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Read Around the World: Japan

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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 SelectedSilence 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.

Jen’s Review:
★★★.5
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:
4 Stars

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.

Books on my TBR:A Tale for the Time Being by Ozeki; Kitchen by Yoshimoto; and Some Prefer Nettles by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki.

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?

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. One extra name to add to your list – Yukio Mishima. Three times nominated for the Nobel literature prize.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 17, 2015
    • Thanks. not sure how I missed him but perhaps because I’ve actually never read any of his books. Do you have any recommendations on specific books?

      Like

      August 17, 2015
    • and, two of his books are on the 1001 list

      Like

      August 17, 2015
      • Yukio Mishima is my favourite Japanese author. I would recommend his Forbidden Colours.

        Liked by 1 person

        August 25, 2015
  2. What a coincidence. I just finished reading Yukio Mishima’s The Sound of Waves. It’s my first Mishima though, so I can’t tell you whether this book is typical Mishima. I did thoroughly enjoy his prose; gentle and clear, descriptive yet readable.

    I do know that his magnum opus is a series of four novels called The Sea of Fertility Cycle.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 18, 2015
    • I think that the Sea of fertility is the one that made the 1001 list of books.

      Like

      August 18, 2015
  3. Nicole D #

    Ishiguro is British. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    August 21, 2015
    • He was born in Japan although lived in England. Many of his books also take place in Japan

      Like

      August 21, 2015
    • I know he makes several of the top British authors list but I figured it was safe to include him under Japan because of the reasons I mention 🙂

      Like

      August 21, 2015
  4. Silence is on my To Read list, since I read John Dougill’s book In Search of Japan’s Hidden Christians. Dougill is a British academic who works in Kyoto, and his walk to work takes him past the site where a number of Japanese Christians in Kyoto were martyred. This sparked his interest enough to go on a pilgrimage to find out more. Dougill isn’t a Christian, he’s more interested in Shinto as an expression of harmony with nature, so his exploration is pretty objective.

    As for other Japanese authors, Haruki Murakami is my favourite, too, and Wind Up Bird my favourite of his books, although 1Q84 comes a very close second. Mishima is a very clear writer. I liked The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea best. I read the Sea of Fertility Tetralogy this year and found its subject matter difficult. It was written during Mishima’s ultra nationalist period and is quite brutal in a quiet way. Tanizaki is great. My favourite by him is The Makioka Sisters – such a droll book. Sōseki is my second favourite Japanese author, and The Gate my favourite book by him. Sanshiro is also very good and Botchan very funny (read the J Cohn translation for the best experience). Of modern writers, I’m very impressed by Ogawa. The Housekeeper and the Professor is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. I also like the police procedural novels by Keigo Higashino. One I read this year was Strange Weather In Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami. I haven’t read anything else by her, but this book was great. Enjoy exploring!

    Liked by 1 person

    August 29, 2015
    • Thanks for all the great suggestions. I do like Japanese literature quite a bit and look forward to reading much more

      Like

      August 29, 2015

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