Japanese Literature Challenge 3

Japanese Literature Challenge 3

30 July 2009 – 30 January 2010

Bellezza is hosting the third Japanese Literature Challenge! How exciting! Yes of course, I’m joining! Japanese literature always has a special place in my heart, as I grew up with all things Japanese throughout my childhood and teenagehood years (from manga to anime to merchandise), though only in my adult years I started to explore the world of Japanese novels.

You could check out my reviews of Japanese books (by Japanese or set in Japan) on my Reading the World page, but I would like to list a few books that are worth the special mention: (In Twitter spirit, I’m going to summarize each book in less than 140 characters. What a quick pacing world we’re living! I admit, you need a special skill to tell people about anything in 140 characters.)

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
44 ninth-grade students taken to a small island, each left with a unique survival item, forced to kill each other until one winner remains. [full review]

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
A young guy killed himself. His best friend and his girlfriend remain, trying to find the meaning of it all. Melancholy tale of Jap youths. [full review]

The Key by Junichiro Tanizaki
A 55 yo man in lust with his 11-years-younger wife. Each keeps a ‘hidden’ diary knowing the other would secretly read it. [full review]

Out by Natsuo Kirino
Four women meet as coworkers at bento factory. One of them killed her husband. The others are dragged into hiding his body and her secret. [full review]

You’ve probably heard of Norwegian Wood and Out. However I feel that the other two are getting much less recognition than they deserve!

As Bellezza made the rule of this year quite easy: Read one work of Japanese origin, I have no doubt that I’ll be able to finish this challenge in time. Woohoo! A challenge with not much pressure is what I need, as I didn’t do so well for my Japanese Literature Challenge 2 (we had to read three – which I did, sort of, but with difficulties).

I’ve decided to include not only books by Japanese authors, but also books about Japan or set in Japan. And I have exactly one book that’s on its way to finish line which I will post the review hopefully next week. So stay tune!

I have a few books in mind that I would really love to read for this round of challenge, but it would be a bit tricky to get them since I’ve moved back to Australia. Back when I was in Singapore, Japanese books were so easy to get from their super awesome library (I had yet to find a book — any book — that they didn’t have!) Japanese books were in abundance, in libraries, bookstores — new or secondhand. Not so here.

As much as I love Haruki Murakami, I’d like to explore other authors this time. The big names that come to mind are Natsume Soseki and Shusaku Endo, since I’ve tried Yasunari Kawabata and Junichiro Tanizaki. But there are a few newcomers too that I’d love to try.

Books I’m thinking to read: (if I can read one or two from this list I’d be happy)

I am a Cat or Kokoro by Natsume Soseki
Snakes and Earrings or Autofiction by Hitomi Kanehara
Geisha of Gion by Mineko Iwasaki (I hava wanted to read this since Memoirs of a Geisha)
Strangers by Taichi Yamada
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
Silence by Shusaku Endo

Apparently Snakes and Earrings won Akutagawa prize (supposedly top Japanese literary award) and was highly praised by Ryu Murakami who was one of the judges. I had seen Snakes and Earrings a couple of years ago when it was out and it sounded interesting. Hitomi Kanehara is coming to Melbourne Writers Festival (21-30 Aug 2009) and I just saw a picture of her.

Kanehara H

How cute is she?! She looks more like a Japanese singer/actress!

I’m gonna keep track of the books I read here.

Update 13 Aug ’09

As Bellezza has clarified that what she meant by work of Japanese origin is book written by Japanese author, I will make a different list for them here. So even if it doesn’t count for the challenge, it’s still fun to have all Japan related books for the duration of the challenge!

Books of Japanese origin:

  1. Snakes and Earrings by Hitomi Kanehara (finished 08/09, 3 stars)
  2. Strangers by Taichi Yamada (finished 09/09, 2.5 stars)
  3. I Am a Cat (Vol 1) by Soseki Natsume (finished 12/09, 4 stars)
  4. Oishinbo: Ramen & Gyoza by Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki (finished 01/10, 4.5 stars)

Books about/set in Japan by non-Japanese authors:

  1. Squeamish about Sushi by Betty Reynolds (finished 08/09, 4.5 stars)
  2. Kabuki: The Metamorphosis by David Mack (finished 08/09, 4 stars)
  3. Clueless in Tokyo by Betty Reynolds (finished 10/09, 4.5 stars)

Japanese Literature Challenge 3 Review Site

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20 thoughts on “Japanese Literature Challenge 3”

  1. I have heard of all four you mention – although I’m avoiding Battle Royale as I think it would be too violent for me.

    I’d love to read the Housekeeper and the Professor and Silence for this challenge. Hopefully I’ll be able to find a copies in my local library.

  2. Mee, first let met say how glad I am that you’re participating again this year. Secondly, wow! What a terrific post you wrote! It’s so informative, and exciting, to me. I love hearing more about your background as well as the books you’re considering. The Key is a totally new title to me which sounds entrancing. Also, I think your idea of reading books about/set in Japan is a fine one! Read away, most importantly: have fun!

  3. Paperback_Reader: It’ll be interesting to read each other’s review of the same books!

    Jackie: I can’t normally tolerate anything violent, but I make an exception for Battle Royale since it’s such a smart book (I actually watched the movie first, got hooked, and looked for the book). If you think about it, Out has some violent and gory parts, yet it’s a great read. I would still encourage you to give Battle Royale a chance! The Housekeeper and the Professor wasn’t available in my local libraries, but I hope it will sometime.

    bellezza: Thanks for making me very welcome Bellezza! This will definitely be a fun challenge! Your always awesome prizes help ;)

    Kailana: I look forward to your reviews!

  4. I am so excited! I’ve decide to join the Japanese Literature Challenge and the Spice of Life Challenge.

    Surely I can complete those! : )

  5. Your tweet on Battle Royale sounds very much like this Japanese movie I’ve heard my friend talk about. The name of the film escapes me right now, but I wonder if the movie was an adaptation of this book.

    After having read Memoirs of a Geisha, I was thinking of reading Geisha of Gion next. Maybe we can exchange notes when both of us have read it. =)

    I’ve been interested in the Japanese culture since very young (like you, I grew up with anime, manga and the like), and I’m glad to have found a blog like yours.

  6. It could be the same movie actually. I don’t think there’s any other story like it! I actually watched the movie first, then looked for the book. I think there’s also a manga adaption of it.

    Well won’t it be great if we both could read Geisha of Gion around the same time! (or at least for this challenge) About growing up with Japanese stuff, could it be because we’re both from South East Asia? I imagine countries in the area was heavily influenced by Japanese early on (I was born in the early 80s).

  7. Well, it could very well be because we are both from SEA. How long ago did you move to Sydney?

    I do think there are a lot of Japanese and Chinese influences in Malaysia, though I’m not that sure about Indonesia. We especially import a lot of Japanese manga and anime (sometimes horribly translated in nonsensical Bahasa Melayu!), and tv series from Hong Kong. I think these days, the fad is quickly gearing towards tv dramas from Taiwan, Japan and Korea!

    PS: It would be awesome if we did read Geisha of Gion at around the same time! But I’m probably not going to be reading the book in the next couple of months, I’ve got too many others on my plate already.

    PPS: I was born mid-80s. :)

  8. Well I moved around a bit before settling in Sydney. Long long story :). But I left Indonesia in 1998. Indonesia is definitely heavily influenced by anything Japanese. Translated manga is widely available. Lately Korean dramas have come in big waves. But dramas from Taiwan, HK, Japan have always been quite popular.

    Honestly I’m not even sure if I could read Geisha of Gion for this round’s challenge. I have too many challenges and books at hand too. O well, we’ll see how things go.

  9. I really loved Strangers by Yamada, but having read (just) a few of your reviews I wonder if you’ll like it… It would be fun to read your opinion!

    BTW Hitomi Kanehara definitely looks like a doll but also like she could eat a bit more :(

  10. I didn’t tell you why because I thought it would be a spoiler. Then again, it should be safe to copy the David Mitchell quote on the book cover, shouldn’t it..?

    Higly recommended. A cerebral and haunting ghost story, which completely wrong-footed me.

    It’s the ghost story part — some of your quotes I read on the blog that make me wonder… Only one way to find out! :)

    BTW I also love David Mitchell’s books :)

  11. Oh yea I know that Strangers is ‘ghost story’ so it’s expected to find ghosts! :) I know which book you were referring to. For that one the ghost was completely unexpected and it was one ‘craziness’ among many others that I probably wan’t in the mood for.

    I haven’t tried David Mitchell. I should.

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