Which led to a great revival of literature from Japan

With their novelistic experiments with form and content, bold literary ideas and a sense of rhythm, Japanese writers in translation are achieving commercial success and critical acclaim more than ever before.

Japanese writers

The boom in Latin American literature in the 1960s and 1970s, led by Gabriel García Márquez (Colombia), Carlos Fuentes (Mexico), and Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru), changed the contours of world literature in unprecedented ways. Announcement by Marquez One hundred years of solitude (1967), a multi-generational saga of the Buendía family set in the fictional town of Macondo, marked a special ‘before and after’ moment for many writers around the world.

Soaked in the rich history and culture of Colombia, the novel is a genre of magical realism, which erases the border between the real and the fantastic, and has become part of the literary consciousness of several generations of readers and writers. Márquez’s mixture of myth and fantasy and his vivid metaphors have left an indelible mark on the imagination of several writers, including Salman Rushdie, whose phantasmagorical novel Midnight’s children (1981), in which he mines the memory of his family, is an irresistible ode to magical realism.

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Chinese writer Mo Yan (67), who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2012, was so amazed One hundred years of solitudeand that he had read its Chinese translation several times. His novels, in which he evokes his childhood and homeland, bear this literary influence. The Nobel Prize described Yan as a writer who combines folk tales, history and modernity with hallucinatory realism.


Decades after the boom in Latin America, a group of fiction writers is leading the revival of Japanese literature. With their novelistic experiments with form and content, bold literary ideas and a sense of rhythm, Japanese writers in translation are achieving commercial success and critical acclaim more than ever before. Their works are regularly published in the UK and USA and have gained a worldwide readership.

Magical Realism: The Arc of Influence

Japanese translation One hundred years of solitude, published in 1972, it was a turning point in the cultural life of 20th century Japan. In addition to writers, it has become a source of inspiration for professionals in the fields of cinematography, drama and anime. Japanese writers such as Kōbō Abe (1924-1993), Kenzaburō Ōe (87) and Natsuki Ikezawa (77) openly acknowledged Marquez’s influence on their writing. More recently, in the novels of Haruki Murakami, magical realism serves as a tool to depict the twisted reality of his traumatized characters. Ōe won the Nobel Prize in 1994, according to the citation, for creating “a fictional world, in which life and myth condense to form a disturbing picture of today’s human predicament.”

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Incidentally, Abe entered a period of depression after reading Marquez’s epic. He was hit by a long-term writer’s block that lasted until 1982, when Márquez received the Nobel Prize. After the Nobel Prize, Abe was immortalized by the Colombian author and ceased to be his direct competition. His widow, Machi, discovered this years after his death.

Natsuki Ikezawa (77), another of Japan’s most famous writers, once said that there wasn’t One hundred years of solitude, he would never write his novel, The Navidad Incident: The Fall of Matias Guilio (1993); the fictional Pacific island named Navidad on which it is set is, like Macondo, a universe unto itself, and Ikezawa, like Marquez, resorts to allegories to explain modern Japan.

Japanese poet, filmmaker and theater director Shuji Terayama (1935-1983), who adapted the novel for the big screen, had to change the title to Saraba no Hakobune (Goodbye to Ark), after failing to impress Marquez, who refused to allow him to use the novel’s title for the film; it was screened at Cannes in 1985 as Terayama’s posthumous work. In Terayama’s film, Macondo is imbued with Japanese folk culture. At one point, all city clocks disappear. There are notes taped to the objects to identify them. The woman is punished with the belt of virginity, which is shaped like a cancer.

A resurgence led by women

Although manga (comic books) and video games are popular forms of entertainment in Japan, it is literature that remains the best way to deal with the country’s troubles and hardships. Today, Japanese contemporary writers are telling quixotic, unconventional stories that boast intriguing characters and indelible images. If Haruki Murakami (74) and Keigo Higashino (64) have earned their permanent place in the global publishing calendar, readers are also discovering the dystopian world of Ryu Murakami (70), whose novels also focus on alienation and existential crisis — as surreal and sinister as Haruki Murakami.

In recent years, young Japanese women writers have been feeding the growing demand in the West for Japanese stories entangled in social insecurity, perversion and psychological wounds. Last year, The sky (Europa Editions, 2021), a heartbreaking story about a 14-year-old bullied by Mieko Kawakami (46), was shortlisted for the Booker International Prize. Known for her novels about pieces of life like Strange weather in Tokyo (2001) and Nakano used goods store (2005), both translated by Alison Markin Powell, are set in the heart of remote Tokyo. In 2020, Yoko Ogawa (60) became a finalist for the Booker International Prize for The memory police. Translated by Stephen Snyder, it is “an uncomfortable and provocative fable about the power of memory and the trauma of loss,” as the Booker Prize jury called it.

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In 2021, Aoko Matsuda (43) received the World Fantasy Award for the English translation of her short stories, Where are the wild ladies, translated by Polly Barton. In 2020, Miri Yu (53) won the US National Award for Translation for English Translation for Tokyo Ueno Station, translated by Morgan Giles. Sayaka Murata (43) won the Akutagawa Award for A woman in a shop (Portobello Books, 2018), which records the problems of a woman working in a shop, with a touch of humor; it was a bestseller in the UK and USA and sold more than 2,50,000 copies.

IN Memoirs of a Polar Bear, Yoko Tawada (62) portrays Japan as a dystopia where young people are born fragile and old. Translated by Susan Bernofsky, it contains the stories of three generations of polar bears. Her novel from 2014. The last children of Tokyo (translated by Margaret Mitsutani), was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Among the younger generation, Emi Yagi (34) announced. Diary of a Void, her first novel, in which a woman feigns pregnancy to avoid an unpaid office job, last year.

In their quest to find more Japanese stories, publishers and translators are also turning to writers like Kōno Taeko (1926-2015), who was known for her scathing essays, and Yūko Tsushima (1947-2016), who earned a reputation for her unflinching portrayal of women’s deepest fears and desires.

The rise of Japanese literature in translation looks set to continue for years to come. His modern literature was shaped by the interactions between native traditions and imported forms and styles during the Meiji period (1868–1912), which marked the reopening of Japan to the West, ending more than two centuries of self-imposed national isolation, and launching major experiments in literature. It was long before the Latin American boom and Marquez. Literature that was created in the first quarter of the 21st centurySt century in Japan has the background of another boom, signaling the shift of the literary world to the East.

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