Showing posts with label Japan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Japan. Show all posts

Thursday 16 November 2023

The Siege of Tsingtau: The German-Japanese War 1914 by Charles Stephenson.

World War I in the Far East was a sideshow in the grand scheme of things, but it had long-reaching implications, setting up further conflict in the region. Nevertheless, the main action, the Battle of Tsingtau, was full of drama, bravery, and suffering, which is covered in the book – The Siege of Tsingtau: The German-Japanese War 1914 by Charles Stephenson.

Saturday 14 October 2023

Vampire Hunter D by Hideyuki Kikuchi - a Gothic Horror Sci-fi Fantasy


In the distant future, humanity clusters in small villages, reduced to a medieval style of living, while monsters, demons, and vampires roam the outskirts of civilization. It’s a hard life, full of danger, witchcraft, and death – this is the world of Vampire Hunter D.

Saturday 15 April 2023

Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki - A Toxic Japanese Love Story

Naomi is a toxic love story, set in 1920s Japan, and one that is surprisingly relevant today. The novel is a classic of Japanese literature by Junichiro Tanizaki and a perfect snapshot of the Taisho Era.

Tuesday 11 October 2022

Audition by Ryu Murakami Review - A Japanese Horror Love Story

Since it’s Halloween season I decided to review a Japanese horror novel. Audition by the writer Ryu Murakami, is a story about a man finding a perfect woman, only to discover he’s fallen for a mask.


Saturday 4 June 2022

The Four Immigrants Manga by Henry Kiyama

 The Japanese immigrant experience in America is often ignored, which makes works like The Four Immigrants Manga an invaluable record, both as history and as art.

Sunday 6 March 2022

Shanghai by Riichi Yokomitsu - a Japanese Novel of Interwar Shanghai

 Shanghai between the world wars is a fascination of Westerns, the Chinese themselves, but also the Japanese. The zeitgeist of 1920s Shanghai is reflected in the appropriately named Shanghai by Riichi Yokomitsu.

Tuesday 22 February 2022

Indie-Spotlight: Selling Books with Asian Main Characters - Part II


Indie Spotlight is a column by WWII historical fiction author Alexa Kang. The column regularly features hot new releases and noteworthy indie-published books, and popular authors who have found success in the new creative world of independent publishing.

Wednesday 16 February 2022

Indie-Spotlight: Selling Books with Asian Main Characters - Part I


Indie Spotlight is a column by WWII historical fiction author Alexa Kang. The column regularly features hot new releases and noteworthy indie-published books, and popular authors who have found success in the new creative world of independent publishing.

Sunday 6 February 2022

Talking About Rakugo 2: The Stories Behind the Storytellers, guest post from Kristine Ohkubo


If you have been following Asian Books Blog, you’ve probably come across the name Kristine Ohkubo. Kristine is a Los Angeles-based indie-author who uses her work to explore topics related to Japan and Japanese culture.

Beginning with a travel guide to Japan, Kristine has published seven books since 2016, with each work exploring either Japan, Japanese culture, or Japanese history.

Kristine has had a deep love and appreciation for Japan and Japanese culture since she was a teenager growing up in Chicago, Illinois. As an adult, her extensive travels in Japan have enabled her to gain insight into this fascinating country, which she shares with you through her writings.

In June 2021, Kristine released an English guide to the traditional Japanese art form known as rakugo. Rakugo storytelling is a unique performance that uses gestures and narration rather than costumes and props; it requires a high degree of skill to perform. A rakugo story is comprised of both narrative and dialog between multiple characters, all of which are conveyed by a single storyteller. The storyteller strives to express the personality of each character by differentiating their tone of voice, choice of words, manner of speaking, and other factors.

The book titled, Talking About Rakugo: The Japanese Art of Storytelling, was written in collaboration with Tokyo-based English rakugo storyteller, Kanariya Eiraku. 

Eiraku participated in the Tatekawa-ryu rakugo school established by the legendary rakugo performer Tatekawa Danshi. After learning about the essence of rakugo from the rakugo master, he began offering Japanese rakugo classes in Tokyo in 1991. Sixteen years later, he established his English rakugo classes. This year will mark the 15th anniversary of the establishment of the Canary English Rakugo classes in Tokyo.

Since 2007, he has performed in front of enthusiastic audiences in Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Laos. He has also translated over sixty classical and contemporary rakugo stories into English.

Eiraku is one of the founding members of the English Rakugo Association in Tokyo. The organization was established in 2020 with the mission to spread rakugo all over the world.

In 2022, Kristine and Eiraku collaborated once again to bring you the second book in the rakugo series, Talking About Rakugo 2: The Stories Behind the Storytellers. The book is officially scheduled to be released on February 7, 2022, which happens to be Eiraku’s birthday!

Sunday 17 October 2021

Somewhere I belong: guest post from Sarayu Srivatsa

Sarayu Srivasta trained as an architect and city planner in Madras and Tokyo. Her first novel, The Last Pretence, was short-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize. It was released in the UK under the title If You Look For Me, I Am Not Here. Around the time the winner of the Booker Prize is announced, the Guardian newspaper in the UK runs an annual poll of readers, Not the Booker Prize.  If You Look For Me, I Am Not Here was included on the longlist.

Sarayu’s new novel, That Was, has just been published. That Was is a coming-of-age story set in the 1990s and early 2000s amidst the ever-changing landscapes of India and Japan. One of its protagonists, Kavya, undertakes a journey of self-discovery to uncover the traumatic truth of her troubled past. That Was draws on Sarayu’s experiences of studying architecture in Japan, and of appreciating Zen philosophy, which focuses on finding joy and beauty in simplicity. It explores the idea of connections between people, places, and nature, and how Indian and Japanese cultures are intertwined.

Kavya can never truly call one place home. Here Sarayu talks about the notion of belonging, and discusses how the knowledge that both Japan and India suffer under looming memories of war and terror has influenced her writing.

So, over to Sarayu… 

Saturday 2 October 2021

5 Horror Manga Recommendations That Aren't Junji Ito

It's spooky season again, so that means horror, specifically, horror manga. Japanese comics have a long history of horror stories, but the mangaka Junji Ito has become synonymous with the genre. He's an indisputable master at the craft, no doubt, I even spotlighted 10 recommendations of his work, but there are many other horror manga to choose from. Here's a list of 5 to choose from, that aren't from Junji Ito.

Sunday 5 September 2021

The Japanese Home Front 1937 - 1945 by Philipp Jowett & Adam Hook

As I’ve stated many times, there’s long been a blind spot about the Asian Theater of World War II. You can stack the books written about Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan side by side, the former would dwarf the latter. When books do appear about Japan during World War II, they are usually about the front in the Pacific, or, less often, in the Chinese and Burma theaters. A notable exception is Japan At War: An Oral History. However, Osprey Publishing has recently released The Japanese Home Front 1937 – 1945, which aims to help fill that gap.

Sunday 25 July 2021

Talking About Rakugo: The Japanese Art of Storytelling, guest post from Kristine Ohkubo

Los Angeles-based indie-author Kristine Ohkubo uses her work to explore topics related to Japan and Japanese culture. While growing up in Chicago, she developed a deep love and appreciation for Japanese culture, people, and history. Her extensive travels in Japan have enabled her to gain insight into this fascinating country, which she shares through her books.

Kristine’s first book, a travel guide, was published in 2016. She has subsequently published four other books. Her new book, Talking About Rakugo: The Japanese Art of Storytelling  introduces readers to rakugo, Japan’s 400-year-old art of storytelling. It draws on biographical information, anecdotes, interviews, and rakugo scripts to explain why this traditional art form has endured for centuries. 

Talking About Rakugo: The Japanese Art of Storytelling was written in collaboration with Tokyo-based English rakugo storyteller, Kanariya Eiraku. Eiraku, who began performing in 2007, is a former member of Tatekawa-ryu, the rakugo school founded by the late great rakugo master, Tatekawa Danshi. Eiraku has translated and performed over sixty classical and contemporary rakugo stories. Since 2007, he has performed in front of enthusiastic audiences in the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Laos. The founder of both the Canary English Rakugo Company and the English Rakugo Association, Eiraku teaches English rakugo in Tokyo to a wide range of students. He also offers online English rakugo classes here.

So, over to Kristine...

Sunday 4 July 2021

Rainy Day Ramen and the Cosmic Pachinko

Gordon Vanstone is from Canada. After graduating with a Bachelor of Education from Simon Fraser University, he moved overseas and worked as an International School Teacher throughout Asia, including many years in Tokyo. Gordon currently lives in Singapore and works for an education company. Rainy Day Ramen and the Cosmic Pachinko is his first novel.

After three years in Japan, Fred Buchanan is broke, unemployed and engaged in a telepathic turf war with a feral cat behind an Okinawa convenience store. Thus begins his metaphysical odyssey back to Tokyo and a search for meaning beyond the earthly path he's followed. Along the way, symbols and sages materialize in the form of a two-fingered jazz musician, the faded tattoo on an ex-yakuza lover, an odd brood of internet cafe refugees, and Yukie, an alluring hostess with a strange power imbued in the etched eye on her fingernail. Charging through Shinjuku's neon jungle, enveloped in a boozy, nicotine-stained haze, past and present collide as an empty orchestra croons a slow dance of people and place, memory and madness, loss and love. All the while, Fred struggles to be an agent of his destiny and not another ball bearing bouncing through the cosmic pachinko. 

So, over to Gordon... 

Sunday 6 June 2021

The Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa

The Girl Who Played Go is a historical novel by Chinese author Shan Sa, originally published in French, translated into English. With that many international filters, it is surprising how well it evokes the Chinese mindset, but also, the Japanese side as well.

Sunday 2 May 2021

The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura - A Fast-Paced Japanese Crime Story

The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura is a crime thriller set in modern-day Japan about an experienced pickpocket named Nishimura as he prowls the crowded streets of Tokyo, looking for his next mark. He floats through the metropolis, taking what he wants, as if in an ethereal, dreamlike state, unable to wake up.

Sunday 18 April 2021

Julian Sedgwick on Tsunami Girl

Julian Sedgwick is the author of numerous books for children and young adults, including the Mysterium and Ghosts of Shanghai trilogies, and co-author of the Carnegie shortlisted  Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black. He combines writing with his work as a Zen shiatsu therapist, and has a lifelong interest in the cultures and folklore of East Asia. Tsunami Girl is the product of a four year long engagement with communities in Fukushima prefecture affected by the 2011 Great Eastern Japan earthquake, tsunami and radiation disaster.

Tsunami Girl is a part prose, part manga novel for young adults (and above!) telling the story of Yūki Hara-Jones, a 15 year old girl caught up in the 2011 disaster. Yūki is only a quarter Japanese, but lives for her annual trips to Japan to spend time with her award-winning manga artist grandfather. Grandpa Jiro has long since stopped drawing his manga, but he still encourages Yūki in her own creative imagination. As the events of the tsunami and radiation disaster unfold, Yūki has to use those inner creative resources to survive and rediscover a way to live. The manga and prose intertwine two different ways of telling that story.

So, over to Julian...

We have just passed the tenth anniversary of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami disaster. Up and down the North East Japan coast the survivors and bereaved of this colossal natural disaster have been thinking, memorialising and processing the events of March 11th 2011. For some, there has been healing and forward movement, while others are still held by the shock and trauma of the disaster that killed almost 20,000 people. 

But for the residents of towns around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant there is yet another, third, dimension to the disaster: the nuclear radiation fallout that followed three partial meltdowns at the power station. Some towns and villages remain inside the evacuation or ‘difficult-to-return’ zone set up after the accident, whilst others are slowly starting to re-open to returning residents. Processing and recovery here have taken a lot longer due to the practical problems of the contamination of the land.

And yet . . .

What has inspired me over and over again to continue the researching and writing of Tsunami Girl is the extraordinary optimism and forward-looking nature of the people of these communities. The people of Odaka, Fukushima - who I have been visiting and corresponding with over the last three years - have never tried to hide the pain and difficulties of their lives, but also have been keen to champion the hope that they feel for the future. There is as much laughter as pain, as much joy as heart-searching. Whilst there is still anger, that has never descended in my friends into self-pity. How have they managed this optimism and hope in the face of such odds? And are there any takeaway lessons for how we manage the current global pandemic? 

It was a cold March day shortly after the 7th anniversary of the disaster when I arrived in Odaka for the first time. My contact took me to meet returning residents in the improvised pop-up social hub in the middle of town. Immediately the bleakness of the empty roads of the exclusion zone gave way to warmth, and laughter and a sense of home. We sipped green tea, and I asked my first tentative questions about what life was like now.  Almost the first answer I got from Yuko-san – the driving force behind the pop-up hub – was the fact that they she and the other returnees were not trying to rebuild the old community, but rather to construct a new one. Perhaps even a better one: more interconnected, social, greener and flexible in ways of doing things. And indeed, over the following three years, I have seen how life in the town has focussed around new start-up businesses, events, community activity. Tomoko Kobayashi – who is the fourth-generation owner of a nearby  Japanese style inn – is as much skilled now at community radiation monitoring and nuclear science, as she always was in hosting and feeding visitors to her ryokan. New skills, new experiences, new incomers to the town have enriched lives, as much as the trauma and loss of 2011 have damaged it. 

Another thing that struck me on my very first chilly day in Odaka: how unique each person’s experience of the disaster was. For every survivor there is a different experience and set of memories. Tomoko-san, for example, still felt OK about looking out at the Pacific Ocean, whereas Yuko-san – who took me to the low hill she ran to escaping the tsunami – could hardly bear to look in the direction of the waves. Whilst everybody’s confidence has been shaken to some degree, it is different for every person who experienced the quake, wave and meltdown. And, for some, creative and imaginative responses have been vital, from poetry to art to writing ghost stories . . . 

The North East of Japan – a region known as Tōhoku – has long been an area rich in ghost stories and yōkai monsters. Often seen as a rural and poorer part of the country, its development lagged behind the modernization of the late 19th and 20th centuries. But its rich culture and folklore has remained distinct, and the intensity of its ‘otherworldly-ness’ still to be found. The Tales of Tono – collected and retold by Kunio Yanagita – remain a Grimm’s Fairy Tales equivalent for Japan, depicting strange and bizarre events in Tono, Iwate. Further north, sulphurous and volcanic Osorezan – or Mount Fear – marks the point where souls cross over to the other world after death. A handful of blind mediums can still be found there, as can thousands of Jizo statues placed to help those souls find peace. It is perhaps not surprising that such a haunted place as Tohoku should sprout so many ghost stories after a disaster of almost unimaginable proportions. 

Soon after the tsunami dozens of reports started to surface of taxis picking up passengers who wanted to be taken to areas destroyed by the wave. When the driver started to feel there was something strange going on, they looked round to find the back seat empty. Spectral figures were spotted walking the damaged roads at night. Firefighters were repeatedly called to houses that were no longer there – they offered prayers and the calls ceased. So startling was the number of stories that a local university professor of sociology and his graduate students started to collect and study them. Some survivors have taken part in ghost story writing clubs, turning their own experiences into short stories as a kind of group therapy.

I tried to imagine Yūki’s experience as fully as I could, working in as much first and second hand testimony as possible, until she came to life in my mind. Together with my Japanese sensitivity reader (who had done listening volunteering with survivors immediately after the disaster), and Chie Kutsuwada, who brilliantly has brought the manga portions of the novel to life, we tried to create a story that did justice to the disaster and its aftermath. Yūki’s deep imagination, her collection of cultural fragments of East and West, her friendships and family and hopes and fears all work together to summon the world of Tsunami Girl, and her own creative vision of a small, but indomitable super hero called Half Wave.

I hope the book does justice to its background and inspirations. There is always complexity and nuance behind the headlines and cliches in any news event. Even with ghosts . . .

In Tomoko’s case I asked her if she had seen any of the ghosts after the disaster. We were sitting in the warmth of the recently reconstructed and re-opened sushi restaurant in Odaka as the cold and darkness swirled around the still largely uninhabited town. She laughed and shook her head. ‘No, but it’s funny. We used to have ghost in the inn. We could hear him walking around upstairs often when there was no-one up there.’ She looked up as if listening and mimed the walking action. ‘But ever since the tsunami we haven’t heard him once. Maybe the disaster frightened him away.’ 

That moment – and many other conversations which combined down-to-earth humour, flexibility, playfulness, warmth and a sense of togetherness – showed me how these communities have coped with the disaster, and maybe offer a strategy for us all now.

Sunday 4 April 2021

Message to Adolf - Osamu Tezuka's Underrated Manga

Between 1983 – 1985, the celebrated artist Osamu Tezuka created one of his most underpraised manga. Adolf, also known as Message to Adolf (Adolf ni Tsugu アドルフに告ぐ) spans decades and is part historical epic, part spy thriller, part romance, and one of the first “adult manga” (gekiga) that I ever read. It is the story of three men named Adolf.

Monday 22 March 2021

Backlist books: The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

Backlist books is a column by Lucy Day Werts that focuses on enduring, important works from or about Asia. This post is about The Tale of Genji, the bulk of which describes the main character’s amorous relationships with at least a dozen different women as he ages and finally dies, at which point the tale starts to relate the (rather easier to follow) romantic ambitions of Kaoru, a member of the younger generation whose past is not what it seems and whose future is never actually decided.

The tale, perhaps the world’s first novel, was written by an unusually well-educated noblewoman and lady-in-waiting to one of the Fujiwara empresses, sometime around the year 1000, and provides scholars of literature and history with a wealth of information about life in Heian Japan. Although the narration is often frustratingly vague when referring to well-known poems of the time, to the common cultural practices of the day, and to the dozens of people who feature in the tale, the characters have human emotions and motivations that are not at all alien to modern readers. The translators who have laboured to bring the work to life in English shine their light on different aspects of the novel, each making it accessible to readers in a different way.

See below to find out what you need to know to decide whether you should read The Tale of Genji, or what you should know about it even if you never do!

Sunday 7 March 2021

Manga Kamishibai by Eric Nash - A Look at Japanese Paper Theater


Before what we know as manga, there was kamishibai. Literally translated as “paper play” (紙芝居) kamishibai was a popular form of entertainment in Japan which is virtually unknown in the West. Luckily, Eric Nash has compiled one of the most comprehensible English-language books about this unique form of Japanese storytelling in Manga Kamishibai: The Art of Japanese Paper Theater.