Monkey Business: New Writing from Japan, Volume 1

~edited by Motoyuki Shibata and Ted Goossen

Monkey Business is a Japanese literary journal edited by Motoyuki Shibata that was founded in 2008. The journal focuses on contemporary literature from Japan and includes the occasional older work as well. In Japan, Monkey Business is published more or less quarterly. The English edition of the journal, Monkey Business: New Writing from Japan (sometimes seen refereed to as New Voices from Japan), debuted in 2011 and is planned to be an annual publication. Once again, Shibata is acting as the editor along with the aid of Ted Goossen. It is published by A Public Space and is supported by the Nippon Foundation. The first volume selects, collects, and translates fourteen contributions from the first ten issues of the Japanese edition, published between spring 2008 and summer 2010. Roland Kelts, author of Japanamerica is one of the contributing editors of the English edition and has been publicizing the Monkey Business, which is how I found out about the journal.

After a very brief introduction by the editors, the first volume of the English edition of Monkey Business opens with a short story translated by Michael Emmerich by Hideo Furukawa called "Monsters." It's a disconcerting, manic, and vaguely apocalyptic narrative punctuated by sections akin to poetry. Other poems in the volume include "The Sleep Division" by Mina Ishikawa, "Interviews with the Heroes, or Is Baseball Just for Fun?" by Inuo Taguchi, "When Monkeys Sing" by Masayo Koike, "Monkey Tanka" by Shion Mizuhara, and "Monkey Haiku" by Minoru Ozawa, all translated by Ted Goossen. Poetry is notoriously difficult to translate and I feel Goossen has done an excellent job. Although they all have their merits, the most accessible poem and the one I was most fond of was Taguchi's and I'm not even particularly enamored with baseball.

I would argue that the centerpiece of the first volume of Monkey Business, due to length, location, and name recognition for English language audiences, is "Pursuing 'Growth'," an interview with Haruki Murakami conducted by Hideo Furukawa in December 2008 and translated by Goossen. I actually haven't read any of Murakami's works yet (scandalous, I know!), but I still found the interview fascinating. There are two collections of mini-stories and vignettes included in the first volume: "People from My Neighborhood" by Hiromi Kawakami (translated by Goossen) is delightfully quirky and nostalgic while Barry Yourgrau's "Song, the Old Way, and Bougainvillea" is gritty, dark, and bloody. I was happy to discover manga withing the pages of Monkey Business as well--"A Country Doctor" by the Brother and Sister Nishioka, or Nishioka Kyōdai, which is based on a story by Franz Kafka translated by J. A. Underwood.

Short stories in this volume of Monkey Business include "Closet LLB" by Kōji Uno (translated by Jay Rubin), "The Tale of the House of Physics" by Yōko Ogawa (translated by Goossen), and what is probably my favorite contribution in the entire volume, "Sandy's Lament" written by Atsushi Nakajima and translated by M. Cody Poulton. The story is based on the Chinese classic Journey to the West and made me smile the entire time I was reading it. Apparently it is part of cycle by Nakajima, so I really hope to see more of them in included in future volumes of Monkey Business. This issue ends with "The Forbidden Diary," excerpts from a fictional, but autobiographically influenced, diary by Sachiko Kishimoto, also translated by Goossen.

What I like best about the inaugural issue of Monkey Business is the wide variety of contributions selected. I love that manga, short fiction, poetry, and interviews can all take their place next to one another. I also greatly appreciated the list of contributors at the end which provides a brief introduction to the original creators, editors, and translators. Each entry generally includes mention of other works of theirs that are available in English. I found this section particularly valuable since I didn’t initially recognize many of the contributors by name and am definitely interested in pursuing more of their work. Overall, I was very pleased with the first volume of Monkey Business and I hope it does well enough that we’ll see another volume issued in 2012 and more volumes after that. I wouldn’t hesitate at all to recommend Monkey Business to someone interested in contemporary and experimental Japanese literature. It introduced me to creators I might not have come across otherwise and I am very glad for it.

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