31 Days of Listening for #JanuaryinJapan

A Tanuki as imagined by Utagawa Hiroshige

Just in time for #JanuaryinJapan. Get an overview of the history of Japanese literature in just 31 days of listening.

The texts mentioned on this list are in more-or-less chronological order by publication. Descriptions are adapted from episode descriptions.

Support Read Japanese Literature by buying your #JanuaryinJapan books through our Bookshop.org bookstore.

Read Japanese Literature’s very first episode covers The Kojiki. Gods having sex, founding of the imperial dynasty, and some of the origins of WWII. Plus thoughts on the role of women in early Japanese history.

The Uncanny Japan podcast presents “The Bamboo Cutter and the Moon Princess”, called Kaguya-hime in Japanese. It’s an old tale—one of the oldest recorded tales in Japanese—that some people believe talks about otherworldly visitors. (Uncanny Japan’s episode page includes a full transcript.)

New Book East Asia’s Tokurō Yamamoto interviews Joshua S. Mostow about his book, An Ise Monogatari Reader: Contexts and Receptions. Tales of Ise is one of the most important works of literature from ancient Japan.

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 on Genji. A History of Japan podcast sets court politics aside to explore the life and work of Murasaki Shikibu, the eleventh-century lady-in-waiting who penned a work which is considered by many scholars to be the world’s first novel.

Read Japanese Literature takes a look at the great samurai epic The Tale of the Heike and the rise of the samurai class.

Read Japanese Literature talks about two central genres of Medieval Japanese literature—the warrior ballad and Noh drama. We’ll see two characters from The Tale of the Heike again, including the valiant female warrior Tomoe. This time, she’s a mournful ghost.

Enjoy the story of a vengeful would-be lover who turns into a 40-foot snake, a sharp-witted woman with criticisms of her husband’s equipment and a curmudgeonly Buddhist priest who learns to love poetry. Read Japanese Literature talks about setsuwa—medieval Japanese anecdotes.

Read Japanese Literature asks the important questions about literature in Edo Japan: How does “this fleeting world” become a name for the red-light district. What did reading look like in early Modern Japan? And how many dildos does a man need to pack for a trip to the Island of Women? (This episode is marked mature.)

New Books East Asia’s Jingyi Li interviews Glynne Walley about his translation of Eight Dogs. Kyokutei Bakin’s 19th-century samurai tale is one of the monuments of Japanese literature.

Read Japanese Literature talks about Ueda Akinari and his Tales of Moonlight and Rain, some of the most influential Japanese ghost stories ever written. A raging intellectual debate A supernatural party game And a friend just dying to keep his promises

The Japan Station podcast, takes up creepy apartments and Japanese ghosts with Japanese folklore expert, writer, and translator Zack Davisson.

History of Japan profiles one of the great Western interpreters of Japan: Lafcadio Hearn. How did some Anglo-Greek kid end up in Japan by way of New Orleans, and why do we still care about him today?

Uncanny Japan presents “The Dream of Akinosuke”,  Lafcadio Hearn’s translation of a sweet Japanese (originally Chinese) folktale. In it you’ll learn how insects can manipulate a person’s soul. (Uncanny Japan’s episode page includes a full transcript.)

In this episode, Read Japanese Literature looks at the Meiji Era of Japanese history and its literature. The shogunate is replaced. Japan looks outward to the West, inward toward itself. And a man named Natsume Soseki chronicles it all from the perspective of a stray cat.

Meiji at 150 talks with Dr. Melek Ortabasi about children’s literature in the Meiji Period and folklore themes in Japanese popular culture today.

Read Japanese Literature talks about women as they take up a prominent position in the story of Japanese literature for the first time in almost 1000 years. Special focus on Ichiyō Higuchi and her best-beloved story “Takekurabe”.

More on Ichiyo Higuchi. Japan Archives looks into her fascinating life, its hardships, and how she turned herself towards a career of writing. She creating exceptional pieces which are now considered great examples of writing from the Meiji Era.

The father of the Japanese short story shares his dark vision about what it means to be an artist. Read Japanese Literature takes a look at Japan in the 1910s and 1920s, the era of the Taisho Democracy and the heyday of Japan’s literary magazines and serial novels.

Read Japanese Literature talks about the I-Novel—the highest form of literature in Japan in the 1910s and 20s. Special focus on the life and work of Osamu Dazai, plus the question, “What does it take to get disqualified as a human being?”

Read Japanese Literature talks about the 1930s and 40s in Japan—fascism, WWII, and the American Occupation. How did 20 years of censorship shape Japanese literature? Also a closer look at the life and work of Akiyuki Nosaka.

Read Japanese Literature talks about the literature of change in the 1960s—how writers took on questions about what it meant to be Japanese in the post-war era and what was the continuing role of Japanese tradition. Includes special looks at Yukio Mishima and Kenzaburo Oe.

New Books East Asia’s Amanda Kennell interviews manga historian Ryan Holmberg. Holmberg recently translated Murasaki Yamada’s 1980s “feminist examination of the fraying of Japan’s suburban middle-class dreams”, Talk to My Back.

Read Japanese Literature talks about Japan’s bubble economy of the 1980s and the work of Banana Yoshimoto. Runaway consumer spending. Everything kawaii. A Nobel laureate’s contempt. And a young author whose career challenged the publishing powers that be.

The bookclub podcast Books & Boba looks at Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (translated by Philip Gabriel), a metaphysical coming-of-age story with talking cats, demon brand avatars, and lots of “icky sex”—their words.

Dr. Rebecca Copeland documents “unruly women” for Meiji at 150—from the goddess Izanami to activists and female writers of the Meiji and Taisho Eras, to contemporary writer Natuso Kirino.

Read Japanese Literature explains why there is such a wealth of contemporary books by Japanese women available in English. Special look at Sayaka Murata, Convenience Store Woman, and the translation collective Strong Women, Soft Power.

The Japan Station Podcast talks to Allison Markin Powell about translating Japanese literature: challenges, fighting for credit, Strange Weather in Tokyo, and Lady Joker.

Books on Asia’s Amy Chavez meets up with Juliet Winters Carpenter to talk about her 70 or so translated works of Japanese literature including Shion Miura’s The Great Passage and Minae Mizumura’s A True Novel.

The Deep in Japan Podcast speaks with Motoyuki Shibata, premier translator and founder of the English-language literary journal Monkey. Monkey is one of the best sources of contemporary translated short stories.

More to listen to:

Asian Review of Books: The Asian Review of Books is the only dedicated pan-Asian book review publication. Widely quoted, referenced,  republished by leading publications in Asian and beyond and with an archive of more than two thousand book reviews, the ARB also features long-format essays by leading Asian writers and thinkers, excerpts from newly-published books and reviews of arts and culture. It provides an unparalleled forum for discussion of key contemporary issues by Asians for Asia and a vehicle of intellectual depth and breadth where leading thinkers can write on the books, arts and ideas of the day. A weekly podcast was added in 2021.

Books and Boba: Books & Boba is a book club and podcast dedicated to spotlighting books written by authors of Asian descent. Every month, hosts Marvin Yueh and Reera Yoo pick a book by an Asian or Asian American author to read and discuss on the podcast. In addition to book discussions, they also interview authors and cover publishing news, including book deals and new releases.

Books on Asia: Books on Asia is your guide to finding quality books on Japan and Asia. By offering thought-provoking content in the form of book excerpts, reviews, literary criticism, author interviews and a podcast, we hope to create an intelligent space for people to explore issues on Asia in-depth. 

Deep in Japan: The Deep in Japan Podcast provides rich and insightful interviews with people who have lived in Japan. The show seeks to get under the surface and explore Japan through the rich and variegated experiences of the people who know it best.

Japan Station Podcast: Discover Japan through conversations with fascinating people. Every episode, host Tony Vega is joined by a guest to talk about all aspects of Japan, including the Japanese language, history, Japanese pop culture, food, anime, manga, movies, music, comedy, the impact of Japanese culture around the world, underground social movements, social issues in Japan, and much more.

The History of Japan Podcast: For over a decade, Isaac Meyer has been podcasting about Japanese history. The History of Japan Podcast takes listeners from prehistory to the present day.

Meiji at 150: In the Meiji at 150 Podcast, host Tristan Grunow (UBC) interviews specialists of Japanese history, literature, art, and culture.  Topics covered will range from the position of the Meiji Restoration and Meiji Period in each scholar’s research, to how they view the significance of the Restoration in Japanese and global history, and finally to how they teach the Meiji Period in their classrooms.

  • Episode 6—Dr. Christina Yi: Dr. Yi reads the Meiji Period from the perspective of literary studies and discusses the impacts of the Meiji Restoration on writers in Japan, especially Korean and Korean-Japanese writers composing literature in Japanese.
  • Episode 20—Dr. Jack Jacobowitz: Dr Jacobowitz (Yale) chronicles internal sources for Meiji Period developments in Japanese literary practices and techniques, placing Japan in dialogue with global trends and world history.
  • Episode 56—Dr. Indra Levy: Dr. Indra Levy underlines the importance of translation in Meiji-period transformations in Japanese language, literature, and culture. 
  • Episode 71—Dr. Michael Dylan Foster: Dr. Foster guides us into the realm of yōkai, or supernatural spirits and monsters, as an introduction to the study of Japanese folklore.
  • Episode 87—Dr. Deborah Shamoon: Dr. Deborah Shamoon redraws depictions of the shōjo, or adolescent women, in Japanese cultural production in the Meiji and Taishō period, drawing connections between literature and new understandings of adolescent women’s roles in society.

New Books—East Asian Studies: New Books in East Asian Studies and New Books Japan Studies are author-interview podcast channels in the New Books Network.

Read Japanese Literature: Read Japanese Literature is a podcast about Japanese literature and some of its best works.

  • Episode 16—Writing about Japan’s “Have-Nots”: Post-bubble Japan. The history of socially-conscious Japanese literature. And Yu Miri’s Tokyo Ueno Station, a powerful examination of Tokyo by one of the most invisible people imaginable—the ghost of a homeless day laborer.
  • Episode 17—The Smile of the Mountain Witch: Is she a man-eating crone? Is she a lonely wanderer? Or is she a sensual matriarch? However you define her, she’s the yama-ubaJapan’s legendary mountain witch.
  • Episode 18—Cats in Japanese Literature: Today, we’re going to look at cats in Japanese literature. We’ll start with the history of cats in Japan. We’ll move on to cats in Japanese folklore and fiction, including the work of Haruki Murakami. And finally we’ll end with a discussion of our readers’ choice, “The Town of Cats” by Sakutaro Hagiwara.

Uncanny Japan: Uncanny Japan is the brainchild of author Thersa Matsuura. Thersa has lived over half her life in Small Town, Japan, first arriving back in 1990 to study at the University of Shizuoka for two years. Her fluency in the language as well as her immersion in the culture allow her to do quite a bit of research for her books and stories. She is especially passionate about strange legends, unfamiliar folktales, curious superstitions, and all those obscure aspects of the culture that aren’t generally known. As a way to more widely share these fun and fascinating facts, Thersa started the Uncanny Japan Podcast back in 2017.

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