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New Books in the Japanese Literature Publishing Project

The Japanese Literature Publishing Project, which is one of the most interesting of all the various cultural agencies out there working to promote literature in translation, just announced the fifth list of titles to be included in their program.

In case you’re not aware of the JLPP, this organization launched in 2002 by the Agency for Cultural Affairs. Every year they select around ten titles to be translated into English and then promoted to UK and U.S. publishers. Not only does the JLPP pay the translators (and pay them well from what I’ve heard), but once the book is published, they purchase a sizable number of copies from the publisher to give out to libraries around the world. (I believe the actual number of copies purchased changed recently, which is why I don’t want to cite a specific amount.)

Put these pieces together—fully translated manuscript for publisher to evaluate, translation paid for, guaranteed number of sales—and it’s pretty much a sure thing that all of the books included in their program will find a home somewhere. So, even if you don’t work for a publishing house, this might be of interest as a sort of “two-year-in-advance” preview of what Japanese books will be coming out. (And just FYI, here’s the complete list of titles published so far through this program.)

Complete info on the new titles in the program won’t be available until the Frankfurt Book Fair in October, but for now, here are the newly included titles with short descriptions of the ones that sound most interesting to me (if you want the description of one that I only mention by title/author, just e-mail me):

  • Kutze, the Wheat Treader (Mugifumi Kuutse) by Sinji Ishii (1966-) (novel)
  • The Kingdom of Wind (Kaze no okoku) by Hiroyuki Itsuki (1932-) (literary/religious)
  • Ghosts and Lower-class Samurai and Other Stories (Yukensho) by Hideyuki Kikuchi (1949-) (mystery/short stories)
  • One DayBars of Dreams and Other Stories (Ichinichi Yume no saku) by Senji Kuroi (1932-) (short stories)

This book contains 12 portrayals of the vivid and curious realities of life experienced by a man in his 60’s, the main character in each story. “One Day,” the title piece in which he visits a photo exhibition of pictures that were taken with an exposure time of just one second, and the effect those blurred images have on him; “A Record” kept by the narrator, a detached observer, in the forms of letters and diaries about the last year of his old friend; “Yozo’s Night”, about a man who unconsciously took out a cigarette at an intersection and was caught by the fierce glance of a young man with a gloomy face, and the terrifying night he subsequently experienced, being followed around by the young man. This book won the Noma Literary Prize.

(Sounds like a good candidate for the first Japanese Open Letter book . . .)

  • Ground Zero and Other Stories (Bakushin) by Yuichi Seirai (1958-) (short stories)

On 9th August 1945, the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. This book includes 6 stories, each related to the experience of the terrific bomb, and to Christianity, because Nagasaki has a long history of religious nature. In “Birds”, a baby boy is found near Ground Zero and a very kind woman raises him. His parents are unknown and so his birthday is set as August 9th. He grows up, gets a job, marries, and has children and grandchildren. In short he lives a ‘normal’ life, but still he asks himself who he is. This book won the Ito Sei Literary Prize and the Tanizaki Prize.

  • Searching for the God-Demon and Other Stories (Soshinki) by Juko Nishimura (1930-2007) (short stories)
  • Belka, Why Don’t You Bark? (Beruka hoenainoka?) by Hideo Furukawa (1966-) (novel/dogs <— not a typo)
  • Asura Girl (Ashura garu) by Otaro Maijo (1973-) (contemporary fiction)
  • Punk Samurai and the Cult (Panku samurai kirarete soro) by Ko Machida (1962-) (fantasy)
  • Leave the Peninsula (Hanto o deyo) by Ryu Murakami (1952-) (adventure/crime)
  • Colorful (Karafuru) by Eto Mori (1968-) (juvenile fantasy)
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