"Where would we be without the words of Japanese women?"
April 20, 2019 3:08 PM   Subscribe

Works by Japanese Women is a 12 part series by Kris Kosaka for The Japan Times on Japanese female authors, starting with an introduction. The articles all focus on writers who've been translated into English. The contemprary authors are Hiromi Ito, Mieko Kawakami, Yuko Tsushima, Kaori Ekuni, Takako Arai, Nahoko Uehashi and Yoko Tawada. Earlier writers featured in the series are late 19th Century short story writer Ichiyo Higuchi, feminist playwright and novelist Fumiko Enchi and the series ended with an encouragement to read the thousand year old works of Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu. The series also included a profile of the pioneering feminist magazine Seito.
posted by Kattullus (9 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
I love parts of Sei Shonagon so hard — I always laugh at her description of a lover leaving in the morning “when he stops to tie his hat correctly, that’s when you really start to hate him.” But then she describes working people, and *shudder*.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:01 PM on April 20, 2019 [6 favorites]

This seems like a good place to share the poems of Otagaki Rengestu.

Since the day it appeared
the world has been peaceful
unpleasant things
shut out—
ah, the spring mist.

posted by kokaku at 6:44 PM on April 20, 2019 [5 favorites]

Also, this is a great post - the articles on each author are quite brief (too brief really) and easy to read, so don't be daunted by 12-part series.
posted by kokaku at 6:45 PM on April 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Neat. I was hoping to see something about Taeko Kono, as I'm currently reading her collection "Toddler Hunting and Other Stories," and am curious about the mind that produced such devastating work.
posted by nikoniko at 12:36 AM on April 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Ichiyo Higuchi's novella Child's Play is an incredible work of fiction. The characters are so perfectly drawn that the author seems like some sort of magician. It is a too short piece that I still think about from time to time.
posted by vacapinta at 2:03 AM on April 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Amongst the three available works of Enchi Fumiko's in English, Masks is the best. It provides more agency for most of the women and the callbacks to Nōh and metaphoric masks, that one wears in public, are fabulous. I did not think the husband's realization at the end of the Waiting Years was genuine/authentic so it robbed the book of a well earned emotional punch. Masks and A Tale of False Fortunes have a dreamlike quality to descriptions and prose while the The Waiting Years is more straight forward in its descriptive writing. Her writing is not propulsive in style but more akin to a drop of dye in water; dispersive and complete.
posted by jadepearl at 2:37 AM on April 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

This is good stuff, Kattullus, thank you.
I really wish there were more translations of nonfiction as well.
Yoko Tawada's novels are too weird for me (not a value judgment at all, just my tastes), but I really love the essays and incidental writing she's published in Japanese about living between and among cultures and languages.

Taiko Hirabayashi, a friend of Fumiko Enchi, is almost unknown in English but has some wonderful diaries and essays as well as her short stories, dryly humorous and pulling no punches (she would have had a lot to say on AskMetaFilter). A couple of poems written about the state of her marriage during the war, while she was bedridden and her husband was caring for her:
At least put on a clean belt / before you go out / the pleasure houses judge you by your clothes
My husband's not a saint / sometimes he needs a little break / but not in a dirty kimono

Yuriko Chujo (Miyamoto)'s letters to the woman she lived with for eight years are as good as a novel.

Among women currently writing, Mari Akasaka has a couple of spectacular books, including novels and essays, about being Japanese in America and American in Japan and the postwar and the emperor and the GHQ and... .

(I know it's not very helpful to talk about "all these great things that nobody has translated", but I just like them SO MUCH.) One who has been translated is Miyuki Miyabe, who writes mysteries and fantasy (and sometimes mysteries with a fantastical element) which are very well done.
posted by huimangm at 2:59 AM on April 21, 2019 [8 favorites]

A fascinating writer and person not mentioned in this series is Taeko Kono, whose short story collection "Toddler Hunting and Other Stories" is one of the most haunting things I've ever read.
posted by remembrancer at 6:24 AM on April 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Interesting to read about these women. I'm particularly interested in Ichiyo Higuchi and after reading these comments, Taeko Kono. I'll try to pick them up when I see them!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 5:50 PM on April 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

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