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Book Recommendations for Japanese Books


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死者の学園祭
reina tanaka
arisha wrote in japanesebookrec
死者の学園祭 (Shisha no Gakuensai)
by 赤川次郎 (Akagawa Jirou)
Amazon link
301 pages, furigana on all kanji except numbers, a picture roughly every other chapter
(I read the 2009 edition; it seems earlier editions did not include as much furigana, which makes sense to me as some of the content in this book is definitely not aimed at young children!)

The first few lines:

「真知子(まちこ)、ねえ、真知子(まちこ)。ここよ、ここよ!」
声(こえ)のする方(ほう)を見上(みあ)げた真知子(まちこ)は信(しん)じがたい光景(こうけい)に目(め)をうたがい、その場(ば)で立(た)ちすくんでしまった。鉄筋(てっきん)校舎(こうしゃ)の四階(かい)のベランダから、クラスメイトの山崎由子(やまざきゆうこ)が、校庭(こうてい)に立(た)っている真知子(まちこ)へ手(て)をふっている。しかし、なんと由子(ゆうこ)は四階(かい)のベランダの手(て)すりの上(うえ)に立(た)っているのだ。

After witnessing a classmate's suicide, Machiko transfers to a new high school. But her new classmates are soon involved in a series of deadly accidents. Can Machiko and her boyfriend figure out who's behind it all?

My feelings about this book are pretty mixed. In a way, I'm very happy to have read it, because, furigana aside, it's probably the most difficult book I've read in Japanese so far, and it's great to feel like my reading ability has leveled up. (Although unfortunately I have yet to escape this community's "very easy" tag, haha!) I can also say that this book did a good job of creating mystery and suspense, and there were a couple chapter cliffhangers that were really well done! Unfortunately, I don't have much else to say that's positive. The main character is both bland and difficult to relate to, the gender roles in this book are much stricter than I enjoy reading about, there's a teacher-student relationship that's treated as a non-issue (maybe this and the last point are just cultural differences?), and the overall plot strains credulity. Reading this book wasn't a terrible experience or anything like that, but I probably won't seek out more of the author's work. Apparently a 死者の学園祭 movie was released in 2000, though ... I admit I'm a little curious about that!

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I'm not sure if it's a cultural thing or just an Akagawa thing; certainly I've encountered some similarly problematic-seeming things in other books of his that I've read. Given that the author is 66 it is perhaps also a reflection of the culture of a previous generation.

I think this has a lot to do with it - and he's also been writing for almost 40 years, so a lot of his books were actually written during the previous generation, when this kind of thing was the norm. I think Japan still tends to lag a decade or two behind the West on a lot of social issues, but more recent fiction's generally a bit better on the gender roles. Student-teacher relationships aren't necessarily uncommon in modern fiction, but they are much more likely to be treated as problematic.

I think Akagawa is a good choice for people trying to break into standard Japanese fiction fairly painlessly, but he definitely is not deep or particularly original. I've found personally that I tend to enjoy his humorous stories more than the ones that play everything straight - just seems to mitigate the cringe factor a bit.

Thank you for the info! I didn't even think to research the author. I do agree though that his writing style is good for beginning readers, it's pretty straightforward. Would you recommend his humourous stories?

The age of the author is a good point that I didn't even think of! I did notice this book was first published in the '80s, but some of the attitudes in the book felt older than that to me. Makes a bit more sense now. :)

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