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The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail…
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The Street of a Thousand Blossoms (2007)

by Gail Tsukiyama

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Orphaned when an accident takes the lives of both their parents, Hiroshi and Kenji Matsumoto are raised by their grandparents. Each boy has a goal: Hiroshi wants to become a sumo champion while his brother Kenji longs to master the art of making masks for the Noh theater. Their training is interrupted by the outbreak of World War II, and for years the family struggles to feed itself. When the war finally ends, each boy is able to resume his dream, but even as they find success in post-war Japan their personal lives are plagued with loss and sorrow.

If you ever wanted to learn about sumo wrestling the early to mid-20th century, here's your opportunity. The author, Gail Tsukiyama, describes sumo matches and the accompanying traditional ceremonies in great detail. It was both interesting and overwhelming; at times so much information was presented that the various matches would blend together. I really appreciated the contrast Tsukiyama created between daily life before, during and after the war. The deprivation that was forced on the Japanese by their government and fellow citizens, and the impact it had on the years of the American occupation, is a story that deserves to be told.

On the other hand, it's a little distracting to have random Japanese words peppered into the narrative. I understand that for highly specialized terms used in sumo or Noh theater, there may not be an English equivalent, but if you're writing a book in English there is no strong reason for replacing “Hello” and “Thank you” with “Konnichiwa” and “Arigato”. It doesn't help to create atmosphere, and I can't think of any other reasons to deploy it.

I wish there had been something about the characters that captured me, but for the most part they were very flat and predictable. With the exception of the two grandparents, Yoshio and Fumiko, who have a wonderful relationship and amazing resourcefulness, very little character development occurs. Hiroshi the boy and Hiroshi the man are not all that different. The story also suffers from endless tragedies; deaths of family members and children happen so frequently, even in the post-war years, that they lose meaning.

All in all, a decidedly mediocre novel. ( )
  makaiju | Oct 22, 2013 |
i feel like this is one of those novels that sits with you for a while and improves with distance. so i rounded up.

this is a melancholy story - early on i wasn't sure if i was really getting into the novel and whether what i was feeling was a bit of ennui at the fault of my own disposition or because of the writing. but as i kept going tsuyikama's writing made it worthwhile and i realized that her style was very purposeful and deliberate. the novel is a story about endurance and recovery but it is told so quietly. covering the time in japan from world war II through until the mid- to late-60s, this book is quite a saga of two families. i enjoyed very much the way traditional customs and story-telling were woven into the plot. my heart broke a couple of times and my eyes even welled up a bit, though they didn't spill over. (and i am not one who cries when it comes to reading, so on the very few occasions when a story causes this reaction, i am surprised.) a couple of things i would have loved, as complements to the story: a) a map; and b) family trees or a character chart. mostly because i am a sucker for these things when they do appear in historical fiction.

i think if you are a careful reader, one who doesn't mind giving focused time to a special story, you will like this novel. ( )
  DawsonOakes | Jul 14, 2013 |
Japan, Tokyo, 1939

Hiroshi and Kenji are growing up On the Street of Thousand Blossoms with their grandparents Fumiko and Yoshio, dreaming of sumotori and noh theatre masks until the hardship of war is felt in the day to day life. Dreams left place to surviving.

After the war, as their grandfather used to say, they will have to know what they are fighting for: tradition or changes, career or family ?

I'm left with a yearning to learn more about japanese culture and way of life ...

It was poetic, thoughtful and profoundly moving. I'll definitely reread it and read other books by Gail Tsukiyama. ( )
  electrice | Apr 7, 2013 |
I have to say, I was somewhat disappointed by this book. I was quite wrapped in the pre-war and WWII details during the first part, but the rest of it, while easily readable, felt very contrived and overdone. I felt as though Gail Tsukiyama was trying to educate me on every detail of Japanese ceremony, therefore had to squeeze in as many "life events" as possible. It became quite predictable. Too bad. ( )
  Cathy_Huber | Mar 30, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312274823, Hardcover)

"Just remember," Yoshio said quietly to his grandsons. "Every day of your lives, you must always be sure what you're fighting for."
 
It is Tokyo in 1939. On the Street of a Thousand Blossoms, two orphaned brothers are growing up with their loving grandparents, who inspire them to dream of a future firmly rooted in tradition. The older boy, Hiroshi, shows unusual skill at the national obsession of sumo wrestling, while Kenji is fascinated by the art of creating hard-carved masks for actors in the Noh theater.
Across town, a renowned sumo master, Sho Tanaka, lives with his wife and their two young daughters: the delicate, daydreaming Aki and her independent sister, Haru. Life seems full of promise as Kenji begins an informal apprenticeship with the most famous mask-maker in Japan and Hiroshi receives a coveted invitation to train with Tanaka. But then Pearl Harbor changes everything. As the ripples of war spread to both families' quiet neighborhoods, all of the generations must put their dreams on hold---and then find their way in a new Japan.
In an exquisitely moving story that spans almost thirty years, Gail Tsukiyama draws us irresistibly into the world of the brothers and the women who love them. It is a world of tradition and change, of heartbreaking loss and surprising hope, and of the impact of events beyond their control on ordinary, decent men and women. Above all, The Street of a Thousand Blossoms is a masterpiece about love and family from a glorious storyteller at the height of her powers.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:55:09 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"It is Tokyo in 1939. On the Street of a Thousand Blossoms, two orphaned brothers are growing up with their loving grandparents, who inspire them to dream of a future firmly rooted in tradition. The older boy, Hiroshi, shows unusual skill at the national obsession of sumo wrestling, while Kenji is fascinated by the art of creating hand-carved masks for actors in the Noh theater." "Across town, a renowned sumo master, Sho Tanaka, lives with his wife and their two young daughters: the delicate, daydreaming Aki and her independent sister, Haru. Life seems full of promise as Kenji begins an informal apprenticeship with the most famous maskmaker in Japan and Hiroshi receives a coveted invitation to train with Tanaka. But then Pearl Harbor changes everything. As the ripples of war spread to both families' quiet neighborhoods, all of the generations must put their dreams on hold - and then find their way in a new Japan."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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