Acknowledging the mythological founding of Japan on the 11th February, 660 BCE, the Japan National Foundation Day is a celebration of Japan’s rich heritage and cultural contribution to the world.
Here we look at the literary contribution that Japan has given the world, from their modern take on contemporary fiction to their wonderfully evocative mixed style of art and words in manga. This list takes in some popular Japanese authors who enjoy fame around the world, as well as some lesser-known but equally enthralling authors who have been translated in to English.
- Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
One of the most popular contemporary Japanese authors to be translated in to English, Murakami was born in 1949 in Kyoto and has written over 14 novels, as well as numerous short stories and essays.
Norwegian Wood (Noruwei no mori) is a novel following the story of Toru Wanatabe as he looks back on his student days in Tokyo in the 1960s. It encapsulates Toru’s romantic adventures and also looks at the student protests of the time.
- Battle Royale by Kōshun Takami
Kōshun Takami was born in Amagasaki in 1969 and worked for a news company as a reporter before turning to writing in 1996.
Battle Royale (Batoru Rowaiaru) was written soon after Takami left his job as a reporter, but was rejected from the final round a literary competition due to its content. The story itself concerns a authoritarian Japanese government forcing school students to fight against each other to the death, gaining the book controversy.
A few years later the book was published and it became a success for Takami, eventually being turned in to a manga and a feature film and is considered one of the greatest pieces of Japanese Dystopian fiction ever written.
- Out by Natsuo Kirino
Natsuo Kirino was born in Kanazawa in 1959 and is considered one of the leading female crime fiction writers in Japanese literature. A couple of her books have been translated in to English, including some short stories.
Out is an award-winning crime novel that is Kirino’s first English-translated work. It follows four women who worked night-shifts at a Japanese Bento factory who are all disillusioned with their lives, forcing one of them to turn to murder. It was adapted in to a film in 2002.
- Bleach by Tite Kubo
Born in 1977 in Fuchū, Tite Kubo is a Japanese Manga artist, best known for his series Bleach.
Initially rejected, Bleach (Burīchi) is a popular manga and subsequent anime series that has been running for nearly 20 years. It follows Ichigo Kurosaki who inherits the powers of a soul reaper, defending humans against evil spirits and has sold over 90 million copies worldwide.
- Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
Banana Yoshimoto was born in 1964 in Tokyo, and is the pen-name of Mahoko Yoshimoto. She has written over 12 novels and several essays.
An orphaned girl, who loses both parents and grandparents, turns to the kitchen to help her heal and cope with her grief. It is a novella of loss and love in a modern, Japanese setting.
- The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima
The pen-name of Kimitake Hiraoka, Yukio Mishima was born in Shinjuku in 1925 and was a writer who authored several novels, short stories, poems and plays. After a failed coup by his self-initialised militia, Mishima committed ritual suicide.
Following a boy named Noboru Kuroda living in Yokohama and his intellectual gang as they reject adult conceptions and train themselves to become objective about life. But Kuroda turns them in to thugs and killers, leading them to murder his mother’s new lover.
- Essays in Idleness by Yoshida Kenkō
Yoshida Kenkō was a Japanese Buddhist Monk who lived around the early 14th century and wrote what is considered to be one of the greatest works of medieval Japanese literature.
Essays in Idleness (Tsurezuregusa) are Buddhist writings about varying subjects in life, such as death, work ethics and the beauty of nature all from the idle mind of Kenko.
- I Am a Cat by Natsume Sōseki
Natsume Sōseki was born in Edo in 1867 and was a renowned author of novels and fairytales. He became Japan’s first English Literature scholar.
I Am a Cat (Wagahai wa Neko de Aru) is a satirical novel narrated by a cat who watches his upper-class owners. It is a remark upon the mix of Western Cultures with Japanese traditions and the consequences thereof.
- Ring by Koji Suzuki
Born in 1957 in Hamamatsu, Koji Suzuki is an award-winning Japanese horror writer , having written several novels and short story collections.
Best known as a Western film, Ring is a Japanese survival horror novel, being book one in the Ring trilogy, and has been adapted in to several films, TV series and video games. It follows the infamous videotape that shows the watcher they have one week to live.
- Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba
Born in Tokyo, Ohba collaborates frequently with artist Takeshi Obata to produce some of Japan’s most popular manga series.
Death Note follows a teen genius who stumbles across the Death Note, which has the ability to kill anyone in the world whose name is written in its pages and the task-force subsequently charged with stopping him.
There have been several adaptations of Death Note, including anime, novels, video games and musicals.
- The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
Keigo Higashino, born in Ikuno-ku in 1958, is an award-winning Japanese Mystery Crime writer.
The third book in the Detective Galileo series, The Devotion of Suspect X has sold over two million copies world-wide. It is a meticulous crime thriller, bringing in emotions and themes that crime fiction rarely covers.
12. As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams by Lady Sarashina
Lady Sarashina was the daughter of Sugawara no Takasue, a lady-in-waiting of Heian-period Japan (around 794-1185 CE).
Disenchanted by the real world and its brutality, Lady Sarashina removed herself to a fantasy world, noting her travels in Japan and providing recollections of day dreams.
- Silence by Shūsaku Endō
Born in Tokyo in 1923, Shūsaku Endō was Roman Catholic Japanese author, who wrote many novels, novellas and short stories, mostly based around his Catholic faith.
Regarded as Endō’s masterpiece, Silence is a historical novel of a Jesuit missionary in 17th Century Japan who must find out what happened to his predecessor, but finds himself questioning his faith in the wake of non-tolerance.
- Japanese Tales by Royall Taylor
Born in 1936, Royall specialised in Japanese Literature and collects Japanese tales whilst farming alpacas.
A collection of 220 Japanese Tales to give you the best introduction to the cultural and literary heritage of Japan, mostly written between the 12th and 14th Centuries.
- On Love and Barley: The Haiku of Basho by Matsuo Bashō
Matsuo Bashō is Japan’s most famous poet of the Edo period, writing in the late 17th century and a master of the Japanese poetry form the Haiku.
On Love and Barley: The Haiku of Basho features a collection of Basho’s most famous and loved haikus and musings on life and nature during his time.
- In the Shade of Spring Leaves by Ichiyō Higuchi
Ichiyō Higuchi was the pen name of Natsu Higuchi, a 19th century poet and author, most famous for her Japanese short stories that were based on Japanese models and not Western ones.
In The Shade of Spring Leaves is initially a biography on the author, with some of her diary entries and translated short stories.
17. Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura
Born in 1927, Yoshimura is an award-winning Japanese author of over 20 novels.
A Japanese Gothic Tale set in medieval Japan of a small fishing village who lure ships to the rocks and slaughter any crew that survive and loot the cargo, until the next ship that comes in is holding something sinister as its cargo.
18. Kakeibo: The Japanese Art of Budgeting Saving Money by Hani Motoko
Hani Motoko is considered to be Japan’s first female journalist. Born in 1873, she first became a teacher and then moved in to journalism, finding fame writing about famous Japanese women.
There have been many books written about Japanese lifestyle and how to replicate it, and Kaneibo is no different. It makes you think more about how and where you are spending your money and how to live more frugally, rather than being reliant on gadgets and gizmos to track your spending.
19. Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji
Shizuo Tsuji was a Japanese chef and writer who was instrumental in bringing the idea of Japanese cuisine to the wider world, changing it from exotic food in to what is now one of the most popular cuisines in the world.
It features over 200 traditional meals as well as explaining the ingredients used, the utensils you’ll need and the techniques needed to replicate these delicious courses.
- The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide
Takashi Hiraide was born in Moji in 1950 and is a Japanese poet and critic.
The Guest Cat is a sublime novel, following a couple as they get visited every day by a cat. The novel encapsulates the transient nature of life and deals with the emotion of loss in a family setting.
Have you read any of these? Are you a fan of the haiku, or more of a manga reader?
Let us know in the comments which Japanese book is your favourite, and tell us of any we've missed from our list.