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Contemporary female Japanese writers whom I love

In recent years, the Japanese literary landscape has been populated by a host of women devoted to the truth: about their country, society and their condition.

It is not a question of simple feminism, that is a narrative aimed at the gender struggle for emancipation in a now trite and ineffective style, but a way of producing literature in a realistic way.

If in the 90s Japanese literature portrayed women in a way I would dare to say "ideal" (just think of the female descriptions of Haruki Murakami, who has so much symbolically crystallized the female sex that one wonders if he has really dated a woman) or hermetically formal (Banana Yoshimoto), embroidering a protective muffled world, the 2000s are definitely breaking. Women take possession of their space with the overwhelming desire to tell their situation. Not with complaints, but with profound realism.


I wanted to select some female writers and some of their novels. Authors and works that, in my opinion, stand out completely out of the chorus from the "national literature", that is, the one that should represent the merits of the nation and that is worthy of being exported all over the world to qualify Japan as a dream country, ancient and melancholy.

These are multiple award-winning voices out of the chorus, bearers of contradictions and that stirring with both hands in a daily life full of grotesque, loneliness, precariousness and inequalities.


MURATA SAYAKA

Born in 1979, she is originally from Chiba prefecture.

Murata Sayaka cookingwiththehamster
Murata Sayaka | © minimumfaxlab.com

Conveniece store woman

(2016)

Furukura Keiko is a strange, introverted girl who decides to fully conform to family and social expectations by working in one of the many konbini (supermarkets open 24 hours). A novel about social immobility (Keiko has had a fixed-term contract for eighteen years) and about the corporate mission. The konbini is a monumental figure of speech.

NATSUO KIRINO

Pseudonym of Mariko Hashioka, originally from Kanazawa, born in 1951.

Celebrated as the author of detective novels, she is considered one of the most important Japanese writers.

She began her career as an author of romance novels, later moving on to crime: the critics have lashed out against her asserting that women should only write love novels. The reason for so much resentment? The plots she developed are very often reflected in reality, where the number of murders is constantly and dramatically increasing.

Her novels recall the American ones of the 1920s but with multiple perspectives, giving more sincerity to the characters. The style is pressing, full of twists and saturated with macabre elements that recall the horror genre, returning an extremely realistic perspective of Japan, far from the sweetened kawaii vision. The author has in fact declared that her novels give a representation of Japan different from the "global literature" of Haruki Murakami, who, in her opinion, writes for an international audience.

Loneliness, materialism and the spasmodic idea of ​​success are some of the major themes dealt with in all of her work.

Natsuo Kirino cookingwiththehamster
Natsuo Kirino | © mydramalist.com

Out

(1997)

Considered to be Kirino's most successful novel, it follows the story of four women who work in a bento factory on the outskirts of Tokyo. They are very different women but united by the alienating part-time work they carry out during the night shift, considered the lowest step on the ladder of social prestige. One of them, one evening, exasperated by her anger, kills her husband. Her colleagues help her dismember the body and hide it.

Morbide guance

Yawarakana hoho, 1999

Yuka, a five-year-old girl, suddenly disappears. Hence the traumatic elaboration of mother Kasumi's sense of guilt. Set in the evocative and dreamlike landscape of Hokkaido, this noir and intimate novel illustrates the differences in social status given by wealth and poverty.

Grotesque

(2003)

Two prostitutes are murdered inexplicably: Yuriko (whose beauty has allowed her everything in life) and the envious Kazue. Initially schoolmates, over time they clashed with social conventions, forcing themselves to become "grotesque". In my opinion this is the most beautiful novel written by Kirino, a cross-section of Japanese society as I have rarely read about it.

Real world

(2003)

In Tokyo, four female students spend a sweltering summer preparing for college entrance exams. A very strange noise comes from the apartment next door. There lives Worm, the strange neighbor who killed his mother and who fled. While escaping, as an anonymous and shy character, he discovers the thrill of notoriety given by media visibility, thus becoming an exalted one. The girls discover a world made up of internet and Reality TV where boys are anxiously waiting for a guide that emphasizes their diversity and redeems them from a system that obliges them to be approved. A leader who stressed how different they are from their parents and previous generations.

MIEKO KAWAKAMI

Born in 1976, she is today considered one of the greatest exponents of Japanese feminism in literature. Before devoting herself to writing (both prose and poetry) she worked in a factory as a bar hostess, bookstore clerk and j-pop singer.

Mieko Kawakami cookingwiththehamster
Mieko Kawakami | © staynerd.com

Heaven

(2009)

Crooked Eyes is a protagonist who has no real name. Harassed for his diversity, he finds solace in his friendship with Kojima, brutalized for her poverty. It is a novel about bullying, isolation, the horror of loneliness, the deep nihilism and guiltlessness of bullies and physical violence.It is set in the 90s, a period in which this social problem together with the phenomenon of hikikomori have taken root - here an insight into this decade and the enjo kōsai.

Breasts and eggs

(2019)

Intimate journey of three women in search of freedom in their pressing present. Makiko heads to Tokyo to find a clinic that will put an affordable breast implant on her. She is accompanied by her daughter Midoriko, with whom she has not spoken for six months. Years later, Natsuko, a successful writer, returns to Osaka: obsessed with the fear of growing old alone, she decides to become a mother by turning to a clinic specializing in assisted fertilization. It is a monumental novel about the woman's body, its aspects, changes and her social role, including expectations. It is considered Kawakami's most important and impressive work.

HIROKO OYAMADA

Born in Hiroshima in 1983, after graduating in Japanese Literature she has carried out numerous jobs including a worker. Her novels are steeped in Kafkaesque suggestions and have their roots in the precariousness of youth, which she draws grotesque scenarios bordering on paradox.

Hiroko Oyamada cookingwiththehamster
Hiroko Oyamada | © nautiljon.com

The factory

(2013)

The factory is as big as a city, a labyrinth that is all the same. Fresh out of college, Yoshiko sees her dream come true by hiring in the factory, despite her fixed-term contract, hourly payment, and the pernicious repetitive task of shredding documents all day. Yoshio, as a precarious researcher in a provincial university, moves to the factory with a permanent contract: his task, given from scratch, is to design green roofs. According to his professor, hiring in the factory is everyone's dream. Ushiyama worked as a computer technician in a firm before being fired without explanation. He now he is a proofreader. But what does this factory produce? It is a novel about the liturgy of work, where the only god seems to be that of time. The author wrote it after her personal experience in an automobile factory.

The hole

(2014)

Asa goes to live with her husband away from the city. She is a jobless housewife with little money and no stimulus. One day she spots a strange dark animal but she doesn't really understand what she is. Following him, she falls into a deep hole. All around, eccentric and grotesque characters, alienating and metaphorical experiences.


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