These days rather than reading Japanese novels, each which can still take me quite a long time to finish, I’ve been reading a literary magazine called 小説幻冬 (“Shousetsu Gento”, where “shousetsu” means ‘novel’ or ‘short story’) published by 幻冬社 (Gentosha). [Gotta love the name “幻冬”, which is made up for the characters for “mysterious” and “winter”]
Each isssue of this magazine contains many short works of various genres and authors. For example, the 5th volume contains around 30 works across around 350 pages.
There is a good mix of poems, essays and fiction, tending towards serious, adult oriented content (including references to sex and drugs in some of the stories). There is a collection of works that stand on their own and those that are part of a series. Personally I wish there was more of the former, since I haven’t bought every issue. For the serial works, there are sometimes character or story summaries, and even if there isn’t they can be enjoyable on their own. There are also author interviews.
There is usually at least one or two historical works, and more real-world based stories, as opposed to fantasy. While I hesitate to use the term, I guess it is a good representation of what some people consider ‘literature’.
I don’t know famous Japanese authors that well, but it seems there are some famous ones contributing, like Naoki Matayoshi of the well acclaimed Hibana (which I unofficially translated a little of here).
Generally the language is quite advanced and furigana (Kanji reading hints) is quite sparse, making this book really only suited for advanced learners of Japanese with several years of experience. I’ve seen some of the authors use kanji even in places where it isn’t frequently employed, like “一寸”. But for those that can manage the difficulty, it’s a venerable treasure trove of knowledge about Japan’s culture and language, and the unique writing style of each author keeps things interesting. One thing common to many of these stories is that there is some type of background knowledge required to fully understand them, about history, culture, a region or dialect in Japan, or some other domain of knowledge that you may not be familiar with unless you’ve lived in Japan. This is ironically the same thing that makes them so educational.
I have bought a few issues at a Kinokuniya bookstore in Portland, and I think you can probably find it online as well. The list price is 880 yen, though you’ll probably get a heavy markup if you are importing it from Japan.
I usually read a page or two of each work, and continue reading to the end for those I like, even if they are difficult. I reviews one of those here, and translated a part of another here (both are from a previous issue). One of my favorite stories from volume 5 was 銀河食堂の夜 by さだまさし, which was a good combination of great writing and story.
The great part is that even if your Japanese level is a bit lacking, you can try to get through one of the shorter stories (some are only a few pages), and the satisfaction from finishing one is very motivating. Once when I had trouble understanding with an area or two of one of the stories, I wrote to the editors and they were kind enough to give me a little help, which I blogged about here.
If nothing else, being able to sample many types of Japanese literature in one small package is very convenient, especially for those that have don’t have easy access to Japanese books on a daily basis. From a business point of view, this is also really a win-win situation since the publisher gets a chance to advertise their works and highlight certain authors. While there are a few explicit ads telling you to check out a certain book, those are interesting in themselves.
By the way, I have also seen a similar-looking literary magazine called オール讀物 (Ooru Yomimono), though it appeared to be even more difficult than Shousetsu Gento.
This looks like a really interesting magazine. I tried 文藝春秋 before, because it’s available electronically, and it was a bit over my head. I have also thought about trying 小説新潮.
I like the idea of being able to read short stories, essays, and serial novels from a lot of different authors, but I’m always torn between that and reading a novel that I know I’ll probably like.
I’m in a season where I don’t have much reading time. I already have a stack of books to read when I get a chance, but I look forward to giving literary magazines another try at some point.
Thanks for the post. It’s always interesting to hear what you’ve been reading.
Thanks for the comment, yeah I agree finding time seems to become harder to get for me as well.
Coincidentally, my current project (reading/translation) is thanks to you, but I’m keeping it a secret for now (: Will try to post something in a week or so.
Also, I wanted to mention that based on my estimate of your reading level (judging from what I’ve seen you read, review, and translate), I think you would very likely be able to read at least a good portion of the stories in Shosetsu Gento. I’d recommend staying away from the historical ones unless you are feeling up to the challenge, though (:
I look forward to giving it a try. I’ll probably try the historical ones as well, although I’m sure they will be quite a challenge. One thing I have found challenging with the limited historical fiction I have read is that you need to know the actual people and places from the time period so that you can know which ones are made up for the purposes of the story. My background in Japanese history and historical geography is pretty weak.
I got my hands on the May issue. It’s thicker than I thought it would be, so I plan on taking my time sifting through it to read the parts I’m interested in.
I’ve only read some of it, but so far my favorite was 銀河食堂の夜. I was surprised to come back to this article and see that it was the same story you pointed out!
I have been trying to understand spoken Japanese a bit better by listening to podcasts. I liked that the chapter of 銀河食堂の夜 I read was a short story told to a group of people in an izakaya with all of the verbal reactions included. I’m hoping I can get more used understanding how people talk through my relatively stronger reading skills. Maybe reading this kind of thing will reinforce my efforts in listening to podcasts.
Glad you picked it up and glad you liked the story I did (:
That story is great because it is well written, educational (has diverse speaking styles) and also enjoyable on its own.
Podcasts are a great resource, I’ve probably listened to 100s over the years. Lately I’ve been listening to a few eps of this:
Listening skills can be tricky since people speaking styles are very diverse (accent, pitch, speed, etc.).
This podcast (my own) talks about one of my recommendations for understanding (real) Japanese speech: