Thursday, 1 June 2017

№ 9 reading list: Japanese literature I

№ 9 reading list: Japanese literature I · Lisa Hjalt

Months ago the idea of a Japanese reading list started sprouting in my mind, and once I began writing down authors and titles in my pocket notebook I realised that there would be more than one list. Despite the word snow appearing in one of the titles below, it somehow felt right to ease into the summer reading Japanese literature. This first list is slightly shorter than intended, for the simple reason that one of the books I ordered hasn't arrived and at the last minute I decided not to include two works by the same author. It means that a novel by Yasunari Kawabata, who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968, will appear on the next list. My blog readers will recognise Tanizaki, but his novel The Makioka Sisters was on an earlier list. I love the fact that at least one blog reader read and enjoyed it as much as I did.

№ 9 reading list:
· First Snow on Fuji  by Yasunari Kawabata
· The Temple of the Golden Pavilion  by Yukio Mishima
· Some Prefer Nettles  by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki
· The Tale of Genji  by Murasaki Shikibu (translated by Edward G. Seidensticker)
· The Tale of Genji  by Murasaki Shikibu (translated by Dennis Washburn)
· My Neighbor Totoro: The Novel  by Tsugiko Kubo (illustrated by Hayao Miyazaki)

As you can see, there are two unabridged editions of The Tale of Genji and I still haven't decided which one to read. The Washburn translation is a new paperback edition by W. W Norton & Co, the other an Everyman's Library edition. I'm trying to order the translation by Seidensticker through my local library, which is the main reason I have postponed sharing the list. If it fails to arrive I'm not sure at this point which one I will purchase. On my Instagram account you may have noticed that I'm already reading The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Mishima. He fictionalised the story of the monk who in 1950 set fire to the Golden Pavilion of Kyoto, erected in the 15th century (the American airplanes spared the temples during the war). This was a shocking event. During the trial the young monk said he was protesting against the commercialisation of Buddhism. However, scholar Donald Keene writes in the introduction that 'he may have been directly inspired by nothing more significant than pique over having been given a worn garment when he had asked the Superior of the temple for an overcoat'! I'm more than halfway through the book with the pavilion still standing, and troubling the mind of the rather repulsive protagonist.

Have you seen the animation My Neighbour Totoro (1988) by Hayao Miyazaki? It's one of the Japanese favourites in our home. Last year my son and I were sitting at the café of our local Waterstones when he spotted the book on a shelf. We didn't even know it existed and learned then and there that the film had been turned into a novel, featuring Miyazaki's illustrations. It's a beautiful book and of course we walked out of the bookshop with a purchased copy. My son loved reading the story and now it's my turn.


  1. the makioka sisters - both book and movie
    and the movie the ballad of narayama (one of the best movies ever; very hard to find though.)

    1. Thank you for your comment. I would love to the see the film version of The Makioka Sisters. I hadn't heard of the other and when I looked it up I saw that there are two films, one from '58 and another from '83.

  2. Hi Lisa, just to let you know that I read "Some Prefer Nettles" during my holidays and again was delighted by Tanizaki's writing (or should I say Seidensticker's translation). It was a pity the book was so short. :-) If his fiction in any way reflects the reality, I have to say there's much more openness in Japanese couples' relations than in many Western ones!

    1. I'm glad to read that you enjoyed the book. I also enjoyed the reading, though I must add that 'The Makioka Sisters' still remains my favourite Tanizaki.

      Interesting point with the openness. I like to believe that fiction reflects the reality and through the Japanese books I have read this year I feel as if I'm seeing a new side to the Japanese and their culture.


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