Jun’ichirō Tanizaki (1886-1965) was a major Japanese author and a finalist for the 1964 Nobel Prize for Literature. A prestigious award, the Tanizaki Prize, was established to honor his contributions to Japanese literature. Many of his works have been adapted for film. So, it came as a surprise that one of his novels discovered in a collection of his works had never been translated.

That there are over 800,000 ethnic Koreans living permanently in Japan, including fourth and fifth generation Korean-Japanese, is not well known outside of Asia. The historical details of how the Koreans came to live in Japan is both fascinating and tragic, mainly because of the conscript labor forced on Koreans during Japanese occupation of the peninsula beginning over 100 years ago and ending with World War II. Even less well known is the discrimination the Korean-Japanese face in their adopted, officially or not, country. Known in Japan as Zainichi (“resident of Japan”), the ethnic Koreans have been largely relegated to marginal occupations as were other minority groups in Japan. That is changing, but discrimination and hate still exist.

Self-described “old retired gardener who was now pushing eighty-six”, Mas Arai makes his final appearance as an amateur detective in Naomi Hirahara’s novel Hiroshima Boy. I would add cantankerous to his self-description, in all the best literary nuances of that word. This seventh and final novel in the mystery series finds Arai-san in Hiroshima, where he lived through World War II, surviving the atomic bomb blast. He is there to return the cremated ashes of his friend, Haruo, to his friend’s sister who lives on a small island named Ino, a short ferry ride from Hiroshima.

Tokyo is the world’s largest megalopolis, arguably the cleanest and safest too. But what fascinates me is the intricate way 34 million people survive in the density and sometimes crush of humanity. On the surface there may be a homogenous veneer to the inhabitants, but as I learned when living in Japan, Tokyo-ites have an intense, often fierce individuality. Getting to know a few of them well, they revealed their inner selves to me, which sparked a realization of a deeper individuality in myself.

Bears in various forms have been popular in myth and fiction for thousands of years, from Inuit traditions and the Greek myth of Callisto to John Irving’s cameo appearances of bears in his novels, and from William Kotswinkle’s bear turned New York literary sensation to, of course, Winnie the Pooh, Paddington Bear, and The Three Bears. We respect them and are in awe of their size, physical strength, and seemingly introspective intelligence. Not to mention bear cubs are so cuddly they inspired the ubiquitous teddy bear. Yoko Tawada, award-winning novelist who was born in Tokyo and lives in Germany, has no fewer than three bears starring as main characters in her novel, along with a cast of other bears and non-bear animals (including those of the human species).

When Japanese answer the phone, they usually say “moshi moshi,” which means something like “I’m here and I can talk.” Moshi Moshi, the title of Banana Yoshimoto’s latest novel, refers to the phone that the main character’s father left at home before leaving to commit suicide with his paramour. The main character, Yoshie, dreams that her father is trying to find his phone to call her. But the title also captures the feeling that Yoshie has something to say about her father, and that she can finally say it. She needs to say it.