My favorite things Japan, literature edition

I do not know Japanese literature well but nonetheless I recommend the following:

1. Out: A Novel, by Natsuo Kirino.  Vicious fun.  Dark, violent, etc.

2. Kobo Abe, The Woman in the Dunes.  He has been called the Japanese Stanislaw Lem.  Why do I never hear about this book?  The movie by the same name is good too.

3. Yasunari Kawabata, both The Go Master and The Snow Country.

4. Mishima, Spring Snow, others.

5. Haruki Murakami.  My favorite is Hard-Boiled Wonderland (one of my favorite books period) and then Underground, a modern classic of social science (really).  I like most of them but I feel he is repeating himself as of late.

6. Shusaku Endo, Silence.  Very powerful and I remain fascinated by Japan’s so-called "Christian century."

7. Kenzaburo Oe: I like Teach us to Outgrow Our Madness.

Question: Is Tale of Genji actually fun to read?  I would say about half of it, so yes it is worth the time.  The best parts are very beautiful and mysterious and unlike anything else in literature.  Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon is fun and is a good introduction to the period.

The bottom line: There is lots and lots more that I have never heard of, not to mention manga.


I would recommend the novel Kokoru ( by Soseki ( Actually, I haven't read it since college, when my roommate had left it lying around from an East Asian Studies class he was taking. I found it moving, and was intrigued by its ambivalent modernity.

"Does Kazuo Ishiguro count as Japanese?"

He doesn't seem to think so. He left Japan with his family at age 5, was educated in England, writes in English and says "if I wrote under a pseudonym and got somebody else to pose for my jacket photographs, I'm sure nobody would think of saying, 'This guy reminds me of that Japanese writer.' "

Great writer though.

that kobo abe novel is early and it really feels like that. I like the one about box-man, about a man living in a box.

Certainly the Tale of Genji is a matter of taste. But there is no questioning
either its uniqueness (aside from later imitators, mostly in Japan) and its greatness.
For one thing, not mentioned here, is its great age and innovativeness, with many
crediting it as the very first novel ever anywhere in world history.

When I first read it I was awestruck. However, it is quite long, although not as long
as Proust.

it is interesting how different are pieces by murakami that people like. As for me, I like him all.

I loved Out, as well as her most recently translated book, Grotesque. If you like those you might also like Miyuki Miyabe. Another personal favorite is Akira Yoshimura, especially Shipwrecks, which is beautiful and terrible.

Yes on Genji. I enjoyed it, though I'm not sure I could read it again -- there is an awful lot of it (I like long books, but some are more rereadable than others).

While we're on Japanese literature, I'll recommend Christopher Ross's "Mishima's Sword", which I just finished. interesting exploration of the writer and certain aspects of Japanese culture.

Genji is an interesting read, if you like long, epic sorts of novels. Loved Shogun? By all means, read Genji!

If on the other hand you like things short and sweet, here's my one-minute summary: "Once upon a time there was a handsome prince who could not keep his kimono closed. This often got him into trouble."

Great call with the Shusako Endo. One of my all-time favorites.

I second Tom, The World of the Shining Prince is excellent in its own right. And anon is right too: I recommend Junichiro Tanizaki's Some Prefer Nettles, a gripping psychological novel that (like others mentioned here) deals with the transition into modernity.

As an anthropological document Genji is fantastic. I refer back to Genji a great deal (in my head) in social situations. As a study of ways people can relate, I've found it to be a valuable foil to help me understand the ways people do relate in my life. I find there are a lot of seemingly strange and foreign social dances in Genji that when deconstructed and recapitulated into 2008 are actually common. I put it right up there with The Dobe !Kung (Case Studies in Cultural Anthropology) by Richard B. Lee (sorry not Japanese at all)

You missed Junichiro Tanizaki.

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