ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Recommended Reading: an Introduction to Modern Japanese Fiction

Updated on January 2, 2017
Alisha Adkins profile image

Alisha Adkins is an author with a burning interest in Japanese culture. She has lived and worked in Japan.

A Selection of Books


Approaching Modern Japanese Fiction

Contemporary Japanese fiction has been enjoying increasing popularity within English markets. For those new to modern Japanese fiction, the following reading list should offer an ideal place to start.

The authors on this list are all worth getting to know; each possesses a distinctive style and has made a significant contribution to modern Japanese literature. Since the events of a time help to shape its artists and give context to their works, these authors are listed chronologically as opposed to trying to assign them an order of importance.

No Longer the Land of the Rising Sun?

The Setting Sun by Osamu Dazai
The Setting Sun by Osamu Dazai

Yukio Mishima


Postwar Japanese Literature

After World War II, Japan struggled to cope with its defeat, poverty, and postwar American occupation. The literature of the time reflected this; in stark contrast with Japanese literature of earlier periods, postwar Japanese fiction developed a distinctly disaffected tone.

Shohei Ooka's best known work, Fires on the Plain, is considered by many to be the most important Japanese novel to come out of World War II. Loosely based upon Ooka's own experiences during the war, the novel follows a Japanese soldier as he struggles for survival, resorting even to cannibalism to keep himself alive. This book, which won the Yomiuri Literary Prize in 1951, raises meaningful questions about the nature of human existence and the psychological consequences of war.

Osamu Dazai wrote bleak, nihilistic works in the aftermath of the war. The Setting Sun is about the decline of an aristocratic family. In this novel, Dazai addresses the issues particular to a class of Japanese society whose world died in the war. In No Longer Human, Dazai depicts postwar Japan as being in a crisis of cultural identity. The novel's protagonist is a disaffected young man who is alienated from society,

Sadly, Osamu Dazai cut his life short. After three failed suicide attempts, he committed double suicide with his wife in 1948.

Yukio Mishima was a prolific author whose work includes 40 novels. He is considered one of the most important Japanese writers of the 20th century. With a superb mastery over words, he employed an avante-garde style, blending modern and traditional aesthetics while writing in a nihilistic tone and addressing challenging subject matter such as sexuality and death.

Readers new to Mishima may wish to start with his first novel, Thieves, which he wrote in 1946. It is a story of two young aristocrats who are drawn to suicide. Also recommended is Confessions of a Mask. Written in 1948, it is a semi-autobiographical account of a gay man who conceals his true self behind a mask in order to fit into society.

Yukio Mishima was a radical right-wing nationalist. In 1970, he staged a coup d'état in an attempt to restore the emperor to power. When it was unsuccessful, he put an abrupt end to his writing career and life by committing ritual suicide in protest.

Woman in the Dunes - Movie (1964)


Postwar American occupation ended in Japan in 1952. Japan's postwar constitution included a "Peace Clause" which banned Japan from maintaining any armed forces. Since the nation was prohibited from spending on defense, it was free to concentrate on spending in favor of economic growth. This was the beginning of the "Japanese post-war economic miracle," a period of rapid economic growth and prosperity for Japan that would span from the 1950s through the 1980s.

As Japan regained its independence and began to leave the scarcity to which it was accustomed behind, a new artistic movement emerged. This sub-culture, dubbed kasutori after the preferred alcoholic beverage of its artists and writers, emphasized escapism and decadence.

Kobo Abe was an avante-garde surrealist writer who sought to capture the Japanese experience while eschewing the use of either traditional Japanese or Western styles. He gained recognition in 1972 with The Woman in the Dunes, a brilliant, haunting allegorical tale of a man who unwittingly becomes trapped with a woman in a house in sand dune. Though preserving this home against the ravages of the sand is an arduous, Sisyphusian task, he eventually acclimates himself to his fate.

Many of Abe's novels examine identity. In The Face of Another, a man is disfigured in an accident. He begins to wear a mask and subsequently adopts a new life, disassociating himself from his previous identity. The Box Man follows a nameless protagonist who gives up his identity to live in a cardboard box that he wears over his head.

Kangaroo Notebook, one of Abe's last works, is incredibly funny, though in the most twisted of ways. In it, the protagonist discovers that he is sprouting radishes from his legs and begins a nightmarish journey through city streets while riding a hospital bed.

Haruki Murakami


Norwegian Wood

Japan's best-selling novel
Japan's best-selling novel

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

The 1960s: a Protest Generation

In the 1960s, in much the same way as opposition to Vietnam molded many young Americans, the youth of Japan were also shaped by a spirit of social protest. University students on campuses across Japan participated in two large waves of protest against Ampo, the Japan-United States Joint Security Treaty in 1960 and 1970.

Haruki Murakami was one of the authors influenced by these experiences. Murakami's writing is postmodern, humorous, and surreal, frequently portraying a sense of isolation. It is thoughtful, skillfully executed, and lends insight into life in modern Japan.

Murakami is a tremendously successful, celebrated Japanese author. His most commercially successful novel, Norwegian Wood, a bittersweet coming of age story set during the protests of the 1960s, is the all-time best selling book in Japan.

For his more surreal fare, read the brilliant Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. The book is split between parallel narratives that occur in the conscious and unconscious mind of the narrator. You may also want try the epic The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. In it, Toru Okada, an unassuming man, discovers that his cat has run away. What follows is a surreal stream-of-consciousness chain of events that prove his apparently ordinary life is much more complicated than it seemed.

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

In the Midst of Prosperity: the Bubble Economy

The 1980s were a period of unparalleled economic prosperity for Japan. By 1990, income per capita in Japan equalled or surpassed that in most countries in the West. However, from 1986 to 1991, Japanese real estate and stock prices grew increasingly inflated. This "bubble economy" would eventually burst, leading the Tokyo Stock Exchange to crash in 1990–92.

Banana Yoshimoto emerged as a writer during the height of Japan's bubble economy. Her "manga-esque" style, which stressed dialogue over description, resembling the script of a manga comic, was considered fresh and controversial. In her breakout work,1988's Kitchen, a young woman who loves kitchens and food struggles to cope with the loss of her grandmother. The novel is a bit light for my personal taste (it felt to me like bubblegum fiction), but its sweeping popularity in Japan makes this work significant as an insight into the psyche of Japanese readers in the late 1980s.

Now You're One of Us

The Devotion of Suspect X


The Lost Decade(s)

The Lost Decade is the term used to describe the time after the Japanese bubble economy collapsed. Although it originally referred to the years 1991 to 2000, 2001 to 2010 is also sometimes included as part of this time period.

Despite Japan's economic struggles during the Lost Decade, this time period also saw a steep rise in global popularity of Japanese culture - particularly anime, manga, and videogames. Japanese cinema (particularly horror films such as Ringu and Suicide Club) and literature also began to surge in popularity in the United States.

Written in that very psychologically creepy, distinctively Japanese style of horror, Asa Nonami's Now You're One of Us is about a bride trying to fit into her new husband's family. This is one of the most disturbing books I've ever read.

Another book that will give you pause is Yoko Ogawa's 1996 novella, Hotel Iris. In this explicit tale, a seventeen year old girl, Mari, develops a sado-masochistic relationship with a middle aged man.

The popularity of detective fiction (or "deductive reasoning fiction," as the genre is known in Japan) has steadily climbed amongst the Japanese since it was introduced during American occupation. Successful authors of note in this field include Miyuki Miyabe (All She Was Worth, The Devil's Whisper), Keigo Higashino (The Devotion of Suspect X, Salvation of a Saint), and Natsuo Kirino.

Natsuo Kirino occupies a niche frequently described as "feminist noir." Her works examine the psychological pressures inherent in being a Japanese women. She is best known for her 1997 novel, Out, for which she won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award. This book examines women's role in Japanese society as it tells the tale of a woman who strangles her abusive husband and then goes to her coworkers for help with disposing of the body. The women soon discover that they have an aptitude for covering up murders, and then things truly start to get strange.

Other works of note by Kirino include Grotesque and Real World.


"A Poor Family in Occupied Tokyo - The Post-War World of the Japanese." '48 Magazine.

"Japanese Detective Fiction." Wikipedia.

"Is Japan Heading for Another Lost Decade?" Ludwig von Mises Institute.

"Japan's Bubble Economy of the 1980s." Jesse Colombo. The Bubble Bubble.

"List of Best Selling Books." Wikipedia.

"The Lost Decade - Japan's Economic Crisis." Japan-101.

"Occupation of Japan." Wikipedia.

"Osamu Dazai (1909-1948) - Pseudonym of Tsushima Shuji." Books and Writers.

"Student Protest in the 1960s." Patricia G. Steinhoff, University of Tokyo.

"Yukio Mishima." New World Encyclopedia.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • RachaelLefler profile image

      Rachael Lefler 

      3 years ago from Illinois

      Sounds interesting. It's hard for a Westerner who didn't learn anything about non-Western literature in school to even know where to begin so lists like this really help.

    • redfive profile image

      Levy Tate 

      6 years ago from California, USA

      AAHHHHH I've always wanted to check out Japanese literature! What other books would you recommend? So keen to learn their language, as well. So reading Japanese books would be a great way to practice!

      Cheers for this hub, pal. Voted up!

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      6 years ago from San Diego California

      I am a big fan of books, but this is a branch of literature I have never explored. Thanks for opening my horizons.

    • FalconSays profile image

      Karen S Falcon 

      6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Thumbs up! I have always had fascination with the Japanese language and culture. Great Hub!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)