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慕麗来簡集 / letters from mali

Contemporary Japanese Literature Reading List

Contemporary Japanese Literature Reading List

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My top five:

** Inoue - The Hunting Gun
** Nakagami - The Cape
** Tachihara - Wind and Stone
** Okuizumi - The Stones Cry Out
** Medoruma Shun - “Droplets”

And top 6-11:

Ibuse – Black Rain
Ooka - Fires on the Plain
Anything by Hayashi Fumiko (especially her short stories)
Kawabata - The Sound of the Mountain
Kaikō - Darkness in Summer
Shono - “Still Life”

I did one of my preliminary exams (Spring 2009) in contemporary Japanese literature and criticism, in translation. The aim was to prepare myself professionally as a librarian to serve undergraduate students as well as faculty, who would not be able to read novels in Japanese. For example, to provide reference as well as work together with faculty who are assigning term papers, to assist students in locating primary and secondary materials related to a theme that they're interested in (for example, portrayal of race, of the atomic bombs, trends at certain time periods, women authors, etc.).

I chose contemporary literature (postwar until now) because it is my biggest weak point. Throughout my academic career, I've focused on premodern (in translation, in undergrad) literature, premodern and pre-WWII history (again, in undergrad), and now pre-WWII literature in graduate school (specifically between 1885-1935, more the earlier period than later). It's a big black hole in my training so it served a dual purpose.

The other reason, one that is really interesting to me as a scholar, teacher, and librarian (information professional), is that postwar and contemporary literature really has no "canon" - it's a field that is not yet defined rigidly by "this is what gets taught because it's what's taught." (I have a lot of opinions on canon but "it's the best of the best" is not one of them.) This means that we have to think a lot harder about what to teach, why, and how to contextualize it. There's also a dearth of good secondary material, and really of any material at all, about this literature. This puts the responsibility on the teacher and student to come at the literature without the crutch of "what is generally accepted". I think that this is something that should be done in any course, in any topic, but I love that a canon-less body of work, that mostly lacks scholarly criticism, really forces you to do it, to rethink how to teach and read and learn about literature.

Anyway, a lot of work went into creating my reading list. Some of the works are a lot more well-known than others, but they're all translated into English. I wanted to share the list here in the hope that some Google search will help another student or faculty member in the future who is pulling together their own, or for use in self-study or a course or anything. It's also here because I'm often asked what one should read in Japanese literature. In the past I had a hard time answering because I hadn't read much in translation, and often what I like is not available in translation (or I have no idea if it is). So for those of you unfamiliar with contemporary literature and interested in checking it out, this is a good list to start with.

The list is divided into primary and secondary sources, basically arranged chronologically (or in the order I read them anyway). I provide title and author but I can't go back and look up full bibliographical information for all; just search on Google or Amazon or, preferably, your local library!

Ibuse – Black Rain
Hara – “Summer Flowers”
Sakaguchi - “The Idiot”
Hayashi - “Late Chrysanthemum,” “Downtown”
Ooka - Fires on the Plain
Osamu - Setting Sun
Mishima - Confessions of a Mask

Ōe - “Prize Stock” in Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness
Kojima - “American School”
Yasuoka - “View By the Sea”
Inoue - The Hunting Gun
Enchi - Masks
Tanizaki - The Key
Endo - Silence
Kawabata - The Sound of the Mountain
Ōe - A Personal Matter
Abe - The Woman in the Dunes

Nakagami - The Cape
Kaikō - Darkness in Summer
Tsushima - Child of Fortune
Kurahashi - “The Woman With the Flying Head”
Ohba - “The Smile of the Mountain Witch”

Murakami Haruki - The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Murakami Ryu - Almost Transparent Blue
Ogawa Yoko - The Diving Pool
Shimada - Dream Messenger
Takahashi - Sayonara, Gantsters
Yamada Amy - Bedtime Eyes
Yoshimoto Banana - Kitchen
Yoshimura - On Parole
Shimao - “The Sting of Death”
Shono - “Still Life”
Tachihara - Wind and Stone

Kirino - Out
Miyabe - All She Was Worth
Okuizumi - The Stones Cry Out
Tawada - “The Bridegroom Was a Dog”
Yu - Gold Rush

From Southern Exposure (collection of Okinawan literature I highly recommend):
Yoshida - “Love Suicide at Kamaara”
Matayoshi - “Fortunes By the Sea”
Medoruma Shun - “Droplets”
Yamanoha - “Will o’ the Wisp”

Secondary Sources:
Treat - Writing Ground Zero
Dower - Embracing Defeat
Orbaugh - Japanese Fiction of the Allied Occupation
Slaymaker - The Body in Postwar Japanese Fiction
Gessel - The Sting of Life
Napier - Escape from the Wasteland
Zimmerman - Out of the Alleyway
Napier - The Fantastic in Modern Japanese Literature
Snyder & Gabriel, eds. - Oe and Beyond

(Note: I realize that through the 1960s is more canonized, and my list reflects this. Also, I couldn't cover everything that was suggested to me in the four months I had to read these. I would appreciate feedback from others in Japanese studies in the comments, especially about works that I missed!)
  • I totally agree with you on canon. I was recently thinking about how artworks become famous by being declared famous. It's not the most masterful, most beautiful, or most interesting images that appear in our textbooks, but simply the ones that are taught because they are taught.

    And then, when you see a work from your textbook, you think it so cool, so special, so powerful, that you're seeing the actual work that you were told in class was so famous.

    But are those really the best works out there? Why do we teach the same works over and over again, especially when there are equally good (if not better) examples of the same phenomena, the same techniques or innovations, different works by the same masters? I recognize and agree that the artists listed as the canon do, for the most part, belong there. But that doesn't mean you have to show the Great Wave for Hokusai, or "Winter Landscape" for Sesshu when they've done so many other wonderful works.
  • random, but...

    Kono Taeko's Toddler Hunting (幼児狩り)

    if you'd like, i can upload the pdf of the english translation for you! (i was never able to find a copy of the original japanese, sigh.)
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