Japanese fiction, much like the Japanese culture, is full of delicate restraint, gentleness, lilting rhythm and subtlety. It emphasizes relationships, traditions and the tumult in these. Here’s a list of our favourite and probably the best cultural fiction from Japan to add to your reading list. These are rooted in its unique and endearing culture.
The Best Cultural Fiction From Japan To Add To Your Reading List:
- Some Prefer Nettles by Junichiro Tanizaki
- Beauty and Sadness by Yasunari Kawabata
- Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
- Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
- The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu
- Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
- After Dark by Haruki Murakami
- Kokoro by Natsume Soseki
- Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima
- The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
Some Prefer Nettles by Junichiro Tanizaki
In this book, Kaname and Misako are an estranged couple, at the brink of divorce but unable to take conclusive action. Oscillating between love and indifference, tradition and modernity (a conflict introduced by Misako’s father), they navigate their worlds. Full of cultural details like the puppetry art and breathtaking language, this book is a must read.
Beauty and Sadness by Yasunari Kawabata
This lyrical story about a middle aged novelist who comes to visit his former lover, now a beautiful woman who is now a painter and has taken a woman-lover is a celebration of art. Though Kawabata’s most famous work is Snow Country, this lesser known work is equally perfect. It overflows with Japanese constraint and with the Japanese culture as a faded backdrop to passionate, lyrical emotions.
Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
In this magical realism, our setting is a an old café in Tokyo which offers the chance to travel back in time. However – the person must return before the coffee goes cold, else the ramifications are high. In this book, we look at four people who take this chance, reflecting on their relationships and memories. Each travels to a moment in time to relive it – to obtain a letter from a husband, confront an ex-lover, see their daughter one last time and meet the sister they never knew.
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
In this relatively contemporary Japanese fiction, our protagonist MIkaje attempts to recover from a loss. When the orphan raised by her grandmother loses her grandmother, she attempts to form a family with her friend Yoichi and his mother Eriko. Through the landscapes of grief and fault lines, they weather on together.
The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu
Tale of Genji is the Japanese epic and one of the best pieces of classical literature, describing the courtly life in Medieval Japan. At the centre of this epic is Genji, the Shining Prince, full of vivacity, passionate nature and ‘tempestuousness’. We follow his dalliances, political intrigues, and a life full of adventure.
Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
In this collection of classic short stories, cynicism, melancholy, terror and beauty come together to create original, modernist masterpieces. It was the titular story which inspired renowned filmmaker Kurosawa’s magnum opus.
After Dark by Haruki Murakami
This story, which takes place over the course of a single night, follows a host of young people in Tokyo. We have a young girl sitting in a deli and reading until a stranger disturbs her. There’s the sister of the girl, who has been sleeping for over months. There is also the owner of a love hotel, and her assistants, one of whom is running away from people. And then there’s a prostitute, battered by a customer. Musicians, corporate workers involved in techno-magic and goons also appear in this nocturnal magical realism.
Kokoro by Natsume Soseki
At a beach resort, a young college student discovers a middle aged man, Sensei skilled in the art of doing nothing and comes to admire him. But Sensei tells him that if he hears his story, he will be disillusioned. As we follow the lives of the student and his Sensei, a poignant story of love, loss and truth emerges.
Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima
This book tells the story of an adolescent boy who hides behind a mask of a heterosexual relationship to hide his growing homosexual tendencies. In the process, he tries to find his identity and place in the shifting sands of Japanese identity itself.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
Satoru, and his cat Nana, travel through Japan, through its changing seasons and shifting landscapes, in this heartbreaking yet heartwarming novel. They meet eccentric people, such as the couple Sugi and Chikako and the hard-hearted farmer Yoshimine. They also meet a loving dog who forges a reluctant friendship with Nana. But if Nana realizes the purpose of this trip, he’s going to be devastated.
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