We live in a fast-paced world where free time is a rare privilege. From the food we eat, to the news we watch, and the entertainment we consume, people expect instant gratification. In less than a second, or the time it takes for a person to click a button, people anticipate that they will get what they want or need. We have arrived at a sad age when headlines matter more than actual articles, photos matter more than food or real life experiences, and gifs are more popular than videos. Who has time for anything these days? More so, who has time to read anymore? We’re all busy multi-tasking, being on the go, and ranting about not having enough time.
But readers are different. We dedicate time and effort to be able to meditate with the sacred pages that shelter the words we live through. We make appointments with ourselves, if we have to. However sometimes that’s not enough. Sometimes no matter how you juggle your schedule, things just don’t work out and you can’t find a time window to have a proper reading session.
That’s probably why Japanese literature resonates with a lot of people these days. Their novels are written with simplicity, grace, and brevity. In a world that’s so hurried and frenzied, Japanese literature is a breath of calm fresh air. They provide a satisfying reading experience without being taxing and time constraining. But what really sets apart Japanese fiction from Western contemporaries is that plot development and action are secondary interest to emotional issues. Their style focuses more on the internal conflict rather than external events. That’s why for people who do not have enough time for self-reflection or self-assessment, reading these works can be therapeutic.
So for those people searching for a relaxing break, we compiled a short list of the most brilliant Japanese short novels. These books will quench your thirst for reading and calm your hyperactive nerves, without taking away too much of your precious time.
The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima
The Sound of Waves is a simple tale of a fisherman who falls in love with the beautiful daughter of the most prosperous man on their small island. At the surface a heart wrenching story of impossible love, but on a deeper layer also a melancholy cry against the encroachment of the modern western world to the simple life of rural Japan.
After Dark by Haruki Murakami
This short novel about strange things that happen during the night is an entrée in the gourmet realm of Murakami’s works; a tasty little sample to savor standing amidst the master’s more formidable courses. It is a short interconnected tale about different people who, like some of us, are most alive when the earth is devoured by its own shadow.
Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa
Equally intoxicating and disquieting, Hotel Iris is the story of Mari, a 17 year-old girl, her sexual awakening in the hands of a 67 year-old Russian Translator and their consuming sadomasochistic affair that tests the limits of love and desire.
Piercing by Ryu Murakami
Piercing follows a man trying to come to terms with his overwhelming desire to stab his infant child with an ice pick. He resolves to divert the impulse into an unsuspecting prostitute. However, as he begins to execute his meticulous crime everything, including his past, begins to unravel.
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto is divided into two stories of love, loss, and hope. Kitchen, is a short window into the life of a young Japanese woman and her discoveries about food and love amongst a background of tragedy. In Moonlight Shadow, a woman named Satsuki loses her boyfriend Hitoshi in an accident. On one insomniac night out walking she meets a strange woman called Urara who has also lost someone. Urara introduces her to the mystical experience of The Weaver Festival Phenomenon, which she hopes will cauterize their collective grief
Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata
Snow Country is a love story. Shimamura is a Tokyo man of weak passion, a connoisseur of desultoriness and lethargy, yet when he meets the naïve and transparent country girl named Komako something inside him is stirred. A curious relationship blossoms between them. It is the type of connection rekindled only every few months, grounded on change, one that developed in spurts, but one that ingrained itself into the core of both their beings. It is easily one of the most beautiful novels to have been written.
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