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8 of The Best Japanese Authors That You’ve Never Heard Of

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Yashvi Peeti

Contributor

Yashvi Peeti is an aspiring writer and an aspiring penguin. She has worked as an editorial intern with Penguin Random House India and HarperCollins Publishers India. She is always up for fangirling over poetry, taking a walk in a park, and painting tiny canvases. You can find her on Instagram @intangible.perception

I thought that in order to do justice to the title of this article, I’d write the entire piece without mentioning Murakami. But here I am, talking about him in the first sentence. If Murakami was your first introduction to Japanese literature, you already know you’re not alone. He was mine too, and he’s worth the praise he receives.

However, Japanese literature goes so much beyond his legacy alone. There are a lot of old and established, as well as young and promising Japanese authors who are worth all the hype. With more and more titles and authors being translated, so many more of these gems are more accessible to us. If you’re looking to expand your inventory of authors to read, be in awe with, and cherish, you’re in the right place.

Most of the authors on this list are ones whose work was originally published in Japanese and translated into other languages. I imagine that some things might get lost in translation but so much wisdom and wonder remains. I’ve read a lot of translated work in the past few months, and I’m so grateful and delighted to be able to. So before we delve into the list of authors, here’s a huge shoutout to translators everywhere who take the time and care. It’s their effort that lets the remarkable work of novelists reach a bigger and more diverse audience.

With that, let’s dive in!

What you're looking for is in the library book cover

Michiko Aoyama

Michiko Aoyama has worked as a reporter and magazine editor. Her book What You’re Looking For Is In The Library is filled with wisdom and kindness. It was first published in 2020 and its translated version came out in 2023. The story follows five people who stumble on the same library at a time when they really need help. The librarian gives each of them a reading list, and each list has one book that has the answers they’re looking for. It’s a really special and soothingly magical read.

book cover of sweet bean paste by durian sukegawa

Durian Sukegawa

Durian Sukegawa is a novelist who has studied philosophy and worked as a reporter. His work Sweet Bean Paste was first published in 2013, and the English-translated version released in 2017. It is a wonderful heart-warming story of an unusual friendship between people who might be considered societal outliers. Both Sentaro and Tokue have troubled pasts, but their bond flourishes either way. He runs a confectionery shop that sells dorayaki and she teaches him her special recipe of the sweet bean paste that they’re filled with. The comfort they feel together is threatened by dark secrets of her past. Pick this up to see how unexpectedly redemptive friendship can be.

Diary of a void by Emi Yagi book cover

Emi Yagi

Emi Yagi works as an editor at a women’s magazine in Japan and is a promising young novelist. Diary Of A Void is her debut novel. It was first published in 2020 and translated into English in 2022. The story of Ms. Shibata is fascinating. She’s faced sexism her whole life and starts a new job to be met with the same. She’s working at a manufacturing company and is stuck doing menial tasks. Until one day, she says she can’t pick up used coffee cups because the smell makes her pregnancy-induced nausea worse. This is reasonable—except Ms. Shibata is not pregnant. But then her colleagues start to treat her like she’s always deserved to be treated, and we watch her try to keep up this ruse. The book is a comical satire about how women aren’t treated well unless, of course, they’re bringing life into the world.

I think i am in friend-love with you book cover

Yumi Sakugawa

Yumi Sakugawa is a comic book artist who has published a range of thoughtful, soothing, and adorable comics. I want to talk about some of my favourites. I Think I Am In Friend-Love With You is a really cute exploration of platonic friendship. It captures the strange and comforting feeling of being in friend-love with someone and sometimes the confusion of not knowing whether they’re in friend-love with you. Reading There Is No Right Way To Meditate is an act of meditation in itself. I could feel the waves of calm flowing from the page and settling under my bones. Sakugawa is a Japanese American author and her work has been published in English, but I love her work and want her to be a Japanese author that you’ve now heard of!

my lesbian experience with loneliness cover

Kabi Nagata

Kabi Nagata is a Japanese manga artist who’s been drawing pretty much her whole life. She is best known for her work My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness. In this autobiographical manga, she explores themes of her sexuality, mental well-being and coming to terms with growing up. It’s refreshingly, and even painfully, vulnerable. It’s also funny, gutting, and relatable. It has a couple follow-up volumes as well including My Solo Exchange Diary Vol. 1 and My Alcoholic Escape From Reality.

cover of Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Sayaka Murata

Okay, you might’ve heard of this author. But in case you haven’t, let’s hear about her now. Her work is often centred around people who might not fit in the fabric of society. Convenience Store Woman features one such character whose entire personality is being a convenience store worker. It is funny, strange, daunting, and brings to light our ideas about being a “useful” addition to society. Earthling also features another such character who has a hedgehog plush toy, wonders if she’s an alien, and tries to survive in a world that keeps trying to measure her worth.

heaven by mieko kawakami book cover

Mieko Kawakami

Out of the authors on this list, you’re most likely to have heard of Mieko Kawakami. But in case you missed it, let’s fix that. She’s a writer and poet who’s won several prestigious awards. Breasts and Eggs brings to light the discourse on body autonomy as we feel the fears and frustrations of the protagonist along her breast enhancement journey. Heaven is the story of two 14-year-old kids who are relentlessly bullied. It’s raw, heart-breaking, powerful, and necessary.

The night is short walk on girl book cover

Tomihiko Morimi

Tomihiko Morimi has written some wonderful books that have an element of fabulism. In The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl, we follow a beautiful young woman walking the streets of Kyoto. She ends up attracting a lot of attention, particularly that of a young man who’s liked her for a while. We get to go on her walk with her and watch in awe what unfolds. You can also check out Penguin Highway. Both these books also have delightful animated adaptations!


If you liked reading this list, also check out Beyond Murakami: 7 Japanese Authors To Read and our Japanese archives.