Japanese Literature Release: “Bitter Honey”

By | March 12, 2024

After releasing a few shorter books, I was on the lookout for a longer work of Japanese literature to translate. As with many of my other books, the idea to translate the novel “Bitter Honey” just popped into my head one day as the perfect next project.

“Bitter Honey” (original title 蜜のあわれ, also written as 蜜のあはれ) is a story by Muro Saisei (室生犀星), an author whom I was already familiar with, having translated and published his historical fiction piece “Tokyo: City of Illusions”. “Bitter Honey” has the odd premise of an aging author who lives with a magical goldfish who can appear in the form of a 19-year old girl, but instead of following some fantastical adventures the story instead focuses on the ups and downs of their (relatively) normal daily life. One literary critic even referred to this book as Japan’s first true surrealistic novel, and while it’s not quite at the level of David Lynch I do agree there is a tone of strange-but-surprisingly-normal throughout the work. However, I want to make it clear this is (to me) an experimental work and something off the beaten path of Japanese lit––which is exactly what I love to publish.

This story was actually turned into a movie in 2016, although I purposefully haven’t watched it yet to avoid my translation being influenced by the director’s interpretation. I can’t comment on the movie, but I will say that while the original story is peppered with innuendo, there are no explicit sex scenes. As usual, it’s probably better to read the book before you watch the movie (:

In keeping with the majority of books published by Arigatai Books, this book contains both English-only and parallel English/Japanese versions. Despite the handful of outdated kanji and expressions, for the most part I think it’s a relatively easy read due to being composed entirely of dialogue, and everyday dialogue at that.

Much thanks to Kaimai Mizuhiro (開米瑞浩) for helping double check some of the meanings of the more difficult passages. Also thanks to Jim “Quotes” Miles (of Annotranslate) for help proofreading.

You can find it on Amazon here or pick it up as part of a set with “Tokyo: City of Illusions” here.

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