14 Japanese Authors You Should Know (And The Books You Need To Read)

Often dark but full of humor and valuable life lessons, Japanese literature has a long history of producing entertaining as well as intellectually stimulating authors. Here are 14 Japanese authors and some of their most notable works that are definitely worth a read.

14 Japanese Authors You Should Know (And The Books You Need To Read)

Kenzaburo Oe

Paris - Salon du livre 2012 - Kenzaburō Ōe - 003.jpg
By ThesupermatOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

His novels, short stories and essays deal with political, social and philosophical issues. These topics typically including nuclear weapons, nuclear power, social non-conformism, and existentialism. His most notable works are A Personal Matter, a semi-autobiographical dark tale which tells the story of a man who must come to terms with the birth of his mentally disabled son, and The Silent Cry, a story of two brothers in the early 1960s.

Banana Yoshimoto

The pen name of Japanese writer Mahoko Yoshimoto, she comes from a family full of creative talent. Yoshimoto is the daughter of the famous poet and critic Takaaki Yoshimoto and her sister, Haruno Yoiko, is a well-known cartoonist in Japan. Yoshimoto says she wants to portray through her works the exhaustion of young Japanese in contemporary Japan and the way in which terrible experiences shape a person’s life. Her publications include 12 novels and seven collections of essays, her most notable being her debut titled Kitchen.

Haruki Murakami

By wakarimasita of Flickr, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Murakami has won numerous awards both in Japan and internationally for his fiction and non-fiction works. His novels are frequently surrealistic and melancholic or fatalistic, marked by “recurrent themes of alienation and loneliness.” Murakami’s most critically acclaimed works include A Wild Sheep Chase, Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore, and 1Q84.

Amy Yamada

A popular but controversial contemporary Japanese writer she is most famous for her stories that address issues of sexuality, racism, and interracial marriage, topics not typically discussed openly in Japanese society. Bedtime Eyes and Trash are two of her most recommended works.

Ryu Murakami

Ryu Murakami.jpg
By Joi Itohttp://www.flickr.com/photos/joi/17188426/, CC BY 2.0, Link

Murakami is a Japanese novelist, short story writer, essayist and filmmaker. His works explore human nature through the dark themes of disillusion, drug use, murder and war, set in Japan. His best-known novels are Almost Transparent Blue, Coin Locker Babies and In the Miso Soup.

Natsuo Kirino

The pen name of Mariko Hashioka, this Japanese novelist is a leading figure in the recent boom of female writers of Japanese detective fiction. Kirino’s works, such as her most notable novel Out, asks the reader what they would do if something awful happened to them. Kirino hopes her novels can help her readers through hard times and be comforted.

Shintaro Ishihara

Ishihara is an author who was also Governor of Tokyo from 1999 to 2012. His book, The Japan That Can Say No, co-authored with Sony chairman Akio Morita and published in 1989, called on his countrymen to stand up to the United States.

Mitsuyo Kakuta

Altogether Kakuta has written over 80 works of fiction. Her most notable works include the prizewinning A Blissful Pastime, Woman on the Other Shore and The Eighth Day which has been made into a television series drama and film. She is currently working on translating The Tale of Genji into modern Japanese.

Souseki Natsume

1000 yen Natsume Soseki.jpg
By Japanese Government – Bank of Japan, Public Domain, Link

In Japan, Natsume is often considered as the greatest writer in modern Japanese history. So important in fact that from 1984 until 2004, his portrait appeared on the front of the Japanese 1000 yen note. He is best known for his novels Botchan, Kokoro, I Am a Cat and his unfinished work Light and Darkness.

Kenzo Kitakata

This Japanese novelist is known for his hardboiled (crime fiction style) novels. His most acclaimed works include Ashes which follows the fortunes of a yakuza mobster, Winter Sleep about an ex-con painter and City Of Refuge which tells the story of a man running from, not only the police, but also from the mob with a kidnapped boy.

Kenji Miyazawa

Miyazawa was a Japanese poet and author of children’s literature in the late Taishō and early Shōwa periods. Almost completely unknown as a poet while alive, Kenji’s work gained its fame after his death. Some of his major works include the posthumously published Night on the Galactic Railroad, as well as Gauche the Cellist, Kaze no Matasaburo, and The Night of Taneyamagahara.

Yasunari Kawabata

Yasunari Kawabata c1946.jpg
By Unknownhttp://www.sonic.net/~tabine/SAABasho_etc_Spring_2005/kawabata_folder/SAASpring2005_Kawabata_02.html, Public Domain, Link

Kawabata was the first Japanese author to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968. Snow Country, Thousand Cranes, and Beauty and Sadness are a few of his most cherished works.

Kyoichi Katayama

Katayama is best known for his melodrama novel Socrates in Love which revolves around narrator Sakutaro Matsumoto’s recollections of a school classmate whom he once loved. It has since been adapted into manga, a film as well as a television drama.

Yukio Mishima

Yukio Mishima.jpg
By Shirou Aoyama – http://www.bungakukan.or.jp/, Public Domain, Link

Japanese author, poet, playwright, actor, film director, founder of the Tatenokai, and avid nationalist, Mashima is well known for both his writing and his political views. His works include the novels Confessions of a Mask as well as The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, and the autobiographical essay Sun and Steel. His avant-garde work displayed a mix of modern and traditional aesthetics that shattered cultural boundaries, mainly focusing on sexuality, political change and death.