Regular readers will know I have quite an interest in Japanese things – stemming probably from my love of Nintendo when I was a child (well, a much younger child than I am now). However, as well as the bright lights and blinking sounds of Mario, I’ve also enjoyed the works of a lot of Japanese writers. The Guardian’s Culture Vulture blog has been running “World Literature tours” recently, where readers add in their favourite suggestions of books to read from a certain country. They’ve just done Japan, and the thread has turned out to be an awesome treasure trove of stuff to read both from and about Japan.
There’s a lot on there I’ve not read, so looks like Amazon will be cashing in… From what I have read, here’s what I’d recommend to start with:
First up for any traveller has to be Alex Kerr’s ‘Lost Japan. It’s about the traditional Japanese arts, and how they’re surviving (or not) in the modern world. It’s written by someone with a real love for very traditional Japan, and he really communicates his passion well. I’ve not read the follow up, but most reviewers reckon it’s much more trenchant and negative, so perhaps isn’t the best place to start.
In terms of novels, Haruki Murakami is a good bet, and I’d also say try Kazuo Ishiguro’s An Artist Of The Floating World. It’s about an old man in Japan after the war, a painter, trying to come to terms with his support for the pre-war government. Whilst Ishiguro was born in Japan, he’s pretty much anEnglish novelist. Yukio Mishima is the one of the best Japanese novelists, and his Temple of the Golden Pavilion is definitely worth reading. It’s a very strange book, beautifully written but incredibly dark (it’s the one I recommended on the Guardian thread).
Aside from these books and the ones recommended by the Guardian blog, try Jean Snow’s weblog (www.jeansnow.net). He’s a Canadian living in Tokyo, writing about art and design. Very good for finding out shows, cafes, places to go in Tokyo where all the hip kids are. Also try Marxy’s blog (http://www.pliink.com/mt/marxy/) – it’s where J-Pop meets PhD thesis and conspiracy theories. It’s brilliantly written, in a very academic style that’s somehow also a lot of fun.