In making available this account of Japanese who are forgotten, by an author who, in English, is unknown, translator Jeffrey Irish has done us a tremendous service. Anyone interested in how things used to be in rural Japan will want to read ethnologist Tsuneichi Miyamoto’s tales of his travels on foot up and down the archipelago, and will relish the stories he gathered. The past, we learn, really is a foreign country. Miyamoto’s journey into that foreign place, his visits with its forgotten people, exquisitely told and exquisitely translated, goes onto the short shelf of essential books about Japan.

Kenzaburo Oe’s “The Changeling” is the work of an author who understands his medium and knows how to make it sing. Not atypically for Oe, the novel is autobiographical. It circles around the suicide of a successful filmmaker called Goro, who happens to be the brother-in-law of a well-regarded novelist. (Juzo Itami, who committed suicide, was Kenzaburo Oe’s brother-in-law.) It leads from that filmmaker’s death, with leaps backward and forward, to a birth, and, along the way, visits biblical exegesis, Maurice Sendak, nationalist politics, film, art, theories of the novel, and much besides. It is riveting from first page to last.

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