Read Around the World: Japan

Staff PicksSoutheast Library

Read Around the World: Japan

Japanese literature that isn't by Haruki Murakami

Expand your literary horizons by reading literature from other countries. Haruki Murakami is one of the most well-known authors in Japanese literature. Yet he is only one of many modern Japanese writers whose works are accessible in translation. A wide variety of genres and styles are represented in the selections below (all of which can be accessed through DC Public Library's stellar and diverse collection).

Young Readers (Pre-K to 3rd Grade)
What's Wrong with My Hair?
By Satoshi Kitamura
Lionel the lion is attending a party, so he decides to go to the hairdresser. The hairdresser has a range of eccentric ideas for him. With cut-outs for children and adults to peek-a-boo through, this story is ideal for young children with a sense of humor.

Here Comes Jack Frost
By Kazuno Kohara
Young children will delight in this picture book's whimsical blue-and-white illustrations and fairy tale style. Kohara is a skillful picture book author with her distinct art and her ability to tell a full and captivating story with an easily manageable amount of words. When you have finished this one, try The Midnight Library and Ghosts in the House!

Older Children (3rd to 6th Grade)
Comic Adventures of Boots
By Satoshi Kitamura
Kitamura reaches the younger graphic novel loving crowd with his creative and charming collection of three cat comics. A great resource for reluctant readers, the humor in this book will most likely appeal to fans of Robot Dreams and Dogman.

Tea with Milk
by Allen Say
Two time Caldecott award winner Allen Say masterfully tells and illustrates a touching story about his parents and how they built a life for themselves in Japan despite their diverse childhoods. Say was born in Japan and apprenticed with artist Noro Shinpei before moving to the United States with his father. Along with Tea with Milk, Say's picture books frequently focus on Japanese and Japanese-American life. 

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
by Nahoko Uehashi
Advanced readers will enjoy this action-packed tale that has been adapted both into an anime and a live action version. With a fantasy setting based loosely on feudal Japan, Uehashi tells the story of Balsa, a woman warrior who is determined to save the lives of others due to eight lives that were lost for her. She starts with a child prince who is hunted by not only a monster, but also by the king.

Teens and Adults (7th Grade and Up)
The Guest Cat
By Takashi Hiraide
Do you love cat memes? Do you secretly imagine a life with every stray D.C. cat that crosses your path? Does the mystery of a stranger cat's true fate lull you into deep thought? If so, you will love this miraculous work of true to life cat literature. A writer and his wife develop a strong relationship with a visiting feline that they name Chibi and whose escapades are documented in thorough detail. Chibi's disappearance (a death...perhaps) leads the writer and his wife to question what it means to feel devoted to another being. Somewhat bittersweet but full of cat antics, this book is an excellent read for any cat fancier. 

Record of a Night Too Brief
By Hiromi Kawakami
This triptych of short stories provides curiosity and intrigue. A dual told narrative of the nature of love and studies of infinity leads the way, followed by an account of the disappearance of a girl's brother, and a folkloric style tale of snakes in human form. Kawakami reveals her mastery in capturing the abstract and unusual nature of dreams. This is a great read for people who have enjoyed Karen Russell's work. 

The Lake
By Banana Yoshimoto
Yoshimoto's pacing and voice shine though in this fluid novel about relationships and personal growth. After the death of her mother, Chihiro finds herself stagnating in unfulfilling relationships and explores a new type of relationship with her quiet and emotionally distant neighbor Nakajima, who is recovering from childhood trauma. The true to life feel of the book and the emotionally detailed characters make this a strong choice for introspective readers with vivid interior worlds.

The Budding Tree: Six Stories of Love in Edo
By Aiko Kitahara
Lovers of historical fiction will find joy in this Naoki Prize winning collection of short stories. Toward the end of the Edo Period (1600-1868) Japan's social structure was in the midst of rapid change, women were building independent careers, and the country was experiencing unprecendented famine. Kitahara's work develops and blends six unique stories of women experiencing different kinds of love.

By Natsuo Kirino
Grotesque is a long and thoroughly engrossing read. Kirino's strength lies in her well-defined, complex characters. This layered novel is directed by a narrator who maintained a complex relationship with her younger sister, who was murdered after a career of prostitution. Over the course of the novel, readers will be wrapped up in Kirino's examination of the grittier side of Tokyo and the human psyche.