Since I’ve been studying Japanese literature, for over three years, I told myself I had to write an article on this topic. So the following lines involve a subjective, heartfelt approach to a few books I simply loved.
1. Kinkakuji or The Golden Temple by Mishima
Mishima is known for his philosophical, rather West-oriented novels, therefore it’s not a surprise that Kinkakuji is one of them. Kinkakuji tells the story of Mizoguchi, a young boy who suffers from stuttering, who is literally pushed by his father to connect with Kinkakuji – the golden temple. Mizoguchi eventually gets to associate himself with the golden temple and suffers greatly while trying to understand what beauty and life mean.
Besides the contemplative nature of the book, it also paints the image of Japan during the 2nd World War.
2. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
Banana Yoshimoto is a contemporary writer whose novels deal with death, love, the perks of being an lgbtq+ community member, and so on and so forth. Her books are, precisely as one of my friends described them ”the happiest books about death”. For instance, Kitchen deals with the stories of the social outcasts – sensitive,” flawed” men, lonely women, and transsexual parents.
More than that, her short stories, gathered in Kitchen, depict the process of self-discovery and the path towards love. Perhaps one of the most striking aspects is the way in which Yoshimoto destroys the idea of a happy end by means of creating a much more relatable type of end – but that’s your job to discover how that looks!
3. The Setting Sun by Osamu Dazai
Dazai’s novel depicts the story of an aristocratic family after the 2nd World War when the importance of traditional values and principles decreased. Therefore, Dazai’s characters struggle while trying to find a new identity – a mother, a daughter, and a brother – guided by multiple spiritual and mysterious signs, such as snakes, fire, and premonitory feelings. More than that, the novel is rather progressive – although the mother in the play sticks to the values of the aristocratic Japanese people, the daughter embraces the Modern women’s independence and desires to find a place in the new and odd world.
4. The Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata
Kawabata, one of the most representative Japanese writers, who won the Noble prize, is distinctive for his rather poetic manner of depicting the stories – in The Snow Country, Shimamura, a journalist, returns to North Japan in order to meet Komako again. In fact, the story is ambiguous, allowing the reader to interpret the deeds in multiple ways.
Does Shimamura love Komako?
Is Komako a Modern woman, independence-oriented?
Is Shimamura, in fact, in love with Yoko or is it merely attraction?
Well, in order to answer those questions, you have to read the book (because I am not giving you any spoilers here).
5. The Hunting Gun by Yasushi Inoue
Inoue’s work of art is one of the most underestimated novels – an epistolary book, The Hunting Gun contains 3 letters describing the same man, a man the narrator has caught in his poem about a hunting gun, carried by the protagonist.
The protagonist, although he is not present in the book, is mentioned in each and every one of the 3 letters, written by women who loved him and had a connection with him – his daughter, his wife, and his mistress.
The irony though is the fact that the narrator is concerned with his poem – named The hunting gun – and its literary value. Nonetheless, the entire book envisions multiple faces of the same reality, stressing how truth is rather subjective, how reality is different for each and every one of us, and how love is, in the Japanese acception, a duty.
My sincere hope is that the books discussed above have created at least a glimpse of curiosity so that after reading this article you get to find out more about the Japanese contemporary literature – which is complex, undiscovered literature for the Western people, who rely only on famous examples, such as Murakami and Kawabata, to define an intricate culture, very distinct from what we normally experience.