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I am hoping to go to Japan for the first time next year. I don't know much about the country, and want to learn as much as I can before I go, not just be a really casual tourist (although I want to do that, too). Can you recommend some literature, classic and modern, that would help me start to get a feel for the country? Must be in English, unfortunately.
- I would suggest Yasunari Kawabata, for example Les Belles endormies or Tristesse et Beaute. These two novels are very famous and very typical of the Japanese literature (although not my cup of tea, I should confess…).
I was told Le maitre de go is more accessible. Kawabata has also written many famous short stories.
- Haruki Murakami is more recent, and has a similar typical Japanese writing style. Check Kafka sur le rivage and Norwegian wood, two of his most famous novels. (Note that not all his novels are based in Japan).
Now that I have given those famous names, I can go to my personal favorites!
- First is Akira Yoshimura, especially Naufrages and Le convoi de l’eau (although I am not sure the latest is available in English). Naufrages is set in medieval Japan, in a desperately poor fishing community, where luring ships to their shores appear to be the only salvation from starvation…
- I also enjoyed a lot Le maitre de the by Yasushi Inoue. Inoue writes a lot of historical novel (many are based in China, so check carefully before picking one!). An interesting insight into the tradition of drinking tea. I read it some time back, and it would be worth reading again to understand the subtlety of this art.
Other famous writing by Inoue include Le fusil de chasse.
- Eiji Yoshikawa is the author of a famous and classical book, a very entertaining novel on the quest of a samourai called Musashi. It is available as a 2 volume edition including La Pierre et le Sabre and La Parfaite Lumiere and in English as a one volume edition (straightforwardly) called Musashi.
By the way, there is a group on Asian Fiction & Non-Fiction. You might be willing to post your request there, as it is more active than this group. There are various threats on Japanese literatures already, with some interesting reading suggestions.
I hope this helps. Enjoy the reading!
Edited to fix touchstones
If so--and you have not gotten your fill yet with these other decent recommendations--try Yukio Mishima. I am on my sixth novel by the guy and I cannot get enough. His style is heavy, rich, and he provides plenty to mull over. You should be able to find English translations of his stuff easily enough once in Japan. (Also Edward G. Seidensticker translations are excellent!)
Stay safe over there!
Japan is a great country, hope you enjoyed it.
My favorite writers so far are, Haruki Murakami, Osamu Dazai, Yukio Mishima, and Edogawa Rampo.
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