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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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7012171,029 (4.06)20

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The key of the book (apparently) is the definition of "mono no aware", a sort of melancholic appreciation for beauty in everyday life: every single day gives us multiple opportunities to experience beauty, and the sad part is understanding that life will end, and so its beauty.

This is at the same time very simple to recognize when you meet it, and probably impossible to properly explain, just like Zen.

This does not deter the main character, who thin·2 ( )
  pamar | Aug 25, 2014 |
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 |
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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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