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:

Sources

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.

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.

Become an RJL supporter for seven minutes of bonus content.

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.

Sources

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.

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

Sources

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)

Episode 16: Writing about Japan’s “Have-Nots”

Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri

Check out Episode 16 of the Read Literature podcast.

In this episode…

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.

Donate to RJL’s Patreon.

Support this podcast by buying from Bookshop.org.

Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri (translated by Morgan Giles)

Read Miri for Free:

This episode also recommends:

Find Out More

Unseen Japan. Among many topics, Unseen Japan provides English-language news coverage about under-represented communities in Japan, including Zainichi Koreans and the homeless.

ETHOS Typology on Homelessness and Housing Exclusion

The Japan Foundation New York Literary Series: Yu Miri and Morgan Giles. Yu Miri and her translator Morgan Giles talk about Tokyo Ueno Station. Other guests include moderator Stephen Snyder, interpreter Bethan Jones, and Strong Women, Soft Power member Allison Markin Powell.

“Marxist Literary Criticism: An Introductory Reading Guide” at HistoricalMaterialism.org.

JFNY Literary Series: Yu Miri x Morgan Giles. An hour-long video interview and discussion about Yu Miri’s work and Tokyo Ueno Station, hosted by the Japan Foundation of New York.

The National Book Award Page for Tokyo Ueno Station. This pages includes the judges’ citation:

This deft translation by Morgan Giles of Korean-Japanese writer Yu Miri’s Tokyo Ueno Station is a welcome and necessary addition to the translated Japanese canon, which unfolds in the memories of a deceased narrator occupying the eponymous train station. The book is an observation of Japan at the gateway of its capital, at multiple thresholds of shifting eras, told in the bardo of a mourning father and compatriot, reciting his surroundings and circumstances as if a prayer, a mantra.

“Her Antenna Is Tuned to the Quietest Voices” in The New York Times. This article, written after the English translation of Tokyo Ueno Station won the National Book Award, contains more information about Miri’s biography.

“Why the World Needs Literature” in Metropolis. Morgan Giles talks about Tokyo Ueno Station and translating Yu Miri.

“Literature” at Japanese Wiki Corpus

Japanese Literature at Facebook

Japanese Literature at Goodreads

Sources

Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. U of MN, 2008.

–. Marxism and Literary Criticism. U of CA, 1976.

“ETHOS—European Typology on Homelessness and Housing Exclusion” at Feantsa.org, 2005. (free)

Goto Hiroshi, et al. “Why Street Homelessness Has Decreased in Japan: A Comparison of Public Assistance in Japan and the US” in Selected Works of Dennis P. Culhane, 2022. (free)

Harris, Thalia. “Metalist DaiGo and Anti-Homeless Sentiment in Japan” at UnseenJapan.com, 2021. (free)

“JFNY Literary Series: Yu Miri x Morgan Giles” at Jfny.org, 2021. (free)

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

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

Rich, Motoko. “Her Antenna Is Tuned to the Quietest Voices” at NYTimes.com, 2020. (free)

Scott, Simon. “Ball and Chain: Gambling’s Darker Side” in The Japan Times Online, 2014.

Weickgenannt, Kristina. “The Deemphasis of Ethnicity: Images of Koreanness in the Works of the Japanese-Korean Author Yū Miri” in Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies, Conference and Seminar Papers: Images of Asia in Mass Media, Popular Culture and Literature, 2001. (free)

Wender, Melissa L. “Introduction” in Into the Light: An Anthology of Literature by Koreans in Japan, U of HI, 2011.

–. “Yū Miri” in Into the Light: An Anthology of Literature by Koreans in Japan, U of HI, 2011.

Episode 15: Translating Japanese Women

The Japanese cover of Convenience Store Woman

Check out Episode 15 of the Read Literature podcast.

In all our episodes so far, we’ve talked almost exclusively about what Japanese literature looks like in Japan.

But we’re English-speakers and English-readers on an English-language podcast about Japanese literature in English.

In honor of Women in Translation Month, we’re talking about why there is such a wealth of contemporary books by Japanese women available in English.

Donate to RJL’s Patreon.

Support this podcast by buying from Bookshop.org.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori)

Japanese Women Translated by Strong Women, Soft Power Translators:

Translated by Allison Markin Powell

Translated by Lucy North

Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

Ginny Tapley Takemori on “Strong Women, Soft Power” at Global Literature in Libraries Initiative

Strong Women, Soft Power’s list of “10 Japanese Books by Women We’d Love to See in English”

Allison Markin Power on why “Translating Women in Essential”

The Three Percent Database

Women in Translation. The project’s official website.

The Warwick Prize for Women in Translation

RJL’s List of 2022 Upcoming Japanese Fiction Releases

Sayaka Murata talks about her life and work at Wired.com.

The Japan Foundation New York hosts a conversation with Sayaka Murata. (YouTube)

More about the work of Sayaka Murata on Read Japanese Literature:

My review of Sayaka Murata’s latest in English, Life Ceremony: Stories

“Literature” at Japanese Wiki Corpus

Japanese Literature at Facebook

Japanese Literature at Goodreads

Sources

Birnbaum, Phyllis, trans. and ed. Rabbits, Crabs, Etc.: Stories by Japanese Women. U of HI, 1982.

Copeland, Rebecca. “Intercultural Sisters: Translation and the Creation of Feminist Social Networks” in The Journal of Comparative Media and Women Studies, 2020.

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

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.

Doppo Kunikida. “On Women and Translation” in Women Critiqued: Translated Essays on Japanese Women’s Writing. Rebecca Copeland, ed. U of HI Press, 2006.

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.

Fincher, Alison. “Review: Life Ceremony by Sayaka Murata” at AsianReviewofBooks.com, 2022. (free)

Ha, Thu-Huong. “Sayaka Murata Inhabits a Planet of Her Own” at Wired.com, 2022. (free)

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

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

Namkung, Victoria. “Move Over, Murakami: Female Authors Drive Growing Interest in Japanese Novels” at NBCNews.com, 2021. (free)

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

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

Takemori, Ginny Tapley. “Strong Women, Soft Power” at Glli.org, 2018. (free)

Episode 14: Banana and the Bubble

“White Fox Mirror” by Yoshimi Okamoto, 1980 (via Ukiyo-e.org)

Check out Episode 14 of the Read Literature podcast.

In this episode, we’re talking 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.

Content warning: This episode addresses transphobia as well as hate crimes against Asian Americans and trans women.

Support this podcast by buying from Bookshop.org.

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto (translated by Megan Backus)

Lizard (translated by Ann Sherif). Includes the story “Newlywed”.

Dead-End Memories by Banana Yoshimoto (translated by Asa Yoneda)

More by Banana Yoshimoto:

This episode also recommends:

I Think Our Son Is Gay by (translated by Leo McDonagh)

Find Out More

The History of Japan Podcast, hosted by Isaac Meyer

Ichimon Japan Podcast, Episode 39: What Should I Know about Japan’s Bubble Era?—An irreverent and funny look at 1980s pop culture in Japan.

The Japan Foundation of New York’s lecture on Shojo Manga: The Power and Influence of Girls’ Comics

Kawaii 101 at Best of Kawaii

Banana Yoshimoto’s Official Website (English)

Book critic Willow Heath on “The Genius of Banana Yoshimoto” at Books & Bao.

Book critic Willow Heath on Kitchen at Books & Bao. Includes a discussion of Eriko’s role in the novel.

My review of Dead-End Memories at Asian Review of Books

IMDB page for 1989’s Kitchen

IMDB page for 1997’s Kitchen (Wo ai chu fang)

Lindsay Ellis’s YouTube video on Tracing the Roots of Pop Culture Transphobia. Ellis’s 60-minute video traces the problematic history of transgender representation in English-language media.

Siobhan Donegan on “Trans Representation in Cinema and TV” at LGBTHealth.org.uk.

Alexander Cross on Kitchen and “The Coming of Age of Transgender Representation in Japan” at An Injustice!

Translator Leo McDonagh on “Translating Gender from Japanese to English” at his site, Leocalization.wordpress.com.

“Literature” at Japanese Wiki Corpus

Japanese Literature at Facebook

Sources

Aoyama Tomoko. Reading Food in Modern Japanese Literature. U Hawaii, 2008.

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

Cross, Alexander. “The Coming of Age in Transgender Representation in Japan: An Analysis of Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto” at An Injustice!, 2021. (free)

Fincher, Alison. “‘Dead-End Memories’ by Banana Yoshimoto” at AsianReviewofBooks.com. (free)

Fukushima Yoshiko. “Japanese Literature, or ‘J-Literature,’ in the 1990s” in World Literature Today, 2003.

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

Heath, Willow. “Review: Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto” at Books & Bao, 2021. (free)

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

Margolis, Eric. “How the English Language Failed Banana Yoshimoto” at Metropolis, 2021. (free)

Olson, Lawrence. “Intellectuals and ‘The People’; On Yoshimoto Takaaki” in The Journal of Japanese Studies, 1978.

Roquet, Paul. “Ambient Literature and the Aesthetics of Calm: Mood Regulation in Contemporary Japanese Fiction” in The Journal of Japanese Studies, 2009.

Saito Satomi. “Narrative in the Digital Age: From Light Novels to Web Serials” in Routledge Handbook of Modern Japanese Literature, ed. Rachael Hutchinson and Leith Morton, 2016.

Seaman, Amanda C. “Inner Pieces: Isolation, Inclusion, and Interiority in Modern Women’s Fiction” in Routledge Handbook of Modern Japanese Literature, ed. Rachael Hutchinson and Leith Morton, 2016.

Sherif, Ann. “Japanese without Apology: Yoshimoto Banana and Healing” in Ōe and Beyond: Fiction in Contemporary Japan, ed. Stephen Synder and Philip Gabriel, U Hawaii, 1999.

Treat, John Whittier. “Yoshimoto Banana Writes Home: Shojo Culture and the Nostalgic Subject” in The Journal of Japanese Studies, 1993.

Episode 13: Literature of Change in the 1960s—Mishima and Oe

“Ukiyo-e Today, No. 7” by Okamoto Ryusei, 1974 (via Ukiyo-e.org)

Check out Episode 13 of the Read Literature podcast.

Today, we’re talking 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.

We’re looking especially at Yukio Mishima and Kenzaburo Oe.

Content warning: This episode addresses fascism and suicide.

Support this podcast by buying from Bookshop.org.

The Sea of Fertility Tetralogy by Yukio Mishima

Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids by Kenzaburo Oe (translated by Paul St. John MacKintosh and Maki Sugiyama)

Other Books Mentioned in This Episode:

Beautiful Star by Yukio Mishima (translated by Steven Dodd, available in UK markets only)

“Patriotism” by Yukio Mishima (translated by Geoffrey W. Sargent) in The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories

“The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away” (translated by John Nathan) in Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness 

Find Out More

The Constitution of Japan (English)

Read Japanese Literature’s Review of Yukio Mishima’s Novel Life for Sale

Ruminations on America, 1965. A translation by Hiroaki Sato of a part of Ōe’s essay, including his thoughts about Huckleberry Finn. (CW: Quotes Twain’s use of a racial slur)

The Swedish Academy’s 1994 Press Release about Kenzaburo Oe’s Nobel Prize for Literature

Kenzaburo Oe’s 1994 Nobel Lecture, “Japan, the Ambiguous, and Myself”

The History of Japan Podcast, hosted by Isaac Meyer

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

  • 22: Japan’s Economic Miracle

“Literature” at Japanese Wiki Corpus

Japanese Literature at Facebook

Sources

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

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

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

Kersten, Rikki. “The Intellectual Culture of Postwar Japan and the 1968-1969 University of Tokyo Struggles: Repositioning the Self in Postwar Thought” in Social Science Japan Journal, 2009.

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

Napier, Susan J. “Death and the Emperor: Mishima, Ōe, and the Politics of Betrayal” in The Journal of Asian Studies, 1989.

–. Escape from the Wasteland: Romanticism and Realism in the Fiction of Mishima Yukio and Oe Kenzaburo. Harvard, 1991.

Nathan, John. “Introduction” in Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness. Grove, 1994.

Oe Kenzaburo. “Japan’s Dual Identity: A Writer’s Dilemma” in World Literature Today, 1988.

–. “Nobel Lecture: Japan, the Ambiguous, and Myself” at NobelPrize.org, 1994.

Remnick, David. “Reading Japan” at The New York Yorker Online, 1995. (free)

Sakurai Emiko. “Kenzaburo Ōe: the Early Years” in World Literature Today, 1984.
Schieder, Chelsea Szendi. Coed Revolution: The Female Student in the Japanese New Left. Duke, 2021.

Episode 12: Japanese Literature in WWII

“Flag Merchant” by Sanzo Wada, 1940 (via Ukiyo-e.org)

Check out Episode 12 of the Read Literature podcast.

Today we’re talking about the 1930s and 40s in Japan—fascism, World War Two, and the American Occupation.

In particular, how did 20 years of censorship shape Japanese literature?

We’re also taking a look at the life and work of Akiyuki Nosaka, whose novella, “Grave of the Fireflies” inspired the classic anime film. We’ll discuss his short story, “The Cake Tree in the Ruins”.

Support this podcast by buying from Bookshop.org.

The Whale That Fell in Love with the Submarine by Akiyuki Nosaka. Illustrated.

The Cake Tree in the Ruins by Akiyuki Nosaka. Includes five stories not included in The Whale That Fell in Love with the Submarine.

These two books are both translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori and both include “The Cake Tree in the Ruins”.

Other Books Mentioned in This Episode:

The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki

The Pornagraphers by Akiyuki Nosaka

Soldiers Alive by Tatsuzo Ishikawa (also included in The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature)

More to Read:

Showa: A History of Japan by Shigeru Mizuki. A multivolume, semi-autobiographical manga overview of Showa Japan.

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguo. The fictional account of a Japanese artist who comes to grips with his complicity with the military regime.

Find Out More

All the Anime’s obituary for Akiyuki Nosaka

The LARB tribute to Akiyuki Nosaka.

Akiyuki Nosaka’s award-winning song, Omocha no Cha Cha Cha on YouTube

Akiyuki Nosaka advertises Suntory Gold Whiskey on YouTube

The Reporters without Borders World Press Freedom Index

The History of Japan Podcast, hosted by Isaac Meyer

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

  • 18: Three Visions of Prewar Japan
  • 19: War without a Master Plan: Japan, 1931-1945

“Literature” at Japanese Wiki Corpus

Japanese Literature at Facebook

Sources

Dower, John. Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II. Norton, 2000.

Fedman, David. “The Scorched-Earth Generation” at lareviewofbooks.org, 2016.

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

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

–. “Japanese Literature and Politics in the 1930s” in The Journal of Japanese Studies, 1976.

Mitchell, Richard H. “Japan’s Peace Preservation Law of 1925: Its Origins and Significance” in Monumenta Nipponica, 1973.

Muraoka Eri. Anne’s Cradle: The Life & Works of Hanako Muraoka, Japanese Translator of Anne of Green Gables, trans. Cathy Hirano. Nimbus, 2021.

Rubin, Jay. “From Wholesomeness to Decadence: The Censorship of Literature under the Allied Occupation” in The Journal of Japanese Studies, 1985.

Episode 11: The I-Novel, Osamu Dazai, and No Longer Human

“Asakusa Park Casino Follies” by Sumio Kawakami, circa 1930 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Check out Episode 11 of the Read Japanese Literature podcast.

Today, we’re talking about the I-Novel—the highest form of literature in Japan in the 1910s and 20s.

It’s a genre one American scholar describes as “perhaps the most striking feature of modern Japanese literature.”

And it’s a genre Haruki Murakami claims to have an allergy to.

We’ll also be looking at the life and work of Osamu Dazai and asking, “What does it take to get disqualified as a human being?”

Content warning: This episode addresses addiction, rape, suicide, and misogyny.

Support this podcast by buying from Bookshop.org.

No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai, translated by Donald Keene

More by Dazai:

More to read:

An I-Novel by Minae Mizumura, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

Life Ceremony by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

Find Out More

A review of An I-Novel by Minae Mizumura

An interview with Sayaka Murata

Plans for a secondary-school literature class on the I-Novel

The History of Japan Podcast, hosted by Isaac Meyer

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

Sources

Fowler, Edward. The Rhetoric of Confession: Shishōsetsu in Early Twentieth-Century Japanese Fiction, U of CA, 1992. 

Hijiya-Kirschnereit. Rituals of Self-Revelation: Shishōsetsu as Literary Genre and Socio-Cultural Phenomenon. Harvard, 1996.

Keene, Donald. “Dazai Osamu and the Burai-Ha” in Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era—Fiction, 4th ed., 1999.

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

Lyons, Phyllis I. “‘Art Is Me’: Dazai Osamu’s Narrative Voice as a Permeable Self” in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 1981.
Murakami Haruki. “Introduction” in The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories, ed. Jay Rubin, Penguin, 2020.

Episode 10: Taisho Magazines and Akutagawa’s Vision of Hell

“Woman Holding a Black Cat” by Yumeji Takehisa, circa 1919 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Check out Episode 10 of the Read Japanese Literature podcast.

The father of the Japanese short story shares his dark vision about what it means to be an artist.

We’re taking a look at Japan in the 1910s and 1920s, the era of the Taishō Democracy and the heyday of Japan’s literary magazines and serial novels.

Content warning: This episode addresses addiction, suicide, and sexual assault.

Support this podcast by buying from Bookshop.org.

Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, translated by Jay Rubin

Traditional Japanese Literature: An Anthology, Beginnings to 1600 edited by Haruo Shirane

More by Akutagawa:

Find Out More

The Asahi Shimbun

Hototogisu Magazine (in Japanese)

The History of Japan Podcast, hosted by Isaac Meyer

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

  • Lecture 18: Three Visions of Prewar Japan

“Literature” at Japanese Wiki Corpus

Japanese Literature at Facebook

Sources

“About the Priest with the Long Nose” in Traditional Japanese Literature: An Anthology, Beginnings to 1600. Haruo Shirane, ed. Columbia, 2008.

Akutagawa Ryūosuke. Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories. Trans. Jay Rubin, Penguin, 2006.

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.

“How Yoshihide, a Painter of Buddhist Pictures, Took Pleasure in Seeing His House on Fire” in Traditional Japanese Literature: An Anthology, Beginnings to 1600. Haruo Shirane, ed. Columbia, 2008.

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

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

Law, Graham and Norimasa Morita. “Japan and the Internationalization of the Serial Fiction Market” in Book History, 2003.

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

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

Murakami, Haruki. “Introduction” in Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. Trans. Jay Rubin, Penguin, 2006.

Yasuda, Anri. “Endeavors of Representation: Writing and Painting in Akutagawa Ryūnosuke’s Literary Aesthetics” in Japanese Language and Literature, 2016.