1. The Devotion of Suspect X
Keigo Higashino is the modern Agatha Christie of Japan, having written several best selliing mystery thrillers that have fascinated the country. His novels also form the basis of several successful films and television series in Japan. Higashino achieved international fame with the translation of his classic The Devotion of Suspect X involving Professor Galileo, a recurring crime solving genius character in his books. Higashino books are often set in urban Japan and provide great insights into the day to day life of those cities and the habits of the people who live there. From buying a bento on his way to work, as does the protagonist of the book, to figuring out the inner workings of the hospitality industry (in his other superhit Masquerade series) Higashino’s books are also great entertainers.The Devotion of Suspect X is definitely one of his finest books and perhaps one of the best mystery novels of our times.
2. The Elephant Vanishes
Perhaps the most well know Japanese write of our times, Haruki Murakami’s name often pops up every year in newspapers across the world as a favorite to win the Nobel Prize, which continues to evade him. His works are often a blend of reality and whimsy, fantasy and urban solitude with a voice and tone that is uniquely Murakami’s. His books are translated into several languages and are often quoted by many in their favorite books of all time. The Elephant Vanishes is a great collection of short stories that are a perfect entry into Murakami’s unique surreal world which is just a degree away from our reality. His short stories are full of dialogue and a great way to understand the cadences in every day spoken Japanese as well.
3. All You Need is Kill
The light novel phenomenon in Japan exists as a tool to encourage young readers to step beyond manga and read some long prose. Japanese light novels are normally fantasies and/or simple love stories or some sort of mystery combined with science fiction/fantasy designed to cater to the adolescent boys and girls who read it. Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s All You Need Is Kill goes beyond these simple targets, while sticking to the codes, by playing with many genres- military science fiction, politics, romance, dystopia and so much more – with great character development to boot. If you are looking for a great fast read and understand young fiction in Japanese this is the one to go to.
When Kitchen was published in the end of the 80s, Banana Yashimoto created a quiet revolution. With a light, extremely easy prose she brought poetry to the lives of many of Japan’s young who were feeling alienated and lost in those times of fast economic growth and change. While touching tragic events that could be real tear jerkers, Kitchen avoids these traps to actually narrate a beautiful, funny, sweet story of love and growing up. The book was translated into several languages and transformed Yoshimoto into a literary superstar. A must read for all those who look to understand Japan of the 80s and 90s, on its way to becoming a global superpower and the lives of its young at that time.
5. Convenience Store Woman
Published in 2016, Sayaka Murata’s novel became an instant literary sensation with this novel describing the life of a woman with a slightly unconventional point of view on life who working as a part time assistant in a convenience store. With hilarious deadpan prose delivered by an eccentric yet likeable narrator the novel captures the atmosphere of the familiar convenience store that is so much part of life in Japan. The novelist explains that the book was written to celebrate “someone who defied conventional thinking, particularly in a conformist society”. A great insight into modern Japanese culture.