Japanese literature review: 人間 (“Ningen”) by 又吉直樹 (Matayoshi Naoki)

By | December 2, 2020

In Kinokuniya I recently came across the latest novel by Matayoshi Naoki (又吉直樹), titled “Ningen” (人間, which means “human”). Because I enjoyed his debut novel “Hibana” (“Spark”, which I reviewed here) so much, I decided to give “Ningen” a read.

For a change I decided to do the majority of this review using a Youtube video, but here is a summary of the pros and cons: (skip to the video below if you like)


  • Interesting ideas on a variety of topics including art, memory, and comedy.
  • Some creative, beautiful prose in a few places.


  • The story was weak and didn’t compel me to keep reading.
  • In part of the book there was too much focus on other character(s), making it hard for me to empathize with the main character.
  • Too many pages dedicated to a series of insulting emails between two characters.
  • Kansai dialect makes it hard for beginner (or even intermediate) students of Japanese to understand the book without extra research.


  • While overall an interesting book, it was a bit disappointing given my great experience with Hibana. If you are considering reading “Ningen”, I recommend reading Hibana first since it was shorter, easier to understand, and overall I felt had a stronger story and impact.

By the way, in the Youtube video I forgot to mention the connection to the famous novel “Ningen Shikkaku” (人間失格, “No Longer Human”) by Osamu Dazai, which is mentioned explicitly several times, not to mention the title similarity. I would recommend reading this book first before you read “Ningen” for proper context.

I’m hoping to do more things using audio (and video) in the future, so I would appreciate feedback on this type of book review. By the way, I already did a series of videos where I analyze short excerpts of Japanese literature, which you can see more info about here, or jump directly to the Youtube playlist here.

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