Back in June, I wrote a post picking out some of the biggest upcoming books from / about Japan. The reason? Now, more than ever, it seems like Japan-related fiction and ‘lifestyle’ books are dominating in bookstores – with Foyles even creating a temporary Japan section in its main foyer, as well as recent months seeing their Top 10 bestsellers section full of as many as three or four Japanese authors at any one time.
This time, I want to keep my focus a little tighter and stick just to fiction – primarily as it seems like – for the time being at least – the lifestyle books have quietened down a little (following the release of a rather disappointing Wabi Sabi book, and the well-presented but perhaps a little too luxe ‘How To Live Japanese’). Plus, with the behemoth-sized swell created when a new Murakami novel hits now out of the way, it’s interesting to note that a wide spread of Japanese novels – both old and new – are ready and waiting in the wings.
But first, a quick look at how some of the books from my last post seemed to end up faring once they hit shelves…
The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories – This beautiful compendium was a mainstay in Foyles and Waterstones over the summer, but despite that – and the incredibly cheap Kindle price – seemed to struggle to shift copies. Perhaps the selection of material was too eclectic – or perhaps the way it was sorted (thematically, instead of chronologically) even more so. A paperback edition is coming, so it may achieve a new lease of life – but my suspicions is that this will become more of a resource for students of Japanese literature than anything else. The material was of excellent quality – but seemed to suffer a little from the curse of ‘curator’s favourites’.
Alex Kerr’s Another Kyoto seems to be another that struggled – although this time more through lack of placement. It was only in the very biggest branches of Waterstones that I saw this displayed – and even then, not prominently. While it remained enjoyable through Kerr’s classic style, it holds no candle to his classic Lost Japan, and again – feels like its destined more as an academic resource.
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata proved to be a masterclass in marketing – its lurid yellow & pink cover still occupying the Foyles Top 10 to date. The overt ‘women’s literature’ spin the publisher seems to have taken with it (including equally eye-catching adverts on the London tube) has worked wonders, and the novel has become one of the most populist, bestselling works by a Japanese author since Hiromi Kawakami (not including Murakami of course).
Genki Kawamura’s If Cats Disappeared From The World was another interesting release – highly populist in tone, yet also feeling like a far more literary work than last year’s incredibly successful The Travelling Cat Chronicles. The fad for translations of Japanese cat novels seems to show no sign of dying down, so it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if we see another this time next year…
And now for the up-coming releases…
Dandelions – Yasunari Kawabata (4th April 2019)
It’s been a while since we got an edition of Kawabata from Penguin, but at 128 pages, this slim tome (his final novel) will fit in nicely with their previous Modern Classics releases of his work. For many, Snow Country remains *the* entry point into classic Japanese literature, so this will be a welcome addition to the line-up.
The Frolic of the Beasts – Yukio Mishima (4th April 2019)
Walk into most decent bookshops and right above Murakami, you’ll see a hefty wedge of bright-red spines: the Vintage Classics editions of Mishima. But recently, Penguin Modern Classics have been getting in on the Mishima game too, following up last year’s reprint of Confessions of a Mask with this first-time English translation of his 1961 work.
Prefecture D – Hideo Yokoyama (21st March 2019)
The general sense is that Seventeen (aka Climber’s High) was a disappointing follow-up to the remarkable success of Six Four. From the mystifying name-change of the novel (presumably to make its title more similar to Six Four) to the different translator, Seventeen is currently languishing with 25 Amazon reviews to Six Four’s 154. Even a recent paperback release seems to have limited impact. So in that sense, Prefecture D marks new territory – being a collection of short stories, and having a non-number title. Hopefully this English translation will return Yokoyama to the levels of mainstream crossover appeal that made Six Four such an exciting new entry to the world of Japanese crime/thriller literature.
The Little House – Kyoko Nakajima (31st January 2019)
A winner of Japan’s prestigious Naoki Prize, this is the latest effort from translator Ginny Tapley Takemori – currently riding high on the success of her translation of Convenience Store Woman. It’s quite a change in setting here – early Showa era instead of contemporary Japan, but considering Takemori’s recent translation of Akiyuki Nosaka’s The Cake Tree in the Ruins for Pushkin Press was also impressive, I have high hopes for this one.
Newcomer – Keigo Higashino (20th November 2018)
Little Brown are clearly counting on a real return to the big time for Keigo Higashino with this one – the second of a series which began with Malice (their translation was published all the way back in 2014). Journey Under a Midnight Sun and Midsummer’s Equation met with mixed success, despite the former arguably being the writer’s masterwork, so it will be interesting to see how Newcomer – complete with a new style of cover-art design for the author – will fare.
The Memory Police – Yoko Ogawa (8th August 2019)
You’ll have to wait all the way until next August for this one – quite some time, especially considering it’s been over 8 years now since Vintage’s last release of Ogawa’s work (Revenge). They’re sticking with the same cover design though, despite – at 352 pages – this being by far the longest of the author’s works they’ve brought over here to date.