Posted: 7th Sept 2023
Our book club is a little different from most others you'll have come across - most notably because the books we read are all in Japanese! Rather than having one set book that we all read beforehand, participants can pitch up and grab one of the many books we bring along on the day. Most of these are around 10-20 pages long, with some aimed at Japanese learners and others at Japanese readers – mainly kids.
As language teachers, we know that learning a language can be an anxiety-inducing experience at times. Apart from anything, it’s simply a lot of hard work! As such, we’re really excited to be hosting this event that focuses on the enjoyment of reading in bite-sized chunks without the pressure of having to understand each and every word. While there’s no need to speak (as we aim to be an introvert-friendly space), we do create time for participants to share what they’ve read with those around them, which provides an opportunity for joint reflection and mutual inspiration.
As Japanese writers have been growing more and more popular in the English-language sphere, in this post we want to share some of our favourite writers and artists.
This list was tricky to put together - not least because of all the awesome authors out there that we’ve not managed to keep up with - but we hope you enjoy it nonetheless.
As a token of thanks to Lighthouse Bookshop, who hosted our very first events in Edinburgh, we have included links to buy from them where possible. If you're able to do so, consider buying books from an independent bookshop near you. If you don't have much of a budget for books, consider checking availability at with your local library.
Before We Begin
None of the links in this post are affiliated, which means I don't make money via companies like Amazon when you click on them. If you'd like to support the blog with a donation (however small!), you can do so via Ko-fi.
Hiromi Kawakami・川上 弘美
If this name looks familiar to you, pause for a moment: there are two amazing writers with the surname “Kawakami” who were strong contenders for this list.
While you may already have heard of Mieko Kawakami (author of Breasts and Eggs, Heaven, All the Lovers in the Night and more), Hiromi Kawakami is yet to become quite as big a name in the world of Japanese authors translated into English.
A few Christmasss ago, a friend of mine gifted me a copy of Hiromi Kawakami’s People From My Neighbourhood, and I was immediately hooked. If you’re into off-beat micro fiction full of the everyday mixed in with a good dose of fantasy and magical realism, I can’t recommend Kawakami enough.
A writer with multiple literary awards under her belt, Kawakami has already made waves with other works such as Strange Weather in Tokyo and The Ten Loves of Mr Nishino. Although I have to admit I’m yet to read these titles, I have spent a lot of time translating a beautiful short story, Summer Holidays (aka Summer Vacation or Summer Break) for the recent 7th JLPP International Translation Competition (spoiler: I didn’t win), and can confirm that Kawakami’s writing is just as enchanting in the original Japanese. If you fancy reading an unofficial translation of this story before the official version inevitably hits the shelves, you can find the three prize-winning submissions on this page.
Buy from Lighthouse:
Sayaka Murata・村田 沙耶香
My second-favourite Japanese author of the last few years, Sayaka Murata is surely best known for her bestselling novel, Convenience Store Woman. (Fun fact: the Japanese title, Konbini Ningen, literally means “Convenience Store Human”.)
Having heard a lot of hype about Convenience Store Woman, I was slightly nervous to pick up the English translation, as I find that Western adaptations of Japanese art can often amp up its supposed “kookiness” or “weirdness” in a way that not only misses the point of the work, but is incredibly othering.
With Convenience Store Woman, however, I needn’t have worried. At an approachable 160 pages, it’s an incredibly satisfying read, with the fairly basic plot more than made up for by the vividness with which Murata relates the experiences of the main character, Keiko Furukura.
While I don’t want to give too much away about the contents of Convenience Store Woman, needless to say that as an AFAB autistic person, there was a huge amount I could relate to. (Thank you to my student who suggested I read it for this very reason!) Although I’m yet to come across official confirmation that the main character - or potentially Murata herself - is autistic, the Japanese blogosphere is littered with reviews drawing parallels with autistic and other disabled experiences.
If you fancy something a bit further removed from the everyday, Murata has two other books currently available in English: Earthlings and Life Ceremony. With blurbs promising tales of feminist revenge, challenging of social norms and stories of alienation, these two are firmly on my “to read” list.
Buy from Lighthouse:
Gengoroh Tagame・田亀 源五郎
My final recommendation is something a little different: a manga.
While I’m the first to admit I know close to zero about Japanese manga (sorry manga fans!), Gengoroh Tagame’s My Brother’s Husband stole my heart mere moments after picking it up.
My Brother’s Husband tells the story of a single father, Yaichi, his daughter Kana and Mike Flanagan, the Canadian husband of Yaichi’s recently deceased brother, from whom Yaichi had been estranged for some years.
An unexpected release from Tagame, who is otherwise known for his hardcore erotic writing and drawing, My Brother’s Husband tackles themes of homophobia, loss, cultural differences and family relationships - all while being incredibly wholesome and heartfelt. I challenge anyone not to tear up at least a little by the final page!
Buy from Lighthouse:
Shinichi Hoshi・星 新一
Kayo Ume・梅 佳代
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