is described as "a minutely observed study of haute-bourgeois manners" and "a psychological portrait of a new marriage that achieves a depth and exactitude of character revelation that had no precedent in Japan at the time of its publication and has not been equaled since".  In the introduction, translator John Nathan compares the style to Henry James, and while Soseki uses much shorter sentences than the Anglo-American writer, the way he analyses his characters' thoughts is very similar.

Sounds like something you'd like to read?  Well, CUP are offering three copies, with worldwide postage for the winners, so you might just get the chance sooner than you thought :)

If you'd like to win a copy of Light and Dark, simply comment below, leaving your name and an e-mail addressFor courier purposes, the winners will also have to provide me with a telephone number once I've confirmed the names (not yet!).  There's no need to follow me, either here, on Facebook or on Twitter (unless you want to, of course!) - anyone can enter, and everyone has an equal chance of winning :)

Entries will close at 8 p.m. (AEST) on Thursday, January the 23rd (that's 9 a.m. on Thursday, London time), and the winners will be announced in the next Golden Kin-Yōbi post (the winners, naturally, will be chosen using some kind of random on-line draw thingy).  So, what are you waiting for?  Get commenting, and good luck!

And, of course, we need to announce the winners of last week's prizes!

A copy of Yasushi Inoue's Bullfight goes to Lizzy Siddal
A copy of Ryu Murakami's Coin Locker Babies goes to Reuven Pinnata
A copy of Murakami's Popular Hits of the Showa Era goes to Jacqui
A copy of Murakami's Sixty-Nine goes to Ally (Snow Feathers)

I will be in contact with the winners shortly - thanks again to Pushkin Press for the great prizes :)

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Readalong One: 'The Diving Pool' by Yōko Ogawa

Welcome to the home page for the first of our two January in Japan readalongs :)  The first of our choices is Yoko Ogawa's collection of three novellas, The Diving Pool, and below you'll find links to the reviews and thoughts of all the readalong participants (this will be updated as I become aware of the posts!).

Before that though, I just thought I'd leave a few posers for people to ponder (and perhaps reply to in the comments sections):

1) Which was your favourite story (and why)?
2) Bearing in mind that these stories were published individually in the original language, do you think the book worked well as a collection?
3) Did the slightly dark tone enhance your enjoyment of the stories, or would you have preferred a lighter approach?

If you'd like to comment on these questions (or anything else...), please feel free to ;)  And now, the reviews...


Wednesday, 15 January 2014

J-Lit Giants: 10 - Yasunari Kawabata

In last year's original series, there was a serious oversight - neither of the Japanese Nobel Laureates were included.  With Kenzaburo Oe, I did have my reasons as I was saving him for later until I'd read more of his work.  With Yasunari Kawabata though, it was a genuine mistake - in my mind I'd actually already written the post...

Let's rectify that today :)

Yasunari Kawabata was born in Osaka in 1899, and his early life was a sad one.  He was orphaned at the age of 4 and grew up with his grandparents until their death forced another move.  At the age of eighteen, he went off to school in preparation for university exams, eventually enrolling at Tokyo Imperial University.

It was there that he caught the attention of famous writer Kikuchi Kan, and pieces of his writing were published in Kan's magazine Bungei ShunjuIn 1926, 'The Izu Dancer', his first really successful story, came out, but his serialised work of the next few years went through various styles; his serialised novel The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa was a vibrant western-influenced novel set in a bright, trashy part of Tokyo (a far cry from one of his next works, Snow Country!).

After World War Two, Kawabata arguably produced his best work, perfecting a style which was drifting, beautiful and oblique - what we now see as a typically-Japanese style of writing.  He finished works like Thousand Cranes, The Sound of the Mountain and The Master of Go (a semi-fictional account of a famous contest).  Not content with just writing, Kawabata was also the president of Japanese PEN and an ambassador for Japanese literature (in a couple of anthologies I've read, dating from the 1960s, the editors have expressed their gratitude towards 'Mr. Kawabata'!).

His literary career culminated in the bestowal of the Nobel Prize in 1968, the first time a Japanese writer had received the award.  Sadly though, he died four years later in what appeared to be a suicide (although some people have their doubts).  Haunted by nightmares of Yukio Mishima's shocking death, it seems Kawabata was seeking some peace...

My three picks?  Well, if I'm entirely honest, I haven't always got Kawabata completely.  I've enjoyed most of those I've read (six or seven of his major works), but I've only loved a few.  These really hit the mark though:

1) The Sound of the Mountain - Easily my favourite Kawabata work, a slow, poignant portrait of an old man facing his mortality - while his family does its best to disturb the peace of his golden years.

2) The Old Capital - A story of a year in Kyoto, The Old Capital is an elegant love story, with layer upon layer of meaning (most of which will undoubtedly be missed by the average Anglophone reader...).

3) Snow Country - A man travels from Tokyo to spend time at a traditional hotel with his lover, a young Geisha.  It's a wonderful story to read, but having tried it twice, I'm still not entirely sure what to make of it ;)

Bonus pick: 'The Izu Dancer', included in The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories, is a beautiful twenty-page tale.  It was my first introduction to Kawabata, and it's still one of my favourites.

Another giant enters the hall of fame - and about time too.  Have you read anything by Kawabata?  Do you agree with my views, or do you have a different favourite?  Perhaps his writing is not to your taste...  Whatever your view, please leave a comment below - that's what the box is for ;)

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Nichi-Yōbi News: Week 2

It's Week 2, and January in Japan is in full swing, so here are a few more J-Lit morsels that the little guy and I dug up this week.  There's nothing really new here, but I'm sure some of these links will be of interest :)

If you've read a lot of J-Lit, you'll probably be aware of Donald Keene, a famous translator and Japanophile (see, for example, his anthology of Modern Japanese Literature).  You may not have heard though that he's actually become one of the few foreigners to become Japanese, deciding to take the plunge after the recent natural disasters.

I'd heard about his new citizenship, but I hadn't heard about another honour he'd acquired - apparently a museum has been opened in his honour in Japan too!  Click here to read all about it (I'd love to have a museum in my honour - how cool would that be...). 

Staying in Japan, another article I stumbled across this week looks at Japanese reading habits.  Do you like e-readers?  Well, according to this piece from The Japan Times, the Japanese aren't quite so keen - this article attempts to explain why.  Another interesting insight into how the Japanese like their books. 

Just like last week, I have another piece blatantly lifted from Morgan at All Wrongs Reversed, an old post but well worth promoting.  In the post, Morgan introduces ten female Japanese writers who deserve to be more widely known in English.  All the writers sound wonderful, so if there are any translators and publishers out there with time on their hands... ;)

That's all for this week, but (as always) make sure to check out the rest of what this blog has to offer.  This week's J-Lit Giants piece was a great post by Matt Todd on Shusaku Endo, a worthy addition to the pantheon, and the latest Golden Kin-Yōbi giveaway (courtesy of Pushkin Press) has books by Yasushi Inoue and Ryu Murakami just waiting to be won (you have until Thursday to enter!).  Oh, and be sure to check out the reviews listed - just click here to browse.  Feel free to add your own J-Lit reviews to the list :)

See you next time!

P.S.  Don't forget - next Thursday (16/1) is the day for posting on our first readalong, The Diving Pool by Yōko Ogawa.  Watch out for a special post with some ideas and links to reviews...

Friday, 10 January 2014

Golden Kin-Yōbi: 2 - Pushkin Press

It's Week Two of Golden Kin-Yōbi, which means that you have another chance to win some great J-Lit - and today it's all courtesy of one of my favourite publishers, Pushkin Press.

While they are well known for their European fiction in translation, 2013 saw them branch out into J-Lit, and today's prizes come from that selection.  Pushkin have generously offered four books, with worldwide postage for the winners - so let's see what you can win today...

First up is Yasushi Inoue's Bullfight, a great novella about an attempt by a journalist to put on a bullfighting event in post-war Osaka.  What initially seems like a crazy idea, gradually makes more and more sense, and people start to believe that the bulls will be fighting in the famous Kōshien baseball stadium.  He'll build it, but will they come?  I loved this (see my review here), and with more Inoue to come from Pushkin next year, this is a great chance to try his work.

Of course, most of Pushkin's J-Lit output last year was by one man, J-Lit's enfant terrible, Ryu Murakami.  Long overlooked in the Anglosphere, often in the shadow of a certain other Japanese writer, Pushkin's reissues have helped boost his profile again.

Coin Locker Babies is an explosive story of two boys abandoned shortly after their birth, and the revenge they take on a seedy, corrupt society.  We get to see a shadowy side of Tokyo and explore the downside of fame.  And the ending, well... (see my review here).

Where Coin Locker Babies is dark and brooding, Popular Hits of the Showa Era is simply nuts.  Karaoke, gangs, losers, friendship and anti-tank missiles - what's not to like?  My review is here...
The last book today brings a slight change of pace.  Sixty-Nine is a coming-of-age story with the usual R. Murakami touch.  A small-town boy dreams big, planning to stage a concert and get the girl of his dreams - find out if he suceeds :)  My review is here...

So, if you'd like to win one of these books, simply comment below, leaving your name, an e-mail address and the name of the book you'd like to win.  There's no need to follow me, either here, on Facebook or on Twitter (unless you want to, of course!) - anyone can enter, and everyone has an equal chance of winning :)

Entries will close at 8 p.m. (AEST) on Thursday, January the 16th (that's 9 a.m. on Thursday, London time), and the winners will be announced in the next Golden Kin-Yōbi post (the winners, naturally, will be chosen using some kind of random on-line draw thingy).  So, what are you waiting for?  Get commenting, and good luck!

And, of course, we need to announce the winners of last week's prizes!

A copy of Tomoyuki Hoshino's We, the Children of Cats goes to Josh
A copy of Hoshino's Lonely Hearts Killer goes to Carola

I will be in contact with the winners shortly - thanks again to PM Press for the great prizes :)

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

J-Lit Giants: 9 - Shūsaku Endō

Today sees the first guest post in our 2014 J-Lit Giants series, and I'm very glad to have someone come in and share the load.  Matt Todd blogs at A Novel Approach, and with an honours degree in Japanese postcolonial literature, he is a lot more qualified to do this sort of thing than I am - so I'll just pass you straight over to him...

Endō Shūsaku (遠藤周作, 1923-1996) is notable in the Japanese canon for several reasons, though the most important—and most obvious—is his faith. In a country that has a troubled history with Christianity (in contemporary Japan, less than 1% of the population self-identifies as Christian), it is intriguing to read an author who is so defined by the fact that he believes in this Western system of belief.

Endō’s world-view comes from his own experiences with the faith. He was baptised as Christian as a child, and as a result, was often mocked and ostracised as he grew up in a country not exactly renowned for its taking up of Christianity.

Many of his works interrogate historical incidents and events that are not usually considered by other authors, particularly inside Japan. His Akutagawa Prize-winning novella, The White Men (白い人), for example, explores questions of original sin and the good/evil dichotomy in Western thought from the point of view of a young man tortured in Nazi-occupied Lyon.

Endō’s most famous work (and the one that won him the Tanizaki Prize) is Silence (沈黙), a novel about a Portuguese missionary who is forced to renounce his Christian faith in public while still spreading the word in private, despite the ban handed down by the bakufu (military government). Martin Scorsese is adapting this into a film.

Inspired by his childhood in Manchuria, The Sea and the Poison (海と毒薬) sees Endo explore the legacy of the Imperial Japanese Army and the war crimes they committed. The book is thought to be based on the work of Unit 731.

Did you know that the first Japanese embassies to Europe were all influenced by Christianity? The Samurai (侍) fictionalises one such mission, showing the fickle nature of politicians and faith in mediaeval Japan.

His work is a distinct voice in the modern history of Japanese literature. From historical novels about the first Western missionaries in Japan, as well as the first Japanese to visit Europe, to contemporary novels about atrocities carried out by the Japanese Imperial Army in the Pacific War, Endō explores the ways in which faith, violence and humanity interact and connect.

For anyone interested in learning more about his life and his work, I would strongly recommend this essay, which goes into more detail about what I have skimmed over here.

Thanks for that, Matt - a great overview of the life and works of one of J-Lit's modern greats :)

As always, now it's over to you.  Have you read anything by Endō?  Did Matt leave out any of your favourites?  Is the writer's religious focus a drawing card, or has it put you off trying his work?  Leave a comment below, and let us know :)

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Nichi-Yōbi News: Week 1

Welcome to another year of January in Japan and to our weekly J-Lit round up, Nichi-Yōbi NewsMomotarō and I are back to keep you informed, having scoured the Internet for nuggets of information (well, I have anyway - the peach boy is still offended by the amateurish sign...).  Shall we?

First up today, courtesy of Morgan from All Wrongs Reversed, is a great piece on the shortlist for the famous Akutagawa Prize.  The latest prize will be awarded on the 16th of January, and if you follow the link, you'll be able to see all the shortlisted writers introduced.  Pay attention - one of these people might be the next big thing in J-Lit...

Next up, it's a couple of interesting links I saw on Twitter earlier this week.  @EstherHawdon linked to two great examples of Nobel Laureate Kenzaburo Oe's work.  The first is a short story entitled 'Lavish are the Dead', translated by John Nathan; the second is a(n unauthorised) version of Oe's early novel Seventeen (a work which is *very* tricky to track down...) on the blog Tokyo Damage Report.  The link goes to the translation of the first part, but the blog goes on to translate more of the book in later posts.  It's well worth a look, particularly as there'll be more Oe coming soon on this blog (hint, hint!).

I'm sure most of you already know this, but I just thought I'd mention that Haruki Murakami's new book, Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage, is due out in English in August - which is a long way away.  However, any of you who can read in German will be able to pick it up a lot sooner as the German translation will be out on the 10th of January!  Of course, if your Japanese is up to scratch, you've probably tried it already...

That's all for this week, but don't forget to check out what's already happened on the blog.  We inducted Yoko Ogawa as our first female J-Lit Giant, and you have until next Thursday to enter our first giveaway, where PM Press are offering two books by Tomoyuki Hoshino.  Remember to follow the blog - there'll be more giants, prizes and (of course) news next week.  See you then - and don't forget to leave your J-Lit reviews for others to read!

Friday, 3 January 2014

Golden Kin-Yōbi: Week 1 - PM Press

Welcome to Golden Kin-Yōbi, our regular Friday giveaway where you can win some great J-Lit.  Why the name?  Well, as some of you may know, the first character used in Japanese when writing Friday means 'gold', and hopefully many of you will strike gold over the next five weeks :)

Today's first giveaway comes to us courtesy of indie publisher PM Press, and they have kindly offered two books as prizes, including worldwide postage to the winners - and great books they are too!  Tomoyuki Hoshino is an excellent writer, one with markedly South-American influences, and I read and enjoyed both these books last year.

We, the Children of Cats is a collection of various short stories and novellas, with the tone ranging from the melancholy to the bizarre.  Several of the stories are based on real-life events, such as a famous school-dinner poisoning and the story of some rich Japanese juvenile criminals who ended up in South America.  Others though are literally out of this world...  The collection made the longlist of last year's Best Translated Book Award, and if you need more encouraging to try it, my review might tip the scales :)

Lonely Hearts Killer is a short novel which is dystopian in nature.  In a near-future Japan, a country which is beginning to become a pariah state, the last remnant of hope, the young Emperor, dies and leaves the country in a state of mourning akin to shock.  As people struggle to cope with life without hope, many people decide that there really isn't much point in living at all - and some even decide that if they are going to leave it all behind, they may as well take a few others along with them...  For more on this book, have a look at my review.

So, if you'd like to win one of these books, simply comment below, leaving your name, an e-mail address and the name of the book you'd like to win.  There's no need to follow me, either here, on Facebook or on Twitter (unless you want to, of course!) - anyone can enter, and everyone has an equal chance of winning :)

Entries will close at 8 p.m. (AEST) on Thursday, January the 9th (that's 9 a.m. on Thursday, London time), and the winners will be announced in the next Golden Kin-Yōbi post (the winners, naturally, will be chosen using some kind of random on-line draw thingy).  So, what are you waiting for?  Get commenting, and good luck!

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

J-Lit Giants: 8 - Yōko Ogawa

We're back with January in Japan for 2014, and what better way to kick off the second instalment of our event than with the next induction into our pantheon of Japanese writers?  That's right, it's time for the arrival of another J-Lit Giant - and the first one for 2014 is also our first giantess...

Yōko Ogawa is probably one of the best-known modern female Japanese writers (ignoring those who are named after fruits...).  While relatively few of her works have been translated into English, many more of her books are available in other languages.  In fact, according to her French Wikipedia page, you'll be able to enjoy more than twenty of her works if you are able to read in that language.

She was born in Okayama in 1962, and after studying at the prestigious Waseda University in Tokyo, she began a writing career.  Like many Japanese writers, she made her name when she won the Akutagawa Prize in 1991 (for her novella Pregnancy Diary).  In addition, she has taken out other important prizes, such as the Tanizaki Prize and the Yomiuri Prize, awarded by Japan's biggest newspaper.

Her influences include traditional Japanese writers like Jun'ichiro Tanizaki, as well as the ubiquitous Haruki Murakami, but she is also influenced by American writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Carver.  She has become a hugely successful writer in Japan, and some of her work has made it into film, such as her novel The Housekeeper and the Professor.

As is the case with Murakami, Ogawa's writing is clear and direct, unlike the ambiguous style of older Japanese writers, something which perhaps explains her success so far in English.  While her biggest success, The Housekeeper and the Professor, is a warm, romantic tale, her other work can be more challenging.  Hotel Iris, for example, is a far darker novel, one which might surprise those with memories of the gentle relationship of the earlier book.

With four books so far in English, but dozens in the original Japanese, there are a lot more Ogawa stories waiting to be read.  We just have to hope that someone is going to translate them into English - and, of course, get them published...

So, where to start with Ogawa's work?  Well, there are only four to choose from...

1) The Diving Pool - This was the first Ogawa work to appear in English and would be the perfect introduction to her world.  It's a collection of three novellas, one of which is her Akutagawa-winning effort, Pregnancy Diary.  It's also the book I've chosen for the first readalong (16th of January), giving you even more reason to try it :)

2) The Housekeeper and the Professor - I liked this, even though it was a little too sweet for my tastes, but most readers have loved it.  The intriguing story of the blossoming relationship between a housekeeper and a mathematician is complicated by two things.  One is the housekeeper's young son; the other is the fact that the professor's memory only goes back ninety minutes - after that, it's all gone...

3) Hotel Iris - Anyone for Japanese rope bondage?  Step this way...  Leave your preconceptions and your shyness at the door - after checking in at this hotel, you'll never see Ogawa (and J-Lit) in quite the same way ;)

4) Revenge - A series of eleven interlinked tales, this collection is said to be another dark one.  I haven't got around to this yet, but I'm very keen to give it a go :)

There you are - our first female inductee.  Have you read anything by Ogawa?  Do you agree with my views?  Has anyone read anything else (in Japanese, or perhaps French)?  Please leave a comment, and let us all know :)