Japanese literature release: “Alien Christmas” (Volume 3 of Masao Yamakawa collection)

By | December 12, 2023

I was brought up where celebrating Christmas for a religious reason was the norm, but now as an adult it’s safe to say my feelings for Christmas are quite different than when I was a child. I celebrate it for different reasons, and am more aware that some parts of the world don’t think of Christmas the way some Americans do.

Culture in Japan is an especially interesting case, where Christmas is celebrated by many in some form despite a very small number of people having the corresponding religious beliefs (at least according to Wikipedia, Christianity in Japan is around 1.5%). In fact, you may be surprised to learn that celebrating Christmas in Japan started around the 16th century. Despite similarities to the west, Christmas in Japan has unique quirks including strawberry-topped cakes, a stronger emphasis on the romantic element, and a mysterious connection to good old Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The majority of the translation projects I have taken on so far have been for pieces of Japanese literature that are generally at least a half-century old, and it’s somewhat rare that I come across any stories that mention Christmas in any way.

However, sometime back I came across a quirky story by Masao Yamakawa that combined elements of Christmas, alien beings, and even a bit of religious satire (if you can call it that). Though at first I didn’t know what to make of this strange story, eventually I realized it was a somewhat unique piece that deserved to be properly translated and published to be made available to a Western-speaking audience.

Just don’t expect it to be anything like your typical Christmas story.

By the way, if you haven’t yet heard of Masao Yamakawa, he’s an author from the middle 20th century whose stories at times feel surprisingly modern, and one of my colleagues even drew a parallel between Yamakawa and the ever-popular Haruki Murakami. “Alien Christmas”, a surreal story about a man who encounters a thumb-sized (beautiful) girl, does in some strange way seem like it is something Murakami might have thought of.

In this volume (the 3rd in the series), I also included “The Red Notebook”, a tale about the place of love in modern society that feels especially relevant today. Like the other books in this series, all the stories are included in both English-only formats and parallel English/Japanese. Despite being a few decades old, I think Yamakawa’s writing style is relatively easy to pick up compared to other authors from that time period. (But if you are still a beginning reader in Japanese, this series of fairy tales, also in parallel English/Japanese, may be more to your liking.)

You can get Alien Christmas on Amazon now here for only $0.99 USD (or equivalent), or just pick up the entire series here for the low price of $6.88.

Thanks to Kaimai Mizuhiro (開米瑞浩) for helping confirm some of the meanings of the tricker passages. Also thanks to Jim Miles (of Annotranslate) for help proofreading the stories.

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