23 June 08 | Chad W. Post

It’s always nice to return to the office (last week I was in NY for a New York State Council on the Arts panel) to a copy of Contemporary Japanese Writers Vol. 2 from the Japanese Literature Publishing and Promotion Center (a.k.a. J-Lit).

J-Lit is an organization in Japan dedicated to publishing and promoting Japanese literature throughout the world. The mainstay of their program is the Japanese Literature Publishing Project, through which, on an annual basis, ten-plus Japanese books are translated into English and placed with publishers. Not only does the JLPP identify top-notch translators to work on these projects, but they also facilitate the sale of rights to American/British publishers and then, when the book finally comes out, they purchase 2,000 copies and distribute them to libraries throughout the world. Overall, a very admirable project that greatly benefits publishers.

(I do have my questions about the way the publishers of these books take advantage of this program, but in relation to this post that’s neither here nor there.)

Recently the JLPP announced it’s fourth list, which is centered around the theme of “travel.”

The connections between travel and literature are profound. People go to places removed from their daily experience, make new discoveries, and imagine new things. From the time of early works like the Man’yoshu poetry anthology and the chronicles of the Kojiki, there has been a wealth of travel literature – not only travel accounts per se, but also novels, dramas, and essays that depend on the experience of travel. Some works, like Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, have described fictive travel, of journeys to impossible places. Travel may further encompass not just actual, physical journeying from one place to another, but also travel through time, or the viewpoint of human life itself as a journey. Some travel might consist mainly of subtle shifts in consciousness. Literature itself could be thought of as intellectual travel.

I’m personally not familiar with any of the authors on this new list, but based on past experience with the JLPP, I’m sure there are one or two real gems that are included.

In addition to this fourth list, the JLPP recently released Contemporary Japanese Writers Vol. 2. This is a beautiful book providing overviews of 50 contemporary Japanese writers, ranging from Ryu Murakami to Yasutaka Tsutsui to Hideo Furukawa. (Just to clarify, a lot of the authors in here were born in the 1930s, so “contemporary” includes anyone working in the latter-half of the last century.)

There are also three special reports in the book: one on the Morning International Manga Competition, one on retranslations of world classics (such as The Brothers Karamazov, which sold 500,000 copies last year), and the “top ten mysteries” of 2007.

(Unfortunately the website hasn’t been updated to include info about this book, but there is some stuff on Vol. 1.)

For anyone interested in contemporary Japanese literature, these books are invaluable. The Japanese literary scene is so expansive, and turns over so fast (it’s unbelievable how many books are published there on a monthly basis), that overviews such as these are truly the best way to get a sense of what’s going on there. As I go through this volume, I’ll definitely write about any authors that really stand out. And I really hope the J-Lit Center keeps publishing these on an annual basis. And maybe someday there will be online samples to accompany these author overviews . . .

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