Japanese Fiction

Five Magnificent Tales from the Land of the Rising Sun

that aren’t written by Haruki Murakami
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When it comes to historical and cultural features, there is no place like Japan. Concealed from the rest of the world, Japan developed a unique culture, which eventually clashed with Western ideas. However, Japan’s case is unique because they were able to implement new western ideas and technologies, while preserving traditional values and culture. Any inquisitive reader will find it enriching to inquire into the Japanese works of fiction and this carefully compiled list can be a good start.
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by Natsuo Karin
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In Kirino’s valiant depiction of the contemporary Japanese society, the main object of the author’s careful examination is an ordinary woman, facing inconceivable adversities. Much like the characters in Damian Szifron’s Wild Tales, Kirino’s protagonists are asked a tough question: “What do you do if something awful happens to you?” In the case of Out’s heroine Masako, the dilemma is how to get away with her abusive husband’s murder.

Natsuo Kirino’s themes: multiple narratives, female protagonist, loneliness, dark and fast-moving plots.

What would Haruki say: “Despite your best efforts, people are going to be hurt when it’s time for them to be hurt.” Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood.

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The Woman in the Dunes

by Kobo Abe

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“One day in August a man disappeared,” begins a deceptively simple, yet exceedingly symbolic tale. The prominent themes of angst, dread, despair and absurdity make Abe’s work one of the most important existential novels to ever come out from Japan.

Kobo Abe’s themes: allegories, existentialism, sand, and surrealism.

What would Haruki say: “No matter how far you travel, you can never get away from yourself.” Haruki Murakami, After the Quake.

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by Natsume Sōseki

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This list would not be complete without the main literary work by the celebrated Soseki. Rich in symbolism, the novel follows a friendship between a young college student and an elderly man he calls “Sensei”. There is no better introduction to modern Japanese literature than Kokoro.

Natsume Soseki’s themes: guilt, isolation, shame, and modernization of Japan.

What would Haruki say: “Even if we could turn back, we’d probably never end up where we started.” Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

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The Housekeeper and the Professor

by Yoko Ago

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He is a 64-year old professor, who can only retain new memories for 80 minutes and she is his housekeeper hired to take care of him. If you think that the premise sounds a lot like Adam Sandler’s 50 First Dates, you’re right. Except this one might make you contemplate about the plot a little more than the movie.

Yoko Ogawa’s themes: memory loss, math, and living in the present.

What would Haruki say: “No matter how much suffering you went through, you never wanted to let go of those memories.” Haruki Murakami

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The Remains of the Day

by Kazuo Ishiguro

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This quiet character study probably does not belong on this list because, technically, Ishiguro is British and not Japanese. However, the man was born and spent the first 5 years of his life in the coastal town of Nagasaki, Japan and the reader can certainly feel that influence in his writing. The book was awarded the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 1989. That, along with a fact that Remains of the Day is one of my favorite books of all time, grants Ishiguro the final spot on my list.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s themes: dignity, politics, love, and memory.

What would Haruki say: “Life is not like water. Things in life don’t necessarily flow over the shortest possible route.” Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

-Ilya K


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