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Oh!: A mystery of 'mono no aware'…

Oh!: A mystery of 'mono no aware'

by Todd Shimoda

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The narrator of this compelling novel, Zach Hara, is suffering from emotional numbness. Nothing touches him; he cannot form attachments to others, and he feels indifferent about his life in Los Angeles and his job as a technical writer. Feeling restless, he remembers a story he heard about his Japanese grandfather, and he decides to go to Japan to see if he can find out more about him. Thus he finds himself in the town of Numazu near his grandfather’s reported birthplace. Numazu literally means Bogport, and it seems a fitting metaphor for being stuck emotionally.

To support himself in Japan, Zach takes a job as an English teacher and meets Professor Imai, one of his students, to whom he reveals his emotional disaffection. Professor Imai is a psychologist who studies the biology of personality, and he is also a poet attracted to the Japanese concept of mono no aware, which loosely means an awareness of the pathos of things in life and nature. Professor Imai is intrigued by Zach’s problem and begins to assign him strange tasks to accomplish like getting lost, finding a pear-shaped stone, committing a petty crime, and writing a poem about his grandfather. Zach assumes these tasks are meant to elicit a sense of mono no aware in him.

About the same time, Zach becomes curious about a group suicide committed nearby in the Aokigahara Forest. So he decides to try to get lost in this forest while looking for the site where the suicide was carried out. This leads him to want to discover what it was about each of the victims that got them “trapped in another world with alternate logic” and that led them to the decision that death was the only answer. Zach feels that he is also trapped in his own “weird logic.”

When Zach finds out that the professor has been trying to come to terms with his feelings of loss after the disappearance of his daughter, Zach assigns himself a new task: to find the daughter. He feels he is “tied to the professor in his dark world,” and he is tied to it through his own search to understand. Eventually Zach is led to take desperate action to create his own emotional world, leading to an emotionally impacting denouement.

In a series of “Exhibits” interspersed throughout the book, Shimoda gives us many interesting mini-lessons on mono no aware. Additionally, there are notes at the end of the book with further explanatory information on the Exhibits, as well as other topics mentioned in the novel. So not only is this book a fascinating read, it is also educational. One final plus is its artistic presentation: the extremely beautiful binding, the high quality paper it is printed on, and a generous amount of artwork by his wife L.J.C. Shimoda reproduced throughout. ( )
  JolleyG | Aug 4, 2012 |
Todd Shimoda's book, Oh! : a mystery of mono no aware, is a novel of ideas, of philosophy, of the exploration of Japanese culture more than a plotted story. He uses the common device of the outsider -- in this case a young sansei Japanese-American -- to explore the culture under study. He is focused in particular on the unique Japanese fascination with mono no aware, "things of transient surpassing beauty, poignancy, sadness." While the main character is well-drawn and believable, others seem to be introduced to serve didactic purposes, make their point, then disappear. It is the ideas, the gradually awakening understanding of the culture that drive the novel. Nevertheless, it has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and I thought the end was a bit sudden, perhaps with insufficient preparation in the preceding narrative. Shimoda set himself a difficult task and carries it off with good writing, thoughtful analysis, and a thorough understanding of Japan. This was not done with a reading of The Chrysanthemum and the Sword and a bus tour of Kyoto and Nara.

Physically, this is a sensual book to hold and read. The illustrations, by Linda Shimoda, the author's wife, make appropriate rest-stops between the short nugget-like chapters.You won't be getting the full experience on Kindle. Props to Chin Music Press for believing in paper and ink. ( )
1 vote Larxol | Nov 24, 2010 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Oh!: A Mystery of 'Mono No Aware' is as much an experience of reading as it is a narrative in and of itself. The story is one of finding stability in the transcendental, of finding one's place in a culture not quite your own, of finding emotion in the midst of emptiness.

Moreso than the narrative, the experience of the book itself fleshes out and gives life to the tale. The book is its own experience, from the gorgeous artwork and the feel of the pages themselves to the carefully chosen colours and the texture of the cover. This is definitely a story that needs to be read as a physical book rather than an electronic one, as it is so much richer and deeper than it would be in digital form only.

I continue to think about this story, and I do believe it is one I'll need to come back to to more adequately digest. I think the return trip will most definitely be worth it.
1 vote caras_galadhon | Sep 6, 2010 |
"Mono no aware" is a Japanese term that is said to have been first used in the Edo era by Motoori Norinaga to describe deeply felt emotions. He used this first to describe the Heien era book "The Tale of the Genji" but this concept is used by contemporary writers like Haruki Murakami. I have also read of it being used in manga. But like many Japanese concepts it is difficult to define - being a little "mono no aware"ish itself.

It has ties to Shinto, to Buddhism, to sakura blossoms, to transience, impermanence. Some have described it as the "ahh-ness" of things. It sometimes encompasses sadness but not always. It is so tied to the culture that I think it is impossible to understand Japan without a little understanding of this concept.

The author attempts to describe "mono no aware" by interspersing passages about the term, some from Norinaga, with a story about a Japanese-American who is despairing of his life as a tech writer in an engineering company in southern California. He leaves his work and his life and travels to Japan - not actually "find himself" but almost for lack of something else. And without plan he stumbles into relationships that lead him to an understanding of "mono no aware".

The ending is somewhat shocking but it is possible to see that it was actually set up from the beginning of the story.

The book, itself, is very "mono no aware" - grey and tan colors, paper that has the appearance of rice paper without it actually being that. The art work, done by the author's wife, is pleasant and contributes to the ambience. I thought that the titling of the artwork was a little pretentious though. But I generally enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone who was interested in learning more deeply about Japan and the Japanese culture.

Shimoda is also author of The Fourth Treasure which I read a few years ago - and might get out again after reading this one. It also is about cross-cultures but in the setting of calligraphy, some haiku. In this one, incidentally, I thought that his wife's artwork worked better. ( )
3 vote catarina1 | Jan 12, 2010 |
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The book itself is a fine work of art, with a gorgeous, embossed cover, rice-paper-thin pages, and textured paper inserts with illustrations that offer clues to Zack's fate — a triumphant kick in the pants for anyone who doubts the future of paper-and-ink books.

A fascinating glimpse into a little-known dark side of Japanese culture as well as a compelling account of an obsession with feeling emotional epiphany at any price.
added by DaveJacobson | editShelf Awareness, Nick DiMartino (May 13, 2009)
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I inherited a 1968 three-quarter ton Chevy pickup from my grandfather who mowed lawns and trimmed shrubbery in suburban Los Angeles until he was eighty-seven.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0974199567, Hardcover)

Oh! was selected for National Public Radio's summer reading list of 2009. NPR reviewer Lucia Silva called it "a triumphant kick in the pants for anyone who doubts the future of paper-and-ink books."
“The mysterious tension between material things and emotional attachment to them oscillates throughout Japanese history and culture. With a keen and sympathetic eye, Todd Shimoda explores an individual's dangerous quest to waken his numb soul to this exquisite reverberation. As in Kawabata Yasunari's famous novella, The Master of Go, the lacrimae rerum of a dying tradition become a river, inexorably flowing toward the ocean of death. Fascinated, the reader cannot help but follow the flow.”—Liza Dalby, author of The Tale of Murasaki: A Novel and Geisha

Oh! is a hybrid novel, with nonfiction and artwork mixed in. The main storyline follows Zack Hara, a young Japanese American searching for an emotional life while traveling in Japan. Zack finds an ally in a professor and underground poet who introduces him to the concept of mono no aware, roughly translated as the emotive essence of things, or the sadness in beauty. The professor, grieving for a missing daughter, assigns Zack a set of mysterious tasks. Zack’s search for self-discovery turns into a search for the professor’s missing daughter, and draws him into the tragic phenomenon of suicide clubs.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:22:05 -0400)

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Chin Music Press

An edition of this book was published by Chin Music Press.

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