The last few years have seen a dramatic increase in titles translated from Japanese into English. While many of these novels and short stories collections are by rising authors, publishers also present readers with classic works by authors already well-known outside of Japan. These include Osamu Dazai, long celebrated for his No Longer Human, first translated into English by Donald Keene in the 1950s. Dazai’s A New Hamlet was translated by Owen Cooney in 2016. No Longer Human was released in a new translation by Mark Gibeau as a Shameful Life in 2018. The short-story collection Early Light debuted in the fall of 2022. The Flowers of Buffoonery is the latest addition to his oeuvre in English.
Several times a year, the narrator of Hiromi Ito’s The Thorn Puller boards a Transpacific flight to care for her elderly Japanese parents. She ferries her mother to and from the doctor. She keeps her father company. She buys him a dog. She reflects on her childhood.
Seishu Hase’s The Boy and the Dog opens with Kazumasa Nakagasi. He finds an emaciated dog outside a convenience store. The dog is wearing a tag engraved with his name, Tamon, short for Tamonten. Tamonten is one of four guardian deities of Buddha’s realm. The dog Tamon becomes a guardian for the people he encounters on his five-year journey to find a person he dearly loves.
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.”