Monique's Top 10 Japanese Novels You Should Read

Monique's Top 10 Japanese Novels You Should Read

'There's an abundance of books available to us at our fingertips but it can often be hard to find something different and innovative beyond what is available in our native languages. 

Since the popularization of Haruki Murakami in the west, many avid readers have been giving Japanese literature the attention it deserves. As with any books from any country, there's so many to choose from but here are 10 recommendations to show you some of the best novels that will lead you to many more amazing books.'

We got into contact with Novel Allure to bring you this fantastic list of Japanese Literature. From Yukio Mishima to Natsume Soseki, Mo's selection of some of the best of Japan's literary geniuses really encompasses the amount of wonderfully translated prose that sits out there waiting to be read. 

All of Mo's picks are easily bought from Amazon, eBay or Waterstones, so the only thing left to do is read on and find out if there are any books to be introduced to!

  • Natsume Soseki

    Monique Jackson

    I discovered this classic watching an anime series called Aoi Bungaku which showcased a variety of popular novels. Set in the early 20th century we're taken on a personal journey between a young man - the nameless narrator - and an older man he calls Sensei (teacher).

    Kokoro takes us back and forth through time via the memories of Sensei showing us the importance of communication, relationships and perspective. Time plays an important role and sets the tone. As we're taken on this journey through time, the death of emperor Meiji emphasises a new epoch culturally and politically.

    Transitions in more way than one are important in Kokoro and it leaves us with many wise thoughts we can carry with us in real life.
  • Toshikazu Kawaguchi
    Before the Coffee Gets Cold

    Monique Jackson

    For over a century, a small back alley cafe in Tokyo has been giving its customers the special experience of time travel. However, you can only travel backwards in time, you have to sit in one specific seat, you cannot leave the cafe and you must return before the coffee gets cold. 

    We explore the stories of four different people resulting in a satisfying connection of them all at the end. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this novel is the simplicity of the concept of time travel. A common science-fiction concept has been made more relatable by something many of us make every morning before we start our day, coffee. 

    I adore Before The Coffee Gets Cold because of its ability to evoke feelings of nostalgia.
  • Taichi Yamada

    Monique Jackson

    A middle-aged TV scriptwriter, Harada, is left benumbed, tired and weary after a divorce that left his bank account practically empty. Lonely and depressed on his birthday, Harada decides to visit the area he grew up in, Asakusa. 

    As he's taking a physical and mental trip down memory lane, Harada believes he hears a voice that belongs to his deceased father. After approaching the man, it's none other than him. Left shocked, confused and curious, Harada decides to pursue his now alive father with terrible consequences for him. 

    Strangers is eerie and eloquent showcasing human interest at one of its finest. I haven't read a ghost story so metaphorical nor so calm. Strangers is a curious short story that puts an emotional spin on your average ghost story.
  • Banana Yoshimoto
    Goodbye Tsugumi

    Monique Jackson

    I find that you don't tend to see many stories dealing with the dynamic between cousins. Every family is different and in my experience people either speak see their cousins regularly or not at all. In terms of literature, a lot of the focus tends to go towards immediate family relations rather than extended family.

    Banana Yoshimoto presents us with a coming of age story following the friendship between Maria and Tsugumi. They both grew up with one another along the seaside but Maria moves to Tokyo with her father and mother putting distance between them. 

    The two girls are very different in character which contributes to this interesting story because they both have such different reactions to the same thing. 

    Tsugumi invites Maria to spend the summer by the sea and they both come to terms with their emotions and childhood which will hopefully feel you in a state of content by the end. Goodbye Tsugumi is beautifully written, full of imagery and many sentiments we may have all felt at some point.
  • Osamu Dazai
    No Longer Human

    Monique Jackson

    Alongside Kokoro, No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai was another novel I discovered in the anime anthology series Aoi Bungaku. This novel in particular struck me because I often saw it described as a fictional autobiography and the two words side by side are quite the juxtaposition. 

    No Longer Human tells a coming of age story from a personal level. Our young protagonist, Oba Yozo, has always been the odd one out in his family and academic life all the way from childhood to his adult life. Oba Yozo feels torn between traditions and modernity. 

    This results in him embodying a 'clown' persona in order to hide his feelings of being alienated from all aspects of society. Despite explaining so much pain and despair there's an odd lack of emotion in the novel's tone and language. 

    Although No Longer Human deals with traumatic experiences it is an interesting insight into a specific human experience of mental health and feeling like an outsider.
  • Yukio Mishima

    Monique Jackson

    The shortest story of them all at 96 pages, Star by Yukio Mishima tells the short story of Rikio. It focuses on fame and the philosophical theory of absurdity. Rikio loves being in front of the camera and the attention he gets from his adoring fans. 

    We see Rikio transform into a character so unlike himself for just a short moment but when that is all over we engage with how he really feels about his work, his existence and what it means to be famous. 

    One quote in particular that attracted my attention was 'Being seen made me their king. It gave me my authority, and all the people watching were my subjects.' I think it perfectly underlines his awareness of the power of fame as well as sets the overall mood of the book.
  • Kazuo Ishiguro
    The Remains of the Day

    Monique Jackson

    I'm still working my way through Ishiguro's works but the one thing he always does is surprise. I've almost finished all of his novels and this was the one I was least excited about. However, as always Ishiguro delivered.

    Set in the 1950s, the Butler of Darlington Hall is ageing and so is the concept of having a Butler. As he comes to terms with everything he knows coming to an end, he finally takes the time for a vacation after many dedicated years in his field. 

    Remains of the explore the memories of Darlington Hall through the gaze of the butler. It's an emotional evolutionary journey for him as he reflects and learns about the importance of communication and expression.

    While Ishiguro was born in Japan, he is actually British and spent the majority of his life living in the United Kingdom.
  • Haruki Murakami
    After Dark

    Monique Jackson

    If you have insomnia or have ever just stayed up all night you may have noticed that the overall ambience of life just feels different and After Dark is perfect at perpetuating that seemingly alien environment. 

    This novel focuses on Mari, who prefers to spend her nights in a cafe reading until dawn due to her lack of desire to go home and her model sister, Eri who spends a lot of time in deep sleep. 

    The magical realism increases throughout the novel as reality becomes more dream-like and the more characters we encounter show us their varying layers. All is not what it seems and everything mentioned is connected somehow. 

    This was the first Murakami book I read and was impressed with my first experience reading something so simple but feel a little fantastical. Almost as if magical realism is at our fingertips.
  • Matsuo Basho
    The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches

    Monique Jackson

    I was first introduced to Matsuo Basho in college in an English Literature class when looking into Renga and Haiku. I can only imagine how beautiful Basho's works are in Japanese. Despite reading them in English you can still get an essence of his observations and experiences. 

    The Narrow Road to the Deep North documents the travels of Basho and he captures his surroundings beautifully. You don't often find travel writing, poetry and prose coming together which is what makes reading this even more unique. 

    Almost all aspects of nature are touched upon involving the natural elements. He speaks of moonlight, waterfalls and much more. He reflected on the environment around him and weaved in his thoughts and emotions too. It felt like he was a part of the nature he shares with us too.
  • Mieko Kawakami
    Breasts and Eggs

    Monique Jackson

    How individuals choose to lead their lives in this complex world often comes with challenges as time goes on from decade to decade, from one generation to another. Breasts and Eggs focus on modern womanhood in Japan from the perspective of three women, thirty-year-old Natsu, her older sister, Makiko, and Makiko’s daughter, Midoriko. 

    As we join them in this story we encounter many topics that have often made women feel oppressed, silenced or judged. It explores many things all women will at one point experience or have a conversation about such as puberty, motherhood, bodily autonomy and anxiety. Breasts and Eggs tackle serious topics we should speak about more and is absolute conversation starter.

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