This week saw the launch of KESHIKI, an exciting series of eight stories showcasing some of the most talented writers working in Japan today.
KESHIKI, published by Strangers Press (part of the UEA Publishing Project) in February 2017, offers unusual perspectives on contemporary Japan from well-known names and new voices – many of which have a particular connection to Norwich, UNESCO City of Literature.
The sold-out launch event* on Monday 27 February at The Hostry, Norwich Cathedral saw writers Masatsugu Ono and Aoko Matsuda, translators Alfred Birnbaum, Polly Barton and Angus Turvill, editor Elmer Luke and designers Glen Robinson and Nigel Aono-Billson (NUA) come together to discuss the process of writing, translating and publishing the series. A podcast of the evening and writer/translator interviews will follow shortly.
The full KESHIKI series is now available to buy from the Strangers Press website – individually and as a beautiful set.
‘Mikumari’ by Misumi Kubo. Translated by Polly Barton
A schoolboy is in his senior year when he attends Comiket, a comic market in Tokyo. There, he meets a married woman ten years his senior, a cosplayer who goes by the name of Anzu. Drawn to his resemblance to a character from an anime series, he and Anzu begin an intense affair. Over time, he becomes increasingly wary of his relationship with Anzu, but, at the same time, he finds himself unable to leave her…
‘Transparent Labyrinth’ by Keiichiro Hirano. Translated by Kerim Yazar.
Okada is on a business trip to Budapest when he meets enigmatic Misa and her Italian girlfriend, Federica. Inexplicably drawn to Misa, he agrees to accompany the couple to a lavish party in Pest. On arrival, Federica ominously disappears, and Misa and Okada find themselves locked in a penthouse room with ten other guests. They are promised that they will be freed at dawn, providing that they follow the commands given to them by five spectators…
‘Time Differences’ by Yoko Tawada. Translated by Jeffrey Angles
Mamoru wakes up at 9am in Berlin, eats breakfast, and then sets off to teach a Japanese language class, carrying a sashimi knife in his bag. At this moment in New York, Manfred lurches from a dream where a fisherman was about to gut him he wakes just in time to make his morning work-out. Meanwhile, Michael is preparing to go to the late-night gym in Tokyo, thinking of a man he met in Berlin only weeks before… Tawada’s story follows the three men Mamoru, Manfred and Michael as they move through their lives on different sides of the globe.
‘Spring Sleepers’ by Kyoko Yoshida
Yuki has not slept in two months. He’s been infected with genuine insomnia — a condition that is spreading throughout the city’s high-profile businessmen. At first, this is a condition worth boasting about: the less Yuki sleeps, the better he feels, and he gathers with the city’s elite in clubs and bars to compare how long they’ve been awake. It is only when he visits a sanatorium that Yuki is told his memory is quickly deteriorating, and, suddenly, Yoshida’s fragmented style starts to make sense…
‘The Girl Who Is Getting Married’ by Aoko Matsuda. Translated by Angus Turvil
An unnamed narrator visits her friend, the girl who is getting married, in her apartment on the fifth floor of an anonymous building. With each flight of steps, the narrator recalls different memories of the time they have spent together their time in high school, their first jobs, a chance encounter on the train. However, just as the building’s corridor twists and turn toward the flat, we realise that the story, too, is shifting under our feet. As details go missing and memories are contradicted, we are left wondering whose eyes we re looking through.
‘Mariko / Mariquita’ by Natsuki Ikezawa. Translated by Alfred Birnbaum
Kyojiro is a cultural anthropologist, days away from making the trip of his career when he meets Mariko, a free-spirited Japanese woman living on Guam, a remote island in the Pacific Ocean. Mariko is everything Kyojiro isn’t adaptable, whimsical, and ready to make life-changing decisions with the changing tides. It is during their brief time together that Kyojiro is able to watch the woman he loves metamorphosize from Mariko into Mariquita, shedding her Japanese identity and becoming a woman who belongs to Guam.
‘At the Edge of the Wood’ by Masatsugu Ono. Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter
When his wife returns to her parents house to have their second child, an unnamed narrator and his son are left to manage by themselves. Instead of absence, what the father and son begin to notice is a strange noise opening up between them, reverberating through their home, their television set, and the books they read at night. The wood outside their home hums with it, too: leaves fall from branches which are already naked, trees wriggle when walked past, and the hills on the horizon rise and fall in a building rhythm.
‘Friendship for Grown-Ups’ by Nao-Cola Yamazaki. Translated by Polly Barton
Contains three stories in one: The Untouchable Apartment: Kandagawa’s relationship with Mano ended over four years ago, which is why she s surprised when he calls her, drunk, to tell her that their old apartment has been knocked down; Lose Your Private Life: Waterumi Yano is a successful young novelist, her books winning prestigious prizes and the hearts of readers all over the world. However, Waterumi is herself a fiction, a penname for the 28 year old Terumi Yano; A Genealogy: A fable-like retelling which broadly sketches the evolution of mankind. Despite fictional / magical retellings (‘The frog gave birth to the dinosaur’), the narrative begins with of a rock and ending with Kandagawa, sitting in a bath in her apartment, remembering how, in the past, she used to be a fish…
*This event was a collaboration between Japan Now, Writers’ Centre Norwich, Strangers Press and SISJAC. It is part of Japan Now, an events series exploring the nation’s contemporary writing and culture, programmed by Modern Culture in partnership with the Japan Foundation and Writers’ Centre Norwich, and supported by Arts Council England, Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, the Nippon Foundation and the Japan Society. Strangers Press is part of the UEA Publishing Project.