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.