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2008: Open book thread

Bookishly yours, Treyvaud

As L+L editor I have failed miserably to organize the posting of some sort of “Best books of 2008” list at Néojaponisme this month. Fortunately, this is the internet, so I’m going to crowd-source it instead. Please go crazy in the comments section, electing a King of Books by popular acclaim and thrusting a rude crown of yongs upon its weary brow. I hope that allowances will also be made for queens, dukes, stewards, etc. (Participants in this thread, I choose you!)

In the meantime I have decided to plug a 2008 book that I think more Japanese language and literature nerds should be down with: Yakuchū renju shikaku (『訳注聯珠詩格』, “An annotated translation of Lianzhu Shige“). This is — bear with me — a modern paperback edition, with modern notes and editing courtesy of Ibi Takashi (揖斐高) for Iwanami Bunko, of an Edo-period edition, with contemporary translation and editing courtesy of Kashiwagi Jotei (柏木如亭), of an early Yuan poetry anthology called Lianzhu Shige (『聯珠詩格』, “Poetic forms [arranged] like a strand of beads”), edited by Cai Zhengsun (蔡正孫), based on an earlier anthology by Yu Ji (于濟).

Why is it so great? Two reasons: Ibi’s afterword, which compresses a cloud of detail encompassing everything from Chinese history to Edo-period approaches to translation into a mere 25 gemlike pages, and Kashiwagi’s translations into the Edo vernacular, which are an unadulterated delight.

I wrote about this on my own blog earlier in the year, but it needs to be said again: this is a great book for anyone interested in the Chinese influence on Japan’s literary scene. You get Chinese, Edo-period kundoku, Edo-dialect translations (更無 → sappari nai; 成末 → dekita ka dō da), and modern scholarly notes, all on the same page. I’ve been enjoying this since it came out, and I don’t intend to stop any time soon.

P.S.: Regarding manga, looking back on the year I found myself mostly reading new volumes in series I already enjoyed, so I’ll leave this to the comment gallery too. I do want to tip my hat to two artists: Sakai Kunie for Reiko Monogatari (『麗子物語』, “The Tale of Reiko”), a great domestic-gag manga; and Banko Kuze for her perfectly-executed pandering to the librophile demographic with Haitatsu Akazukin (『配達あかずきん』, “Delivery-girl Red Riding Hood”; based on Osaki Kozue’s book of the same name). I won’t lie and say I could resist its siren song myself.

December 11, 2008

Matt Treyvaud is a writer and translator living near Kamakura. He is Néojaponisme's Literature/Language editor and the proprietor of No-sword.

24 Responses

  1. ale/pepino Says:

    Almost all Japanese books and comics I read this year were older too, but I’d like to mention Eiji Nonaka’s comic “Mirai Chōnaikai” (野中英次 未来町内会) which didn’t taste like new stuff at all.

  2. claytonian Says:

    Hm. In lieu of a comment subscription option, I hope you do a follow up post with the results.

  3. M-Bone Says:

    This I enjoyed –

    “(Participants in this thread, I choose you!)”

    While I was the brutal offender there, I’m sorry to say that because I hit so much manga and got stuck on some older European stuff for a while, I bought far more works Japanese literature and non-fiction this year than I actually read. This has been a long trend for me – I’m still catching up on stuff from 2003.

    One of the notable things for me when considering Japanese publishing over the last few years is the revival of a whole lot of older manga –

    聖マッスル by ふくしま政美 stands out as a truly strange forerunner of lots of later Seinen manga. 血だるま剣法 by 平田弘史 is amazing. I read both for the first time this year.

    For fiction, I’m only about 30 pages into this but I’ll give it a nod –
    バースト・ゾーン―爆裂地区. It looks like it will turn out to be a surprisingly layered piece of dystopian, anti-war sci-fi.

    Other nods –
    – “Vagabond” for deconstructing shonen manga.
    – For pure cheese, I have to recommend 範馬刃牙.
    – 子どもの最貧国・日本 – I didn’t agree with some of this, but it certainly tears down some national myths.
    – ルポ 児童虐待 (朝日新書)and ルポ 児童虐待 (朝日新書). Two more on critical issues. Good use of testimony.
    – NHK’s “Working Poor” books – a cross media project pushing for political change in an important way.
    – 好戦の共和国アメリカ―戦争の記憶をたどる (岩波新書) Somebody has to translate this into English.
    – ウィーン―都市の近代 (岩波新書). There are bigger books on the time and place in English, but I’m not sure that there are any as fun to read.
    – カラー版 浮世絵 (岩波新書) – this one is great for the narrative and the images as well.
    – 近代日本の画家たち―日本画・洋画美の競演 (別冊太陽 日本のこころ 154) This is a fantastic volume.
    – 河鍋暁斎―奇想の天才絵師 超絶技巧と爆笑戯画の名手 This year, I got a new favorite Bakumatsu artist.

  4. M-Bone Says:

    “pandering to the librophile demographic”


    While it is a few years old now, people who are reading this thread will probably appreciate a librophile gag manga.

  5. M-Bone Says:

    “ルポ 児童虐待 (朝日新書)and ルポ 児童虐待 (朝日新書).”

    Screwed up here. Second one should be 子どもへの性的虐待.

    Why am I reading this? I try to read the best and the worst of Japan.

    On a similar note, this is a good book about the Freeter meatgrinder hitting academia –

    高学歴ワーキングプア 「フリーター生産工場」としての大学院

    This is arguably a worse problem outside of Japan, but there is a lack of serious writing on the “adjuntification” of higher education and this has some scary stories. Hits the right balance of outrage, reportage, interviews, and finger pointing. Fascinating snapshot.

  6. W. David MARX Says:

    I literally spent the year reading the most famous fiction and non-fiction of the 20th century in order (I’m up to 1911 and Zuleika Dobson), so I am not much help. The Japanese books I read were all old.

    I am, however, currently reading Miura Atsushi’s new one 『女はなぜキャバクラ嬢になりたいのか?』 , which I will no doubt be reviewing as revenge for all the bashing I got on that Meta hostess thread about how I had no idea what I was talking about. For all those language students who think reading Japanese is hard, I recommend all these pop sociology books. Easy-peasy.

  7. bleah Says:

    聯珠詩格 not 聯珠詩歌?

  8. Matt TREYVAUD Says:

    Well, that was super effective. But I demand more!

    Pop sociologywise, I really enjoyed ケータイ小説的。——“再ヤンキー化”時代の少女たち by 速水健朗, and am trying to think of a good way to write about it here.

    For cheese, I thought のぼうの城 by 和田竜 was a blast, once I got past the initial 30 pages or so of proper noun-introducing. I understand that Wada adapted it from a movie script of his, and it shows in the pacing. (It’s also fun to imagine a movie where the director periodically puts the action on hold to show NHK-style modern-day footage of someone’s grave, as Wada does in the novel.)

    Also, a chef friend says that 基本をきわめるフランス料理 by 三谷青吾 was her favorite cooking book published this year.

    M-bone: I hear you on Kyosai. I’ve actually been looking for a good Kyosai book, so thanks for the recommendation.

    Bleah: Yeah, it’s 詩格 as in “poetic form”(s). Like, “Zekku where lines 3 and 4 are references to historical figures”, etc.

    Ale/Pepino: Nonaka is an underrated genius of characterization, 3-mei-sama style, and he absolutely nails that proto-otaku-age visual thing. That said, I always get tired of his setups before he (apparently) does…

  9. Daniel Says:

    Anyone read the manga SOIL? The first few volumes were great, but it got too crazy at some point and now I can’t remember any of the characters. Haven’t finished volume 8 and I’m not sure if I’ll make it to 9, which just came out. Also want to read Asano Inio’s new collection of shorts 世界の終わりと夜明け前, but I’m going to make myself read the one I already have first – 素晴らしい世界 volume 2. 深夜の食堂 looks like fun, too. As you can probably tell, I can’t stand things that get serialized forever. Finish the story already!

    Has anyone read anything by 伊坂幸太郎? I know nothing about him but have been eyeing the big version of his new book モダンタイムズ with the illustrations that were included when it was serialized in Morning. It’s a little pricey (and long), so I’ve held off so far. Anyone know if it’s worth reading?

  10. M-Bone Says:

    Re: Matt’s point that he’s mostly reading manga that have been running for a while – it seems like most here are saying the same thing. I tend to wait until there are 5-6 tankobon (2-3 years worth) out before getting into a series – one or two volumes is not enough narrative to sink one’s teeth into, I think.

    Come to think of it, “Vinland Saga” is really starting to hit a stride….

    Also forgot about サマヨイザクラ裁判員制度の光と闇 and モリのアサガオ 7―新人刑務官と或る死刑囚の物語. These somehow end up mixing the best elements of Yamada Yoji movies, Miike Takashi stuff, and…. hey, maybe Neojaponisme.

    “Has anyone read anything by 伊坂幸太郎?”

    I read 魔王 and it was decent. I’m hoping to see better from 伊坂 but don’t have the time to go looking now. I have been thinking of giving SOIL a go and will grab it soon.

    What do all youse think of 桐野 夏生? Anybody read “I’m sorry,mama”? I’m thinking that it will fit with all of my pop sociology (?) child abuse reading…. Remembering more stuff that I read this year – I thought that 闇の子供たちwas decent, if a bit long.

    Speaking of more poppy books, I’ve been very interested in ones like this –
    プロ作家養成塾 時代小説家になる秘伝
    Gives some insight into how cliches are formed.

    Just remembered a big disappointment this year – 日本映画と戦後の神話. National myths have been done to death and someone really has to find a new “in”.

    I just realized that I did not read one new American novel this year – anybody hit anything good?

  11. Adamu Says:

    So we are listing things we read this year?

    野口悠紀夫 1940年体制 – さらば戦時経済
    魚住昭 渡邉恒夫・メディアと権力 
    Philip Short — Mao: A Life
    Philip Short — Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare
    Orwell – 1984
    Orwell – Burmese Days

    Hm that is all I can remember off the top of my head.. All good reads!

  12. Aceface Says:

    ”Just remembered a big disappointment this year – 日本映画と戦後の神話.”
    Should try this instead,M-Bone.
    日中映画論(Yomota Inuhiko/Nii Chen)

    And others.
    インド厄介な経済大国In Spite of Gods,Strange Rise of Modern India
    (Edward Luce)
    おかしな時代「ワンダーランド」と黒テントへの日々 津野海太郎
    ザ・ロードThe Road(Cormack Mccarthy)

  13. M-Bone Says:

    日中映画論 – read it and I like Yomota a lot – I think that he did’t try that hard with 日本映画と戦後の神話. Seemed like a string of leftover ideas.

    大島渚著作集1~2巻 – I need these bad.

  14. Aceface Says:

    Well,I have idea on Yomota.And it’s not entirely positive.(Notice I’ve read almost all of his works in the past and I really,really like the man)
    The first word that popped out of my head after reading Yomota’s part was 玩物喪志.

  15. M-Bone Says:


    玩物喪志 – BTW, shoud we even call that a word?

    I notice that there have been a pile of new film books this year. Anybody find anything good? Ace?

  16. Aceface Says:

    Not new.but 昭和の劇~映画脚本家笠原和夫~
    which was published in 2002 was great.
    It’s an interview of “Battle without Honour and Dignity”playwriter who had written scripts for many “based-loosly-on-true-story”type films.There’s many sidenote like episodes that’s are interesting.

  17. M-Bone Says:


    I enjoyed that as well. Lots of good Jingi naki books out in the last few years.

    映画監督・舛田利雄~アクション映画の巨星 舛田利雄のすべて This is a bit pricey so I have not checked it out yet. Read it yet Ace?

  18. Aceface Says:

    I haven’t bought nor read it.Might try.

  19. Mark Says:

    For manga, I will second a vote for Vinland Saga– Berserk meets 10th Century Varangians. And even though I haven’t seen a new chapter in ages, Dorohedoro by the BLAME author’s protege is excellent– Fist of the North Star meets Harry Potter. Not to mention that unlike BLAME, Dorohedoro features characters worth caring about.

    For whatever it’s worth, the best novel published in English this year is The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. My favorite novel published last year was Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra. Indian lit is really ripping it up. Between these guys and Amitav Ghosh it’s a refreshing triumvirate of unforgiving realist writing standing atop a mountain of wistful, relatively insipid traditional family tales.

  20. M-Bone Says:

    Mark – you will probably like “Cestus” and “Roma no Hoshi” (old) and “Historie” if you have not checked them out already. I’m not usually into X is Y meets Z comparisons, but you made me laugh with that Fist of the North Star meets Harry Potter one….

    Let’s hope that unlike Berserk, Vinland Saga ends while it still has a point….

  21. Edward Nicholls Says:

    I was busy translating “Heiki Monogatari” into Hungarian this year (unsuprisingly !) so I only got time to devour “Crime and Punishment”, and a load of trashy (kind of Mills and Boon style) old Korean romance novels from the 1940s thatI picked up at an auction in Aomori.

  22. Adamu Says:

    Edward – that sounds like God’s reading list, not yours. Wow

  23. M-Bone Says:

    This is the only blog where you see people start a comment with something like “I was busy translating ‘Heike Monogatari’ into Hungarian this year….” Wonderful.

  24. Peter Says:

    I’d go for the NHK Working Poor books (and doco). Shockingly brilliant. As for manga, I have been re-reading an old fave, 大東京ビンボー生活マニュアル.