For the past month all I’ve done is cook Japanese food, read books set in Japan, and miss things like Japanese convenience stores, dependable trains, and being able to walk around a night feeling safe. Then a facebook memory popped up and reminded me that I moved back to the USA two years ago. Huh. No wonder I’ve been devouring Japanese stuff left and right.
It’s weird. After moving back both my husband and I were almost rejecting everything Japanese that we could. We didn’t eat Japanese food, listen to Japanese music, or watch anything Japan related. Then we slowly started to get home sick and binged on everything Japan. I think we’ve found a nice balance now. We love our home in Boston, we love MIT, but we also really love to shop at the Asian supermarket and order sushi to eat while watching anime.
As many of you know I love to read books set in Japan, but I have a lot of trouble with what’s out there. A lot of popular things are written by white authors that only experienced Japan for a short time in a very limited perspective. There is a huge difference between living in Japan for many years vs. visiting vs. studying abroad vs. teaching English for a year. I’m not going to belittle anyone’s experiences, but you CANNOT claim authority on something that you haven’t fully experienced. And this is where I have a lot of issue with some of the books I read. Whenever I find out a book is set in Japan (at least in the YA scope) I HAVE to find out what the author’s experience is. While I do think that it’s okay for author’s to write outside of their experiences, I also think that if they chose to do so, they need to get their work vetted by those who HAVE lived those experiences.
So I want to talk about some of the books that I’ve read recently that I’ve found to be spot on with accuracy.
The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw — Five stars
I just finished this book and I ADORED it. The Last Cherry Blossom is a middle grade book set in Japan during WWII around the time of the atomic bomb. This book is based on the author’s mother’s experiences in WWII Japan and during the dropping of the atom bomb. It’s well written and based on true events!
A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith — Four stars
I did go into this book with a little hesitance. The author visited Japan but (as far as I know) has never lived there for any period of time. I was a little worried but she did a lot of research and seems to have gotten her work vetted by those with experience in Japan. I did have a few Japanese word usage issues and a couple of authenticity qualms, but overall it was well done and didn’t get anything glaringly WRONG. This is a story that takes place in modern Japan and historical Japan. It’s also a ghost story. I really loved how the author did use her experiences from her visit to Japan to really get a lot of the details right.
The Monster on the Road is Me by J.P. Romney — Five stars
I LOVED this book. The author taught English with the JET program and lived in a small village in the Japanese countryside. I love that he had such a different experience than most English teachers who work in or near larger cities. This book is 100% Japanese in the fact that there are no non-Japanese characters. It’s based on Japanese folklore and has a lot of Japanese words used in the text (a little too much at times I thought). The parts that take place in the classroom and school are something only those who have actually worked in Japanese high schools would be able to really tell us about. I had no issues with any of the accuracy in this book and LOVED that there wasn’t any “white savior” nonsense going on.
Seven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse — Five Stars
When I first heard about this book I was worried that it was going to be written by another white girl who studied abroad for a little or taught English in Tokyo for a year. But after connecting with the author we got super nostalgic about our lives in Japan and I got REALLY excited to see what this book was about. It’s a love letter to Tokyo, to Japan, and to her life there. I’ve seen a few reviews saying how they wished there was more Japanese culture in this book and that Japan was only used as a backdrop and that a lot more could have been done. I disagree. This book isn’t about a girl going and exploring and learning about Japan. This is the story of a girl who’s lived there for a long time. She’s already integrated. She also very much lives the life of an expat; she goes to an English speaking school, she has a lot of English speaking friends, and she lives in Tokyo… where you don’t have to speak Japanese to survive. She’s also a teen who has a mother that takes care of the more critical aspects of living in Japan. This is instead the story of a girl who lives in that circle (I knew A LOT of people who lived in expat circles) who has to say goodbye to a country and culture that she loves. There is a TON of Japan and Japanese culture in this book and I loved how none of it was really forced or taught or explained from a superior stance. I hate it when I read books about a character moving to Japan and then the author goes on and on about the culture in a totally unnatural way that is basically showing off how much they know. This book doesn’t do that, and I loved it.
Year of the Talking Dog by Patrick Sherriff — Five Stars
This book is the second book in the Hana Walker series. I LOVED the first book and was so excited that I got to beta read the second book. I have since re-read the published version and damn, it was so good. The Hana Walker Mysteries series is about a half Japanese half British girl who gets sucked into solving mysteries that deal with the yakuza and in this one, a North Korean spy. I know the author personally and he’s lived in Japan for quite some time. He also has children who are half Japanese half British and I love that he’s representing his daughters in his work. Someday they’ll read his novels and see themselves in them and that’s just amazing to me. These books make me miss Japan SO much.
So there we go. Do you know of any books that are set in Japan that you think I should check out? I have a list on my goodreads account and I am ALWAYS looking for books to add to it!