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Japanese Novels Translated Into English – Our Favorite Picks

Japanese literature has come a long way since its early development. Many of today’s literary pieces are known for evoking various emotions which are purely human, while explicitly describing the rich culture of the country. In this article, we have listed ten recommended Japanese novels which have been translated into English, from the works of Haruki Murakami to those of Osamu Dazai.


1. Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood is a coming-of-age romantic story written by Haruki Murakami. Set in Tokyo, the book takes its readers to the mind of a young man named Toru, a serious yet reserved college student, who was hopelessly in love with Naoko, a beautiful yet withdrawn young woman. Poignant and melancholic, Norwegian wood would surely had its readers’ eyes bawling by the last chapter.

2. Chain Mail: Addicted to You

Written by Hiroshi Ishizaki, Chain Mail: Addicted to You explores the lives of four disillusioned teenagers from Tokyo — who have never met — are suddenly drawn together because of a series of chain messages sent to their phones. With its excellent writing and exciting premise, readers will have a glimpse into the lives of Japanese teenagers.

3. Thousand Cranes

Thousand Cranes is a compelling novel about how individuals continue to conform to traditional values. Written by Novel Prize Winner Yasunari Kawabata, Thousand Cranes starts of when Kikuji meets his father’s former mistress while attending a traditional tea ceremony. Unprecedented passion, jealousy, and sensual nostalgia surround the characters, making the book a worthwhile read.

4. Hardboiled & Hard Luck

The book entitled Hardboiled & Hard Luck is actually a collection of two novellas written by Banana Yoshimoto which depict lives of young Japanese women.. The first story, Hardboiled, is about a woman who was devastated over her breakup with her girlfriend. On the other hand, Hard Luck is about a woman who’s in a miserable state following the doctor’s advice to pull the life support which is keeping her sister alive.

5. The Key & Diary of a Mad Old Man

The Key & Diary of a Mad Old Man is another collection of stories written by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki. Written in a diary form, the stories are about the protagonists’ deepest and darkest desires. The Key records the plight between a middle-aged professor and his wife. In the Diary of a Mad Old Man, an aged man discovers that he still has raging desires over younger women.

6. Kokoro

Sōseki Natsume’s Kokoro recounts three stories which pierce the heart of the reader. The three-part novel explores the concept of loneliness against varying backdrops. The story is rich in intimate conversations between the unnamed protagonist and his sensei. The author’s masterful way of writing has evoked different emotions from its readers through the years.

7. Out

Natsuo Kirino’s Out is a complex and riveting story of an intense crime in one of the suburbs of Tokyo. A hardworking young mother brutally kills her husband by strangling. She, then, seeks the help of her colleagues to dispose of the body and cover up her unwanted crime.

8. Coin Locker Babies

Coin Locker Babies is a coming-of-age story written by Ryū Murakami which explores the lives of two boys who were abandoned at birth, who set off for the city to find the woman who rejected them. Set against an eerie 20th century Japan, the author mixes horror with dark comedy and social commentary to arrive at a gripping novel.

9. The Changeling

The Changeling is a fascinating novel written by Nobel Prize-winning author Kenzaburō Ōe which narrates the life of Kogito Choko, a writer who is already in his sixties. The book takes its readers through a wandering story set against a series of interesting sceneries, from the forests of southern Japan to the streets of Berlin.

10. Blue Bamboo: Japanese Tales of Fantasy

Blue Bamboo is a collection of seven short stories written by Osamu Dazai. Filled with ghouls and sprites, these stories present the rich imagination of the author while exploring his idealistic side. The stories mix allegory, fable, and romance in several short stories that will surely satisfy its readers.

Immersing ourselves into these books will surely transport us into the lives of these fictitious characters. Not only will we feel the emotions they have felt, but we will also gain new insights regarding the world we live in. Moreover, we will get to know more about the rich culture and lifestyle which characterize Japan.