Episode 22: Fukushima Fiction

Check out Episode 22 of the Read Literature podcast.

Transcript available.

On March 11, 2011, at 2:46pm, one tectonic plate forced its way on top of another 45 miles (or 72 km) off the Eastern coast of Japan. It caused a 9.0 magnitude megathrust earthquake that lasted about six minutes.

The Great East Japan Earthquake triggered a tsunami—a great wave—that may have reached heights up to 133 feet (more than 40 meters). 

The earthquake and tsunami also disabled the reactor cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, causing several reactors to meltdown.

The government of Tokyo released official death numbers around the tenth anniversary of 3/11 in 2021. It reported 19,759 deaths. 6,242 injuries. And 2,553 missing. Most of the missing are presumed dead.

Hundreds of thousands of people who evacuated the area still haven’t returned home—many never will.

In this episode:

  • Tohoku and its place in Japan’s history and culture
  • The response by Japanese writers to the 3/11 disaster
  • Hiromi Kawakami’s life and work—especially her stories “God Bless You” and “God Bless You, 2011”

Donate to support Tohoku:

Become an RJL supporter for ten minutes of bonus content.

Support this podcast by buying from Bookshop.org.

More by Hiromi Kawakami:

  • “The Dragon Palace” (translated by Ted Goossen) in Monkey Business, vol. 3
  • “God Bless You” and “God Bless You, 2011” in (translated by Ted Goossen and Motoyuki Shibata) in March Was Made of Yarn: Reflections on the Japanese Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Meltdown
  • “Hazuki and Me”(translated by Ted Goossen) in Monkey Business, vol. 5
  • “I Won’t Let You Go” (translated by Allison Markin Powell; read for free at Granta)
  • “Mogera Wogura” (translated by Michael Emmerich) in The Paris Review
  • “Mysterious Deaths, the Formula, Electricians, Prohibitions” (translated by Ted Goossen) in Monkey, vol. 3
  • “Seahorse” (translated by Ted Goossen) in Monkey, vol. 2
  • “Simone + Reminiscing” (translated by Ted Goossen) in Monkey, vol. 1
  • “The Hut on the Roof” (translated by Lucy Fraser) in The Book of the City of Tokyo
  • “Mogera Wogura” in (translated by Michael Emmerich) New Penguin Parallel Text: Short Stories in Japanese
  • “Kamisama” (translated for Japanese language learners by Michael Emmerich) in Read Real Japanese Fiction: Short Stories by Contemporary Writers

This episode also mentions:

*These books come up for discussion in the bonus content available to Patreon supporters.

More Fukushima Fiction:

Find a list of Fukushima fiction available in English at Bookshop.org.

Find Out More

“Quake Moves Japan Closer to U.S. and Alter’s Earth’s Spin” in The New York Times” (March 13, 2011).

“Tsunami, Earthquake, Nuclear Crisis—Now Japan Faces Power Cuts” in The Guardian (March 13, 2011).

“Japan Damage Could Reach $235 Billion, World Bank Estimates” in The LA Times (March 21, 2011).

Tokyo Weekender’s list of books from every prefecture in Japan. Six of Japan’s 47 prefectures fall in the Tōhoku region: Akita, Aomori, Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi, and Yamagata.

A video of Shinzo Abe’s appearance at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“A Wave of Imagination Followed Japan’s Meltdown” by Susan Wyndham in The Sydney Herald.

Poetry by Ryoichi Wago available at Poetry Northwest. Translated by Ayoko Takahasi and Judy Halebsky.

“Speaking as an Unrealistic Dreamer”. Haruki Murakami’s International Catalunya Acceptance Speech in July 2011.

Tokyo Ueno Station author Yu Miri talks with translator Morgan Giles in 2021. Their conversation includes Miri’s reflections on Tōhoku, where she has lived since 2015.

“Fukushima During Coronavirus: Life in Double Isolation” by Yu Miri (translated by Morgan Giles).

RJL on the Fukushima novel Sacred Cesium Ground.

The Books and Boba podcast on Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being. 1 hour, 17 minutes.

My review of Erika Kobayashi’s Trinity, Trinity, Trinity in Asian Review of Books.

Tokyo Ueno Station author Yu Miri talks with translator Morgan Giles in 2021. Their conversation includes Miri’s reflections on Tōhoku, where she has lived since 2015.

“Fukushima During Coronavirus: Life in Double Isolation” by Yu Miri (translated by Morgan Giles).

RJL on the Fukushima novel Sacred Cesium Ground.

The Books and Boba podcast on Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being. 1 hour, 17 minutes.

My review of Erika Kobayashi’s Trinity, Trinity, Trinity in Asian Review of Books.

Anne Meadows interviews Hiromi Kawakami for Granta Magazine. 15 minutes. Kawakami discusses her response to 3/11 beginning around the 9-minute mark.

“Worldwide Responses to the 20 Millisievert Controversy” in The Asia-Pacific Journal” (2012). As discussed in the episode, Japan raised the recommended limit on exposure to radiation from 1 to 20 mSv in April 2011. This page links a number of responses from various media organizations and NGOs inside and outside of Japan.

“Strong Women, Soft Power.” Both Lucy North and Allison Markin Powell have translated Kawakami’s work.

Japanese Literature at Facebook

Japanese Literature at Goodreads

Other RJL Episodes of Interest:


Ardou, Deibito. “Japan Needs Less Ganbatte, More Genuine Action” at The Japan Times, 2011.

DiNitto, Rachel. Fukushima Fiction: The Literary Landscape of Japan’s Triple Disaster. U of HI, 2019.

Fincher, Alison. “‘Trinity, Trinity, Trinity’ by Erika Kobayashi” at Asian Review of Books, 2022. (free)

Gebhart, Lisette. “Post-3/11 Literature: The Localisation of Pain—Internal Negotiations and Global Consciousness” in Literature and Art after ‘Fukushima’: Four Approaches. Ed. Lisette Gebhart and Yuki Masami, Eb-Verlag, 2014.

Gebhart, Lisette and Yuki Masami, eds. Literature and Art after ‘Fukushima’: Four Approaches. Eb-Verlag, 2014.

Hopson, Nathan. Ennobling Japan’s Savage Northeast: Tōhoku as Japanese Postwar Thought, 1945-2011. Harvard U Asia Center, 2017. 

–. “Systems of Irresponsibility and Japan’s Internal Colony” in The Asia Pacific Journal, 2013. (free).

Ichikawa Makoto. “The Mire and a Shovel” (translated by Christopher Lowy) in Shinsai to fikushon no ‘kyori’: Ruptured Fiction(s) of the Earthquake. Edited by Yoshikawa Yasuhisa, Waseda, 2012.

Kimoto Takeshi. “Post-3/11 Literature: Two Writers from Fukushima” in World Literature Today, 2012.

Luke, Elmer and David Karashima, eds. March Was Made of Yarn: Reflections on the Japanese Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Meltdown. Vintage, 2012.

Mihic, Tamaki. Re-Imagining Japan after Fukushima. Australian National University Press, 2020. (free via Australian National University)

Miyazawa Kaoru. “Becoming an Insider and an Outsider in Post-Disaster Fukushima” in Harvard Educational Review, 2018. (free)

Murakami Haruki. “Speaking as an Unrealistic Dreamer” (translated by Emanuel Pastreich) at The Asia-Pacific Journal, 2011. (free)

Norimatsu Satoko. “Worldwide Responses to the 20 Millisievert Controversy” in The Asia-Pacific Journal (2012). (free)

Pepi, Ronalds. “The Ruptures of Rhetoric: Cool Japan, Tokyo 2020 and Post 3.11 Tohoku” in New Voices in Japanese Studies, 2019. (free via Japan Foundation)

Pilling, David. Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival. Penguin, 2015.

USA Today. “U.S. Donations Not Rushing to Japan” at 11 Alive Atlanta, 2011. (via Archive.Today)

Yoshikawa Yasuhisa, ed. Shinsai to fikushon no ‘kyori’: Ruptured Fiction(s) of the Earthquake. Waseda, 2012.

Transcript of Episode 22: Fukushima Fiction

Find out more about Episode 22 of the Read Literature podcast on the episode page.

  • Link to listen
  • Notes and sources
  • Ways to support the podcast

This is Read Japanese Literature. My name is Alison Fincher.

Read Japanese Literature is a podcast about Japanese fiction and some of its best works. All the works we discuss are available in translation, so you can read along if you want. You can find out more at ReadJapaneseLiterature.com.

Quick content warning: The events of 3/11 were terrible. We’re covering them in detail today.

[0:40] On March 11, 2011, at 2:46pm, one tectonic plate forced its way on top of another 45 miles (or 72 km) off the Eastern coast of Japan. It caused a 9.0 magnitude megathrust earthquake that lasted about six minutes. That’s the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan—the 4th most-powerful earthquake recorded since scientists started keeping records in 1900.

To give you a sense of the earthquake’s intensity:

This earthquake is now known as “Higashi nihon daishinsai” or “The Great East Japan Earthquake”.

[1:52] The Great East Japan Earthquake triggered a tsunami—a great wave—that may have reached heights up to 133 feet (more than 40 meters). It rushed as far as 6 miles (or 10 kilometers) inland at speeds up to 435 miles per hour. (That’s about 700 kilometers an hour, the speed of a passenger jet at cruising altitude.) And it caused massive destruction along more than 250 miles of Japan’s eastern coast. (That’s about 400 kilometers.) Some of Japan’s coastal cities were wiped away in minutes.

We think about the tidal wave just in terms of Japan. But an object in motion stays in motion… And the tidal wave reached Antarctica hours later, it broke off chunks of ice the size of Manhattan Island in New York City.

A few weeks after the disaster, the World Bank issued a report estimating that the financial damage from the earthquake and tsunami alone could reach $235 billion (American). That makes The Great East Japan Earthquake the most expensive natural disaster in history. But the disaster wasn’t over yet.

[3:07] The earthquake and tsunami also disabled the reactor cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The afternoon of March 12, one of those reactors exploded—creating problems with two others. Another exploded the following Monday. The next day, a third explosion released radiation at 10,000 times normal levels.

By April 9, the Tokyo-based company that ran the plant admitted contaminated water had probably leaked into nearby soil and water. A week later, Japanese authorities created a 12-mile “no-go” evacuation zone around the plant. (That’s about 20 kilometers). More than 300,000 people were eventually evacuated because of the meltdowns.

Three months later, the company finally reported leaks might have spread into the Pacific Ocean.

Collectively, people inside and outside of Japan refer to this series of disasters as “san ten ichi-ichi” or “3-11”

The government of Tokyo released official death numbers around the 10th anniversary of 3/11 in 2021. It reported 19,759 deaths.

6,242 injuries.

And 2,553 missing. Most of the missing are presumed dead.

Hundreds of thousands of people who evacuated the area still haven’t returned home—many never will.

[4:45] We’re going to back up a little bit to look at the bigger picture of the affected region—Tohoku—and its place in Japan’s history and culture. It’s a region that has a complicated place in Japan’s politics and imagination.

Then we’ll move on to Japan’s response to the 3/11 disaster—with a special focus on the way Japan’s writers responded.

By the way, I’m using the term “Fukushima Fiction” today. That term comes from Rachel DiNitto’s book Fukushima Fiction: The Literary Landscape of Japan’s Triple Disaster. Dr. DiNitto is a professor of Japanese literature at the University of Oregon.

In English, “Fukushima” has become a kind of stand-in for the entire disaster. Fukushima is the site of the nuclear meltdown, but much of northeastern Japan was devastated by the triple disaster.

In Japan, some people have used the term shinsai bungaku or “earthquake literature” to describe the same set of stories—obviously “earthquake literature” doesn’t really express the full extent of the disaster either.

Today’s episode will end with the life and work of Hiromi Kawakami. Her story “Kamisama” has been translated into English as “God Bless You”. She revisited and rewrote the work “God Bless You” in response to 3/11. It was one of the first literary responses to the Triple Disaster.

[6:16] The word “Tohoku” is written with the characters for “east” and “north”. So it is literally the northeast of the Honshu, the largest island of the Japanese archipelago. Six of Japan’s 47 prefectures fall in the Tohoku region: Akita, Aomori, Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi, and Yamagata.

The Tohoku region is an area of almost 26,000 square miles. (67,000 square kilometers). That’s about 30% the total landmass of Honshu—a space larger than the entire nation of Denmark.

It was once populated by the Emishi people. The Emishi were hunter-gatherers. They were also skilled horse-people. 

The centralized Japanese government based in Nara made its first attempt to conquer the region in the eighth century. The Japanese government had a hard time doing this. 

By the beginning of the 9th century, the central Japanese government did control most of what is now Tohoku. Most of the Emishi that remained became a part of broader Japanese society. Some of them immigrated north to the northern island of Hokkaido. There’s some debate about whether the Emishi and the Ainu people native to Hokkaido are related.

[7:36] Over the course of centuries, Tohoku became the bread-basket of Japan—or at least the “rice-basket”. 

Most of the region isn’t especially suited, though, for wet-rice agriculture. That’s the way people in Japan tend to grow rice. That means Tohoku was also susceptible to famine when the weather ruined crops. But Tohoku was important to central Honshu and the wealthier, more prestigious centers of power.

The wealthier, more prestigious centers of power needed Tohoku to sustain its way of life—needed the resources to thrive. And Tohoku became dependent on the income it got from selling resources to the centers of power. That dynamic has led some scholars to call the Tohoku region Japan’s first colony or an “internal” colony.

[8:34] The Meiji Restoration in 1868 reinforced Tohoku’s position. The Meiji Government’s policy of “Civilization and Enlightenment” would need to “civilize and enlighten” Tohoku as well… at least in the ways that would benefit the Meiji Government—the people who were in power.

[8:53] Throughout the 20th century, for example, the Tohoku region also provided day laborers for projects in Tokyo. During the economic miracle—the high growth period of the 1960s—a lot of laborers came to Tokyo to find jobs. These laborers were known as “golden eggs”. They were like gold for their employers—cheap, young, almost interchangeable—and there seemed to be an unlimited supply.

Today, many people still think of Tohoku as a region continually exploited by Tokyo—and for some good reasons. The GDP per capita in Tohoku is below the average GDP per capita for the whole of Japan—and it’s less than half the average GDP per capita in Tokyo. We’ll come back to perceived disconnect between Tohoku and the rest of Japan in just a minute.

[9:48] The flip side of this kind of constant Othering, is that Tohoku also has a unique place in Japan’s culture.

Matsuo Basho is almost certainly Japan’s most famous haiku poet—at least outside of Japan. His The Narrow Road to the Deep North is about his travels through Tohoku. That book, by the way, is also translated as The Narrow Road to the Interior.

Incidentally, my favorite Bashō haiku takes place in Miyagi Prefecture. It’s about a place called Matsushima—it’s a group of islands. It doesn’t even require translation!

Matsushima ya

Aa matsushima ya


[10:36] After WWII, Tohoku was presented to the Japanese as an alternative to the militarized Japan of the 1930s and 40s. It became a kind of symbol of what Japan could be. In the words of historian Tomio Takahashi, the region represented “a Japan that [the Japanese] could be proud of”.

A decade later, during the high growth era, Tohoku came to represent a kind of “storehouse” for everything that was supposed to be quintessentially Japanese—for “old Japan”.

In 1970, Japan National Railways launched an advertising campaign called “Discover Japan”—and it was written… in English. They were trying to encourage Japanese people to travel domestically and explore their own country. Several of the destinations promoted in this campaign were in Tohoku, including places like Tono and Osorezan.

The campaign presented travel within Japan as cool—especially for young women. But it also made these destinations look so different, so exotic, so Other, that the average Japanese person would need to visit them the way they’d visit a foreign country. The message was something like, “Why bother to travel abroad? There are places in your own country that would be beautifully old fashioned and backward! How quaint!”

[12:06] Let me pause here to talk about a couple of Japanese ideas that get thrown around a lot when people talk about 3/11. I’m borrowing here from the work of Dr. Tamaki Mihic at the University of Sydney. She wrote an important and phenomenal book on Re-Imagining Japan after Fukushima. You should know that her book is free via a Creative Commons license. Check for a link on the episode page.

I like the way Dr. Mihic emphasizes these particular ideas. I think each illuminates problems with the relationship between Tohoku and the rest of Japan.

[12:43] The first idea that Dr. Mihic brings up is “kizuna” or a kind of “bond between people”. It’s really more relevant to personal or family relationships. But during the 3/11 disaster and the aftermath, it became almost synonymous with how “group-oriented” and “community-first” the Japanese are supposed to be.

If you’re American or British, you might remember how heavily the news relied on Japanese stereotypes in their media coverage. The Japanese aren’t even looting! There are noble elderly people volunteering to decontaminate radioactive sites! Yes, these are worthwhile observations. And I don’t mean to downplay anyone’s actions. What I’m trying to say is that the Western media coverage focused on these stories because they reinforced ideas that Westerners hold about what the Japanese are supposed to be like.

Japanese viewers could watch foreign news with real-time translation. And these kinds of stories reinforced the idea that unity and cooperation are uniquely Japanese values. In fact, kizuna was such a prominent word in 2011, that it was voted the kanji of the year over the kanji for “disaster” and “quake”. 

[14:05] The second idea that Dr. Mihic raises is “gaman”. Gaman comes from the verb ganbaru—“to persist” or “to hold on” or “to do your best”. If you’ve ever watched Japanese anime, you’ve almost certainly heard one character tell another, “Ganbatte!” It was a popular favorite in the international media’s coverage of 3/11.

One March 17 USA Today article cites a (non-Japanese) senior director at the Japan Society in New York City: “Suffering and persevering is a type of virtue in Japan… among the most commonly heard expressions there are gaman… gambaru… and shoganai (‘it cannot be helped’)”.

After the disaster, “Ganbatte Japan!” and “Ganbatte Tohoku!” were popular refrains. 

[15:05] Now—why did I bring up these ideas? It’s clear from the rhetoric that has come from leaders in Tokyo that any kind of kizuna bonds between Tohoku and Tokyo are fairly weak. For one thing, there have been some extremely public and notable gaffes.

Right after the disaster, then-governor of Tokyo Ishihara Shintaro called the earthquake “divine retribution”. According to Shintaro, Japan could “use the tsunami to wash away egoism, to wash away the many years of crud built up on the hearts of the Japanese”.

(You might remember from earlier episodes just how much I dislike Tokyo’s ultranationalist, Akutagawa-winning governor—this is the same misogynist who described Mieko Kawakami’s Chichi to Ran as “egocentric, self-absorbed rambling” as well as “unpleasant and intolerable”.)


One of the problems with Ishihara’s remarks is that the worst of the “divine retribution” was visited on Tohoku—not Japan at large and certainly not on Tokyo. The reaction against Ishihara’s remarks was so heated he actually (gasp) retracted them! That was almost unheard of.

And then in August 2016, then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appeared at the closing ceremony for the Rio Summer Olympics. He popped out of a giant green pipe wearing Super Mario’s signature red hat to celebrate what Japanese politicians were promoting as “the Reconstruction Olympics”.

Maybe not a gaffe per se? But even a year after Abe’s appearance, more than half of the evacuees from Tohoku—that’s almost 120,000 people—still didn’t have permanent housing.

In April 2017, Reconstruction Minister Masahiro Imamura commented that the earthquake “was okay because it happened over there in Tohoku”. He later clarified, “Even in Tohoku, that terrible damage of 25 trillion yen was incurred. If it hit places near the Tokyo area, it would have been an unimaginable disaster”. He was actually forced to resign several days later.

[17:31] In the mind of many people in Japan, Tohoku is once again being treated as a kind of “national sacrifice zone”. Reminders to “Ganbatte Japan!” after 3/11 rang hollow. It seemed like Tohoku was the only place people were really being asked to endure. And how fair is it, really, to tell people to “keep doing their best”, when circumstances are so far out of their control?

Keep in mind that Tepco—the Tokyo Electric Power Company—is the one that owns the Fukushima Daiichi plant. It provided power to people living in Tokyo—not Fukushima or anywhere in Tohoku. And it’s pretty clear that TEPCO—the Tokyo Electric Power Company— bears most of the blame for the accident.

[18:23] And the 2020 “Reconstruction” Olympics? The process of labor[ers] leaving Tohoku for Tokyo repeated itself. In the 2010s, economic circumstances forced those laborers to leave behind unfinished rebuilding projects from 3/11. And construction costs in Japan rose for the 1st time in decades—by as much as 30%.

[19:00] In 2012, the Japan Science and Technology Agency released a fascinating study about press coverage of 3/11. Japanese people who watched TV four or more hours a day in March and April 2011 were at a significantly elevated risk of PTSD. Footage of the disaster was just so horrifying that watching coverage was traumatizing. 

Many accounts of the disaster called it soteigai—“beyond imagination”. But imagining something is exactly what fiction is for.

[19:35] For the next few minutes, we’re going to talk about how Fukushima fiction has played a role in helping Japan come to terms with 3/11 and its aftermath.

In April 2011, the Japanese government established the “Reconstruction Design Council”. According to reports, the committee’s goals included inspiring “sufficient motivation” to the Japanese people to help them face reconstruction. Another was to “convince foreign nations of the outstanding quality of Japanese knowledge”.

One of the items the committee took up was the official representation of the disaster. It’s known, for example, that the government suggested journalists and writers take advantage of words like fukko (“reconstruction”) and kibo (“hope”). They should also use soteigai—the word for “unimaginable” or “unforeseeable” that we mentioned just a minute ago.

They shouldn’t use words like muryoku (“powerlessness”). Zetsubo (“despair”). Merutodaun (“meltdown”).

[20:44] A member named Genyū Sōkyū was both a priest and an Akutagawa-winning writer. In an essay, he claims the government wanted to keep radioactive contamination off the committee’s agenda entirely—it was “too great a problem”. Many of the committee members weren’t pleased. And this is part of the reason I prefer the term “Fukushima fiction”. Just because it reinforces the way writers in Japan really stood up for the inclusion of radioactive contamination in the response to 3/11.

In late April 2011, a literary critic named Minako Saitō called on authors to “express their 3/11 experiences through literature”—and, it was effectively in the face of the official government position.

[21:33] Just a quick side note: I’m not sure where to put poet Ryoichi Wago in our story today. He’s a poet. I don’t normally cover poetry. Japanese poetry is not something I know much about. But Wago and his work are an important part of this story—so let me mention him here.

As early as March 16, 2011, he was publishing poetry about the disaster on Twitter. Wago teaches Japanese language and literature in Fukushima Prefecture. And a lot of his poetry highlights the way Tohoku is left out by the rest of Japan, as we discussed earlier in his episode.

This is an excerpt from one of his poems:

Those who drive us out from our native place, cruel people who drive out us Japanese.

They are “we Japanese”.

I have now discovered that our nation is like this.

A new volume of his poetry in English translation came out in February 2023. Since Fukushima was translated by Ayako Takahashi and Judy Halebsky.

[22:40] To me, what’s especially noteworthy about writers and 3/11 is that writers felt like they had a special role to play, something only that only they could do.

Haruki Murakami, for example, spoke about the work authors could do when he accepted the Catalunya Prize in Barcelona that June. I’m going to read you a long quote from that speech:

The work of repairing damaged roads and rebuilding houses is the dominion of the appropriate experts. But when it comes to rebuilding damaged morals and ethical standards, the responsibility falls on all our shoulders… 

And he’s talking there to everyone, all of us.

In this great collective effort, there should be a space where those of us who specialize in words, professional writers, can be positively involved. We should weave together with words new morals and new ethical standards. We should plant vibrant new stories and make them sprout and flourish. These stories will become our shared story.

[23:48] There were also authors who were also motivated by a desire to help victims materially. Many writers collaborated on collections to help raise funds and/or awareness. I can think of 3 prominent ones that are available in English:

2:46—Aftershocks—Stories from the Japan Earthquake is a “Twitter-sourced charity book about how the Japanese earthquake at 2:46 on March 11, 2011 affected us all”. It came out in English and includes work by Yoko Ono, William Gibson, Barry Eisler, and Jake Adelstein. And it was out within four weeks of the disaster.

March Was Made of Yarn is an anthology of seventeen works by Japanese and non-Japanese authors. It was edited by David Karashima and Elmer Luke. And it was published on January 1, 2012 simultaneously in Japan, the UK, and the US. 

The third collection I can think of is called Shinsai to fikushon no ‘kyori’: Ruptured Fiction(s) of the Earthquake. The effort was coordinated by Makoto Ichikawa of Waseda Bungaku and published in 2012. All the stories were written in Japanese. It was published as a dual-language collection in Japanese and English with work by some pretty big-name English-language translators. It also includes two stories translated into both Chinese and Korean. (FYI, I had to buy my edition from a Japanese bookstore and have it shipped from Japan.

[25:25] Before we move on to Hiromi Kawakami [see 30:00], I want to mention a few examples of Fukushima fiction that are available in English—and from North American and European bookstores. I’ve picked these titles because they’re important, and they represent important themes in Fukushima fiction.You can find a more complete list of what has been translated on the episode page. Note that only a tiny portion of Fukushima fiction has been translated into English.

2011’s Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure might be one of the most important and direct literary responses to 3/11. In English, it has the subtitle “A Tale That Begins with Fukushima”.

Horses, Horses is an example of the most direct kind of Fukushima fiction. It takes place in Tohoku. The characters and events are deeply embedded in the region. And the action is a direct, explicit response to 3/11. It was written by Hideo Furukawa, who is a Tohoku native. It was translated into English by Doug Slaymaker, with the help of Akiko Tanenaka.

In Horses, Horses, a semi-autobiographical narrator travels to his childhood home near Fukushima after the disaster. It’s a stream-of-consciousness book—it follows the thoughts of the narrator as they jump from one idea to another, almost at random. It’s also a magical realist book. Most notably, the protagonist of Furukawa’s most famous novel, The Holy Family, shows up in the back of Furukawa’s rental car.

[27:02] Other examples of Fukushima Fiction are more indirect. I think Yoko Tawada’s 2014 The Emissary is almost certainly a work of Fukushima Fiction. (The Emissary was also translated as The Last Children of Tokyo.) It’s the same translation under both titles by Margaret Mitsutani.

In The Emissary, Japan has been devastated by some kind of man-made catastrophe. As a result, the “aged-elderly” seem almost immortal. The children of Japan are feeble and disabled. It’s heavily implied they’ve all been poisoned by radiation.

We’ll take a look in just a minute at Hiromi Kawakami’s “God Bless You, 2011”. It’s another story where some vague event caused a terrible nuclear disaster. Because Kawakami wrote the story in March 2011, the connection is more obvious—even if it’s not any more explicit.

[27:58] Fukushima Fiction also transcends the Japanese language. Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being is one of my very favorite books. Ruth Ozeki is a Japanese-American-Canadian Zen Buddhist priest. Her novel is a brilliant, quantum-magical-realist story. It connects a fictional version of Ozeki with a teenager who may or may not have been killed on 3/11. So it’s Fukushima fiction… but it’s also part metafiction, part coming-of-age story, part return narrative, part sci-fi, part disaster narrative, part Zen meditation, part exploration of the meaning of life…  I really can’t recommend it highly enough.

[28:43] Today, in 2023, I think we should maybe even be talking about post-Fukushima fiction—fiction that incorporates the events of 3/11 into the way the world is now.

Trinity, Trinity, Trinity by Erika Kobayashi was first published in 2019 in Japan. It was published in English translation by Brian Bergstrom in 2022. While the book takes up 3/11, it also connects Fukushima to Marie Curie, the Nazis, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Los Alamos… When I reviewed it for the Asian Review of Books, I described it as “something like a next-step in Japanese atomic literature… A chronicle of radioactivity, beginning with the discovery of [pitchblende]… in Saint Joachim’s Valley during the 15th century”.

And finally, it’s worth noting that some authors believe all fiction after 3/11 is post-Fukushima fiction. Keiichiro Hirano writes thrillers. He has spoken publicly about how the disaster inspires all of his fiction—even though he never explores 3/11 in any of his books.

[30:00] Hiromi Kawakami was born in 1958. (Let me just clarify here, that she is not related to Mieko Kawakami.)

1958 is the year that Kenzaburo Ōe won the Akutagawa Prize for “Prize Stock”. Hiromi Kawakami is nine years younger than Haruki Murakami—and eight years older than Banana Yoshimoto.

Kawakami was born and raised in Tokyo. She graduated from Ochanomizu Women’s College, also in Tokyo, in 1980. She’s a scientist by training. Her university thesis was about the reproductive cycle of sea urchins.

After graduation, she started writing and editing for a Japanese science fiction magazine. Then she taught middle and high school science. When her husband needed to move for work, Kawakami started to stay home. But she continued to write.

Kawakami began writing literary fiction—that high literature—in the early 90s. In 1996, she won the Akutagawa Prize for her short story “A Snake Stepped On”. That story has been published in English translation in the collection Record of a Night Too Brief, translated by Lucy North.

In 2001, she won the Tanizaki Prize for Sensei no kaban or “Teacher’s Briefcase”. We haven’t really talked about the Tanizaki Prize. It’s an annual award for a full-length work of fiction or drama “of the highest literary merit” by a professional writer. Sensei no Kaban is better known in English as Strange Weather in Tokyo, translated by Allison Markin Powell. It is a beloved story of many readers of Japanese fiction in translation.

[31:00] Hiromi Kawakami wrote Kamisama in 1993. As a matter of fact, Kamisama was her 1st published literary work. Kamisama has been translated into English as God Bless You, but the title literally just means “God”.

Kawakami’s 1993 “God Bless You” opens in medias res—in the middle of the action with no explanation—“The bear invited me to go for a walk to the river, about 20 minutes away.”

This is a real, full-grown, male bear. And he has moved into apartment 305, three doors down the hall from the narrator. This is magical realism—the kind we talked about a few episodes ago. Magic that coexists along with the every-day. No explanation whatsoever.

The bear has also made the old-fashioned gesture of presenting the narrator with “moving-in noodles” and packets of postcards. 

“He sure wants people to like him,” the narrator thinks to themselves, “But then you probably have to do that if you’re a bear.” (Most people assume the narrator is a woman—the story never specifies. I’m going to use female pronouns from now on just to make things easy.)

It turns out they may have a vague connection through the narrator’s uncle. The bear calls it a “karmic bond” or the bonds of fate—further evidence that this is an old-fashioned bear.

By the time they get to the river, the narrator and the bear are both hot. They meet a boy and his dad who have been swimming in the river. Neither of them treat the bear like a person:

“Daddy, it’s a bear!”

“Right you are”

“A real bear!”

“A bear for sure.”

“A bear! A bear!”

They never look the bear in the eye. But the boy yanks the bear’s fur and kicks his legs. Finally, he shouts “Punch!” and kicks the bear in the stomach before running off.

The bear is surprisingly good natured about this: 

Good grief. But young people don’t mean any harm, you know. I mean, human beings are of all sorts, but children have no real malice.

The bear turns to the river and begins to fish. He does it very well. He is a bear, after all. He guts the fish, cleans it, salts it, cooks it… and gives it to the narrator: “A memento of our day together.”

It turns out that the bear has prepared for everything. Not just the cooking supplies, but out of his bag, he pulls a towel for the narrator to take a nap on. 

He offers to sing her a lullaby. He’s disappointed when she refuses. But when she wakes back up, he’s sleeping beside her.

They return to her apartment. “What a fine outing!” he says.

Before he goes, he awkwardly asks, “Would you mind if we hugged? Where I come from, that’s what we do when we say goodbye to someone we feel close to. If you don’t like the idea, of course, then we don’t have to.”

The narrator accepts the hug. Who could resist?

And the bear expresses his hopes that the bear god might bestow his blessing on her.

Some readers are puzzled by this charming and mostly-happy story. Perhaps the boy and his father represent the way Japanese society—all societies, really—mistreat people who are different?

Dr. Mihic at the University of Sydney offers this explanation: 

The fact that the bear’s traditionally Japanese actions appear odd and old-fashioned shows how much Japanese society has changed and how little kizuna there remains in Japanese society.

So we’re back to that kizuna bond again. The one that seems broken between the people of Tohoku and the people of the rest of Japan.

[35:42] The editors of March Was Made of Yarn describe “God Bless You, 2011” as “the 1st literary piece to emerge in Japan from the stunned silence after March 11”. Hiromi Kawakami revisited her famous 1993 story just weeks after 3/11. The story was published in the literary journal Gunzō that June.

The characters and broad outline of the plot of “God Bless You” are the same—but the tragedy is in the differences.

By the way, March Was Made of Yarn includes both versions of “God Bless You” as well as a “postscript” from Kawakami. But “God Bless You, 2011” is printed first. I would strongly suggest you flip ahead and start with the original 1993 story. “God Bless You, 2011” is available for free online, but it’s worth buying the book to read the original 1993 version first. It’s also worth buying the book because all of the other stories are magnificent.)

Again we open in medias res—“The bear invited me to go for a walk to the river, about 20 minutes away.” But this time the narrator clarifies that she hasn’t gone out yet without her protective clothing. It’s hot—and now she’s going to try.

The narrator has been wearing protective clothing since “the incident”, the narrator will be “clad in normal clothes that expos[e] the skin”. The Japanese phrase here for “the incident” is “ano koto” or literally “that thing”.

The bear is her neighbor again, but now there are only three people still living in their building. The shared connection has changed too. Maybe the narrator is friends of a friend of a friend the bear met at an evacuation center.

By the time they get to the river, they both know they’re contaminated by radiation. The narrator has taken care earlier in the year. She can still “afford some exposure”. The bear says he’s bigger, so his maximum dose is higher.

And this time, there aren’t any children to cause trouble here—malicious or not. In fact, there are “no children left anywhere in the area”. Presumably, their parents have evacuated all of them.

The impersonal strangers this time are adult men.

“It’s a bear, isn’t it.”

“I envy bears.”

“Bears can handle strontium. Plutonium, too.”

“What do you expect? They’re bears.”

“So that’s why? They’re bears.”

“Yeah, because they’re bears.”

When they leave, the bear assures the narrator that he isn’t, in fact, resistant to strontium and plutonium”. As the reader probably already knows, that is a ridiculous claim to make about a fellow mammal.

After the nap, that super-prepared bear now pulls from his bag a Geiger counter to scan the narrator and then himself. And the narrator finds the beeping of the Geiger counter “familiar”.

The radiation complicates that hug. The narrator tells us, “The fact that bears don’t take baths mean[s] there [will] probably be more radiation on his body”.

But she continues, “it [has] been my decision from the start to remain in this part of the country, so I [can hardly be squeamish”.

At the very end of the story, the narrator takes a shower and records the estimate of radiation she has received that day. It’s .03 millisieverts on the surface of her body and .19 millisieverts of internally received radiation. That puts her annual totals at 29 and 17.8, respectively.

According to critic Yōichi Koromi, many contemporary Japanese readers would immediately realize that the narrator had exceeded her annual limit. The narrator doesn’t seem alarmed; perhaps her government has deemed this normal? That doesn’t seem like an unlikely explanation.

In April 2011—not long after Kawakami finished writing the story… actually before the story was published—the Japanese government raised “acceptable” annual exposure from one millisievert to twenty millisieverts. It returned “acceptable” to pre-disaster levels in August 2012.

[39:57] Earlier in the episode, we talked about Japanese writers’ reactions to 3/11. This is how Hiromi Kawakami described hers in the postscript to “God Bless You, 2011”:

My reaction to all that I saw and heard in the aftermath of the earthquake was, “Why have I kept myself in the dark all these years, never attempting to find out what I should have known?”

[40:25] So why read Hiromi Kawakami?

Hiromi Kawakami is part of an important generation of Japanese women writers who have defined and shaped 21st-century Japanese fiction. She and her contemporaries—writers like Yoko Ogawa and Yoko Tawada—have been hugely influential on the last thirty years of Japanese writing.

She’s one of the writers picked up by the group of translators, Strong Women, Soft Powerthree translators we talked about in an earlier episode. These women have pushed hard to make Japanese women’s writing available to an English-speaking audience.

Hiromi Kawakami is also one of my very favorite Japanese authors.

Her work in English is incredibly diverse.

You can find a list of work by Hiromi Kawakami, including several things you can read for free, on the episode page.

As always, buy your books through our Bookshop.org page to support the podcast. I’ve also posted a list of “Fukushima Fiction” titles like Horses, Horses…, The Emissary, and A Tale for the Time Being on the episode page.

Today, I’ve been reading from Ted Goossen and Motoyuki Shibata’s translation of “God Bless You” and their translation of “God Bless You, 2011”. Those were both published in March Was Made of Yarn: Reflections on the Japanese Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Meltdown

You can also read “God Bless You, 2011” for free on Granta magazine’s website. Links to both on the episode page.

If you want to support Read Japanese Literature, please consider. Leaving a review on your podcast app of choice.

You can also become a supporter through Patreon for as little as $3 a month. Remember that subscribers get early access and bonus content with every episode.  Thank you so much to our new supporters! Find out how you can join them at patreon.com/readjapaneseliterature.

I tried to find ways to support people in Tohoku still recovering from the events of 3/11. I found several organizations doing good work. Unfortunately, their websites are in Japanese. I’ve put their link on the episode page anyway in case donating is an option for you.

We’d love to hear from you about the podcast. There are so many ways to stay in touch:

Thank you to Sharon Dormier at the University of Massachusetts Amherst for her continued and invaluable help with sources. Thank you to the Japanese Literature group on Goodreads and the Japanese Literature group on Facebook. Thank you [to] the Japanese literature Twitter community.

And thank you as always to Producer Khaim for today’s music, @khaimmusic and khaimmusic.com.

Donate to support Tohoku:

Transcript of Episode 21: Sexlessness in Japanese Fiction

Find out more about episode 21 of the Read Literature podcast on the episode page.

  • Link to listen
  • Notes and sources
  • Ways to support the podcast

This is Read Japanese Literature. My name is Alison Fincher.

Read Japanese Literature is a podcast about Japanese fiction and some of its best works. All the works we discuss are available in translation, so you can read along if you want. You can find out more at ReadJapaneseLiterature.com.

A quick content warning—This episode mentions domestic violence in a novel, but doesn’t describe it in detail. This episode has also been marked mature. Maybe I’m being too cautious? But we’re going to spend a lot of time talking about sex and artificial insemination, but we’re not going to be explicit—or at least we’re only going to use technical medical language. At the end of the episode, I’m also going to repeat an R-rated swear word one of Mieko Kawakami’s characters uses in a novel.

[1:03] While browsing a matchmaking site, Mizuki comes across the perfect listing:

“Seeking a Clean Marriage… an amicable daily routine with someone I get along well with, like brother and sister, without being a slave to sex.”

Mizuki is intrigued. She has never wanted to be “wife, friend, and mother” to the same man. So they get married. Two years later, they decide to have kids.

At a swanky clinic, they make an appointment to use “the Clean Breeder”. It’s a machine that will help them “facilitate, in the purest sense of the word, reproduction”. The doctor promises, “Nowadays, your partner is not necessarily a sex object—this is a wonderful advancement”.

I find the rest of Sayaka Murata’s “A Clean Marriage” hilarious, but maybe my sense of humor is warped. The Clean Breeder helps Mizuki’s husband ejaculate and, hopefully, impregnate his wife without, in his words “any form of sexual contact”. It’s a delightful inversion of the indignity a woman goes through during childbirth. The nurses urge him on:

“Is it OK like this, Mr. Takahashi? Please do your best.”

“Mr. Takahashi, please tell us when life is issuing. Raise your hand!”

“One last little push, Mr. Takahashi!”

Murata’s entire story, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori, is free to read on Granta’s website. And it’s linked on the episode page.

[2:38] “A Clean Marriage” is just one example of trends I want to explore in contemporary Japanese fiction. Protagonists who don’t have sex. And women who want to have babies anyway. (Maybe I’m a little cynical, but Valentine’s has put me in the mood.)

To take a closer look at these trends, we’re going to ask a couple of questions about contemporary Japan: What is so-called “celibacy syndrome”? Does it even exist? What role does motherhood play in a shrinking society like Japan’s? And how do sexlessness and motherhood play out in Japanese fiction?

We’ll end with a closer look at Mieko Kawakami’s best-selling novel, Breasts and Eggs.

[3:27] Let me start, as I often do, with a caveat: when English-speakers talk about how “sexless” Japan is, there’s a certain amount of cultural blindness involved. And a good bit of exoticism about Japan. Almost everyone in the developed world is having less sex than their elders were having a few decades ago. For example, a 2019 study found that almost 40% of American adults reported having sex once a month or less.

Anyway… starting in the mid-2010s, the Japanese media and then the rest of the world started paying a lot of attention to Japan’s habits in the bedroom. A 2015 study by the Japan Family Planning Association found that almost 50% of respondents reported they hadn’t had sex in the last thirty days. The Japanese media have dubbed this apparent “plague” of sexlessness, sekkusu shinai shokogun or “celibacy syndrome”.

When they were asked why they hadn’t had sex, the respondents to the survey had a lot of reasons. They were tired. They and their partner had lost their spark. There’s also mendokusai.

Mendokusai is a catch-all phrase. Roughly translated, it means something like “I can’t be bothered”. Sex is too much of a hassle.

But what really worried the media… and the government… was that 18% of men said they weren’t interested in sex at all.

You might be asking yourself—why would people care so much about who is having sex? It’s because, as a general principle, people who don’t have sex also don’t have babies.

[5:12] Japan has one of the lowest birthrates in the world. You’ve surely noticed by now that the Japanese media likes to have a term for everything—kōrei shoshika means “low birthrate, many elderly”.

Today, Japan has a population of about 126 million people. But that population is expected to shrink to about 110 million by 2040. The “replacement threshold” for a country to maintain its population is about 2.1 births per woman. In other words, the average woman needs to have two-ish children during her lifetime for a country’s population to stay the same size.

Japan’s fertility rate hit a historic low in 2005. It rose again briefly over the next decade and a half, but then the pandemic hit. In 2021, Japan saw its lowest-ever fertility rate—1.3 children born per woman. And so Japan’s Prime Minister, Kishia Fumio, used his New Year’s speech in January to emphasize that Japan is on what he calls “the brink of not being able to maintain a functioning society”.

Now, it’s a little early to make blanket statements, but low birth rates may just be a fact of life in developed, late-stage capitalist economies. For comparison, the birthrate in the US is 1.64 births per woman. Actually, several countries have lower birth rates than Japan including Monaco, South Korea, and Andorra, for example.

But Japan also has a long history of refusing to admit long-term residents and new citizens. (That’s another story for another day.) However, low birth rate plus low immigration equals a population is shrinking faster than almost any other country’s.

[7:11] Japan also has an aging population. It has the second highest median age in the world at 48.6 years. Famously, Japanese companies sell more diapers for incontinent adults than babies.

Together, the low growth and aging population pose huge demographic and economic challenges.

[7:34] The media has tried to tie “celibacy syndrome” (if it exists) to various subcultures. We’re going to take a moment to look at a few examples. Hopefully you’ll see just how silly it is to try to peg Japan’s low birthrate on any small group.

A professor at a well-regarded Tokyo university coined the term parasaito shinguru in 1999. Those are both English loan words. The term translates as “parasite singles”. Parasaito shinguru has become part of Japan’s national vocabulary.

The term refers to a single adult who lives with their parents. A lot of single young adults in Japan in 1999 didn’t have much of a choice. These were people who had come of age after the Economic Bubble burst—the so-called “Lost Generation” or the “Employment Ice Age Generation”. They grew up struggling to meet extremely high educational standards because they thought the reward would be a high paying job. They graduated. There were no jobs.

This narrative might sound familiar to American Millennials.

The connotations are parasaito shinguru are supposed to be negative—who likes a parasite? But today, a lot of young people in Japan like living with their parents. And a lot of parents like living with their adult children. Young people like it because they can save money. Rent, as most adults know, can be expensive.

Parents often like this arrangement because they get to see more of their kids. Sometimes they get to share expenses. And often the kids transition naturally into the role of caregivers as their parents age.

Parasaito shinguru is an exotic sounding term—but there are grown adults living with their parents all over the world. You might recall that the majority of American young adults were living with their parents in July of 2020. And many of them still are.

[9:35] Soshoku danshi or “grass-eating men” are also easy scapegoats for Japan’s low birth rate.(Although the term literally means “grass-eating men” it’s more often translated as “herbivore men”.)

The term was coined by a female Japanese columnist in 2006. It describes men who aren’t that interested in sex—or at least not in actively pursuing sex at the expense of other hobbies and their own peace of mind.

The cultural debate about herbivore Men was more au courant a decade ago, so it was hard to track down more updated statistics in 2023. But a decade ago, one survey found that more than 60% of unmarried men in their 30s happily described themselves as herbivore men. In another survey of one thousand single men in their 20s and 30s, more than 7[50] self-identified that way. Some commentators even peg herbivore men as an open rebellion against masculinism, materialism, and Westernism in Japan.

[10:38] Hikikomori is another Japanese group that gets endless media attention. The word literally means “pulling inward” or “being confined”. These are people who live in extreme isolation, sometimes refusing to leave their homes. It’s a term that now has an official definition from the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare:

Hikikomori is a condition in which the individuals affected refuse to leave their parents’ house, do not work or go to school, and isolate themselves away from society and family in a single room for a period exceeding six months.

No one is quite sure how many hikikomori there are. Estimates range from the hundreds of thousands to over a million.

Again, there’s a certain level of Orientalism here. The Japanese label “hikikomori” sounds more exotic than “recluse” or “hermit” or “shut in”. There are certainly large numbers of people who qualify in many countries, including much of Europe and the United States.

Again, analysts are quick to blame hikikomori for Japan’s low birth rates. But even high estimates of the hikikomori population put them at less than 1% of the population of Japan.

[11:56] I should also mention that people also point fingers at the LGBTQ+ community sometimes gets blamed for Japan’s low birthrate as well. Most LGBTQ+ people aren’t part of the “celibacy syndrome” dialogue, but they are blamed for not having babies. This blame, of course, is highly unjust for a lot of reasons. I’ll just mention the one that is especially relevant for our purposes today. The Japanese government has made it extremely difficult—legally speaking—for members of the LGBTQ+ community to adopt or have biological children. We’ll talk about that a little bit more in a few minutes.

[12:32] There is a lot of celibacy syndrome in contemporary Japanese fiction. Or at least a lot of adults who don’t want to have sex. For example, Kaori Ekuni broke new ground in 1991 with her Twinkle Twinkle. The protagonist is a married asexual woman married to a gay man who is partnered with someone else. 

Many of Akutagawa-winning author Sayaka Murata’s works include male and female characters who don’t like sex. We opened with her story “A Clean Marriage”. The protagonists of Convenience Store Woman and Earthlings are just as uninterested.

There’s also ME by Tomoyuki Hoshino. That one features a male protagonist talking with a group of (also male) doppelgangers: “We don’t need marital partners,” one says. “Our mutual understanding far exceeds any that we might have with a girlfriend or wife.” (That excerpt was translated into English by Charles de Wolf.)

There are links to purchase all of these books on the episode page.

[13:41] When people talk about women’s role in “celibacy syndrome”, the question isn’t usually framed as “why aren’t women having sex”—it’s usually framed as “why aren’t women getting married?”  Today, about 47% of Japanese women between 15 and 49 are married. “15-49” is a standard, global comparison of “reproductive age”. The legal minimum age for Japanese women to marry was sixteen under the 1947 constitution; it has been 18 since 2022.

In Japan, the average age for a woman’s first marriage is 29. The vast majority of unmarried Japanese women say they plan to marry, but a growing number never do. According to one 2021 survey, 15% of women between 18 and 34 said they had no intention to ever marry. That same survey has been conducted since 1982. And that’s the highest number ever recorded.

[14:45] So… most Japanese women report they plan to marry. But here’s something to think about. Up to 90% of young, unmarried Japanese women also report believing that staying single is preferable to what they imagine marriage is like. The big question is why. The gender gap is often floated as a reason so many Japanese women seem to find marriage… unappealing. And the gender gap almost certainly plays a role.

Here are some examples of how that gender gap is tied to Japanese marriages.

Japan’s National Institute of Population and Social Security Research estimates that married women spend seven times as much time on housework as their husbands whether or not they work. (Lest we non-Japanese get too self-righteous—American women still do an average of two extra hours of housework a day.)

It’s also difficult for married Japanese women to keep working outside of the house, regardless of housework. They still fight a cultural expectation that they’ll quit and stay at home when they marry. Married Japanese women are less likely to earn promotions. They also deal with the term oniyome or “devil wife”. It’s a slang insult for married working women.

And if women don’t quit when they marry, they’re often expected to resign when they get pregnant. Constitutionally that expectation is illegal, but that’s almost impossible to enforce. Women who do get pregnant are sometimes hounded out of the workplace. Twenty percent of Japanese women report matahara or maternity harassment. The stats get worse for women who don’t have full-time employment. Nearly half of them report being victims.

[16:37] Given all of this cultural context, it’s not hard to understand why pregnancy in modern Japanese literature is… complicated. Actually, pregnancy has almost always been complicated in Japanese literature. Just like it has almost always been complicated in most literatures. After all, pregnancy is pretty much one of the most basic facts of human life. It’s also pretty horrific, dangerous, and, even when successful, ends in a bloody mess. (I say this as the mother of two.) Worldwide, pregnancy hasn’t always been something readers (or even authors) are excited to think about.

One of Japan’s very oldest written texts, The Kojiki, involves marriage and pregnancy. Izanami, the creator goddess, initiates sex with the creator god, Izanagi. She gets pregnant, and the offspring they bear is misshapen. They bear a misshapen offspring.

They try again. Izanagi initiates this time. They conceive and give birth to the Japanese archipelago and many of the kami behind many of Japan’s more significant natural phenomena. Eventually, Izanami dies giving birth to the fire god. You can learn more in Read Japanese Literature’s very first episode.

Pregnancy and childbirth come up in the great Japanese work The Tale of Genji. The protagonist is a man, but the book was written by a woman. Many of the text’s most poignant moments feature the women in Genji’s life.

[18:08] There isn’t a lot of surviving fiction by or about women for the next thousand years or so. But Meiji-Era women writers took up pregnancy starting around the 1870s. At the time, the Japanese state was invested in the image of mother as ryōsai kenbo—good wife, wise mother. 

Early Japanese feminists spent a lot of time debating these ideas. For example, many newspapers carried a series of essays in the late 1910s known as the bosei hogo ronsō—the protection of motherhood debates. The authors took up questions like what does it mean to be a mother? What role, if any, should the state actually have in motherhood? But by the late 1920s and 1930s, questions about the nation and the war overtook more domestic concerns.

[19:00] The 1950s and 1960s were an opportunity for “good wives and wise mothers 2.0”—this time in service to the economy instead of to the state. According to the powers that be, they would stay home to procreate and raise the children. Their husbands could go off to work as salarymen. As units, couples could power Japan’s Economic Miracle.

The 1950s were a relative low point for twentieth-century Japanese women’s writing. And very few Japanese women writers took up sexuality or pregnancy.

In the 1970s and 80s, women’s rights activists started to see more success in Japan. The ūman ribu movement (or “women’s lib movement”) didn’t try to reject motherhood. To quote from the highly-useful book Rethinking Japanese Feminisms, the ūman ribu movement  aimed to “build a society in which women might want to have children”.

At the same time, Japanese fiction started to include more nuanced depictions of pregnancy and motherhood. (Actually, Professor Julia Bullock at Emory University makes a fascinating case that fiction writing came first—that a handful of Japanese women writers of the 1960s were some of the first women in Japan to “rewrit[e] femininity through literature”.)

[20:20] Today we’re talking about sexlessness and having sex or without a male partner. The two most relevant writers from this period that I can think of are Yuko Tsushima and Izumi Suzuki.

Yuko Tsushima is one of the first Japanese writers to seriously evaluate the question of single motherhood in Japanese fiction. In novels like Territory of Light and Woman Running in the Mountains, single mothers reject relationships with their babies’ fathers to raise their children on their own. The social stigma these women face is huge. And I should mention that there is still a significant social stigma about single motherhood in Japan today. 

Tsushima’s novels are excellent. I’d love to do an entire episode about her work. We’re in 2023 are lucky—phenomenal translations of several of her novels by Geraldine Harcourt have recently been reissued. And you can find links on the episode page.

[21:25] Izumi Suzuki is an extremely idiosyncratic science fiction writer. She’s also an extremely prescient one. Her stories were decades ahead of her time. Her first English-language collection, Terminal Boredom, was published in 2021. (I’m hoping to devote an episode to Japanese sci-fi and Izumi Suzuki when her next collected edition, Hit Parade of Tears, comes out later in the spring.)

Terminal Boredom includes two notable stories for our purposes today. (Both were translated by Daniel Joseph.) The first is called “Women on Women”. In that tale, men no longer rule society through “violence and cunning”. Instead, they live in an “exclusion zone”—and women only visit to get pregnant.

The second is the title story, “Terminal Boredom”. Mendokusai—that “can’t be bothered” attitude—has overrun Japan. Young people can’t be bothered to do just about anything. When they get involved in relationships, it’s out of a feeling of obligation. Some are so bored they forget to eat and just… lay down and die. Most of Japan’s young people are too tired and bored to have sex at all. “Older folks are amazing. They’ve got so much energy, so much stamina. They go to work every day, and somehow they still find it in them to have love affairs”. 

[22:56] In the later 1980s—the Bubble Era—the most prominent fiction by women didn’t really take up pregnancy at all. In many of Banana Yoshimoto’s stories, for example, the romantic relationships are almost like the relationships between brother and sister. The people who play maternal roles are often big sisters… part of found families… or transwomen. The role of biological motherhood is significantly absent. Sex and procreation just don’t play a part.

[23:28] In some of the most recent fiction by Japanese women, writers have questioned whether a woman who wants to have a baby can bypass sex altogether. Without resorting to science fiction, the most practical solution for these women is artificial insemination.

Artificial insemination is the process of taking sperm from a male and using it to fertilize a female egg. Not in a lab, in a petri dish—that’s in vitro fertilization or literally “in glass” fertilization. Artificial insemination is just the process of taking sperm and inserting it into a uterus, but not through penetrative sex.

The first recorded successful artificial insemination of a human being was performed in Scotland in 1776. Artificial insemination was introduced to Japan as a Meiji-Era modernizing reform in the 1890s.

Believe it or not, doctors recommended that a couple should actually have sex as part of the artificial insemination process, but they should use a condom. Then the doctor could use the condom to extract a man’s semen, only then they would use it to impregnate the woman. After all, at least according to a paper by scholar Shirai Chiaki at Shizuoka University, contemporary doctors thought masturbation caused a loss of vital energy. Not a good idea if you’re trying to sire children.

The woman in question was also supposed to be a man’s wife. At least officially, the first Japanese baby conceived with the aid of donor sperm wasn’t born until 1949. Many people thought the use of donor sperm was a form of adultery.

For almost seventy years, policy about sperm donation and artificial insemination was set by the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Doctors and hospitals follow their guidelines or they risk losing membership. The government never really intervened.

[25:33] Today, only married couples have legal protections as the parents of their children. A woman who gives birth using a donated egg is legally its mother. Her husband can’t deny he’s the father, even if the couple used donated sperm. 

Access to donated sperm is still a problem. In Japan, only married couples have access to fertility treatment. Gay marriage is still not recognized by the Japanese government. So even gay couples who want to marry aren’t eligible. That means there are no legal protections for LGBTQ+ couples when it comes to assisted pregnancy.

In 2021, Japan had only one commercial sperm bank. And it didn’t serve single adults or LGBTQ+ couples. 

[26:19] Single women or LGBTQ+ couples have a couple of options—neither of them perfect. It’s generally safer to buy sperm from an overseas sperm bank. Women can either travel abroad or pay to have it shipped to them. If they’re lucky, they can find a domestic doctor to help. Most doctors won’t risk losing their membership in the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology to assist. But overseas donors or travel are expensive. And this process is also time consuming.

Japan also has a thriving sperm donation black market. There are success stories. But there are also women who describe pretty grotesque situations—like men who ask for graphic pictures.  And, of course, sperm donation outside of a medical facility carries health risks like spread of bacteria or even STIs. Without legal protections, there’s always a chance a donor might later try to claim a child he helped conceive as his own.

We’re going to come back to artificial insemination when we talk about Breasts and Eggs at the end of the episode.

[27:30] The most extreme example of a book about pregnancy without a father or sex that I can think of is Emi Yagi’s Diary of a Void. It was published in English translation last year (2022) by David Boyd and Lucy North. The protagonist, Shibata, is a 34 year old office worker. She’s tired of picking up the slack for her male coworkers just because she’s a woman. She’s the one who has to answer calls, make copies, purchase supplies, sort and distribute packages, replace ink, pick up trash, empty shredders, clean the fridge… So one day, she tells her supervisor she can’t wash the coffee mugs. She’s pregnant. The smell will make her vomit.

Shibata is not pregnant. But she’s now committed herself to a nine-month ruse.

Diary of a Void is the height of sexless pregnancy in contemporary Japanese literature. There’s no sex. There’s no love. And there’s no real baby at all.

[28:40] Mieko Kawakami was born in 1976. That makes her a little more than a decade younger than Banana Yoshimoto… just a little older than Tomihiko Morimi and Sayaka Murata, both of whom we’ve covered on this podcast.

(It also means that Mieko Kawakami is an author of the internet age. I’ve had access to so many author interviews. I’m going to be able to quote from Kawakami a lot. And you can find links on the episode page.)

Like many writers, Kawakami has a diverse resume. Her father wasn’t usually around. By the time she was fourteen, she had lied about her age, and she was working in a factory that made heaters and electric fans. She later worked as a bar hostess, and then as a singer—she debuted on a major label in 2002. Then she began her writing career as a blogger. She started the blog to promote her work as a singing career, but it soon became an outlet. At the height of her blog’s popularity, she was logging about a hundred thousand hits a day. (If you’re old enough to remember blogging culture, those are pretty impressive stats.)

Some of her first published work is poetry. Eventually blog posts developed into her 1st novel, My Ego, My Teeth, and the World. She published that novel in 2007.

A year later, Kawakami won Japan’s prestigious Akutagawa Prize for her novella Chichi to Ran—in English, Breasts and Eggs. (Just as an aside, Mieko Kawakami found inspiration for Chichi to Ran in Ichiyō Higuchi’s story “Takekurabe”—we talked about that story at length in our episode about The Women Writers of Meiji Japan.)

Chichi to Ran is only the starting point for the Breasts and Eggs we’re talking about today.

And I’ll explain more in just a minute.

[30:38] Mieko Kawakami has also become an important feminist voice of her generation. She greatly annoyed Akutagawa winner and then-Governor of Tokyo Shintaro Ishihara when she won the Akutagawa Prize. Ishara was, obviously, a writer. But he was also a prominent ultranationalist and famous misogynist views and nasty things to say about Chinese and Koreans. Ishihara was a member of the Akutagawa Selection Committee at the time. (Many former winners serve on this committee.) So the Bungei Shunjū magazine published his comments about Kawakami’s novella when she won the prize:

“The egocentric, self-absorbed rambling of the work [Chichi to Ran] is unpleasant and intolerable.”

(As far as I’m concerned, annoying Ishihara is a praiseworthy accomplishment. And I share that sentiment with a lot of people.)


In 2020, Kawakami told a Guardian reporter that she used to think of feminism as “hysterical old women on TV”. “As you get older,” she continued, “It just seems so obvious for women to get feminist.” She describes her problem with “the patriarchal system” in Japan and the “religious-like pressure that people are put under to conform [there]”. A lot of her work tackles those themes head on—especially Breasts and Eggs.

[32:03] The things Kawakami stands up for—fair treatment of women, equitable marriage, working motherhood—are lived values for Kawakami. She married author Kazushige Abe in 2011. 

Kazushige [Abe]’s first novel in English translation [Nipponia Nippon] is expected in fall 2023, translated by Kerim Yasar. The couple also have a young ten year old son together.

None of this is to say Kawakami wants to be pigeon-holed by the label “feminist”. (One of her frequent translators, Sam Bett, remarked, “I would say that if in a hundred years Mieko is remembered only for being a feminist author, she would look back on that and be pissed”.) Kawakami has been somewhat more diplomatic. She’s said she would prefer to be “understood as a human writer”.

[32:50] Mieko Kawakami also has a fascinating and public friendship with Haruki Murakami. Murakami, as you probably know, is one of Japan’s best known writers. He wrote a rave review of Chichi to ran after Kawakami won the Akutagawa Prize.

From 2015 to 2017 the pair had four different conversations totaling sixteen hours. These conversations were later published in a book called The Owl Spreads Its Wings with the Falling of the Dusk. Unfortunately, the whole thing hasn’t been translated into English. There is a short excerpt published on Lit Hub, translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd. You can find it linked on the episode page.

Bett and Boyd have translated parts of the conversation where Kawakami challenged Murakami about his female characters. Kawakami seems to speak for many women readers when she challenges [him] on some of the claims he makes. Claims like claims like… the narrator of Killing Commendatore is “the sort of person who a twelve year old girl would feel comfortable talking to about her breasts”.

[33:59] What English speakers read when they pick up Breasts and Eggs isn’t the book that won Kawakami the Akutagawa Prize in 2008. Our Breasts and Eggs is a significantly expanded version that Kawakami reworked and published in Japan in 2019 as Natsu Monogatari or Summer Story. I know I have some listeners who are able to read in other languages. You may have encountered Chichi to ran in translation. I know, for example, there’s a French translation of the 2008 Akutagawa winner.

In a recent New York Times Magazine article, Kawakami explained:

I put everything I had into [2008’s] Breasts and Eggs.I put everything I felt into it. But after 10 years, I knew that there was room to build on its philosophy of feminism, and I better understood the changes that women go through.

This is how Kawakami explained the book in an October 2020 English-language Twitter post:

It seems there are some misunderstandings of the facts.

I think it’s important to clear a few things up.

I wrote Breasts and Eggs from scratch in 2019. I used the same characters and settings of the novella I had written ten years ago, but both Book One and Book Two of Breasts and Eggs were written in 2019 and it’s a completely different book from the novella.

In that same post, she also clarified, “Some people wrote that Breasts and Eggs was originally a blog but that’s not true. I have no idea where that rumor came from”.

[35:35] It’s pretty clear to me that those rumors came from 2008 articles about Kawakami’s Akutagawa win. A particularly insulting article in the UK’s Independent is titled “Young Commuter Bloggers Snatch Japan’s Literary Laurels”. The entire article groups a young woman who just won Japan’s top literary award with people writing “cell phone novels”.

But cell phone novels are another story for another day… or maybe even another episode. Breasts and Eggs was not a cell phone novel. It has virtually nothing in common with a cell phone novel. And it didn’t start out as a blog, either.

It’s astonishing to read some of those early reviews of Chichi to ran. They come across as shockingly dismissive. A 2008 Independent article calls her “a Björjk-loving 31-year-old”. It goes on to quote author Roger Pulvers:

[Kawakami’s] popularity is part of the phenomenon of confessional fiction of the chick-lit variety, where the writer is very frank about sex and personal, especially family relationships.

I mean… maybe that’s not supposed to be dismissive, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a work of fiction that just won a coveted literary award labeled “chick-lit”. 

Honestly, even some of the press coverage a decade later was pretty insulting. Take The Japan Times headline “‘Breasts and Eggs’: Not Just Some Elevated Piece of Literary Chick-Lit”—the emphasis there is obviously mine. By the time Breasts and Eggs premiered in English, Kawakami had become a global force to be reckoned with. In 2020, Breasts and Eggs was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and one of TIME Magazine’s 10 Best Books of 2020.

[37:47] Breasts and Eggs stars three women. Natsu is our narrator. She’s a writer who lives in Tokyo. In part one, her older sister, Makiko, is visiting from Osaka. And Natsu’s niece—Makiko’s twelve year old daughter—Midoriko has come along as well.

Kawakami establishes in just the first three pages that these women don’t have positive experiences of fatherhood. Natsu and Makiko’s dad didn’t work. He was physically violent. He abandoned them when they were in elementary school. And they fled with their mom before he could come back.

Makiko’s husband left while Makiko was pregnant with Midoriko. And Midorikoknows virtually nothing about her father. 

The three women also represent three different attitudes about motherhood. Makiko, the oldest sister, is a mom. Her daughter thinks she regrets having a baby. I don’t think she regrets her daughter so much as the pregnancy itself. She can’t stand what pregnancy has done to her body. Part one of the novel is about how much she resents the way her body has aged, and she has come to Tokyo to consider getting breast implants.

Natsu doesn’t like sex. She’d kind of like to have a baby anyway. 

Midoriko, the twelve year old, finds both sex and motherhood repulsive.

[39:12] Natsu has tried—really tried—to make sex work. She had a partner she wanted to spend her life with. But sex made her “so uneasy”, “never enjoyable or comfortable or fulfilling”.

“Opening [her] legs and having him inside [her]… was the worst”. Once her partner was naked on top of her, she says, she “was all alone.”

Gendered expectations made it impossible for her to communicate. She expects he would have listened. But she “just assumed [she] had to go along with him—because it was on [her], as a woman, to fulfill his sexual desires”. Sometimes she wonders if she can even be a woman without sexual desire. She’s come to think that “passion and sex [are] incompatible” for her. And she and her partner broke up some years ago.

It take[s] Natsu a few years to realize that maybe she doesn’t have to be alone just because she doesn’t like sex. One night she sees a report on TV: “Is it possible, without a partner, to get pregnant and raise a child on your own?—Sperm Donation: An In-Depth Report.” In most of what remains of the novel, Natsu researches artificial insemination. Is it right for her? What are the ethical implications?

Eventually, Natsu meets a man named Aizawa. Aizawa is an advocate for people conceived through anonymous sperm donation. In the end, Aizawa is the man who serves as Natsu’s sperm donor. They get around many of the problems with the sperm donation underground that we talked about earlier by lying to a doctor. And that’s not an uncommon solution.

The conclusion and denouement of Breasts and Eggs nicely wraps up some of the main themes of our episode today. Natsu and Aiza sort of fall in love. But they never get together. They never decide to have children together in a conventional way. And they never start a sexual relationship. To Natsu, it’s too important to have a baby. And neither sex nor romantic love are worth the sacrifices they require.

[41:20] What about twelve year old Midoriko? She’s going through puberty. Her friends are going through puberty. And it’s forcing the issue. 

Midoriko journals throughout the novel. So even though she’s not the narrator, we get to hear her innermost thoughts. This is kind of a cool way to conduct a novel. She journals about one conversation at school that’s especially noteworthy:

…I forget who, but someone was saying, ‘I was born a girl, so yeah I definitely want to have a baby of my own eventually.’ Where does that come from, though? Does blood coming out of your body make you a woman? A potential mother? What makes that so great anyway?… Life is hard enough with just one body. Why would anyone ever want to make another one? I can’t even imagine why anyone would bother.

[42:13] For Japanese policy makers worried about “celibacy syndrome”, the oldest sister Makiko may offer the most threatening sentiment in the entire novel. As I’ve already mentioned, Makiko has been burned by the men in her life who were supposed to be father figures. She mentions that her ex, Midoriko’s father, claimed to be something of a feminist: “He went around, patting himself on the back, like he’s so much better than all those men,” she said. Then she summarizes the sorts of things he used to say—

I know the pain that women feel. I respect women. I’ve written papers about it, I know where all the landmines are. My favorite author is Virginia Woolf…

She goes on, “So fucking what, though, right? How many times did you clean the house last month? How many times did you cook? How many times did you go grocery shopping”

And then she concludes

There will come a time when women stop having babies. Or, I don’t know, we’ll reach a point where the whole process can be separated from women’s bodies, and we can look back at this time, when women and men tried to live together and raise families, as some unfortunate episode in human history.

[43:34] So why read Mieko Kawakami?

As I’ve mentioned, Mieko Kawakami is one of the most important voices coming out of Japan today. Her work is being widely translated. And her books are some of the most anticipated titles when they are released in English. The people translating her work—Sam Bett, David Boyd, Louise Heal Kawai, Hitomi Yoshio—are some of the most talented translators working between Japanese and English today.

Kawakami is a marvelous writer. And she takes up some of the ideas that are most important to contemporary Japan—really to any late-stage capitalist society. Questions about isolation, motherhood, pregnancy… all in a shrinking society.

Today we looked at Breasts and Eggs. It’s a good book. Not my favorite Mieko Kawakami—I love her novel Heaven. It is a story about the meaning of suffering from the perspective of a bullied middle school boy. Very difficult to read, but worth it—at least from my perspective.

[44:39] I’ve been reading from Sam Bett and David Boyd’s translation of Breasts and Eggs. Buy your books through our link to Bookshop.org to support the podcast.

There are other ways to support the podcast. Leave a review on your podcast app of choice. (Thank you to the listeners who have done that.) You can also become a supporter through Patreon for as little as $3 a month. (Thank you to our new supporters.) Find out how you can join them at patreon.com/readjapaneseliterature.

We’d love to hear from you about the podcast. There are so many ways to stay in touch:

Thank you to the Japanese Literature group on Goodreads and the Japanese Literature group on Facebook.
And thank you as always to Producer Khaim for today’s music, @khaimmusic and khaimmusic.com.

Episode 21: Sexlessness in Japanese Fiction

Check out Episode 21 of the Read Literature podcast.

Transcript available.

This episode is marked mature.

Today we’ll explore two trends in contemporary Japanese fiction:

  • Protagonists who don’t want to have sex
  • And women who want to have babies anyway.

To take a closer look at these trends, we’re going to ask a couple of questions about contemporary Japan:

  • What is “celibacy syndrome”? Does it even exist?
  • What role does motherhood play in a shrinking society?
  • And how do sexlessness and motherhood play out in 21st-century Japanese fiction?

We’ll end with a closer look at Mieko Kawakami’s best-selling novel, Breasts and Eggs.

(CW: domestic violence in a novel)

Become an RJL supporter for more than ten minutes of bonus content.

Support this podcast by buying from Bookshop.org.

More by Mieko Kawakami:

Read Mieko Kawakami for free:

This episode also mentions:

Find Out More

More on Japan’s perceived sexlessness. NSFW. This article includes links to most other English-language articles on the same topic when it was on many people’s minds in the mid 2010s.

RJL on sexlessness in contemporary Japanese fiction. NSFW. Includes reflections on the work of Mieko Kawakami and Sayaka Murata. (spoilers)

RJL on ME and Earthlings. (spoilers)

6 Facts about Gender Equality in Japan from Unseen Japan.

More on maternity harassment in Japan.

Translator Daniel Joseph on Izumi Suzuki.

My review of Emi Yagi’s Diary of a Void in Asian Review of Books.

Isaac Meyer’s The History of Japan podcast on the history of marriage in Japan. 37 minutes.

“Japanese Generations: Boom Bubble, and Ice Age” at Nippon.com. Nippon.com has translated this article from Japanese into English.

“Osaka vs. Tokyo People: Are They Really That Different” at TheTrueJapan.com. The author is a long-time Tokyo resident.

A quick explanation about the differences between “standard Japanese” and Kansai-ben (Osaka-ben).

Mieko Kawakami’s official website. English.

Mieko Kawakami at Granta. This page also includes links to some stories by Kawakami you can read online for free.

Mieko Kawakami in conversation with David McNeill of The Guardian in 2020.

Mieko Kawakami in conversation with Makenna Goodman of BOMB Magazine in 2021.

Haruki Murakami praises Chichi to Ran.

Mieko Kawakami discusses female characters with Haruki Murakami.

A recent (February 2023) profile of Mieko Kawakami in The New York Times Magazine.

Glynne Walley provides an English-language review of 2008’s Chichi to ran. Walley is a professor of Japanese literature at the University of Oregon.

The Independent responds to Kawakami’s Akutagawa win in 2008.

Mieko Kawakami explains Breasts and Eggs on Twitter in 2020.

Sam Bett and David Boyd talk about translating Breasts and Eggs. This conversation is especially interesting as a look at co-translation.

The New Yorker explains the development and appeal of Japan’s “cell phone novels”.

“Literature” at Japanese Wiki Corpus

Japanese Literature at Facebook

Japanese Literature at Goodreads

Other RJL Episodes of Interest:


Alzate, Juliana Buriticá. “Embodiment and Its Violence in Kawakami Mieko’s Chichi to Ran” in Japanese Language and Literature, 2020.

Bullock, Julia. The Other Women’s Lib: Gender and Body in Japanese Women’s Fiction. U of HI Press, 2010. (free via Open Access)

Bullock, Julia, et al. Rethinking Japanese Feminisms. U of HI Press, 2018. (free via Open Access)  

Shirai Chiaki. “The History of ‘Artificial Insemination’ in Japan During 1890-1948: Issues Concerning Insemination and Donor Sperm” at Shizuoka University Repository, 2017. (free)

Copeland, Rebecca and Melek Ortabasi, eds. The Modern Murasaki: Writing by Women of Meiji Japan, Columbia UP, 2006.

Fincher, Alison. “Cannibalism in Two Contemporary Japanese Novels” at ReadJapaneseLiterature.com, 2020. (free)

–. “Diary of a Void” in Asian Review of Books, 2022. (free)

–. “Sexlessness in the Work of Mieko Kawakami and Sayaka Murata” at ReadJapaneseLiterature.com, 2020. (free)

Frisby, Naomi. “Spotlight on: Mieko Kawakami. The Author You Need to Know” at PanMacMillan.com, 2021. (free)

Harney, Alexandra. “The Herbivore’s Dilemma” in Slate, 2009. (free)

Haworth, Abigail. “Why Have Young People in Japan Stopped Having Sex?” in The Observer, 2013. (free)

Hay, Mark. “Why Aren’t the Japanese Fucking?” in Vice, 2015. (free)

Hernon, Matthew. “Award-Winning Japanese Author Mieko Kawakami: “I Have a Problem with the Patriarchal System in This Country” in Tokyo Weekender, 2020. (free)

Hunt, Joshua. “‘Breasts and Eggs’ Made Her a Feminist Icon. She Has Other Ambitions” in The New York Times Magazine, 2023. (free)

Kagemaya Yuri. “Writer Blogs Her Way to Top Literary Prize” in The Japan Times, 2008.

Kawakami Mieko. “from Breasts and Eggs.” Translated by Louise Heal Kawai at Words without Borders, 2012. (free)

–. “Mieko Kawakami: ‘Women Are no Longer Content to Shut Up.” Interview with David McNeill in The Guardian, 2020. (free)

–. “Strong Lights and Dark Shadows: Mieko Kawakami Interviewed by Makenna Goodman.” Translated by Hitomi Yoshio at BOMB Magazine, 2021. (free)

Kazdin, Cole. “For Women in Japan, Maternity Harassment Is the Mother of All Problems” in Vice, 2016. (free)

Keating, Joshua. “No, Japanese People Haven’t Given Up on Sex” in Slate, 2013. (free)

Kobayashi Jun. “Have Japanese People Become Asexual? Love in Japan” in International Journal of Japanese Sociology, 2017.

Kosaka, Kris. “‘Breasts and Eggs’: Not Just Some Elevated Piece of Literary Chick-Lit” in The Japan Times, 2020.

Montgomery, Hanako. “Japan Won’t Let Them Have Kids, So They Turn to the Black Market for Sperm Instead” in Vice, 2021. (free)

Murakami Haruki. “A Feminist Critique of Murakami Novels, with Murakami Himself: Mieko Kawakami Interviews the Author of Killing Commendatore.” Translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd at Literary Hub, 2020. (free)

–. “Haruki Murakami on His Favorite Young Novelist: Mieko Kawakami.” Translated by Philip Gabriel at LitHib.com, 2017. (free)

Nonomiya, Lily, Marika Katanyma and Yuko Takeo. “Japan, in Need of More Babies, Is Helping Pay for Costly IVF” in The Japan Times, 2022.

Kosaka, Kris. “Breasts and Eggs: Not Just Some Elevated Piece of Literary Chick-Lit” in The Japan Times, 2020. (free)

Lim, Louisa. “In Japan, ‘Herbivore’ Boys Subvert Ideas of Manhood” at NPR Morning Edition, 2009. (free)

McCurry, Justin. “Record Number of Young People in Japan Rejecting Marriage, Survey Shows” in The Guardian, 2022. (free)

McNeill, David. “Young Commuter Bloggers Snatch Japan’s Literary Laurels” in The Independent, 2008. (free)

Newcomb, Amelia. “Mieko Kawakami: From Blogger to Global Novelist” in The Christian Science Monitor, 2008. (free)

O no Yasumaro. The Kojiki. Translated by Gustav Heldt, Columbia UP, 2014.

Schawlow, Paul Gordon and Janet A. Walker, eds. The Woman’s Hand: Gender and Theory in Japanese Women’s Writing, Stanford, 1996.

Seaman, Amanda C. Writing Pregnancy in Low-Fertility Japan. U HI Press, 2017.

Siripala, Thisanka. “Japan’s Population Crisis Nears Point of No Return” at The Diplomat, 2023. (free)

“Yanagisawa Calls Women Child-Bearing Machines” in Japan Times, 2007.

Episode 20: The Akutagawa Prize and Kobo Abe

Machi Yamida Abe’s illustration from The Woman in the Dunes

Check out Episode 20 of the Read Literature podcast.

The Akutagawa Prize is probably Japan’s most celebrated literary award.

To better understand the Akutagawa Prize and its place in modern Japanese literature, we’ll start with an introduction to the history of “literary” fiction in Japan.

Then we’ll move on to the history of the Akutagawa Prize itself, from its creation in 1935 through its most recent winners.

And then we’ll finish with a look at the life and career of Kobo Abe including his most famous book, The Woman in the Dunes.

(CW: suicide, attempted rape in a novel)

Become an RJL supporter for five minutes of bonus content.

Support this podcast by buying from Bookshop.org.

  • Beyond the Curve (translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter)
    • includes a partial translation of “The Crime of S. Karma”
  • The Woman in the Dunes (translated by Dale Saunders)

More by Kobo Abe:

This episode also mentions:

Purchase Akutagawa winners from our Bookshop.

Find Out More

A GoodReads list of Akutagawa-winning stories. Works that have been translated into English are usually included with their titles in English.

RJL’s list of Akutagawa Prize Winners in English. The list includes non-winning works available from Akutagawa-winner authors.

Glynne Walley’s write-ups of Akutagawa-winning stories since 2000. Walley is a professor of Japanese literature at the University of Oregon.

Li Kotomi’s Akutagawa acceptance speech. Kotomi was the first Tawainese-born Akutagawa winner when she won in 2021.

A profile of Gregory Kherzrnejat, an American nominated for the 2023 Akutagawa Prize, in the Japan Times. If Kherznejat had won, he would have been the first native English speaker and first American Akutagawa winner.

Comments about Kobo Abe and “The Crime of S. Karma” by the Akutagawa Selection Committee. Note that the link is to the Google Translate version of a Japanese website.

A review of Karin Yamaguchi’s memoir, Kobo Abe and Me. Abe’s mistress’s memoir hasn’t been translated into English, but this is a thorough review.

An interview with Kobo Abe’s daughter Neri.

The Internet Movie Database entry for 1964’s The Woman in the Dunes. The entry includes a film trailer.

Kobo Abe’s obituary in The New York Times.

“Literature” at Japanese Wiki Corpus

Japanese Literature at Facebook

Japanese Literature at Goodreads

Other RJL Episodes of Interest:


Abe Kobo. “The Crime of S. Karma” in Beyond the Curve. Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter. Kodansha, 1991.

–. Interview with Nancy S. Hardin. Contemporary Literature, 1974.

“Abe Kobo” at Prizeworld.com, 2017. (Japanese language site via Google Translate, both free)

Ashby, Janet. “Heavy and Light in Minority Fiction” in The Japan Times, 2000.

“[Breaking News] Bookstore Clerk and Author Atsushi Sato, who Lives in Sendai, Won the Akutagawa Prize” at Kahoku News, 2023. (Japanese language site via Google Translate, both free)

Chilton, Myles. “Realist Magic and the Invented Tokyos of Murakami Haruki and Yoshimoto Banana” in Journal of Narrative Theory, 2009.

Coutts, Angela. “Gender and Literary Production in Modern Japan: The Role of Female-Run Journals in Promoting Writing by Women During the Interwar Years” in Signs, 2006.

El-Khoury, Masumi Abe. Editor’s Intentions and Author’s Desires: How Junbungaku Affects the Akutagawa Prize and Japan’s Commercial Literary World. UBC. MA Thesis. 2011. (free)

Ericson, Joan E. “The Origins of the Concept of ‘Women’s Literature’” in The Woman’s Hand: Gender and Theory in Japanese Women’s Writing, Stanford, 1996.

Fernando, Shaun. “Works Winning the Akutagawa and Naoki Prizes Are Trending on Social Media” at JapanFoward.com, 2022. (free)

Ha, Thu-Huong. “Could the Akutagawa Prize Get Its First American Winner? At The Japan Times, 2023.

Iwamoto Yoshio. “The Nobel Prize in Literature, 1967-1987: A Japanese View” in World Literature Today, 1988.

“Japan’s Kafka Goes on the Road” in The New York Times, 1979. (free)

Keene, Donald. “Ryūnosuke Akutagawa” in Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era—Fiction, 4th ed., 1999.

Mack, Edward. “Accounting for Taste: The Creation of the Akutagwa and Naoki Prizes for Literature” in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 2004.

–. Manufacturing Modern Japanese Literature: Publishing, Prizes, and the Ascription of Literary Value. Duke, 2010.

Mak, Rebecca. “The Akutagawa/Tanizaki Debate: Actors in Bundan Discourse” in Routledge Handbook of Modern Japanese Literature, ed. Rachael Hutchinson and Leith Morton, 2016.

Marcus, Marvin. Japanese Literature from Murasaki to Murakami, Association for Asian Studies, 2015.

Masahiko Morimoto. “Akutagawa Prize Winner Li Kotomi: Updating the Face of Japanese LIterature One Novel at a Time” at Japan-Forward.com, 2021. (free)

Napier, Susan J. The Fantastic in Modern Japanese Literature: The Subversion of Modernity. Routledge, 1996.

Powell, Allison Markin. “10 Japanese Books by Women We’d Love to See in English” at Lithub.com, 2016.

–. “Translation Women in Essential: Allison Markin Powell on Translating Kaoru Takamura’s Groundbreaking Japanese Crime Epic” at Soho.com, 2022.

Richter, Frederick. “A Comparative Approach to Abe Kōbō’s S. Karuma-shi no Hazai” in The Journal of the Association of Teachers of Japanese, 1974.

Seidensticker, Edward. “The ‘Pure’ and the ‘In-Between’ in Modern Japanese Theories of the Novel” in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 1966.

Shields, Nancy. Fake Fish: The Theater of Kobo Abe. Weatherhill, 1996.

Shirane, Haruo, ed. Early Modern Japanese Literature—An Anthology, 1600-1900. Columbia, 2002.

Sterngold, James. “Kobo Abe, 68, the Skeptical Poet of an Uprooted Society, Is Dead” in The New York Times, 1993. (free)

Tatsumi Takayuki. “Generations and Controversies: An Overview of Japanese Science Fiction, 1957-1997” in Science Fiction Studies, 2000.

Episode 19: Japanese Magical Realism

 “Even though She Looks Old, She Is Young” by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

Check out Episode 19 of the Read Literature podcast.

Magical realism is a literary genre famous for unexplained fantastical encounters that pop-up in the otherwise everyday world.

Today, we’re going to take a look at magical realism in Japanese fiction.

We’ll start with defining magical realism, including a look at why that term is difficult and why some people think of it as controversial.

Then we’ll turn to the history of magical realism in Japan and take a closer look at the work of Tomihiko Morimi, especially The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl.

(CW: brief mention of fictional suicide attempt)

Become an RJL supporter for five minutes of bonus content.

Support this podcast by buying from Bookshop.org.

The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl by Tomihiko Morimi (translated by Emily Balistrieri)

More by Tomihiko Morimi:

This episode also mentions:

A Reading List of Japanese Magical Realism

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. Ozeki is a Japanese-American-Canadian, but her book is deeply influenced by Japanese literary history.

Find Out More

“I Am Not a Magic Realist” by Alberto Fuguet.

“The Future of Latin American Fiction” by Jorge Volpi.

“What We Talk about When We Talk about Magical Realism” by Fernando Sdrigotti.

“Saying Goodbye to Magic Realism” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

“11 Questions You’re Too Embarrassed to Ask about Magical Realism” at Vox.com.

Yasunari Kawabata’s 1968 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “Japan, the Beautiful, and Myself”.

More about Yukio Mushima’s Life for Sale from Read Japanese Literature.

“Metafiction” at the Oxford Research Encyclopedia Online.

“Conflict in Literature” at KnowYourMeme.com.

An interview with Tomihiko Morimi.

Translators Emily Balistrieri and Andrew Cunningham talk about Tomihiko Morimi.

Tengu via Tofugo.com.

Rihaku (Li Bai in Chinese) via the Poetry Foundation.

The Uncanny Japan Podcast on Daruma.

Information about Kyoto from the Japan National Tourism Organization.

RJL on The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl. This blog post includes a “glossary” of some of the features of Japanese culture that come up in the novel.

“Literature” at Japanese Wiki Corpus

Japanese Literature at Facebook

Japanese Literature at Goodreads

Other RJL Episodes of Interest:


Ashkenazi, Michael. “Tengu” in Handbook of Japanese Mythology. ABC Clio, 2003.

Chilton, Myles. “Realist Magic and the Invented Tokyos of Murakami Haruki and Yoshimoto Banana” in Journal of Narrative Theory, 2009.

Cunningham, Andrew and Emily Balistrieri. “Readers Don’t Need to Be Babied: A Conversation on Translating Japanese Literature” at TheMillons.com, 2019.

Dash, Michael J. “Marvellous Realism—The Way Out of Négritude” in Caribbean Studies, 1974.

de la Campa, Román. “Magical Realism and World Literature: A Genre for the Times?” in Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos, 1999.

Faris, Wendy B. “The Question of Other: Cultural Critiques of Magical Realism” in Ordinary Enchantments: Magical Realism and the Remystification of Narrative. Vanderbilt UP, 2004.

–. “Scheherazade’s Children: Magical Realism and Postmodern Fiction” in Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community. Edited by Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy B. Faris, Duke UP, 1995.

Fincher, Alison. “God’s Plot Conveniences: The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl” at Read Japanese Literature, 2020. (free)

–. “Killing Commendatore; or, What the Hell is a Double Metaphor” at Read Japanese Literature, 2020. (free)

–. “Magical Realism in Penguin Highway” at Read Japanese Literature, 2020. (free)

Fuguet, Alberto. “I Am Not a Magic Realist” in Salon, 1997. (free)

Gordon, Andrew. A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present, 4th ed. OUP, 2019.

Hussein, Sawsan Malla and Brahim Barhoun. “The State of the Debate on Magical Realism and Ben Okri” in Oyé: Journal of Language, Literature, and Popular Culture, 2020.

Kamerer, Tamara. “Fantastic Realities: Magical Realism in Contemporary Okinawan Fiction” in Vienna Journal of East Asian Studies, 2014.

Klinkowitz, Jerome. “Metafiction” in Oxford Research Ensearch Encyclopedia Online, 2017. (free)

Keene, Donald. “The I-Novel” in Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era—Fiction, 4th ed. Columbia UP, 1999.

Li Bai. “The Solitude of Night.” Translated by Shigeyoshi Obata. PoetryFoundation.org.

Morena-Garcia, Silvia. “Saying Goodbye to Magic Realism” in NYTimes Online, 2022. (free)

Marcus, Marvin. Japanese Literature from Murasaki to Murakami. Association for Asian Studies, 2015.

Morimi Tomohiko. Interview with Kyoko Sugimoto. Translated by Emily Balistrieri. Anime News Network, 2020.

Napier, Susan J. “The Magic of Identity: Magic Realism in Modern Japanese Fiction” in Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community. Edited by Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy B. Faris, Duke UP, 1995.

Roh, Franz. “Magic Realism: Post-Expressionism (1925)” in Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community. Edited by Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy B. Faris, Duke UP, 1995.

Sdrigotti, Fernando. “What We Talk about When We Talk about Magical Realism” in LA Review of Books, 2020. (free)

Stretcher, Matthew C. “Beyond ‘Pure’ Literature: Mimesis, Formula, and the Postmodern in the Fiction of Murakami Haruki” in The Journal of Asian Studies, 1998.

Suter, Rebecca. “The Artist as a Medium and the Artwork as Metaphor in Murakami Haruki’s Fiction” in Japan Forum, 2020.

Volpi, Jorge. “The Future of Latin American Fiction” at Three Percent. (free)

Weinberger, Christopher. “Reflexive Realism and Kinetic Ethics: The Case of Murakami Haruki” in Representations, 2015.
Zamora, Lois Parkinson and Wendy B. Faris, eds. Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community. Duke UP, 1995.

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.

2023 Upcoming Japanese Fiction Releases

“Woman Reading a Letter” by Utamaro (c. 1750-1806)

(updated late March 2023)

Listed released dates listed are tentative. Descriptions are excerpted from book sellers’ or publishers’ websites. Translators are listed unless I wasn’t able to find information.

Things change quickly in the publishing industry. I’ve made my best attempt to be comprehensive. Please contact me if I have missed any titles.

Thank you to the Goodreads Japanese Literature Group for pooling information.

See a list of all new releases available to order or preorder at RJL’s Bookshop.

See a list of titles released in 2022.

New Releases

The Flowers of Buffoonery by Osamu Dazai

Translated by Sam Bett

(North American and European releases spring 2023)

The Flowers of Buffoonery opens in a seaside sanitarium where Yozo Oba—the narrator of No Longer Human at a younger age—is being kept after a failed suicide attempt. While he is convalescing, his friends and family visit him, and other patients and nurses drift in and out of his room. Against this dispiriting backdrop, everyone tries to maintain a lighthearted, even clownish atmosphere: playing cards, smoking cigarettes, vying for attention, cracking jokes, and trying to make each other laugh…”

Love at Six Thousand Degrees by Maki Kashimada

Translated by Hadyn Trowell

(North American and European releases expected spring 2023)

“An ordinary housewife finds herself haunted by visions of a mushroom cloud and abruptly leaves her husband and son to travel alone to the city of Nagasaki, where she soon begins an affair with a young half-Russian, half-Japanese man…”

The Thorn Puller by Hiromi Ito

Translated by Jeffrey Angles

“The first novel to appear in English by award-winning author Hiromi Ito explores the absurdities, complexities, and challenges experienced by a woman caring for her two families: her husband and daughters in California and her aging parents in Japan…”

Upcoming Releases

Days at the Morisaki Bookshop by Satoshi Yagisawa

Translated by Eric Ozawa

(North American and European releases expected summer 2023)

“Twenty-five-year-old Takako has enjoyed a relatively easy existence—until the day her charming boyfriend Kashikoi, the man she expected to wed, casually announces he’s been cheating on her and is marrying the other woman. Suddenly, Takako’s life is in freefall. She loses her job, her friends, and her acquaintances, and spirals into a deep depression. In the depths of her despair, she receives a call from her distant uncle Ojisan…”

The Devil’s Flute Murders by Seishi Yokomizo

Translated by Jim Rion

(North American and European releases expected summer 2023)

“This classic from the golden age of crime presents a mind-bending Japanese mystery from the great Seishi Yokomizo, whose fictional detective Kosuke Kindaichi is a pop culture phenomenon akin to Sherlock Holmes. This time the beloved scruffy sleuth Kosuke Kindaichi investigates a series of gruesome murders within the feuding family of a brooding, troubled composer, whose most famous work chills the blood of all who hear it…”

Dragon Palace by Hiromi Kawakami

Translated by Ted Goossen

(North American and European releases expected fall 2023)

“These eight stories are masterpieces of metamorphosis and transformation, infused with Kawakami’s unique brand of humor and beauty. Moles, octopuses, and hippopotamuses interact with humans in a revelatory dance.”

The End of August by Yu Miri

Translated by Morgan Giles

(North American and European releases expected late summer 2023)

“In 1930s Japanese-occupied Korea, Lee Woo-cheol was a running prodigy and a contender for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. But he would have had to run under the Japanese flag. Nearly a century later, his granddaughter is living in Japan and training to run a marathon herself. She summons Korean shamans to hold an intense, transcendent ritual to connect with Lee Woo-cheol. When his ghost appears, alongside those of his brother Lee Woo-Gun, and their young neighbor, who was forced to become a comfort woman to Japanese soldiers stationed in China during World War II, she must uncover their stories to free their souls…”

Finger Bone by Hiroki Takahashi

Translated by Takami Nieda

(North American and European releases expected summer 2023)

“1942. At the turning point of the war, the Imperial Japanese Army is in retreat. On Papua New Guinea, the unnamed narrator of Finger Bone is wounded in the fighting and sent to a field hospital to recover…”

The Final Curtain by Keigo Higashino

Translated by Giles Murray

(North American and European releases expected early winter 2023)

A Detective Kaga novel

The Forest Brims Over by Ayase Maru

Translated by Hadyn Trowell

(North American and European releases expected summer 2023)

“A woman turns herself into a forest after long being co-opted to serve as the subject of her husband’s novels–this surrealist fable challenges traditional gender attitudes and exploitation in the literary world…”

Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again by Shigeru Kayama

Translated by Jeffrey Angles

(North American release expected fall 2023)

“Although the Godzilla films have been analyzed in detail by cultural historians, film scholars, and generations of fans, Kayama’s two Godzilla novellas—both classics of Japanese young-adult science fiction—have never been available in English. This book finally provides English-speaking fans and critics the original texts with these first-ever English-language translations of Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again. The novellas reveal valuable insights into Kayama’s vision for the Godzilla story, feature plots that differ from those of the films, and clearly display the author’s strong antinuclear, pro-environmental convictions.”

The Goodbye Cat by Hiro Arikawa

(European release expected fall 2023)

“We meet Spin, a kitten rescued from the recycling bin, whose simple needs teach an anxious father how to parent his own human baby; a colony of wild cats on a holiday island shows a young boy not to stand in nature’s way; a family is perplexed by their cat’s devotion to their charismatic but uncaring father; a woman curses how her cat constantly visits her at night; and an elderly cat, Kota, hatches a plan to pass into the next world as a spirit so that he and his owner may be together for ever..”

Hit Parade of Tears by Izumi Suzuki

Translated by Daniel Joseph, Sam Bett, and David Boyd

(North American and European releases spring 2023)

“Izumi Suzuki had ideas about doing things differently, ideas that paid little attention to the laws of physics, or the laws of the land. In this new collection, her skewed imagination distorts and enhances some of the classic concepts of science fiction and fantasy…”

Honeybees and Distant Thunder by Ondo Riku

Translated by Philip Gabriel

(North American and European releases expected late spring 2023)

“In a small coastal town just a stone’s throw from Tokyo, a prestigious piano competition is underway. Over the course of two feverish weeks, three students will experience some of the most joyous—and painful—moments of their lives. Though they don’t know it yet, each will profoundly and unpredictably change the others, for ever…”

I Guess All We Have Is Freedom by Genpai Akasegawa

Translated by Matthew Fargo

(North American release expected summer 2023)

“In these stories, ostensibly quiet tales of a single dad in 1970s Tokyo, a doorknob practices radical politics, a peeled tomato smarts in pain, raw oysters tick like time bombs and gravestones provide a critique of capitalism…”

Kappa by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

Translated by Lisa Hofmann-Kuroda and Allison Markin Powell

(North American release expected summer 2023)

“Akutagawa’s Kappa is narrated by Patient No. 23, a madman in a lunatic asylum: he recounts how, while out hiking in Kamikochi, he spots a Kappa. He decides to chase it and, like Alice pursuing the White Rabbit, he tumbles down a hole, out of the human world and into the realm of the Kappas…”

Last Chance to Say Goodbye by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Translated by Geoffrey Trousselot

(North American and European releases expected fall 2023)

“The latest novel in the international bestselling Before the Coffee Gets Cold Series, following four new customers in a little Tokyo café where customers can travel back in time.”

The Mantis by Kotaro Isaka

Translated by Sam Malissa

(North American and European releases expected late fall 2023)

“Kabuto is a highly skilled assassin eager to escape his dangerous profession and the hold his handler, the sinister Doctor, has over him. The Doctor, a real physician who hands over Kabuto’s targets as ‘prescriptions’ in his regular appointments with him, doesn’t want to lose Kabuto as a profitable asset, but he agrees to let him pay his way out of his employment with a few last jobs. Only the most lucrative jobs involve taking out other professional assassins, and Kabuto’s final assignment puts him and his family—who have no idea about his double life—in danger.”

Marshland by Otohiko Kaga

Translated by Albert Novick

(European release expected summer 2023; North American release expected fall 2023)

“An epic novel on a Tolstoyan scale, running from the pre-World War II period to the turbulence of 1960s Japan. At forty-nine, Atsuo Yukimori is a humble auto mechanic living an almost penitentially quiet life in Tokyo, where his coworkers know something of his military record but nothing of his postwar past as a petty criminal. Out of curiosity he accompanies his nephew to a demonstration at a nearby university, and is gradually drawn into a friendship, then a romance, with Wakako Ikéhata, the brilliant but mentally unstable daughter of a university professor. As some of the student radical groups turn to violence and terrorism, Atsuo and Wakako find themselves framed for the lethal bombing of a Tokyo train….”

The Meiji Guillotine Murders by Futaro Yamada

(European release expected winter 2023)

“Japan, 1869. A time of reform and rebellion. Detectives Kazuki and Kawaji are assigned to investigate a series of seemingly impossible murders. Together with the help of a mysterious shrine maiden, can they solve each gruesome death and piece together the dark connection between them? ….”

Mild Vertigo by Mieko Kanai

Translated by Polly Barton

(North American and European releases summer 2023)

“Housewife Natsumi leads a small, unremarkable life in a modern Tokyo apartment with her husband and two sons: she does the laundry, goes on trips to the supermarket, exchanges gossip with neighbours. Tracing the conversations and interactions she has with her family and friends as they blend seamlessly into her internal monologue, Mild Vertigo explores the dizzying inability to locate oneself in the endless stream of minutiae that make up a life confined to the home, where both everything and nothing happens.”

The Mill House Murders by Ayatsuji Yukito

Translated by Ho-Ling Wong

(European release expected spring 2023; North American release expected late spring 2023)

“As they do every year, a small group of acquaintances pay a visit to the remote, castle-like Water Mill House, home to the reclusive Fujinuma Kiichi, son of a famous artist, who has lived his life behind a rubber mask ever since a disfiguring car accident.

This year, however, the visit is disrupted by an impossible disappearance, the theft of a painting and a series of baffling murders…”

Nails and Eyes by Kaori Fujino

Translated by Kendall Heitzman

(North American and European releases expected fall 2023)

“A young girl addresses her stepmother, who has moved in shortly after her mother’s death in unusual circumstances. The girl shows strangely detailed knowledge of the older woman’s life, and as her stepmother settles into the house, the girl’s obsession sharpens to an ever finer point…”

Nipponia Nippon by Kazushige Abe

Translated by Kerim Yasar

(North American and European releases expected fall 2023)

“Isolated in his Tokyo apartment, 17-year-old Haruo spends all his time online, researching the plight of the endangered Japanese crested ibis, Nipponia Nippon… His conclusion is simple: it is his destiny to free the birds from a society that does not appreciate them, by whatever means necessary. With his emotional state becoming ever more erratic, he begins sourcing weapons and preparing for a reckoning in this darkly ironic study of toxic masculinity…”

The North Light by Hideo Yokoyama

Translated by Louise Heal Kawai

(European release expected fall 2023)

“Minoru Aose is an architect whose greatest achievement is to have designed the Yoshino house, a prizewinning and much discussed private residence built in the shadow of Mount Asama. Aose has never been able to replicate this triumph and his career seems to have hit a barrier, while his marriage has failed. He is shocked to learn that the Yoshino House is empty apart from a single chair, stood facing the north light of nearby Mount Asama…”

People Who Talk to Stuffed Animals Are Nice by Ao Omae

Translated by Emily Balistrieri

(North American and European releases expected summer 2023)

“Composed of the title novella and three short stories, People Who Talk to Stuffed Animals Are Nice sensitively explores gender, friendship, romance, love, human interaction and its absence, and how a misogynistic society limits women and men…”

The Premonition by Banana Yoshimoto

Translated by Asa Yoneda

(North American and European releases expected fall 2023)

“Yayoi, a nineteen-year-old woman from a seemingly loving middle-class family, has lately been haunted by the feeling that she has forgotten something important from her childhood. Her premonition grows stronger day by day and, as if led by it, she decides to move in with her mysterious aunt, Yukino.”

The Rainbow by Yasunari Kawabata

Translated by Hadyn Trowell

(North American and European releases expected fall 2023)

“With the Second World War only a few years in the past, and Japan still reeling from its effects, two sisters—born to the same father but different mothers—struggle to make sense of the new world in which they are coming of age…”

The Rope Artist by Fuminori Nakamura

Translated by Sam Bett

(North American and European releases expected late spring 2023)

“Two detectives. Two identical women. One dead body—rapidly becoming two, then three, then four. All knotted up in Japan’s underground BDSM scene and kinbaku, a form of rope bondage which bears a complex cultural history of spirituality, torture, cleansing, and sacrifice…”

The Siren’s Lament: Essential Stories by Junichiro Tanizaki

Translated by Bryan Karetnyk

(North American and European releases expected fall 2023)

“These three short stories, in a gorgeous new translation by Bryan Karetnyk, distill the essence of Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s shorter fiction: the co-mingling of Japanese and Chinese mythologies, the chillingly dark side of desire and the paper-thin line between the sublime and the depraved…”

Sunrise: Radiant Stories by Erika Kobayashi

Translated by Brian Bergstrom

(North American and European releases expected fall 2023)

Sunrise is a collection of interconnected stories continuing Erika Kobayashi’s examination of the effects of nuclear power on generations of women. Connecting changes to everyday life to the development of the atomic bomb, Sunrise shows us how the discovery of radioactive power has shaped our history and continues to shape our future…”

Tatami Time Machine Blues by Tomihiko Morimi

Translated by Emily Balistrieri

(North American and European releases expected fall 2023)

“In the boiling heat of summer, a broken remote control for an air conditioner threatens life as we know it in this reality-bending, time-slipping sequel to The Tatami Galaxy.

This Is Amiko by Natsuko Imamura

Translated by Hitomi Yoshio

(North American and European releases expected fall 2023)

“Other people don’t seem to understand Amiko. Whether eating curry rice with her hands at school or peeking through the sliding doors at her mother’s calligraphy class, her curious, exuberant nature mostly meets with confusion.

When her mother falls into a depression and her brother begins spending all his time with a motorcycle gang, Amiko is left increasingly alone to navigate a world where she doesn’t quite fit…”

What You Are Looking for Is In the Library by Michiko Aoyama

Translated by Alison Watts

(North American and European releases expected fall 2023)

“‘What are you looking for?’ asks Tokyo’s most enigmatic librarian, Sayuri Komachi. But Komachi is no ordinary librarian. Naturally, she reads every book on her shelf, but she also has the unique ability to read the souls of anyone who walks through her door. Sensing exactly what they’re looking for in life, she provides just the book recommendation they never knew they needed to help them find it…”

Read about Japanese books in English translation published in 2022.

Episode 18: Cats in Japanese Literature

 “Cats of the Tokaido Road” by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

Check out Episode 18 of the Read Literature podcast.

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.

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Support this podcast by buying from Bookshop.org.

Modanizumu: Modernist Fiction from Japan, 1913-1938, edited by William J. Tyler 

  • includes the story “The Town of Cats” (translated by Jeffrey Angles)

“The Town of Cats” also titled “Cat Town” also appears in Cat Town by Sakutaro Hagiwara (translated by Hiroaki Sato)

Cat stories by Haruki Murakami:

Recently-translated “cat books”:

This episode also recommends:

Find Out More

The Letters of Lafcadio Hearn. This episode opened with a discussion of Hearn’s letter to Basil Chamberlain dated August 1891.

“Japan’s Love-Hate Relationship with Cats.” A free, article-long summary of Davisson’s work via Smithsonian Magazine.

“Feline Fatale: A Look at Japan’s Growing Cat Mania.” A fascinating article translated from Japanese about the place of cat’s in Japanese culture and literature.

“Cats in Japanese Art—Printed, Painted, and Sculpted Felines: Cat Memes from 300 Years Ago.”

“6 Books for People Who Love Japan and Cats.” Books and Bao is a fantastic resource for translated fiction recommendations. You can also check out the YouTube channel, including the video “7 Great Japanese Books Featuring Cats.”

Naoki-Prize-winning author Kazufmi Shirashi talks about his love for cats. Three of Shirashi’s novels have been translated into English: Me Against the World, The Part of Me That Isn’t Broken Inside, and Stand-in Companion. Sadly, none prominently feature cats.

Author Mitsuyo Kakuta talks about her love for cats. Two of Kakuta’s novels have been translated into English, The Eighth Day and Woman on the Other Shore.

An interview between Haruki Murakami and Deborah Tresiman for The New Yorker. This 2011 interview discusses “Town of Cats”. It was translated by Jay Rubin. (free—article limit)

Murakami’s essay “Abandoning a Cat: Memories of My Father” in The New Yorker. (free—article limit)

What Is the Uncanny? A six-minute video by Oregon State University Professor Ray Malewitz.

“Literature” at Japanese Wiki Corpus

Japanese Literature at Facebook

Japanese Literature at Goodreads

Other RJL Episodes of Interest:

  • Episode 2: The Tale of Genji. A full episode about The Tale of Genji, the site of an early encounter with cats in Japanese literature.
  • Episode 6: High and Low Literature in Edo Japan. This episode includes a description of Japanese printing. It also explains with “low literature” or popular fiction is such a key part of Japanese literary history.
  • Episode 8: Meiji Literature and Japan’s Most Famous Literary Cat. Natsume Soseki’s I Am a Cat is probably Japan’s best known story about cats.
  • Episode 14: Banana and the Bubble. Banana was part of the kawaii movement that included cat (or cat-like) pop-culture icon Hello Kitty.


Chen Yan. “A Cat in the History of Japanese Literature” at LaiTimes.com, 2021. (free)

Cucinelli, Diego. “Feline Shadows in the Rising Sun: Cultural Values of Cats in Pre-Modern Japan” in Ming Qing Studies, 2013.

Davisson, Zack. Kaibyō: The Supernatural Cats of Japan, 2nd ed. Mercuria, 2021.

Eiji Iwazai. “‘Wakeneko’ Studies: A Journey into Japan’s Cat Lore” at Nippon.com, 2021. (free)

Manabe Masayuki. “Objections to the History of Cats as Commonly Portrayed” at Waseda Online. (free)

Murakami Haruki. “Abandoning a Cat: Memories of My Father” translated by Philip Gabriel in The New Yorker. (free—article limit)

–. “Man-Eating Cats” translated by Philip Gabriel in The New Yorker, 2000.

 –. “This Week in Fiction: Haruki Murakami.” Interview conducted by Deborah Treisman, translated by Jay Rubin in The New Yorker, 2011. (free—article limit)

Nathan, Richard. “Cool for Cats: Japanese Literature and the Feline Form” at Red Circle, 2017. (free)

Rosen, Allen. “Lafcadio Hearn and Cats” at Kumamoto University Repository System, 2010.

Sakutaro Hagiwara. “The Town of Cats: A Fantasy in the Manner of a Prose Poem,” Jeffrey Angles, trans. in Modanizumu: Modernist Fiction from Japan, 1913-1938. U of HI, 2008.

Tyler, William J., ed. Modanizumu: Modernist Fiction from Japan, 1913-1938. U of HI, 2008.

Updike, John. “Subconscious Tunnels: Haruki Murakami’s Dreamlike New Novel” in The New Yorker, 2005. (free—article limit)

Vasukem Adeline. “Cat Imagery in Haruki Murakami’s Fiction”, 2012.
Yosuke Kita. “Feline Fatale: A Look at Japan’s Growing Cat Mania” at Nippon.com, 2017. (free)

Episode 17: The Smile of the Mountain Witch

 “Yamamba” from Bakemono no e, circa 1700 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Check out Episode 17 of the Read Literature podcast.

In this episode…

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-uba—Japan’s legendary mountain witch.

Correction: This episode claims former health minister Hakuo Yanagisawa called women “child-bearing machines” in 2020. He actually made those comments in 2007.

Donate to RJL’s Patreon.

Support this podcast by buying from Bookshop.org.

Yamamba: In Search of the Japanese Mountain Witch edited by Rebecca Copeland and Linda C. Ehrlich

  • includes Minako Oba’s “The Smile of the Mountain Witch” (translated by Norkio Mizuta Lippit, assisted by Mariko Ochi)

“The Smile of the Mountain Witch” also appears in

This episode also recommends:

Find Out More

Hyakumonogatari Kaidanka: Translated Japanese Ghost Stories and Tales of the Weird and the Strange. Zack Davisson is an English-language expert on Japanese manga and folklore. His work is accessible, and everything on this website is free to read.

The-Noh.com is a great resource for learning more about Nōh theater. This link will take you to a summary of Yamamba, including text from the play in Japanese and English.

The Asia-Pacific Journal on Japan’s Marital System Reform. A free-to-read and relatively up-to-date article.

Unseen Japan on “The Feminist Movement in Japan: WWII to the 1970s”. Part of a 3-part series about feminism in Japan, beginning in the Meiji Era.

More from RJL about sexism in Japan. This article includes my strongly-worded negative review of the book Before the Coffee Gets Cold.

Other RJL episodes of interest:

“Literature” at Japanese Wiki Corpus

Japanese Literature at Facebook

Japanese Literature at Goodreads


Ashkenazi, Michael. “Yama-Uba” in Handbook of Japanese Mythology. ABC Clio, 2003.

Bullock, Julia C. “Burning Down the House: Fantasies of Liberation in the Era of ‘Women’s Lib’” in Japanese Language and Literature, 2015.

Copeland, Rebecca. “Mythical Bad Girls: The Corpse, the Crone, and the Snake” in Bad Girls of Japan, ed. Laura Miller and Jan Bardsley. Palgrave MacMilllan, 2005.

Copeland, Rebecca and Linda C. Ehrlich. Yamamba: In Search of the Japanese Mountain Witch. Stone Bridge, 2021.

Davisson, Zack. “What’s the Difference between Urei and Yokai” at HyakumonogatariKaidankai.com, 2013. (free)

Foster, Michael Dylan. The Book of Yokai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore. U of CA, 2015.

Fusek, Alyssa Pearl. “The Feminist Movement in Japan: WWII to the 1970s” at UnseenJapan.com, 2020. (free)

Gordon, Andrew. A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present, 4th ed. OUP, 2019.

Hansen, Kelly. “Deviance and Decay in the Body of a Modern Mountain Witch: Ōba Minako’s ‘Yamanba no bishō’” in Japanese Language and Literature, 2014.

Hurley, Adrienne. “Demons, Transnational Subjects, and the Fiction of Ohba Minako” in Ōe and Beyond: Fiction in Contemporary Japan, ed. Stephen Synder and Philip Gabriel, U Hawaii, 1999.

Landau, Samantha. “Subversions of Gender and Power in Ōba Minako’s ‘Yamamba no Bishō’” in Gakuen, 2015.

Lippit, Noriko Mizuta and Kyoko Iriye Selden. “Introduction” in Japanese Women Writers: Twentieth Century Short Fiction, ed. and trans. Noriko Mizuta Lippit and Kyoko Iriye Selden. Routledge, 1991.

Mackie, Vera. Feminism in Modern Japan. Cambridge UP, 2003.

Mizuta Noriko. “The Dream of the Yamanba—An Overview” (translated by Luciana Sanga) in Review of Japanese Culture and Society, 2018.

“Ōba Minako” in Japanese Women Writers: A Bio-critical Sourcebook, ed. Chieko Mulhern. Greenwood Press, 1994.

Oba Minako. “Special Address: Without Beginning, Without End” (translated by Paul Gordon Schalow) in The Woman’s Hand: Gender and Theory in Japanese Women’s Writing, ed. Paul Gordon Schaler and Janet A. Walker. Stanford UP, 1996.

Reider, Norkio. Japanese Demon Lore: Oni from Ancient Times to the Present. Utah State UP, 2010.

–. “Locating the Yamamba” in Yamamba: In Search of the Japanese Mountain Witch, ed. Rebecca Copeland and Linda C. Ehrlich. Stone Bridge, 2021.

–. Mountain Witches: Yamauba. UT State UP, 2021.

Schaler, Paul Gordon and Janet A. Walker, eds. The Woman’s Hand: Gender and Theory in Japanese Women’s Writing. Stanford UP, 1996.

Toyoda Etsuko. “Japan’s Marital System Reform: The Fūfubessei Movement for Individual Rights” at The Asia-Pacific Journal, 2020. (free)

Viswanathan, Meera. “In Pursuit of the Yamamaba: The Question of Female Resistance” in The Woman’s Hand: Gender and Theory in Japanese Women’s Writing, ed. Paul Gordon Schaler and Janet A. Walker. Stanford UP, 1996.

Wilson, Michiko Niikuni. Gender Is Fair Game: (Re)Thinking the (Fe)Male in the Works of Ōba Minako. M. E. Sharpe, 1999.

–. “Introduction” in Of Birds Crying (translated by Michael K. Wilson and Michiko N. Wilson). Cornell UP, 2011.

“Yamamba (Mountain Crone” at The-Noh.com. (free)