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  1. Japan Now: Both authors find some aspects of English culture a little baffling. The fact that doors on trains don’t open automatically seems counterintuitive. And Marmite? An unequivocal no.

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    Japan Now: Soji Shimada and Kyoko Yoshida

    Despite, or perhaps because of the remarkably low rates of homicide in Japan, the appetite of the reading public there for murder mystery novels is unusually high, providing the perfect spawning ground for masters of the genre. No wonder then that Soji Shimada, author of The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, renowned as the “God of Mystery’ has gained a loyal audience both at home and beyond his native shores.  Part of the reason he’s here in England – a country for which he has a deep affection – is a self-confessed desire to act as a stimulant to bring out the hidden mystery writers of the UK.

    It’s not just the details of murder that appeal, but the mystery, the game, the whodunnit, and how. “The mystery has the appeal, and the murder is the icing on the cake” he says. Since the Edo era, Shimada explains, the Japanese have always loved puzzles.  Books to exercise the brain always sell well and when it comes to fiction, an added dose of surrealism only enhances the element of surprise, the distance between cause and effect.

    What Shimada finds truly mysterious is the high number of suicides in Japan, around 30,000 each year. The failure of the population to come to terms with the outcome of World War II may be one reason behind the epidemic.   Senility and geriatric illness may be another.  And Shimada wonders whether domestic violence plays a part.  But he has no certain answers.

    Kyoko Yoshida, who joins Shimada onstage to promote her debut collection of short stories, writes graphic and visceral tales that read like daydreams, immediate and comprehensible to the characters in her fiction, but offering an altered reality to the reader. It’s like having a cramp when you’re asleep, Yoshida says: you feel as though you’re falling, but you’re not actually falling.  She chooses to write in English, which adds another layer of the fantastic to her work.

    These two authors follow in the trail blazed by Haruki Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto who not only bring international audiences to Japanese fiction, but whose successes abroad have also impacted on the concept of national domestic literature in Japan.

    Unlike Shimada, Yoshida hasn’t been translated into Japanese yet – although there is a Swedish version of Disorientalism – and has no plans to translate the book herself: “It would be like writing it all again.”  Writing in English has its own problems, not least getting to grips with spelling.  And both authors find some aspects of English culture a little baffling.  The fact that doors on trains don’t open automatically seems counterintuitive.  And Marmite? An unequivocal no.

    Claudia Pugh-Thomas

    The 21st Independent Bath Literature Festival continues until Sunday 6 March view the full programme here
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