Breasts and Eggs by Meiko Kawakami “We’re all so small, and have such little time, unable to envision the majority of the world.”

Mieko Kawakami, author of “Breasts and Eggs” | YUTO KUDO / MADAME FIGARO JAPON

Breasts and Eggs was not the book I thought it would be. I knew there would be mention of women’s roles, and women’s parts, in contemporary life. I knew it won the Akutagawa Prize and was highly praised by Haruki Murakami. But, I didn’t know we would spend so much time considering identity. Artificial insemination and donor conception. Single parenting and family.

Natsuko Natsume is 38 years old and single. She is a writer, and she begins her story by telling us what it means to be poor. “Maybe you’re poor now. Maybe you were poor in the past. I’m both…“ She lives in Tokyo, while her older sister, Makiko, lives in Osaka. They struggled to raise themselves, as their father left the family, and their mother died when they were girls.

When Makiko comes to visit her younger sister, she is focused on having a breast augmentation. Her make-up is thick, her body is excessively thin, her skin is gray and drawn, but she believes that larger boobs will make her beautiful. Her daughter, Midoriko, will not speak to either her mother, or her aunt. She writes everything on a pad of paper, or in her journal.

Writing is the best. You can do it anywhere, as long as you have a pen and paper. It’s free, too. And you an write whatever you want. How sweet is that.

While I agree that keeping a journal is a marvelous tool to sort one’s thoughts, or keep one’s memories, I couldn’t understand why Midoriko would not speak out loud until I came to this section of her journal:

So I got in another fight with Mom, over money. This one was way worse than the last one. In the middle of everything, I asked, why’d you even have me? I asked myself that all the time, but it’s a horrible thing to say out loud, I know…I thought it would be better if we didn’t talk for a while. I mean, we’d just end up fighting again, and I’d say something mean. (p. 58)

Buried within this quote is the beginning of the theme which Meiko Kawakami establishes throughout the novel: “Why’d you even have me?” In other words, why do parents have children?

While Makiko wishes to have her breasts enlarged, Natsuko longs for a child. Centered around this longing are great moral dilemmas. Does she have the right to bring a child into the world as a single mother? How will the child feel not knowing who the father is, or worse yet, finding out the father they thought was their father was actually not? An even bigger question is, “Is it fair to bring a child into the world, not knowing what kind of pain or disability the child may encounter?”

Meiko Kawakami explores these questions throughout the novel’s plot and within the character’s conversations. Yuriko and Aizawa are two people who discuss the reality of being conceived through donor conception with Natsuko.

“You’re betting that the child you bring into this will be at least as happy as you’ve been, at least as fortunate as you’ve been, or, at a minimum, that they’ll be able to say they’re happy they were born. Everyone says life is both good and bad, but the majority of people think it’s mostly good. That’s why people go through with it. The odds are good. Sure, everyone dies someday, but life has meaning, even pain and suffering have meaning and there’s so much joy. There’s not a doubt in your mind that your child will see it that way, just like you. No one thinks they’ll pull the short straw. They’re convinced everything will work out fine. But that’s just people believing what they want to believe. For their own benefit. The really horrible part is that this bet isn’t yours to make. You’re betting on another person’s life. Not yours. (Yuriko, p. 276)

But, Jun Aizawa has come to terms with the origins of his birth. I loved the realization he makes toward the conclusion of the novel:

I’d been spending all of my time trying to find my father, thinking that was my only hope of discovering who I was. I thought that if I didn’t know him, I couldn’t know myself…Maybe there’s some truth to that, but now I have a sense of what’s really at the heart of it. I realize what’s been bothering me all along, ever since I heard the truth, is that I never got to tell my dad, I mean the dad who raised me, how I felt….I wish I could’ve found out earlier, when he was still alive. I would’ve told him that it didn’t change the way I felt, that he was still my dad, as far as I was concerned.” (Aizawa, p. 320)

Some quotes I found particularly intriguing, which perhaps we could discuss:

  1. “I was young once, but I was never pretty. When something isn’t there, inside or out, how are you supposed to seek it out? (p. 41)
  2. “Start judging people by their genetic profiles, and pretty soon you’re seeing them like handbags, ranking them like brands.” (p. 147)
  3. “Who has the right to have a child? Does not having a partner or not wanting to have sex nullify this right?” (p. 219)

Did you like this novel? Do you agree with the decision Natsume ultimately made? Do you have any thoughts that I did not bring up in this post? I’m eager to know of your reactions to this novel.

Find more reviews at Japan Times, Books & Bao, Tony’s Reading List, and Words Without Borders.

Read-along in January: Breasts and Eggs by Meiko Kawakami (All Are Welcome!)

The story of three women by a writer hailed by Haruki Murakami as Japan’s most important contemporary novelist, WINNER OF THE AKUTAGAWA PRIZE.

“BREASTS AND EGGS took my breath away.”—HARUKI MURAKAMI 

Challenging every preconception about storytelling and prose style, mixing wry humor and riveting emotional depth, Kawakami is today one of Japan’s most important and best-selling writers. She exploded onto the cultural scene first as a musician, then as a poet and popular blogger, and is now an award-winning novelist.

Breasts and Eggs paints a portrait of contemporary womanhood in Japan and recounts the intimate journeys of three women as they confront oppressive mores and their own uncertainties on the road to finding peace and futures they can truly call their own.

It tells the story of three women: the thirty-year-old Natsu, her older sister, Makiko, and Makiko’s daughter, Midoriko. Makiko has traveled to Tokyo in search of an affordable breast enhancement procedure. She is accompanied by Midoriko, who has recently grown silent, finding herself unable to voice the vague yet overwhelming pressures associated with growing up. Her silence proves a catalyst for each woman to confront her fears and frustrations.

On another hot summer’s day ten years later, Natsu, on a journey back to her native city, struggles with her own indeterminate identity as she confronts anxieties about growing old alone and childless.

Kawakami’s first novella My Ego, My Teeth, and the World, published in Japan in 2007, was awarded the Tsubouchi Shoyo Prize for Young Emerging Writers. The following year, she published Breasts and Eggs as a short novella, and won praise from Yoko Ogawa and Haruki Murakami. The newly expanded Breasts and Eggs is her first novel to be published in English.

A MOST ANTICIPATED BOOK OF 2020 
Vogue・Thrillist・The Millions・ Literary Hub・Now Toronto・Metropolis Japan

“One of Japan’s brightest stars is set to explode across the global skies of literature . . . Kawakami is both a writer’s writer and an entertainer, a thinker and constantly evolving stylist who manages to be highly readable and immensely popular.”— Japan Times

“Mieko Kawakami lobbed a literary grenade into the fusty, male-dominated world of Japanese fiction with Breasts and Eggs.”— The Economist

“I can never forget the sense of pure astonishment I felt when I first read Mieko Kawakami’s novella Breasts and Eggs . . . Kawakami is always ceaselessly growing and evolving.”—HARUKI MURAKAMI, author of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

The author

Mieko Kawakami
Born in Osaka prefecture in 1976, Mieko Kawakami began her career as a singer and songwriter before making her literary debut in 2006. Her first novella My Ego, My Teeth, and the World, published in 2007, was nominated for the Akutagawa Prize and awarded the Tsubouchi Shoyo Prize for Young Emerging Writers. The following year, Kawakami published Breasts and Eggs as a short novella. It won the Akutagawa Prize, Japan’s most prestigious literary honor, and earned praise from the acclaimed writer Yoko Ogawa. Kawakami is also the author of the novels HeavenThe Night Belongs to Lovers, and the newly expanded Breasts and Eggs, her first novel to be published in English. She lives in Japan.


All of the text above is quoted from Europa Editions. I hope that entices you to join Frances (@nonsuchbook) and I, as well as others who said they were interested, to read this book in January. Feel free to post about it during the month, or save your thoughts until the end. Either way, it should be a marvelous read. A marvelous discussion.

The Japanese Literature Challenge 14 (Coming January 2021)

I have been seeing posts of reading plans for 2021 on many of my friends’ blogs, and I hope that you will find time this coming year to join in the Japanese Literature Challenge now to begin its fourteenth year.

As in years past, it will run from January through March. We will read books in translation (unless you are able to read Japanese), and review them on our blogs. You may also choose to leave thoughts on social media with #JapaneseLitChallenge14. I have now set up a review site for you to leave links, as before.

Here are some of the titles, many coming in 2021, which I will review during the challenge:

Coming from Penguin Random House on April 6, 2021
Coming from Penguin Random House on March 2, 2021
Coming from Abrams Books on March 9, 2021
From Pan Macmillan on September 19, 2019
Breasts and Eggs took my breath away.” ~Haruki Murakami


Also, there will be a group read of Breasts and Eggs, by Mieko Kawakami who has been “hailed by Haruki Murakami as Japan’s most important contemporary novelist.” The novel also won the Akutagawa Prize.

I hope that you will join us this year, whether for the first time or the fourteenth. Please leave a comment if you’re interested in participating, so that I can add you to the review site.