Every time one actually talks about Japan, its all about sushi, kimonos, origami and anime culture. It’s beyond that. Japanese culture is more of discipline and ridiculous way of showing the world that their running the world is entirely different. Even though their history was more of violence and mass massacres. They have taken a sudden measurement of being a peaceful country. Sometimes, if you dig deep into the country’s culture- the crowd has a different perspective and there is a huge moe culture spreading their boundaries. Anime culture has brought the worst and best expectations too. When it’s about literature, the words can strike your heart in a way which might just make you flutter or depress you.
So I have come across certain Japanese novels which one can adapt to it and binge read on the works. I am not including Haruki Murakami’s books though since it has turned into a household name for Japanese contemporary novels all over the places
Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories
Written by Ryunosake Akutagawa and translated by Jay Rubin, the stories based on this literary piece is something which could totally wreck your heart. Its filled with depression, death, chaos. The stories would break you to question the morality vs the existence of evil. Ryunosake Akutagawa’s works are always indulged with pieces which makes one wonder about the depth of life. Some of his words are a fool’s life, the life of stupid man, in a grove.
The edition of this novel can be found in https://www.amazon.in/Rashomon-Seventeen-Stories-Penguin-Classics
The Silent Cry
Kenzaburo Oe ‘s the silent cry is published in 1967. It’s the tale of two brothers who return from Tokyo to their childhood village. They somehow end up trying to get away from the city influences. The relationship fallen into pieces. Things don’t really make them accept the village. Set on the post-war theme, the novel brings sadness and more depth of haunting premises in every statement.
Written by Kenzaburo Oe, he has claimed that his son was the inspiration for him to keep writing. You can check on his other novel called the changeling.
Out is a crime driven novel where a young wife gets strangled by her husband who happens to get murdered by her. She seeks help from her colleagues to cover up the whole dead body. The novel is set out in Tokyo suburbs theme. According to Goodreads review, it contains rape, assault, and gore too. The elements of the novel are too gritty and very dark to comprehend.
This is Natsuo Kirino‘s first novel. Translated by Stephen Snyder and also won Edgar Allan Poe award too. Her other novels like Grotesque, Real world and What Remains are dark and they have violence in too. Its one of those books which can rip your heart apart.
Buy it from https://www.amazon.in/Out-Vintage-International-Natsuo-Kirino
Kitchen is one of the iconic novel written by Banana Yoshimoto/ Mahoko Yoshimoto. Kitchen juxtaposes two tales about mothers, transsexuality, bereavement, kitchens, love, and tragedy in contemporary Japan. It is a startlingly original first work by Japan’s brightest young literary star and is now a cult film.
Kitchen’s first-person perspective allows the reader full access to the mind and heart of Mikage as she paints her fellow characters with empathic observations of them throughout the story. Once you have read enough, you will get to know the explanatory enigma of the emotions flowing through it.
Buy it from https://www.amazon.in/Kitchen-Banana-Yoshimoto
No Longer Human
Osamu Dazai’s “No Longer Human” comprises a series of three fictionalized notebooks, with each increasingly darker than the last. The character writing these books, Yozo, is detached from the beginning and is afraid of human interactions, but he learns how to socialize with people by playing the clown and entertaining his way into favor from a young age. Yet his alienation remains, despite how he may appear from the outside.
Although the events of “No Longer Human” bare similarity to Dazai’s own personal life, the blunt style — without sentiment or nostalgia — distances it from the tone of an actual autobiography. The novel has a timeless quality: The struggle of the individual to fit into a normalizing society remains just as relevant today as it was at the time of writing.
Buy it from https://www.infibeam.com/Books/info/Osamu-Dazai/No-Longer-Human
Kokoro is the tale of a relationship between the senpai and his subordinate. One day, the senpai reveals or confesses his regrets from the past to understand the complexities and how his loneliness has condemned with modernization. The novel captivates the mental ailments such as suicidal tendencies in a descriptive way to understand the depth of those regrets.
Not only, Kokoro is the best novel written by Natsume Soseki but has written several other novels such as I am a cat,botchan which is worth to read for.
Japanese Literature has many to offer and picking best of best doesn’t really do justice. But you can try the above mentioned as an introductory guide to Japanese literature exposure. You can skip the Murakami effect and end up reading something which is old and gold at the same.