These great novels – featuring Murakami and Murata – uncover the mystery of Japan in a way ‘documentarists about families living with robots’ never will
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When Japan was forced to “open up” in 1853 following more than 200 years of its sakoku policy, the country was a mystery to the outside world. In some ways it still is. But as an early adopter of western things, from ideas to clothes, it is easy to see Japan as a familiar place. Even its unfamiliarity – Shinto shrines, sumo bouts – is recognisable as “Japan” nowadays. What is less recognisable is what Japanese writers say about their own country. Authors – not the documentarists about families living with robots – uncover the mystery. These books speak for a Japan that is often spoken for and about, and speculated about by others; they speak for its history as it unfolded, for its culture as it is practised and its society as lived in and fought against.