Sunday, 24 November 2013

January in Japan 2014 - Sign Up Now!

Yep, it's back - a month of J-Lit wonders in an event that does exactly what it says on the tin badge.  January in Japan returns in 2014, and today I'm here to whet your appetite and give you a little taste of what's in store early next year.

*J-Lit Giants*
Series two of J-Lit Giants will (hopefully) see the appearance of Japan's two Nobel Laureates in literature - plus a Giantess or two.  I need your help with this, so if anyone is interested in penning a guest post for posterity, please leave a comment, or e-mail me at tonysreadinglist at y7mail dot com :)

I'm planning to have two readalongs for the month - one male writer, one female writer, both contemporary(ish).  For lovers of twisted short stories, we'll be reading Yōko Ogawa's trio of tales, The Diving Pool, a book which comes highly recommended.  The other book will be one I've read several times, but not in my blogging years, namely Haruki Murakami's coming-of-age drama, Norwegian Wood.  Exact dates to be confirmed closer to January :)

I've been sending out e-mails left, right, centre and front and back too, and I've been very fortunate in finding some great partners to provide prizes for the January in Japan giveaways.  I'll be offering some great J-Lit courtesy of:

Make sure you're subscribed to this blog so as not to miss out on the great books offered!

*News and Reviews*
In addition to all that, every Sunday in January will see a new edition of Nichi-Yōbi News, where Momotarō and I will round up all the latest Japanese literary gossip.  Contributions are welcome - and for the review section they're absolutely vital ;)

So, what are you waiting for?  To sign up, just leave a comment below, and don't forget to follow the blog today for your chance to share in the J-Litty goodness that awaits us all in January :)

Monday, 4 November 2013

Work in Progress

A work in progress -
By the first month of the year,
All will be revealed...

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Nichi-Yōbi News: Week 5 - Sayōnara!

Parting is such sweet sorrow, but when your event is called January in Japan, there comes a time when the welcome has been well and truly out-stayed.  Sadly, that time is now, and today's Nichi-Yōbi News is the official wrap-up post for the event :(

Before we all get our hankies out though, there are still a few loose ends to tie up...

Firstly, I'd like to say a big thank you to all those bloggers who have contributed reviews to our Review Page.  At time of publishing this post, there were 71 reviews listed (and I've had promises of a few more!).  That is far more than I expected :)

I haven't yet closed off the Linky, so if you're quick, you might just be able to get a sneaky last-minute post in.  Hurry though - I will be closing it off at some point over the next few days...

Thanks also to all those who participated in the readalong of Hiromi Kawakami's The Briefcase.  While not all the opinions were the same, the overwhelming consensus was that it is a book which is well worth reading :)  Any more reviews that come in will be added to the Linky and linked from my review.

Our first series of J-Lit Giants also came to an end with my piece on Haruki Murakami, leaving us with seven giants in our initial pantheon.  Naturally, in a such a select group, there are some glaring omissions.  Neither of the Japanese Nobel Laureates were covered (although I actually thought at one point that I *had* posted on Kawabata...), and - as several people pointed out - there were no female giants/giantesses in the group.

To which I can only say gomen - hopefully this will be rectified in the future...

Speaking of women and writing, the recent furore over the horrendous cover for the new edition of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar inspired Morgan at All Wrongs Reversed to look at how the covers of some female Japanese writers (namely Risa Wataya and Hiromi Kawakami) fared in translation.  For a fascinating look at how their books look in English, French, German and Polish, please click through :)

And, as promised, I have the result of my second giveaway!  Everyone who had submitted a review on the Review Page by this weekend was eligible (only one chance each!), and the winner, as chosen by Random.Org, was:

Congratulations Jackie!  I'll be in touch soon to organise the prize :)

And that's it - January in Japan is officially over :(

It's been great fun, if a little hectic at times, and I hope you all enjoyed the chance to share in the J-Lit love.  The January in Japan blog will remain online as a resource, and there's always the chance of a new J-Lit Giants post every now and then.

Next year?  We'll see ;)

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

J-Lit Giants: 7 - Haruki Murakami

Well, we're rapidly approaching the (calendar-dictated) end of January in Japan, but before February sweeps us off the stage, there's just enough time for one more J-Lit Giant to get up there and strut his stuff.  So, who gets the honour of closing the show?  You might just have heard of this one...

Haruki Murakami (born on the 12th of January, 1949) is quite possibly the most famous Japanese writer ever.  An exaggeration?  I don't think so.  In the English-speaking world, he has no rival for the title, and I'm sure that the same is true in most other countries.  Even in Japan itself, his fame may have outstripped that of traditional writers such as Natsume Soseki or Yasunari Kawabata.  But who is Murakami?

Murakami studied drama at the famous Waseda University in Tokyo, but before even finishing his degree, he got married to his partner Yoko, and they opened a bar (Peter Cat) together.  His life consisted of bar work and translation until, in a moment which could come from one of his works, he decided at a baseball game that he should try his hand at writing a book himself.  The rest, as they say, is history...

His early works earned him healthy sales and a certain amount of respect, but with the release of Norwegian Wood (his most conventional novel), Murakami's fame skyrocketed to such an extent that he was forced to flee Japan to escape the attention.  The later release of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, a book many consider to be his best, brought critical acclaim to match his commercial success.  Kenzaburo Oe, who had been a critic of Murakami's work, praised the novel (which won one of Japan's most prestigious awards, the Yomiuri Prize).

The release of 1Q84 saw Murakami's fame at its peak in the west with publicity and hype at levels unheard of for a novel in translation.  However, in terms of literary success, Murakami's reputation is very much on a knife-edge.  Many believe that 1Q84 was overblown and repetitive, and that the book needed serious editing before being released in English.  Then again, many of these are probably the same people who complained that the English translation of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was majorly cut...

Murakami's literary legacy is uncertain (and probably best left to future generations!) - what is clear is that he has successfully crossed over into the English-language scene like few foreign writers before him.  He is prolific, and in addition to his fiction work (and his numerous translations of modern American literature), he has written volumes of non-fiction on a wide variety of topics, the majority of which are unlikely to see the light of day in English.  For anyone who has an interest in Murakami, Jay Rubin's biography (which I reviewed earlier in the month) is also a great read - but I'd recommend that you try a good few of his fiction works first ;)

One of the questions I've been asked most often in all my blogging career is which Murakami work to start with, and like all good questions, it is not an easy one to answer.  I've given different answers on many occasions, but here are three that might help you to ease your way into Murakami's world:

1) The Elephant Vanishes - Although Murakami considers himself a novelist, many readers prefer his shorter work.  The stories in this collection are a great introduction to his bizarre world, and if there are any which don't really take your fancy, there is always another one just over the page :)

2) Norwegian Wood - This is a wonderful, nostalgic novel looking back at a crucial time in the main character's life.  In terms of Murakami's ability to evoke images and emotions, this is as good as it gets.  Be warned though that the realistic style adopted for this novel is very unlike the themes he explores in most of his other work.

3) A Wild Sheep Chase - I would have chosen Murakami's first two novellas (Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973) here, were it not for the fact that they are once again almost impossible to find in English.  Instead, why not join Boku and the Rat in the third-part of The Trilogy of the Rat, a mesmerising hunt for a very special sheep, taking in a woman with beautiful ears and a very special hotel.  I doubt you'll regret it :)

So there we have it - a very short guide to one of the biggest J-Lit Giants around!  Please feel free to contradict me, suggesting alternative titles to start with (or slamming my choices).  The floor is now yours...

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Nichi-Yōbi News: Week 4

January is drawing to a close, and sadly this is the penultimate Nichi-Yōbi News - January in Japan will be officially closed in next week's edition :(  But don't despair - we still have a lot more J-Lit fun to get through before then :)

As always to start off, I'd like to point you in the direction of our Reviews Page - the total is now pushing fifty, and I'm sure there's something there for everyone to enjoy.  Also, this week's J-Lit Giants post was Gary's take on Kobo Abe - if you haven't already done so, please check it out.  I'll be contributing one last post to the series on Wednesday (any guesses?!), so make sure you come back then too :)

I received a couple of review copies this week, but unfortunately I won't have time to review them for our event.  However, I though this might be a good time to introduce the publisher to those of you who are unaware of their work.  Kurodahan Press is a small publisher based in Japan, with an interesting catalogue of works.  They offer a variety of genres, and perhaps the most interesting books for many people are their Speculative Japan collections (three so far) of Japanese science-fiction and fantasy stories.  I'm not such a fan of those genres myself, but one of the books I received, Osamu Dazai's Blue Bamboo (mentioned in Patrick's J-Lit Giants post!), is more to my taste :)  Take the time to browse the catalogue - you never know what you might find...

I've been trying to bring you all the J-Lit news over the past few weeks, but who is going to do this when January in Japan has finished?  Well, you could do worse than follow Junbungaku, a blog which concentrates on what is going on in the world of Japanese literature.  Consider this link a public service for those of you who can't cope with going cold turkey ;)

Finally, I've been doing a lot of thinking about my second giveaway for our event, and in the end I decided that rather than try to attract lots of page views and comments, I would rather use it to reward the people who have taken part.  As a result, I have decided that I will be giving away any J-Lit book (up to the value of approximately AU$15 - I won't quibble about cents!) to one lucky person, sent via the Book Depository (the book, not the person...).

How can you enter?  Many of you already have...  This contest is open (and limited) to anyone who has posted a review (or J-Lit Giants post) on the January in Japan blog.  I will be closing the Review Page linky next weekend, so if you've got your review up and posted by the end of Friday, the 1st of February, you'll be in the draw.  Good luck :)

That's all for this week, except for a brief reminder about our readalong.  I'll be posting my review of Hiromi Kawakami's The Briefcase next Thursday, and I hope that some of you will be joining me.  I can't wait to see if you had similar feelings to mine...

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

J-Lit Giants: 6 - Kobo Abe

It's Wednesday - and that means it must be time for another J-Lit GiantGary, of The Parrish Lantern, is back again to introduce us to another great of Japanese literature - and after visiting the world of poetry in his last post, he is back to prose this time :)

A Man of Many Masks – Kobo Abe

Kōbō Abe (安部 公房 Abe Kōbō), pseudonym of Kimifusa Abe (安部 公房), was born on March the 7th 1924 in Kita, Tokyo, but he grew up in Mukden (now Shen-yang) in Manchuria during the second world war. In 1948, he received a medical degree from the Tokyo Imperial University, yet never practised medicine. As well as being a prose writer, he was also a poet (Mumei shishu - "Poems of an unknown poet" - 1947), playwright, photographer and inventor. Although his first novel Owarishi michi no shirube ni ("The Road Sign at the End of the Street") was published in 1948, which helped to establish his reputation, it wasn’t until the publication of The Woman in the Dunes in 1962 that he won widespread international acclaim.

Often described as an avant-garde playwright and novelist, he shared the same literary map as the likes of Samuel Beckett, Franz Kafka and Eugene Ionesco through a shared sense of the absurd and the central theme of an alienated and isolated individual at a loss in the world. Kobo Abe manages to do this within the realms of genres that would be recognised by most: if you fancy a detective novel, there's The Ruined Map; for Science Fiction, Inter Ice Age 4; for Fantasy, Kangaroo Notebook.  There’s even a love story aspect to The Face of Another.

In the 1960s, he worked with the Japanese director Hiroshi Teshigahara on the film adaptations of The Face of Another, plus The Pitfall, The Woman in the Dunes and The Ruined Map. Then, in the early 1970s, he set up an acting studio in Tokyo, where he trained performers and directed plays. He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1977.

Among the honours bestowed on him were the Akutagawa Prize in 1951 for The Crime of S. Karuma, the Yomiuri Prize in 1962 for The Woman in the Dunes, and the Tanizaki Prize in 1967 for the play Friends. Kenzaburō Ōe stated that Abe deserved the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he himself had won (Abe was nominated multiple times).

Kobo Abe, through his work as an avant-garde novelist and playwright, has had names of the calibre of Albert Camus, Alberto Moravia and Franz Kafka, (as well as those mentioned above) thrown at him, and like Kafka there is an apparent clinical detachment in the writing, as though Abe’s medical background has had a direct influence upon his writing style.  Yet with this there is also an elegance that makes his work an immensely enjoyable and also an incredibly satisfying read – on all levels.


Two Great Books by Kobo Abe

The Face of Another (1964) - A plastics scientist loses his face in an accident and proceeds to obtain a new face for himself. With a new 'mask', the protagonist sees the world in a new way and even goes so far as to have a clandestine affair with his estranged wife. There is also a subplot following a hibakusha woman who has suffered burns to the right side of her face. In the novel, the protagonist sees this character in a film (click link for my post).

The Ruined Map (1967) - The story of an unnamed detective, hired by a beautiful, alcoholic woman, to find clues related to the disappearance of her husband. In the process, the detective is given a map (a ruined one), to help him - this turns out to be more like a metaphor of the guidelines one should have in life. The impossibility of finding any relevant clues to solve the mystery leads the main character to an existential crisis, building slowly from inside, and this finally puts him in the position of identifying himself with the man he was supposed to find.

These are just two of around eight English translated novels and at least one short story collection from this fabulous writer, and I mean fabulous with all its connotations. Kobo Abe, manages to astound and amaze and yet remain within the realms of what could be defined as the mundane reality of the world about us.

For more information I will be posting a version of this post on my blog at a later date, with all the Novels and a synopsis of them.

Thanks again, Gary :)  Abe is another writer I should really have read more of.  Apart from a couple of short stories, I've only managed to get to his most famous work, The Woman in the Dunes.  More to come, I'm sure...

And how about you?  What is your favourite Kobo Abe book?  Just leave a comment in the usual place if your favourite hasn't been mentioned :)

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Nichi-Yōbi News: Week 3

Some of you may have caught last week's discussion on the great Ten-Ten controversy (in the comments section of last Sunday's post), and being the avid linguist I am, I googled a few things researched the matter thoroughly on your behalf.  Having come to the conclusion that, in usage at least, Matt was correct, I have used my great technological skills to manipulate the image on the left accordingly (Momotarō is still less than impressed...).  Let's all move on, shall we?

As always, I'll start by pointing you in the direction of our in-house posts.  This week's J-Lit Giants submission was a great piece by Patrick on Osamu Dazai.  If you haven't already done so, please check it out :)

While you're here, why not have a look at the reviews page too?  The list is growing very nicely, and by the end of the month we should have a wide range of interesting and well-written posts.  If you haven't submitted your review yet, please leave your link on the page.  Next week, I'll let you know why that might be to your advantage...

One of my favourite J-Lit blogs, Nihon Distractions, pointed me in the direction of Asymptote magazine this week, where you can read an excerpt from Toh EnJoh's Akutagawa-Prize-Winning book Harlequin's Butterfly.  It's a book which has yet to be fully translated into English, but on the strength of this extract, it's one which would be worth trying :)

While we're on the topic of the Akutagawa Prize, the latest award was announced this week, and as the Japan Times reports, it has gone to Natsuko Kuroda.  What is especially interesting here is that at the ripe old age of seventy five, Kuroda (for her book ab Sango) has become the oldest ever winner of the prize - one which is for up-and-coming literary talents!

Also this week, Ryou Asai & Ryotarou Abe were jointly awarded the Naoki Prize, the popular equivalent of the more-literary Akutagawa Prize.  We can look forward to seeing all three books in English - some time around 2033...

...and speaking of Akutagawa-Prize-winning authors whose works are still unavailable in English, a tweet courtesy of @wrongsreversed sent me to an old post written by Risa Wataya about a lecture tour she went on in Germany and Italy. It's an interesting piece by a writer whose books should be translated into English - hopefully, this oversight will be rectified very soon...

That's all for this week, but come back on Wednesday for another J-Lit Giant - and there'll be more news next Sunday, of course!  I'll have some more interesting links, and I'll also be letting you know about my second giveaway (which will be a little different from the usual kind...).  See you then!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

J-Lit Giants: 5 - Osamu Dazai

Today's J-Lit Giants offering is another guest post, this time from Patrick.  Patrick is not a blogger, but he is on twitter (@ResearcherNo1), and he is a big J-Lit fan.  In his own words:
"I was born and raised in Los Angeles, but now live in Seoul.  I'm currently a salaryman and have a degree in philosophy.  My interests include: books, movies, music, food (cooking and eating), baseball (watching, not playing), and travel."
Now that you've met Patrick, let's find out more about his chosen J-Lit Giant :)

Suicide, rebellion, addiction, genius and Dazai 

Osamu Dazai once wrote a short story entitled “A Handsome Devil with a Cigarette.” I had always thought it was a great title for a film. I like Dazai a lot.”  Film-maker Wong Kar-Wai
Osamu Dazai, the pen name of Shuji Tsushima, is one of the most famous 20th century authors in Japan. With an eponymous literary prize and his stories still being made into movies and manga, Dazai’s work continues to remain popular. However, outside Japan he is not as well-known as other Japanese authors. 

Born into a large and wealthy family in 1909, Dazai’s interest in writing started early. However, before even turning twenty, he had discovered women and drugs, and attempted suicide for the first time. After moving to Tokyo and entering university, he continued to be drawn to women and drugs and was arrested on more than one occasion.  And so began a cycle of Dazai getting into trouble, his family bailing him out and subsequently disowning him. This continued throughout his life, with friends eventually replacing his family. During his career as a writer, he ran away with numerous women, became addicted to drugs and alcohol, was committed to an insane asylum and attempted suicide numerous times. This of course is a short and crude, but accurate, description of a far more complex life, a life written about with far more skill by Dazai himself in many stories, including "Eight Scenes from Tokyo".  He continued to write through World War II and survived the many bombings, only to succeed in committing suicide in 1948 at the age of 38.

A master storyteller, Dazai’s body of work is diverse, though he is best known for his semi-autobiographical fiction.  For these stories, he borrowed liberally from the details of his life.  This, along with his use of the first person narrative, blurred the line between author and characters to create a style similar to what we see in some of the works of John Fante and Charles Bukowski.  Especially in Japan, Dazai is also well known for his modern retellings of classics and folk tales.  Not satisfied with merely updating these stories, he departs significantly from the originals to create something unexpected and wildly inventive.

Dazai’s themes of hopelessness, alienation and nihilism captured the feelings of many in post-war Japan, while his rebellion against the establishment has always endeared him to younger readers. For me though, it is his sense of humor and the humanity in his characters (for better and worse) that continue to draw my interest.

Despite his life being cut short, Dazai left us a significant number of short stories as well as novels and essays. While his exact place in modern Japanese literature is still debated, his importance is undeniable. Osamu Dazai is a complex individual, and there is much to discover and enjoy in his writing. Having read almost everything of Dazai’s writing translated into English, I can definitely say that I agree with Wong Kar-Wai. I like Dazai a lot. In fact, he has become one of my favorites.

Though Dazai is usually known for his pessimistic semi-autobiographical fiction, his work is actually quite diverse, which I’ve tried to reflect in my recommendations. 

No Longer Human – Quintessential Dazai at his nihilistic best and considered by many his masterpiece. It is one of the all-time best-selling novels in Japan, along with Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro and Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood. 

Self Portraits – A short story collection of his autobiographical fiction spanning the years 1933 – 1948. This work includes his first story using the name Osamu Dazai, “Train,” the previously noted “Eight Scenes from Tokyo” and “Handsome Devils and Cigarettes,” as mentioned by Wong Kar-Wai. 

Blue Bamboo – A collection of seven stories including Dazai’s modernized retellings of classics and folk tales. For these he draws from a wide range of material, including Japanese and Chinese classics and even Hans Christian Anderson. A departure from his autobiographical fiction, this book offers another facet of Dazai the author and showcases his talent as a master storyteller. 

* If anyone is interested, contact the author ( for an almost complete list of Dazai’s short stories translated into English (around 100). 

Thanks to Patrick for his views on Dazai, a writer I want to try more of.  The only one I've read so far is The Setting Sun, a great novel which didn't even make Patrick's top three!

As always, now it is over to you!  Have you read anything by this writer?  What would you recommend as a first Dazai book?  Please leave a comment if you want to give us the benefit of your experience :)

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Nichi-Yōbi News: Week 2

Well, it turns out that Momotarō was right to look away in disgust last week - it seems that my Japanese wasn't quite as impressive as I'd hoped.  Matt of A Novel Approach informed me that the ten-ten (the little marks on the top right of the final character) are actually superfluousGomen - I'll fix it up next week, promise...

Anyway, let's get on with this week's summary of what's been happening in January in Japan.  Once again, we've had a good number of reviews on a wide range of books, from Murakami to Kawabata, Ekuni to Tanizaki - all collected for you here.

And, speaking of Tanizaki, old Jun'ichiro was the subject of this week's J-Lit Giants post.  Please have a look - he's a writer well worth checking out.  Next week's giant?  I'm afraid you'll just have to wait until Wednesday to find out...

As you all know, our group readalong book is Hiromi Kawakami's The Briefcase, and it seems to have been a good choice (if I do say so myself!).  This week, the novel was one of five chosen for the shortlist of the 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize, giving Kawakami the opportunity to become the first Japanese writer to take home this award - congratulations!

As the news of the shortlisting unfolded, another piece of news soon appeared on Twitter.  Apparently, Portobello Books will be publishing another Kawakami book in July, one entitled Strange Weather in Tokyo, bringing the number in English translation to three (after The Briefcase and Manazuru).  I enjoyed The Briefcase (as you'll see in my review at the end of the month), so this is a book I'm looking forward to :)

Another successful writer is (of course) Haruki Murakami, and Friday of this week was his 64th birthday - happy birthday, Murakami-san :)  Conicidentally, Random House have released an i-Pad app, a calendar for 2013 which (apparently) also has a few stories which are previously unreleased in English.  I'd like to see the list of stories first, but it still sounds like a nice little present for your favourite J-Lit fan... or yourself ;)

Finally today, a tweep(!) I followed recently, @wendy_tokunaga, has been forwarding all kinds of Japanese-related links.  I'm a sucker for these things, and I can't resist reading them, even when not all are that relevant.  However, a couple of good ones were a page giving information about Japanese culture in New York and an interview with a sake sommelier in a New York restaurant.  If that sounds like your kind of thing...

That's all for now - I'll see you next Sunday with some more rubbish useful information - hope you'll join me ;)

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

J-Lit Giants: 4 - Jun'ichiro Tanizaki

It's time to praise another of those J-Lit Giants, and I'm especially happy to introduce today's writer.  He's a man who straddles both sides of the Kanto-Kansai divide and a writer who, while unwilling to write conventional endings, is very interested in what his characters get up to in the bedroom...

Jun'ichiro Tanizaki, born in 1886, is one of the most popular and well-known modern Japanese writers.  He was born in Tokyo and spent most of his young adult life writing for newspapers and magazines, with moderate success.  At this time he had a great interest in all things western, even moving to Yokohama, where there were more foreigners than in Tokyo.

However, it wasn't until he moved to Kyoto, after the 1923 earthquake in the Tokyo region, that his writing became more widely noticed.  His move to the Kansai region brought about a rediscovery of traditional Japanese culture, and this translated into a different style of writing, one in which his characters attempt to return to their cultural roots.  This was a way for Tanizaki to work through his own feelings about the way modern Japan was developing.

Anyone who has read works by Tanizaki will probably agree though that another theme which pervades his work is eroticism - put more bluntly, sex.  Many of his more famous works are relatively explicit and utterly compelling.  Again, there is more than a hint of the writer's own life in these tangled relationships (although his novels are definitely fiction...).  Tanizaki repeatedly attempts to examine the conflict between the need to keep up a show for outsiders while a marriage is falling apart, often because of differing sexual needs.

Tanizaki's work can be quite accessible, but at the same time a little unfamiliar.  Perhaps more so than usual, his works seldom have a conventional ending, leaving the (western) reader stranded and confused.  He believed that if he described his characters well enough, there was no need to spoon-feed the readers with an ending.  This is writing for those who are prepared to draw their own conclusions :)

My three Tanizaki books to start with are:

1) Quicksand - This is a fast-paced psychological, erotic novel, one which twists and turns, amazing the reader both with its unexpectedly risqué storyline and its continual developments.  New readers will enjoy a slightly stronger emphasis on plot than can be the case with Tanizaki.

2) Some Prefer Nettles - The writer's twin obsessions of relationships and the Kanto-Kansai divide are both present here in a short psychological work, detailing the disintegration of a marriage.  This is a work which definitely falls into the ambiguous-ending category ;)

3) The Makioka Sisters - Generally regarded as Tanizaki's classic, The Makioka Sisters is a fairly long novel for J-Lit, running to close to 500 pages.  It follows three sisters living in Osaka as they attempt to balance their family responsibilities with their own wishes and a changing society.

Does this sound like your kind of writer?  If so, why not give him a try soon?  I'm sure that some of you out there will be able to recommend several other Tanizaki works to start with too.  Comments in the usual place, please :)

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Nichi-Yōbi News: Week 1

Welcome, one and all, to the first weekly instalment of my January in Japan round-up posts, Nichi-Yōbi News!  For those of you unfamiliar with Japanese, Nichi-Yobi means 'Sunday' - and the picture to the left is my pathetic attempt to put it into Japanese writing (poor Momotarō is looking away in disgust...).  Anyway, let's see what's been happening this week :)

First up, I have to point you in the direction of all the reviews we've had so far.  For a couple of days, I did think that my two would be the only ones there, but we've had several more posted over the past few days on a wide variety of books.  Just click on this link (or the Book Reviews tab at the top of the page) to see who has been reviewing what this week :)

This week also saw the third in our J-Lit Giants series, the first by a guest contributor.  Gary, from The Parrish Lantern, submitted an excellent post on poet Ryuichi Tamura that you should all check out :)

Again, you can see all the submissions so far by clicking here or on the J-Lit Giants tab at the top of the page.  There are more giants to come before the end of the month.  In addition to a couple I'm planning to write, Gary has kindly offered up another bio, and one other guest contributor has sent me a great biography to post.  And if you would like to talk about your favourite J-Lit writer, my ear is always open...

As well as reading a lot of J-Lit over the past few weeks, I have also listened to a couple of podcasts on the subject.  The Centre for the Art of Translation in San Francisco has a podcast entitled Two Voices, which usually features a translator discussing some of the writers whose works they have brought into the English language.  The programme features translators from all languages, but (naturally) I was interested in the ones concerning J-Lit.

The first featured Stephen Snyder, who talked about Yoko Ogawa and informed the audience how her stories came to be featured in the New Yorker magazine, how the editors interfered with her stories and why The Housekeeper and the Professor was earmarked as the novel likely to be a hit in translation.

The second was a double teaming of Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel, talking (of course) about Haruki Murakami.  This was recorded just after 1Q84 had been published, and it was interesting to hear what the two translators thought of the book.  Perhaps of more interest to most readers was a casual mention by Rubin that a retranslation of Murakami's first two novellas, Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973, was underway (although I've been unable to find any other mention of this on the net...).

The quality isn't perfect (the Q&A sections at the end are virtually inaudible...), but these podcasts are well worth a listen :)

And on that note, I'll bid you farewell for this week.  Remember to use the #januaryinjapan hashtag on Twitter to mark posts of interest, and don't forget the readalong of Hiromi Kawakami's novel The Briefcase at the end of the month.  If you would like to join in, simply post your review on the 31st of January (and leave a link on the Book Reviews page).

Same place, same time, next week?  Ja, mata ;)

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

J-Lit Giants: 3 - Ryuichi Tamura

We're into January now, and it's time for another episode of our J-Lit Giants series.  Today's post marks a couple of firsts: Gary, of The Parrish Lantern, is the first guest reviewer to offer up a favourite writer; and his choice (which should surprise nobody) is the first poet in the series too...

The Four Thousand Days and Nights ~ A few words on Ryuichi Tamura
Ryuichi Tamura (田村隆 ~ Tamura Ryūichi ) was born in Otsuka, Tokyo in 1923. He graduated from the Third Tokyo High School in 1940 and entered the Literature Department of Meiji University in 1941. He was drafted into the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1943, serving at the Yokosuka Second Naval Barracks as an instructor with the Naval Flying Corps. This would have seen him when necessary having also to man one of the gun emplacements in the case of an American invasion and, although this never happened, because of the USA’s nuclear strikes, he had already lost a good many friends in the Kamikaze missions, and his hometown no longer existed - this would obviously have a major impact on his writing.

His career as a poet started before the war Whilst still in his teens, he contributed to the coterie* magazine Shin-ryodo (New Territory**), with Taro Kitamura a fellow student & member of the Arechi (The Waste Land) group. It was in the post-war period, with the revival of Arechi and with Tamura being instrumental in establishing it as a literary magazine with his surviving friends, that his reputation took off. The Arechi poets mixed the influences of T.S Elliot and W.H. Auden with the Existentialist musings of writers such as Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre to express their perception of themselves and through that their country. This featured a harder tone than had been previously seen in Japanese poetry, and perfectly described the sense of dislocation and crisis that was the post-war experience of most Japanese as they tried to come to terms with the destruction and onslaught of a rapid modernisation programme that saw most of what was originally considered to be “Nihon”*** being brushed aside.

The Poet Ooka Makoto, writing about this period, said “The key subjects for poetry in this period were devastation, anxiety, desperation and death; this reflected the social circumstances just as prose writing does. Poets, living in grim uncertainty and suffering the horrifying aftermath of the atom bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, generally expressed their pessimistic vision of the future of humankind through their works.”

This was the subject matter of his first anthology Yosen no hi no yoru ("Four Thousand Days and Nights", 1956), particularly in the title poem which starts;
In order for a single poem to come into existence
you and I have to kill,
have to kill many things,
many lovable things, kill by shooting, kill by assassination,
kill by poisoning.
He followed this with the publication of his second collection The World Without Words, in 1962 This was to establish him as a major poet and would see him universally regarded as an important figure in modern Japanese poetry. In 1998, Ryuichi Tamura received Japan's highest honour, The 54th Japan Academy of Arts Award for Poetry Later that same year, he died of cancer of the oesophagus.

There are eyes in the stone, the eyes
closed in grief and fatigue.
The man in black passes my door -
You, the Emperor of Winter,
my lonely Emperor, walking to your own
grave in Europe,
your white forehead shadowed by
your back to the sun.
Your self-punishment is so painful,
Flowers! You stretch out your hands to
But universal winter has set in
after the era of reason and progress.
European beauties are nothing but
Who will kiss your hands
whose fated palms are dark and dry and
Flowers! Those scars are flowers.

* Japanese poets usually form groups of like-minded writers with the aim of helping each other to become better poets & they usually publish their own magazines - such groups are called coteries.
** A title in homage to Michael Roberts's anthology of contemporary English poetry New Country.
*** The constitutional monarchy occupying the Japanese Archipelago.

Thanks for that Gary - a great introduction to a writer I hadn't heard of before :)  Has anyone else tried Tamura?  Do you have any favourite Japanese poets?

If you are itching to post on your favourite Japanese writer, just let me know - next time, it could be your post adorning the blog ;)