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[Review] Read Real Japanese Fiction

[Review] Read Real Japanese Fiction

[Review] Read Real Japanese FictionRead Real Japanese Fiction: Short Stories by Contemporary Writers by Michael Emmerich, Hiromi Kawakami, Otsuichi, Shinji Ishii, Banana Yoshimoto, Kaoru Kitamura, Yoko Tawada
Published by Kodansha on July 15th 2013 (first published 2008)
Genres: Horror, Japanese literature, Magical realism
Pages: 256
ISBN: 9781568365299

Read Real Japanese Fiction presents short works by six of todays most daring and provocative Japanese writers. The spellbinding world of Hiromi Kawakami; the hair-raising horror of Otsuichi; the haunting, poignant prose of Banana Yoshimoto; even the poetic word-play of Yoko Tawada.

Earlier this year I already reviewed Read Real Japanese Essays. The Fiction version has the same set-up as that book, so I won’t get into that again (check the Essays review for that). The structure of the book just works, and it’s awesome for students of Japanese, the end.

Anyway! Let’s get into content. While I enjoyed Essays, Fiction was infinitely more interesting to me. It’s so enjoyable reading Japanese literature in Japanese (makes you feel like you actually accomplished something in your studies, haha), and Michael Emmerich’s (the editor) selection of short stories is spot on.

I am sure many J-lit enthusiasts are familiar with Banana Yoshimoto and Hiromi Kawakami, and possibly Otsuichi and Yoko Tawada. If you aren’t, check them out! And then this collection also has Shinji Ishii and Kaoru Kitamura, who are a great addition and authors I definitely want to check out in the future.

As for the level of Japanese, the stories in Fiction were more readable than the essays, in my honest opinion. I (N2) breezed through most of them without any problem.

Hiromi Kawakami – God
Typical Kawakami. After my disappointment with Manazuru, this was nice. Not my favourite, but I enjoyed it all right. It’s not the easiest story in the book, but Kawakami’s style is quite straightforward and if you feel you’re ready to read real literature, this shouldn’t be a big challenge.

Otsuichi – Long Ago, in the Park at Twilight
This story was a bit of a disappointment. I like Otsuichi, his style is properly creepy, but I do not think this was a masterpiece. Short and easy to read though.

Shinji Ishii – The Parrot Meat Market
Ohhh this one was weird. I have no idea what to think about it, but I think I enjoyed it?? I guess? It’s interesting enough. This was one of the more difficult stories in the book.

Banana Yoshimoto – Mummy
This story was really weird. Well done, Yoshimoto, well done. I can’t quite pinpoint if it’s what I expect of Yoshimoto or not. Anyway, I enjoyed it (more than most of Yoshimoto’s things I’ve read lately).

Kaoru Kitamura – One Hundred Stories
I realllly liked this story. The language is simply and straightforward, and a very easy read. The plot was fun! A better horror story than Otsuichi’s, tbh (sorry, Otsuichi). This story definitely made me want to check out more by Kitamura.

Yoko Tawada – To Pun
This story is literally everything that is wrong with the Japanese language (so I say, with love). It’s really short, not even two full pages, and it’s surprising. I really enjoyed it and it made for a perfect final story to end the book with. I’m also quite curious about Tawada’s other works now. I had only vaguely heard of her and had no idea she writes in both Japanese and German, which is just all the more reason for me to check her out.

[Review] Manazuru, by Hiromi Kawakami

[Review] Manazuru, by Hiromi Kawakami

[Review] Manazuru, by Hiromi KawakamiManazuru by Hiromi Kawakami
Published by Atlas Contact on 2012 (first published: 2006)
Genres: Contemporary, Japanese literature
Pages: 207

Twelve years have passed since Kei's husband, Rei, disappeared and she was left alone with her three-year-old daughter. Then she begins making repeated trips to the seaside town of Manazuru.

Two years ago for January in Japan we already read The Briefcase (also known as Strange Weather in Tokyo) by Hiromi Kawakami. I really enjoyed that book! So I was hopeful I’d feel the same about Manazuru… Alas.

I just did not care about anything in this book. The story was one that doesn’t really interest me in the first place, to be quite honest – a husband who disappears one day, a mother left behind with her child, trying to figure out the reason her husband left – but if done well it will even touch my cold cold heart. No, I am just kidding about that cold heart; while I am not the most sensitive person, it’s not difficult for me to relate to or at least feel sympathy for characters in books. So imagine how bland this book was to me, that I just didn’t care at all about the story. And that while it has at least some aspects that could be so interesting if done well: spirituality, perhaps even a supernaturalness? They played an important role in the story, but somehow they still felt almost meaningless.

But not just the story was bland. The characters felt exactly the same to me. They didn’t do anything that interested me, they didn’t say anything that interested me. They didn’t relate to other characters in a way that interested me. I just did. not. care. If anything, the daughter was perhaps my favourite character but she does not appear often enough to… uhm… make me care? I did not even feel at all curious about the location, Manazuru, that the book was named after.

And that was the downfall of this novel for me. I didn’t care. When I don’t connect to anything in a book, I get bored. And that’s just about the worst for me. Manazuru was a quick read, but even so I felt relieved when I ‘finally’ finished it.

I always seem extra harsh about books I don’t like, don’t I? This book wasn’t absolutely terrible, it just wasn’t for me. I’m sure there are people out there who will feel more connected to the story and its characters. Anyway, I rated this 3 stars on Goodreads but reviewing how I feel about this book, I must admit I can’t give it any more than 2.5 stars. Just based on personal feeling.

I do not think we should compare Manazuru to The Briefcase. The only thing they seem to share is that they describe events in daily life, but that’s where the comparison ends for me. Take this from me: You will enjoy The Briefcase. And then, if you read Manazuru, you will enjoy The Briefcase even more 😉

[Review] The Briefcase, by Hiromi Kawakami

[Review] The Briefcase, by Hiromi Kawakami

[Review] The Briefcase, by Hiromi KawakamiThe Briefcase by Hiromi Kawakami
Published by Counterpoint on April 2012 (first published 2001)
Genres: Japanese literature
Pages: 176
Buy on Amazon

One night Tsukiko meets her former high school teacher.

Hiromi Kawakami’s The Briefcase was our ‘readalong’ for January in Japan. Kawakami isn’t an author I had read or heard of before this event, so I was excited to get started. I have always been a bit more partial to modern Japanese literature compared to, especially, pre-WWII literature (which also has its charm, of course). Plus, The Briefcase was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize, and rightfully so in my opinion!

I enjoyed the pace of the book. The book starts out with seemingly random anecdotes of meeting Sensei, moving on to a more organised story, moving on to a full love story. What really fascinated me about this book is that we find out relatively little about the characters throughout the book. Even at the end you are still wondering about Tsukiko and Sensei (not to mention all the other characters). And you know what? It’s okay. What we do know is enough, and it makes the story all the more natural.

Another aspect I personally liked about the book is the culture aspect. It’s a bit silly maybe, but having spent a bit of time at izakaya (the Japanese style bars) myself and being a foodie, I enjoyed reading about the drinks and especially the dishes. I want to go out and eat it all. (I’m sure I’m not alone. Actually, reading fellow participants’ reviews, I know I’m not alone, haha) No, the food is not the main aspect of the book, but the bars are definitely one of the main settings.

There was one chapter in the book that felt out of place. I liked the idea of the chapter but the way it was written was so out of tune with the rest of the book that it got in the way a bit. From what I’ve read in other reviews, it reminds people of other books by Kawakami. Any thoughts on that? Anyway, I definitely plan to read more by Kawakami.