It is impossible not to read title of Mieko Kawakami’s new novel “Breasts and Eggs”, with its unabashedly female take, without also hearing the the salacious and near homonymous “breasts and legs”, invoking as it does the male gaze and its frequent targets. Kawakami’s work, composed of two “books” separated by 10 years, is an extended exploration of the inner life of women; the theme of breasts appear as one character pursues augmentation surgery, and eggs are a recurring motif both as a foodstuff and in relation to fertility and procreation.

University student Miwako Sumida has committed suicide and her small group of friends are caught completely off guard, yet determined to search for answers behind her death. Set mainly in Tokyo, Indonesian-born Clarissa Goenawan’s second novel, The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida, is a haunting story of friendship in young adulthood and how—even before social media—people are not often as they appear.

“Historians”, wrote Simon Schama, “are painfully aware of their inability ever to reconstruct a dead world in its completeness however thorough or revealing their documentation,” but Amy Stanley succeeds as well as anyone could hope in her masterfully told and painstakingly researched evocation of an ordinary Japanese woman’s life in Edo on the eve of the opening of Japan.

“For sothe he was a worthy man withalle.” Thus Chaucer, perhaps somewhat ironically (when Chaucer says “worthy”, there’s often a catch) describing the Merchant in the “General Prologue” to his Canterbury Tales. This brief description, minus any irony, would certainly fit Shinohara Chūemon (1809-1891), the merchant who is one lynch-pin of Simon Partner’s enjoyable, beautifully-researched and fascinating account of Japan a few years after what Western writers are pleased to call its “opening” in 1853.

In 1701, a state ceremony was under way in Edo Castle, then the headquarters of the Shogun Tsunayoshi, the de facto ruler of Japan under Emperor Higashiyama. There was nothing out of the ordinary going on at the event, until, as Toda Mosui wrote in his Chronicle of the Current Rule, “Chief of Carpentry Asano [Naganori] wounded Lieutenant-Governor of Kōzuke Kira [Yoshinaka] with a sword.”