Bringing the World Books from Japan

Tokyo International Literary Festival Held!

The Tokyo International Literary Festival, sponsored by the Nippon Foundation, took place in eight venues around Tokyo over the weekend of March 1–3. Japan’s first major international literary festival brought together a star-studded lineup of leading authors, poets, and manga artists from Japan and around the world, as well as influential book designers, editors, and translators. A wide range of innovative events played to capacity audiences over the three days of the festival.


The Tokyo International Literary Festival was the culmination of the Nippon Foundation’s diverse initiatives to use Japanese literary works to build connections between Japan and the rest of the world.


Japanese participants included some of the country’s best-known authors, including Natsuki Ikezawa and Mieko Kawakami. The international contingent included literary headliners such as Nobel Prize–winning novelist J. M. Coetzee. Other major names in attendance included Junot Díaz, the Dominican-American author who won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and Jonathan Safran Foer, whose Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was recently made into a successful film. Book designer Chip Kidd gave two presentations, along with senior editors from The New Yorker and Granta, and translators and editors connected with the foundation’s Read Japan programs. Manga artist Naoki Urasawa took part in a discussion with Díaz, who describes himself as a “huge fan” of Urasawa’s work. Coetzee read several sections from his latest novel The Childhood of Jesus, still unpublished when the festival took place. Tokyo audiences were privileged to be the first in the world to hear samples from the latest work by this major international writer, in the original English and in a polished and fluent performance of Yukiko Konosu’s Japanese translation by well-known TV personality Shosuke Tanikawa.


One of the organizing ideas of the festival was “Conversations about Books.” The sessions featured diverse panels that mixed individuals from different countries and different areas of the publishing industry. This approach allowed audiences to see a new side of their favorite authors, and revealed new connections between writers and genres.

Natsuki Ikezawa, a novelist and poet who has recently edited the multi-volume Sekai bungaku zenshu (Anthology of World Literature), commented on the significance of the festival on the final day: “The number of ‘commonalities’ between the world’s literary traditions has been increasing in recent years. Events like this bring authors together, allowing them to listen to each other and engage in dialogue. This can lead to new discoveries. Listening to Coetzee read from his work in his own voice, for example, gave me a new insight into his work. Simple pleasures like that . . . I think it’s been a remarkably productive three days in all kinds of ways.”


The Tokyo International Literary Festival was a reminder of literature’s ability to forge new connections between people across national borders and languages. The festival strengthened the ties between Japanese writers and publishers and their counterparts in other countries, and suggested new ways of increasing understanding of modern Japan abroad. There are plans to make the literary festival an annual event. The Nippon Foundation will continue to work to support literature that brings Japan and the world together.



3/1 Friday

The Otaku’s Guide to Love
Readings & Conversation at Tokyo University
Junot Díaz and Risa Wataya
Moderator: Koji Toko

Memory, Love, Words
Readings & Conversation at Tokyo University
Nicole Krauss and Mieko Kawakami
Moderators: Michael Emmerich and Deborah Treisman

Keynote Readings
at Roppongi Art College
Introduction: Natsuki Ikezawa
Keynote Readings: J.M. Coetzee and Shuntaro Tanikawa

Rebuilding Narratives: Tales of Two Cities
Readings & Conversation at Roppongi Art College
Jonathan Safran Foer, Mieko Kawakami, David Peace
Moderator: Motoyuki Shibata

3/2 Saturday

Books Uncovered
An open interview with Chip Kidd at Rainy Day Bookstore & Cafe

Encounters at the Crossroads of Culture
Conversation at Genron Cafe
Hiroki Azuma, Makoto Ichikawa, Chris Gribble, Kate Griffin

What We Talk about When We Talk about Translation
Conversation at International House of Japan
Masatsugu Ono, Michael Emmerich, Lexy Bloom
Moderator: Motoyuki Shibata

The Constant Traveler
Readings & Conversation at International House of Japan
Pico Iyer, Mitsuyo Kakuta, Geoff Dyer
Moderator: John Freeman

Open Mic at SuperDeluxe
With the Festival of Reading

All That Jazz
Readings & Conversation at SuperDeluxe
Geoff Dyer and Keiichiro Hirano
Moderator: Masashi Matsuie

Night on the Galactic Express
Video, Performance, Discussion at SuperDeluxe
Hideo Furukawa, Keijiro Suga, Keitaney Love Kojima, Motoyuki Shibata

3/3 Sunday

Monsters under Our Desks
Conversation at Waseda University
Junot Díaz and Naoki Urasawa
Moderator: Toh Enjoe

The Certain Future of the Book
Presentation & Discussion at Waseda University
Presentation by Chip Kidd
Discussion with Jonathan Safran Foer, Yoshitaka Haba, and Makoto Ichikawa, to be joined by Shinji Ishii following his Live Story Writing Performance on the Toden Arakawa Train

Reimagining Tokyo: Writing Home Away from Home
Readings & Conversation at Waseda University
Junot Díaz, David Peace, Hideo Furukawa  
Moderator: Deborah Treisman

Border Crossings—Literal, Cultural, and in Translation
Panel Discusion at Waseda University 
Natsuki Ikezawa, Nicole Krauss, John Freeman
Moderators: Makoto Ichikawa and David Karashima

Closing Reading
at Waseda University
Introduction: Yukiko Konosu
Reading: J.M. Coetzee, Japanese Reading: Shosuke Tanikawa