Books

Top 5 novels from Japan, chosen by Nick Bradley

The translator, teacher and author selects five great Japanese works of fiction

Japanese pagoda

Image: Susann Schuster on Unsplash

Sanshirō by Natsume Sōseki, translated by Jay Rubin

A wonderful coming-of-age story about a young man moving from rural Japan to attend university in Tokyo, grappling with the painful transition into adulthood, intellectual society and the world of love. 

The Key by Junichirō Tanizaki, translated by Howard Hibbett 

A demented, twisted tale of eroticism told in diary format – two separate diaries – written by an ageing husband and wife. The diaries begin to communicate with each other, tapping into a subtle irony that surrounds the very act of diary keeping. Why write it if you don’t want anyone to read it? 

No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai, translated by Donald Keene 

The opening line “Mine has been a life of much shame” gives a small indication of why this is one of the best-selling novels in Japan of all time, examining suicide, social alienation and depression. 

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Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata, translated by Edward G Seidensticker  

Kawabata’s masterpiece about a man from the city who has an affair with an onsen geisha in the snowy countryside.  

The Woman in the Dunes by Kōbō Abe, translated by E Dale Saunders 

A man out collecting insects on the sand dunes falls into a hole and becomes trapped in a house with a woman. Each day he must dig out the sand that is slowly burying the both of them in this existentialist nightmare novel.  

Four seasons in Japan book cover

Four Seasons in Japan by Nick Bradley is out now (Doubleday, £16.99). You can buy these titles from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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