Yoru no kumozaru by Murakami Haruki
1995's Yoru no Kumozaru (The Evening Spidermonkey) is part of an ongoing collaboration between writer Murakami Haruki and graphic artist Mizumaru Anzai, which began back in 1987 with Murakami Asahido (Murakami's House of the Rising Sun), and continues today with the 2006 release of the verbosely-titled 'Kore dake wa, Murakami-san ni itteokou' to seken no hitobito ga Murakami Haruki ni toriaezu buttsukeru 330 no shitumon ni hatashite Murakami-san wa chanto kotaerareru no ka? ('Let's Mention this to Mr. Murakami,' and, Will Mr. Murakami Really be Able to Properly Answer 330 Questions Presented to Him Without Interruption by the World's People?).
A collection of Choutanpenshousetsu (ultra-short stories, or 'flash fiction'), these stories were originally part of an advertising campaign commissioned by a Japanese stationary company. The stories, with Mizumaru's accompanying illustrations, appeared as full-page spreads in magazines and as poster adverts on commuter trains. Their short length (1-2 pages, on average) enabled commuters throughout Japan to briefly enter Murakami's fantastic, dream-like world, even if for just a short time, before returning to the bland reality of daily life.
For those studying the Japanese language, these stories provide an excellent introduction to reading Japanese literature in the original language. Murakami is a successful and well-known author at home and abroad, and Mizumaru's prints are regularly shown at the Space Yui Gallery in Minato-ku, Tokyo. The combination of Murakami's otherworldly narratives and Mizumaru's stark, quirky images is pure magic, and is sure to delight anyone with a bent towards the slightly surreal.
However, since Murakami's style is relatively simple (often referred to by Japanese critics as being very 'English-esque'), students of Japanese will find translating his work less taxing than more complex, 'literary' authors. What's more, the short length of each story gives beginning students a chance to work through a full narrative in a relatively short period of time - a much less daunting task than trying to work through an entire novel.
Even if you think your language skills are not up to task, you should give this text a look. With a good dictionary and a little spare time, you may be surprised by how much you can decipher. Besides, these stories are so much fun, you won't even realize you're studying.