Showing posts with label Japanese Literature. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Japanese Literature. Show all posts

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, 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, 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.


Friday, 19 February 2021

Indie Spotlight: A New Year, A New Page Forward



Happy Chinese New Year! I’m indie WWII historical fiction author Alexa Kang, and it is my honor to begin the Year of the Ox as the Asian Books Blog's new Indie Spotlight Editor. You might have read my previous guest posts here and here. Going forward, I hope to bring you your next great reads.

 

Indie publishing has come a long way since Amazon opened the door in 2010 for authors to bring their stories directly to readers. The market of indie-publishing has matured since then. While writers can now release their books through online retailers, that alone is not enough for the books to reach and gain an audience. Successful indie writers today not only must offer quality books that can match and compete with traditionally published books, they must also be savvy in branding, marketing, and e-commerce.

 

My foray into indie writing was serendipitous. It began in 2016. I never aspired to be a fiction author. I was writing fan fiction for fun within the global fandom of the Japanese manga series, Candy Candy. My fanfic was very well-received, and was fan-translated into multiple languages. After my fanfic, I started writing a spin-off story from Candy Candy, with characters entirely of my own creation who I imagined to be children of the cast of Candy Candy. That spin-off story would ultimately become my debut WWII series Rose of Anzio.

 

I wrote Rose of Anzio over the course of a year. Each week, I would post a new chapter on a Candy Candy fan forum. I still remember fondly the days when Candy Candy fans who followed my story would eagerly devour each new chapter I uploaded. I realized then that Rose of Anzio had the potential to be read by a much wider audience. I started looking into publication options. Immediately, I learned two things. First, by posting the chapters on a public forum online, Rose of Anzio was considered already published, and no traditional publisher would accept a manuscript that had lost its “first publishing right”. Secondly, I can publish the story myself on Amazon.

 

Choosing to publish the story myself was thus a no-brainer. I had another career and wasn't aspiring to be a writer; endorsement from traditional publishers and literary prizes were far from my thoughts. My only wish was to get my story to readers, because it was fun!

 

I set about to learn all the ins and outs of publishing books on Amazon. By then, the indie writing market was already changing into a sophisticated industry. It was overwhelming to learn about cover design, formatting, promotion, sales and marketing strategies, and gaining readers. Luckily, the indie-writing community is very supportive. Experienced authors are forthcoming in sharing information with those who are just starting out. One consistent piece of advice they gave was that our books must be professionally produced. If not, the books will languish and never attract readers.

 

Following their advice, I found an editor, proofreaders, and a cover artist. I also retained a fellow British author to review my British-born female main character's dialogues to make sure she spoke accurate Queen’s English (I’m an American writer myself). My story had numerous battle scenes. I went online in search of expert advice. A military historian generously offered to be my consultant and helped me create and reviewed my battle scenes. Before my books went to print, I retained a second editor, a U.S. infantry veteran, to review my military and battle scenes to make sure the characters' actions, behaviors, dialogues, and the way the battles were written, were authentic and believable. 

 

Next, I devised a marketing plan. I implemented strategies I learned from the indie-pub community to build momentum for my book release, and to build and retain a fan base. I also had a bit of luck. My Candy Candy fanfic readers, who had been reading Rose of Anzio chapters online when I was writing the story, were eagerly waiting to have the print version in their hands. When the first book in the series came out, they not only bought copies, thus giving my book an initial boost, but also left glowing reviews of why they liked the book.

 

In retrospect, releasing my books on my own was the best thing I could have done. It turns out, many of my readers had lived through the war era. I had no idea this was the case when I first published. I assumed most of my readers would be in my own age group. The first time I received an email from a reader, it was from Marci, a lady who wanted to know when the second book in the Rose of Anzio series would be released. Marci said she and her best friend worked in Chicago in 1940. Rose of Anzio-Book One was set in 1940 Chicago. She told me she bought the eBook for herself, and a print copy for her best friend. 

 

My jaws dropped when I read Marci's email. I had to read it several times to confirm I was reading it right. Did she say she worked in Chicago in 1940? My book was released in 2016. I was shocked to learn that my novel resonated with readers who knew life in 1940s Chicago first-hand. I learned then that all my hard work and research had paid off.

 

Over time, I discovered that my books were bringing back memories to a generation of readers nostalgic for a world they once knew. In a Facebook group for WWII fiction readers and writers, a reader, Bonnie, once posted and recommended Rose of Anzio. I never interacted with Bonnie except to thank her for a post recommending my books to the group. When Bonnie finished reading my novel Eternal Flame, a Rose of Anzio spin-off, she left a one-sentence, positive review on Amazon. Three days later, a fellow group member told us Bonnie had passed away. I did not know until then that Bonnie had been terminally ill. The news filled me with emotions as I realized she had spent her last hours reading my book. She even left me a gift of a review. I could not tell her how grateful I was. I could only hope that my story gave her a little bit of comfort before she left.

 

This would not be the last time I had to bid farewell to a reader. Another reader who reached out to me was Betty Martin. Ms. Martin lived through the war era, and her husband was part of the Flying Tigers, the U.S. air force unit that fought in West China. Ms. Martin and kept in touch for two years, until her friend alerted me to her passing and told me Betty had been waiting for my next release. I was very saddened to hear the news, and I dedicated my next book to her.

 

When I think of my readers from the Greatest Generation, I’m glad that I had inadvertently fallen into self-publishing. If I had taken the traditional publishing route, I might have missed the chance to bring my stories with these readers. Even if an agent and a publisher had picked up my books, it would take on average two years for each book to be published. If I am able to give a few hours of comfort and escape to readers like Marci, Bonnie, and Betty, that would be reason enough for me to continue this course.

 

Being an indie author also gives me the freedom to write books without a proven sales record in the market. Currently, the WWII fiction genre is sorely lacking in novels with Asian main characters, and novels set in the Pacific. Traditional publishers are often averse to taking on books without data assuring sales. Unconstrained by such concerns, I wrote my series, Shanghai Story, to chronicle China's descent into WWII. The story features a Chinese male character. Novels with an Asian male lead is still a rarity today. I took the risk that traditional publishers are less willing to take, and am happy to discover that there is indeed a market demand.

 


For my current series, I am continuing to walk the path less traveled. In the WWII fiction genre, there are woefully few novels about Nisei (second-generation Japanese-Americans). Of the ones currently sold, the focus is on internment camps. I want to explore the Nisei experience beyond the confine of the camps. My new release, Last Night with Tokyo Rose, follows the journey of Tom Sakai, a Nisei growing up in an America increasingly hostile to those of Japanese ancestry. When he is stranded in Manila after Pearl Harbor, he would have to navigate the treacherous terrain of a world in which Japan and America are at war, and decide where his allegiance lies.

 

In the coming year, I plan to introduce to you books by some of the best indie authors in today’s publishing world. We will learn the interesting stories of how they came onto the path of indie-publishing, and their works which you would not want to miss.


I invite you all to visit my website at https://alexakang.com. You can also sign up for my newsletter at https://alexakang.com/newsletter

 

Sunday, 7 February 2021

The Silent Dead by Tetsuya Honda - A Modern Japanese Crime Novel

The Silent Dead is a Japanese crime novel by Tetsuya Honda and the first installment of the Reiko Himekawa series. It offers a glimpse into Japanese law enforcement, which is a huge blind spot to many Westerners. It also shines a light on corruption, sexism, and perversion that festers underneath the surface of Japanese culture, which is a blind spot to many Japanese themselves.

Sunday, 6 December 2020

Human Bullets by Tadayoshi Sakurai - A Memoir of the Russo-Japanese War

The Russo-Japanese War is a fascinating conflict that, arguably, was one of the most important events in the 20th century. It contributed to the decline of the Russian Empire, paving the way for the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, and gave rise to the Japanese Empire, paving the way to Pearl Harbor. And yet, this war is often overlooked in the West, leading to a dearth of first-hand English language accounts. Thankfully, Human Bullets (1906) by Tadayoshi Sakurai survives to fill that void.


Sunday, 8 November 2020

3 Japanese Mystery Novel Recommendations

November is the perfect time for noir aka Noirvember, and that means it’s the perfect time for mystery novels. In Japan, the mystery genre is called suiri shōsetsu (推理小説) literally ‘deductive reasoning fiction,’ and has a long history in the Land of the Rising Sun. Here are just a few recommendations by Japanese authors to read during Noirvember.

 


Sunday, 4 October 2020

10 Junji Ito Horror Manga Recommendations

Since it's spooky season, I wanted to highlight one of Japan's most famous horror manga artists/writers - Junji Ito. For those not in the know, manga are Japanese comics, and Ito's realistic and hyper-detailed artwork, combined with his macabre and haunting plots, are a perfect nightmare cocktail. Here are ten recommendations to start you off, from his longer-form works to short stories. Also, to existing Junji Ito fans, yes, there are plenty of well-known recommendations here, but if I didn't list your personal favorite, well, there's always next Halloween...

Friday, 11 September 2020

New Japanese short fiction: One Love Chigusa

Soji Shimada is one of Japan’s best selling mystery writers. His latest work One Love Chigusa has been published in English as part of the Red Circle Minis collection. The collection, which began in 2018, includes short works from contemporary Japanese authors that have not yet been published in Japanese. This novel approach adds an interesting layer to the reading experience; literary criticism on the original texts is not yet available. 

The strange title One Love Chigusa is fitting for a novella that is indeed strange throughout. This strangeness slowly builds, reaches a crescendo in the final chapter, and then in the very last scenes recedes with the revelation of certain vital information. The bizarre array of characters and events that make up the work contribute to the disconcerting yet wonderful experience of reading One Love.

The story is set in Beijing, although it is easy to forget this as spatial descriptions are often very dream-like and dystopian. Surroundings are described to us from the perspective of the main character, Xie Hoyu. Xie has had half of his brain and body replaced by machinery, and this has fundamentally altered the way he experiences the physical world. People and objects often morph into more disturbing or mechanical versions of themselves. For example, when Xie has been wandering the city, we are given his observations: “the letters of the displays and the neon signs scattered on the walls and rooftops would suddenly start to change to numerals. Some changed slowly; some fluctuated violently... Were they stock prices?” Here, the hallucination itself questions the solidity of our linguistic system, while Xie’s question about stock prices points to the all-pervasive presence of financial motivation in our society. This extract thus evokes feelings of disorientation and instability, and conveys a cynical view of civilisation.