Osamu Dazai is one of Japan’s most celebrated modern writers. He was born in 1909, at the end of Japan’s era of rapid modernization known as the Meiji Period. He began writing as a high school student, moved by the suicide of the great Japanese short story writer, Ryonosuke Akutagawa in 1927.
The narrator of Hiroko Oyamada’s Weasels in the Attic wants to start a family with his wife. They’ve been together for three years, but they haven’t had any luck. Meanwhile, it has been getting more and more difficult to see other people their age with kids of their own.
Thirty-four year old Shibata works at a company that makes empty paper cores, the kinds of cardboard tubes used in packaging for plastic wrap of tea canisters. (Reinforcing the impersonality of a culture dominated by work, the narrator never reveals her first name.) It’s a professional job, but her male co-workers have unthinkingly loaded her with the mundane tasks they casually assume must be woman’s work.
In a famous 1990 essay, one of the most respected living writers in Japan lamented that, “Serious literature and a literary readership have gone into a chronic decline, while a new tendency has emerged over the last several years … a largely economic one … reflected in the fact that the novels of certain young writers like Haruki Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto each sells several hundred thousand copies.”
The writing of Water, Wood, and Wild Things: Learning Craft and Cultivation in a Japanese Mountain Town was surely an act of devotion. It is a book that defies easy categorization by genre. Readers who enjoy travel literature will surely love author Hannah Kirshner’s ability to root her writing in a place and a culture. Foodies will find evocative descriptions of unfamiliar dishes, along with detailed, thematically-linked recipes at the end of each chapter—along with instructions for finding unusual ingredients in Euro-American grocery stores. While not an academic tome, Water is nonetheless a well-researched book backed up with the support of an ethnographer and a three-page source list.
Sayaka Murata’s English-language debut novel, Convenience Store Woman, caused a sensation when it appeared in a 2018 translation by Ginny Tapley Takemori. The story of an offbeat, thirty-something sales clerk at a “Smile Mart” helped spur a boom in English-language translations of Japanese literature, especially literature by women.
Erika Kobayashi’s recently-translated Trinity, Trinity, Trinity is the latest in a long, rich, and complicated history of atomic literature from Japan.