Murakami, Obama and self help top Japan bestselling books list

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In addition to tomes by Haruki Murakami and US President Barack Obama, self-help publications dominated the list of bestselling books in Japan for 2009.

Novels are rarely among the top picks for Japanese readers, but Murakami has broken that trend with 1Q84: Book 1, his much-anticipated work published after a five-year hiatus.

Released in May, publisher Shinchosha was forced to add an extra 100,000 copies to the print run before it even hit shelves due to a flood of advance orders. It helped that Murakami, whom many consider to be one of the greatest living novelists, had refused to even hint at the plot line after criticism that leaked details of his previous best-seller, Kafka on the Shore, spoiled the novelty value.

Described as a "complex and surreal narrative" that "shifts back and forth between tales of two characters, a man and a woman, who are searching for each other," well over 2.2 million copies of the book had been sold by mid-December.
Murakami also held third spot in the popularity charts with "1Q84: Book 2," according to Kinokuniya Books, with second place going to the more studious - and clumsily titled - Frequently Mistaken Kanji that we Should be Able to Read but Can't.

Japan's kanji characters are notoriously difficult to write and remember - it takes knowledge of around 6,000 to be able to read a newspaper and nobody seems to have the definitive answer on how many of the pictograms actually exist. And Japanese have a terror of reading a character incorrectly, rendering the meaning of a phrase completely different.

Tapping into the same sentiment, the illustrated Japanese that Japanese People Don't Know, by Nagiko Umino, places eighth on the list.

The Japanese translation of Marci Shimoff's Happy for No Reason is in fourth place, providing a seven-step plan to achieving happiness and better health, more fulfilling relationships and more success.

US President Obama slips surprisingly into fifth place with Obama's Speeches, the Asahi newspaper's release of a collection of his orations before and after his election as the most powerful man in the world.

The dieting book Maku Dake Diet, by Chizuru Yamamoto came in sixth, followed by Ryuho Okawa's The Laws of Courage. The top ten was rounded out by Kanae Minato's Confession and The Power of Worry, by Kan Sanjun.