Tag Archives: Japan

Solanin, by Inio Asano (2005)

Meiko Inoue is a twentysomething living with her boyfriend in Tokyo, working in an office, and wondering whether her life could be something more.  There’s a lot more to the story than that (hint: the “more” involves playing in a band), but this manga’s most profound moments come in the characters’ contemplations about the creative life versus a stable work life, along with the emptiness that comes from not having a passionate outlet.  It’s rougher and very different than Asano’s Nijigahara Holograph, though the images share the same majestic beauty and the story captures a similar sense of wonder.

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In the Woods of Memory, by Shun Medoruma (2009, translated by Takuma Smiley, 2017)

In the Woods of Memory tells of the rape of a teenage girl during the American occupation after the Battle of Okinawa and the subsequent attack on an American soldier by a young Japanese fisherman.  Though the novel begins in 1945, most of it takes place sixty years later as Medoruma places us in the perspectives of nine Japanese and American characters, bridging the events across time.  The novel’s real power unfolds as readers merge its events together on their own, pinnacling in the stream-of-consciousness Seiji chapter (originally written using Okinawan dialect) that evokes the most powerful modernist fiction.

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In the Woods of Memory at Stone Bridge Press

A Girl on the Shore, by Inio Asano (2011)

A ninth-grade girl wanders distraught after a subpar encounter with the class playboy, then seeks solace with another guy who likes her and a shit-ton of graphic middle-school sex ensues.

I’m not kidding—this manga isn’t for the squeamish, since there’s A LOT of sex here shown in close-up, and just when you think it can’t go any farther, it does.  In terms of story, Koume and Isobe’s relationship shows a lot about first love, disenchantment, and searching for something you can’t quite describe, and their confused realizations keep you guessing until the end, with stirring results.

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What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami (2008)

Every day, Japanese author Haruki Murakami writes and runs, each on a set schedule with set goals.  Most of this essay collection is ostensibly about running, but when Murakami talks about the discipline involved with marathon training he’s also talking about the discipline involved with writing, so that reading about his stretches and his Hokkaido ultramarathon provides insight into a disciplined creative mind.  He also recounts his transition from jazz club-owning twentysomething to focused writer, and the entire book forms a quiet, unpretentious reflection on what it means to pursue a skill—even if you don’t like sports.

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Nijigahara Holograph, by Inio Asano (2006)

Children speak of a monster in the drainage tunnel behind their elementary school while one of them sleeps in a coma; as adults, their paths cross in mysterious ways, and there are butterflies.

Nijigahara Holograph feels obliquely perplexing until it reaches its gut-wrenching conclusion, though on a second skim-through the connections felt clearer, revealing this to be a meticulously crafted manga that tells a powerful story.  The climactic reveal left me feeling uncharacteristically drained and somewhat disturbed—I’m still not sure how I feel about it, but that a manga can exert this kind of power means a lot.

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The Flowers of Evil (Vol. 1-11), by Shuzo Oshimi (2012-2014)

Kasuga, a shy middle-schooler obsessed with Baudelaire, impulsively steals his crush’s gym clothes only to be spotted by the class outcast and labeled a pervert, but is he really a pervert, or just looking to form a normal relationship?  Powerful stories never fail to make you care about their characters, and Oshimi pulls this off incredibly—his explorations of courtship, friendship, surviving adolescence, and fitting in capture his characters at their most vulnerable.  The series’ driving question is whether Kasuga will cave in to the adult world like a shitbug or find his own path—whatever that might mean.

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Sputnik Sweetheart, by Haruki Murakami (2001)

An aloof college student falls in love with his best friend, a wannabe writer beatnik—the only catch is that she’s also in love with a businesswoman seventeen years older than her.  Sumire’s an outgoing, speaks-her-mind girl in classic Murakami fashion (she reminded me of Midori in Norwegian Wood) who gives life to much of the novel, which Murakami tells in short spurts between section breaks.  While a lot of Murakami’s subject matter feels familiar, the story’s compactness keeps it moving, with the ending evoking an uncertain stillness that makes the whole novel seem more whole.

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Villa Incognito, by Tom Robbins (2003)

Like every Tom Robbins novel, this one starts out with a chaotic bang: a large-scrotumed talking tanuki parachutes into nineteenth century Japan to drink sake and sleep with girls; meanwhile a band of ex-GIs in southeast Asia panics when their drug-smuggling comrade gets caught in the act. Robbins takes a while to tie his scattered opening together, but when he does, the plot feels surprisingly coherent. We also go along with his writing because it’s devilishly funny and wittily intelligent as we fall into his bizarre world where we never quite know what’s coming, but feel okay with that.

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Where I Got It

From a friend in spring 2015 who thought my writing reminded him of Tom Robbins’s.  He gave me this one along with Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, which I read last year before I started this book blog.

Golgo 13: Supergun, by Takao Saito (1979 & 1997)

Golgo 13 is Japan’s longest-running manga series, chronicling the exploits of super-tough, laconic sniper Duke Togo, alias Golgo 13.  The two jobs in this collection involve an Iraqi ballistic superweapon (a story where both Bill Clinton and Saddam Hussein feature prominently) and a mafia hit and run, plus a background dossier on Togo himself.  If you’re looking for an intro to pulp Japanese action manga, start here—the drawings are dark and the midnight cityscapes majestic, with plenty of guns, planes, action, and sex to capture the feel of an ‘80s action movie in comic form.

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Where I Got It

Christmas 2016, from a friend who knew I loved the Golgo 13 NES games. While every convenience store in Japan sells the Japanese manga books, I never got to the chance to check them out when I lived there since English translations are harder to find, .

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Wikipedia

Playthrough video of Golgo 13 – Top Secret Episode on the NES

1Q84, by Haruki Murakami (2011)

A man and a woman in different parts of Tokyo find themselves drawn into the bizarre world of 1Q84 (kyū is Japanese for nine) where everything looks the same but a sinister religious cult is wreaking havoc.  I enjoyed parts of this book immensely, but others dragged on through its 1,100 pages, and a lot of the slower portions could have been trimmed.  The novel explores the idea of parallel worlds in classic Murakami fashion, and though the ending makes the whole read worth it, I recommend starting with something lighter for your first Murakami experience.

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Where I Got It

Christmas, 2015.

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Haruki Murakami’s website

Murakami Interview about 1Q84, his early life, and running every day

Modern Romance, by Aziz Ansari (with Eric Klinenberg, 2015)

Dick pics. Waiting exactly two hours before responding to a flirty text.  Swiping through Tinder while at an actual bar because the people there aren’t quite good enough.  Aziz Ansari reveals string after string of sharp, relatable truths about 21st century phone-based dating and how today’s young adults struggle through a new period of emerging adulthood in their quests for the perfect soulmate.  The book smartly blends sociological research, jokes about rappers, insights into the dating scenes in Japan and Buenos Aires, and actual, useful advice for navigating the ever-changing world of modern romance.  Well played, Aziz.

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5-kafkas

Where I Got It

Bought online this September ago after telling myself for months that I was finally going to read the damned thing.

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Aziz Ansari essay, Everything You Thought You Knew About L-O-V-E is Wrong

Eric Klinenberg’s website

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami (2014)

With fewer fantastical elements than Kafka on the Shore or Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Murakami’s most recent novel covers more realistic scenarios that still raise larger, otherworldly questions.  The title character, a quiet loner, becomes estranged from his four childhood friends without explanation, and embarks on a quest from Nagoya to Finland to find out why. We never discover the secrets of Tsukuru’s past exactly, but that’s never the point with Murakami.  My one qualm is the flat exposition in the opening chapters, though this (fortunately) gives rise to more significant scenes quickly enough.

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4-kafkas

Where I Got It

Impromptu Christmas gift (2015) from my brother, who got two copies and gave me the paperback edition while keeping the hardcover (pictured above, much cooler).

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Haruki Murakami’s website

Wikipedia page