The Japanese Literature Challenge 2

Several people have asked me if I would host a second Japanese Literature Challenge. I’m excited to announce that it is here, with a longer time frame this time around.

Again, read three books of your choice. They can be a novel, a work of poetry, a children’s book, graphic novel, biography or autobiography.

Read them between July 30, 2008 and January 30, 2009.

If you wish to join let me know in the comments here so that I can create a blog for the challenge participants.

To entice you further, read Carl’s review of After Dark by Murakami, and peruse the titles below which I have listed from the first Japanese Literature Challenge as well as a few “must read” lists.

Have fun! Oh, and of course prizes will be given out from time to time.

After Dark by Haruki Murakami:
A short, sleek novel of encounters set in the witching hours of Tokyo between midnight and dawn, and every bit as gripping as Haruki Murakami’s masterworks The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore.

All She Was Worth by Miyake:
Here is a deftly written thriller that is also a “deep and moody” (NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW) journey through the dark side of Japan’s consumer-crazed society. Ordinary people plunge into insurmountable personal debt and fall prey to dangerous webs of underground creditors-so dangerous, in fact, that murder may be the only way out. A beautiful young woman vanishes, and the detective quickly finds she is not whom she claims to be. Is she a victim, a killer, or both? In a country that tracks its citizens at every turn, how can two women claim the same identity and then disappear without a trace?
The Bells of Nagasaki by Nagai:
Among the wounded on the day they dropped the bomb on Nagasaki was a young doctor who, though sick himself cared for the sick and dying. Written when he too lay dying of leukemia, The Bells of Nagasaki is the extraordinary account of his experience. It is deeply moving and human story.

Confessions of A Mask by Mishima:
This book is one of the classics of modern Japanese fiction. It is the story of an adolescent who must learn to live with the painful fact that he is unlike other young men. Mishima’s protagonist discovers that he is becoming a homosexual in a polite, post-war Japan. To survive, he must live behind a mask of propriety.
Deathnote by Obata:
There’s a killer loose in Los Angeles and super-sleuth L is on the case. Along with Naomi, a former FBI agent, he helps the LA police solve the grisly crimes. In typical Death Note fashion, things get complicated. And there’s a big surprising plot twist at the end of the book.

The First Snow on Fuji by Kawabata:
The stories of Yasunari Kawabata (Winner of the 1968 Nobel Prize for Literature) evoke an unmistakably Japanese atmosphere in their delicacy, understatement, and lyrical description. Like his later works, First Snow on Fuji is concerned with forms of presence and absence, with being, with memory and loss of memory, with not-knowing. Kawabata lets us slide into the lives of people who have been shattered by war, loss, and longing. These stories are beautiful and melancholy, filled with Kawabata’s unerring vision of human psychology. First Snow on Fuji was originally published in Japan in 1958, ten years before Kawabata received the Nobel Prize. Kawabata selected the stories for this collection himself, and the result is a stunning assembly of disparate moods and genres. This new edition is the first to be published in English.
Fruits Basket #1 by Takaya:
Tohru Honda was an orphan, living with her grandfather, when one day fate kicked her out of the house and she was forced to take up residence in a tent in the forest. Little did she know that the land she was staying on belonged to the Sohma family, a clan of beautiful and mysterious people. After stumbling upon the teenage squatter, the Sohmas invite Tohru to stay in their house in exchange for cooking and cleaning. Everything’s going well until she discovers the Sohma family’s greatest secret: when hugged by members of the opposite sex, they each turn into their Chinese Zodiac animal!

Kitchen by Yoshimoto:
With the publication of Kitchen, the dazzling English-language debut that is still her best-loved book, the literary world realized that Yoshimoto was a young writer of enduring talent whose work has quickly earned a place among the best of contemporary Japanese literature. Kitchen is an enchantingly original book that juxtaposes two tales about mothers, love, tragedy, and the power of the kitchen and home in the lives of a pair of free-spirited young women in contemporary Japan. Mikage, the heroine, is an orphan raised by her grandmother, who has passed away. Grieving, Mikage is taken in by her friend Yoichi and his mother (who is really his cross-dressing father) Eriko. As the three of them form an improvised family that soon weathers its own tragic losses, Yoshimoto spins a lovely, evocative tale with the kitchen and the comforts of home at its heart.

Kokoro by Soseki:
A nineteenth-century Japanese novel concerned with man’s loneliness in the modern world.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Basho:
In later life Basho turned to Zen Buddhism, and the travel sketched in this volume relfect his attempts to cast off earthly attachments and reach out to spiritual fulfillment. The sketches are written in the haibun style–a linking of verse and prose. The title piece, in particular, reveals Basho striving to discover a vision of eternity in the transient world around him and his personal evocation of the mysteries of the universe.

Nip The Buds, Shoot The Kids by Oe:
Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids recounts the exploits of 15 teenage reformatory boys evacuated in wartime to a remote mountain village where they are feared and detested by the local peasants. When plague breaks out, the villagers flee, blocking the boys inside the deserted town. Their brief attempt to build autonomous lives of self-respect, love, and tribal valor is doomed in the face of death and the adult nightmare of war.
Norwegian Wood by Murakami:
Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before. Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable. As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman. A poignant story of one college student’s romantic coming-of-age, Norwegian Wood takes us to that distant place of a young man’s first, hopeless, and heroic love.

Rashomon by Akutagawa:
This collection of short stories includes “In a Grove”, a psychologically sophisticated tale about murder, rape, and suicide; “Rashomon”, the story of a thief scared into honesty by an encounter with a ghoul; and “Kesa and Morito”, the story of man driven to kill someone he doesn’t hate by a lover whom he doesn’t love.

Silence by Endo:
Reader review: a beautiful novel about faith, relgious or not, spiritual or not, this book is a wonderful work of art. I heard on Charlie Rose that Martin Scorsese would love to direct a film version, he must. this book needs to be told cinematically since it is such a visual story.

Singing Shijimi Clams by Kojima:
Snow Country by Kawabata:
With the brushstroke suggestiveness and astonishing grasp of motive that won him the Nobel Prize for Literature, Yasunari Kawabata tells a story of wasted love set amid the desolate beauty of western Japan, the snowiest region on earth. It is there, at an isolated mountain hotspring, that the wealthy sophisticate Shimamura meets the geisha Komako, who gives herself to him without regrets, knowing that their passion cannot last. Shimamura is a dilettante of the feelings; Komako has staked her life on them. Their affair can have only one outcome. Yet, in chronicling its doomed course, one of Japan’s greatest modern writers creates a novel dense in implication and exalting in its sadness.

Sound of Waves by Mishima:
Set in a remote fishing village in Japan, The Sound of Waves is a timeless story of first love. A young fisherman is entranced at the sight of the beautiful daughter of the wealthiest man in the village. They fall in love, but must then endure the calumny and gossip of the villagers.
Strangers by Yamada:
When jaded 48-year-old scriptwriter Harada visits Tokyo’s old entertainment district where he grew up, he encounters a likeable working man who is the spitting image of his dead father. Lonely, nostalgic, and willing to believe the unbelievable, Harada follows the mysterious man, embarking on a bittersweet journey into the womb of a city whose living inhabitants have perhaps changed too rapidly and lost their souls. While the visits to his parents seem invigorating to Harada, his beautiful and strangely vulnerable neighbor Kei insists that he stop seeing them for his own good. A battle for the soul – Harada’s, a tired city’s – ensues in this thinking man’s ghost story.

Ten Nights’ Dreams by Soseki:
This famed collection of ten connected stories or dreams has a surrealistic atmosphere. The author, Natsume Soseki, is a novelist and scholar of English literature. He ranks with Mori Ogai (1862-1922) as major figure in modern Japanese literature. Among his works, Wagahai wa Neko de Aru (I am A Cat) and Bochan (Master Darling) are especially known to almost every Japanese and are read even by primary school pupils. His portrait is printed on the Japanese 1,000-yen note.
The Dancing Girl of Izu by Kawabata:
One of the most influential figures in modern Japanese fiction, Yasunari Kawabata is treasured for the intensity of his perceptions and the compressed elegance of his style. Written between 1923 and 1929, these works form a shadow biography of the author’s early years, revealing fresh glimpses into Kawabata’s haunting vision of loss, longing, and memory. In moving selections that sketch the outlines of the author’s life of survivorship. J. Martin Holman’s graceful translation captures the delicate nature of Kawabata’s enduring prose.

The Elephant Vanishes by Murakami:
Writing in a style that is deceptively plainspoken, Haruki Murakami finds a dreamlike common ground between Japan and the West, conscious and subconscious. His heroes lose themselves in quests that we may not always understand, but are hopelessly compelled to follow.
The Pillow Book by Shonagon:
Written by the court gentlewoman Sei Shonagon, ostensibly for her own amusement, The Pillow Book offers a fascinating exploration of life among the nobility at the height of the Heian period, describing the exquisite pleasures of a confined world in which poetry, love, fashion, and whim dominated, while harsh reality was kept firmly at a distance. Moving elegantly across a wide range of themes including nature, society, and her own flirtations, Sei Shonagon provides a witty and intimate window on a woman’s life at court in classical Japan.

The Setting Sun by Dazai:
This powerful novel of a nation in social and moral crisis was first published by New Directions in 1956. Set in the early postwar years, it probes the destructive effects of war and the transition from a feudal Japan to an industrial society.
The Tale of Genji by Shikibu:
In the eleventh century Murasaki Shikibu, a lady in the Heian court of Japan, wrote the world’s first novel. But The Tale of Genji is no mere artifact. It is, rather, a lively and astonishingly nuanced portrait of a refined society where every dalliance is an act of political consequence, a play of characters whose inner lives are as rich and changeable as those imagined by Proust. Chief of these is “the shining Genji,” the son of the emperor and a man whose passionate impulses create great turmoil in his world and very nearly destroy him.

Tales of Moonlight and Rain by Ueda:
First published in 1776, the nine gothic tales in this collection are Japan’s finest and most celebrated examples of the literature of the occult. They subtly merge the world of reason with the realm of the uncanny and exemplify the period’s fascination with the strange and the grotesque. They were also the inspiration for Mizoguchi Kenji’s brilliant 1953 film Ugetsu.

The Woman In The Dunes by Abe:
One of the premier Japanese novels of the twentieth century, The Women in the Dunes combines the essence of myth, suspense, and the existential novel. In a remote seaside village, Niki Jumpei, a teacher and amateur entomologist, is held captive with a young woman at the bottom of a vast sand pit where, Sisyphus-like, they are pressed into shoveling off the ever-advancing sand dunes that threaten the village.

Thousand Cranes by Kawabata:

With a restraint that barely conceals the ferocity of his characters’ passions, one of Japan’s great postwar novelists tells the luminous story of Kikuji and the tea party he attends with Mrs. Ota, the rival of his dead father’s mistress. A tale of desire, regret, and sensual nostalgia, every gesture has a meaning, and even the most fleeting touch or casual utterance has the power to illuminate entire lives—sometimes in the same moment that it destroys them.

Wonderful Fool by Endo:

In this sardonic novel, a young Frenchman, Gaston Bonaparte, descends upon a typical Japanese family. Expecting French sophistication, they find instead a tall, ungainly figure with the face of a horse. Gaston seems to lack common sense, and manages from the moment of his arrival to convey the impression that he is a complete fool. But with his overwhelming love of people and animals and his capacity for self-sacrifice, Gaston slowly shifts the family’s perceptions, and challenges their ingrained moral apathy.
Finally, here is a smaller verson of the button in case you wish to put it in your sidebar:
*All synopsis taken from Barnes and

46 thoughts on “The Japanese Literature Challenge 2”

  1. Argh! Another challenge!No,actually, I've been waiting for this one, as you know.I've two of the books already – the beautiful one I won after the first challenge and then another I picked up recently… and that I can't remember the name of at this moment. Anyway, that leaves me with just one to pick. What would you suggest, Bellezza?cjh


  2. You don't waste any time do you? Count me in. I'll post about it within the next week or so, pending the website working and the finishing of the Jan-Ai Scholarship week. Looking forward to it!


  3. Mee, I'm glad you're excited and able to participate this time around. Do you have a web address so that I can include you in the blogroll soon to be established?CJ, I would certainly read After Dark if you haven't read that one yet. Part of the reason that I am hosting this challenge is so that I can read more Japanese literature myself, so I don't have a plethora of recommendations. I know that I want to read a manga novel for the first time, myself.Carl, I guess I don't waste time. Actually, I've been kicking it about in my head for quite awhile and now seemed as good a time as any to kick it off. I'm tlad that you're going to jump in; I'm off to the post office to mail the check I wrote for the Jan Ai Scholarship.


  4. Oh Bellezza, I don't know how I'll fit this one in as I'm squeezed so tight already, but I'm definitely definitely in! I was really disappointed I missed the other one last year. Thanks for all of the great suggestions as well–I bookmarked some from CJ last time that sounded interesting, but other than that I have no idea where to start!!


  5. Count me in, Bellezza! I so enjoyed last year's Challenge, and the longer time frame will make it very workable for me. I'll post my list soon. Thanks for all the suggestions, too.


  6. How about some biography or autobiography? I'm thinking of Desert Exile: The Uprooting of a Japanese-American Family by Yoshiko Uchida, and Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston. As you can tell, my recent visit to the Manzanar War Relocation Camp has affected me deeply.


  7. California Teacher Guy, does this mean you'll join in? Of course a biography or autobiography would be wonderful! You can tell I'm normally a fiction girl in that I didn't even include those categories. Which I'll amend. Please join in…


  8. For whatever reason, I just felt too intimidated to join the first time around. But I read so many beautiful, captivating reviews from the first one, that I decided I just need to take the plunge. I posted my list here. Thanks for hosting this again!


  9. I'd love to participate in this challenge, especially since I 've been trying to broaden my horizons when it comes to authors, subject, & genre.(is Japanese Literature a 'genre'?)I might not get to these until the last few months of the challenge, but I am going for it, if I may.


  10. I'd said no more challenges this year, but how can I resist this one? I regretted having missed it last time. Thanks for hosting again, Bellezza! I'll post my list soon.


  11. Ok. I cannot resist. My list of possible books is here.If anyone is going to read the Tale of Genji and is interested in having somebody to read along with, let me know. If anyone could tell me a simple way to add the challenge button to my sidebar with a link to the site I would greatly appreciate it.


  12. Welcome, Moo. Would it work for you to right click on the challenge button, save it, and then post as a picture in your sidebar? If that doesn't work, you need someone wiser in technology than I. I'm going to include you, along with all the others who signed up here, in the review site which you can find by clicking on the button on my sidebar. I'm looking forward to seeing what you've chosen to read, and it's quite ambitious to take on The Tale Of Genji!


  13. Les, one day you may be persuaded to join. I'll live in hope… :)Michelle and Plays With Needles, I added you to the review site and I hope the invitation came through on your emails.Kay Day, I added you to the particiants, but I need your email to invite you to post on the blog. Thanks for joining in!


  14. Another challenge that will tie in great with one of my Yahoo! book groups. I belong to the group ALitReaders; I do not know if the current book for the group is from Japan or not: Empress Orchid or something like that—I do not have my book list in front of me. Judy


  15. Intergalactic Bookworm, I'm going to add you to the list of participants based on your comment. If you don't wish that, please let me know. 🙂 Also, send me your email if you want to be able to write posts on the review site. I'm glad you're interested!


  16. Count me in. I still have to come up with one more book, but I'm sure I'll find lots of ideas on the review site. Thanks for pulling my leg!


  17. I'm Japanese living in North of Japan, Akita.I'm interested in japanese literature readed by american, and how american people think about japanese literature.I'm very glad and thank you to read japanese books. Of course these listed books and auther is very famous in Japan. I like Murakami very much. I like his "Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World". "A Wild Sheep Chase" is also very good.


  18. I'm so sorry that I don't know how to write your name, but I'm so glad that you left your comment above. I hope that you will visit the Review Site at ( to give us your thoughts on our reading adventure. I am so entranced by Japanese literature, and learning new viewpoints. Thank you for visiting.


  19. "チボー" is "Thibault" from french Martin du Gard wrote "the thibaults".I read pages of the link, and especiary interested in "Top 10 Books Set in Japan" and "Top 10 japanese Novels".I think after list is picked up more interesting books I have ever read.I'm cheering, and I will write comment your linked site, too.


  20. Thank you, Thibault, for responding with your name and comments. I look forward to more good conversations with you, and I'm glad you'll visit the Review Site, too.


  21. Am I too late to sign up? My e-mail is bakerjodie at googlemail dot com . I missed this last time but would love to play along at the review site.


  22. Jodie, you're not too late at all! (It's never too late, unless it's January 30, 2009.:) I'll send you an invitation to post on the review site, and add you to the participants now. Welcome!


  23. I'm joining in a little late, but my post is here and my list is:Kitchen by Banana YoshimotoThe Dancing Girl of Izu by Yaunari KawabataKafka on the Shore by Haruki MurakamiTales of Moonlight and Rain by Ueda


  24. I hope I'm not too late to join. I participated last year, and had so much fun. I'm glad you're doing this again!Here's what I'm reading:- Silence by Shusaku Endo- Women of the Pleasure Quarters: The Secret History of the Geisha by Lesley Downer- Japanese Tales (Pantheon Fairy Tale & Folklore Library) by Royall TylerThanks again! ~ L


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