The prolific career of acclaimed mystery and detective fiction author Seicho Matsumoto spanned the latter half of the 20th century. His 1958 novel, Tokyo Express, provides a glimpse into daily life during the postwar period in Japan. Previously published in English a generation ago under the title Points and Lines, the novel has been freshly translated by Jesse Kirkwood. As Kiichi Mihara of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police connects the dots of the case, he relies on the country’s reliable and punctual train system. His investigation is supported by veteran Jutaro Torigai of the Fukuoka Police.
The Tokaido is the most famous route in Japan, linking its two major population centers: Kanto (essentially Tokyo and its suburbs) and Kansai (Osaka and Kyoto). Between the 17th and 19th centuries, the Daimyo, local rulers of Japan’s regions, were required to spend one year out of every two at the capital (then named Edo), and so had to cross the country on a regular basis. The Tokaido was the main route for those coming from the West, making it the central artery of early modern Japanese travel.
A young sake bar owner, Yusuke Shimoki, arrives on the doorstep of Hannah Kirshner’s Brooklyn apartment “with a suitcase full of Ishikawa sake,” in Hannah’s words. That visit sparked a years-long connection between Hannah and the rural Japanese community of Yamanaka, a home for artisans and artists, hunters and farmers, and other ordinary Japanese trying to live in the countryside.
While the loss of sight—whether in early modern Japan or now—may be understood as a disability, blind people in the Tokugawa period (1600–1868) could thrive because of disability. The blind of the era were prominent across a wide range of professions, and through a strong guild structure were able to exert contractual monopolies over certain trades. Blind in Early Modern Japan illustrates the breadth and depth of those occupations, the power and respect that accrued to the guild members, and the lasting legacy of the Tokugawa guilds into the current moment.
“The Former Postmaster” recounts walking the pilgrimage path to deliver a telegram to the opposite side of Shiraishi Island, “The Cargo Ship Captain” remembers celebrating a new boat at the last launch party on the island, and “The Stonecutter” describes working at the old stone factory before retirement. These are just a few of the eponymous chapters in Amy Chavez’s The Widow, The Priest and the Octopus Hunter: Discovering a Lost Way of Life on a Secluded Japanese Island.
Jessica Au’s novella Cold Enough For Snow won the inaugural “Novel Prize” in 2020 while still in manuscript; it’s easy to understand what the judges saw in it. Compact and terse yet flowing, both concrete and ambiguous, intimate but distant, modest yet knowing, the book manages to find universality in the careful observation of detail.
Dragons have been a staple of folklore across Asia, but in literature, at least in English, dragons have mostly been of the Western variety. This may be changing, at least in children’s books. Two authors have recently used dragons in their stories., both set in Japan, or a fantasy world based on Japan, and both feature relationships between pre-teens and their aging grandparents.