Reasons for optimism have been thin on the ground these past two years, but an upcoming bumper year for Japanese literature in translation gives us all cause to be cheerful.
The literary gifts of 2022 begin with a new collection of stories by one of the masters of modern Japanese literature, Junichiro Tanizaki. “Longing and Other Stories,” translated by Anthony H. Chambers and Paul McCarthy, features three tales written early in Tanizaki’s career that focus on family life and the influence of Westernization on Japan’s traditional culture.
A happy new year is made happier by the arrival of “My Annihilation,” a new novel from Fuminori Nakamura, translated by Sam Bett. Nakamura’s stories of the darker side of contemporary Japanese life continue to find fans at home and abroad, and this chilling psychological mystery about a violent crime promises not to disappoint. Expect anything but a happy ending.
February sees a welcome return to print for Yuko Tsushima’s “Woman Running in the Mountains,” translated by Geraldine Harcourt. Tsushima writes about the loneliness of modern existence tinged with a hopeful melancholy, and she deserves to be much more widely known outside Japan. Harcourt, who sadly passed away in 2019, has translated her prose with great elegance and power. This one should be on everyone’s list.
Come March, spring’s green shoots are “Scattered All Over the Earth” — the title of Yoko Tawada’s latest release, translated by Margaret Mitsutani. Described by publisher New Direction as “cheerfully dystopian,” this is climate fiction set in a world in which Japan no longer exists and the protagonist wanders across Europe in search of anyone who can speak Japanese.
As T.S. Eliot wrote, “April is the cruelest month.” Therefore, it’s only fitting that the dystopian “cli-fi” rolls on, this time with “At the Edge of the Wood,” Masatsugu Ono’s tale about a father and son fending for themselves in a strange and sinister forest, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter. Meanwhile, the resurgence of the Yukio Mishima-translation industry continues apace with “Beautiful Star,” a sci-fi story about extraterrestrials and nuclear war, translated by Stephen Dodd. It is, according to publisher Penguin, “the novel Mishima considered to be his masterpiece,” which begs a number of questions but does whet the appetite.
Already tempting hungry readers is “The Color of the Sky is the Shape of the Heart” by Chesil, a young adult novel inspired by the author’s childhood. Translated by Takami Nieda, the novel centers on a Zainichi (ethnic Korean living in Japan) teenage girl’s experiences with prejudice and injustice as she searches for a place to belong.
As the temperature rises in May, so too does our anticipation. The undoubted star in the firmament of Japanese literature is Mieko Kawakami, so “All the Lovers in the Night” already has “bestseller” written all over it. Translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd, the story of a single woman struggling to find meaning in Tokyo is safely inside the Kawakami wheelhouse and is guaranteed to please fans of her previous three novels in translation.
Li Kotomi, fresh from winning the Akutagawa Prize in 2021, makes her English-language debut with “Solo Dance,” translated by Arthur Reiji Morris. The novel focuses on immigrant and LGBTQ+ experiences in slow-changing conservative Japan, and with her award-winning “An Island Where Red Spider Lilies Bloom” also being translated into English, expect to hear Kotomi’s name everywhere in 2022.
May will also see the second part of Shion Miura’s series about rural life in Mie Prefecture, with “Kamusari Tales Told at Night,” translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter. As the follow-up to last year’s “The Easy Life in Kamusari,” we return to city-boy turned woodsman Yuki Hirano, who continues to be lovelorn and lonely in the fictional isolated mountain village of Kamusai. Expect much teenage pining among the evergreens.
Also set in rural Japan, Pushkin Vertigo’s series of Seishi Yokomizo thrillers sees the June release of “Gokumon Island,” a fiendish murder mystery translated by Louise Heal Kawai. Set at the end of World War II, the usual locked room plots featuring fictional private detective Kosuke Kindaichi have been replaced by the titular island on which someone is bumping off locals at an alarming rate.
Naoki Prize winner Riku Onda’s “The Aosawa Murders” was criminally overlooked on its release in 2020, so the publication of “Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight,” translated by Alison Watts, gives readers another chance to dip into the fraught world of Onda’s imagination. Described as “a thriller buried in a literary whodunnit,” the book is about siblings who each believe the other killed their father. With psychological depth rather than puzzles the main focus here, Onda could be the poolside thriller you need this summer.
Another big name making a return in 2022 is Sayaka Murata. “Life Ceremony,” translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori, is a collection of short stories by the author of “Convenience Store Woman” and “Earthlings,” so expect the unexpected.
As summer reaches its height, curl up under the air conditioner with the second part of Kaoru Takamura’s epic crime thriller “Lady Joker,” translated by Marie Iisa and Allison Markin Powell. This sprawling tale of the common man taking on corporate Japan will hopefully come with a recap section to bridge the 12-month gap between parts one and two, although there are worse ways to spend August than refamiliarizing ourselves with the ensemble cast and their list of grievances against faceless capitalism.
Emi Yagi’s debut in English also takes on the cold, uncaring side of working life in Japan. “Diary of a Void,” translated by David Boyd and Lucy North, is a satire on the patriarchy through the experiences of Shibata, the only woman in an office. Sick of being expected to clean up after her male colleagues, she announces that she is pregnant (she isn’t) and charts the subsequent change in attitudes toward her in her diary.
Other notable mentions include “Three Assassins,” a tale of murder and revenge by Kotaro Isaka, whose thriller “Bullet Train” will be adapted into a Hollywood film starring Brad Pitt. Isaka’s latest offering, translated by Sam Malissa, will be available in April, while November will see the release of crime thriller “North Light” by Hideo Yokoyama, author of “Seventeen” and “Six Four.”
Japan-related nonfiction titles include “Eleven Winters of Discontent” by Sherzod Muminov, which explores the internment of 600,000 Japanese soldiers in Siberia after World War II. Finally, R. H. Blyth, the man who helped bring haiku to the English-speaking world, will have his letters and previously uncollected writings in “Poetry and Zen,” published in February.
Of course, this is only an overview of translated literature and Japan-related books coming out over the next 12 months, so whether you’re finding your way through Japan’s literary offerings or you’re a connoisseur seeking the next big thing before anyone else, there will be plenty to keep you busy this year.
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Yukio Mishima, Junichiro Tanizaki, Fuminori Nakamura, Shion Miura, Masatsugu Ono, Yuko Tsushima, Sayaka Murata, Hideo Yokoyama, Riku Onda, Mieko Kawakami, r h blyth, yoko tawada, Seishi Yokomizo, Kaoru Takamura, Li Kotomi, Chesil, Kotaro Isaka, Emi Yagi, Sherzod Muminov