Monday, March 11, 2013

Tohoku Earthquake: Books from and about Japan

It's hard to believe it's been two years since the Tohoku earthquake and resulting tidal wave and hit Japan. In honor of the tragedy, today's list is all about Japan.


Tomo: Friendship through Fiction: An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories edited by Holly Thompson and Debbie Ridpath Ohi. This anthology of short fiction from Japanese authors was published last year, for the earthquakes first anniversary. Although many topics are covered, there are several stories about the earthquake, tsunami, and aftermath.

Now and Zen by Linda Gerber. I'm a huge fan of the Students Across the Seven Seas series, about high school students studying abroad. In this one, Japanese-American Nori is spending a summer at a Global Outreach program in Tokyo. The program draws students in from around the world, many of whom have a hard time understanding that Nori is Japanese-American, not Japanese. Also, expecting the traditional images of Japan, Nori is NOT prepared for the neon modernity that is Tokyo!

Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata.Obviously, Manga is a major art form in Japan and I'd feel stupid if I had a list of books from and about Japan and didn't have any Manga. I am, by no means, a Manga expert, but I have read this entire series and I do love it. Basic premis is this-- Shinigami (death gods) have notebooks where the write the names of people slated to die. Once the name is written, they're dead. Ryuk drops his notebook and Light picks it up. By the rules, the notebook is now Light's. Ryuk wants it back, but Light is using it to kill criminals that have someone managed to escape justice. But how long can a teen boy play Death God? It's a dark series, but an action-packed and very interesting one. This edition of combines the first two (out of 13 total) volumes. It's also been turned into a TV show.


Orchards by Holly Thompson. After a classmate's suicide, bi-racial Kana Goldberg (half-Japanese, half-Jewish) is sent to Japan to spend the summer helping in her grandparents' orchards. There she must struggle to fit into a new culture and a family that doesn't understand her (or the size of her Russian-Jewish butt.)

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami, translated from the Japanese by Yuji Oniki. In not-too-distant futuristic Japan, every year a junior high school class is sent to an island where the children must fight to the death. This book follows one class, all 42 of them, as their numbers dwindle. Many people accuse the Hunger Games of being a Battle Royale knock-off, but despite a similar premis, the two books are very different. This one's definitely for older readers who can handle a good deal of on-page violence.

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nohoko Uehashi, translated from the Japanese by Cathy Hirano. In this fantasy adventure, a prince is possessed by a water spirit, but the nature of the spirit and what that means for the prince depends on which stories you listen too. Balsa's been hired to protect him, because there are many that want the prince dead-- including his own father. Both this, and its sequel Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness, received Batchelder recognition.


Samurai Shortstop by Alan Gratz. In 1890, Toyo is caught between two worlds, the old and the new, the Japanese and the Western, his father's samurai training and his boarding school's baseball team. Enough baseball to satisfy readers who will only read sports books, and enough family tension and historical fiction to give to readers who can't stand sports books.

The Waking: Dreams of the Dead by Thomas Randall. After her mother's death, Kara and her father move to Kyoto. Kara's new school just lost a student to murder and Kara's haunted by nightmares and demons in this page-turning horror novel. Be sure to follow it with The Waking: Spirits of the Noh.

Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe, translated from the Japanese by Alexander O. Smith. His father is gone and his mother is in the hospital and all Wataru wants is to bring his family together again. To do that, he must enter a fantasy world and complete an epic quest, beset by monsters and challenges, as well as issues and rivals in the real world.

What are your favorite books about, or from, Japan? How are you marking today's anniversary?

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