Episode 7: Kaidan—Japan’s Ghost Stories

An image of Okiku, the ghost who inspired The Ring, by Toyohara Kunichika (via Wikimedia Commons)

Check out Episode 7 of the Read Japanese Literature podcast.

In this episode, we’ll be talking 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

Support this podcast by buying from Bookshop.org. 

Find Out More

“Japanese Confucian Philosophy” at Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

“Japanese Philosophy: Neo-Confucianism, the Samurai Code and Tokugawa Society” at Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy

“The Kokugaku (Native Japan Studies) School” at Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The History of Japan Podcast, hosted by Isaac Meyer

Ueda Akinari 1734-1809: Scholar, Poet, Writer of Fiction by Blake Morgan Young (Open Access PhD)

Zach Davisson’s website, Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai—Translated Japanese Ghost Stories and Tales of the Weird and Strange

“The Real Japanese Story That Helped Inspire ‘The Ring’ at iHorror.com

“Smartening Up” by Aoko Matsuda at Granta Magazine

Linfamy’s Japanese History and Folktales YouTube Channel

Understanding Japan: A Cultural History by Professor Mark J. Ravina. Produced by The Great Courses, 2015.

“Literature” at Japanese Wiki Corpus

Japanese Literature at Facebook

Selected Sources

Araki, James T. “A Critical Approach to the Ugetsu Monogatari” in Monumenta Nipponica, 1967.

Chambers, Anthony, trans. “Introduction” in Tales of Moonlight and Rain, 2008.

–. “Hankai: A Translation from Harusame Monogatari” in Monumenta Nipponica, 1970.

Davisson, Zack. Yurei: The Japanese Ghost, 2015.

De Bary, Theodore, et al., eds. Sources of Japanese Tradition, 1600-2000, 1964.

Kato Kazumitsu. “Some Notes on Mono no Aware” in Journal of the American Oriental Society, 1962.

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

Meyer, Isaac. “Episode 355: Tales of Moonlight and Rain”.  History of Japan Podcast, 2020.

Reider, Noriko T. “The Emergence of ‘Kaidan-Shū’:The Collection of Tales of the Strange and Mysterious in the Edo Period” in Asian Folklore Studies, 2001.

Roddy, Stephen J. “In Praise of Jeweled Streams: ‘Ugetsu Monogatari’, Nativism, and Tea” in Japanese Language and Literature, 2015.

Saunders, Dale. “‘Ugetsu Monogatari’ or Tales of Moonlight and Rain” in Monumenta Nipponica, 1966.

Teeuwen, Mark. “Review: Kokugaku vs. Nativism” in Monumenta Nipponica, 2006.

Whitehouse, Wilfred, trans. “Shiramine” in Monumenta Nipponica, 1938.

Young, Blake Morgan, trans. “‘Hankai’ A Tale from the Harusame Monogatari by Ueda Akinari” in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 1972.

Audiobooks of Japanese Literature in Translation

Kobo Abe

Hiro Arikawa

Osamu Dazai

  • No Longer Human
    • Translated by Donald Keene
    • Narrated by David Shih
  • The Setting Sun
    • Translated by Donald Keene
    • Narrated by June Angela
  • Wish Fulfilled: A Vignette
    • Translated by Reiko Seri and Doc Kane
    • Narrated by Doc Kane

Shusaku Endo

  • Deep River
    • Translated by Van C. Gessel
    • Narrated by David Holt
  • The Samurai
    • Translated by Van C. Gessel
    • Narrated by David Holt
  • Silence
    • Translated by William Johnston
    • Narrated by David Holt

Keigo Higashino

Keiichiro Hirano

  • At the End of the Matinee
    • Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter
    • Narrated by Brian Nishii
  • A Man
    • Translated by Eli K. P. William
    • Narrated by Brian Nishii

Tomoyuki Hoshino

  • ME
    • Translated by Charles de Wolf
    • Narrated by David Shih

Kotaro Isaka

Kazuki Kaneshiro

  • Go
    • Translated by Takami Nieda
    • Narrated by Brian Nishii

Yasunari Kawabata

  • Beauty and Sadness
    • Translated by Howard Hibbett
    • Narrated by Brian Nishii
  • Snow Country
    • Translated by Edward Seidensticker
    • Narrated by Brian Nishii
  • Thousand Cranes
    • Translated by Edward Seidensticker
    • Narrated by Brian Nishii

Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Hiromi Kawakami

  • The Nakano Thrift Shop
    • Translated by Allison Markin Powell
    • Narrated by Alexandra Bailey
  • Strange Weather in Tokyo
    • Translated by Allison Markin Powell
    • Narrated by Allison Hiroto
  • The Ten Loves of Nishino
    • Translated by Allison Markin Powell
    • Narrated by Cindy Kay

Mieko Kawakami

Genki Kawamura

Aoko Matsuda

Kanae Minato

  • Confessions
    • Translated by Stephen Snyder
    • Narrated by Elaina Erika Davis and Noah Galvin
  • Penance
    • Translated by Stephen Snyder
    • Narrated by Karissa Vacker

Shion Miura

  • The Easy Life in Kamusari (Forest #1)
    • Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter
    • Narrated by Brian Nishii
  • The Great Passage
    • Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter
    • Narrated by Brian Nishii

Yukio Mishima

  • Life for Sale
    • Translated by Stephen Dodd
    • Narrated by Kotaro Watanabe
  • The Sailor Who Feel from Grace with the Sea
    • Translated by John Nathan
    • Narrated by Brian Nishii
  • Spring Snow
    • Translated by Michael Gallagher
    • Narrated by Brian Nishii
  • The Sound of Waves
    • Translated by Meredith Weatherby
    • Narrated by Brian Nishii
  • The Temple of the Golden Pavilion
    • Translated by Ivan Morris
    • Narrated by Brian Nishii

Minae Mizumura

  • An Inheritance from Mother
    • Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter
    • Narrated by Allison Hiroto

Eto Mori

  • Colorful
    • Translated by Jocelynne Allen
    • Narrated by Brian Nishii

Yukiko Motoya

Haruki Murakami

Ryu Murakami

  • Audition
    • Translated by Ralph McCarthy
    • Narrated by David Shih

Sayaka Murata

Fuminori Nakamura

  • The Boy in the Earth
    • Translated by Allison Markin Powell
    • Narrated by Brian Nishii
  • Cult X
    • Translated by Kalau Almony
    • Narrated by Brian Nishii
  • Evil and the Mask
    • Translated by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates
    • Narrated by Kirby Heyborne
  • The Gun
    • Translated by Allison Markin Powell
    • Narrated Brian Nishii
  • The Kingdom
    • Translated by Kalau Almony
    • Narrated by Lucie Kondo
  • Last Winter, We Parted
    • Translated by Allison Markin Powell
    • Narrated by Feodor Chin, Richard Powers, and P. J. Ochlan
  • My Annihilation
    • Translated by Sam Bett
    • Narrated by Brian Nishii
  • The Thief
    • Translated by Satoko Izumo
    • Narrated by Charlie Thurston

Sosuke Natsukawa

  • The Cat Who Saved Books
    • Translated by Louise Heal Kawai
    • Narrated by Kevin Shen

Kirino Natsuo

  • Out
    • Translated by Rebecca Copleand
    • Translated by Emily Woo Zeller

Kenzaburo Oe

  • Death by Water
    • Translated by Deborah Boliver Boehm
    • Narrated by Paul Boehmer
  • Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids
    • Translated by Maki Sugiyama and Paul St. Mackintosh
    • Narrated by Edoardo Ballerini
  • A Personal Matter
    • Translated by John Nathan
    • Narrated by Eric Michael Summerer

Mimei Ogawa

Yoko Ogawa

Natsume Soseki

  • I Am a Cat
    • Translated by Aiko Ito and Graeme Wilson
    • Narrated by David Shih
  • Kusamakura [Grass Pillow]
    • Translated by Meredith McKinney
    • Narrated by Kotaro Watanabe and Elizabeth Jasicki
  • Kokoro [Heart]
    • Translated by Edwin McClellan
    • Narrated by Matt Shea
  • Kokoro [Heart]
    • Translated by Meredith McKinney
    • Narrated by Kotaro Watanabe and Elizabeth Jasicki
  • Sanshiro
    • Translated by Jay Rubin
    • Narrated by Andrew Koji

Kaoru Takamura

  • Lady Joker, Vol. 1
    • Translated by Marie Iida and Allison Markin Powell
    • Narrated by Brian Nishii

Yoko Tawada

Kikuo Tsumura

Seishi Yokomizo

  • The Honjin Murders
    • Translated by Louise Heal Kawai
    • Narrated by Akira Matsumoto
  • The Inugami Curse (Honjin Murders #2)
    • Translated by Louise Heal Kawai
    • Narrated by Akira Matsumoto
  • The Village of Eight Graves (Honjin Murders #3)
    • Translated by Louise Heal Kawai
    • Narrated by Akira Matsumoto

Banana Yoshimoto

  • Amrita
    • Translated by Megan Backus
    • Narrated by Alexandra Bailey
  • Asleep (stories)
    • Translated by Megan Backus
    • Narrated by Emily Zeller
  • Kitchen
    • Narrated by Emily Zeller
    • Translated by Megan Backus
  • Lizard (stories)
    • Narrated by Emily Zeller
    • Translated by Megan Backus
  • N.P.
    • Narrated by Emily Zeller
    • Translated by Megan Backus

Eiji Yoshikawa

  • Musashi
    • Translated by Charles S. Terry
    • Narrated by Brian Nishii

Miri Yu

Support this podcast by buying your audiobooks through Libro.fm, an audiobook seller supporting local, independent bookstores. Titles without links aren’t available on Libro.fm. ReadJapaneseLiterature believes single-platform audiobooks limit readers’ choices.

Episode 6: High and Low Literature in Edo Japan

Saikaku’s illustration of Yonosuke sailing for the Island of Women.

Check out Episode 6 of the Read Japanese Literature podcast.

This episode is marked mature.

How does “this fleeting world” transform from a Buddhist precept to 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?

It’s time to talk about high and low literature in Edo Japan.

Support this podcast by buying from Bookshop.org. 

Early Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology, 1600-1900 ed. Hauro Shirane

Find Out More

The Freer-Sackler Library’s collection of Illustrated Japanese books.

Eminent scholar of Japanese literature Donald Keene on Saikaku: The Comic Novelist.

History of Japan Podcast, hosted by Isaac Meyer

Linfamy’s Japanese History and Folktales YouTube Channel

“Literature” at Japanese Wiki Corpus

Understanding Japan: A Cultural History by Professor Mark J. Ravina. Produced by The Great Courses, 2015.

  • 11: Japan’s Isolation in the Tokugawa Period

Japanese Literature at Facebook

Selected Sources

Drake, Chris. “Introduction” in Excerpts from Life of a Sensuous Man, Aksornsami Press, 2010.

Huffman, James L. Creating a Public: People and Press in Meiji Japan, University of Hawaii, 1997.

Korniki, P. F. “Literacy Revisited: Some Reflections on Rirchard Rubinger’s Findings” in Monumenta Nipponica, 2001.

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

Moretti, Laura. “Kanazoshi Revisited: The Beginnings of Japanese Popular Literature in Print” in Monumenta Nipponica, 2010.

Rubinger, Richard. “From ‘Dark Corners’ into ‘The Light’: Literacy Studies in Modern Japan” in History of Education Quarterly, 1990.

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

Episode 5: Setsuwa and Medieval Japanese Buddhism

A 15th century illustration of Kiyohime

Check out Episode 5 of the Read Japanese Literature podcast.

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. In this episode, we’re talking about setsuwa—medieval Japanese anecdotes. Many of them originate as Buddhist preaching, so we’ll also take a look at “Kamakura Buddhisms”: Pure Land, Zen, and Nichiren.

Support this podcast by buying your copy from Bookshop.org. 

Shirane, Haruo, ed. Traditional Japanese Literature: An Anthology, Beginnings to 1600. Columbia, 2008.

Tales of Times Now Past, translated by Marian Ury, U of Michigan, 1992.

Find Out More

“Smartening Up” by Aoko Matsuda

History of Japan Podcast, hosted by Isaac Meyer

Linfamy’s Japanese History and Folktales YouTube Channel

“Literature” at Japanese Wiki Corpus

Understanding Japan: A Cultural History by Professor Mark J. Ravina. Produced by The Great Courses, 2015.

  • Pure Land Buddhism and Zen Buddhism

Japanese Literature at Facebook

Selected Sources

Childs, Margaret H. “Kyōgen-Kigo: Love Stories as Buddhist Sermons” in Japanese Journal of Religious Studies (1985).

Dykstra, Yoshiko K. “Miraculous Tales of the Lotus Sutra: The Dainihonkoku Hokkegenki” in Monumenta Nipponica (1977).

De Bary, Theodore, et. al, eds. Sources of Japanese Tradition: From Earliest Times to 1600, Columbia, 1964.

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

Shirane, Haruo, ed. Traditional Japanese Literature: An Anthology, Beginnings to 1600. Columbia, 2008.

Episode 4: Yoshitsune Ballads and Tomoe Drama

A 19th century woodblock print of Yoshitsune and Benkei fighting with swords via Wikimedia Commons

Check out the Read Japanese Literature podcast.

We’re talking 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.

Support this podcast by buying your books from Bookshop.org.

Ataka at The-Noh.com (free online)

“The Story of Yoshitsune” in Traditional Japanese Literature: An Anthology, Beginnings to 1600, Columbia, 2008.

Tomoe at The-Noh.com (free online)

Warrior Ghost Plays from the Japanese Noh Theater: Parallel Translations with Running Commentary, Translated by Chifumi Shimazaki, 2010.


Yoshitsune: A Fifteenth-Century Japanese Chronicle, Translated by Helen Craig McCollough, Stanford, 1966.

Find Out More

Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune by Pamela S. Turner, illustrated by Gareth Hinds, 2016. (YA narrative nonfiction biography of Minomoto Yoshitsune)

The-Noh.com

“Tomoe Gozen: Badass Women in Japanese History” at Tofugu.com

The History of Japan Podcast, hosted by Isaac Meyer

Japanese Literature at Facebook

Linfamy’s Japanese History and Folktales YouTube Channel

“Literature” at Japanese Wiki Corpus

Understanding Japan: A Cultural History by Professor Mark J. Ravina. Produced by The Great Courses, 2015.

  • Lecture 7: The Rise of the Samurai
  • Lecture 9: Samurai Culture in the Ashikaga Period
  • Lecture 10: Japan at Home and Abroad, 1300-1600
  • Lecture 12: Japanese Theater: Noh and Kabuki

Sources

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

De Bary, Theodore, et. al, eds. Sources of Japanese Tradition: From Earliest Times to 1600, Columbia, 1964.

McAlpine, Helen and William. Japanese Tales and Legends, Oxford, 1989.

Mori, Masaki. Epic Grandeur: Toward a Comparative Poetics of the Epic. State University Press of New York, 1997.

Oyler, Elizabeth. “Gio: Women and Performance in the ‘Heike Monogatari’.” Harvard Review of Asiatic Studies, 2004.

Shirane, Haruo, ed. Traditional Japanese Literature: An Anthology, Beginnings to 1600. Columbia, 2008.

2022 Upcoming Japanese Fiction Releases

“Woman Reading a Book on a Sofa” by Yumeji Takehisa via Wikimedia Commons

Dates listed are the earliest tentative release dates I can find in the US or UK. Descriptions are excerpted from book sellers’ or publishers’ websites. Translators are listed unless I wasn’t able to find information.

Please contact me if I have missed any titles.

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

Upcoming Releases

3 Streets by Yoko Tawada

Translated by Margaret Mitsutani (fall 2022)

“The always astonishing Yoko Tawada here takes a walk on the supernatural side of the street” in three stories.

Before Your Memory Fades by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Translated by Geoffrey Trousselot (fall 2022)

“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.”

Read more about Before the Coffee Gets Cold.

A Boy and His Dog by Hase Seishu

Translated by Alison Watts (fall 2022)

“One dog changes the life of everyone who takes him in on his journey to reunite with his first owner in this inspiring tribute to the bond between humans and dogs and the life-affirming power of connection.”

Death in Tokyo by Keigo Higashino

Translated by Giles Murray (winter 2022)

“Tokyo Police Detective Kaga finds himself forced to try and makes sense of a most unusual murder…”

A Detective Kaga novel

Early Light by Osamu Dazai

Translated by Donald Keene and Ralph McCarthy (fall 2022)

Early Light offers three very different aspects of Osamu Dazai’s genius…”

Listen to RJL Episode 11: The I-Novel, Osamu Dazai, and No Longer Human.

Idol, Burning by Rin Usami

Translated by Asa Yoneda (fall 2022)

“A blistering novel of fame, disconnection, obsession, and disillusion by a young writer not much older than the novel’s heroine, Idol, Burning shines a white-hot spotlight on fandom and ‘stan’ culture, the money-making schemes of the pop idol industry, the seductive power of social media, and the powerful emotional void that opens when an idol falls from grace, only to become a real—and very flawed—person.”

Lady Joker, Volume 2 by Kaoru Takamura

Translated by Allison Markin Powell and Marie Iida (fall 2022)

“Inspired by the real-life Glico-Morinaga kidnapping, an unsolved case which terrorized Japan for two years, Lady Joker reimagines the circumstances of this watershed episode in modern Japanese history and brings into riveting focus the lives and motivations of the victims, the perpetrators, the heroes and the villains…”

A sequel to Lady Joker, Volume 1

She and Her Cat by Makoto Shinkai and Haruki Nagakawa

Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori (fall 2022)

“Lying alone on the edge of the sidewalk in an abandoned cardboard box, a nameless narrator contemplates the indifferent world around him. With his mother long gone, his only company is the sound of the nearby train. Just as he fears that the end is near, a young woman peers down at him, this fateful encounter changing their lives forever.”

The Tatami Galaxy by Tomohiko Morimi

Translated by Emily Balistrieri (winter 2022)

“The inspiration behind the much-loved anime series, Tomihiko Morimi’s contemporary classic is a fantastic journey through time and space, where a half-eaten castella cake, a photograph from Rome, and a giant cavity in a wisdom tooth hold the keys to self-discovery. A time-traveling romp that speaks to everyone who has wondered what if, The Tatami Galaxy will win readers’ hearts over… and over… and over again.”

Read more about the work of Tomohiko Morimi:

The Thorn Puller by Hiromi Ito

Translated by Jeffrey Angles (winter 2022)

“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…”

Weasels in the Attic by Hiroko Oyamada

Translated by David Boyd (fall 2022)

“In these three interconnected stories, Hiroko Oyamada revisits the same set of characters at different junctures in their lives. In the back room of a pet fish store full of rare and exotic fish, old friends discuss dried shrimp and a strange new relationship. A couple who recently moved into a rustic home in the mountains discovers an unsettling solution to their weasel infestation. And a dinner party during a blizzard leads to a night in a room filled with aquariums and unpleasant dreams.”

Published in 2022

All the Lovers in the Night by Mieko Kawakami

Translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd

“Fuyuko Irie is a freelance copy editor in her mid-thirties. Working and living alone in a city where it is not easy to form new relationships, she has little regular contact with anyone other than her editor, Hijiri, a woman of the same age but with a very different disposition…”

Read my review of All the Lovers in the Night.

Read more about the work of Mieko Kawakami:

At the Edge of the Woods by Masatsugu Ono

Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter

“In an unnamed foreign country, a family of three is settling into a house at the edge of the woods. But something is off. A sound, at first like coughing and then like laughter, emanates from the nearby forest. Fantastical creatures, it is said, live out there in a castle where feudal lords reigned and Resistance fighters fell…”

Read my review of At the Edge of the Woods

Beautiful Star by Yukio Mishima

Translated by Stephen Dodd

“The Osugi family have come to a realisation. Each of them hails from a different planet. Father from Mars, mother from Jupiter, son from Mercury and daughter from Venus. Already seen as oddballs in their small Japanese town in the 1960s, this extra-terrestrial knowledge brings them closer together; they climb mountains to wait for UFOs, study at home together, and regard their human neighbours with a kindly benevolence…”

*This book has no scheduled US release date.

Learn more about the work of Yukio Mishima:

The Color of the Sky Is the Shape of the Heart by Chesil

Translated by Takami Nieda

“Now in translation for the first time, the award-winning debut that broke literary ground in Japan explores diaspora, prejudice, and the complexities of a teen girl’s experience growing up as a Zainichi Korean, reminiscent of Min Jin Lee’s classic Pachinko and Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street…”

Dead-End Memories by Banana Yoshimoto

Translated by Asa Yoneda

“First published in Japan in 2003 and never-before-published in the United States, Dead-End Memories collects the stories of five women who, following sudden and painful events, quietly discover their ways back to recovery.”

Read my review of Dead-End Memories.

Death on Gokumon Island by Seishi Yokomizo

Translated by Louise Heal Kawai

“Kosuke Kindaichi arrives on the remote Gokumon Island bearing tragic news–the son of one of the island’s most important families has died, on a troop transport ship bringing him back home after the Second World War. But Kindaichi has not come merely as a messenger–with his last words, the dying man warned that his three step-sisters’ lives would now be in danger…”

A Detective Kosuke Kindaichi novel

Diary of a Void by Emi Yagi

Translated by David Boyd and Lucy North

“A prizewinning, thrillingly subversive debut novel about a woman in Japan who avoids harassment at work by perpetuating, for nine months and beyond, the lie that she’s pregnant…”

Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight by Riku Onda

Translated by Alison Watts

“Set in a Tokyo flat over the course of one night, Aki and Hiro spend one last night together before going their separate ways. Each believes the other to be a murderer and is determined to extract a confession before the night is over. Who has been killed and why? Which one is the killer?”

Kamusari Tales Told at Night by Shion Miura

Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter

“It’s been a year since Yuki Hirano left home—or more precisely, was booted from it—to study forestry in the remote mountain village of Kamusari. Being a woodsman is not the future he imagined, but his name means “courage,” and Yuki hopes to live up to it…”

A sequel to The Easy Life in Kamusari. Read my review of The Easy Life in Kamusari.

Life Ceremony: Stories by Sayaka Murata

Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

“The long-awaited first short story-collection by the author of the cult sensation Convenience Store Woman, tales of weird love, heartfelt friendships, and the unsettling nature of human existence…”

Read more about the work of Sayaka Murata:

Read my review of Life Ceremony.

Translated by Anthony Chambers and Paul McCarthy

“Junichiro Tanizaki is one of the most prominent Japanese writers of the twentieth century, renowned for his investigations of family dynamics, eroticism, and cultural identity. Most acclaimed for his postwar novels such as The Makioka Sisters and The Key, Tanizaki made his literary debut in 1910. This book presents three powerful stories of family life from the first decade of Tanizaki’s career that foreshadow the themes the great writer would go on to explore…”

My Annihilation by Fuminori Nakamura

Translated by Sam Bett

“With My Annihilation, Fuminori Nakamura, master of literary noir, has constructed a puzzle box of a narrative in the form of a confessional diary that implicates its reader in a heinous crime…”

Rip It Up by You Machida

Translated by Daniel Joseph

“Set in a kaleidoscopic hyperreal Japan circa Y2K, Rip It Up catalogues the misdeeds and misgivings of a down-and-out wannabe debonair who ekes out a meager living at the fringes of the art world, wracked by jealousy at his friend’s success and despondency of his own creative (and moral) bankruptcy.”

Read my review of Rip It Up.

Scattered All Over the Earth by Yoko Tawada

Translated by Margaret Mitsutani

“Welcome to the not-too-distant future: Japan, having vanished from the face of the earth, is now remembered as “the land of sushi.” Hiruko, its former citizen and a climate refugee herself, has a job teaching immigrant children in Denmark with her invented language Panska (Pan-Scandinavian)…”

Read my review of Scattered All Over the Earth.

The Shining Sea by Koji Suzuki

Translated by Brian Bergstrom

“A young woman who attempted suicide by drowning has lost her memory and ability to speak. Her lover, a young man, is on a pelagic tuna fishing boat. What happened between them…?”

Six Short Stories: The Early Works of Osamu Dazai by Osamu Dazai

Translated by Michael and Shizuka Blaskowsky, et al.

“With most stories translated into English for the first time, the book gives you a rare glimpse into the complex psyche of the nascent novelist on his way to becoming one of the most celebrated writers Japan has ever had.”

*This volume is only available on Kindle.

Solo Dance by Li Kotomi

Translated by Arthur Reiji Morris

“Cho Norie, twenty-seven and originally from Taiwan, is working an office job in Tokyo. While her colleagues worry about the economy, life-insurance policies, marriage, and children, she is forced to keep her unconventional life hidden―including her sexuality and the violent attack that prompted her move to Japan…”

Read my review of Solo Dance.

Summer of Strangers and Other Stories by Masao Yamakawa

Translated by J. D. Wisgo

“‘Summer of Strangers’ is a collection of Yamakawa’s works selected around the theme of life difficulties, the first collection of this author’s stories available in English. A secondary theme is the season of summer, an important element in several of these works.”

Tokyo Express by Seicho Matsumoto

Translated by Jesse Kirkwood

“In a rocky cove in the bay of Hakata, the bodies of a young and beautiful couple are discovered. Stood in the coast’s wind and cold, the police see nothing to investigate: the flush of the couple’s cheeks speaks clearly of cyanide, of a lovers’ suicide…”

*This book has no scheduled US release date.

Three Assassins by Kotaro Isaka

Translated by Sam Malissa

“Their mission is murder. His is revenge. Suzuki is just an ordinary man until his wife is murdered. When he discovers the criminal gang responsible he leaves behind his life as a maths teacher and joins them, looking for a chance to take his revenge…”

Trinity, Trinity, Trinity by Erika Kobayashi

Translated by Brian Bergstrom

“Nine years after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster, Japan is preparing for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. An unnamed narrator wakes up in a cold, sterile room, unable to recall her past. Across the country, the elderly begin to hear voices emanating from black stones, compelling them to behave in strange and unpredictable ways. The voices are a symptom of a disease called ‘Trinity’…”

Read my review of Trinity, Trinity, Trinity.

Woman Running in the Mountains by Yuko Tsushima

Translated by Geraldine Harcourt

“Set in 1970s Japan, this tender and poetic novel about a young, single mother struggling to find her place in the world is an early triumph by a modern Japanese master…”

Read my review of Woman Running in the Mountains.

Episode 3: The Tale of the Heike

A 19th century woodblock print of Tomoe from The Mirror of Beauties Past and Present via Wikimedia Commons

Check out the Read Japanese Literature podcast.

Episode 3: The Tale of the Heike—The great samurai epic and the rise of the samurai class.

Support this podcast by buying your copy of The Tale of the Heike from Bookshop.org. 

Find Out More

A. L. Sadler’s text of The Tale of the Heike (free online)

Website for The Tale of the Heike (Heike monogatari)

  • Reading notes and summaries of the entire Tale of the Heike

The History of Japan Podcast, hosted by Isaac Meyer

Linfamy’s Japanese History and Folktales YouTube Channel

“Tomoe Gozen: Badass Women in Japanese History” at Tofugu.com

Japanese Literature at Facebook

Sources

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

De Bary, Theodore, et. al, eds. Sources of Japanese Tradition: From Earliest Times to 1600, Columbia, 1964.

McAlpine, Helen and William. Japanese Tales and Legends, Oxford, 1989.

Mori, Masaki. Epic Grandeur: Toward a Comparative Poetics of the Epic. State University Press of New York, 1997.

Oyler, Elizabeth. “Gio: Women and Performance in the ‘Heike Monogatari’.” Harvard Review of Asiatic Studies, 2004.

Shirane, Haruo, ed. Traditional Japanese Literature: An Anthology, Beginnings to 1600. Columbia, 2008.

Episode 2: The Tale of Genji

Check out the Read Japanese Literature podcast.

A 19th-Century Illustration of The Tale of Genji via Wikimedia Commons

Episode 2: The Tale of Genji—The world’s oldest novel. A hero who is a paragon of beauty with an extreme Oedipus complex.

(CW: sex, rape, incest, pedophilia.)

Support this podcast by buying your copy from Bookshop.org. 

Find Out More

Project Gutenberg: The Tale of Genji. The full on-line text of the Arthur Waley translation of The Tale of Genji

Tony’s Reading List. A comparison of different English-language translations of The Tale of Genji

Sources

Bargen, Doris G. “Yūgao: A Case of Spirit Possession in The Tale of Genji” in Mosaic, 1986.

Marcus, Marvin. Japanese Literature from Murasaki to Murakami. Association for Asian Studies, 2015.
De Bary, Theodore, et. al, eds. Sources of Japanese Tradition: From Earliest Times to 1600. Columbia, 1964.

Episode 1: The Kojiki

Kobayashi Eitaku, Izanagi and Izanami, c. 1885
via Wikimedia Commons

Check out the Read Japanese Literature podcast.

Episode 1: 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.

Support this podcast by buying your copy of The Kojiki from Bookshop.org. 

Find Out More

Read the full on-line text of the Basil Hall Chamberlain translation of The Kojiki for free at Sacred-Texts.com.

The Goddess Chronicle by Kirino Natsuo (trans. Rebecca Copeland)

The Kojiki: The Birth of Japan—The Japanese Creation Myth Illustrated by Kazumi Wilds

Tono Monogatari by Shigeru Mizuki (trans. Zack Davisson)

Sources

Ellwood, Robert. “Patriarchal Revolution in Ancient Japan: Episodes from the ‘Nihonshoki’ Sujin Chronicle” in Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 1986.

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

De Bary, Theodore, et. al, eds. Sources of Japanese Tradition: From Earliest Times to 1600. Columbia, 1964.

Mudshit: Sacred Cesium Ground as an Allegory for 3/11

On March 11, 2011, the 9.0-magnitude Great East Japan Earthquake triggered a powerful tsunami that swept the Tohoku region in Northeastern Japan. Residents had less than ten minutes to flee from a 133-foot wave that rushed to shore at speeds up to 435 miles an hour.

The earthquake also triggered three meltdowns at the nearby Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Because of the radioactive fallout, some of the hundreds of thousands of people evacuated will never be able to return home.

Ten years later, anger still simmers beneath the surface about what is widely viewed as Tokyo’s failure to deal with the emergency and its aftermath.

Twelve Zodiac Signs: Ox by Takeuchi Seiho

Sacred Cesium Ground

More than other translated works of “Fukushima fiction,” Sacred Cesium Ground is almost a direct allegory for the situation on the ground in Tohoku in the months following the “3/11 Triple Disaster.” Through its use of symbolism, Sacred Cesium Ground is an allegory not only for the aftermath of 3/11, not only for the consequences of generations of neglect of the Tohoku region, but also of the structural problems in Japanese society that left Japan open to a disaster of 3/11’s magnitude in the first place.

The Cows: The people of Tohoku

The novel opens with Nishino (we’re never privy to her first name) beginning a short stint as a volunteer at The Fortress of Hope. The “fortress” is a farm that has taken in irradiated cattle that the government ordered local farmers to cull. These cows are essentially “living debris” leftover when the floodwaters receded.

Using animals to stand in for people is… problematic. Especially when you’re dealing with a group of people who have already been marginalized. In this case, using beef cattle as a symbol for the people of an entire region reminds us that the people of Tohoku were treated as resources—things rather than people—since long before 2011.

In the words of The Fortress of Hope’s ideological leader

“All of us abandoned and forgotten peoples. The thinning out and culling. In the same way that the cattle are being ‘disposed of’: aren’t we too, right now, receiving the same treatment.”

The Fortress of Hope: Tohoku Itself

From the outside, the Fortress of Hope looks like a powerful symbol of Tohoku’s resilience. (The Fortress of Hope is loosely based on the Ranch of Hope, sited within the 20-km Exclusion Zone set by the Japanese government.) Before Nishino arrives, she has imagined it as “some kind of utopia.”

But Nishino discovers the harsh reality about The Fortress of Hope and Tohoku itself soon after she arrives: “this was a space summarily cut loose and left to its own devices.”

Tohoku has a complicated relationship with the rest of Japan. Some scholars even classified the region as an “internal colony.” Tokyo has used the region’s resources and people for centuries, most recently as a site for nuclear power plants. The Fukushima Daiichi Plants were, for example, run by a Tokyo company to meet Tokyo’s electricity needs.

In the weeks that followed 3/11, the Japanese were inundated with calls to “Fight on Japan!” At the time, government leaders presented a united front: all of Japan would work together to recover and rebuild. The messages were messages of hope.

Miko Mari: Opportunistic Japanese politicians

On Nishino’s final day at the farm, she hears that they expect a visitor—the up-and-coming, young and trendy political hotshot Miko Mari. She is “the first politician who had been put on the public stage by a producer, a guy known for promoting bands.” Mari doesn’t expect more from her visit than a photo op with the ranch’s cutest calves and a few soundbites.

Mari herself isn’t really a villain; she doesn’t care enough about the Fortress to be a villain. But her advocacy for Tohoku is all show. The people at the Fotress can’t count on her for any meaningful relief anymore than the people of Tohoku can count on politicians to keep their promises.

“Mudshit”: The radioactive fallout from the Fukushima power plants

Nishino doesn’t resort to profanity often—at least in English translation—but she pulls no punches when she describes the filth at the Fortress of Hope.

This mudshit is no ordinary ranching runoff: it is contaminated by radioactive fallout. The novel’s grotesque climax reminds us that the shit is also made up of the bodies of the dead. One character describes what happened to the cows who starved to death after 3/11: before they could be rescued 

Bodies in a big tub, full of piss…There was so many flies the air looked black. So many, when you breathed they came into your nostrils and you couldn’t open your eyes. On the ground at your feet, big fat maggots, everywhere. You couldn’t walk without stepping on them; when you stepped on them they would go poppop.

Later, Nishino falls into the muck. She scoops up a handful for the horrified politician. “Take a good look at this,” she insists “This is evidence of life.”

She continues:

This mudshit, this cesium mudshit, this filled-to-the-brim proof-of-cows-that-had-lived-and-had-been-abandoned—I thrust it before [Mari’s] eyes.

What about Nishino?

Nishino, stands in for all of Japan’s marginalized people.

Rachel DiNitto, author of Fukushima Fiction: The Literary Landscape of Japan’s Triple Disaster observes that “the narrative thrust of the story appropriates the nuclear disaster in order to tell Nishino’s personal narrative.” DiNitto’s criticism is generally more nuanced, but this comment rather misses the point. The long-term cost of the 3/11 disaster—broken communities, irrecoverable careers, mental illness, nuclear fallout—are borne by Tohoku residents precisely because they are, have always been, Japan’s marginalized.

It’s also worth noting that Nishino identifies as a cow herself; she doesn’t just emotionally connect with the cows but is, in a meaningful sense, one of them. She notes how the language of the temp agency she once worked at (“human capital” and “human resources”) connotes that the workers are, like the cattle, merely a means to an end. In a flashback to a scene of domestic abuse, her husband calls her a cow. She simply accepts it:

I had become a cow. With the hooves of my front feet, I was skillfully holding the chopsticks and the rice bowl.

Why, Nishino asks herself, does she always go back to her husband?:

Why did I accept that change each and every time? I knew I was going to be betrayed yet again in the future. What was I hanging on to?

Her quiet resolution to leave her husband at the end of the novel is a hopeful note for Japanese society. Maybe Japan, too, rid itself of a system that leaves so many behind.