7 Classic Novels That Will Take You Into The Heart of Japanese Literature

Japan is a country that’s steeped in culture. Almost every aspect of life there lends itself to a story or a novel and these same stories then get converted into manga, anime or movies. Over the years, even as Western literature has grown, Japanese literature too has gone through its own growth trajectory and today hails as one of the most dynamic and at the same time, profound literature to exist. It has everything from literary fiction, to timeless murder mysteries to horror stories. It also has some very unique dystopian novels which centre around imagined futures of the island nation.

If you haven’t yet chanced upon or tried reading any Japanese authors, here are seven books that will introduce you to a variety of genres from Japanese literature.

What’s more, some of these come with beautiful covers, covers that you would love to hold in your hand or showcase in your bookshelf.

The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

Said to be among the first stories that made up Japanese literature, The Tale of Genji is widely agreed to be the finest work of literature in Japanese history. Few works are as revered as The Tale of Genji, which tells the story of an emperor’s son who is removed from the line of succession. It follows Genji’s romantic life and describes aristocratic life at that time. Through Genji’s love affairs, passionate character and shifting political fortunes, Shikibu gives a glimpse of the golden age of Japan.

From the Fatherland, With love by Ryu Murakami

Set in an alternative, dystopian present in which the dollar has collapsed and Japan’s economy has fallen along with it, the North Korean government, sensing an opportunity, sends a fleet of rebels in the first land invasion that Japan has ever faced. Japan can’t cope with the surprise onslaught of Operation From the Fatherland, with Love. But the invading Korean forces must face the terrorist Ishihara and his band of renegade youths who won’t allow Fukuoka to fall without a fight. Epic in scale, the storyline is laced throughout with Murakami’s characteristically savage violence. A completely mad, over-the-top novel like few others.

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea by Yukio Mishima

“Mishima’s greatest novel, and one of the greatest of the past century”, this book is about a band of teenagers who reject the adult world as illusory, hypocritical and sentimental. Then comes the discovery that the mother of one of them is having an affair with a ship’s officer, who is ‘soft and romantic’. This isn’t just a story of coming of age, it’s an exploration of the viciousness that lies beneath what we imagine to be innocence.

Runaway Horses by Yukio Mishima

A young, engaging patriot, and a fanatical believer in the ancient samurai ethos, Isao turns terrorist and organises a violent plot against the new industrialists, who he believes are threatening the integrity of Japan and usurping the Emperor’s rightful power. As the conspiracy unfolds and unravels, Mishima brilliantly chronicles the conflicts of a decade that saw the fabric of Japanese life torn apart.

The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki

The story of four sisters who live in dilapidated houses, Tanizaki’s novel includes breathtaking descriptions of ancient customs and an ever-changing natural world, and evokes in loving detail a long-lost way of life even as it withers under the harsh glare of modernity.

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

Ever since a traumatic head injury, a brilliant maths professor has a peculiar problem: he suffers from short term memory the duration of which is only the past 80 minutes.

She is an astute young Housekeeper, with a ten-year-old son, who is hired to care for him.
Each morning, the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to one another. The Professor may not remember what he had for breakfast, but his mind is still alive with elegant mathematical equations from the past. He devises clever maths riddles – based on her shoe size or her birthday – and the numbers reveal a poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her son. With each new equation, the three lost souls forge an affection more mysterious than imaginary numbers, and a bond that runs deeper than memory.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

For Toru Okada, life appears to be falling apart one day at a time. His cat’s disappeared and his wife is growing more distant by the day. On top of that, there are these pestilential increasingly explicit phone calls that he’s been receiving of late. As the story unfolds, the tidy suburban realities of Okada’s vague and blameless life, spent cooking, reading, listening to jazz and opera and drinking beer at the kitchen table, are turned inside out. He embarks on a bizarre journey, guided by a succession of characters, each with a tale to tell.

Pick up any or all of the books on bookstores from any Kunzum store or WhatsApp +91.8800200280 to order. Buy the book(s) and the coffee’s on us.

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