Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Murakami's Best Japanese Literary Writers

In his introduction to Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, novelist Haruki Murakami discusses Akutagawa's place in modern Japanese literature. Murakami says:
The stories in this volume are my
current reading project.
"If a poll were taken to choose the ten most important 'Japanese national writers' since the advent of the modern period in 1868, Akutugawa would undoubtedly be one of them. He might even squeeze into the top five." (p. xix)
Murakami lists the top nine writers and then says "Soseki would unquestionably come out at the top. I can't think of a good candidate for tenth place." (p. xxxvi) Perhaps Murakami hopes that place eventually will be his! I'd be in favor of including him, based on my own amateur opinion.

Here's the list in the order that Murakami gives it (arbitrarily adding his name to the list). Names appear Japanese style, family name first:
  1. Atugawa Ryunosuke (1892-1927)
  2. Natsume Soseki (1867-1916)
  3. Mori Ogai (1862-1922)
  4. Shimazaki Toson (1872-1916)
  5. Shiga Naoya (1883-1971)
  6. Tanizaki Jun'ichiro (1886-1965)
  7. Kawabata Yasunari (1899-1972)
  8. Dazai Osamu (1909-1948)
  9. Mishima Yukio (1925-1970)
  10. Murakami Haruki (1949- )
The nine writers on Murakami's original list lived and wrote in the fairly distant past. Seven of the writers were born before 1900. In fact, Murakami says that to be on the list, a writer's most representative works "must have the depth and power to survive at least a quarter century after the writer's death." That technically would leave Murakami out, but I decided to add him anyway.

I wonder which writers Murakami would add if he didn't have that quarter-century-after-death requirement. I definitely wonder if any women would make the late-twentieth century or twenty-first century lists! While pre-modern Japanese writers of note include "Lady Murasaki" the semi-anonymous eleventh-century author of the great Tale of Genji and other women as well, there just isn't a single woman writer on Murakami's list.

Some of my books by authors on the list:
Top row: old edition of Kappa by Akutagawa, Botchan by Soseki, The Wild Geese by Mori, The Makioka Sisters by Tanizaki.
Bottom Row: Snow Country and The Izu Dancer by Kawabata, The Setting Sun by Dazai, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea
by Mishima, and South of the Border, West of the Sun by Murakami.
I'm happy to say that over the years, I've read stories and novels by eight of the ten writers, and I've enjoyed these works. Murakami says about the two authors that I haven't read: "With regard to Shimazaki and Shiga, I can only say I have no particular interest in them, I have hardly read a thing of theirs aside from what I found in the school textbooks, and what I have read has left little trace in my memory." (p. xxxvii)


Bellezza said...

What a fascinating introduction, by my favorite Japanese author of all time. I certainly wouldn't put him in tenth place, but I am glad to know whom he considers as excellent. I'm off to add your link to the site. xo

@parridhlantern said...

I enjoyed reading this collection

Edith LaGraziana said...

Thanks for sharing this list with us who don't have a copy of Akutagawa's stories with an introduction by Murakami Haruki! Except one I know all the names on it and I already read books of some of the authors. All of them are gorgeous writers - and all men as you pointed out. Well, as you said the quarter-century-after-death requirement didn't exactly leave Murakami a vast choice of female Japanese writers...

LaGraziana @ Edith's Miscellany