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Review: There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura

The unnamed narrator in Tsumura Kikuko’s There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job quits a job she loves after developing “burnout syndrome”. Her first career (the reader won’t find out what it was until the novel’s final pages) has sucked up “every scrap of energy” she had. She asks a recruiter to find her an […]

Review: People from My Neighborhood by Hiromi Kawakami

People from My Neighborhood is a book about relationships. Kawakami Hiromi’s collection of micro-fiction, itself only 120-pages long, is about the members of the close-knit community in an exurban Tokyo town. For a volume of short stories, the relationships between characters are remarkably strong. Two and three pages at a time, the reader begins to see […]

Review: Kiki’s Delivery Service by Kadono Eiko

Kiki, a thirteen-year-old witch in training, leaves her rural village for a bustling seaside town. With her, she takes only a bento lunchbox, a radio, and her black cat Jiji. She travels by broom, of course. Broom flight is the only magic Kiki has. Western audiences may know Kiki from the massively popular, heavily-lauded 1989 […]

Review: The Hole by Hiroko Oyamada

Asa’s husband has just been transferred, so the couple moves into his parents’ rental house, next door to her in-laws. When they move, Asa must quit her job, but “it’s not really the kind of job that’s worth holding on to” anyway. A coworker assumes Asa must be thrilled to become a housewife. She will be […]

Review: Where the Wild Ladies Are by Matsuda Aoko

Angry women hold a special place in Japanese folklore. Many of Japan’s best-known tales are about “vengeful ghosts”, almost always women, who wreak havoc on the living for some perceived wrong. Where the Wild Ladies Are recasts such classic ghost stories for a contemporary audience. Matsuda Aoko reinvents these women, highlighting the strength of will that […]

The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino

To appreciate The Goddess Chronicle, you need to be familiar with The Kojiki, the oldest recorded mythical origin story of Japan. (Kirino provides a good summary in part II, chapters 5-6.) In The Kojiki, the first anthropomorphic gods are Izanami (She Who Beckoned) and Izanagi (He Who Beckoned). They quickly notice that their bodies have some key differences: […]

Manazuru by Hiromi Kawakami and A Man by Keiichiro Hirano

Each year in Japan, thousands of people disappear. They haven’t been kidnapped. They haven’t been murdered. (Japan has one of the lowest murder rates in the world. An American is almost twenty-seven times more likely to become a homicide victim.) They are the evaporated—the johatsu. First, let’s acknowledge that the evocative noun probably creates an exoticism that […]

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

“The number of women aged between 15 and 50 is fixed. Because the number of birth-giving machines and devices is fixed, all we can do is ask them to do their best per head… although it may not be so appropriate to call them machines.”—Former Japanese Health Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa Yanagisawa served under Shinzo Abe, […]

ME by Tomoyuki Hoshino and Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

Like many other countries, Japan has its own body of folklore with cannibalistic monsters. For more than a thousand years, demonic female yamauba have roamed Japan’s mountains, assisting some travelers, eating others. The connotations of cannibalism in Japanese folklore are always negative. Today, cannibalism is a quietly contentious political issue in Japan. In the early […]

Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda

“The Europeans are compelled to take [a] bath in order to clean off the filth… on the contrary, bathing of the Japanese is far beyond the simple object of cleaning their body.”—T Fujimoto, 1914 — Where the Wild Ladies Are is a loosely-connected series of short stories taking their inspiration from traditional Japanese ghost stories. […]

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