My J-Lit Library

For the longest time now, I’ve been meaning to knock up a post on the Japanese section of my home library (and you’ll note that there are no inverted commas required here – it really is getting that big…).  That plan was given added impetus a while back when a few people on Twitter asked for pictures, and after a little procrastinating, I finally found the energy to get up, shift the books around and take photos of the relevant shelves.

It was actually a little trickier than it might seem, though.  You see, the shelves in the photo are double-stacked, front and back, with many books jammed tightly into left-over spaces.  Of course, it doesn’t help that I also had to clean up the floor space around the bookcase, with tons of old lego and abandoned dolls preventing me from actually getting to the books…

Anyway, now that you’ve heard me whinge about the effort I went to, I hope you’ll appreciate a look at my collection of Japanese literature (all links, as usual, are to my reviews) – enjoy 🙂

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Top Left – Back:
The first thing you’ll notice here is one writer dominating the shelf as this is where I keep the bulk of my Haruki Murakami books.  While I haven’t managed to get around to any of his non-fiction (an oversight), I do have virtually all of his fiction in English.  This includes the original Alfred Birnbaum translations of his early novellas Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973, as well as the Ted Goossen retranslations.  There is one intruder on top, though, an early proof of Akiyuki Nosaka’s The Whale that Fell in Love with a Submarine (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori) – this is the only place it fits!

Bottom Left – Back:
The theme of this shelf is clearly big books (which I like, I cannot lie), mostly shelved here together for size.  You’ll notice my copy of Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji (in the Royall Tyler version) plus a couple of other works about the great book.  While most of my Natsume Sōseki books are elsewhere, this shelf sees John Nathan’s biography of the writer plus a collection of his theoretical works.  There are a couple of big modern books here – Ryū Murakami’s From the Fatherland, With Love (tr. Ralph McCarthy, Charles De Wolf and Ginny Tapley Takemori) and Minae Mizumura’s A True Novel (tr. Juliet Winters Carpenter) -, but one of the jewels in my collection is Shimei Futabatei’s Ukigumo (The Drifting Cloud), with Marleigh Ryan translating and analysing a book widely considered to be Japan’s first modern novel.

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Top Right – Back:
This is where the bulk of my Natsume Sōseki books are to be found, with several in Penguin Classics and Tuttle Publishing editions, and there are also a fair few of Yukio Mishima’s works here, including his wonderful The Sea of Fertility tetralogy (one of several Japanese books that have taken out my book of the year prize).  You might also spot a few books by Banana Yoshimoto here (hers tend to be scattered around wherever I can find space!), plus Machi Tawara’s Salad Anniversary (tr. Juliet Winters Carpenter), which I’m sure is the only example of tanka poetry on the shelves…

Bottom Right – Back:
There’s a little bit more of a mix down here, with some more Ryū Murakami, several novels by Shūsaku Endō, as well as all the Yōko Ogawa books I have (sadly, I don’t yet own a copy of the wonderful The Memory Police, translated by Stephen Snyder).  Other writers of note include Nagai Kafu (I really need to get more of his work), Osamu Dazai (ditto) and a couple of stray bananas, of course 😉

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Top Left – Front:
The front of this shelf seems to have two major themes.  The first is a number of books from Kurodahan Press, who have been kind enough to send me many lesser-known works of J-Lit over the years.  While I haven’t got around to all of them, you may recognise a few of these from reviews (the most recent was Edogawa Rampo’s Gold Mask, tr. William Varteresian).  The other focus here is female writers, with a number of books by Hiromi Kawakami, Yūko Tsushima, and, inevitably, Banana Yoshimoto – I’m sure there’s something here for everyone.

Bottom Left – Front:
Again, you should be able to pick out a couple of trends here.  This is where I keep most of my J-Lit collections (which I wrote about here), with only only the weighty Columbia University Press anthology still unread.  It’s also home to some of my Japanese classics (with a couple, like The Tale of the Heike, tr. Royall Tyler, hidden behind).  There are several works here harking back to the Heian era, and in the case of The Kōjiki (tr. Gustav Heldt), even earlier!

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Top Right – Front:
A couple of years back, my usual January In Japan reading expanded into a project to read more of the work of Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, and you can see the fruit of that enjoyable experience here.  This shelf also features the bulk of my Yasunari Kawabata collection, which is also growing steadily.  Aside from a stray H. Murakami, which wouldn’t fit with the rest, you should be able to see a few interesting collections: the Keshiki chapbooks, my Red Circle Minis and the six books making up the Pushkin Press novella series (at which point I’d once again like to request that they issue some more of these…)

Bottom Right – Front:
The big name here is Kenzaburō Ōe, and I’ve managed to pick up quite a few of his books over the years.  I have to admit, though, that there are several here I haven’t got to yet…  These are complemented by a trio of Yasushi Inoue books, another Pushkin series cut short before its time, and a few more works by female authors: Minae Mizumura, Fumiko Enchi and Hitomi Kanehara 🙂

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Bonus Shelf:
But wait – that’s not all…  You see, my J-Lit library seems to expand on a daily basis, so a couple of months ago, I had to do some rearranging and kick out some other books (sorry, Korea) to make space for the inevitable new arrivals.  Highlights here include a couple more Endō review copies, several recent big hits that I’m sure you’ll recognise, and some recent second-hand arrivals, in the form of a couple more Kawabata books and my first taste of Sawako Ariyoshi’s work.  Those with a sharp eye may notice that there’s a bit of classic poetry lurking here, too, for when I find a moment to get to it.

So, that’s the state of affairs at the moment, but if you think that final shelf looks fairly empty, providing me with some much needed breathing space, think again.  You see, there’s about to be another influx of Japanese books, so it won’t be too long until I’m looking around for another extension to the Japanese section of my library…

….I think I’m going to need a bigger house 😉

13 thoughts on “My J-Lit Library

  1. Hi Tony, this is a nice article. On your recommendations I have read “The Sea of Fertility” by Yukio Mishima, “The Tale of Genji” and a part of “A True Novel” by Minae Mizumura. The last one partly in English (I quitted after 200 pages), the other two in a complete Dutch translation.
    But my favorite Japanese book of all time remains “The Makioka Sisters” by Tanizaki. I have also read two books by Haruki Murakami and that’s all I have read in Japanese fiction.
    Greetings, Erik

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    1. Erik – Yes, Tanizaki was an excellent writer, and I’m sure I’ll be trying ‘The Makioka Sisters’ again at some point. I hope I gave you some more ideas with this post, too 🙂

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  2. How lovely! I think you and I could talk endlessly about Japanese literature – although this post did make me rather sad as well, as quite a few of my Japanese books (especially the ones in actual Japanese) are still back in Romania at my parents’ house. I kept waiting to have a more stable existence so I could send for them, but…

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    1. Marina Sofia – I do love having this library, even if I know it will cause headaches when we eventually move one day. Still, at least you can read them in the original 😉

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  3. That’s a very cool collection. 🙂 I like how you’ve spoken about them, and the book titles are quite striking too. Am I correct in thinking that Japanese works — at least when translated — make for some of the fanciest / most thought-provoking ones?

    I recently delved into Japanese folklore myself, so The Kojiki is familiar. Have also been trying out Haiku, which I think *you* may have recommended some time back in January 2021. And Tale of Genji is, of course, THE classic to read.

    ~ Lex (lexlingua.co)

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    1. Lexlingua – Not sure about the titles (I think that’s often just the publishers being creative!). And yes, I have a soft spot for the classics myself, and I’m sure I’ll be trying more when I find the time 🙂

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