A Japanese book club, in the heart of Delhi

Arunima Mazumdar’s tryst with Japanese literature began in 2010 when her friend gifted her a copy of Haruki Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart. “You can say that I didn’t choose the book, instead the book chose me,” she says. Over a decade later, her love for Japanese literature, in translation, of course, steered her to start the Dokusha Book Club to meet like-minded folks to share her love for Japanese tales.

“Dokusha means a reader in Japanese,” Mazumdar explains. “The idea to start the book club came to me in 2020 in December. It had been over a decade since I had been reading Japanese literature in translation, and even though many of my friends were avid readers, they weren’t into Japanese fiction. So I didn’t have anyone to discuss the books with. At the same time, the inclination towards discovering new and old Japanese authors and their translators was always there, so I decided to start an Instagram page, and document what I was reading and invite fellow readers to join in,” she says.

Since starting in January last year, the page, despite being dedicated to something niche, has close to 3,500 followers on Instagram. Membership to the books club is easy and free and requires just a simple registration. Following a “great” response at the start, it has grown to a community of 600 registered members, of people across ages and from places, including Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad and also Dehradun, Jorhat, Guwahati, Cuttack, etc.

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“The community is on Instagram, thus there are a lot more younger folks who engage on the platform. But readers of Japanese fiction are of all ages in India. There are professors and academics of Japanese literature at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, and The English and Foreign Languages University in Hyderabad who read and live Japanese language and literature,” Mazumdar shares.

The first book the club read was Sayaka Murata’s Life Ceremony. Asako Yuzuki’s Butter is what the members are currently reading. “While the genre we read is mostly literary and crime fiction, I also try and introduce more works by lesser-known authors from time to time, along with women authors. So far, we’ve read only fiction. However, I do plan to introduce non-fiction—perhaps in the second half of the year. Sometimes we also pick a trending book to read, like is a brand-new release, and it’s easier for the members to get a copy from bookstores or Amazon,” she comments.

While the book club started online, the members try to meet offline often, having done two physical meet-ups thus far, both in Delhi, the first at Kunzum bookstore in collaboration with The Japan Foundation in July last year, and a recent one at the Oxford bookstore in February. “The discussion was largely on the overall interest in Japanese fiction, and many readers shared their love for Japanese books,” Mazumdar shares.

The Dokusha Book Club intends to meet in person more often and not only in Delhi but elsewhere, too—Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Kolkata. Meanwhile, Mazumdar also looks at launching a literary magazine around this. “There are so many ideas with respect to scaling the book community,” she comments.

Amid all the commentary around book readership coming down, especially in the age of social media, it’s a positive sign of such book clubs coming up. Not just Dokusha, there are several silent clubs that operate across cities, where people gather at a set location to just read in silence having the liberty to take off as they please or engage with fellow readers. For example, a club meets at Delhi’s Lodhi Garden every weekend and one at Bengaluru’s Cubbon Park.

While Mazumdar’s primary goal with Dokusha is to encourage the reading of more Japanese literature in India, “another important objective is to encourage more translations of Japanese literature into Indian languages. Currently, there are select books and authors that have been translated from the Japanese into Malayalam, Bengali, and Marathi, and I would like to contribute my bit towards encouraging more such translations,” she says.


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