London, UK

Pocket-sized Japanese fiction: small books for big brains

Display of the first three books published in the series Red Circle Minis. Photograph: Red Circle Authors Limited

Red Circle Minis, the newly launched series of short Japanese books in English are, ‘beautiful pocket-sized slices of Japanese literature’ and ‘an incredible window into the zeitgeist of modern Japanese society’ while also being ‘small books for big brains’ according to some of the reviewers, readers and critics who have read the first books in the series. 

The first three books in the series have been widely reviewed by such publications as Pop Matters who noted that Red Circle ‘has brought an innovation to the already suave superiority of Japanese miniature book publishing’ with its new series of original books, Red Circle Minis. It is ‘not about resizing books into small objects, but rather about celebrating textual brevity in book form itself,’ the international magazine writes. 

The books and series have been reviewed in major publications in Japan in Japanese as well as internationally in English, French and German despite the series being launched in what the publisher calls an ‘English-first’ strategy with each Mini, an original first edition, being published in English before any other language including Japanese.

The series, which launched Red Circle Authors’ publishing programme at the end of last year, has been welcomed positively right across the globe: from Canada to Australia; from Japan to the United Kingdom and far beyond. 

Described as ‘original, short, compelling reads’, each book can be read quickly in one session – leaving time-pressed readers with the sense that they have read something far larger and much more substantial. The series has clearly struck a chord internationally, and more Minis are in the pipeline.

A summary of some of the comments and reactions to the series and the first three Minis so far can be found below. 

Display of the first three books published in the series Red Circle Minis. Photograph: Red Circle Authors Limited

Reaction to the series:  

‘Red Circle is an example of an ambitious publishing venture exploring new territory. Nathan and partner Koji Chikatani have commissioned original work, unpublished in Japanese, from well-established authors keen to project themselves to a global audience,’ Nikkei Asia Review. 

‘It is thrilling to see a small publishing house release a selection of Japanese stories that could never have been accessed outside Japan without their aid’…’they are beautiful, instantly re-readable, darling little books. I need more. We all need more of these,’ Books and Bao

‘The art of the Japanese short story is alive and thriving, and the first three Red Circle Minis offer a fine sampling of what it can offer,’Pop Matters.

‘These books are beautiful and so gloriously small,’ T. Olmsted.

‘Red Circle Authors: Sending Japanese literature westwards,’ The Japan Times

‘I could kiss them. They’re such a wonderful treat,’ Will Harris.

Red Circle Minis on display at Kinokuniya’s flagship Sydney bookstore in Australia. Photo: Kinokuniya



Acclaim and praise for each book published in the series so far: 

Stand-in Companion by Kazufumi Shiraishi, translated by Raj Mahtani

The first book in the Red Circle Minis series, Stand-in Companion by Kazufumi Shiraishi. Photograph: Red Circle Authors Limited

‘Shiraishi adroitly spins his philosophical tale: he tells a good story well — complete with a satisfying further twist,’ The Complete Review

Stand-in Companion is a really compelling and cleverly constructed story that echoes the writings of Yoko Tadawa and Tomoyuki Hoshino, a great introduction to the Red Circle Minis series, very much worth tracking down a copy,’ Lines from the Horizon

‘Androids, infertility and ethics collide in Kazufumi Shiraishi’s dystopian Stand-in Companion,’The Japan Times

‘The thought of new ethics and morals set in the future world dominated by technology is as intriguing as this novella with tightly packed surprises. One of the Red Circle MinisStand-in Companion is a meditative exploration on human love and relation set in the future world,’ World Translations Review.

 

 Backlight by Kanji Hanawa, translated by Richard Nathan

 

Display of the second book published in the series Red Circle Minis, Backlight by Kanji Hanawa . Photograph: Red Circle Authors Limited

‘At short novella-length, Backlight is a quick story — but quite effective at raising interesting questions, including about cultural and social differences and attitudes, and parental responsibilities… the universal issues and questions it addresses give it the air of larger work,’ The Complete Review.  

‘There’s a sense that Hanawa is subtly mocking his characters, and the way society handles events such as the boy’s disappearance.  As the ‘experts’ enjoy the hot baths and fancy dinners, their theories on the nature of abandonment and the different ways western and Japanese children cope with the concept of freedom only serve to show how little they really know,’ Tony’s Reading List

‘Using a real-world news story that’s fresh in everyone’s minds as a way to discuss with the reader cultural anomalies in Japan and how it varies from that of outside nations is something that had me nodding and grinning, thinking, ah, you clever clogs,’ Books and Bao.

 

Tokyo Performance by Roger Pulvers

 

Display of the first three books published in the series Red Circle Minis. Photograph: Red Circle Authors Limited

Tokyo Performance reminded me of the 2017 Man Booker International Prize winner, A Horse Walks into a Bar. David Grossman’s novel has a stand-up comedian self-destruct in front of his audience, and the same happens here, if in a shorter time-frame, with Inomata determined to go down in flames (or flamola, à la Iron Chef),’ Tony’s Reading List

‘In this 58-page short-story, a part of the Red Circle Minis series, Pulvers brings us into the troubled life of a TV co-host in a humorous, whimsical way that seems utterly believable despite its absurdity. A quick, fun read’, Books on Asia.

 

International impact 

 

Display of the first three books published in the series Red Circle Minis. Photograph: Red Circle Authors Limited

It is not just in the English language, interest in the series is international with reviews, newspaper articles, and comments in German, French and Japanese: 

‘Das philosophische Paradigma in der zeitgenössischen japanischen Literatur,’ Literatur Kritik

‘日本の書き下ろし小説、英で出版 現代文学を世界に紹介,’ Yahoo News Japan! 

‘Androïdes, infertilité et éthique s’entrechoquent dans «Stand-in Companion», une dystopie signée Kazufumi Shiraishi,’ JAPON MODERNE

‘日本の小説、海外に発信 リチャード・ネーサンさん、近谷浩二さん,’ Mainichi Shimbun.

‘日本の書き下ろし小説、英で出版 ー 文化、芸術ニュース,’ Kyodo News.

 

The future

The response to the series has placed Red Circle Authors and its first series in a very good position for the future. The London based publisher, Red Circle Authors Limited, is planning to announce new authors joining its curated circle of award-winning contemporary Japanese authors, alongside new titles in the near future. 

Red Circle is also actively looking for publishing partners to publish works by its authors and the Minis in other languages.

  • RedCircle
    About Red Circle:
    Red Circle Authors Limited is a specialist publishing and communications company that conducts bespoke projects on behalf of a carefully selected and curated group of leading Japanese authors. Red Circle showcases Japan’s best creative writing. For more information on Red Circle, Japanese literature, and Red Circle authors please visit: www.redcircleauthors.com.
    • Kanji Hanawa
      About Kanji Hanawa:
      Kanji Hanawa, a former professor of French literature is a master of the shorty story. He has written hundreds and is dedicated to writing short stories about life in ancient, modern and contemporary Japan. Two of his short stories have been shortlisted for the prestigious Akutagawa Literary Prize. Hanawa has a deep interest in human psychology and complex relationships – whose narratives expose the pressures and challenges of life in Japan.
    • Kazufumi Shiraishi
      About Kazufumi Shiraishi:
      Kazufumi Shiraishi had a successful career, spanning two decades, as a journalists working for one of Japan's highest profile monthly magazines, Bungeishinju, before following in the steps of his father and twin brother becoming a full time author. He is a deeply thoughtful author who writes about love, life and the human condition and is unique in being the only Japanese author to follow in his father’s footsteps by winning the same major Japanese literary prize.
    • Roger Pulvers
      About Roger Pulvers:
      Roger Pulvers is an author, playwright, theatre director, and translator. He has published more than 50 books in Japanese and English, including novels, essays, plays, and poetry. Helping make Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, and befriending David Bowie brought him back to Japan and inspired him to become the award-winning and prolific author, playwright, film director he is today. His recent novel, Hoshizuna Monogatari (Star Sand), which he wrote in Japanese, was published by Kodansha, Japan’s largest publisher, in 2015 and subsequently in English and French in 2016 and 2017 respectively. It was released as a film, directed by him, in 2017.