The moment you talk of Japanese literature to anglophones the very first name that pops up is of course Haruki Murakami. Otherwise, it’s Keigo Higashino, the master of mystery and crime. Sometimes you hear names like Kawabata or Yoshimoto, from the lips of the extremely well-read type, with a keen interest in world literature. We thought, maybe, we could talk of a few novels that have a real cult following in Japan and not too well known outside- perhaps because they are not as widely translated and are hence, a little difficult to find.

Japan Sinks

Sakyo Komatsu is considered one of the biggest science fiction writers from Japan. A writer with great literary ambitions, Komatsu decided to elevate the genre of science fiction to literature in the minds of his compatriots.In this masterwork a series of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions shake Japan. It soon becomes evident that all of Japan is destined to sink into the sea. So how do the political masters react in such a situation? How varied are the reactions of the people? How does the world react to such a cataclysm?Realistically rendered with a strong scientific spine, Japan Sinks is the ultimate disaster- sci-fi ever written.  

Hanzawa Naoki Series

Jun Ikeido created his banker, Hanzawa Naoki, in 2004 with the book “We, the Bubble Generation (Ore thachi baburu nyukougumi)”. Set in the cut-throat, highly bureaucratic, and hierarchical world of Japan’s banking system, the book is as realistic in its setting as it could get, given that Jun Ikeido was a banker himself. The protagonist- Naoki- enters the scene as a starry-eyed novice who soon gets caught in a web of deceit and fraud. While to most a setting like a bank might seem like an insomnia cure, Ikeido’s books are amazing thrillers, with a new shock revelation in every chapter. When the books were televised in 2013, Hanzawa Naoki became the most-watched TV series in Japan’s history and even earned fans from Mexico and many other countries. 

Kick You In The Back!

Written by Risa Wataya when she was all of 19 years old, Kick You In The Back reaped literary awards when it was published in 2003. An immediate hit with the “recession generation”, the book is a non-romance (in the words of the writer) set in a high school. The heroine- Hatsu- is eccentric, lonely and a pretty unreliable narrator who finally finds “love” with a classmate whom she loves to kick in the back! One of the major reasons for the success of the book is that several young readers immediately identified themselves with the loneliness of the high-schoolers- their life completely dominated by societal constraints and the pressure to succeed. A must-read!


The lesser-known Murakami from Japan (at least from the global point of view) Ryu Murakami is an extremely popular and respected writer in Japan. His novels are more uproarious and shocking and bound to upset the sensibilities of the Haruki Murakami reader who is more used to the dreamy surrealism of the latter.69, is a rambunctious memoir of the year 1969, when Japan’s young people were enamored with the counter-culture protests across the world and tried their bit to change their country. 69’s hero- Kensuke- lives in a small town far removed from the excitement of Tokyo and tries to recreate his own barricade/protest in his school to disastrous and of course, hilarious effect. Young, obsessed with girls, intellectually pretentious, and as deluded as possible- Kensuke is an unforgettable hero and absolutely cult in Japan. 

The Great Passage

Familiar to many through its popular anime series and the super hit film, The Great Passage was a literary sensation in Japan when it was published in 2011. Set in a small publishing house that prides itself of its Japanese dictionary, the film is a love song to the language and the people who love it. The writer Shion Miura who also wrote the cult “Run with the wind”- a novel about a group of boys who take part in the Ekiden race- invests the characters with immense depth while keeping her touch light. The hero- Majime- who adores the nuances of the Japanese language and his small but dedicated editorial team jump to life in front of the reader’s eyes. Their passion for the language would make every reader want to learn a little bit of Japanese and discover the magic for themselves!

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