Japanese Literature | Where To Start

Updated: Nov 5


A selection of book recommendations translated from Japanese


(Important note - My Instagram @readwithmims has currently been hacked and stolen. Until I say otherwise on this blog, please be aware that my Instagram is not under my current control)


I've set up another Bookstagram which you can find here: @jemimas_reads



Many of the titles here will have a crossover with my Women in Translation post. I thought it would be fun and helpful to share a few of my favourite reads from Japan (a country I'm still very keen to visit one day!)


These titles aren't ranked in any particular order and I will always keep these recs up to date


I have also found this list on GoodReads for further recommendations




There's No Such Thing As An Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura


Translated by Polly Barton


Contemporary | Lit Fic | Magical Realism


A fun, witty and relatable read on the mundane, dull realities of everyday office work. I picked up this book because I found the narrator's predicament a little too relatable - wanting a job that required no work, little thinking or any strenuous tasks.


I finished this book whilst I was travelling to Iceland and I found it to be the perfect little escape read. The narrator found themselves in all sorts of tricky predicaments but I enjoyed being on the journey with her. You couldn't help but smile at the awkward encounters and exchanges with co-workers.


Synopsis


A young woman visits an employment agency with one goal in mind: to find a job that's close to home but most importantly, easy to do. She drifts from different jobs, from writing bus adverts to helping out at a rice cracker company. Despite these easy-going tasks, she can't help but still feel unfulfilled.




Before the Coffee Gets Cold (Series) by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Translated by Geoffrey Trousselot


Time Travel | Magical Realism | Contemporary


Both of these books I finished in a single day - I simply couldn't put either of them down. Do make sure you read these books in the correct order to get the most out of them.


"Just remember. Drink the coffee before it gets cold."

Everything about these books, from the concept, characters and writing, was beautiful. There's nothing I wouldn't change about either of them and they did genuinely make me tear up. I instantly fell in love with all of the characters and I did not want either of these books to end because it meant saying goodbye to them. You'll finish these books and still find yourself occasionally thinking about this little cafe in Tokyo. I finished reading these books knowing I would have to make time to add more of Kawaguchi's work to my TBR.


Synopsis


You are told about a little cafe that can be found in one of the small alleyways in Tokyo. There are rumours that this cafe offers you the ability to travel in time. Would you go?





Ms Ice Sandwich by Mieko Kawakami


Translated by Louise Heal Kawai


Short Stories | Lit Fic | Contemporary


A very endearing and sweet read! I have a few more books by Kawakami that are on my TBR stack such as All The Lovers In The Night and Breasts and Eggs. This is a very short and tender novel - I didn't know what to expect but I was not prepared in being so invested in such a short book. Usually, it can take a while for me to warm up to characters but somehow in this title, you find yourself falling head first into this literary world.


It's pretty remarkable how in such a short book, the author successfully conveys a very strong message on the difficulties of saying goodbye and the adjustments that follow. This is why I'm so excited to read more of Kawakami's work.


Synopsis


Our young narrator is completely fascinated by Ms Ice Sandwich. She doesn't really have great social skills. However, she has the most amazing brilliant blue eyelids. He goes every day to visit her where she works in the supermarket. Life keeps getting in the way, from his parents to the death of his grandma. The only stability seems to be Ms Ice Sandwich.





Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura


Translated by Philip Gabriel


Magical Realism | Contemporary | Fantasy


This is one of those titles that I see everywhere in bookstores but it took me so long to get myself a copy! I am frustrated in hindsight that it took me so long because this was such a wonderful read. I picked this book up around when I was starting my Masters and it for sure provided me with the sense of escape that I need at the time. Simply, this was a wonderful story in and out and I think it's worth all the hype it's received from the book community.


I was slightly on the fence when I read the synopsis because it didn't sound like my cup of tea. However, I highly recommend going into this book blind. There are so many layers to this book that I think a re-read will happen in the future just to see what else I can take away from it.


Synopsis


Seven students all find themselves in the same predicament - they can't face going to school. They can barely face their friends and family. One day, a magical portal appears in each of their bedrooms, taking them to a magnificent castle. The students are given the task to locate a key and whoever is successful, will be granted a wish. They can only stay until 5 pm each day or else risk being eaten by the Wolf Queen.




The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino


Translated by Rebecca Copeland


Fantasy | Mythology | Retellings


I've usually only read Greek myth retellings so I was excited to branch out and try another story from another part of the world. The writing style of this book was simply incredible. This book explores the Japanese creation myth of Izanami and Izanaki and I was hooked from the first few pages. Like with many myths, you can tell something awful is about to happen to the main characters so I was kind of sheepishly reading on, worried about what would unfold.


Synopsis


There is a small island that is shaped like a teardrop. Two sisters are born as part of a family of oracles. When they come of age, the sisters are separated - one to serve the realm of the light, the other to darkness. Namima is not willing to accept her fate in the realm of darkness and seeks to change her destiny.



Convenience Store Woman & Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori


Contemporary | Lit Fic | Magical Realism


Convenience Store Woman


I think pretty much everyone who reads this book will fall in love with the main character. Keiko is just so loveable and endearing - from the first few pages, I felt this strong need to protect her at all costs. When an author gets you so attached to a character in such a short novel, that's a clear sign of how talented a writer they are.


Synopsis


Keiko Furukura has never really fit in. The one place where she has felt at peace is 'Smile Mart' - it gives her a sense of purpose. She's very happy where she is and that's something people around her just can't understand.


Earthlings


This book takes a slightly darker direction and between the two, Convenience Store Woman is my favourite of Murata's books. The writing, however, was still just as brilliant. I think the overall concept of the book just took me a while to get a grip with. However, this book's hype is valid and worth adding to your TBR.


Synopsis


Natsuki knows she's not like everyone else. She spends her summers with her cousin Yuu, dreaming of another world. When a series of events threatens to separate the children, they make a vow: to survive whatever the cost



1Q84 by Haruki Murakami


Translated by Philip Gabriel


Fantasy | Magical Realism | Sci-Fi


Murakami is one of the biggest names in modern literature. Sadly, I tried Norwegian Wood and wasn't much of a fan. However, I found 1Q84 to be a much more enjoyable read. This just goes to show that just because you did not enjoy one book, it doesn't mean you shouldn't try the rest of their work. I want to branch out and read more of Murakami's books but I honestly have no idea where to start! What I did enjoy about this book was that the characters were very thoughtfully developed - you felt genuinely invested in their predicaments. For me, this is a crucial part of a good story because if I don't care about the characters, I find it a lot harder to finish the book. I guess that's why I wasn't keen on Norwegian Wood - I found so many of the characters unbearable! But if you are still new to Murakami's work like me, 1Q84 is worth checking out!


Synopsis


It's 1984 in Tokyo. Aomame follows a strange taxi driver's suggestion and finds herself in a parallel world. It's the same world but...different. Aomame labels this new world 1Q84. Meanwhile, Tengo takes on an unusual ghostwriting task. Little does he realise how much this will change his life.



The Woman in the Purple Skirt by Natsuko Imamura


Translated by Lucy North


Contemporary | Lit Fic | Mystery


This was such an intriguing little read! There are so many layers to this book but the characters were just unique - you couldn't help but ask yourself more questions about them.


You find yourself fascinated by The Woman in the Purple Skirt, but the narrator herself is just as much an enigma. The narrator (The Woman in the Yellow Cardigan) is completely transfixed by The Woman in the Purple Skirt. You just can't help but find yourself sucked into this world. Admittedly, there are points in the book where I found the pace to be a little too slow for my personal liking. However, the concept overall was very strong and well written.


Synopsis


The Woman in the Purple Skirt pretty much has the same routine. She buys a cream bun and sits in the local park. Her mundane and rather dull existence is extensively watched by our narrator - The Woman in the Yellow Cardigan.



Detective Kosuke Kindaichi Series by Seishi Yokomizo


Translated by Bryan Karetnyk


Mystery | Detective Fiction | Thriller


For a selection of book recommendations, I had to add a few murder mysteries! Yokomizo provides wonderful, thought-provoking thrillers for you to solve.


  • The Inugami Curse

  • The Honjin Murders

  • The Village of Eight Graves

  • Death on Gokumon Island (this one is still on my TBR pile!)

If you are a fan of Agatha Christie, you should check out these books. Each book has its own unique puzzle tied up in a gruesome murder! The main detective, Kosuke Kindaichi, is a really sweet and rather endearing character. I was kind of proud of myself when I finished The Village of Eight Graves because there were a few sub-plots that I was able to figure out. I guess it must be all those Christie books rubbing off on me.


You don't need to read these books in a particular order. They are all fun little mysteries to fall into!




All The Lovers In The Night by Mieko Kawakami


Translated by Sam Bett & David Boyd


Contemporary | Lit Fic | Adult Fiction


This is more of a character-driven novel that is slow-paced but very eloquently written. You can't help but feel a lot of compassion for the main narrator and even though I personally prefer fast-paced books, it was nice to wind down in the evenings with this book. The only book I now have left to read by this author is Breasts & Eggs and I'm very intrigued to see why there is so much hype around that book. There are so many different layers to All The Lovers In The Night - you think you have the main character figured out but so much is subtly revealed across the pages.


Synopsis


Fuyuko is a freelance proofreader who lives alone. She's always occupying herself with work, anything to avoid remembering the past. But it's not until she bumps into Mr Mitsutsuka that her life changes...




Life Ceremony by Sayaka Murata


Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori


Short Stories | Lit Fic | Adult Fiction


This is Murata's most recent book release so naturally, when I saw it, I picked myself a copy without even reading the synopsis. This book gives perfect autumn vibes and if you are a mood reader, I recommend saving it for Halloween because there are a few creepy chapters.


There were two chapters that stood out to me: A First-Rate Material and Life Ceremony. I just thought they were so original, eerie and creative, and I just couldn't stop reading them. So far, I've found Murata to be a really consistent writer, in that everything I've read so far has been wonderful in its own way. The final chapter, A Clean Marriage, was definitely a unique read and I found this book overall to be a brilliant piece of literature. If you want to branch out and read more Japanese literature, you should add Murata's work to your TBR.


Synopsis:


From a world where human remains become furniture, to a society that celebrates life by eating the recently deceased, Murata brings to life a vibrant world of intriguing characters. A slightly creepy, weird but fun read that's perfect for the autumn season.




Before Your Memory Fades by Toshikazu Kawaguchi


Translated by Geoffrey Trousselot


Time Travel | Magical Realism | Contemporary


The third book of Before The Coffee Gets Cold was released at the end of August in 2022 and I was honestly so excited! I didn't even look at the synopsis - I just picked up the book and cleared my afternoon to dive into this story. I'm pleased to share that this book lived up to my high expectations and was just as wonderful as the two earlier books. I do recommend reading the books in the correct order to get the most out of them. Not only was the writing beautiful, but I felt very attached to all of the characters in Cafe Donna Donna. I think it's really special when an author evokes such strong feelings for an array of characters in such a short book. I really didn't want to say goodbye to Kazu or that little cafe on the hillside of Mount Hakodate.


These books are my comfort series. The first chapter, The Daughter, hit me the most. If you see these books the next time you visit your local bookstore, please get yourself a copy!


Synopsis:


There's a cafe that offers its customers a remarkable experience: the chance to travel in time. There are some very strict rules that must be followed. Most importantly, you must return before the coffee gets cold...



Diary of a Void by Emi Yagi


Translated by David Boyd & Lucy North


Lit Fic | Feminism | Contemporary


When I saw this book, I impulsively purchased it because the cover design was just so pretty. I know the whole "don't judge a book by the cover" but honestly, I think we're all guilty of being drawn to beautifully designed books. After all, there are so many wonderful editions of much-loved books from Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and the Percy Jackson series.


This was a really unique read for me because even after finishing, I'm still not sure if I liked the main character. I found her intriguing and kept turning the page because I wasn't sure how she was going to pull off her big deception. This book is a subtle and eloquent feminist commentary on how women are still not seen as themselves - as individuals. That's just what I took away from the book. It's a wonderfully written story that's worth adding to your TBR.


Synopsis:


Ms Shibata is expected to do all the tasks in the office like making coffee and cleaning up after her coworkers. She's finally given some reprieve from this when she announces her pregnancy. The thing is, Ms Shibata is not pregnant.





I will update this list of book recs over time - I hope it's been useful


Happy Reading




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