About

My name is Kathryn Hemmann, and I teach classes about Japanese literature, cinema, and popular culture at the University of Notre Dame. I’m currently in beautiful Mishawaka, Indiana, turning my dissertation into a book manuscript and writing haiku about cornfields. I am always open to reading suggestions, so please feel free to send them my way.

I occasionally translate Japanese short stories for fun. My translations can be found at Japanese Translations.

……………

All Japanese names are presented in Japanese order, with the family name first, unless the person in question is writing in a Western language or prefers Western order.

Many Japanese writers use pen names or nonstandard romanization schemata for their names, and I respect their preferences by using the names under which they publish.

“Contemporary” is a tricky term, but for the purposes of this blog I use it to mean “written after the end of the Pacific War.” I occasionally review modern literature as well, and by “modern” I mean “written between 1868 and 1945.” This dichotomy between “modern” and “contemporary” is not perfect, but it’s convenient enough to be useful.

……………

All of these reviews are licensed under Creative Commons, which essentially means that you are free to reproduce them as long as you attribute me. I make no money from this website, but review copies are always welcome. All of the original texts belong to their authors and translators, and all of the cover images belong to their publishers.

I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the Japan Foundation, to the Cecilia Segawa Seigle Fellowship, and to my academic advisors at Emory University and the University of Pennsylvania. This site would not be possible without their generous support.

41 thoughts on “About

  1. Colleen says:

    Are you going to create an RSS feed for this site? I would love to add it to my feed list.

  2. Kathryn says:

    You’ll have to forgive me, but I am somewhat ignorant when it comes to the internet. I think I have a vague idea of what an RSS feed is, but I’m not sure that I know how to create one. (The WordPress FAQ section was woefully inadequate, unfortunately.)

    If you have an RSS feed reader, you can just enter the URL of the main section of the blog followed by “rss” into the “subscribe” field. Here it is for your cut-and-pasting convenience:

    http://japaneseliterature.wordpress.com/rss

    Thank you for your interest in the blog!

  3. captaincosmonaut says:

    I admire that you can write interesting reviews and keep up with them! I often think about writing up some for the films I watch, but never have the followthrough.

    RSS feeds are handy little things that function similarly to the general use of livejournal. However, instead of a “friends page” they involve a feed reader such as google reader.

    The feed reader keeps track of all of the websites that you read regularly, such as blogs and news and the like, and fetches all the information into a single page so that you can basically read thousands of web stuff on just one page. Like being able to read all your friends journals on your friends page. Adding an RSS feed to your wordpress blog would mean that people could read your blog through their readers without having to actually manually visit your site. This will increase consistent readership since we are all getting lazier and lazier and clicking is getting more and more taxing. :)

    I also have a wordpress blog and I think it’s just a matter of turning the option on.

    Edit: Ah! You already do. If you didn’t change this yourself and it was already set, the address for your RSS feed is at feed://japanesetranslations.wordpress.com/feed/

    If you are interested in having a reader, I suggest using the google reader because it is free and easy. http://www.google.com/reader/
    It’s simply a matter of adding the urls of the feeds (such as the one above) and then letting the internet do all the work for you! :)

  4. Titania says:

    Good luck, Kathryn!

    What a challenging area of study! I love your site and your blog. I’ve added your site to my favorites.

    ~Titania

  5. Kathryn says:

    Thank you so much! I will say that Japanese literature isn’t quite so challenging – but grad school does tend to eat up my life. I will take inspiration from your compliments and try my best to post more often!

  6. I’m enjoying your blog. I’m no expert in Japanese literature, but know what I like: Tanizaki, some Murakami, and some Banana Yoshimoto. My writing has been influenced by their prose styles and Japanese culture has played a big part in my life for years. ガんばって with all of your studies. I myself just finished grad school (MFA in Writing) and know full well how たいへん it can be! :-)

  7. Kathryn says:

    どうもありがとうございました~! (^_^)/

    I just ordered a copy of your new book from Amazon. I’m really looking forward to reading it! I am inspired by your relationship with the writing of the three authors you mentioned. I think I will have to post entries on a few of their novels very soon….

  8. Smithereens says:

    I just discovered your site and really appreciate it (I recently reviewed Tawara Machi’s Salad Aniversary). I look forward to discovering other novels in (translated) Japanese literature!

  9. madeline says:

    Love your reviews on various books, and the Engrish category too. madeline

  10. Matt Levitas says:

    Hi, Kathryn! My name is Matt Levitas, and I just completed the M.A. program in Japanese lit at University of Colorado. I’m currently living in Seattle, working for an indie press that specializes in Japan-related books. We’re called Chin Music Press (check us out at the URL!). I just wanted to drop in and give my support — as someone who very much shares your passion, I felt I had to both send you some positive energy for your site and wish you luck in your research. (Oh, and tell Bill LaFleur sensei that Matt Levitas says hi — he was the keynote speaker at our grad student conference in 07, and we had a great time giving him a small restaurant tour of Boulder.)

    If you get the chance, drop me a line. I’d love to talk shop with you!
    –Matt

    • Kathryn says:

      Thank you so much for writing!

      You know, I just submitted a paper proposal to the grad student conference in Boulder, and I must admit that part of my reason for submitting was Dr. LaFleur’s enthusiastic description of what a wonderful city Boulder is. I’d really like to visit myself – I’m keeping my fingers crossed. In the meantime, I will tell him you said hello!

      I will be honest with you – I’m not such a big fan of “gaijin accounts” of Japan. (I think Bruce Feiler’s Learning to Bow was the last straw for me.) I’m always willing to read new books, though, especially if they come recommended. Is there anything from your press catalog that you think I should give a chance? I’ve been eyeing the book Big in Japan recently; it looks so handsome and sexy on the bookstore shelves…

      • Matt Levitas says:

        The grad conference in Boulder IS a great time. If you do end up going, please let me know and I’ll give you some getting-around-town pointers. I’ll be in Seattle for the next however-many-months, otherwise I’d offer to take you around myself, but I’ve got enough friends still there that you’d have any number of guides/places to stay.

        Speaking of, I noticed on Facebook that you’re also friends with Ben G., who graduated CU with me in May. He’s a good friend — also from Philly (I grew up in Cherry Hill my own self), so maybe you know him that way? Either way, I’m going to send you a friend request after I write this.

        I’m of a similar mind re: gaijin accounts of Japan, particularly the non-fiction Japanophile pandering that all boil down to, “Isn’t Japan weird? And exotic? Man, what a weird and exotic place Japan is.” I like to think Chin Music stuff avoids that — partly because we don’t invite it the way some other presses I could name do — but I’d love to get your take.

        I can make recommendations based on your taste, and I think I’ve got a decent sense of that from your reviews, but just in case, I’ll put it this way. I saw your review of 69, and you had some positive things to say about Coin Locker Babies and Almost Transparent Blue (and In the Miso Soup elsewhere, if I recall correctly). If you can appreciate that sort of extreme fiction (which I definitely do), then you’ll love Big in Japan. It’s a wonderful deconstruction of the WhiGWAG (White Guy With Asian Girl) phenomenon, and a fun read, as well. Oh! The Novel is a beautifully designed and ghostly novel, and it’s got some interesting insights re: mono no aware. So if you’re in a more contemplative mood, I’d go for that one. As for the other works, I can vouch for the authenticity of the research: Tokyo Art Space is an essential guide to checking out contemporary art around Tokyo, Goodbye Madam Butterfly has some very important first-hand accounts of the experience of Japanese wives and mistresses, and Kuhaku captures a lot of the poetry of the cross-cultural experience (I think — I haven’t finished it yet).

        I could go on, but I don’t want to take up too much of your time and wall space. Hope to meet up with you on Facebook!

  11. Autumn Alexander says:

    Dear JLit and cinematic-story lovers:
    After nearly a decade of living in Japan, I’m trying to toss slippery clay into a literature and religion-based humanities thesis that will hold water. Despite my instincts, reading, viewing, and observations, I find myself painfully afraid to critique aspects of a foreign culture’s humanities, even with the license of imagination and great regard for this staple and long-time Japanese forte– storytelling.
    The voices I began with and upon which I grow my argument are those of today’s respected Japanese themselves. Repeatedly, from prime ministers on down, there is befuddlement and disappointment, a wondering why the hell there is such alienation and depression in their land of plenty. Beyond the obvious effects of urbanization and capitalism, I am looking for clues in what the young are taught, literally and figuratively, or, apparently, in absentia.
    I plan to argue that the majority of postmodern Japanese storytellers (in lit and cinema) have not lived up to their gifts and duties as voices of moral authority in a Japan where there is such a vacuum of guidance. I am using the archetype and mythological form of literary analysis in an attempt to rise above inherent Western bias. For a while, post-Occupation, there was such fabulous flush of storytelling that stirred the populace, empowered them to question and grapple with the way things had always been. But since the mid seventies, with a few exceptions, it appears the Japanese storytellers are basically retreating back to their I-novels. Either that or frolicking in the purely sensational and the graphic–manga, horror, and titillation.
    My questions for you all, my fellow Japan fans, are the following: #1) Does anyone know of any required reading list of literature in the public high schools, including anything that might approach honesty about Japan’s “intramural” behavior in Asia during the Pacific War ( I think of Murakami’s WINDUP BIRD CHRONICLES as the only one I’ve seen so far), and/or #2) am I simply obtuse, not privy to the symbolism in postmodern lit that should provoke development of critical thinking, a thinking leading to a fearless honesty about Japan’s Narcissim. ‘Tis a religious defect as seen through the eyes of its close neighbors( the Koreas, Taiwan, and China), both then–for example, Nanjing’s decimation. and now.
    All I see and read so far are, in essence, “fagedaboudiht” attitudes among today’s Japanese, and that’s assuming they even have a clue that there is mistrust and tension in the Pacific surf splashing against their shores. Multiple instances in current affairs indicate ongoing tensions, unsalved hurts, and a devilish mistrust that I believe comes from a deep archetypal instinct and indicator: What exactly does one generation pass down in its stories to its young.
    So far as I know, school curricula in this vein involves simply memorizing the long historical timeline. Any thought provoking exercises via storytelling slant to underscore the Japanese’ “We are the real Victims”, e.g., THE GLASS RABBIT. As if their own suffering expunged their countrymen’s dehumanizing violence. No matter what. it was their sons in the Japanese military who “earned” the particularly bloody reputation that haunts this part of the world today. .
    You all in this blog are so erudite. I truly welcome your help, advice, criticism, etc., on what I have outlined above. This entire master’s course has been self-didactic, which is why I yearn for your input. Please come into my cyber study NOW and let’s talk. Gambatte kudasai!
    Truly,
    Autumn

  12. mirae says:

    nice site!

    trying to find some pics of the serialization posters from the Japan nippon rail line of banana yoshimoto’s “Newlywed” story…have you seen any?

    thanks!
    cheers~

    • Kathryn says:

      Thank you!

      I haven’t personally seen any, but I know that there are a ton of people posting enormous backlogs of Japan-related photos on Flickr. If you search Flickr directly, you might have better results than searching on Google. Many people tag their pictures in both English and Japanese, so try searching in both languages.

      If that doesn’t work, try asking someone at your local library. Many younger librarians have degrees in searching the internet (I am paraphrasing a little) and can work magic with search engines you didn’t even know existed.

      I apologize if I’m giving you suggestions that you already tried, and I’m sorry that I couldn’t help more. Good luck!

  13. I love this blog. I hope your studies are going well. You are an amazing writer. I lived in Murakami Shi for two years and am finishing up my CNF book for publication. Reading your blog brought me back!
    Thanks,
    Jen

  14. Yuko says:

    Hi, Kathryn

    I’m a Ph.D student at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, Japan.
    Now I’m researching how foreigners understand manga.

    I would like you to help me!
    If you are okay, I would like to send you a questionnaire.
    It takes about 3 min. or so, and it must be fun for you to do it, I guarantee you!

    If you can do me my favor, please reply to me so that I will send you a questionnaire after that.
    I hope you would help me.

    Regards,

    Yuko

    • Kathryn says:

      Thank you for your comment! I would love to fill out your survey – I enjoy talking about manga more than is probably healthy. Feel free to post a link to the survey as a response to this comment, or you can email me directly at khemmann@gmail.com

      By the way, the URL linked from your name at the top of the comment – http://Somequestionsaboutmanga – isn’t working. I wonder if it’s maybe a domain name issue?

  15. Lily_Rose says:

    Hi Kathryn,

    I stumbled upon your site and wanted to say thank you! It’s so inspiring! I’m currently studying for an MA in Japanese Cultural Studies in London (UK) and my current elective on Japanese literature is just blowing me away! I’m enjoying your blog so much and am getting so much out of it!

    I’m currently looking to do an essay on a piece of modern Japanese literature – a sort of ‘narrating some aspect of modern Japan’ type of thing… I am considering Murakami’s ‘Sputnik Sweetheart’ as I am eager to cover something on female-female relationships, but perhaps you know of something better out there in English translation?

    Any advice would be appreciated, but otherwise thank you so much for your blog!

    Lily Rose

    • Kathryn says:

      Thank you so much! And good luck!

      I think Sputnik Sweetheart is a really interesting choice for a topic like “narrating female relationships.” Another Murakami novel that I think would be interesting is Norwegian Wood, which features an extremely interesting character named Reiko. If you’re looking for purely lesbian literature, there’s an anthology called Sparkling Rain And Other Fiction from Japan of Women Who Love Women that was published a few years ago. If you consider manga to be literature, there is an anthology called Yuri Monogatari that is a good place to start. If you’re dealing with non-lesbian relationships as well, there is an anthology called Inside and Other Short Fiction that’s lots of fun. If you’re looking for novels, anything by Kirino Natsuo is excellent. Also, if you don’t mind backing up in time a little bit, the single-author short story collections Lonely Woman (by Takahashi Takako) and Toddler Hunting (by Kōno Taeko) are some of the best works of translated Japanese literature I’ve ever read.

      Once again, it sounds like a really cool topic, and I wish you the best of luck!

      [EDIT: Actually, now that I go back and think about it, Yuri Monogatari might be an acquired taste, and I'm sure if shipping any of the volumes to the UK is even reasonable. However, the website I linked to has other titles (and reviews), which you can then try to find locally, if anything catches your interest.]

  16. Hello,

    I found your blog when I was looking for scholarly papers on the anime and visual novel medium and I must say I’m impressed with your articles. I’m also a college student, premed, but sadly they don’t offer anime or Japanese visual art classes at my college. But it was during my time in college I was introduced to the Japanese form of story telling through anime, manga, and visual novels and I have been interested ever since.

    I am planning on writting an article on the groundbreaking anime/visual novel Clannad and wanted to know if you recommended any scholarly text or works on the medium to help get me started.

    Thanks a lot.

    • Kathryn says:

      That’s the first time I have ever heard anyone refer to Clannad as “groundbreaking.” But more power to you!

      Probably the best place to look for scholarly papers on visual novels is an online journal called Games and Culture, which you might be able to access through your library’s proxy server. I’m not sure what you’ll find, but the articles they publish are generally very good. Mechademia (which you can acces through Project MUSE) has lots of shorter essays on anime and anime culture, but I don’t think any of the issues has anything about visual novels.

      Anyway, the classic book on digital narratives is Janet Murray’s Hamlet on the Holodeck, which was published in 1997 and thus probably not exactly what you’re looking for, but it opens up all sorts of interesting lines of inquiry, and it’s pretty fun to read, too. On the other end of the spectrum is Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential, which isn’t academic but has a whole chapter on girl games like Clannad.

      Finally, you’re more than likely aware of this, but Susan Napier’s book on anime is always a good place to start reading. It’s got entire chapters dealing with themes that are very important in the Clannad anime, like nostalgia and teenage sexuality. You may agree or disagree with the writer, but she’s very bold and easy to understand.

      Good luck! And please write back to let me know if your article gets published!

  17. The Izu Dancer says:

    Hi. I just discovered your site and really enjoyed reading your entries. Very inspiring as I weather the trials and tribulations of graduate school. I was wondering of you could perhaps share or suggest a basic/core reading list for graduate students of Japanese literature. I understand each student will have a list tailored to their particular interests but it seems some graduate programs have a list of books and articles that are required reading for their students (our program doesn’t). Any suggestions would be great! And what is your secret for being able to write well and often? I really admire your dedication to your blog!

    • Kathryn says:

      The secret to being able to write well and often? I wish I knew. Maybe it involves procrastinating on other, more important writing assignments?

      Our program doesn’t have a list of core secondary material either, and I will readily admit that it was not easy for me to create one for my comprehensive exams. The best advice I can give you is to ask your sempai for their reading lists. Here is an online list from one of my own sempai:

      http://mali-in-japan.livejournal.com/47550.html

      Personally, I am always hesitant to offer reading suggestions to other grad students, mainly because there are too many ego-related pitfalls. If you give a friend the title of a book she already knows about, for example, your advice has a high chance of coming off as condescending. I’m therefore going to leave the heavy lifting to real professors, whose titles and salaries confer the privilege of telling their students what to do.

      However, if I were to go out on a limb, I think the two essay collections Ōe and Beyond: Fiction and Contemporary Japan and The Woman’s Hand: Gender and Theory in Japanese Women’s Writing are a really good place to start not only in terms of content but also in terms of familiarizing yourself with the names of prominent scholars in the field whose monograph-length work you should probably be paying attention to.

      I hope this helps just a little and was more or less what you were hoping for in a response. Good luck with grad school! To both of us…

  18. Zack Kaplan says:

    Hi Kathryn!

    I stumbled on your blog about a week ago, and was overjoyed to find both a long list of past posts, as well as numerous links to other Japan-related blogs.

    I finished my undergrad degree last year, and am currently living in Japan and working as a CIR while I try to figure out exactly what I want to study in grad school. (Maybe minority literature in Japan?)

    Although I’ve been interested in pursuing a graduate degree in Japanese Lit. for almost two years now, this was actually my first time looking around the web for blogs. Since I don’t personally know anyone who has moved on to study Japanese literature, it’s really nice to see what other people are up to.

    I’m looking forward to your future posts. ^^

  19. Excellent blog, have subscribed to it. As a former student of Japanese and Japanese literature (what feels like a lifetime ago), I may have forgotten most of my kanji but I still enjoy reading the literature (mostly in translation nowadays, alas).

  20. gradland says:

    Hello Kathryn!

    I’m not sure how to contact you directly, but just wanted to let you know that my dissertation on monstrous children in Japanese literature & film is done & ready for submission, so if you’d like to take a look at it please drop me a line over at Adventures in Gradland and I’ll send it to you.

    • Kathryn says:

      It has taken me a looong time to reply to you (sorry!), but I am totally going to take you up on your offer. I’m going to contact at your personal email, if that’s okay. Please expect!

  21. Hello Kathryn,
    I am going on holiday to Japan with my husband and kids for the first time in November and I wanted to do some research in to the culture. My first degree was in Cultural Studies so I thought I would approach things from a literary angle and I found your blog. I don’t think I shall be going anywhere else, it seems to be so fascinating and comprehensive. I have only read a short story collection by Mishima Yukio and all of Ishiguro, but of course that is reverse engineering English Literature from a Japanese viewpoint. So I wanted to say Hello and that I am very happy to have found your blog.

    Regards

    Susanna

    • Kathryn says:

      Hello, and thank you for your comment.

      I’m so excited that you get to visit Japan with your family. On this blog I always make a big deal about Japan not being “different” from other countries; but, on a personal and experiential level, being in Japan for the first time is both strange and amazing. I hope that your upcoming trip is awesome!

      I would like recommend Japan: A Traveler’s Literary Companion (which is edited by Jeffrey Angles and J. Thomas Rimer, who are both very good people), but I’m not sure if you can find a copy in Australia. March Was Made of Yarn is another good short story collection that does a good job of providing a window into contemporary Japan:

      http://www.thenile.com.au/books/March-Was-Made-of-Yarn-Reflections-on-the-Japanese/9780307948861/

      Good luck with your research!

  22. Rowan Muelling-Auer, Publicist says:

    Dear Kathryn,

    I’m not sure how to contact you directly, but I’ve just discovered your site and would love to send you review copies of forthcoming titles from Tuttle Publishing. Please contact me if you are interested in seeing Tuttle books.

    Best,
    Rowan

    • Kathryn says:

      Thank you so much for contacting me! I love Tuttle, and I would very much like to receive review copies of their books. I will get in touch with you via email shortly.

      Just for the reference of anyone reading through these comments, my contact information can be found at:

      http://upenn.academia.edu/KathrynHemmann/About

      I used to have my email address at the top of this page, but the amount of spam I received was unbelievable.

  23. Nicole Sonobe says:

    I am interesting in doing contemporary Japanese Literature translation(novels). How should one go about that? I would appreciate your advice when you have the chance to reply.よろしくお願いします。

    • Kathryn says:

      Hello! Thank you for your comment, and I apologize for my delay in responding to you.

      As someone who is currently working on a handful of literary translation projects, I would love to know the answer to your question just as much as you would. My current approach is to have a completed (or nearly completed) manuscript before I start worrying about how to get it published, but I’m not certain if that’s the correct way to go about things. What I do know is that the vast majority of translators of Japanese literature are academics who translate as a side job, and that the non-academic translators who translate literature (or manga, or light novels) on commission have usually established themselves as translators in non-literary fields. I feel weird giving you advice, since I have not gone through the process of publishing a translated novel myself; but, since you’re asking for advice, I might suggest that you email several publishers specializing in Japanese literature and/or several translators whose work you admire.

      These resources might also help:

      Japanese Literature in Translation Database:
      http://www.jpf.go.jp/e/culture/media/exchange/translationsearch.html

      Japanese Literature Publishing Project:
      http://www.jlpp.go.jp/en/index.html

  24. Nicole Sonobe says:

    Thanks for your reply. I will do some more researching and share the results with you!

  25. Casey says:

    Kathryn, I’m working with a number of authors in Japan to begin translating and distributing their work internationally. I wanted to contact you via email to discuss a few different things we have going on and hear your thoughts, perhaps see if there is room to collaborate. At the very least, I’d love to send you a copy of our first release and get your thoughts on it. Email me if you have a moment.

  26. toranosuke says:

    Hi Kathryn, I’ve nominated you for a Liebster Award! You can read a bit more about what it’s all about here.

    If you’d like to pass it along, write a new post answering the questions I pose in my post here, and nominate 11 other bloggers, asking your own 11 questions. (And if you’d rather not bother, that’s fine too!)

    Looking forward to future posts!

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