Just in time for August and Women in Translation Month, here’s a freshly-edited set of 31 resources about Japanese women writers for listening and watching. (It’s edited from the 2022 list—to keep things fresh but also manageable! Revisit 2022 for even more content.)
The texts mentioned on this list are in more-or-less chronological order by publication. Descriptions are adapted from episode descriptions.
For some context…
1. Start with RJL’s episode on translating Japanese women, with a special focus on Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman.
- Purchase Convenience Store Woman (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori).
- Purchase Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata as an audiobook (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori).
2. The Japan Station Podcast talks to Allison Markin Powell about translating Japanese literature: challenges, fighting for credit, Strange Weather in Tokyo, and Lady Joker.
And now in roughly historical order…
4. Historian Isaac Meyer talks about Murasaki Shikibu, the author of The Tale of Genji. 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?
- Purchase The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (translated by Royall Tyler).
- Purchase The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (translated by Dennis Washburn) as an audiobook.
- Listen to RJL on The Tale of Genji.
5. 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?
- Purchase The Pillow Book (translated by Meredith McKinney).
6. Historian Isaac Meyer covers the life and career of Tokugawa-era poet Kaga no Chiyo, a shopkeeper’s daughter-turned-nun-turned-haiku master.
7. On the New Books East Asia Podcast host Jingyi Li interviews G. G. Rowley about Mariko Omachi. Omachi’s memoir of samurai Yoshiyasu Yanagisawa is regarded as “the most significant work of literature by a woman of Japan’s early modern era”.
- Purchase In the Shelter of the Pine by Mariko Omachi (translated by G. G. Rowley).
8. On the New Books East Asia Podcast host Jingyi Li talks with Bettina Gramlich-Oka and Anne Walthall about Women and Networks in Nineteenth-Century Japan. This collection of academic essays uses women’s writing like letters and diaries to uncovers the way these sometimes-invisible figures lived.
10. RJL 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”.
- Purchase In the Shade of the Spring Leaves by Robert Lyons Danly. This book includes translations of nine of Higuchi’s stories, including “Child’s Play”.
- Listen to History of Japan on Ichiyo Higuchi.
- Listen to Japan Archives on Ichiyo Higuchi.
11. Meiji at 150 hosts Dr. Rebecca Copeland discussing “unruly women”: the goddess Izanami, popular activists and female writers in the Meiji and Taisho Periods, and contemporary writer Kirino Natsuo.
12. RJL talks about Japan’s legendary mountain witch, the yama-uba and her place in Japanese literature, including Minako Oba and her “Smile of the Mountain Witch”.
- Purchase Yamamba: In Search of the Japanese Mountain Witch (edited by Rebecca Copeland and Louise Erlich), which includes Oda’s “Smile of the Mountain Witch” (translated by Norkio Mizuta Lippit, assisted by Mariko Ochi)
- Listen to Copeland and Erlich discuss their book.
13. New Books East Asia’s Amanda Kennell interviews manga historian Ryan Holmberg. Holmberg translated Murasaki Yamada’s 1980s “feminist examination of the fraying of Japan’s suburban middle-class dreams”, Talk to My Back.
- Purchase Talk to My Back by Murasaki Yamada (translated by Ryan Holmberg).
- Purchase the anthology of Suzuki’s work Terminal Boredom (various translators).
15. RJL 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.
- Purchase Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto (translated by Megan Backus).
16. The Japan-America Foundation of Tennessee hosts an online book club discussion of Dead-End Memories by Banana Yoshimoto. Yurina Yoshikawa hosts. (video)
- Purchase Dead-End Memories (translated by Asa Yoneda).
- Read my review of Dead-End Memories in Asian Review of Books.
17. In a sobering episode, RJL talks about the March 11 Triple Disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown that devastated Japan’s Tohoku region and the life and work of Hiromi Kawakami. Kawakami rewrote her famous “Kamisama” in response to the disaster.
- Purchase March Was Made of Yarn, which includes both “Kamisama” and “Kamisama 2011”.
18. The Japan-America Foundation of Tennessee hosts an online book club discussion of The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa. Yurina Yoshikawa hosts. (video)
- Purchase The Housekeeper and the Professor (translated by Stephen Snyder).
- Purchase An I-Novel (translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter).
- Read my review of An I-Novel in the Asian Review of Books.
- Listen to RJL on An I-Novel and the art of translation.
20. RJL takes up socially-conscious Japanese literature and writer Yu Miri’s Tokyo Ueno Station. (By the way, Miri’s The End of August is finally available in English translation by Morgan Giles. Pick up a copy!)
- Purchase Tokyo Ueno Station (translated by Morgan Giles).
21. 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. (video)
22. RJL explores protagonists who don’t like sex, women who want to have babies anyway, and the work of Mieko Kawakami. This episode is marked mature.
- Purchase Breasts and Eggs (translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd).
25. The Japan-America Foundation of Tennessee hosts an online book club discussion of Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda. The collection features Japanese folk stories retold as feminist fables Yurina Yoshikawa hosts. (video)
- Purchase Where the Wild Ladies Are (translated by Polly Barton)
- Japan Foundation of New York’s Literary Series hosts author Aoko Matsuda and translator Polly Barton discussing Where the Wild Ladies Are.
- More about Aoko Matsuda from the National Centre for Writing.
27. 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. (video)
28. Books and Bao reviews some of 2022 and 2023’s newly-translated books by Japanese women (videos):
- Diary of a Void by Emi Yagi (translated by Lucy North and David Boyd)
- Hit Parade of Tears by Izumi Suzuki (various translators)
- Honeybees and Distant Thunder by Riku Onda (translated by Philip Gabriel)
- Idol, Burning by Rin Usami (translated by Asa Yoneda)
30. The Japan-America Foundation of Tennessee hosts an online book club discussion of Scattered All Over the Earth by Yoko Tawada. Yurina Yoshikawa hosts. (video)
- Purchase Scattered All Over the Earth (translated by Margaret Mitsutani).
- Read my review of Scattered All Over the Earth in the Asian Review of Books.
31. 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.
- Purchase The Great Passage by Shion Miura (translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter).
- Purchase The Great Passage by Shion Miura as an audiobook (translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter).
Special thank you to people and organizations that work so hard to make these resources available.