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TikTok Got Me Into Japanese Literature: Here’s Why You Should Read It Too

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

I’m not usually one to follow TikTok trends. I haven’t hopped on the Gigi Hadid pasta stint or tried Emily Mariko’s salmon bowl. But, when I somehow found myself on BookTok – TikTok’s book-reading community – I ended up hopping on the TTC to go visit my local Indigo. 

Osamu Dazai’s contemporary novel, No Longer Human, had been popping up on my feed for weeks. With the winter break right around the corner, I decided to give the book a chance. In just two weeks, I was back at the bookstore, this time picking up a copy of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun. One week later, I went in to grab a copy of Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore

It’s safe to say that I spent most of my winter break reading; there was an intriguing element in Japanese novels that I hadn’t come across a lot in western contemporary literature. Rather than glorify the concept of living and make it Hollywood – complete with heart-wrenching romantic tropes and cigarettes somehow being the sole identifier of a protagonist who is depressed – Japanese literature was brutally honest about the bitterness of life. I had grown tired of seeing the typical western novel depict mental health as nothing a love interest couldn’t solve, and Japanese literature strayed away from such exaggerated realities. 

Here are the three novels BookTok got me into that you should read!

1. Osamu Dazai, No Longer Human

No Longer Human follows the life of Ōba Yōzō, a young man living in Japan before the Second World War. Yōzō feels alienated from the rest of society and feels incapable of revealing his honest self to others around him. The novel is told in the form of three notebooks written by him.

I found this novel to be extremely bittersweet. It was hard to feel empathy for Yōzō despite him being the protagonist, but the depiction of his mental health struggles were extremely vivid and the mundane way in which they were written actually served the novel well. Dazai’s language was still complex, but it wasn’t riddled with clichés that undermined the novel’s serious tone.

I found the novel to be quite bittersweet rather than outright sad, and while no author wants their book to be boring, No Longer Human did a great job of depicting the monotony of life, an aspect that many western novels tend to overlook. 

“I felt as though the vessel of my suffering had become empty, as if nothing could interest me now. I had lost even the ability to suffer.”

Osamu Dazai, No Longer Human

2. Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun 

This novel falls more into a sci-fi genre, but I found that it still touched on a lot of contemporary themes. The story is told through the perspective of Klara, an artificial intelligence robot designed to become a companion, or “Artificial Friend”, to children when they reach a certain age. The book follows her perspective on the world as she navigates becoming a companion to a girl named Josie while trying to understand the intent behind human actions and emotions. 

This was a really great take on the sci-fi genre. The novel barely depicted the world in which Klara existed, which actually helped make the plot more realistic. Relying only on fragmented sentences scattered throughout the novel and my own conclusions, this book definitely had me hooked. What was most interesting was how Klara’s mind was depicted; what she saw, for example, was often described in boxes since she saw everything in pixels. Much like Dazai, Ishiguro didn’t depend on a massive plot twist or climactic revelation to carry his novel; he simply wrote about life set in whatever year the book took place in. This, to me, also felt quite refreshing, since a lot of dystopian, sci-fi fiction – think Ready Player One or The Hunger Games – focused on rushed world-building and action (especially something like going up against the government) to drive their plot forward.    

“Do you believe in the human heart? I don’t mean simply the organ, obviously. I’m speaking in the poetic sense. The human heart. Do you think there is such a thing? Something that makes each of us special and individual?”

Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the SUn

3. Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

Kafka is a Tokyo teenager who runs away from home and finds refuge in a small private library in the provincial town of Takamatsu. But his life is far from ordinary – a prophecy, talking cats, ghosts and inexplicable events follow his story as he tries to find his estranged mother and sister. 

I’m about two thirds through this book, and it’s probably the most peculiar contemporary novel I’ve ever read. Magical realism, Greek mythology and reality are all mixed into one story, and it’s impossible to predict its ending. What’s most enjoyable is that the allegories and symbolisms of life are illustrated through the bizarre rather than the cliché, so it almost feels like you’re hearing about these age-old musings for the first time. 

“There are a lot of things that aren’t your fault. Or mine, either. Not the fault of prophecies, or curses, or DNA, or absurdity. Not the fault of Structuralism or the Third Industrial Revolution. We all die and disappear, but that’s because the mechanism of the world itself is built on destruction and loss. Our lives are just shadows of that guiding principle.”

Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

I’m not going to lie, I’m usually kind of condescending when it comes to TikTok. But the more I use the app, the more I’m starting to realize that it can fuel new hobbies and interests, and it shouldn’t feel humiliating to admit so. The app got me out of my reading slump – maybe it will get you out of yours, too. 

Originally from Russia but Toronto-based for the past 14 years, Alina is a third-year journalism student at Ryerson University. From fashion to politics, she loves intersecting her passions into one story! If she's not playing guitar, thrifting, or engrossed in a fantasy novel, you'll probably find her writing about her latest idea for a short story!
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