Vintage’s new book series spans a century of Japanese fiction

The publisher’s Japanese Classics series includes famous works by authors such as Haruki Murakami, and comes with cover illustrations by Yuko Shimizu inspired by classic Japanese artworks

All eyes are on Japan at the moment, with the Rugby World Cup currently in full swing and excitement mounting ahead of next year’s Olympics.

While the international spotlight is firmly focused on the country’s sporting culture, Vintage has taken the opportunity to shine a light on Japanese literature with its latest book series.

Japanese Classics features works by five Japanese authors from the past century. Readers will likely already be familiar with novels such as The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (which was previously released by Vintage with a distinctive Noma Bar cover design). Other books in the series, such as Natsuo Kirino’s dark thriller Out, are less well known.

When it came to designing the covers for the new editions, Vintage Creative Director Suzanne Dean settled on Japanese illustrator Yuko Shimizu’s painterly aesthetic.

“[Shimizu’s] illustration style hints at traditional Japanese art, with a modern twist,” says Dean. “I have always admired her sense of colour, dramatic compositions and wit.”

The cover designs take inspiration from Japanese packaging, each featuring a small white panel containing the author’s name and the book’s title. Apart from this defining feature, Shimizu was given free rein over the covers.

The end result is a series of enchanting illustrations which tap into the world created by each author, using vivid hues of red, blue, yellow and green.

“Right from the start of the project, Yuko and I discussed a limited colour palette to help unite the individual illustrations,” says Dean. “As a designer you have to unify and standardise the whole series, without losing the personality and sense of each book.”

Japanese Classics is published by Vintage on 3 October;