28 Super Short Reviews of Japanese Fiction

Most librarians have specialities, or, if you prefer, stuff that they really like. For the most fortunate ones, the stuff that they really like corresponds to the stuff that they do for a living – for example, our poetry writing dude is also our poetry buying dude, which is just smashing for both him and this library.

As for me, I buy DVDs day in and day out. I think it’s one of the most awesome jobs in this library (though I am a bit biased) and it’s a lot of fun, but it doesn’t quite line up with the stuff that I really like – Roman history, everyday life in Nazi Germany, true crime stories from America’s gilded age, and wacky Japanese fiction.

I’m not sure what it is about Japanese fiction that I enjoy so much. It could be learning about Japanese culture by seeing how people operate inside of it. It could be the bits of history that I pick up here and there, especially in the books published immediately after WWII. Maybe it’s the gentle detachment that comes from reading something that’s one step away from its original language. But I think the main attraction is that some of it is just really freakin’ weird.

Here are a few of the books and authors that I’ve encountered and enjoyed over the years. I hope you’ll check them out, too.

Abe, Kobo – The Box Man – Yes, it is about a guy who lives in a box.

Abe, Kobo – The Woman in the Dunes – Insect collector enjoys the odd hospitality of a remote village. (Bonus: movie!)

Azuchi, Satoshi – Supermarket – Expand your business, make an attractive produce display, fend off the office ladies.

Ekuni, Kaori – Twinkle, Twinkle – How to fake a marriage. (Note: we don’t own this one, but it’s available through Interlibrary Loan.)

Higashino, Keigo – The Devotion of Suspect X – A helpful next door neighbor is very helpful indeed. (Bonus: book on CD!)


Kanehara, Hitomi – Snakes and Earrings – There’s a lot about piercings and a lot about crazy boyfriends.

Kirino, Natusuo Out – Box lunch factory ladies contemplate a second career in body disposal.

Kirino, Natsuo –  Grotesque – One sister is hot, the other is not.

Kuroi, Senji – Life in the Cul-De-Sac – Ever wonder what the neighbors are doing?

Matsumoto, Seicho – Points and Lines – This book just wouldn’t work in the days of modern airport security. (Note: we don’t own this one, but it’s available through Interlibrary Loan.)


Miyabe, Miyaki All She was Worth – An identity theft mystery that’ll teach you a lot about the Japanese economy.

Murakami, Haruki After Dark – Strange things happen when you hang out in restaurants. (Bonus: book on CD!)

Murakami, Haruki Kafka on the ShoreColonel Sanders, talking cats and missing soldiers will befriend you. (Bonus: Playaway!)

Murakami, Ryu – In the Miso Soup – Meet the worst tourist ever.

Murakami, Ryu – Piercing – Remember kids, don’t bite the prostitutes.

All She Was Worth         

Nagai, Kafu – Rivalry: A Geisha’s Tale – Like Memoirs of a Geisha from a different point of view.

Oe, Kenzaburo – Somersault – A very long book about religion with some terrorism thrown in.

Ogawa, Yoko – Hotel Iris – Teenage desk clerk vs. mysterious translator.

Taguchi, Randy – Outlet – You may find your calling in life, and it may be really weird.

Takagi, Akimitsu – Honeymoon to Nowhere – Learn about Japan in the 1960s while trying to figure out who killed the groom.


Takagi, Akimitsu – The Tattoo Murder Case – The evidence is on display in a museum.

Takami, Koushun – Battle Royale – It’s pretty much The Hunger Games Japan (but this one came first).

Takahashi, Genichiro – Sayonara, Gangsters – The title of the book is the name of the protagonist and it gets weirder from there, with the talking refrigerator and all.

Tanizaki, Junichiro – Naomi – An infatuated gent learns the hard way that some women make lousy housewives.

Tanizaki, Junichiro – Some Prefer Nettles – Are they getting  divorced or not, already?


Tanizaki, Junichiro – The Makioka Sisters – This one’s totally Jane Austen in Japan. (Bonus: movie!)

Yokomori, Rika – Tokyo Tango – Young college dropout shacks up with old gambler, inevitable conclusion.

Yoshimura, Akira – On Parole – Long commutes, chicken farms, second wives, accidents happen.

If you’re looking for super weird, try Kobo Abe. For accessible weird, there’s Natsuo Kirino. Akimitsu Takagi is all about mysteries with history, while Junichiro Tanizaki is the way to go if you’re interested in more classic/literary stuff.  And Satochi Azuchi’s Supermarket is hands down the best book you’ll ever read about a supermarket – though you’ll probably never read another book about a supermarket. But if you find one, let me know.

– Amy, who is quite happy in the Music, Film & Audio Department


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15 responses to “28 Super Short Reviews of Japanese Fiction

  1. Putting a couple of these on my TBR list. Thanks!

  2. What a fantastic list! My reading goal for this year was to read thirty-five books, but no more than four by authors from the same country. I’ve always been a Murakami fan but didn’t know what other Japanese literature to explore. Now I do! You rock.

    • Thanks! The best part is that I found most of these people just by wandering through our catalog.

      If you like Murakami and want super weird, try “Sayonara, Gangsters.” For a little less weird, there’s always Natsuo Kirino and Miyaki Miyabe – they tend to wander into mystery/crime a bit (though Miyabe also gets a little supernatural at times).

      – Amy

  3. awesome list! i just bought one of the books on kindle and a couple books in paper. looking forward to reading them!

    • I’m glad you could find so many! When I first started reading Japanese fiction it was pretty hard to find, even here at the library. And that was only seven or eight years ago.

      – Amy

  4. Amanda

    I just watched Dancer in the Dark which makes me want to read Out.

  5. The ultimate form of self-referential literary criticism: The Haiku Review (which is not, as some might think, a literary journal).

    PS: I hear all sorts of talk about “1Q84”, but haven’t read it. It seems to have just come out in English. Anybody read it:

    PPS: You need to see this Japanese movie: Departures

    “Daigo Kobayashi is a devoted cellist in an orchestra that has just been dissolved and now finds himself without a job. Daigo decides to move back to his old hometown with his wife to look for work and start over. He answers a classified ad entitled “Departures” thinking it is an advertisement for a travel agency only to discover that the job is actually for a “Nokanshi” or “encoffineer,” a funeral professional who prepares deceased bodies for burial and entry into the next life.”

    It’s an excellent look into Japanese culture, and it’s about discipline and determination, and the place of ritual in life. Don’t let the title or the short summary above out you off. Read some of the IMDB comments.

  6. Mark Greenblatt

    This is a great list. I look forward to the sequel.

  7. Ian Kinross

    Hi there. Accessible-wierd sounds good to me — I am going to try “Supermarket” — I found these short reviews very cool, and look forward to checking out a new dimension of Japanese literature.

    • Remember when you read it that it was written in the 80s, but it’s set in the years after WWII. If you think of it in terms of a modern supermarket, you’ll wonder how they manage to stay in business at all. Still, you’ll learn a lot about produce. Have fun!

      – Amy

  8. chaparroc

    Fantastic post, Amy! It was a kick to read.

  9. Pingback: 10 Somewhat Short Reviews of Not Quite Japanese Fiction | Eleventh Stack

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