Read Japanese Literature is a podcast about Japanese literature and some of its best works.

Episodes 1-14 (season 1) give a very brief overview from its beginnings through the 1980s.

Episodes 25-26: Translating Japanese to English, Parts 1-2

In this two-part episode, we’ll tackle the entire process of taking a book from Japan to an English-reader’s hands—from book acquisition by a publisher, to pairing a book with a translator, to the actual process of translation. We’ll also talk about some of the ethical issues translation involves, all through the lens of Minae Mizumura’s An I-Novel, translated into English by Juliet Winters Carpenter.

Episode 24: SF! Japanese Science Fiction

In this episode, we’re talking about Japanese science fiction.

The history of the genre. SF in Japan. Breakthrough feminist sci-fi writer Izumi Suzuki.

Plus loads of SF stories, including Suzuki’s “Night Picnic”.

(CW: suicide)

Transcript available.

Episode 23: Writing from Okinawa

The history of the Ryukyu Islands, especially the Battle of Okinawa

The evolution of writing from Okinawa

And the life and work of author and activist Shun Medoruma, especially his Akutagawa-winning story “Droplets”

(CW: suicide, rape, violence)

Transcript available.

Episode 22: Fukishima Fiction

Cover art for Hiromi Kawakami's "Kamisama 2011" includes a bear.

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”

Transcript available.

Episode 21: Sexlessness in Japanese Fiction

This episode is marked mature.

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

1. Protagonists who don’t want to have sex

2. And women who want to have babies anyway

(CW: domestic violence in a novel)

Transcript available.

Episode 20: The Akutagawa Prize and Kobo Abe

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

We’ll start with an introduction to the history of “literary” fiction in Japan, move on to the history of the Akutagawa Prize itself, and 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)

Episode 19: Japanese Magical Realism

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

Episode 15: Translating Japanese Women

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.

Episode 14: Banana and the Bubble

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.

(CW: transphobia, hate crimes against Asian Americans and trans women)

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

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.

(CW: fascism, suicide)

Episode 12: Japanese Literature in WWII

Today we’re talking about the 1930s and 40s in Japan—fascism, WWII, and the American Occupation. How did 20 years of censorship shape Japanese literature?

We’re also taking a look at the life and work of Akiyuki Nosaka.

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

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

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?”

(CW: addiction, suicide, rape, misogyny)

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

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

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.

(CW: addiction, suicide, sexual assault)

Episode 9: The Women Writers of Meiji Japan

A print of a Meiji-era Japanese woman in Western dress via Wikimedia Commons

This time we’re talking 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”.

Episode 8: Meiji Literature & Japan’s Most Famous Literary Cat

In this episode, we’re looking at the Meiji Era of Japanese history and its literature.

The shogunate is replaced.

Japan looks outward to the West and inward toward itself.

And a man named Natsume Sōseki chronicles it all from the perspective of a stray cat.

Episode 7: Kaidan—Japan’s Ghost Stories

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

Episode 6: High and Low Literature in Edo Japan

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?

Episode 5: Setsuwa and Medieval Japanese Buddhism

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.

Episode 4: Yoshitsune Ballads and Tomoe Drama

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.

Episode 3: The Tale of the Heike

The great samurai epic and the rise of the samurai class.

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.)

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.

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