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WITH NIC BOTTOMLEY Turning Japanese


There’s something about Japan and its culture that fascinates us all, reckons NIC BOTTOMLEY


T


here are certain genres and subject areas whose popularity have been on a consistently upward trajectory throughout the almost eight-year lifespan of


our bookshop. Cycling is one example – we probably had half-a-dozen cycling books in our opening stock but cycling sales now dominate our sports chart and not a week goes by without another account of over- the-top heroism on Le Tour or an enticing new slab of coffee table bike porn hitting the shelves. Take popular psychology too; we seem to be ever more interested in analysing the nuances of our own behaviour and there’s a never-ending range of new books to help us do so. Geographically though one of the biggest


evergreen draws is Japan. Regardless of whether or not you have visited Japan yourself, there is something about its culture that seems to fascinate us all. No great surprise then that the 127th issue of Granta’s literary quarterly (Granta, £12.99) which emerges this month is entirely dedicated to Japan and, though this will be useless for most of us, will even be simultaneously published in a Japanese language edition.


THIS ISSUE OF the world’s most book- like magazine will follow the standard Granta format and structure, combining new fi ction pieces, non-fi ction articles, poetry and some photography. Plenty of contemporary Japanese writers have contributed, as well as many Japanophiles such as novelist David Mitchell, who has penned a short story about a confrontation in a fast food joint entitled Variations on a Theme by Mister Donut. Two of 2013’s big success stories are also represented. Pulitzer Prize winner Adam Johnson has penned an account of his heavily supervised purchase of a bottle of Japanese rice wine in Pyongyang’s ‘Department Store Number One’ – the bottle depicting sumo wrestler Rikidozan, who the North Koreans claim was murdered by the Japanese for wanting to return to his Korean homeland.


Meanwhile Ruth Ozeki – the author of A Tale for the Time Being which was shortlisted for the 2013 Booker Prize – has written an essay about her feeling of connection through time with her Japanese grandfather. Amongst the many native Japanese authors contributing to Granta 127 is Hiromi Kawakami whose latest novel is on the shortlist for the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Strange Weather in Tokyo (Portobello, £7.99) is one of two Japanese books to make the six-strong shortlist and follows a slow-burning awkward love affair between a retired teacher and Tsukiko, a now thirty- something woman who was once his student. As well as being a sweet love story and an exploration of loneliness, Strange Weather in Tokyo is packed with nostalgic Japanese atmosphere, as the characters explore their love not just for each other but, for example, for tofu, Japanese inns, and mushroom hunting.


IF YOU WANT a more striking and visual representation of Japanese culture then WA: The Essence of Japanese Design by Rossella Menegazzo, Stefania Piotti and Kenya Hara (Phaidon, £49.95) is for you.


The book’s high price is justifi ed by the production quality, with the spine being bound with red thread and superb images throughout. The design work explored is split into six categories, ranging from ‘Wood Bamboo Laquer’ to simply ‘Paper’ and in total more than 300 examples are covered from exquisitely simple table-ware and furniture to awe-inspiring elements of architectural decor such as the colossal C17 Shimenawa or sacred rope at the Izumo Taisha Shrine. And all of that Japanese love-up sets up


nicely for the main event which will come along this August in the form of a new novel by Haruki Murakami. It’s too early to be able to tell you anything much about it but Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage will be out in August and will feature four school pals, Mr Red, Mr Blue, Miss White and Miss Black who spurn Tsukuru because he has no colour symbol linked to his name. So just as intriguingly oddball and off-kilter as ever! BL


Nic Bottomley is the general manager of Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, 14/15 John Street, Bath 01225 331155


mrbsemporium.com www.mediaclash.co.uk Bath Life 51


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