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Reading Takes You Places: Week 3 - Japan (and beyond)

Posted: June 24, 2020, 2:12PM

Where do you want to go this summer? This week we're heading to Japan!

This week we are visiting Nigeria for summer reading!

Kon'nichiwa! Yokoso to week 3. On June 25, retired Wheeling Jesuit University history professor Dr. Joe Laker will lead his class 4,600 miles east (and 270 years back in time to 1639) across the massive Eurasian Steppe to explore Japan through Shusaku Endo 's novel Silence. Endo was Japan's best known Japanese Catholic novelist and this particular historical novel is set in early 17th century Japan. A Japanese speaker, Dr. Laker will also teach Japanese words and phrases.

Watch this People's University Online live, June 25 at 6:30 pm on YouTube, Facebook, or the OCPL website. The program will also be recorded and available for playback through all three platforms. 

Have kids? Don't miss our online Summer Reading programs! We'll be heading to China and Japan on June 29 for Toddler Time, June 30 for Story Time, and July 1 for a special story and craft! Our featured stories and more are listed below

Featured Japanese Literature

Author: Shusaku Endo 

Shusaku Endo's novel SilenceSilence
Shusaku Endo, born in Tokyo in 1923, was raised by his mother and an aunt in Kobe where he converted to Roman Catholicism at the age of eleven. At Tokyo's Keio University he majored in French literature, graduating BA in 1949, before furthering his studies in French Catholic literature at the University of Lyon in France between 1950 and 1953. A major theme running through his books is the failure of Japanese soil to nurture the growth of Christianity. In a perfect fusion of treatment and theme, this powerful novel tells the story of a seventeenth-century Portuguese priest in Japan at the height of the fearful persecution of the small Christian community.

Reserve for Curbside pickup at Library
Regular print
Movie (DVD)

The Samurai book coverThe Samurai
In 1613, four low-ranking Japanese samurai, accompanied by a Spanish priest, set sail for Mexico to bargain for trading rights with the West in exchange for a Catholic crusade through Japan. Their arduous journey lasts four years, as they travel onward to Mexico then Rome, where they are persuaded that the success of their mission depends on their conversion to Christianity. In fact, the enterprise seems to have been futile from the start: the mission returns to Japan to find that the political tides have shifted. The authorities are now pursuing an isolationist policy and a ruthless stamping out of Western influences. In the face of disillusionment and death, the samurai can only find solace in a savior they’re not sure they believe in.

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Regular print

No waitlists through Hoopla!

Kiku's Prayer book coverKiku's Prayer
A historical novel set in the turbulent period between the fall of the shogunate and the Meiji Restoration, Kiku's Prayer embodies themes central to Endo's work, including religion, modernization, and the endurance of the human spirit. In Japan, the book is considered one of his late masterpieces. The novel is told through the eyes of Kiku, self-assured young woman from a rural village who falls in love with Seikichi, a devoted Catholic man. Practicing a faith still banned by the government, Seikichi is imprisoned and forced to recant under torture. Kiku's efforts to reconcile her feelings for Seikichi and the sacrifices she makes to free him mirror the painful, conflicting choices Japan faced as a result of exposure to modernity and the West. Endo's nuanced view of history is very much on display in this novel: Seikichi's persecution exemplifies Japan's insecurities toward the West, and Kiku's tortured yet determined spirit represents the nation's resilient soul. Yet Kiku's Prayer is much more than a historical allegory. 

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Other Shusaku Endo books

Before his death in 1996, Endo was the recipient of a number of outstanding Japanese literary awards: the Akutagawa Prize, Mainichi Cultural Prize, Shincho Prize, and Tanizaki Prize.

Available to reserve for curbside pick-up at the Library

Recommended Book on Japanese History

Cover of the history book Japan, A Modern HistoryJapan: a Modern History, by James L. McClain
A definitive and compelling history of Japan details the tumultuous political, economic, and social change, over four centuries, that molded Japan into a modern world power by bringing to life the many historical figures who helped build a successful and strong nation. Japan: A Modern History provides a comprehensive narrative that integrates the history of modern Japan from the investiture of Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1603 to the present.

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Regular print

Other books on Japanese History:
➤ Available to reserve for curbside pick-up at the Library
➤ Available to reserve digital copies through WVDeli
➤ No waitlists through Hoopla

Other recommended Japanese Novels

Kororo book coverKororo, by Natsume Soseki

Literally meaning "heart", the Japanese word "kokoro" can be more distinctly translated as "the heart of things" or "feeling." Natsume Soseki's 1914 novel, which was originally published in serial format in a Japanese newspaper, "Kokoro" deals with the transition from the Japanese Meiji society to the modern era. Divided into three parts "Sensei and I," "My Parents and I," and "Sensei and His Testament," the novel explores the themes of loneliness and isolation. In the first part we find the narrator attending university where he befriends an older man, known only as "Sensei," who lives a largely reclusive life. In the second part of the novel the narrator graduates from college and returns home to await the death of his father. The third part of the novel recounts a letter that the narrator receives from the "Sensei," which describes the circumstances that caused his loss of faith in humanity and the guilt he feels over the death of a childhood friend which drives him to the reclusive life that he has led. A deeply thematic novel "Kokoro" provides an excellent introduction to one of Japan's most beloved authors, Natsume Soseki. 

Available through Hoopla - no waitlist!

Other Natsume Soseki books:
➤ Available to reserve for curbside pick-up at the Library
➤ Available to reserve digital copies through WVDeli
➤ No waitlists through Hoopla

The Tale of Genji book coverThe Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu
Lady Murasaki's great 11th-century novel is a beautifully crafted story of love, betrayal, and death at the Imperial Court. At the core of this epic is Prince Genji, the son of an emperor, whose passionate character, love affairs and shifting political fortunes, offer an exquisite glimpse of the golden age of Japan. 

Reserve for Curbside pickup at Library
Regular print

Reserve digital copy through WVDeli

Available through Hoopla - no waitlist!
ebook & audiobook

Interested in reading some great contemporary Asian literature?

Try some books from some of these authors:


Haruki Murakami
Haruki Murakami, (born January 12, 1949, Kyoto, Japan), Japanese novelist, short-story writer, and translator whose deeply imaginative and often ambiguous books have become international bestsellers. Recommended starting points are The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (1994) and Kafka on the Shore (2002)

Haruki Murakami books available to reserve for curbside pick-up at the Library
Haruki Murakami ebooks and audiobooks available through WVDeli
Haruki Murakami audiobooks of both books available through Hoopla


Yiyun Li
Yiyun Li is a Chinese-American writer. Her work is equally split between historical stories based in China and the contemporary Chinese diaspora. In her novel The Vagrants (2009), this takes the form of a political prisoner’s family and the shockwaves that her story sends throughout a Beijing torn between Communism and the Democratic Wall Movement, weaving together the lives of various characters affected in diverse ways by a brutal public execution. The novel, Set in a Chinese provincial town named Muddy River, received the California Book Award for fiction. 

Yiyun Li books available to reserve for curbside pick-up at the Library

Ha Jin
Ha Jin, (born February 21, 1956, Jinzhou, Liaoning province, China), Chinese American writer who used plain, unadorned English prose to explore the tension between the individual and the family, the modern and the traditional, and personal feelings and duty. His novel, Waiting, won Ha Jin the National Book Award for its slow-burn of a story concerning a doctor divided between two women, one associated with the New China and the other the ancient traditions of his people. Its universal conflict between society and the values of the individual allows it to transcend the specific Chinese history that informs it.

Ha Jin books and audiobooks available to reserve for curbside pick-up at the Library
Ha Jin ebooks and audiobooks available through WVDeli
Ha Jin ebooks available through Hoopla

Mo Yan
Guan Moye, better known by the pen name Mo Yan, is a Chinese novelist and short story writer. Donald Morrison of U.S. news magazine TIME referred to him as "one of the most famous, oft-banned and widely pirated of all Chinese writers", and Jim Leach called him the Chinese answer to Franz Kafka or Joseph Heller.

Mo Yan books available to reserve for curbside pick-up at the Library
Mo Yan ebooks and audiobooks available through WVDeli
Mo Yan ebooks and audiobooks available through Hoopla

South Korea

Shin Kyung-sook
Kyung-sook Shin (born January 12, 1963) is the first South Korean and first woman to win the prestigious Man Booker Prize for Asian Literature which she won in 2012 for her novel Please Look After Mom. Copies of this emotional, retrospective consideration of motherly life flew off the shelves in South Korea in the months following publication. The story is a heart-wrenching and exacting tale of family sacrifice and love, and tells the story of stroke-victim and dedicated matriarch, Park So-nyo, who becomes disorientated on a city train and is separated from her family. The action then moves to a series of recollections on the dedication of So-nyo to her family, as they search for her amidst the heady and daunting streets of downtown Seoul.

Reserve Please Look After Mom for curbside pick-up at the Library
Reserve an ebook copy of Please Look After Mom through WVDeli
➤ Check out ebooks and audiobooks of other Shin Kyung-sook novels through Hoopla


Songfen Guo
Songfen Guo, who died in 2006, was born in 1938 and lived in Taiwan until moving to the USA in 1966. It was here where he did most of his writing, but it was Taiwan which provided his inspiration for this selection of emotionally challenging but fascinating stories. Running Mother and Other Stories is a fantastic collection of his short stories. The tales offer a powerful insight into many of the cultural and political events of Taiwan's past, such as the White Terror and the February 28 Incident, and explore how they continued to resonate in Taiwanese society into modern times.

Reserve Running Mother and Other Stories for curbside pick-up at the Library
➤ Check out an ebook of Running Mother and Other Stories through Hoopla


Nguyen Phan Que Mai 
Born into the Viet Nam War in 1973, Nguyen Phan Que Mai grew up witnessing the war’s devastation and its aftermath. She worked as a street seller and rice farmer before winning a scholarship to attend university in Australia. She is the author of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.  Her first novel, The Mountains Sing, is about four generations of a Vietnamese family enduring many hardships.

Reserve a copy of The Mountains Sing through WVDeli
Read Nguyen Pan Que Mai poetry available immediately through Hoopla

Featured Children's Books

Panda Bear book coverPanda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr., illustrated by Eric Carle
Thirty-five years after their first groundbreaking collaboration, the creators of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? reunite to address the important topic of animal conservation. With the important pre-reading concepts of rhyme, rhythm, and repetition, these picture books have long been used as beginning readers.

Reserve for Curbside pickup at Library
Picture book (will not be available until after Toddle Time on June 29) 

Available through Hoopla - no waitlist!

Other books about panda bears:
Reserve  for curbside pick-up at the Library
Reserve through WVDeli
Check out ebooks immediately with no waitlist through Hoopla!

The Beckoning Cat book coverThe Beckoning Cat: Based on a Japanese Folktale, by Koko Nishizuka; illustrated by Rosanne Litzinger
This is a retelling of the traditional Japanese tale describing the origins of the beckoning cat and how it came to be a symbol of good luck. The Maneki-neko, literally meaning "beckoning cat", is a common Japanese lucky charm figurine, often believed to bring good luck to the owner. The figurine depicts a cat (traditionally a calico Japanese Bobtail) beckoning with an upright paw. In this story, an impoverished boy named Yohei shares his dinner with a cat that appears on his doorstep. When Yohei faces a crisis, the cat remembers his generosity and brings help.

Reserve for Curbside pickup at Library
Regular print (will not be available until after Story Time on June 30) 

Other books about the lucky Japanese beckoning cat:
Reserve  for curbside pick-up at the Library

Watch an Animal Planet video about the Beckoning Good Luck Cat
The Legend of Maneki Neko | Must Love Cats

A Carp For Kimiko book coverA Carp For Kimiko, by Virginia Kroll; illustrated by Katherine Roundtree.
A Carp For Kimiko is the story of a young girl's struggle against the strong current of tradition. Every year on Children's Day in Japan a kite in the shape of a carp is flown for each boy in the family. Kimiko is a little girl who desperately wants an orange, black, and white calico carp kite of her own to fly on this holiday. Kimiko's parents remind her that there is a holiday just for girls–Doll's Festival Day, but this does not stop Kimiko from dreaming about and wishing for her very own carp. The magical ending achieves the impossible–Kimiko gets what she longs for without breaking tradition. 

Reserve for Curbside pickup at Library
Picture book (will not be available until after our online Special Activity on July 2) 

Available through Hoopla - no waitlist!

Have you read some great Asian literature you'd like to share?

Tell us what you've been reading in the comments below!

And don't forget to join our online Summer Reading Challenge, "Reading Takes You Places." Each minute you read between now and August 15th will count as one mile. We'll be keeping track of countries visited in books and miles (in minutes) read through an online platform. Want to participate? Starting June 15, 2020 sign up online at or download the READsquared app at the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store. Find even more suggested books in the Adult Summer Reading Book List in READSquared. Let us know where you've traveled and how far this summer through books!


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