Read Around the World: Japan
Our next stop in our world tour or reading is a country jam-packed with great literature: Japan! Keep reading to see which book we picked and which other Japanese literature we recommend.
Fun Facts about Japan
- Japan is made up of 6,852 islands. 3/4 of the land is either made up of either mountains or forest.
- It has one of the highest literacy rates in the world with over 99% of people over the age of 15 being able to read and write.
- Japan has an average of 1,5000 earthquakes per year
- Average life expectancy is one of the highest in the world. Japanese people live an average of 4 years longer than Americans. Japan has more than 50,000 people over the age of 100.
- The Tale of Genji, considered to be the world’s first novel, was written in 1007 by a Japanese noble woman Murasaki Shikibu
- Japanese trains are among the world’s most punctual: The average delay is 18 seconds.
- Japan is home to at least one cat cafe where you can sit, drink coffee, and spend time with cats. Don’t believe me? Here’s a link to CNN’s “A guide to cat cafes in Tokyo.
Book Selected: Silence by Shusaku Endo
Translated by: William Johnson
Published in: 1966
Literary Awards: Tanizaki Prize in 1966
Find it here: Silence
Reason Selected: We admit that one reason we picked this book was because it is one of the 1001 books that was selected by our 1001 group on Shelfari. Otherwise, it’s very likely we would have picked a book by our favorite Murakami (Book Worm and I are in agreement in our love of Murakami). However, Silence is an appropriate selection as it was written by a Japanese author, covers a real period in Japanese history, and highlights some interesting clashes in ideology between East and West.
Synopsis (from GoodReads): Silence is a novel of historical fiction by Japanese author Shusaku Endo. It is the story of a Jesuit missionary sent to seventeenth century Japan, who endured persecution in the time of Kakure Kirishitan (“Hidden Christians”) that followed the defeat of the Shimabara Rebellion.
Written mostly in the form of a letter by its central character, the theme of a silent God who accompanies a believer in adversity was greatly influenced by the Catholic Endo’s experience of religious discrimination in Japan, racism in France and debilitating tuberculosis.
I wasn’t sure I would like this book because of the heavy religious theme (not usually my favorite type of book). I have some strong biases against missionaries. While I recognize that missionaries do some good work, there is something inherent in the of concept of missionaries that screams cultural imperialism — “believe and act like us or you will be condemned to a flaming pit for all eternity.” But, my initial biases toward this book were wrong and I ultimately enjoyed it.
Silence was an interesting book. It’s a fictionalized account of the persecution of Christians in seventeenth century Japan and it follows the story of a Jesuit missionary who covertly entered Japan to seek out his predecessors and provide comfort to the hidden Christians. The novel had some interesting discussions about spirituality and the clash between two very different ideologies representing Eastern and Western religious beliefs. The title refers to the perceived silence of God, who remains quiet while Japanese Christians are persecuted and tortured. The protagonist struggles with is own faith as he sees things unfold in negative ways around him and he questions the existence of God as a result of these experiences. Silence in many forms comes up throughout the book.
The novel is beautifully written and full of symbolism. Silence is worth a read.
Book Worm’s Review:
I loved the writing style and the religious debate between the European missionaries and the Japanese authorities. One of the ideas was that Japanese soil was too different to accept Christianity– a theory the missionaries disputed by claiming the tree has the potential to grow but that its roots are ripped out by those in power.
I also enjoyed the debate the central character has with himself about God’s silence and what acting like a Christian really means in terms of Japan and the situation there.
There are detailed scenes of torture which are difficult to read, but it drives home the historical reality of the times.
I would recommend this to anyone who has an interest in the history of Japan.
Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: Silence
Rumor has it that Martin Scorsese is directing a movie version of the book staring Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson, and Ken Watanabe.
Other recommendations for Japanese Literature:
Japan has produced so many great writers and wonderful literature, that is hard to single out any one person or book. Well known Japanese authors include Haruki Murakami, Kazuo Ishiguro, Banana Yoshimoto, Ryu Murakami, Kenzaburo Oe, Hisashi Inoue, and Miyuki Miyabe.
Some of Jen’s favorites:
While not overly original, I have to go with anything by Murakami. Magical realism at its best! I love his quirky and often ambiguous books. My personal favorite thus far is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. You can read more about him and our recommendations in our featured author post. Other recommendations include: The Housekeeper and the Professor by Ogawa and A Pale View of Hills by Ishiguro.
Some of Book Worm’s Favorites:
Well what a surprise my favourites are anything written by Murakami and like Jen my favourite is probably . I would also add Silence to this list.
For more recommendations, check out Book Riot’s “Beyond Murakami: 7 Japanese Authors.
We want to hear from you! Which are your favorite Japanese authors? Did we miss any of your favorite authors or books?