Reading list: Japan

Dystopian tales, monk’s musings

From the Fatherland with Love
Ryu Murakami
Pushkin Press, £9.99

Set in a dystopia in which an economically weakened Japan has been invaded by North Korean forces, the chapters of Murakami’s epic thriller shift from providing insight into Japanese counterculture to detailing the minutiae of Japanese bureaucratic procedures and depicting violent scenes of combat. Despite its absurdities, many aspects of Murakami’s vision seem timely and relatable.

Banana Yoshimoto
Faber & Faber, £7.99

Written in the late-1980s, Kitchen contains two short stories of love and loss that portray the lives of young Japanese living in Tokyo. It neatly explores the themes of social conformity and isolation within Japanese society, while also touching on gender and the changing identity of women in Japan.

Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival
David Pilling
Penguin, £10.99

Using the examples of Japan’s isolationism from the mid-19th century, the 2011 ‘triple disaster’, and the country’s post-war economic rise and fall, Pilling looks at dramatic events in Japan’s past and considers how they have triggered change and adjustment in contemporary Japanese society.

The Bullfight
Yasushi Inoue
Pushkin Press, £12.00

A fast-paced novella by one of Japan’s key literary figures, it tells the story of a fledgling newspaper editor who gambles the future of his paper on a bullfighting tournament. Set in post-war Osaka, the story highlights the devastation of war, celebrates entrepreneurial spirit and raises questions about the nature of victory and defeat.

Essays in Idleness
Yoshida Kenko
Penguin Classics, £9.99

Writing in the 13th century, Yoshida Kenko was a Buddhist monk with ties to the Imperial Court. His musings philosophize about everyday existence and provide the reader with a window into life in medieval Japan.

Nationalism in Asia: A History Since 1945
Jeff Kingston
Wiley-Blackwell, £19.99

Kingston charts the development of nationalism in Asia, providing a comparative perspective from across the region. He discusses the role of identity politics, historical memory and territory in the context of a trend that is of increasing concern to observers both inside and outside the region.