Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on January 2012

Aftershock: Artists Respond to Disaster in Japan

Spearheaded by editor Adam Pasion, this is a collection of cartoons from 35 different international artists, including Jeffrey Brown (Incredible Changebots, Clumsy), Noah Van Sciver (Blammo, Mad magazine) and Ben Snakepit (Snakepit Comics) and their response to the events of March 11. The project aims to help by donating all monies raised to Architecture for Humanity and their efforts to help rebuild in Tohoku. The book, in no way associated with the highly successful crowd-sourced 2:46 Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake, suffers somewhat from the inclusion of a few artists who simply describe some minimal passing contact with Japanese culture, or those who rely on clichéd anime/Godzilla/samurai views of Japan, without having had anything to do with the catastrophe. Better inked, though, are the special few that live up to the book’s title—and the reader’s expectation—as they are drawn by artists with first-hand experience of the disaster, allowing readers to feel what the artists went through or imagine what it must have felt like. Nonetheless, giving is good—and these cartoonists do it with a few good strokes. Ayaka Goto
Edited by Adam Pasion. Biguglyrobot Publishing, 2011, 138pp.
¥1,000, from http://biguglyrobot.net/mailorder; $4.99 from Amazon (Kindle)

Toward Dusk and Other Stories

Born in 1924, Yoshiyuki Junnosuke is one of the most prolific authors of post-war Japan, and someone recognized by literary legend Yukio Mishima as capturing the essence of modern Japanese youth with unparalleled subtlety. His writings, which often concern sex, prostitution, and assorted degradations, fill 20 volumes, and this collection of short stories—whose title work won Japan’s highest literary award, the Noma Prize—could be a good route into his oeuvre. In style the writing is minimalist, matter-of-fact. He has been compared to Albert Camus and a notable influence on Haruki Murakami can be observed in the strange stillness of his scenes. Characters are generally as observed by the narrator, and little personal history or copious contexts crowd the sensory present. The preface, written by James Dorsey, talks of how Junnosuke’s writings leave you with a desire to scrub yourself all over. This reviewer might be more used to that kind of depravity as I didn’t have to dash to the shower, but I did find that the peculiar suspended world he conveyed remained around me as I went about my day. David Labi
By Yoshiyuki Junnosuke; translated by Andrew Clare. Kurodahan Press, 2011, 248pp. $16, from Amazon and major bookstores

Tune in Tokyo: The Gaijin Diaries

If you’re looking for some Japan-related reading but aren’t quite feeling up to Murakami’s latest 1,000 page offering or working your way through another non-fiction, crowd-sourced, non-profit 3/11 contribution to the relief effort or treatise on Japan’s fast retailing superstars, then Tune In Tokyo: The Gaijin Diaries may be just what you need. Tim Anderson’s cheeky collection of stories based on his life in Tokyo run riot from Fujisawa to Roppongi, and are all the funnier as the tall, whiter-than-white, gay diabetic from the American South takes on English teaching, gets frustated with Japanese porn, uses the Metropolis classifieds to start a rock band, hits the clubs for some fungus-fueled conversations with vaginas, tries in vain to avoid Roppongi and makes all the other usual mistakes we all make on the way to earning full-fledged been-there-done-that gaijin cred. Throw in liberal amounts of soap-opera confessional, Wikipedia crumbs of Japanese culture and travel, and disarmingly funny inner monologues, and you’ve got yourself that novel about life in Japan you never knew you wanted to read on the train. Jeff W. Richards
By Tim Anderson. AmazonEncore/Wayward Mammal, 2011, 264pp.
¥1,700, from Amazon and major bookstores