Book Club Nominees

6 Terrifying Japanese Novels

by @DunMiff/sys, curator of HOWLS book club nominees for September’s “Konnichi-AAAHHH!!! (Japanese Horror)” category

From Wikipedia: Japanese horror (also known as J-horror) is horror fiction arising from popular culture in Japan, generally noted for its unique thematic and conventional treatment of the horror genre differing from the traditional Western representation of horror. Japanese horror tends to focus on psychological horror, tension building (suspense), and supernatural horror, particularly involving ghosts (yūrei) and poltergeists. It also often includes elements more commonly found in the Mystery genre.

Originally, I had come up with a much different theme more suited to my specific tastes, but decided to go with a more inclusive list of titles that wouldn’t scare everyone away or make them all sick. So, I took inspiration from my favorite club read of the year (Battle Royale) and curated the following list of titles written exclusively by Japanese authors. Yatta!

Cover of Earthlings by Sayaka Murata. Cover shows a stuffed hedgehog against a black background with orange-red dots

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

As a child, Natsuki doesn’t fit in with her family. Her parents favor her sister, and her best friend is a plush toy hedgehog named Piyyut, who talks to her. He tells her that he has come from the planet Popinpobopia on a special quest to help her save the Earth. One summer, on vacation with her family and her cousin Yuu in her grandparents’ ramshackle wooden house in the mountains of Nagano, Natsuki decides that she must be an alien, which would explain why she can’t seem to fit in like everyone else. Later, as a grown woman, living a quiet life with her asexual husband, Natsuki is still pursued by dark shadows from her childhood, and decides to flee the “baby factory” of society for good, searching for answers about the vast and frightening mysteries of the universe—answers only Natsuki has the power to uncover. (Amazon)

My favorite reviews for this book describe it as “deeply uncomfortable”, “utterly revolting”, and “WTF DID I JUST READ”. Almost every review I’ve read seems to describe a different book, and it just seems absolutely bonkers. This is truly the perfect book for a group read. Please vote for it.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Ring by Koji Suzuki. Cover shows a three dimensional looking arrangement of white and pink lines leading into an optical tunnel. The word Ring surrounds the tunnel in a circle. In the center of the tunnel is a skull and crossbones.

Ring by Koji Suzuki

A mysterious videotape warns that the viewer will die in one week unless a certain, unspecified act is performed. Exactly one week after watching the tape, four teenagers die one after another of heart failure.

Asakawa, a hardworking journalist, is intrigued by his niece’s inexplicable death. His investigation leads him from a metropolitan tokyo teeming with modern society’s fears to a rural Japan–a mountain resort, a volcanic island, and a countryside clinic–haunted by the past. His attempt to solve the tape’s mystery before it’s too late–for everyone–assumes an increasingly deadly urgency. (Goodreads)

Koji Suzuki has been called “The Stephen King of Japan” and this book is undoubtedly his most enduring work. By now, most of us probably know the story of Ring from the Japanese film or its American remake, but is this another case of “the book was better”? Let’s find out!

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Piercing by Ryu Murakami. Cover shows a bunny rabbit about to be stabbed by a hovering ice pick.

Piercing by Ryu Murakami

In this short, tense and brutally eloquent thriller, Kawashima Masayuki, a young urban professional, faces the terrible fear he will stab his baby daughter, Rie, just as he once stabbed the stripper he lived with when he was 19. He decides killing a young prostitute will alleviate the building pressure inside him and protect both Rie and his sweet wife, Yoko. He plans everything meticulously, but what he doesn’t bargain for is that his intended victim, Sanada Chiaki, an S&M worker, is as disturbed as he is. (Publishers Weekly)

Ryu Murakami is one of the most (if not the most) successful Japanese authors to receive translation in the West. Many of you will know him from his novel Audition or the critically acclaimed film it was developed into. Piercing sounds like exactly the kind of dark, complex thriller that thrives in our group discussions and I’ve been dying for the chance to finally read it.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of The Graveyard Apartment by Mariko Koike. Cover shows a lone apartment building surrounded by graves. Cover is in shades of grey and deep blue green.

The Graveyard Apartment by Mariko Koike

This tale of a young married couple who harbor a dark secret is packed with dread and terror, as they and their daughter move into a brand new apartment building built next to a graveyard. As strange and terrifying occurrences begin to pile up, people in the building start to move out one by one, until the young family is left alone with someone… or something… lurking in the basement. The psychological horror builds moment after moment, scene after scene, culminating with a conclusion that will make you think twice before ever going into a basement again. (Amazon)

One of the most popular writers working in Japan today, Mariko Koike is a recognized master of detective fiction and horror writing. Known in particular for her hybrid works that blend these styles with elements of romance, The Graveyard Apartment is arguably Koike’s masterpiece. (Also from Amazon)

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Goth by Otsuichi. Cover shows the upper half of a girl's face, very close up, in black and white. Tree branches or perhaps cracks obscure a clear image of her.

Goth by Otsuichi

Morino is the strangest girl in school – how could she not be, given her obsession with brutal murders? And there are plenty of murders to grow obsessed with, as the town in which she lives is a magnet for serial killers. She and her schoolmate will go to any length to investigate the murders, even putting their own bodies on the line. And they don’t want to stop the killers – Morino and her friend simply want to understand them. (Goodreads)

Otsuichi is one of Japan’s most successful mystery/horror authors, but he is virtually unknown to Western readers. Goth is one of his best works (Zoo being the other one), receiving both a film adaptation in Japan and a manga adaptation. The narrative in Goth is told through a series of 6 interconnected short stories featuring the same main character and setting, similar to something like Uzumaki, but in prose form.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa. Cover shows a woman in a black and blue image. Portions of her image are replaced with white and red line drawings.

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

On an unnamed island, objects are disappearing: first hats, then ribbons, birds, roses. . . . Most of the inhabitants are oblivious to these changes, while those few able to recall the lost objects live in fear of the draconian Memory Police, who are committed to ensuring that what has disappeared remains forgotten. When a young writer discovers that her editor is in danger, she concocts a plan to hide him beneath her floorboards, and together they cling to her writing as the last way of preserving the past. (Amazon)

Yoko Ogawa is an old HOWL Society favorite and an author I’ve been anxious to get back into. More of a horror-adjacent dystopian Dark fiction novel, I’ve seen a lot of buzz around this book online that intrigued me so much that I bumped a Junji Ito book to include it. It sounds like a modern Japanese version of 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 with a little hint of Diary of Anne Frank. That, combined with Ogawa’s beautiful prose…what more could you want?

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

And The Winner Is…

Out of these six books, HOWLers voted to read The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa. Join HOWL Society on Monday, September 13, 2021 to begin discussion!

*The HOWLS affiliate storefront pays a 10% commission to HOWL Society and gives a matching 10% to independent bookstores

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