A new-ish post on SFWA has Nick Mamatas, Haikasoru’s editor-in-chief, talking about Japan’s best SFF. He admits that it’s a wee bit out of date, but presents a 2006 list voted on by readers of SF Magazine in Japan. Five years is long enough that one or maybe two books could sneak on to the list, but not really long enough for substantial turn over. Mamatas and Masumi Washington give a brief description and some commentary in their article, which I highly recommend. I read the list hoping to nod my head and say, “Yes, I agree.” Instead, my response was more like, “uh-oh, I’ve got a lot of reading to do.” First, the list. After that, some comments and recommendations.
1. Hyakuoku no hiru to senoku no yoru (Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights) by Ryu Mitsuse (1967)
2. Hateshinaki nagare no hate ni (At the End of the Endless Stream) by Sakyo Komatsu (1966)
3. Yoseiden (Legend of an Enchanted Planet) by Ryo Hanmura (1975)
4. Minus Zero by Tadashi Hirose (1970)
5. Houseki dorobou (Jewelry Thief) by Masaki Yamada (1980)
6. Kami gari (God Hunting) by Masaki Yamada (1975)
7. Fukkatsu no hi (The Day of Resurrection) by Sakyo Komatsu (1964)
8. Musubi no yama hiroku (A Private Record of Mt. Musubi) by Ryo Hanmura (1973)
9. Yukikaze by Chohei Kambayashi (1984)
10. Nippon chinbotsu (Japan Sinks) by Sakyo Komatsu (1973)
First, the bad news. I have only read one book on this list, Japan Sinks. As far as I can tell, only Japan Sinks and Yukikaze are available in English. Haikasoru will release Ten Billion Days in November, so I’d better line up for a copy. (Maybe I should accept donations so I can afford the hardback?) Lest our readers think that he only writes insanity, Komatsu takes the prize with three books. I have Day of Resurrection here in the house, but I’m doubtful I can finish it before it needs to go back to the library. Yamada and Hanmura have two each, which means just three authors wrote seven of the Top 10.
The genres involved surprised me a bit. The list calls itself SF, but judging from the descriptions provided, only numbers 1, 2 and 9 are SF in the traditional sense. The Hanmura books are much more fantasy, as is Jewelry Thief. Komatsu’s other two are disaster novels, while numbers 4 and 6 are perhaps contemporary fantasy. Again, please read the source article for better descriptions than I can give. Reading recommendations are limited by language, of course, but even if everything was in English I would still recommend Yukikaze as a good place to start. (This despite not reading it myself. I may break down and buy a copy online.) It has the most typical SF plotline, with spaceships, aliens, galactic war, etc.
I was surprised not to see The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, by Tsutsui Yasutaka, on the list, or anything by Hoshi Shinichi. These two and Komatsu comprise Japan’s Big Three of SF and Tsutsui’s book has gained popularity far beyond the SF community. However, since I haven’t read any of these, I am in no way qualified to make judgments. Look for reviews and summaries in the coming months, as I dig further into Japanese classics.