Podcast

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.

Episode 17: The Smile of the Mountain Witch

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.

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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