The art of literature is inextricably entwined with the lives and concerns of young people—literary works depict youth, present tales to young people, share their joys and pain, and contemplate their futures. And the future of each society lies with its young people. It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that the future of a country can be glimpsed through vibrant literary depictions of its younger generations. For the sake of readers around the world with an interest in Japan, we have carefully selected 20 books—primarily novels—that depict the lives of young Japanese today. Along with books that depict the joys and optimism of youth, our selections include works that reveal the anxieties and ill ease that young people can experience. But whether their focus is on light or darkness, all these works of contemporary Japanese literature offer intriguing and captivating scenes of life.
The young characters in the novels we have selected come in an incredible array of types, making it difficult to group them into a single category of Japanese youth. What they do share inherently as young people is a presence on the cutting edge of new attitudes and ways of living. The assorted characters in the novels include teenagers with a passion for sports or for playing in a rock band; youths hanging out in trend-setting Tokyo neighborhoods like Shibuya and Ikebukuro; a child who travels as far as Nepal, finding adventure in the process; young people raised in a midsized city who fall in love and, in one case, meet an early death; a young woman living a fulfilling but quiet life against the backdrop of the changing seasons in Tokyo; a historical look at a young man’s family, going back to his grandparents living in Manchuria; junior high students suffering from bullying; and a young ethnic Korean who lives in Japan and is searching for her identity in between two cultures.
Along with the novels in our list, we include six nonfiction works of scholarship or criticism. These discuss social problems that young people face today and the values and aesthetic sense of the younger generation. They examine such issues as the income gap, the “working poor” trapped in jobs that do not let them amass savings, individual efforts to get married, changing views of love, and the aesthetic of “cuteness.” Taken as a whole, they give readers a clearer sense of what is worrying Japan’s young people today; what they are relying on for support; and what they are aiming for in their lives.
The insights on the diversity of Japanese youth today found in the pages of these books are not things that can be learned from one of the handful of bestselling novels. We earnestly hope that the books we have selected will attract the interest of anyone who wants to get a better idea of what Japan is really like today through glimpses of its contradictions and problems, as well as the country’s tremendous cultural energy and potential.
Numano Mitsuyoshi, Professor, University of Tokyo