Japan

The Great Passage

“An award-winning story of love, friendship, and the power of human connection. Kohei Araki believes that a dictionary is a boat to carry us across the sea of words. But after thirty-seven years of creating dictionaries, it’s time for him to retire and find his replacement.

He discovers a kindred spirit in Mitsuya Majime—a young, disheveled square peg with a penchant for collecting antiquarian books and a background in linguistics—whom he swipes from his company’s sales department.

Along with an energetic, if reluctant, new recruit and an elder linguistics scholar, Majime is tasked with a career-defining accomplishment: completing The Great Passage, a comprehensive 2,900-page tome of the Japanese language. On his journey, Majime discovers friendship, romance, and an incredible dedication to his work, inspired by the words that connect us all.”

(A special thank you to Dr. Carol McCrea, the mother of one of our book club admins for the suggestion.)

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I Am a Cat

"'A nonchalant string of anecdotes and wisecracks, told by a fellow who doesn't have a name, and has never caught a mouse, and isn't much good for anything except watching human beings in action...' —The New Yorker

Written over the course of 1904-1906, Soseki Natsume's comic masterpiece, I Am a Cat, satirizes the foolishness of upper-middle-class Japanese society during the Meiji era. With acerbic wit and sardonic perspective, it follows the whimsical adventures of a world-weary stray kitten who comments on the follies and foibles of the people around him.

A classic of Japanese literature, I Am a Cat is one of Soseki's best-known novels. Considered by many as the greatest writer in modern Japanese history, Soseki's I Am a Cat is a classic novel sure to be enjoyed for years to come."

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The Cape

"'Western readers often assume that Japan is one homogeneous culture, but Nakagami, award-winning burakumin writer, exposes the fissures behind this facade. In these stories, Nakagami is unrelentingly grim, showing a Zola-like obsession with inherited traits. In the final entry, Nakagami gives rein to his erotic side, depicting the frenzied and strange coupling of Kozo, a construction worker, and a mysterious red-haired hitchhiker.' —Publishers Weekly

Born into the burakumin—Japan’s class of outcasts—Kenji Nakagami depicts the lives of his people in sensual language and stark detail. The Cape is a breakthrough novella about a burakumin community, their troubled memories, and complex family histories."

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Geisha, A Life (aka Geisha of Gion: The True Story of Japan's Foremost Geisha)

This book has been released under 2 different titles: Geisha, A Life as well as Geisha of Gion: The True Story of Japan's Foremost Geisha. 

"No woman in the three-hundred-year history of the karyukai has ever come forward in public to tell her story—until now.

'Many say I was the best geisha of my generation,' writes Mineko Iwasaki. 'And yet, it was a life that I found too constricting to continue. And one that I ultimately had to leave.' Trained to become a geisha from the age of five, Iwasaki would live among the other 'women of art' in Kyoto's Gion Kobu district and practice the ancient customs of Japanese entertainment. She was loved by kings, princes, military heroes, and wealthy statesmen alike. But even though she became one of the most prized geishas in Japan's history, Iwasaki wanted more: her own life. And by the time she retired at age twenty-nine, Iwasaki was finally on her way toward a new beginning.

Geisha, a Life is her story -- at times heartbreaking, always awe-inspiring, and totally true."

(A special thank you to book club member, Tatiana Medvedeva for the suggestion.)

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Narrow Road to the Interior (Shambhala Centaur Editions)

"Here is the most complete single-volume collection of the writings of one of the great luminaries of Asian literature. Basho (1644–1694)—who elevated the haiku to an art form of utter simplicity and intense spiritual beauty—is best known in the West as the author of Narrow Road to the Interior, a travel diary of linked prose and haiku that recounts his journey through the far northern provinces of Japan. This volume includes a masterful translation of this celebrated work along with three other less well-known but important works by Basho: Travelogue of Weather-Beaten Bones, The Knapsack Notebook, and Sarashina Travelogue. There is also a selection of over two hundred fifty of Basho's finest haiku. In addition, the translator has provided an introduction detailing Basho's life and work and an essay on the art of haiku."

Note: A variety of different translations are available with this version recommended as the best.

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The Next Continent

Winner of the prestigious Seiun Award, the Japanese equivalent of the Hugo Award!

"THE PRIVATE MISSION TO THE MOON IS ONE WOMAN’S DESTINY

The year is 2025 and Gotoba Engineering & Construction--a firm that has built structures to survive the Antarctic and the Sahara--has received its most daunting challenge yet. Sennosuke Toenji, the chairman of one of the world's largest leisure conglomerates, wants a moon base fit for civilian use, and he wants his granddaughter Tae to be his eyes and ears on the harsh lunar surface. Tae and Gotoba engineer, Aomine head to the moon where adventure, trouble, and perhaps romance await.

'It harkens to conventions of a certain genre of science fiction and yet is nonetheless infused with Japanese optimism and culture.' — World SF Blog"

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The Stories of Ibis

"Even a machine has tales to tell.

In a world where humans are a minority and androids have created their own civilization, a wandering storyteller meets the beautiful android, Ibis. She tells him seven stories of human/android interaction in order to reveal the secret behind humanity's fall. The tales Ibis tells are about the events surrounding the development of artificial intelligence in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

At a glance, these stories do not appear to have any sort of connection, but what is the true meaning behind them? What are Ibis's real intentions?"

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The Strange Library

"From internationally acclaimed author Haruki Murakami—a fantastical illustrated short novel about a boy imprisoned in a nightmarish library.
 
Opening the flaps on this unique little book, readers will find themselves immersed in the strange world of best-selling Haruki Murakami's wild imagination. The story of a lonely boy, a mysterious girl, and a tormented sheep man plotting their escape from a nightmarish library, the book is like nothing else Murakami has written. Designed by Chip Kidd and fully illustrated, in full color, throughout, this small format, 96-page volume is a treat for book lovers of all ages."

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Strange Weather in Tokyo

Tsukiko is in her late 30s and living alone when one night she happens to meet one of her former high school teachers, 'Sensei', in a bar. He is at least thirty years her senior, retired and, she presumes, a widower. After this initial encounter, the pair continue to meet occasionally to share food and drink sake, and as the seasons pass - from spring cherry blossom to autumnal mushrooms - Tsukiko and Sensei come to develop a hesitant intimacy which tilts awkwardly and poignantly into love. Perfectly constructed, funny, and moving, Strange Weather in Tokyo is a tale of modern Japan and old-fashioned romance.

(A special thank you to book club member, Ivor Watkins for the suggestion.)

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Battle Royale

"In an alternative future Japan, junior high students are forced to fight to the death. Koushun Takami's notorious sci fi novel is based on an irresistible premise: a class of junior high school students is taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided arms and forced to kill one another until only one survivor is left standing. This runaway bestseller is a Lord of the Flies for the 21st century and a potent allegory of what it means to be young and (barely) alive in a dog-eat-dog world. Made into a controversial hit movie of the same name, Battle Royale is already a contemporary Japanese pulp classic, now available in the English language. Koushun Takami's brutal, high-octane thriller is told in breathless, blow-by-blow fashion."

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1Q84

"The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo. A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —'Q is for question mark.’A world that bears a question." Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that his life begins to come unraveled. 

A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s—1Q84 is Haruki Murakami’s most ambitious undertaking yet: an instant best seller in his native Japan, and a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers.."

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