Any fan of Japanese fiction will know the big names of Murakami Haruki, Yoshimoto Banana, and Kenzaburo Oe. However, the following are three contemporary Japanese authors that you may want to check out if you would like a taste of what’s hot in the Nihon literary scene today.
If you are interested in Japanese corporate culture and life for salarymen after the bubble, Jun is your author. Several of his novels follow the banker protagonist Naoki Hanzawa as he often must deal with various banking and financial crises. Mr. Ikeido also writes mystery and suspense novels, as well as light political comedy. His novel Tami-o [Citizen King] is a Japanese Freaky Friday where the Prime Minister and his son switch bodies. He won the Naoki Prize, an award given for “the best work of popular literature in any format by a new, rising, or (reasonably young) established author,” for his 2011 novel Shitamachi Roketto [Downtown Rocket] which is currently a popular Sunday night drama starring Abe Hiroshi. Both of these recent dramatizations show how popular this author has become.
Do you like a little warm humanity with your cold mathematics? You can get your wish with Yuko Ogawa’s best-known work Hakase No Aishita Suushiki [The Housekeeper and the Professor], a story of a housekeeper who cleans for a retired math professor who can only remember the last 80 minutes. The professor builds a bond with the housekeeper’s young son through baseball and Euler’s formula – some of the only information he can remember. In addition Mrs. Ogawa has also written tales of the grotesque and a non-fiction book about the beauty of numbers. She gained some publicity when she won the prestigious Akutagawa Prize (a rival to the Naoki Prize) in 1990 for her work Ninshin Karenndaa [Pregnancy Calendar]. This prize is usually given out twice a year for the best serious literary story published in a newspaper or magazine by a new or rising author.
Speaking of the Akutagawa Prize, this comedian author won the prize in July 2015 for his popular novel Hibana [Spark]. One can’t go a minute watching morning news programs in Japan and miss this development due to his constant presence as well as other commentators wondering if they should call him “sensei” now. Mr. Matayoshi is one half of the comedy duo Peace and is one of the few “talent” authors recognized before retiring. Hibana follows the relationship between a young comedian and his older sempai, most likely based on the author’s real adventures moving up through the rough and tumble Japanese comedy world. This is a perfect book for you to test your Japanese abilities as it is short and hasn’t yet been translated into English.
These three authors will give you a glimpse into the world of contemporary Japanese literature. Who are some of your favorite authors?