Japanese Literature for the Kindle

I am both a reader and a traveler. I read at least a dozen books every month, and I find myself on a plane at least once every two months. I love physical books, I really do; but, because I am a reader and a traveler, the physicality of books has started to become a burden, literally. I hate walking through airports with a bag full of books strapped to my back, and I am running out of shelf space in my apartment. So I finally bit the bullet and bought myself a Kindle. Having now spent the weekend playing with my new toy, I thought perhaps I should share what I have learned concerning the availability of Japanese literature on the Kindle.

To my complete and utter lack of surprise, everything Murakami Haruki has ever had published by Vintage is on the Kindle. The other Murakami, Murakami Ryū, has three short novels (Piercing, Audition, and Popular Hits of the Shōwa Era) available. The psychological crime fiction of Kirino Natsuo is also up and ready for download. All of this is as it should be, since Kirino and the two Murakamis are extraordinarily fun, engaging, and popular writers.

Some of the more classic authors of Japanese fiction, such as Ōe Kenzaburō, Kawabata Yasunari, and Tanizaki Junichirō, have only one digital book apiece (The Changeling, The Old Capital, and Seven Japanese Tales, respectively). The real winner of the e-book contest for canonized classics seems to be Natsume Sōseki, who has everything from Kokoro to Kusamakura to Ten Nights of Dream available, thanks to Penguin.

Newer, less canonized fiction has not fared quite as well, however. Some of my favorite contemporary authors, like Nonami Asa, Kanehara Hitomi, and Sakurai Ami, have absolutely nothing on the Kindle store. Vertical has none of its catalog listed, either (at least not to my knowledge). If you’re into science fiction, though, you’re in luck – Haikasoru has digital editions of a handful of its titles, such as Slum Online and The Lords of the Sands of Time, up on the Kindle store. Perhaps the best deal out of Haikasoru’s digital selection is Miyabe Miyuki’s Brave Story, which is a massive physical book being offered at a nice discount in its digital edition.

If you’re the sort of person who reads academic nonfiction as a hobby, there are much better places to go to obtain digital texts, but the Kindle store does have a few good titles available, like Christine Marran’s Poison Woman: Figuring Female Transgression in Modern Japanese Culture (the list price for which is about $15). Routledge also offers a few tomes on Japanese literature for upwards of $85. One assumes they are doing this just to be funny, especially since they’ve posted their Companion to Critical Theory and Companion to Postmodernism for less than $20.

Finally, unless I am missing something very important, I don’t think there is a great deal of manga worth mentioning available on the Kindle. Again, this is probably as it should be. Although the text on the device is crisp and clear and beautiful, I don’t think the screen is big enough or has a high enough resolution to handle the sort of compact image formatting involved in most manga. If you want to read manga on your e-reader, it’s probably better to invest in a Nook, which is partnered with Digital Manga, or an iPad, which has apps for Yen Press, Viz Media, and other publishers. If you’re into scanlations (shame on you) and aren’t too picky about image quality, however, there is a lot of neat software floating around that will help you make the most of the Kindle. [EDIT: Digital Manga now has several titles available for the Kindle. One of my favorites is Kunieda Saika’s two-volume boys’ love title Future Lovers.]

The one thing I’m still not too terribly clear on is the relationship between the Kindle and Amazon.co.jp. Although the new Kindle 3G model can read and display Japanese, there don’t seem to be any digital texts available on the Japanese Amazon website. I know that Kodansha had entered into negotiation with Amazon half a year ago, but I’m not sure how that panned out. So far, it seems that it hasn’t. On the front of Japanese-language literature, then, it seems that perhaps the iPad is the place to be. The Japanese publishing market is a bit insular, to say the least, and I’m not sure how friendly said market is to digitization. Perhaps the iPad, which is neither an e-reader nor a computer but an entirely different beast altogether, is the most conducive platform for international digital textual exchange. If only it weren’t woefully beyond my budget, alas.

14 thoughts on “Japanese Literature for the Kindle

  1. I should mention that the “at least a dozen books every month” I read are not all academic texts or War and Peace. For example, last month I discovered Patricia C. Wrede and ended up reading eight of her novels, one after the other. I am not suggesting that these novels are somehow inferior by virtue of being easy to read, but rather that they do not necessitate the time commitment of a monster like Moby Dick. So yes, I read a lot of books. But no, I am not trying to be a snob by bragging about how many books I read. Well….. Maybe a little. This is a book review blog, after all.

  2. Totally understand. And much thanks for an informative post, not just on the Kindle, but on Japanese writers and their works. They are good suggestions the next time I’m in for JLC.

    1. Hi Anne! And thank you so much for the heads-up! I was actually talking to Hopson-sensei about Calibre yesterday, and he loves it. I’m not the most technologically sophisticated person in the world, and I’m still trying to figure Calibre out (I have to read the instruction manual every. single. time. that I convert a file), but I’m having fun with it, too.

      Another thing Hopson-sensei suggested was 青空キンドル ( http://a2k.aill.org/ ), which will convert any HTML file from Aozora into a PDF. It’s actually really neat. I’ve had problems reading PDF files on my Kindle, but this conversion program makes Kindle-ready files that are really easy to read, furigana and everything.

      Although I still kind of wish I had invested in an iPad instead…

      1. Neat, thanks for the tip! I haven’t attempted to read anything in Japanese on my Kindle yet but I’ll give it a try now. By “really easy to read,” do you mean you can actually get text large enough to be legible? I probably just lack good eye sight and file converting skillz, but the text is usually too small when I read PDFs on my Kindle and if I convert a PDF to a different format I inevitably fuck up the formatting and make it illegible anyways. (I also never read the instruction manual for Calibre… go figure. I was satisifed after figuring out how to convert EPUB/MOBI. But legible PDFs would be pretty awesome…)

        What I love about the Kindle is that it’s about as close as you can get to a (real) book without being one. I love the size and the virtual ink. But yes, iPads are beautiful… cannot think of a single decent justification for me buying one though. :/

    1. Thank you for your comment! And also, thank you for the link to your blog. I loooove weird Japanese food, so I’m totally adding you to my RSS feed (and the sidebar of this site). Cheers!

      1. Awesome, thank you so much! I don’t only write about food, but it’s probably my # 1 topic, haha. I do love Japanese literature too though, so I’m very excited to find your blog, and will definitely add it to my lists 😀

      1. Oh man, if I had $100 for every time someone blithely recommended buying an iPad…

        ….I might almost be able to afford one.

        A Kindle with worldwide 3G access is $189 flat, with no taxes and no carrier contract. A 16GB iPad 2 (the cheapest model) with 3G access starts at $629, does not include taxes, and requires a two-year contract with either AT&T or Verizon, which both levy some serious roaming charges should you try to use your iPad outside of America.

        I’m not trying to be snarky at you specifically. Rather, I am not happy with Apple. If Amazon can make an awesome device with free built-in worldwide internet access for less than $200, why can’t Apple?

        I do want an iPad; but, for the time being, I love my Kindle.

  3. I finally got a Kindle! Can’t wait to go check all of these out. By the way, most of Lefcadio Hearn’s works are available for free on Project Gutenberg. Not exactly Japanese literature per se, and I don’t know your thoughts on his works, but thought it was slightly relevant 🙂

    1. Cool! I haven’t read much Lafcadio Hearn since high school, but if Japanese people say he’s Japanese literature, then I guess he’s Japanese literature. So much the better! Anyway, I have had problems with formatting files from Project Guttenburg when I load them onto my Kindle. These formatting issues aren’t always a big deal, but sometimes they are (it seems to vary from file to file). I wonder what’s up with that?

      Have you heard about Pottermore? Here’s hoping the project will prompt Kindle to be a little more open in the file formats that are comfortable to read on the Kindle…

  4. I’ve been wondering lately what’s available because it would strongly influence what I might buy in the future, so thank you for your article!

    1. Hey, thanks! Be sure to check for yourself what’s available, since things have probably changed in the past few months. If you’re trying to decide which device to get, you should know that most smart phones, tablets, and e-readers have a Kindle app that works beautifully. That being said, I *loooove* my Kindle and wouldn’t trade it for anything, especially since its free 3G wireless service works anywhere in the world, from the mountains of China to the Pine Barrens of New Jersey.

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