Just in time for August and Women in Translation Month, here’s a list of resources about Japanese women writers for listening and watching.
The texts mentioned on this list are in more-or-less chronological order by publication. Descriptions are adapted from episode descriptions.
Historian Isaac Meyer talks about the social position of women in the Heian Era, especially the story of one “particularly badass woman”: the poet and “femme fatale” Izumi Shikibu.
Read Japanese Literature covers Japan’s oldest novel, The Tale of Genji. A hero who is a paragon of beauty with an extreme Oedipus complex.
More about Murasaki Shikibu from historian Isaac Meyer. Why do we know so little about who she was? What inspired her to write Genji? Why does he dislike her work so viscerally? And how did it become so famous?
On the New Books East Asia podcast Jingyi Li talks to Dr. Takeshi Watanabe about A Tale of Flowering Fortunes, which covers about 150 years of births, deaths, & happenings in late Heian society. Dr. Watanabe the book is an exorcism of embittered spirits whose stories needed to be retold to ensure peace.
Historian Isaac Meyer covers the fascinating tale of Sei Shonagon and the Makura no Soushi, or Pillow Book. Why is a collection of anecdotes considered to be one of Japan’s greatest literary classics?
On the New Books East Asia podcast Carla Nappi talks to Dr. Christina Laffin about Nun Abutsu, a 13th-century poet, scholar, teacher, and prolific writer. Laffin’s book is Rewriting Medieval Japanese Women: Politics, Personality, and Literary Production in the Life of Nun Abutsu.
Historian Isaac Meyer covers the life and career of Tokugawa-era poet Kaga no Chiyo, a shopkeeper’s daughter-turned-nun-turned-haiku master.
More about Ichiyo Higuchi from historian Isaac Meyer. Meyer talks about her story, her writing, her legacy, and her tragically short career.
Meiji at 150 hosts Dr. Deborah Shamoon on shōjo (adolescent women) in the Meiji and Taishō period, including the work of Miyake Kaho and Misora Hibari.
On the Books on Asia podcast, Drs. Rebecca Copeland and Linda Ehrlich talk about their anthology Yamamba: In Search of the Japanese Mountain Witch, including author Minako Oba‘s story “Smile of the Mountain Witch”.
Books and Bao discusses An I-Novel by Minae Mizumura, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter. An I-Novel is regarded as the first bilingual novel: a book that blends memoir and fiction, tracing the life of a Japanese writer growing up in New York City.
The Japan Foundation of New York’s Literary Series hosts author Sachiko Kashiwaba and translator Avery Fischer Udagawa discussing Temple Alley Summer—a magnificent middle grade novel about the power of stories.
The Japan Foundation of New York’s Literary Series hosts author Yu Miri and translator Morgan Giles discussing the novel Tokyo Ueno Station, which won the 2020 National Book Award for Translated Literature.
Books and Boba discusses Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated by by Ginny Tapley Takemori. A short novel about woman who finds it hard to interact with people, who finds contentment in the routines of working at a convenience store.
The Japan Foundation of New York’s Literary Series hosts author Aoko Matsuda and translator Polly Barton discussing Where the Wild Ladies Are, Japanese folk stories retold as feminist fables.
More about Aoko Matsuda from the National Centre for Writing. Translator Polly Barton and Voices from Japan host a 2-part conversation about “one of Japan’s most promising young writers”.
Books and Bao discusses Solo Dance by Li Kotomi, translated by Arthur Reiji Morris. Willow Heath describes, “A beautiful and difficult novel about depression, queerness, trauma, and fear.”
Books and Bao discusses The Woman in the Purple Skirt by Natsuko Imamura, translated by Lucy North. Willow Heath describes, “a Japanese novel that explores our relationships to one another as strangers, as well as the relationship between character, narrator, and reader.”
The Japan Foundation of New York’s Literary Series hosts author Kyoko Nakajima and translators Ian McDonald and Ginny Tapley Takemori discussing the short story collection Things Remembered and Things Forgotten.
Books and Bao on The Easy Life in Kamusari by Shion Miura, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter, “a relaxing and satisfying coming-of-age Japanese novel” and “a perfect rainy day read on a chill Sunday afternoon.”
Meiji at 150 hosts Dr. Rebecca Copeland discussing “unruly women”: the goddess Izanami, popular activists and female writers in the Meiji and Taishō Periods, and contemporary writer Kirino Natsuo.
Special thank you to people and organizations that work so hard to make these resources available:
- Books and Bao (Jessica Esa and Willow Heath)—YouTube
- Books and Boba (Marvin Yueh and Reera Yoo)—Podcasts
- Books on Asia—Podcasts
- History of Japan Podcast (Isaac Meyer)—Podcasts
- The Japan Foundation New York—YouTube
- Meiji at 150 (The University of British Columbia)—Podcasts
- New Books East Asia—Podcasts