Eight Japanese Translated Fiction recommendations
We are back with more Japanese translated fiction
Last time we recommended a whole list of Japanese translated fiction to celebrate Women in Translation Month, but it appears that our Japanese translated fiction shelf has grown since then. So, we are back with five more titles. These eight titles are newer, all published/republished this year so hopefully you find something new that works for you!
Days at the Morisaki Bookshop by Satoshi Yagisawa
Translated by Eric Ozawa
Japan is full of second-hand bookstores like the Morisaki Bookshop so it is incredibly lovely to imagine the stories of the people who own these stores. Takako is described as a girl who had no interest in reading (yikes, I know!) until she found herself living at her uncle’s bookstore for a while. This book is full of literary references and you will learn something new about the Japanese reading culture. A short but sweet read about the power of reading, which we all know already, duh, but good to talk about if next time someone tells you reading is a waste of time.
The Goodbye Cat by Hiro Arikawa
Translated by Philip Gabriel
- Female writer
The Goodbye Cat is the latest short story collection by Hiro Arikawa, who also wrote The Travelling Cat Chronicles. And you might recognize Phillip Gabriel as well, who translated Lonely Castle in the Mirror, which we featured last time. This book will make the perfect gift for catlovers as the book cover resembles washi (traditional Japanese paper), and it has 7 gorgeous cat paintings (like the one on the cover) inside the book. Each of the 7 short stories celebrates cats and their connections with humans, and touches upon themes such as grief and nostalgia. You might want to bring this book when you visit Aoshima, the ‘cat island’ in Japan!
Nails and Eyes by Kaori Fujino
Translated by Kendall Heitzman
- Female writer
This is part of Pushkin’s Japanese novella series that launched this year. Consisting of 1 novella and 2 short stories, Nails and Eyes relies on subtle horror and unsettling scenes to draw readers in. The title story is written in second person narrative, and as the preschooler is essentially omniscient and indifferent when describing the woman her father is having an affair with, it is incredibly unnerving. The other two short stories, What Shoko Forgets and Minute Fears, are also great, though a little too short to be as impactful as Nails and Eyes.
Coin Locker Babies by Ryu Murakami
Translated by Stephen Synder
If the previous title is about the art of subtle horror, then Coin Locker Babies thrives in surrealism. Coin locker babies was an actual phenomenon in Japan back when the contraceptive pill was not legal and the Japanese economy was not doing too well. Focusing on two coin locker babies Kiku and Hasi, this novel takes a deep dive into people who have been abandoned by the world, from beggars to drag addicts. Coin Locker Babies is part of Pushkin Press Classics that just started this year and we are definitely keen to read more titles from this series.
Nipponia Nippon by Kazushige Abe
Translated by Kerim Yasar
Another title in Pushkin’s Japanese novella series, Nipponia Nippon is one full story instead of a collection of short stories. And Kazushige Abe managed to pack so much into this novella. And for those who don’t know, Nipponia Nippon is a type of bird that used to be prominent in Japan, with ‘Nippon’ being the Japanese word for ‘Japan’. While the protagonist, being a antsy teen, is super interesting to read about, it is Kazushige Abe’s ability to withhold information and keep the suspense going that keeps the story beyond intriguing.
The Kamogawa Food Detectives by Hisashi Kashiwai
Translated by Jesse Kirkwood
Sectioned into “nabeyaki udon” (udon hot pot), “beef stew”, “mackerel sushi”, “tonkatsu” (pork cutlet), “napolitan spaghetti” (ketchup spaghetti), and “nikujaga” (meat and potato stew), each chapter of The Kamogawa Food Detectives follows the food detective father-daughter duo who help people find the recipe to the food that holds a special meaning to them. Alongside the heartwarming tales, there are many interesting facts about local ingredients, and it is clear that Hisashi Kashiwai did a lot of research on the history of Japanese cuisine. It is obvious why this would be such a bestseller in Japan, though it’s such a shame that we can’t actually picture nor taste these food items while reading it…
The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada
Translated by David Boyd
- Female writer
If you feel like you recognize Hiroko Oyamada, you’re coorect — we recommended her Weasels in the Attic in our original roundup. The Factory follows three workers who started a new job at the factory that sells almost everything in Japan. And while working at the factory becomes something that parents are proud of, for these three characters, factory work is just a soul-crushing job. The chapters first start off with rotating POVs, and while the chapters are not labelled, they are distinct enough that you can tell the three workers apart. However, the book slowly starts to blend their POVs together until they no longer feel like individual beings, but just another number in the factory… A very smart commentary on working life.
The Meiji Guillotine Murders by Futaro Yamada
Translated by Bryan Karetnyk
Part of the Pushkin Vertigo series, i.e. the Japanese crime series, The Meiji Guillotine Murders consists of many short stories that ultimately make up one full length novel. They work very well together, but also the short story structure really helps those who struggle to read a full length mystery in one go, especially since each story uses very different mystery tropes. The historical and political contexts featured heavily in the stories, with the novel opening with a map of Tokyo in the early Meiji era, as well as a brief historical note. It is clear that Futaro Yamada did a lot of research on the historical background of the Meiji era, though readers would still find it beneficial to have Google on hand.