Talking Points: Japanese Books and films for 2021 events

As the year comes to an end, I would like to propose some books and films to talk about at our 2021 online events. They are chosen not for being new or trendy, but for showing a different side to Japan through a different voice. Please leave comments below.


Where the Dead Pause and The Japanese Say Goodbye: A Journey, by Marie Mutsuki Mockett. // A mix of travelogue, memoir and investigation into religious practice in Japan. Set in the north east, Tohoku region after the March 2011, tsunami, this is a moving and fascinating read. Great for understanding Japanese religious beliefs better, and for getting the most out of those temple visits on a trip to Japan.

Where the Wild Ladies Are, by Matsuda Aoko (translated by Polly Barton) // A feminist retelling of Japanese ghost stories, a modern twist on old rakugo and kabuki stories, this new books provides a lot to think about and discuss with it’s blend of old and the new, and it’s look at male and female gender roles in Japan.

Travels With A Writing Brush: Classical Japanese Travel Writing from Manyoshu to Basho, edited by Meredith McKinney. /// There is easily enough material here for 2 or 3 discussion events. This collection of writings of 1,000 years of travel in Japan, is a great way to discover new writers and see trends and changes in Japanese history and culture. Informative throughout. To be read slowly and cherished.

Tales From A Mountain Cave: Stories from Japan’s Northeast by Inoue Hisashi (translated by Angus Turvill)// A brilliantly-written, humorous retelling of local folk stories set in Kamaishi, a port on the North East where the author lived in the post-war period. This short unconventional book focuses on a remote and forgotten region. A very enjoyable read.

The Wisdom Of Tea: Life Lessons from the Japanese Tea Ceremony by Noriko Morishita (translated by Eleanor Goldsmith)// Refreshing reflections on over a dozen years of lessons on the Japanese Tea Ceremony. Beautifully-written and translated, this fascinating books shares insights from the Japanese Tea Ceremony, and shows how the world of tea helped the author with her struggles to find work and happiness in Tokyo in the late 20th century.

Other possibilities

Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri

Ghost Stories by Lafcadio Hearn

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Matsuo Basho


Akira Released in 1988, this cyberpunk adventure is one of the most famous and influential anime ever made. I would love to hear what other make of it as I am very confused by it.

Tanpopo A comic, noodle-western by controversial director Juzo Itami. It follows the story of 2 truck drivers trying to help a single mother running a struggling ramen bar.

Tokyo Godfathers Perhaps the closest there is to a Christmas anime, so my timing might be a little off here, but this film by Satoshi Kon is very unlike conventional anime and draws attention to interesting parts of life in Japan.

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