Suggestions for a beginner?

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Suggestions for a beginner?

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Dec 20, 2010, 5:08 pm

Hi. I see this group is probably inactive, but just in case anyone checks in....
I am hoping to go to Japan for the first time next year. I don't know much about the country, and want to learn as much as I can before I go, not just be a really casual tourist (although I want to do that, too). Can you recommend some literature, classic and modern, that would help me start to get a feel for the country? Must be in English, unfortunately.

Edited: Dec 21, 2010, 7:35 am

It is difficult to know where to begin with Japanese literature, are there are loads of famous authors.
- I would suggest Yasunari Kawabata, for example Les Belles endormies or Tristesse et Beaute. These two novels are very famous and very typical of the Japanese literature (although not my cup of tea, I should confess…).
I was told Le maitre de go is more accessible. Kawabata has also written many famous short stories.
- Haruki Murakami is more recent, and has a similar typical Japanese writing style. Check Kafka sur le rivage and Norwegian wood, two of his most famous novels. (Note that not all his novels are based in Japan).

Now that I have given those famous names, I can go to my personal favorites!
- First is Akira Yoshimura, especially Naufrages and Le convoi de l’eau (although I am not sure the latest is available in English). Naufrages is set in medieval Japan, in a desperately poor fishing community, where luring ships to their shores appear to be the only salvation from starvation…
- I also enjoyed a lot Le maitre de the by Yasushi Inoue. Inoue writes a lot of historical novel (many are based in China, so check carefully before picking one!). An interesting insight into the tradition of drinking tea. I read it some time back, and it would be worth reading again to understand the subtlety of this art.
Other famous writing by Inoue include Le fusil de chasse.
- Eiji Yoshikawa is the author of a famous and classical book, a very entertaining novel on the quest of a samourai called Musashi. It is available as a 2 volume edition including La Pierre et le Sabre and La Parfaite Lumiere and in English as a one volume edition (straightforwardly) called Musashi.

By the way, there is a group on Asian Fiction & Non-Fiction. You might be willing to post your request there, as it is more active than this group. There are various threats on Japanese literatures already, with some interesting reading suggestions.

I hope this helps. Enjoy the reading!

Edited to fix touchstones

Dec 21, 2010, 7:50 am

Although it was written by an American, I would recommend David Chadwick's Thank You and OK. Only part of it is about the zen monastery. For the rest of the book he is teaching English in Tokyo and has some interesting encounters with regular Japanese. I finally got the "face" thing while reading it, and hope it will make me a much better tourist if I ever get to go.

Have fun!

Dec 27, 2010, 10:52 am

Thank you all very much.

Edited: Mar 25, 2011, 4:29 am

Hello, looks like this thread was started three months ago. Did you make it to Japan?

If so--and you have not gotten your fill yet with these other decent recommendations--try Yukio Mishima. I am on my sixth novel by the guy and I cannot get enough. His style is heavy, rich, and he provides plenty to mull over. You should be able to find English translations of his stuff easily enough once in Japan. (Also Edward G. Seidensticker translations are excellent!)

Stay safe over there!


Mar 25, 2011, 2:03 pm

I'd suggest Anthology of Japanese Literature by Donald Keene, the classic introduction by the most prominent American translator and popularizer of Japanese lit.



Mar 28, 2011, 8:55 pm

You might try Spring Snow by Mishima. It's part of a series of 4 - The Sea of Fertility but can be read as a stand alone novel.

Japan is a great country, hope you enjoyed it.


Edited: Apr 3, 2011, 8:06 pm

You might want to check out some Natsume Soseki, Matsuo Basho, and Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. I haven't read a lot of their work, but they seem to be pretty popular here in Japan.

My favorite writers so far are, Haruki Murakami, Osamu Dazai, Yukio Mishima, and Edogawa Rampo.

Mar 30, 2011, 2:53 pm

Thanks all for the great suggestions. No, I haven't been yet - this is a long term plan. Originally we thought we might go in early 2012, but for various reasons it will be later than that now. As soon as I know we really ARE going, I will be reading as many of these authors as I can. So, meanwhile, if you think of any more, it's not too late!

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