Japanese Women’s Literature Book Release: “Downfall and Other Stories” by Hayashi Fumiko

By | March 31, 2020

(see the book on Amazon)

As frequent readers of this blog know, in the last few years I have started self-publishing my translations of Japanese literature as E-books and making them available on Amazon. While it’s true that doing translation, cover design, editing, and other related tasks mostly on my own (with a few exceptions I’ll mention below) takes a significant amount of time, as a lover of Japanese literature it’s a very rewarding hobby.

For my next book I put a lot of effort into researching various authors and their works, and I was ready to begin translating the works of a certain author. But then I realized that all of my book projects so far have been translations of male writers, so I decided to do research on notable women authors to see what was available, primarily using works on Aozora Bunko.

It was only a matter of time until I stumbled upon Hayashi Fumiko (林芙美子), a prolific author from the first half of the 20th century who gained fame for her many literary contributions; you can find a good number of her works published on Amazon Japan. In fact, one academic book went so far as to call Hayashi Fumiko “twentieth-century Japan’s most important woman writer”.

With the exception of her most famous pieces such as “Floating Clouds” (浮雲) and “A Diary of a Vagabond” (放浪記), only a handful of her works are available in English. So I tried reading the works that had not been translated and was fortunate to find a few that were quite enjoyable with reasonable lengths. I was especially attracted to the realistic depictions of her character’s complex emotions (using both male and female main characters), and how she was not afraid to address sensitive subjects, such as physical abuse, choosing career over love, or the harsh conditions of post-WWII Japan. After doing this research I knew it would be worthwhile to translate a few of Hayashi Fumiko’s stories in the hope that western readers would enjoy these pieces like I did.

This translation project turned out to be one of my most difficult yet, not only due to the sensitive subject matter but because of other things like uncommon kanji characters, words, and turns of phrase which are no longer used in modern Japanese. Fortunately, to clarify a few areas I was able to get help from my friend Kaimai Mizuhiro (開米瑞浩), educator and author of technical books (you can see his books here). I also had the help of my friend Yeti san (of Shosetsu Ninja) for proofreading and quality check.

While I have noticed what I would call a severe undertone in many of Hayashi Fumiko’s works, I’ve tried to select stories with different moods, including one that is a bit brighter and one with comedic elements. So I am hoping there’s a little something for everyone.

Because of the difficulty of the original stories I decided to not publish this book in bilingual English/Japanese format, but you can find all the stories on Aozora Bunko. I have listed the Japanese title at the beginning of each chapter to help with finding the stories, simply search for 青空文庫 and the title. (For Japanese learners who are looking for bilingual books to practice reading, see these two that not only have English/Japanese in parallel text format, but have a much lower level of difficulty).

It’s also nice that some of the stories in this collection have audio narrations in Japanese available on Youtube. This is one of my favorites.

For those interested, you can check out the book on Amazon here, priced at $0.99 for the first week of release. If you enjoy reading Self Taught Japanese, please consider purchasing this book to help me support maintenance costs and fund future projects and articles.

As for me, I’m taking a little break from translating and finally getting to some reading (and watching) that I’ve been putting off for a while. But I expect to start looking for my next project soon, so let me know if you have any suggestions.

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