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Japanese Books You Need to Read in 2021

In a world where countless technological devices vie for our attention, time spent engrossed in the pages of a good book feels almost sacred.

With their soothing atmospheres, Japanese books offer an immersive escape like no other – helping to account for their popularity in translation.

After a successful 2020 – starring Mieko Kawakami’s award-winning Breasts and Eggs and Sayaka Murata’s Earthlings (among others) – readers can look forward to diving into more exceptional Japanese books this year.

 

First Person Singular, by Haruki Murakami

Translated by Philip Gabriel.

For the first time since Killing Commendatore (2017), Haruki Murakami is back with First Person Singular: 8 mesmerising short stories told by Murakami's archetypal first person narrators. Expect a dose of his vintage magical realism and favourite tropes: lonely narrators, nostalgia, young love, jazz and baseball. One narrator may even be Murakami himself.

Published by Harvill Secker: 6 April 2021

 

Heaven, by Mieko Kawakami

Translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd.

Author of the hugely popular Breasts and Eggs, Mieko Kawakami gives us a translated version of Heaven. A novel of uncomfortable realism in which a 14-year old student narrator is bullied for having a lazy eye. With a philosophical edge, Kawakami’s dialogue delves into the definition of power and nature of child friendships. The result is another spine-tinglingly real novel that will weigh heavy on your heart long after its finish.

Published by Europa Editions: 20 April 2021

 

Bullet Train, by Kōtarō Isaka

Translated by Sam Malissa.

Kōtarō Isaka takes 5 deadly killers and a suitcase full of money – and throws them on a bullet train from Tokyo to Morioka. All can kill. But who will get off at the last stop? Kōtarō Isaka’s jaw-dropping thriller is 432 pages in length, but feels like 100. This non-stop, pulsating page-turner is set to be one of the most exhilarating novels of the year.

Published by Harvill Secker: 1 April 2021

 

An I-Novel, by Minae Mizumura 

Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter.

Over 25 years after its release, Juliet Winters Carpenter has done the impossible by translating Japan’s first bilingual novel (which mixes American English with Japanese) into a purely English novel. This semi-autobiographical novel is set during a single day in the narrator’s flat as she who struggles to tell her sister that she wants to return to Japan to write. Memory, identity and longing all mix to produce a highly engaging novel.

Published by Columbia University Press: 25 January (UK) & 2 March 2021 (US)

 

There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job, by Kikuko Tsumara 

Translated by Polly Barton.

The charming There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job comes out in paperback. Full of dark humour with tinges of magical realism, Kikuo Tsumara’s first English novel sees a recently burnt out woman search for meaning in the modern workplace. Her search for a job that ‘requires no reading, no writing, and ideally, very little thinking’, sets a gripping plot in motion – while illuminating Japan’s working culture, plus our potential to affect change in the world through our work.

Published by Bloomsbury: 23 March 2021

 

Touring the Land of the Dead, by Maki Kashimada

Translated by Haydn Trowell.

A rare English translation of multi-literary-prize winning author Maki Kashimada. Touring the Land of the Dead contains two gripping stories about love, memory and reconciliation. A trip to a luxury spa ushers up old memories and helps a woman reconnect with her unemployed husband. We witness the complex lives of four unmarried sisters in contemporary Tokyo. Thought-provoking and lingering, this one's out in April.

Published by Europa Editions: 6 April 2021

 

At the End of the Matinee, by Keiichirō Hirano 

Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter.

At the End of the Matinee asks: does love last? Two people meet: will fate cross their paths again? This is a novel about the meaning of memories, about chance encounters, and about trusting our intuition. Keiichirō Hirano gives us a captivating love story that may just set our hearts alight.

Published by Amazon Crossing: 11 May 2021

 

Terminal Boredom, by Izumi Suzuki

Translated by Polly Barton, Sam Bett, David Boyd, Daniel Joseph, Aiko Masubuchi, Helen O’Horan.

Izumi Suziki is read in English for the first time with Terminal BoredomThese sci-fi-infused short stories are weird and wonderful, unique and unsettling. Elements of fantasy are infused into stories of everyday conflict, giving a Black Mirror type vibe. Meet a green haired boyfriend who probably just drinks too much, but also might be an alien. You won’t put this one down.

Published by Verso: 20 April 2021

 

Lonely Castle in the Mirror, by Mizuki Tsujimura

Translated by Philip Gabriel.

Lonely Castle in the Mirror requires tissues nearby. Winner of the Japan Booksellers’ Award, Tsujimara’s bestselling fantasy novel comes out in English-translated hardcover. Seven students meet in the supernatural world of the castle and beat loneliness and depression through friendship. Slice of life with a sprinkling of magic, this novel zooms in on mental health and anxiety of young people in modern Japan. A powerful read.

Published by Doubleday: 22 April 2021

 

The Woman in the Purple Skirt, by Natsuko Imamura

Translated by Lucy North.

A story of distanced obsessed, of wanting to be seen. Natsuko Imamura’s Akutagawa Prize winning The Woman in the Purple Skirt presents a spellbinding stalker narrative. An observing narrator does all they can to meet an unemployed woman who sits on a bench: ‘The Woman in the Purple Skirt’. A story of jealously, infatuation and vulnerability. With a dash of magical realism, Imamura presents a story that will give you goosebumps, maybe even insomnia.

Published by Penguin Books: 8 June 2021

 

So We Look to the Sky, by Misumi Kubo 

Translated by Polly Barton.

‘A searing and prismatic portrait of the relentless pressures of ordinary life in modern Japan’ – Pen Magazine

A woman has an affair with a student 10 years her junior. Her husband leaks a tape. The wheels are set in motion for Misumi Kubo’s So We Look to the Sky: 5 linked stories exploring the difficulties of life, sex, women in society, and social pressures on the young. This is Misumi Kubo at her very best: scintillating, sexual and impossible to put down. We recommend you pick it up.

Published by Arcade: 3 August 2021

 

Three Streets, Yōko Tawada 

Translated by Margaret Mitsutani.

‘Tawada’s stories agitate the mind like songs half-remembered or treasure boxes whose keys are locked within.’ – The New York Times

Author of The Emissary (Winner of the 2018 National Book Award for Translated Literature), Yōko Tawada returns in 2021 with Three Streets – three surreal short stories set on the streets of Berlin. A wandering narrator moves between contemporary Berlin and an imaginary realm of poets and ghosts. An immerse read from the brilliant Yoko Tawada with her enchanting 'Kafkaesque' writing.

Published by New Directions: 1 June 2021

 

Keen to get your hands on the best of translated Japanese literature of 2021? Head over to Osusume Books and browse our unique Book Packages to  discover more!

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