Japanese YA Novel Week - 5th to 11th December 2011

Hi everyone, 

I am kicking my Japanese YA Novel week with a little intro post telling you why on earth Japanese literature is my new obsession and give you some interesting websites I keep stalking browsing.
As you can see from the gorgeous logo, I am co-hosting this week with Nina from Death Books and Tea who is a fan of Japanese young adult literature and manga. As you probably guessed from my lack of drawing skills, she is the talented person behind the creation of the logo, not me! We have chosen different books for this week so don't hesitate to go on both blogs to discover them and maybe become as obsessed as we are! I'll try to link to Nina's reviews as they get posted.

I started becoming interested in Japanese literature not a very long time ago to be honest. I knew about Haruki Murakami and Kazuo Ishiguro (though he isn't translated and writes in English) but never really had a specific motivation to read their books, or to even think about Japanese literature as something I would like to read. I love reading foreign literature and I am fascinated by the entire process of translation so I would have gotten there at some point but it never really attracted me.
Then I went to an event with Melvin Burgess organised by Spinebreakers (read Becky @ The Bookette's fantastic event summary) and he talked about the fact that when he first started writing there was hardly any young adult novels (for 15+) and that many teen novels did not talk about what actually happened to a lot of teenagers (sex, violence, drugs, etc.) or if they did, they would present things in an unrealistic way. In this talk, he mentioned Japanese young adult literature which he loved and how they presented serious subjects and had a very gritty and dark aspect to them. He named Snakes and Earrings by Hitomi Kanehara (my review here) and the novels Out, Grotesque and Real World by Natsuo Kirino and that was my revelation.
I already thought that there was a real lack in young adult literature for young adult books (as in from 15 to 18 years old and more) and when I read Snakes and Earrings I felt there was something more in the story, the same something I then found in Natsuo Kirino's books. I am not exactly sure how I could describe it, I think it probably is just one aspect of Japanese culture in general or just in these books, and I am quite simply fascinated by them. 

Japanese culture is very rich and I bet you could spend years trying to get your head wrapped around it and still learn new things everyday. I just got into Anime (Japanese animated cartoons) and realised that a story could be presented in various media: novel, manga and anime. And this is especially true for young adult novels. A Light Novel is a style of novel in Japan which is quite short and mainly targeted at teenagers/young adult. They can be serialised in magazines/journals and often come with illustrations (hence the strong link with manga and anime since the stories can be easily adapted in other medias). This genre is extremely popular in Japan and most of the young adult popular culture is centred around these stories. [Read this article on the subject: Publishing heavyweights see light in growing 'light novel' market | Asahi Japan Watch | November 2011]

Ever since I got interested in Japanese literature, it just opened new perspectives for me as a reader and as an aspiring writer. I am a fan of good stories but also love anything original and I've definitely found new stories or styles of writing I could obsess about - and I hope I can share them with you!


Programme for the week:

Monday - Intro post (which is what you are currently reading!)
Check out Nina's Intro post over at Death Books and Tea and her review of L Change The World by M

In a suburb on the outskirts of Tokyo, four teenage girls drift through a hot smoggy August and tedious summer school classes. There's dependable Toshi; brainy Terauchi; Yuzan, grief-stricken and confused; and Kirarin, whose late nights and reckless behaviour remain a secret from those around her.

Then Toshi's next-door neighbour is found brutally murdered and the girls suspect Worm, the neighbour's son and a high school misfit. But when he disappears (taking Toshi's bike and cell phone with him) the four girls become irresistibly drawn into a treacherous vortex of brutality and seduction which rises from within themselves as well as the world around them.
Read Nina's review of Chain Mail - Addicted To You by Hiroshi Ishizaki over at Death Books and Tea

The novella that first propelled Dazai into the literary elite of post-war Japan. Essentially the start of Dazai's career, Schoolgirl gained notoriety for its ironic and inventive use of language. Now it illuminates the prevalent social structures of a lost time, as well as the struggle of the individual against them--a theme that occupied Dazai's life both personally and professionally. This new translation preserves the playful language of the original and offers the reader a new window into the mind of one of the greatest Japanese authors of the 20th century.

A day in the life of a teenage girl, on the verge of becom­ing a woman. She is deal­ing with a depressed mom, cop­ing with the recent death of her dad, school and the other prob­lems girls like her deal on a daily base. While her inner tur­moil is boil­ing, she keeps a cool façade when it comes to por­tray­ing what she feels. Some­times hyp­o­crit­i­cal, some­times sad but interesting.
Read Nina's review of Audition by Ryu Murakami over at Death Books and Tea

One of Tsutsui's best-known and most popular works in his native Japan, The Girl Who Leapt through Time is the story of fifteen-year-old schoolgirl Kazuko, who accidentally discovers that she can leap back and forth in time. In her quest to uncover the identity of the mysterious figure that she believes to be responsible for her paranormal abilities, she'll constantly have to push the boundaries of space and time, and challenge the notions of dream and reality.
Read Nina's review of Chibi Vampire Novel Volume 1 by Tohry Kai over at Death Books and Tea

Kiyama and his friends Kawabe and Yamashita become fascinated and curious about death when Yamashita's grandmother dies. They wonder what a dead body looks like and if the dead person becomes a ghost. They hope to see death firsthand by spying on an old man who looks like he will die soon. But while they watch the old man, he watches them. Soon their fascination for each other turns into a friendship that will change their lives forever.
Read Nina's review of Vampire Hunter D by Hideyuki Kikuchi over at death Books and Tea

Saturday - Read Nina's review of Kamikaze Girls by Novela Takemoto


Interesting Links:

Whenever I feel like reading anything Japanese, I go browse the blog Contemporary Japanese Literature managed by Kathryn Hemman who is a graduate student in the East Asian Language and Civilizations department at the University of Pennsylvania. She writes very thoughtful reviews on a variety of genres. Her blog is a must-read if you are interested in Japanese literature.

The author Cynthia Leitich Smith has a fantastic part of her website dedicated to "diverse reads" and in particular to books with an Asian Heritage. You can read what she writes about children's and young adult books with Japanese heritage or Japanese themes (here) but do browse the other tabs on her website as it is a truly fantastic resource.

As for most things, Wikipedia is a fantastic tool to gather information and resources. You can visit the article about Light Novels, Manga and the page with a List of Light Novels to browse those you might like. You can browse the Japanese Literature category to find articles on themes you are more interested in. 
For instance, I read a lot of LGBT / Gender and sexuality books and I found that it constitutes an actual genre in Japanese literature. The jargon used for those books is Yuri for any content in manga, anime or books involving love between women, and Bara for any content involving love between men.

UPDATE: I completely forgot to add the page for the Japanese Literature Challenge which has been hosted by Dolce Belezza for the past 4 years. You can participate in the challenge or read the review posted by other bloggers. There also is a suggested reading list if you don't know where to start!

There are probably many other websites on the subject, and I am happy to add any good links here, but those are the websites I mainly use as sources of information.


That is all for today, stay tuned all week on this blog and on Death Books and Tea to read the reviews we will be posting and we hope we'll get some of you interested in reading Japanese Young Adult novels!

Have a lovely week,

Caroline x


  1. Can not wait for these reviews. I adore japanese culture and would love to read YA from Japan. Can see my wish list expanding already!

  2. This sounds like it's going to be such an interesting week. I have read and loved books by Kazuo Ishiguro but I've never read any YA from Japan so I think you're going to open my eyes to a whole new world of books!

  3. Interesting sounding week ahead of you! I'm intrigued :)