Lilisin in Japan, Part 2

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Lilisin in Japan, Part 2

1lilisin
Edited: Nov 29, 2023, 7:22 pm

Hello again and welcome to my new thread.

The last one had gotten quite long and the books were become poorly organized so since it's a new year, and I didn't read many Japanese books last year, I thought it'd be nice to start off fresh.

So this is where I will be posting all of my Japan-related reads. You can read my previous thread here.

Books added since starting this thread:
1) Banana Yoshimoto : ハチ公の最後の恋人 (Hachiko's Last Lover)
2) 久美沙織 (Kumi Saori) : いつか海に行ったね (I Went to the Ocean Once)
3) Shizuko Natsuki : Hara-kiri, mon amour (The Obituary Arrives at Two O'Clock)
4) Haruki Murakami : L'Étrange Bibliothèque (The Strange Library)
5) Junichi Saga : Confessions of a Yakuza
8) Hiroko Oyamada : (The Hole)
9) Maiko Seo : 天国はまだ遠く (Heaven is Still Far)
10) Ryu Murakami : オーディション (Audition)
11) Abe Kobo : The Ark Sakura
12) Sawako Ariyoshi : The Twilight Years
13) Akira Yoshimura : Le convoi de l'eau
14) Ayako Miura : Au col du mont Shiokari (Shiokari Pass)
15) 村田 沙耶香 (Murata Sayaka): コンビニ人間 (Convenience Store Woman)
16) Sayo Masuda : Autobiography of a Geisha
17) Kenzaburo Oe : A Personal Matter
18) Tatsuzo Ishikawa : Soldiers Alive
19) 金原ひとみ (Kanehara Hitomi) : 蛇にピアス (Snakes and Earrings)
20) 乙一:ZOO1
21) Aki Shimazaki : Azami
22) 椰月 美智子 (Yazuki Michiko) : 14歳の水平線 (14 on the Horizon)
23) よる 住野 (Yoru Sumino): また、同じ夢を見ていた (I had that dream again)
24) 智美 畑野 (Hatano Tomomi) : 海の見える街 (Town with View of the Ocean)
25) 理香子 秋吉 (Rikako Akiyoshi): 聖母 (The Holy Mother)
26) Yoko Tawada : The Last Children of Tokyo (aka The Emissary)
27) 椰月 美智子 (Yazuki Michiko) : しずかな日々
28) Keigo Higashino : Salvation of a Saint
29) Yu Miri : Tokyo Ueno Station
30) Yuko Tsushima : Territory of Light
31) Tomoka Shibasaki : Spring Garden
32) Yoko Ogawa : The Memory Police
33) Richard Lloyd Parry : Ghosts of the Tsunami
34) Hiroko Oyamada : The Factory
35) Akira Yoshimura : La guerre des jours lointains (One Man's Justice)
36) Ryu Murakami : In the Miso Soup
37) Akimitsu Takagi : The Tattoo Murder Case
38) Donald Keene : Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan
39) Natsuo Kirino : Intrusion
40) Yasunari Kawabata : Dandelions
41) Kenzaburo Oe : A Quiet Life *abandoned
42) Takeshi Kaiko : Darkness in Summer *abandoned
43) Aki Shimazaki : Hozuki
44) Aki Shimazaki : Suisen
45) Seio Nagao : Meurtres à la cour du prince Genji
46) Risa Wataya : Pauvre Chose
47) Soji Shimada : Tokyo Zodiac Murders
48) Fuminori Nakamura : L'Hiver Dernier, Je Me Suis Separe de Toi (Last Winter We Parted)
49) 藤野 可織 : 爪と目 (Nails and Eyes)
50) 加藤 千恵 : アンバランス
51) Kazumi Yumoto : 夏の庭 (The Friends)
52) 今村 夏子 : むらさきのスカートの女 (The Woman in the Purple Skirt)
53) 巧 豊田 : 駅に泊まろう!
54) 住野 よる : よるのばけもの (At Night, I Become a Monster)
55) Eto Mori : カラフル (Colorful)
56) 尾崎世界観 : 母影 (Mother's Shadow)
57) 原田 マハ : ハグとナガラ (Hagu and Nagara)
58) Kaori Ekuni : Dans la barque de dieu (God's Boat)
59) 小林 泰三 : 玩具修理者 (The Toymaker)
60) きょうや 織守 : 花束は毒 (The Bouquet is Poison)
61) Aki Shimazaki : Fuki-no-tô: L'ombre du chardon
62) Aki Shimazaki : Maïmaï: L'ombre du chardon
63) Ted Goossen (editor) : MONKEY New Writing from Japan: Volume 2: TRAVEL
64) Yasunari Kawabata : Pays de neige (Snow Country) *abandonned

Read books that were never reviewed:
Robert S. Boyton : The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea's Abduction Project
Richard Lloyd Parry : People who Eat Darkness
Shusaku Endo : Scandal
Kazuo Sakamaki : I Attacked Pearl Harbor
奈都 宮下 : 静かな雨
乙一 : 夏と花火と私の死体 (Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse)
Fumiko Enchi : Masks
Keizo Hino : Isle of Dreams
Yuko Tsushima : Child of Fortune
Hideo Furukawa: Slow Boat
tr. Edward Seidensticker : The Gossamer Years
史恵 近藤 : インフルエンス
Shusaku Endo : Silence
Keisuke Hada : La Vie du bon côté (Scrap and Build)
Yuko Tsushima : Woman Running in the Mountains
Shinsuke Numata : La Pêche au toc dans le Tôhoku
Ira Ishida : Call-Boy
Shusaku Endo : Le Dernier souper et autres nouvelles
Yukio Mishima : Life for Sale
Minae Mizumura : Inheritance From Mother

2lilisin
Edited: Jan 12, 2:28 am

All the Japanese books I've read up till now.

Multiple books read by single Jpn author:
Junichiro Tanizaki : In Praise of Shadows; The Makioka Sisters; Le meurtre d'Otsuya
Yasunari Kawabata : Thousand Cranes; Kyoto; Dandelions; Pays de neige
Seishi Yokomizo : La hache, le koto et le chrysanthème; Le village aux huit tombes
Yasushi Inoue : La Favorite; Shirobamba; Le paroi de glace; Le fusil de chasse
Seicho Matsumoto : Tokyo Express; Le vase de sable
Shusaku Endo : La fille que j'ai abandonnee; The Sea and Poison; When I Whistle; Scandal; Silence; Le Dernier souper et autres nouvelles
Kobo Abe : The Woman in the Dunes; The Box Man; The Face of Another; Secret Rendezvous; The Kangaroo Notebook; The Ark Sakura
Yukio Mishima : La mort en ete; Le marin rejete par la mer; Sun and Steel; Life for Sale
Akira Yoshimura : Shipwrecks; La jeune fille suppliciee sur une etagere; On Parole; Un spécimen transparent : Suivi de Voyage vers les étoiles; Le convoi de l'eau; La guerre des jours lointains
Kenzaburo Oe : Nip the buds, Shoot the kids; Gibier d'elevage; Hiroshima Notes; A Personal Matter; A Quiet Life
Haruki Murakami : 1Q84; Après le tremblement de terre; Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche; 色彩を持たない多崎つくると、彼の巡礼の年; L'Étrange Bibliothèque
Ryu Murakami : Almost Transparent Blue; 限りなく透明に近いブルー; From the Fatherland, with Love; オーディション; In the Miso Soup
Banana Yoshimoto : The Lake; Kitchen; アルゼンチンババア; ハチ公の最後の恋人
Otsuichi : ZOO1; ZOO2; GOTH 夜の章; 夏と花火と私の死体
Shizuko Natsuki : La promesse de l'ombre; Hara-kiri, mon amour
Ayako Miura : Lady Gracia: A Samurai Wife's Love, Strife and Faith; Au col du mont Shiokari
Michiko Yazuki : 14歳の水平線; しずかな日々
Keigo Higashino : The Devotion of Suspect X; Salvation of a Saint
Hiroko Oyamada : 穴; The Factory
Natsuo Kirino : Out; Intrusion
Takeshi Kaiko : Into a Black Sun; Darkness in Summer
Fumiko Enchi : The Waiting Years; Masks
Yuko Tsushima : Territory of Light; Child of Fortune; Woman Running in the Mountains
Yoru Sumino: また、同じ夢を見ていた; よるのばけもの
Eiji Yoshikawa : Taiko; Musashi
Aki Shimazaki : Azami ; Hozuki ; Suisen ; Fuki-no-tô ; Maïmaï

Only one book read by Jpn author:
Shinsuke Numata : La Pêche au toc dans le Tôhoku
Ira Ishida : Call-Boy
Minae Mizumura : Inheritance From Mother
Kyouya Origami : 花束は毒
Keisuke Hada : La Vie du bon côté (Scrap and Build)
Kaori Ekuni : Dans la barque de dieu
Yasumi Kobayashi : 玩具修理者
Maha Harada : ハグとナガラ
Eto Mori : カラフル
Sekaikan Ozaki : 母影
Takumi Toyoda : 駅に泊まろう!
Chie Katou : アンバランス
Kazumi Yumoto : 夏の庭・The Friends
Natsuko Imamura : むらさきのスカートの女
Kaori Fujino : 爪と目
Fuminori Nakamura : L'Hiver Dernier, Je Me Suis Separe de Toi
Fumie Kondo : インフルエンス
Risa Wataya : Pauvre Chose
Hideo Furukawa: Slow Boat
Soji Shimada : Tokyo Zodiac Murders
Keizo Hino : Isle of Dreams
Seio Nagao : Meurtres à la cour du prince Genji
Natsu Miyashita : 静かな雨
Akimitsu Takagi : The Tattoo Murder Case
Yoko Ogawa : The Memory Police
Tomoka Shibasaki : Spring Garden
Yu Miri : Tokyo Ueno Station
Hatano Tomomi : 海の見える街
Rikako Akiyoshi : 聖母
Yoko Tawada : The Last Children of Tokyo (aka The Emissary)
Kanehara Hitomi : 蛇にピアス
Sayaka Murata : コンビニ人間
Sawako Ariyoshi : The Twilight Years
Maiko Seo : 天国はまだ遠く
Kumi Saori : いつか海に行ったね
Yasutaka Tsutsui : Hell
Hikaru Okuizumi : The Stones Cry Out
Michio Takeyama : Harp of Burma
Masuji Ibuse : Black Rain
Natsume Soseki : And Then: Natsume Soseki's Novel Sorekara
Akiyuki Nosaka : La tombe des lucioles
Shohei Ooka : Fires on the Plain
Murasaki Shikibu : The Tale of Genji
Hitonari Tsuji : La lumiere du detroit
Ryunosuke Akutagawa : Rashomon et autres contes
Nobuko Takagi : Translucent Tree
Meisei Goto : Shot by Both Sides
Mitsuyo Kakuta : The Eighth Day
Osamu Dazai : Soleil couchant
Nagai Kafu : Rivalry: A Geisha's Tale

Nonfiction writers (foreign or Jpn):
Anonymous (tr. Edward Seidensticker) : The Gossamer Years
Lester I. Tenney : My Hitch in Hell
Kazuo Sakamaki : I Attacked Pearl Harbor
Robert S. Boyton : The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea's Abduction Project
Junichi Saga : Confessions of a Yakuza
Donald Keene : Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan
Richard Lloyd Parry : Ghosts of the Tsunami; People who Eat Darkness
Tatsuzo Ishikawa : Soldiers Alive
Sayo Masuda : Autobiography of a Geisha
Hiroo Onoda : No Surrender
Iris Chang : The Rape of Nanking
Takashi Nagai : The Bells of Nagasaki
Donald Richie : The Inland Sea
Mineko Iwasaki : Geisha, a life
Komomo : A Geisha's Journey: My life as a Kyoto Apprentice
Alan Booth : The Roads to Sata
Ian Reader : Religious Violence in Contemporary Japan: The Case of Aum Shinrikyo
Jon Hersey : Hiroshima

Short story anthology:
Michael Emmerich : Read Real Japanese Fiction: Short Stories by Contemporary Writers
Ted Goossen (editor) : MONKEY New Writing from Japan: Volume 2: TRAVEL

Jpn author but not about Japan (not counted in total count):
Akira Mizubayashi : Une langue venue d'ailleurs

TOTAL: 158 books

3lilisin
Edited: Jan 13, 2016, 2:52 am

1) Banana Yoshimoto : ハチ公の最後の恋人 (Hachiko's Last Lover)
3/5 stars

Finally finished reading the last 20 pages of this book which I started over the summer and just slogged my way through. It wasn't a bad book in any sense of the word but it wasn't super inspiring and I think I'm done reading Yoshimoto. Fans of her though will appreciate a more subdued version of her typical work and will like the love story.

It's the story of Mao who meets an Indian/Japanese boy and with whom she starts a relationship despite them both knowing that at the end of the year he will be returning to the Himalayas to become a monk and to abandon the material world. Mao comes from a troubled background and has recently left her mother behind to flee the cult she grew up in, but in Hachi she finds love and peace.

It's a story of first loves and first lost loves and it is quaint but I'm just not a Yoshimoto fan, I find, so it was hard for me to feel motivated to turn the page, especially the parts about the cult which I found added nothing to the story.

In any case, if you wish to read this, there is a translation available in Italian.

4lilisin
Edited: Mar 2, 2020, 8:04 am

2) 久美沙織 (Kumi Saori) : いつか海に行ったね (I Went to the Ocean Once)
3.5/5 stars

That was not the book I thought it was going to be.

I was looking for an easy book to read in Japanese when this book stood out on the bookshelves. I skimmed the first chapter at the bookstore: a kid accuses another kid of lying about having gone to the ocean. The synopsis on the back of the book just recopied the kid's diary entry so I was given no further clue as to the contents of this book. The book flap also said "this book will make you cry!". With this combination I was expecting a book about one of the kids dying from cancer; not a book about a mysterious unknown mold causing a large population to suddenly die, and result in a world where they can't live under the sun and an air one can no longer breathe.

This is not at all a genre I typically read, but being used to American movies about mass contagions, once I realized what the book was about, I expected a mass hysteria that unleashes terror upon Japan.

But once again, that's not what the book was about.

It actually ended up being a social commentary about how unprepared Japan would be upon the discovery of a deadly contagion. Basically stating how, by the time the Japanese government would respond, it'd be too late. And in this book, that's exactly what happened.

Hidden with the book are also aspects of Japanese society that the author finds unsatisfactory and frustrating and are actually incredibly relevant to today's non-viral Japan. In this book the contagion was actually spotted quite early when a reporter wanted to write a piece about a mass of birds having suddenly died. In their lungs was this black goo that the reporter surmised to be caused by fungal spores. He was entirely correct. However, because fungus=mold=yeast, and the newspaper he works for is sponsored by a sake brewery, his article was not published due to fear of backlash from the sponsor.

Further on, we are finally lead to an autopsy as the mold has spread to humans and it is determined strange that recent patients seem to be developing cancer-like symptoms so quickly and dying at an equally alarming rate. Here the author makes a commentary about the lack of forensic pathologists in Japan leading to a backlog of autopsies to be performed. In fact, right before reaching this chapter I had just read an article on the internet about the lack of pathologists in Japan leading to potential unsolved murders because bodies aren't being inspected for potential foul play. Autopsies are not automatically performed on bodies that have died outside of a hospital, like they are, say, in the United States. Thus, if no indication of foul play is suspected, an autopsy will not be performed. Thus, in the book, it takes time before an autopsy is finally performed on one of these mystery patients.

Further criticism of Japan comes about when discussing the publishing of the autopsy's results, receiving finance to perform more autopsies, the crisis behind financially disadvantaged people being indebted by inheritance taxes that end up being used just to pay the medical bills of the deceased.

It's all a huge mess (I mean, Japan is) and it is an important message that the author has portrayed. But the marketing of the book was all wrong. All the Japanese reviewers could only focus on the fact that they didn't cry and that nothing happens in the book. Well, that's what the book is about. Nothing happens so the world becomes engulfed with this deadly spore that changes the way we live.

Oh, and where did the spore come from? Blame it on climate change.

Turns out the spores were perfectly preserved within ice and climate change melted the surrounding ice allowing birds to pick at the spores and spread them across the earth. Quite the predicament.

Final conclusion though. Interesting little book. Poor marketing. This will never get translated.

5lilisin
Mar 29, 2016, 9:39 pm

Looking up Kumi Saori's background, she is a bit all over the place. She seems primarily to write in the mystery, SF/fantasy genre but also has novels based on games and has written essays and nonfiction (one book about 10 ways to having a good pregnancy).

The book I read apparently was categorized under horror!
So, while the book actually had very interesting aspects and I did overall enjoy reading it, the marketing was so poor that it just left many readers confused. I guess her past writing experience pigeon-holed her into the SF category so publishers kept her there even though this book has quite to say about modern Japanese society.

And I thought the whole climate change part at the end was a bit overkill as it was just one sentence basically saying "see! we're doing bad things! climate change!!!!! look!". I'm a big proponent of climate change and think we should do everything possible to create a better environment but her last page was a little bit too ... what's the word? Jeering? Pandering? Pandering, I think that's what I want to say.

6Cecrow
Mar 30, 2016, 9:24 am

Too didactic? Literature reads better when it leaves more for the reader to deduce, rather than drifting into essay territory.

7lilisin
Edited: Oct 17, 2017, 10:12 pm

I've read three new Japanese-author books this year and normally I would discuss the Japanese-ness of the book to continue with my studies of Japanese literature but I think I'll just move on this time with a brief review only.

3) Shizuko Natsuki : Hara-kiri, mon amour
American title: The Obituary Arrives at Two O'Clock

The book was actually translated into French from the American version.

Kosuke is a grounds keeper and one day gets in a fight with the owner of a golf course over unpaid debts. The following day the owner of the golf course turns up murdered and all evidence points to Kosuke. Did he do it?

This little crime fiction is apparently a prize winner and was definitely intriguing with all its twists and turns. I also very much liked the ending although I think I'm over my brief foray into crime fiction.

The French title was very confusing as it has nothing to do with the plot of the book and was only used because a character quotes it. Due to this I was definitely mislead into expecting a different kind of book.

--------

4) Haruki Murakami : L'Étrange Bibliothèque
English title: The Strange Library

I read this one next as it is a short 50 pages or so with half of the pages being illustrations.

I didn't like this. There was no point to it other than to make a lot of money off a short story (which worked). Brilliant marketing strategy, not so much a brilliant story.

I just feel indifferent to this. I didn't see the point; there was no message; surrealism for the sake of surrealism.

At least it was short.

--------

5) Junichi Saga : Confessions of a Yakuza

A doctor chronicles the stories of his patient, a former yakuza boss, which leads to this wonderful insight into the yakuza world of 1920-1940s Tokyo. While getting a look at the underground world was fascinating (unlike today's yakuza, back then they made their money only from gambling), what was most remarkable was getting to walk through Tokyo in the 20s and 40s. Living in Tokyo now, you remember that this Tokyo is only about 70 years old as Tokyo has been destroyed a few times already. So getting this insight into a city you live in but don't actually know, is fascinating. Really enjoyed this one.

8Cecrow
Oct 18, 2017, 7:34 am

Murakami is said to be less popular inside his country than outside of it (where he's definitely the most well-known Japanese author); do you believe that's true?

Tokyo is quite the contrast; an ancient city that's been around forever, and at the same time so young. I suppose there aren't too many historical buildings standing?

9lilisin
Oct 18, 2017, 9:54 pm

>8 Cecrow:

If I were to ask anyone in Japan if they knew who Haruki Murakami is, they would say of course. If I asked if they had read them, most would say no. But also, if I asked them if they read in general, they would probably say no. If they do read, it'd mostly be books by Higashino Keigo or Miyuki Miyabe; basically, thrillers and the like.

Yes, not too many. A few temples like the famous Sensoji in Asakusa survived the bombings and some others only suffered minor damage but most "old" buildings that are still standing are primarily from the Showa era.

Here's a good article about the restoration of Tokyo Station.
https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2012/10/23/reference/tokyo-stations-marunouchi...

10dcozy
Oct 23, 2017, 6:46 am

Whenever Murakami releases a novel in Japan there are long lines at bookstores. His novel Norwegian Wood was a massive best-seller, though that was several years ago. His novels are bought and read, but I'm afraid he's no longer hip.

Happens to the best of us.

And here's another take on The Strange Library: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2014/12/27/books/book-reviews/strange-libra...

11lilisin
Edited: Oct 23, 2017, 7:52 pm

>10 dcozy:

Hello David. Hope you are doing well.

though that was several years ago

Several years ago? Norwegian Wood was published in 1987, 30 years ago! When Murakami's latest book came out (Commodore) bookstores purchased a lot of copies and had midnight openings expecting large crowds but while a few major bookstores had a few customers (biggest one in Shinjuku had maybe 300?), it hardly sold as much as they expected it to be.

12wandering_star
Dec 13, 2017, 4:36 am

Confessions of a Yakuza sounds good. I am tentatively planning not to wishlist any new books in 2018 (we'll see how long that lasts) so I am glad I had a look at your thread now...

13lilisin
Dec 14, 2017, 1:50 am

>12 wandering_star:

Thanks for stopping by. I have another three Japanese books to add here as well. I have to find a way to revive my threads and make them more interesting but my more important task is reviving my reading and making that more interesting. :)

I've been doing well with not buying or even wishlisting any new books and it's helping me go through my pile, slow as that may be. If I do purchase a new book it's with the acknowledgement that I'm buying this because I want to read it now, not later.

14SqueakyChu
Edited: Dec 15, 2017, 8:40 pm

I just noticed that I've been following your thread and never writing on it. I have it starred because I just love reading contemporary (meaning for me over the past 100 years) Japanese fiction translated into English. What is funny is that I have an older son who is interested in anime and manga, but not in fiction. He is leaving for his third trip to Japan next week, I started reading manga and even went to see a few anime and enjoyed that experience very much. He still frowns when mention I Japanese fiction.

My latest read was a book called Alien Rice by Ichirō Kawasaki which I found in Book Bank, a favorite used book store in Alexandria, Virginia. This was such an interesting book. It was a novel about racism experienced by a couple and their child. The husband was Japanese, and the wife was Caucasian. I got into an interesting discussion with my older son about whether or not he experienced this while in Japan. He said that it is definitely there, but it did not affect him in any way because, as a tourist, his interactions with native Japanese were limited.

Well, I mostly wanted to say that I enjoy your thread! :)

15lilisin
Jan 28, 2018, 10:29 pm

>14 SqueakyChu:

Thank you for being a lurker and also for dropping a comment in my thread! Apologies for not replying sooner but I find I myself have become a lurker on my very own thread. Not very helpful when you're trying to generate conversation on a topic. :)

I also started off with anime and manga and now read only manga and Japanese literature but don't watch any anime. Perhaps with time your son's tastes will change and he'll enjoy branching out into new territory. Just with manga there is a lot to delve in as many only know the superhero or science fiction type action manga. Maybe he'll find interest in manga about gourmet restaurant experiences, or manga author experiences, or high school comedies, or maybe he'll go old school with some 80s classics. Whatever it is, I'm sure he's having fun as it's all such great content!

I'm not familiar with the Kawasaki book but it sounds interesting. I'll have to check it out so thank you for the recommendation.
The whole concept of racism is a difficult one in Japan. I feel like in most cases it's just a lack of education, or, not even that, but a lack of conceptual thinking -- in that I mean, being taught things a certain way so you can't imagine it any other way. So, if I'm asked if I can use chopsticks or if I'm asked if I need an English menu, these aren't cases of racism, I believe. However, when I was apartment searching and I wasn't allowed to even take a look at an apartment that I was interested in, then you get into more difficult cases. But yes, as a tourist you won't really encounter anything but good fun unless you're the type who just invites confrontation.

Anyway, thanks for visiting and I hope I can make this thread more interesting for you!

16lilisin
Edited: Jan 29, 2018, 12:26 am

I read three books in Japanese at the end of 2017 and am now finally posting my thoughts. My thoughts are in reverse order from which I read the books and since it's been a while my thoughts will be more generic than what I initially would have wanted but my goal in 2018 is to post soon after I read a book instead of waiting such a long time. So here are the three books I read.

Ryu Murakami : オーディション (Audition)
Maiko Seo : 天国はまだ遠く (Heaven is still far*)
Hiroko Oyamada : (The Hole*)

* works not translated into English

---
8) Ryu Murakami : オーディション (Audition)

Audition brought me back to an author I enjoy, Ryu Murakami, and this book is quite famous in Japan due to its gruesomeness. It's described as psychothriller love story where a documentary maker, Aoyama, decides to go remarry and uses an audition to find his next wife. He is immediately attracted to Asami, a woman he can't stop thinking about, despite everyone around him telling him to be careful 'cause something seems off about the girl. I really enjoyed this. You know what is coming the entire book so it's not the end that is as interesting as much as it is the psychology behind the characters and the sense of voyeurism you have on the situation throughout the book. I was entranced and even forgot I was work at times until someone would ask me a question at which point I would have to raise my head out of the pages. I can't wait to watch the movie now.

---
9) Maiko Seo : 天国はまだ遠く (Heaven is still far*)

The second book was a bit of a palate cleanser as it was an entirely unknown author to me but I was attracted to the title, the cover, the short length and the fact that there was a lot of dialogue in the book so it seemed like it would be an easy read to get through and it certainly was. But surprisingly enough I quite enjoyed the book and it has stuck with me every since. It is about a woman who goes off to an inn in the middle of nowhere to finally end her life as she is unhappy with her life back in the city. She takes a bunch of sleeping pills but wakes up three days letter in her futon having failed at suicide. Instead, she wakes up refreshed and rejuvenated, and decides instead to stay at the inn for a while to reflect no her life. She befriends the young innkeeper, a man who also left the city a while ago to help his aging parents before they passed away. Only the two remain in the inn and at seeing this woman just endlessly roaming around the fields over and over again, the innkeeper decides to take her along on errands, a fishing trip, and a drinking party with other town folk.

I think I enjoyed the book because I saw a lot of my friend in the main character: a good looking woman who enslaves herself to job and despite knowing that her job is preventing her from living life, continues to do so. (And complains about it. A lot. My friend, not the main character.) While the main character doesn't really find the answer to her questions, I applaud her resolution in not allowing herself to stay in this tiny town to live a quiet life in the middle of nowhere and (possibly) starting a relationship with the innkeeper. Instead she's realistic and realizes that such an escape, although easy, would just be another version of her being influenced by her surroundings to lead a life that her surroundings dictate but that she might not actually truly desire herself.

I suspect this will never get translated.

---
10) Hiroko Oyamada : (The Hole*)

The last book is the one I want to talk about the most but unfortunately I can't remember all the little details I originally wanted to discuss upon immediately finishing the book. This is also something I resolve to change on LT: actually write my thoughts down immediately upon finishing a book instead of months later!

This book was a winner of the Akutagawa Prize, a prize I quite like and follow.
It is about a woman who moves to her husband's hometown from the city due to his job transfer. They end up living in the secondary house behind his parent's home. As her husband spends his days at work, and comes home merely to eat and sleep while spending his waking moments mostly staring at his cellphone, she goes about trying to fill her day as a housewife, wondering if she could let herself be just a housewife instead of going back to work like she did in the city.

One day she is walking along the river when she spots a strange animal and upon deciding to follow it she falls into a large hole in the ground. The hole is taller and larger than her and she has trouble coming out of it but when she finally does she ends up meeting a man who turns out to be the elder brother of her husband!; a brother she never knew her husband had. As the brother enlightens her on certain aspects of the family she has married into, events unfold and we are left questioning if the this man even existed at all.

This book had a wonderful surreal feeling to it that was just heavenly to read and there were so many aspects of Japanese society that were so interestingly written about. There was a scene in the women's bathroom during her last days at work, where she gets into a conversation with her female coworkers about possibly becoming a housewife. Some women are envious of her as they would also like to become housewives, while others say no way, they need to have something for themselves instead of just devoting their lives to a husband and child.

Much is talked about in terms of familial roles and duty: duty to our parents, duty to our husbands, duty to our husband's family; family versus neighbors, large city versus countryside life; loss of tradition, etc.

It was a wonderful little book that throughout I couldn't stop thinking about how much I would like to translate this little gem but unfortunately I have neither the experience nor the connections to go through with such a project. Plus at my deepest, I'm actually quite lazy and could never foresee myself actually finishing the project.

---

But if I really wanted to talk about the last book, it's because I'm currently reading another (untranslated) Akutagawa prize winner, 終の住処, whose title I'll only be able to translate once I finish the book to know whether is more along the lines of "the last home we live in" or "the last home on the block".

This book, although at a short 88 pages, is actually kicking my butt as the reading level is quite a bit above my current level as it has very weird sentence structure, a strange use of words, and an interesting command of language. It takes me a while to parse each sentence but at the end of a paragraph there are moments where I find myself highly rewarded but his skill in writing. But still kicking my butt. In any case this book, although I struggle with asking myself if I should abandon it to read further along in my Japanese life when my Japanese will be even stronger, is quite interesting because it also talks about the wife/husband social structure but this time from a man's point of view. It's almost as if I'm reading from the point of view of the husband from the previous book. In any case, once I do conquer this book I look forward to sharing my thoughts and seeing what I come to finally think of it.

17SqueakyChu
Jan 29, 2018, 8:01 am

>15 lilisin: It's actually fun to lurk here because the only other person I found on LT who loves contemporary Japanese fiction is andrewreads, and he hardly ever posts anything any more.

If you don't want conversation, I can just lurk. However, your books invite conversation! :)

My older son is in his thirties, and he likes a wide variety of manga. In fact, he has introduced me to many different types. So far, I like the "slice of life" genre the best, and Yotsuba! is my favorite series. He and my daughter started with it in high school My daughter stopped reading it and gave me all of her manga to give away in my Little Free Library. I did save the Sailor Moon books, though, because that was the first manga series she ever owned.

If you like manga, the key to anime is in finding films that are *very good* to "excellent". I loved both Your Name and A Silent Voice.

However, when I was apartment searching and I wasn't allowed to even take a look at an apartment that I was interested in, then you get into more difficult cases

Wow! That sadly sounds like the racism in the US.

My son is very funny in that he is teaching himself Japanese, but he doesn't want to speak it with anyone. I love languages, and can't imagine such a scenario. Unfortunately I am now hard of hearing, and I forgo speaking Hebrew, Spanish, or German with others because I even have difficulty with word discrimination n English. *sigh* I love foreign films, though, because they are all closed captioned (and I can still read!). Ha!

18SqueakyChu
Edited: Jan 29, 2018, 8:25 am

>16 lilisin: Oooh! I like reading works by Ryu Murkami although his novels have some pretty rough edges. I've read In the Miso Soup, Almost Transparent Blue, Sixty-Nine, and Tokyo Decadence: 15 Stories. Of these, I liked the last book, the book of short stories the best. I'll have to look for Audition as I like psycho-thrillers, but not mysteries.

Too bad I can't find Heaven is Still Far as the story sounds good. I have a friend who was just like your friend. Finally she retired and is doing what she likes. She works as a volunteer at a local zoo and at a nature conservancy. Now she talks about how much she loves what she does. :D

This is also something I resolve to change on LT: actually write my thoughts down immediately upon finishing a book instead of months later!


I just started doing that and more very recently. I take notes as I read. I jot down characters, plot, and vocabulary. It has added much to my enjoyment of what I read as I can now keep the plot and characters straight - even if the plot is complicated and there are many characters. After I finish the book, I just transfer all of my notes to the Private Notes section here on LT (so I don't have to keep them on my phone!). I might as well use the LT storage space. :)

The Hole sounds so interesting. Too bad I can't get hold of that book now either. I'm sure it will be translated in the future as it was a Akutagawa Prize winner.

19SqueakyChu
Edited: Jan 29, 2018, 8:39 am

I'm now reading a book called Long Nights Alone by Miki Fujita. I am only halfway through it, but I find it mesmerizing. It takes place in 10th century Japan (which I didn't like), but the book is told from the point of view of a young woman who becomes the second wife of an already married man with children. Therefore the story tells what it is like to be in a polygamous marriage. It seems horrible. The story is told beautifully, though, with easy-to-read narrative and poetry. Although this is fiction it is based on a diary written in 10th century Japan by an aristocratic lady whose name is not revealed.

This book appears to have been self-published in 2006 and is signed by the author (although I will give it away in my Little Free Library when I finish it).

I look forward to see what happens in the rest of the book!

I'm now moving to your Club Read thread. I haven't visited that group for a few years, plus I want to see the conversation there about your Japanese fiction! :)

20lilisin
Jan 31, 2018, 2:28 am

If you like manga, the key to anime is in finding films that are *very good* to "excellent". I loved both Your Name and A Silent Voice.

I still watch the animated movies like Your Name and all Ghibli movies. I just don't watch any anime series.

I have a friend who was just like your friend. Finally she retired and is doing what she likes. She works as a volunteer at a local zoo and at a nature conservancy. Now she talks about how much she loves what she does.

I hope my friend doesn't have to wait till she retires to find happiness as we are both only in our early 30s. My friend is just a victim of the Japanese work mentality and because she is part a sheep in the Japanese flock, she will always complain but she'll never do anything about her situation so as not to stand out and "cause trouble to others". And because despite her job making her stay at work till 11pm or even 1am every night, including weekends, she still somehow "loves what she does". Personally, I think if she lived a year abroad she would realized the stupidity behind her words but that is the Japanese mindset.

21SqueakyChu
Edited: Jan 31, 2018, 9:01 am

>21 SqueakyChu: I’ve never watched anime series on tv or the web so I can’t comment on those. I’ll have to ask my older son Josh (who just returned from his third trip to Tokyo - main destination was Komiket) if any of those are good (but I still would not watch them). I hate watching tv (except for soccer games!).

LOL! I hope your friend finds her happiness sooner than retirement, too!!!

From reading about Japan, I’ve come to learn about (but not care for) the Japanese work ethic. It has always been my goal to take time for both education and fun during my work life. I made the choice as a young adult to live on less income and work part time most of my adult years. That doesn’t pay off too well in retirement, but it’s too late to change that now. :/

Don’t you think that, even if your friend were to travel and work abroad, that she would follow her current work schedule after her return to Japan just because that’s what would be expected of her?

22Cecrow
Jan 31, 2018, 9:35 am

I'm unclear how much of the friend's situation is symptomatic of this "Japanese work ethic" versus she's just in a bad job? If it's more about the former, she will have less reason to question it since it's just like everybody's normal life from her view, even if she can acknowledge the downsides.

If it is symptomatic, then there's all kinds of pressures: society expects it of her, her employer specifically does, and alternative work options come with the same kind of expectation. Giving up her culture and country is a huge price to pay to explore any alternative.

23lilisin
Feb 1, 2018, 2:47 am

>21 SqueakyChu:

It's true. She would fall right back in line as usual. Perhaps my bigger desire is for her just to take a nice 1 month vacation somewhere. :)

>22 Cecrow:

I hope it doesn't seem like I'm being the foreigner who tries to push their home culture onto their new country. That's certainly my intention. I mean, I can't help comparing cultures as I've been doing that all my life as a French person in America, and as an American in France, etc. I've always tried to take the good from each culture I'm a part of and casting off the bad notes.

My friend is definitely in the traditional Japanese work ethic system. There will be no escaping for her.
But she does look at my life and gets envious (and has even gotten jealous) over my non-Japanese work lifestyle despite being in Japan, so I just can't help but worry for the girl. With all these cases of karoshi going around I wouldn't want anything to happen.

24SqueakyChu
Edited: Feb 1, 2018, 4:41 pm

>23 lilisin: I personally believe that every young adult should have the opportunity to live in another culture (for at least a year, but even less if the opportunity presents itself). It gives an individual such a different outlook on life and one's native country's place in the world. I had an opportunity to live and work in Israel. Even if such an opportunity is not forthcoming, it is advantageous when traveling to other countries to make time NOT to be a tourist, but to be part of that country's everyday life (for example, to visit and stay with friends who live in another country and especially who are natives of that other country).

What is karoshi?

25lilisin
Feb 1, 2018, 8:59 pm

>24 SqueakyChu:

Karoshi (過労死), which is actually pronounced Karoushi with a long o vowel, means "death by overwork". Lately we've had a few famous news stories such as that of an employee of the advertising agency, Dentsu, committing suicide after working 140 hours of overtime in a month, and an NHK news employee dying from cardiac arrest from 150 hours of overwork.

But like mass shootings in the US, these cases receive great public outrage initially, and demand for bureaucratic change, but as time goes by the system forgets and we wait for the next event to announce our public outrage again.

26SqueakyChu
Feb 2, 2018, 1:09 am

>25 lilisin:. Wow! Are there no laws in Japan protecting workers from overwork? Do the workers work such long hours willingly?

27lilisin
Edited: Feb 2, 2018, 2:31 am

>26 SqueakyChu:

A serious, and very loaded question! Since this is a topic with a bit of history I hope it's okay if I turn your attention to a few articles that describe the matter better than I could.

1) Japan Times article where I also recommend reading the comments.
2) Business Insider article
3) Forbes article

So you have one problem where Japanese society indulges, creates, encourages, and fosters this extreme loyalty to the company idealism.
Then when Japan does try to fix this situation, instead of fixing the base ideology, they think just implementing penalties on the host company will solve things. But unlike the US where a family could sue a company out of millions of dollars, Japan doesn't have these massive payouts in court cases. How much was Dentsu fined for the karoshi case? 1 million dollars? Five million dollars?

Ha, no.

4400 dollars. Yep, 4400 dollars paid in penalties of the deceased girl. (I have not read any articles mentioning if the family got any money). At that price, Dentsu, who made a gross profit of 7 billion dollars in 2016, can kill lots of employees and pay these fines that don't even make up a week's coffee budget.

28SqueakyChu
Edited: Feb 2, 2018, 11:08 pm

>27 lilisin:

Japan Times article: Wow! So sad. From the article it seems that women are at more of a disadvantage than men. How horrible to have to take a job for your lifetime if you have no idea of whether or not you will like it. I guess each culture has its advantages and disadvantages, but I see this as an example of the managers abusing the workers -- which also happens here in the US (no benefits, less than a living wage, discrimination in employment, forced retirement--which I personally experienced with no advance notice). I am growing to dislike capitalism more and more. In theory it's okay, but how it is practiced in reality is often unfair to the workers of large corporations. All the benefits go to the few at the top. The workers are merely disposable pawns.

29SqueakyChu
Edited: Feb 2, 2018, 11:11 pm

>27 lilisin:
Business Insider article:
He enlisted major corporations to offer their employees lifelong job security, asking only that workers repay them with loyalty.

This “loyalty” bit makes me uncomfortable. I’m can’t be a team player if I have to give up my own ideas and rights.

the best strategy for cutting working hours is to give firms tax breaks if they hire more women

That doesn't seem like the best idea either because now the women seem to be having the same stresses that only men used to have before.

Do you think this situation will ever improve? According to the four links which I read, it seems as if the large corporations pay no attention to what they should be doing and simply continue to do what they want instead. Why? Is it in order to be the largest, wealthiest, most powerful corporation? How does that benefit those who spend their lives devoted to the company? Don’t those who run corporations feel any compassion for their workers?

30lilisin
Edited: Apr 12, 2018, 1:17 am

11) Abe Kobo : The Ark Sakura

This was my last book of February and I didn't like it. I've already forgotten I've read it, in fact.

The Mole has created a bunker out of an abandoned mining cave and is on the search for fellow crewmen for his "ark". Upon an outing he decides to invite The Insect Dealer he meets at a mixed brick-a-brack sale. The Insect Dealer is actually a conman and is associated with two other conmen that end up getting swept up into the invitation back to the ark despite The Mole's objection. As the four return to the ark, it is a struggle for The Mole to keep his position of authority as he can't read into these new guests.

As per the typical Abe, the story starts simply and accelerates into a whirlpool of absurd characters and events that surprisingly enough doesn't end up too bad for The Mole. But despite Abe being one of my favorite authors, this book lacked a more intelligent insight into his general theme of individual vs. society that is usually present in his books.

At the end, I was left with a void.

31SqueakyChu
Edited: Mar 9, 2018, 10:39 am

>30 lilisin: Yikes! That sounds terrible! I'll move that book down on my list! I don't think I have a copy of it yet, but I won't hurry to get it. :)

Thanks for the review. So far, my favorite book by Kōbō Abe has been The Woman in the Dunes, which I presume you've already read. It was so creepy! :)

ETA: I guess I do have a copy of it somewhere here in my house, Oh, well! Maybe I'll have to read it anyway to see what I think of it. :D

ETA2: I think his book The Box Man had that same kind of weirdness. I loved the story while I was reading it, but, by the end, he totally lost me! This is what I wrote about that book when I read it: "The story starts as a fascinating look into anonymity but eventually falls into kaleidoscopic plot which leaves readers stranded as to who is talking and what the author is trying to say or what the point of the book even is." Have you read this book?

32Rood
Mar 9, 2018, 1:05 pm

>8 Cecrow:: Tokyo is quite the contrast; an ancient city that's been around forever, and at the same time so young. I suppose there aren't too many historical buildings standing?

Yeah, one great building that survived WWII with only fairly minor damage was Frank Lloyd Wright's Imperial Hotel, but so blind to its worth were the Japanese that they tore it down in 1967 ... to build another rather ordinary skyscraper.

33lilisin
Mar 13, 2018, 3:20 am

>31 SqueakyChu:

As a fan of Kobo Abe's, I've read all of his works except for The Ruined Map and maybe some other books not yet translated into English. I have a Japanese copy of a few short stories called Kabe (, The Wall) but have not yet read that one.

And The Box Man is my favorite work of his. You can read my initial thoughts on the book here, thoughts that have since developed even more since reading the rest of his books. When reading about Abe, you have to understand that he is usually writing about the individual vs. society and what is an individual's role in society. His characters usually have experienced some traumatic past that has caused them to pull away from society, and the accumulation of chaos as the book goes on represents the character's struggle as society tries to pull the character back in line.

If I didn't like Ark Sakura it's because I felt the chaos overwhelmed the story with ridiculousness and forgot to reveal the meaning of it all.

I highly recommend reading The Face of Another because it has all of his usual themes, and some extra interesting ones, but it gets pulled together in a more coherent self-understanding way than the others. It allows you to get a feel for his themes without getting boggled down by the plot.

34SqueakyChu
Edited: Mar 13, 2018, 12:28 pm

>33 lilisin: You know? I think I should give The Box Man a second read. I remember being fascinated by it as I read it. I also remember really liking the story; however when I went back to read what I wrote after I read it, it sounds as if I was completely confused by the story. I will also look for more of Abe's books to read. Thanks for sharing your review of that book with me. I'll look for The Face of Another.

35lilisin
Edited: Apr 12, 2018, 1:17 am

12) Sawako Ariyoshi : The Twilight Years

To become senile is terrifying.

This is one of the most remarkable, and strangely disturbing, books I've read in a long time. There are so many things I want to discuss and remark upon that I'm afraid this is going to turn into a huge jumble without any focus, or that, I'll have no words at all and just leave with an uninspiring mess.

Just to have a book not only so deftly describe what it is to be female in Japanese society, but perfectly capture the problems dealing with aging in Japan, and the expectations of women in the household and in society all while instilling in you this most disturbing fear of aging was just fascinating. I was entranced and disturbed, enraged and supportive, hopeful and yet at the same time, desperate to flee Japan.

It's a book I want to thrust into the hands of all my female coworkers to scream don't let yourselves become slaves to men! It's a book I want to force men here to read, pleading them to realize what they are demanding of their wives simply due to "it's our culture". I also want them to see that in life, yes, we have responsibilities, but having responsibilities doesn't have to mean having burdens. Bring joy and laughter into your home, remember life is about living, not working. Call me a typical foreigner for trying to push my western ideals on Japanese culture but I don't care! When you have lunch with your Japanese coworkers who ask you about your childhood and once upon you describe your wonderful childhood jumping into lakes, swimming till the sun sets at 9pm, playing street hockey with the neighborhood kids and catching fireflies at night; once you hear them say with a frown on their face that they never knew a childhood like that could exist; once you hear that you can't help but feel pity and to see that this society they've created for themselves is not welcoming to joy. Ah, yes, typical foreigner. Well pardon me for wanting my friends and coworkers to experience happiness every day. It doesn't have to be my version of happiness but it has to be a version that allows them to experience freedom from their burdens responsibilities. And yes, I digress but there is so much this book has inspired in me to say.

Because it's not a book about feminism, nor about getting old; it's a book about humanity. We are individuals and we are wives, and mothers, and husbands, and we are young but we get old and every part of our lives should have meaning, should have purpose, and we should be so lucky to have people we love and love us, and support us. Because despite the frustration and disparity in the book it is basically about how we all need a purpose in life. That doesn't necessarily mean a job; it means we need to know that someone needs us, that we serve a purpose in providing love and happiness and shelter and comfort for someone else.

But in this book, until we get to this happy message we are faced with the horrors of the reality of a Japanese household.

Akiko is a typical Japanese wife (with the exception that she is not just a housewife; she has a full time job) who comes home one day to a strange scene: her father-in-law running away from home and her mother-in-law dead of a heart attack in the cottage attached to the house. From that day, Akiko becomes the keeper of her increasingly senile father-in-law without any support from her husband who uses any excuse to retreat from the responsibility towards his father. As her father-in-law becomes increasingly childlike in his mannerisms, no longer able to sleep at night, no longer able to retain his bodily functions, only aware of his desire to eat, Akiko struggles playing the role of wife, mother, and dutiful daughter-in-law. Akiko's husband becomes petrified that he will become senile like his father and Akiko herself starts to question whether it is worth getting old. Is it not best to just die while you still have your senses. What is the point of getting old if this is what you are to become?

And as Akiko's family deals with their first encounter with "getting old" they discover upon talking to neighbors and coworkers that every family seems to have an elderly family member in need of constant care and attention: "It'd probably be best if she died!" "He's such a nuisance I don't know what to do with them." The book gives us hard facts about the state of welfare towards the elderly in Japan as well as the conditions and perceptions of nursing homes.

In the end, there is just too much to this book -- I just want to discuss it more and more; I regret not jotting down notes as I read it. But there is one quote I can leave with:

There's really no solution to this problem. It tears many families apart. The wife simply has to cope as courageously as she can.

36SqueakyChu
Edited: Mar 14, 2018, 8:26 am

>35 lilisin: I, too, was mesmerized by The Twilight Years. I noted that it was a slow, careful telling of how one Japanese family dealt with an aging family member. I also noted the differences of care-giving and involvement in such a situation within the Japanese culture as opposed to how I perceive the same family situation would have played out in the United States.

There were two quotes I saved from that novel:

I really hate the (senior) Centre. All I see there are old people.

My dad said the same things as an American (native of Germany). He refused to participate in "senior" activities when he was in his sixties because he also had that perception. It's funny how people see "age" over "individuals". I’m now 70 and have yet to visit any senior center for activities. Haha!

It suddenly occurred to her that perhaps it was because the elderly were not needed that their situation was so pathetic.

The latter quote hit me unusually hard because it was strangely during my own reading of this book that I was laid off from my employment (of 39 years at age 66) and forced into sudden and unplanned retirement. What irony!

Without any high drama, this was still an educational and beautiful read. Glad you enjoyed it as well!

37lilisin
Apr 12, 2018, 1:17 am

13) Akira Yoshimura : Le convoi de l'eau

A troupe of workers go deep into the mountains to survey a mountain valley that is to be turned into a retaining lake. In the valley however, there is a small village, that until that moment has remained secluded from the modern world. The workers are specifically told not to interfere with the villagers and just to focus on the task at hand. However, the workers are naturally curious as to the comings and goings of the villagers whom they only first see when the reverberations of dynamite causes the roof of their homes to fall apart. As the two groups continue to observe each other as the days pass by, it is a wonder as to what will become of this village once the work is over.

And that is really all the plot one gets from the book as Yoshimura delves on the consequences of society intruding on the natural and on the old. What I love about Yoshimura is his always beautiful lyrical writing that allows you to feel the crispness of the mountain air while you feel the silence that emits from rustling leaves. The beauty of his words paired with the tragedy that is the village's future is haunting and dark and you're left with no option but to say "and such is life, I suppose". Adding to this the us vs. them/inside vs outside element that asks us to debate which side is natural leads to a beautiful moment in the woods and memorable procession out of the mountains.

As always, a real pleasure to read Yoshimura.

38lilisin
Edited: Apr 16, 2018, 2:55 am

14) Ayako Miura : Au col du mont Shiokari (Shiokari Pass)

Do you have a book that you've never read but it feels like you already have? In fact, no only did it feel like I've already read this book, it felt like I had already felt that I had already read this before. A double deja vu, if you will. The strangest feeling.

In any case, this is the second book I've ready by Miura who wrote the fantastic Lady Gracia about Christianity in the age of samurai. This book was the same story of Christianity in Japan but in a slightly more modern setting. It's the story of Nagano who is a motherless boy raised by his grandmother and father in a standard Shinto/Buddhist Japanese household. Upon the death of his grandmother, however, he discovers that his mother is very much alive and was only thrown out of the the house by his grandmother due to the fact that she was Christian, and would not give up her loyalty to God even to raise her son.

Miura's tale is the coming-of-age story of Nagano as he becomes a man, limbo-ing between the natural religion of Japan, and this other religion that follows a foreign man. His struggles with the concept of death but his devotion to morality leads him to follow a childhood friend to Hokkaido where he vows to marry his friend's crippled sister. But with how far should we stick to our vows being a common theme in this tale, we are left with only one possible ending (that is revealed in the book synopsis on the French version).

A lovely, very easy to read book (mostly dialogue), that led much to ponder about. I still prefer Lady Gracia over this one but still a poignant story and interesting look into the spread of Christianity in Japan.

I know personally, as a non-religious person, that I always look suspiciously on those who stand outside of the stations looking to pass out pamphlets about religion. Or when I saw on a train some foreign missionaries with the younger male of the group talking to a cute girl on the train. At first it seemed like flirtation and I'm sure she perceived it like that as well but then he started selling to her God like some sort of traveling cosmetics salesman. This always feels like deception to me, even as (or maybe because?) a foreigner who was raised in the US and sometimes attended my friend's Bible study class when I slept over at her house. I feel like religion should be something you feel, not sold.

So reading these books that shows how a Japanese person could become swayed by God is always interesting even if I still keep a deceptive eye towards it. Particularly since in this book it makes these religious followers seem like highly moral and perfect people when in reality, most religious followers live in the very sin they are supposed to be against. So it's still a little deceptive but it's an interesting look into this part of history.

39lilisin
Jun 3, 2018, 10:59 pm

15) 村田 沙耶香 : コンビニ人間
(Sayaka Murata: Convenience Store Woman)

This is the story of Keiko Furukura, who due to her oversimplified way of seeing the world around her realizes she is not like the others. She doesn't fit into society and doesn't understand her role. She ends up spending 18 years working at the same convenience store she joined as a part-timer in college -- and she is perfectly happy with her life there. She has a purpose there, as a working cog in human society, making sure the convenience store is run to perfection. While the employees have come and gone, she is now on store manager number 8, and the items they sell, while they are always the same, the stock has changed over the years, but she remains a constant.

However, as she has hit her mid 30s, while her coworkers praise her consistency and dedication the store, her sister Mami's (her sister's name has two potential readings and the author does not clarify which it is in the book so Mami is just one possible reading) concern for her sister's wellbeing continues to put pressure on Keiko: will Keiko not find another job; can't she be normal; won't she get married; what about children? Keiko is running out of excused to tell people as an excuse for her still working at a part-time job so when a new employee arrives at the store, she thinks she might have found a solution.

I loved so many aspects of the book that was filled with so many details and nuances that we all recognize in Japanese convenience stores, whether that be Lawson, Family Mart, 7-11, etc... And don't think this is the gas station connected 7-11 of the United States. While 7-11 is originally American, in the 80s the stores was in serious debt and was mostly bought by a Japanese investor who improved the 7-11 business model and improved on it drastically back in Japan. And since then Japan bought the rest of the American 7-11.

So while yes, you can buy food and snacks and drinks at a Japanese 7-11, you can also pay your bills, get concert tickets, pick up your delivery packages, eat healthy lunches and all done with remarkable efficiency as the employees cry out "welcome to our store" when they hear the chime of the door opening and thanking you for your purchase upon giving your change back, always over the receipt which they place in the palm of your hand. And it's of no surprise that the details of the convenience store are so perfectly portrayed as the author herself also worked in a convenience store.

But most remarkable is the book's reflections on Japanese society: the different expectations placed on men and women; how being a part of society is much more valuable than being an individual even if being an individual leads to greater happiness; how individuality is squashed early during school; society trumps happiness; age discrimination and the waste of an unused uterus. It's all there and it's all well told through the eyes of Keiko's frank and brunt manner of speaking.

All highly recommended. And it makes me happy to see that early reviews on the English book are already coming in high as the book is conveniently coming out on June 12th! Oh how I would have loved to have translated this one myself!

And on an amusing note, a new 7-11 had just opened up in my neighborhood while reading this so here's a picture.

40lilisin
Jun 3, 2018, 10:59 pm

But can we discuss the covers for a bit? The book cover selections for the Convenience Store Woman book, not a single edition to date, including the Japanese version, makes sense!

- -

American edition:
With the bright blue and pink theme, using the cute onigiri rice ball to lure potential readers in, this cover looks like it belongs to the book "Easy Japanese home cooking recipes for non-Japanese!!".

German edition:
Beautiful cover with the bright red and the very Japanese fugu blow fish but I'm not sure how it relates to the story of the individual vs Japanese society with a convenience store as the focus.

Japanese edition:
The Japanese edition I can hardly tell what it is. I can only assume the brick wall with all the weird things (for lack of another word) coming out of it is supposed to reflect the mind of the main character as it battles against the brick wall that is Japanese society but it's just not a very engaging cover and gives you no clue as to the content inside.

Call me very puzzled.

41lilisin
Jun 3, 2018, 10:59 pm

Another detail I forgot to mention.

I also really enjoyed the little detail of two of the newer employees at the convenient store having Vietnamese names and the last soon to come in employee being from Myanmar, reflecting the current immigration situation in Japan where many from Southeast Asian are coming to Japan to go to Japanese language schools and are working at convenient stores as part time jobs. This huge influx has created an abundance of articles related to the topic and it's true that every time I walk into a convenience store I'm often greeted by someone with a Chinese, Vietnamese, or Nepalese name. These details might be glossed over by people reading in translation not knowing what these little references are.

Foreign part-timers at Japan’s convenience stores rising

Debate grows over the plight of foreign staff at convenience stores in Japan

How Japan’s service industry is trying to adapt to the worst labor crunch in 25 years

The number of non-Japanese workers at convenience chains has also surged. Around 44,000 foreign nationals, including many students, were working at three major convenience store chains — Seven Eleven Japan Co. Ltd., FamilyMart Co. and Lawson Inc. — as of August, accounting for about 6 percent of all part-timers at their outlets.

It shows that “service sectors are no longer sustainable without help from foreign workers,” said Hisashi Yamada, chief senior economist at Japan Research Institute.

“The problem is that many companies see foreign workers merely as a source of cheap labor,” he added.

Japan is reluctant to accept such people officially as “immigrants.” Unskilled foreign workers in Japan often join the labor force through the back door — for example, as technical intern trainees or foreign students. And some trainees have been forced to work under harsh conditions at extremely low wages.

“Japan’s service sectors tend to think it’s always good to provide their services as cheaply as possible, and they have done so by cutting labor costs,” Yamada said. “But it’s more important to increase prices if they are confident in their services, and give the profits back to their employees.”

42Cecrow
Jun 4, 2018, 7:41 am

Looking for opinions on Japanese Fairy Tales collected by by Yei Theodora Ozaki (original 1903). This seems to be shopped around as the Japanese equivalent of the Grimm Brothers or Perrault. I'm wondering how true that is. I think Ozaki put a Western spin on them, so what are Japanese children exposed to by way of contrast?

43lilisin
Jun 11, 2018, 3:22 am

>42 Cecrow:
I've never read any of the fairy tale collections so I'm not sure what would be considered a particularly Japanese one. I've heard random myths here and there but these type of stories never tend to stick. Let me see if I can't ask my coworkers what kind of stories they read as children.

In the meantime I've ready another book, this time nonfiction.

16) Sayo Masuda : Autobiography of a Geisha

I've read a few geisha books now and this was the first time visiting the onsen geisha; unlike the geisha of Kyoto who lean further to the arts side, an onsen geisha is more or less a glorified prostitute but is more interesting than a prostitute as she can also provide a bit of entertainment and flirtation. But Masuda actually doesn't spend so much time in the geisha world and instead writes a lot about her life after leaving, where she is thrust into the real world and poverty.

What makes the book interesting is Masuda herself, rather than the world of geisha, as she had to make it in life despite her illiteracy. Her strength and determination is note-worthy but I was ready to leave the book at an average three stars but bumped it up a half star due to the epilogue which allowed us to revisit Masuda in her 70s.

A good book, a fun perspective, but I wanted more insight on the onsen geisha and their customers.

44lilisin
Jun 18, 2018, 3:19 am

17) Kenzaburo Oe : A Personal Matter

This will not be a book for everyone but I loved it but I don't know too well how to describe it and there are much more brilliant reviews on LT even if they didn't even like the book.

Oe is a writer who likes to look at the natural instincts behind humanity when faced with a difficult situation and his characters never take the gallant moral side. Instead Oe puts you in a situation where you can understand and feel for the miserable main character even if you don't wish to admit it.

Here, Bird is a raspy male in his late twenties who takes the form of a roadkill picking vulture rather than a plump songbird. He is, however, an intellectual of sorts and dreams of spreading his wings and exploring the plains of Africa. However, his plans are put on hold when his wife gives birth to a baby. A former ruffian in his youth who has turned into a meak, alcohol-guzzling, selfish excuse of a man, he has little of the qualities required of a father. Even less so when the doctor tells him the baby has a brain hernia and has very little chance of living, and if it did live, it would likely be a vegetable for the rest of its life.

Frantic at the idea of being encumbered by such a poor example of human life, and followed by encouragement from others around him that believe such a life would be better off dead than have to suffer through life where they would provide no benefit to society, Bird, in agreement with a doctor, decides to let the baby die instead of giving it an operation.

As his baby is left behind being fed a sugar water diet instead of milk, Bird runs of and escapes into the arms of a former college girlfriend and bottle of whiskey as he tries to process his past life, his current life, and his future life.

All bound up in some of the most colorful writing I've read in a long time, I was captivated and couldn't take my eyes off the whisky-smelling, vomit-inducing text before me. Beautifully translated (kudos!) not a word was in excess in this frantic look into the world of a man in fear of his vegetable child. This book wasn't afraid of delving deep into the deepest fears an individual can have as they loose their freedom and must be responsible for the reactions, and a parent who has been given the worst possible fate for their child.

Fantastic read.

45lilisin
Aug 23, 2018, 3:50 am

I have a few book reviews to catch up on and since I'm falling asleep at work this might be a good exercise to keep me awake. Three more Japanese books, the first supposedly important, the second that won the Akutagawa Prize, and the third an example that not all Japanese books have to be about geisha and social constructs.

18) Tatsuzo Ishikawa : Soldiers Alive

This book is about the Japanese approach on Nanking and their feelings as they change from ordinary Japanese citizens to soldiers. The book, although it was supposed to be a landmark at the time it was written, however, failed to stimulate me and I thought it fell a bit flat. It also didn't cover the topic that I really wanted to delve into. I did skip the intro before reading the book and this is probably one of the few instances where I'd recommend definitely reading the introduction first as it gives you a good background into telling you why the book was of importance. But at the end of it all, two months later and I remember very little of this book.

19) 金原ひとみ (Kanehara Hitomi) : 蛇にピアス (Snakes and Earrings)

I read this one because I needed something easy to read in Japanese and this also happened to be short so it was perfect. It is the tale of Lui who falls for Ama due to his unconventional punk style and split tongue. As a part of Lui searching for meaning in her life, she decides to get Ama's friend, Shiba, to pierce her tongue as well. Shiba, however, has alternative masochistic intentions for Lui that will lead Lui, Ama, and himself down a treacherous road.

As someone who has seen the movie three times before I even read the book I admit there was always something very attractive about the story. Perhaps because it is a milieu that I'm not familiar with and don't truly understand. Or rather I do understand as I know that we can sometimes get lost in our lives and become attracted to the darker sides of sex and body mutilation as a means of compensation. So perhaps my weariness is due to the age of the characters which made the story never truly feel believable.

In any case, it's a book and story that has consistently grabbed my attention and had me turning the page even if I can't really say why.

20) 乙一:ZOO1 (ZOO)

I have finally read the second volume to this collection of short stories (all combined as one volume for the English translation). Otsuichi writes suspense and horror while also combining some dark humor in his tales full of plot twists and surprises.

1)カザリとヨーコ

Two twins: despite being identical twins Kazari is beloved and spoilt by their mother, while Yoko is beaten and loathed. We follow Yoko in her every day life where even at school her classmates ask how she can be related to the enchanting Kazari. One day however Yoko discovers Kazari doing something that will change their fate forever. This plot twist was predictable as only so much can be done to a story about twins but I did really feel bad for the characters.

2)SEVEN ROOMS

This was the best of the bunch and was pure horror. A brother and sister are kidnapped and placed in a room with nothing in the cell but a water waste drain cutting across the room. With no window and a knobless door, there is no possible means of escape from their actual cell. But when they realize the brother is small enough to fit in the drain, he is sent on a reconnaissance mission upon which he discovers that their's is one of 7 rooms. 7 rooms, 6 occupied with other young girls like his sister, and one empty room. When he and his sister figure out why one room is always empty, despair is the only thing that remains. This story was such a huge page turner! Really liked it.

3)SO-far そ・ふぁー

A happy family of three is torn apart by an accident one day. The boy can see his parents but they can't see each other. The boy realizes they both have died in a train accident and have returned as ghosts but with limited ability to interact with their environment. The boy works hard to get them to be able to see and communicate with each other when we realize that there is something else happening behind the scenes. This one was also a bit predictable.

4)陽だまりの詩

A story I've seen done before but I quite enjoyed it nevertheless. A human creates a woman for the sole task of being there to bury him when he dies. However, the woman slowly develops human emotion and tries to figure out what "death" means. But over time she discovers the meaning of something else, leading to quite the sad ending. The 2nd strongest story in this collection.

5)ZOO

This one started off well but I was a bit jilted by the ending.
A man is sent every day a picture of the decaying body of his girlfriend. Who is the killer? Why are they sending him these pictures. Well, he is the killer. He killed his own girlfriend. But if he is the killer, why is he sending himself these photos? And why is he still going out in the street pretending to be looking for the killer? Interesting, but came up a bit short.

46lilisin
Edited: Sep 5, 2019, 3:17 am

Wow, I had totally forgotten about this thread of mine! I still am reading quite a bit but I think I've come to realize that I am but a mediocre writer and thus mediocre reviewer so it's hard to motivate me to review what I read. But I do like having all my Japanese read compiled into one location so here are a few books I read in 2018.

22) 椰月 美智子 (Yazuki Michiko) : 14歳の水平線 (14 on the Horizon)

I read this one back in August and finished it in early September, right at the end of all the wonderful summer activities Japan has to offer, and before the typhoon season hits. This was my favorite of the four books.

It is the perfect coming of age novel -- a genre I don't typically read -- following 14 year old Kanata. Kanata's grades have been slipping, he quit the soccer club, and he's been acting up, all without his father, Yukito, noticing. So after a meeting with his teacher, Yukito decides that the two will spend the summer vacation back in Yukito's hometown on an (not-real) island within the Ishigaki Islands (which are inbetween Okinawa and Taiwan).

Kanata joins a four day camp on the island along with 7 other boys. The boys immediately don't get along so they split up into two groups: the soccer club boys, and the outcasts, which Kanata belongs to. As the boys explore the island, Kanata starts to loosen up as he discovers his father's past, the island's past and its superstitions, and starts to embrace his future. As the book also jumps into Yukito's past, we are brought to an enchanting book about the similarities between father and son and how the island has grown with its inhabitants.

I was so engrossed in this book and found it a magical coming-of-age story. I loved seeing the interaction within the boys, I loved their exploration of the island and the respect given to it, while also allowing the boys to enjoy childhood as every kid should. The exploration into Yukito's past was also touching and heart-breaking and I loved how this introspection leads him to question what kind of father he wants to be to his son.

---

23) よる 住野 (Yoru Sumino): また、同じ夢を見ていた (I had that Dream Again)

This book I thought I wouldn't enjoy when I quickly discovered the main character was a young precocious child. Not my favorite protagonist in a book and I admit the beginning had me wonder if I would continue on but the easy read made me push through and it ended up being a delightful little book even if not one I would go back to over and over again.

The child is certainly precocious, wise for her age, typically withdrawn from her classmates, feels like she must always give her opinion because it's right, and doesn't quite understand why her classmates and others don't understand this cleverness of hers. Followed by her black cat with its clipped tail, every day she walks along the embankments of the river and goes to visit the most important people in her life.

First is Ms. Hoar whom the child first met on a rainy day when she met her black cat. Frightened for the cat, she had looked for the first available person. Looking at the handwritten nameplate on the door and thinking Ms. Hoar was some foreign name but actually it was an attack by someone calling the woman a whore, the child came to meet Ms. Hoar. The child comes to love Ms. Hoar for her ability to talk about books and her ability to play games and generally respects the woman.

The second person is an old lady who lives alone on a hill. The woman always feeds her cookies and is also able to talk to her about her favorite books. The child also comes to love a painting in the old lady's room and feels great respect for this awe-inspiring woman.

Then one day the old lady isn't home so the child takes a different path and meets a teenager cutting herself on the top of an abandoned house. The child befriends the teenager and comes to great respect the teenager for her ability to write books and her intelligence.

But the book is enriched with magical realism and we come to realize that these favorite people of the child are all representations of herself, if she continues the path she's on - vanity, ignorance, and lack of patience. The child respects each of these women because they all have the same characteristics of herself, but she can't see the darkness and sadness that lurks behind them.

So the story of a precocious child became a story of self-realization and the realization of what empathy means. It also dealt with the heavy topic of what happiness means; what it truly means to be content in life. And that is what this child has to learn before it's too late.

A lovely book.

47lilisin
Sep 5, 2019, 3:15 am

26) Yoko Tawada : The Last Children of Tokyo (also known as The Emissary)

I'm going to send you to this review by LT member bookishblond who has written the review that I want to write but can't seem to write. Perhaps I'm out of practice with writing reviews or maybe too much time has already passed since reading the book but here is that review.

The Emissary is set in a not-so-distance future version of Japan, where eternal life has basically been achieved (i.e. everyone lives well into their hundreds and remains strong and able-bodied) but the upshot is that all the children are weak and unhealthy and age so quickly that they are all dead before they're twenty. This future Japan has also completely shut down its borders; travel to and from foreign countries has ceased and trade is a thing of the past.

The two main characters are Yoshiro, a former novelist, and his great-grandson Mumei, whose teeth have fallen out and who can barely walk, but still has such joy and a zest for life that his great-grandfather has completely lost. "Mumei may be frail and gray-haired, but he is a beacon full of hope: full of wit and free of self-pity."

The back cover (see the quote above) makes it sound like this book is about Yoshiro's constant state of worry over the state of Japan and his feelings of marvel at his great-grandson's innocence in the face of such calamity (a very Japanese theme). But it's just as much a book about an imagined dystopia that is all too real to its readers. The Earth itself is collapsing; fish from the polluted oceans are so contaminated as to be inedible. Tawada's Japan has adopted a nationalistic, isolationist policy: foreign words and ideas are banned. Bread that originated in Germany is rechristened with a Japanese name, and English words and phrases like "overalls" and "one, two" are taboo so that younger Japanese do not recognize those English counting words. In today's political climate, this extreme behavior is familiar.

A chilling and even (very) interesting parable but not quite a must-read.


Every word review reflects my similar opinion including the last line. A short read that can be done in two hours that will give you pleasure but at the end won't provide a true lasting impression. The translation by Margaret Mitsutani is well done but you can tell the places where she had to really work hard to provide a proper English translation.

I want to send out a warning because I fell into this unfortunate trap. This book has two titles, The Last Children of Tokyo, and The Emissary. I thought The Emissary was a sequel to Last Children so I bought both and unfortunately was in no longer a position to return the extra book upon realizing they are the same book. I don't know if it's a case of US vs UK edition or perhaps Last Children was deemed too long a title so was re-marketed as The Emissary but I'm quite annoyed that I now have two copies of a book I wasn't transcended about. In any case, fair warning to those who still wish to read the book.

48lilisin
Sep 5, 2019, 3:16 am

27) 椰月 美智子 : しずかな日々 (Quiet Days)

Life is not a drama. It's just something you fill with watermelon, and friends, and catchball in an empty field. It's those quiet days that define your memories and you.

By the same author as 14歳の水平線, Michiko Yazuki once again explores the theme of adolescent boys and the innocence they should maintain. Eda is a 6th grader being raised by a single mother who has never known what it is like to have friends. At the start of the spring semester he meets a group of boys and finally starts to find a place for himself. During summer vacation, however, his mother announces that she is moving to another city to start a shop with her friend. Not wanting to lose the life he has just created for himself they decide that Eda will live with his grandfather.

As the summer progresses with bike rides, fish keeping, summer homework and vegetable picking with his grandfather, Eda begins to feel what adolescence is supposed to be like even as the physical and emotional distance from his (irresponsible) mother increases. Told from the point of view of Eda as an adult we never learn much about his adult self but we can feel his sense of nostalgia for those simpler days, those days where nothing happens but that's exactly what life should be.

A lovely little book perfect as one of those easy summer reads that takes you back to those special moments in your childhood (but that I'm fortunate to continue living) although not as strong as the previous book I read by the author.

49Cecrow
Sep 5, 2019, 9:24 am

I'm glad you're taking the time to share with us, even if it's mostly for your own archiving. :)

50SqueakyChu
Sep 5, 2019, 10:30 am

I always peek at your thread, even if I don't read it all. I like to see what Japanese authors you read and compare it to what I read or to look for new books of Japanese fiction.

>47 lilisin: I just read a book by Yoko Tawada called The Bridegroom was a Dog. I had never heard of this author before! I found the book two years ago in a friend's used bookshop (The Write Bookshop) in St. Catherine's, Ontario, Canada. I seem to be the only person who has reviewed this book on LT so far! :D

51lilisin
Sep 5, 2019, 11:17 pm

> 49

It's funny how I seemed to have so many thoughts and opinions on Japan when I wasn't living here and now I seem to have no opinions at all it seems. To follow the lead of the current political climate maybe that could be seen as how "colonizers" tend to exoticize foreign lands and how foreigners will always push their viewpoint on countries not their own but I like to hope it was just all my eagerness at trying to learn so much about this country I adore.

> 50

Yes, I always hope you'll stop by!
It seems Tawada's most famous book is Memoirs of a Polar Bear which I remember got a lot of press and readership when it came out in English but other than that she's relatively unknown. The Emissary is the only book I've read by her.

52lilisin
Nov 8, 2019, 3:05 am

28) Keigo Higashino : Salvation of a Saint

A mystery thriller I chose to read while I was on a beach vacation. This is my second book by this author with both being within the same series -- series in the sense that a particular character is continuously present even if the books don't build off each other (as far as I'm aware).

Higashino has created the perfect crime -- a woman's husband dies from poison and she has the perfect motive but she's hundreds of miles away when he dies so how could she do it -- and the book is all about how the detectives figure out how she did it, if she did it. It was certainly page turning as any good mystery should be but unlike his first book that I read, The Devotion of Suspect X, the way of killing is given to you right away with another major clue continuously mentioned so there is a huge lack of surprise compared to the other. It's more of a "will the murderer actually get away with the perfect crime" kind of book which still makes for an entertaining read but hardly memorable for me.

I can't give details as it would spoil the motive, the relationships between characters, and the workings of the detectives, but although rare, I always find reading mystery books from different countries very revealing in terms of that country's way-of-being. Here, the only thing extreme is the manner in which the murder occurred, but the rest of the book is as orderly as one can expect from a domestic crime in Japan. There's is no hurry to the story and everything very much feels matter-of-time in its development.

I would compare the book to 聖母 (The Holy Mother), another Japanese crime story I read, but I see that I never actually reviewed that one on this thread.

53lilisin
Nov 29, 2019, 3:07 am

A flurry of purchasing and reading. I've been finding myself roaming the English language section of bookstores here while waiting for friends and coming out with the latest translations. Fortunately the books I have been choosing are novella size allowing for quick bite-size reading leading to fast turnaround. No more TBR piles for me! Just a review pile.

29) Yu Miri : Tokyo Ueno Station

Japan is known as a clean country with impeccable environments, not even a single leaf, and upstanding citizens but as the government pushes this message to the tourist industry in time for the 2020 Olympics and continues to build new train stations, and hotels, and stadiums, it ignores those it had to push out of the way to do these things: the homeless in the parks. (Not to mention the residents who would have preferred keeping some of Tokyo's charm instead of having to look at yet another glass skyscraper with the same stores you can find down the street at the other glass skyscraper.)

This book is about one of those homeless, a man who resided in Tokyo's Ueno Park who has died and now reflects on his life as he watches the people who visit the park. He walks us through how he came to be at Ueno Park, a typical Japanese man who left his life in the countryside to go to Tokyo to provide for his family. As most men in this state, he manages to make enough money to send to his family but at the sacrifice of his own time with them. His children grow up without him getting to know them, and he is as much a stranger to his wife as she is to him. At the death of his son, he starts to break down wondering what this life was all for.

It's supposed to be a book about contrasts: the dead versus the living, the riches of the emperor in contrast to the meager belongings of the homeless, the forgotten countryside versus the thriving city. And it's all done well and the message is important. But was the book memorable for me? I can't say it was. And the mentioning of the tsunami just seemed like Miri really wanted to mention the topic but couldn't figure out where so she just stuck it in at the end.

People are loving this book and claiming it to be one of the best translated books of the year. I leave it to other readers to decide.

30) Yuko Tsushima : Territory of Light

This book -- in my opinion best purchased in the lovely Penguin Modern Classics version instead of the new more expensive, hardback US edition -- I preferred over the above. It is about a mother who comes to live in a new apartment with her young daughter after separating from her husband. The new apartment in bathed in a warm light providing an almost virtuous air to the rooms and gives hope to the young mother towards a new life of love and a new beginning in life.

However we are never told the reasons for the separation but we are made to believe that the mother was right in leaving her husband and we start to root for her. But little by little we see insights into her true personality and start to see her real character as a drunk and someone who needs a man in her life to give it meaning. And soon she starts to turn a blind eye to the poor behavior her daughter begins to exhibit.

Eventually the virtuous light of the apartment proves too bright for the younger mother as she descends towards a path that is destructive both to herself and her daughter.

The author is apparently the daughter of the famous author Osamu Dazai and she carries his talent with words. The book is beautifully translated and although overall it won't be the most memorable book I've ever read, I did enjoy the language of the book and I appreciated the imagery in the book and the topic that not all mothers are motherly.

31) Tomoka Shibasaki : Spring Garden

Next was this 2014 Akutagawa Prize winner. The book focuses on the last residents of an apartment complex that is to be sold in two months most likely for tearing down to build a new complex. One resident is particularly fixated on the house and its garden next door. The house used to be owned by a couple, celebrities in the art world, whom had published a book of photographs from different parts of the resident. As this resident pulls in our main character into her fixation with the home, the two become friendly as they discussed the ebb and flow of homes in Tokyo. For in Japan, a house you used to walk by every day on your commute can the very next day be an empty plot of land without any warning. And as soon as you spot this bit of emptiness it is hard to remember what the house that was there used to look like. Then it becomes a question of whether a new single family home will be built or if the land will become yet another expansive complex. The story weaves behind this idea of changing landscapes, changing lives and the coming and going of people. Are you a person who will leave a mark on those behind you; are you a house that will provide a home to those that come after you; or are you slated to become an empty piece of land that no one can remember, fated to be replaced by something new that itself will be torn down again down the line.

In terms of the message of the book I liked the idea of reflecting on this ebb and flow but I wasn't so inspired by the book itself. But a nice book to read for a long train ride to the countryside as you glance out the window and watch glimpses of people's lives speed past.

54lilisin
Dec 6, 2019, 2:40 am

33) Richard Lloyd Parry : Ghosts of the Tsunami

This nonfiction book recounts the aftermath of the March 11th tsunami in the Tohoku area of Japan in 2011. Although every bit of the tsunami was disastrous and every story deserves to be told, Parry focuses on one particular elementary school where 74 out of the 78 students and 10 out of the 11 teachers in attendance that day perished in the waters. Parry interviews the grieving parents as they try to figure out what happened that day and as they navigate the road that lies ahead of them.

Because one cannot criticize the topic of the nonfiction book as that would be cruel and really there is nothing to criticize, I have a few thoughts on the book itself. Trying not to sound macabre I thought the book could have used more pictures. The pictures that are included aren't very clear, and aren't labeled leaving you to guess what some are showing, and often show up 20 or so pages before the picture is relevant to the text. Parry also includes pronunciation guides that unless you have an English accent, are incredibly unhelpful and merely serve as a distraction especially when some names get a pronunciation guide while others don't.

Otherwise this was a well written account of that day in the eyes of a few. It's exactly what I expected to read from such a book and nothing more, nothing less. I think Parry also was good at remarking on Japanese protocol and culture without interjecting his own opinion.

A recommended read for anyone interested in the topic.

55lilisin
Dec 12, 2019, 3:43 am

32) Yoko Ogawa : The Memory Police

On an unnamed island objects have begun to disappear. Not stolen, not lost, but erased. Erased from memory. How? One day the residents will wake up to a strange feeling as if something doesn't belong. When they discover what it is, like roses, they swiftly gather all the offensive objects to dispose of them, the petals to wash down the river until every scrap of evidence is gone. From that moment they will no longer recall what a rose is. The object and word simply... vanishes.

The Memory Police are tasked with making sure that residents are properly disposing of these objects. And with capturing those residents who seem to be retaining their memories. Our protagonist, a writer, takes it upon herself to conceal her editor, one of these residents who can't forget. While the scale of the missing objects increases both in frequency and in importance, we witness a beautiful relationship form between our protagonist the writer, the editor, and the old man who lives in a boat. The editor works hard to help the writer and the old man remember but is it a lost cause and will the Memory Police come in and take him away to be forgotten as well.

It's a fascinating and emotional page-turner that allows the reader to get from the book what they feel the book is about. It could be about the concept as simple as memory loss, perhaps due to old age or to dementia. It could be an allegory to horrible atrocities like the Holocaust when a whole cast of people were taken to be forgotten. It could show a parallel to Japan's revisionist history in which it tries to rewrite dark marks on its past to make them seem less like the evil party. Or it could be about our modern society getting lost in what is sold and marketed to us, having us forget the little details that make life interesting or beautiful.

I really had a great time with this one in its various interpretations. Highly recommended.

56lilisin
Edited: Dec 17, 2019, 6:34 pm

34) Hiroko Oyamada : The Factory

This is the author who's book The Hole (see post 16 of this thread) I've been dreaming about translating since I first read it a few years ago. Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for the English-speaking crowd, I was beaten to the translation and The Hole will be out in 2020. I had absolutely loved the book so I hope others get theirs hand on it when it comes out (soon!).

In the meantime I read the English translation of The Factory which I similarly enjoyed. Oyamada has a way of taking every day encounters and life transitions, and adds a dose of surrealism and whimsy to them. While The Hole is about a woman moving into the countryside with her husband, The Factory follows the perspective of three people who become employed by the factory, the largest employer in the area. The factory is located on its own campus with barber shops, cinemas, dorm rooms, family rented homes, and restaurants of every food you could want. No need to ever leave!

We follow our narrators as they enter their new job and go through the routine as required by the factory. One ends up working as a paper shredder with endless piles of paper, another as a copy editor with documents that seem unrelated to any department of the factory, and the third works as a moss expert who has an all access pass to the factory grounds and no bosses, left with the task of creating a green-roof system for the factory; a task that could easily (and should) be outsourced to a company with actual expertise in this domain.

The days and years go by and the three perspectives wonder about how they got to where they are, what qualifies them to do the work they do, and what is the mysterious force that drives them to come in every day.

And as we explore the factory grounds with the pantless forest streaker, the strange black crows that don't seem to exist outside of the factory grounds, and the strange giant human-sized rodents that live in the sewers, we start to wonder what the factory actually is.

A great whimsical read about the routine behind the daily job grind. I'm so glad this author is finally being introduced to the English-speaking audience.

57lilisin
Jan 9, 2020, 1:10 am

35) Akira Yoshimura : La guerre des jours lointains (One Man's Justice)

This book follows Takuya, an ex-Japanese soldier, right at the end of the war. He has received a postcard from a colleague telling him to come to headquarters. Hesitant to go, Takuya meets the colleague who gives him a sheet of paper to change his identity. It would seem that Takuya participated in the execution of American soldiers after Japan had already surrendered and there is a chance he could be searched for as a war criminal. He is suggested to create a new identity and abandon his family to avoid the death penalty.

We follow Takuya as he creates a new life in Himeji working in a box manufacturing company for matches. As Japan suffers from the aftermath of the war having to deal with shortages in food and supplies, while also trying to rebuild after losing family and neighbors, Takuya has to deal not so much with the consequences of his actions, but with the changing Japan he is witnessing. A Japan that just a few months ago was proud and mighty, at war against a great enemy, but now is weak and quick to surrender to its American compatriots as long as those compatriots are throwing chocolate bars and packs of cigarettes from their truck.

Takuya fears for his life every day as he delivers boxes, fearful that the police are chasing him, that someone will recognize him and denounce him and that his only way out is the gun he hides in his pack. All this while also dealing with the anger and resentment both towards the Americans but his fellow Japanese. How quick they've forgotten the bombs being dropped on their heads! How quick the women are to hold hands with a handsome white soldier.

And what about the concept of justice? Takuya is at risk of being called a war criminal and sentenced to death for killing a few soldiers. But are these soldiers not those who dropped bombs on and killed thousands of innocent civilians? Does that not make them the war criminals? And as time passes and more war criminals are caught and taken to trial, why does it seem that the more time passes, the less the Americans even seem to care about going through with the sentencing? It makes everything seem so subjective.

In terms of reading the Japanese perspective on the concept of war crimes, one I had not yet read, this is an excellent introspection on the concept of justice post war.

In term so literary lyricism my qualms with the book were the heavy 3rd chapter that read like a history textbook that could have been cut down a bit. And the fact that we don't get to see Yoshimura's beautiful writing here. Yoshimura typically has a beautiful style that borders the line between reality and misticism with the ability of forming beautiful images on the page but this book was written in a much more straightforward way. However he does maintain his amazing insight on the human condition.

I'm a bit past reading war stories so I rated this a little lower than his other books but I think I would have rated it higher had I been more "in the mood" because it is definitely a must read in the sense of it giving an incredible perspective on the idea of justice in relation to war.

58Cecrow
Jan 9, 2020, 7:37 am

>57 lilisin:, it's been my understanding, tourists in Japan are not advised to bring up the World War II subject. I'm always intrigued when it crops up in Japanese literature, especially when it directly touches on Japan as aggressor.

59SqueakyChu
Edited: Jan 9, 2020, 11:31 am

>57 lilisin: Excellent review, Lillisin. I was highly impressed when I read One Man's Justice a few years ago.

Now I'm reading The Sea and Poison by Shusaku Endo. I thought that the subject matter was fiction, but was horrified to learn that it dealt with true happenings during WWII. If you haven't read it yet, I'd only recommend you read it should you ever get back in the mood for more war stories. It's not a happy read, but it is an interesting one.

60lilisin
Edited: Jan 9, 2020, 11:52 pm

>58 Cecrow:
This book actually has America as the aggressor and is about America punishing Japan as being the aggressor, but yes, it's an interesting viewpoint. I've never had any issues bringing up WWII issues in Japan but the younger generation is not very knowledgeable about it and general history/current events in general so you can't always get a very interesting discussion.

>59 SqueakyChu:
Yes I have read Sea and Poison and I loved it. You can read my thoughts on it here.

ETA: Link fixed.

61SqueakyChu
Edited: Jan 10, 2020, 12:54 am

>60 lilisin: The link doesn’t work but I found your review on the book’s main page. I’ll read it after I finish the book. I like to write down my own thoughts about a book before I read what others write.

62lilisin
Jan 9, 2020, 11:53 pm

>61 SqueakyChu:

I've fixed the link and look forward to reading your final commentary on the book.

63SqueakyChu
Edited: Jan 10, 2020, 12:57 pm

My review of The Sea and Poison. I'm ready for a lighter read now. Phew! Your review of it was great, by the way.

I'm now reading The Covenience Store Woman which I actually discovered a while back on your thread. I didn't read your review of it yet, though. :D

64lilisin
Mar 2, 2020, 8:03 am

36) Ryu Murakami : In the Miso Soup

This book is sleezy and grotesque and will not make you a better person by the end so be wary!

It is about 20 year old Kenji, who acts as an unlicensed guide for foreign sex tourists, and his encounter with one particular American client, Frank. A dating-for-pay high school girl was sexually assaulted and dismembered the day before and Kenji suspects Frank might be the murderer.

While at its base this book is a thriller, Murakami presents an interesting look at Japan vs America with Shinjuku's ill-reputed sex-life district, Kabukicho in the background. The book was written in 1996 at a time that foreigners were still being snubbed and well before Kabukicho started its makeover by the Japanese government to turn it into a (non-sex) tourism hub. And Kenji is very quick to denigrate America in exchange for showing off Japan's superiority in all things manners and idealism.

"What's not good is that they {Americans} can't imagine any world outside the States, or any value system different from their own. The Japanese have a similar defect, but Americans are even worse about trying to force others to do whatever they themselves believe to be right."

"Japan is fundamentally uninterested in foreigners, which is why the knee-jerk response to any trouble is simply to shut them all out."

When Kenji realizes minutes upon meeting Frank that Frank is lying about his reason for coming to Japan, he is immediately reminded of the article about the high school girl. He immediately believes that someone like Frank could be the killer as no Japanese would kill like that. Only a foreigner could kill and dismember a body.

This is such a common mindset that actually still exists today where Japanese believe that Japanese can do no wrong. A brutal crime happens that is featured on the news and immediately residents here will think "must be a Korean, or some foreigner". Let's ignore the brutal murders in Kanagawa Prefecture where a Japanese murdered and dismembered several of his fellow compatriots and stuffed their pieces in a freezer. Ah yes, the saintly Japanese can do no wrong!

Kenji begins to take Frank to various sex clubs and Frank plays the typical American who knows nothing about Japan, reading out sex words in Japanese from his guide book as a means to "practice his Japanese".

This particular passage struck me:

"Americans don't talk about just grinning and bearing it, which is the Japanese approach to so many things. {...} I began to think that American loneliness is a completely different creature from anything we experience in this country, and it made me glad I was born Japanese. The type of loneliness where you need to keep struggling to accept a situation is fundamentally different from the sort you know you'll get through if you just hang in there."

Here Kenji is obviously referring to the famous phrase "shikata nai" or "shou ga nai": "it can't be helped; there's nothing you can do about; that's just how things are". This passage could so easily be written from an American point of view.

"Japanese don't talk about trying to push through an unfavorable situation, which is the American approach to so many things. {...} I began to think that Japanese loneliness is a completely different creature from anything we experience in this country, and it made me glad I was born American. The type of loneliness where you let yourself continue to suffer through an intolerable situation is fundamentally different from the sort you know you'll get through if you actually tried to change things."

Murakami's play with America vs Japan, and "normal" Japanese vs "Kabukicho Japanese", is interesting and the tension is high when supplemented by the thriller element. Is Frank the serial killer Kenji has read about in the newspaper or is his intolerance for anyone unlike him leading him to see things that aren't there?

Although grotesque I liked this book and it made me think about a lot of things. Certainly not a book for everyone but there are some things that you can actually take away from it.

65Cecrow
Edited: Mar 2, 2020, 9:13 am

"The book was written in 1996 at a time that foreigners were still being snubbed and well before Kabukicho started its makeover by the Japanese government to turn it into a (non-sex) tourism hub." Example of the kind of insight that only you can provide us. :) I'd be looking at any future reference to Kabukicho a bit sideways, otherwise.

Interesting contrast in loneliness perspectives; although I suppose it's even more wise not to paint either side with one broad brush. I'm more of a grin-and-bear-it Westerner myself.

66SqueakyChu
Mar 2, 2020, 10:53 pm

>64 lilisin: I enjoyed your review. I read this book back in 2011 so I don't remember all the details. My daughter started reading it before me but gave up halfway through, saying it made her nauseous! :D Her boyfriend at the time (now her husband) read through it with no problem. I noted that it was a weird book, but I liked reading it.

I read it more for its story than for the comparison between Japanese and Americans. However, if I read it now, I'd probably look at it more the way you did in your review. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

My older son was not going to travel to Japan this year because he said it would be too costly. However, he won the lottery to buy tickets to a concert he wanted to see, so off he went...for only a week this winter, but he enjoyed his trip very much. :D

67lilisin
Edited: Mar 3, 2020, 2:43 am

>65 Cecrow:

Well Shinjuku's Kabukicho is still a sex hub but it's a safer sex hub. I still don't suggest to my friends though to go without someone who know the area and speaks Japanese although I see plenty of foreign non-Japanese speaking groups who have no trouble at all navigating the streets.

Murakami does use the words "generally speaking" quite a bit and he's all about showing the hypocrisy of the image of "the typical Japanese" so it's safe to say that he's not actually generalizing anyone into one group.

>66 SqueakyChu:

What I like about (this) Murakami is that you can enjoy his books on a plot level but also get a lot out of it when you stop to really read what he is writing. A good example of this is his book From the Fatherland with Love which was a pretty fun concept of what would happen if North Korea managed to successfully invade Japan. Really fun book full of debauchery but underneath the story is Murakami's brutal representation of the inefficiency of a bumbling Japanese government.

I'm glad your son ended up enjoying his trip to Japan, whatever version it was. I hope the concert he went to isn't the U2 concert otherwise I'll steam in envy as I tried so hard to get tickets to get that but couldn't and REFUSED!!! to buy the significantly priced-up tickets on the black market.

68SqueakyChu
Edited: Mar 3, 2020, 3:28 pm

>67 lilisin: My son goes to concerts of Japanese performers. He's into anime and video gaming so those are the kinds of groups he follows. He sees the groups both in Tokyo and throughout the United States. He has friends world over (and even a friend who lives in Tokyo) whom he also enjoys visiting with during his many trips. He always buys a light stick and shines its different colors during the shows based on the characters who perform. He often contributes to a standing bouquet for a special performer or for a special group. I don't know the names of the groups! :D

69wandering_star
Mar 5, 2020, 10:14 pm

>56 lilisin: Very interesting, I will look out for this
>57 lilisin: It turns out I have read this, although it didn't stick in my mind the way Shipwrecks has done. I still remember the emotional punch from that one!

70lilisin
Edited: May 22, 2020, 5:14 am

37) Akimitsu Takagi : The Tattoo Murder Case

A mystery I've had on my TBR pile since 2009 and happy to have read it.

A woman famous for his back tattoo confesses to our main character that she fears for her life and when she turns up dead not too soon after their brief love affair, he needs to find a way to find out who killed her, why, and how to do this without revealing his relationship with the woman. Especially not to his brother, the chief of police.

A fun mystery that I enjoyed mostly because it occurred only a little bit after that war which gave me a good glimpse on the Tokyo of the time especially as the characters wander around areas I'm very familiar with having worked and lived there.

Not really a book with plot twists as the mystery is solved in a way to which you properly follow along without having had any information hidden. A fun read, not a you-must-read-this type of mystery but enjoyable.

--------

38) Donald Keene : Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan

This is the memoir of Donald Keene, one of the most famous academics on Japan. You can't get a degree in Japanese studies with hearing this man's name. And if you read Japanese literature in (English) translation you can thank Keene for helping bring all those figurative authors abroad. I purchased his memoir upon his passing last year.

He spans the course of his life starting with his upbringing in New York, to his introduction to his Japanese studies (via a Chinese friend), his time as an interpreter during the war, and then finally the development of his academic career and his friendship with Japanese authors such as Oe, Tanizaki, Mishima, Kawabata, Abe, Ariyoshi. See? This is why I told you to thank him.

Keene admits that his life is a series of luck. He didn't really have any idea as to what he wanted to do but one day he sad next to a Chinese classmate at lunch and ended up learning some hanzi. From there he was introduced to the Japanese world which made gave him the idea to join the Naval School of Languages, an opportunity that would allow him to learn Japanese at a frenetic pace that would allow him to interpret and translate during the war.

This would then lead him to pursuing his studies in Japanese literature which led him to a series of scholarships in Japan allowing him to study. His luck continued as being one of the first/few foreigners to be pursuing Japanese opened the door to a society that would be very closed off to those of us now studying the language. Being led around from Japanese great to another let him to an incredible career of translation and scholarship. (Although he didn't really translate fiction as much as he translated older poetry and classical texts, texts that even a enthused Japan-ist as I wouldn't even read.)

I appreciated Keene's own remarks of humbleness towards his own studies which I think would serve many of the Japanese language learners I know out there.

... I had replied that I had no time read newspapers. This was foolish, but I was determined to read as much as possible about Japanese literature during my one year in Kyoto and I thought that an hour spent mulling over haiku by Basho use of my time than reading a newspaper. But as the result of my nightly conversation with Nagai-san, I came to realize that I could not ignore the living culture of Japan. ... Under Nagai's influence I not only began to read newspapers but actually came to want to participate in Japanese life.

And of course these situations are always enough to make you groan out of experience but also smile out of experience.

I realized that today I am more likely to smile rather than protest when someone with an extremely common Japanese name such as Tanaka or Yamamoto hands me his card and expresses amazement that I, who have studied Japanese for only sixty years, can read the name, even if he fails to write the pronunciation in roman letters.

A charming book by Keene.

71defaults
Edited: May 22, 2020, 2:49 pm

Hello Lilisin,

I'd just like to chime in that your reading diary has been my favorite thing on LT ever since I started studying Japanese. Thanks for your detailed reports and descriptions!

72lilisin
May 22, 2020, 10:29 pm

>71 defaults:

Oh wow that makes me very happy! I feel like I've been neglecting this thread and just copying and pasting my reviews from my general thread instead of really talking about the Japanese aspect of the books. So I'm glad you are still finding inspiration in it.

73lilisin
Aug 6, 2020, 4:07 am

Not reading that many Japanese books this year.

39) Natsuo Kirino : Intrusion (*French title, not currently translated in English)

I keep getting burned by marketing these days. Books keep getting marketed as something they are not and then I pick up the book thinking it's the other things when really it's something else. Then, even if the book is good, since it went contrary to what I thought it was going to be about, somehow it leaves me just a bit disappointed. It's really quite aggravating.

This book was marketed as a thriller so I picked it up as a thriller and then when it wasn't thrilling I was getting bored. But if it had just been marketed as a book that observes the role of man and how his existence means that a woman can never fulfill the full potential she has, then I would have been thrilled by how accurate the book is at portraying this.

So deception by the marketer made my reading experience much less pleasurable. And this isn't the first time this thing has happened. Again, aggravating. And by reading the reviews of other French readers (this book has not been translated into English) everyone hated the book some due to the book but also because they were expecting a thriller and didn't get one.

In any case this book is about Tamaki, a young author, who is using another author's (Midorikawa) book as inspiration for her own. Her goal is to find the character O. in his book that fictionalizes his own life about his affair with O and how he reconciles with his wife, Michiko. Her experiences in writing the book and the plot of the book itself start to mirror her own life as she reflects on her own love story.

The book, although a bit slow and tedious at times ended up being quite a frustrating but introspective look at how men always win. Despite proof that Midorikawa has molested a minor, despite the fact that he was having an affair, despite the fact that he was never present at home, he is still able to blame all his faults on his wife as it is her job to keep him in check. And even if it is her job to keep him in check, she is never to be elevated to a status higher than his. Because he has to win. He is a man after all.

Kirino is a very feminist writer and she portrays so well this frustrating piece of society. Even when depicting very strong female characters she never fails to show what their position in society is.

It's unfortunate that this book was lost to marketing because it does have a lot to say even if it's not the most interesting way to say it.

40) Yasunari Kawabata : Dandelions

A very boring book that centers around a conversation between Ineko's mother and Ineko's semi-fiance. Ineko has just been dropped off at a mental institution because she has developed a condition where she just stops seeing things. For example, she has stopping seeing her fiance's face. They will be together and she can feel him, tough him, is aware that he is there, but it's like her eyes deny his existence. However, we do not talk with Ineko in this book. Instead the book is the back and forth between her mother and her fiance as they discuss possible contributing factors to her condition. And it's utterly boring. Oh my gosh! Their conversations go in circles in that way that just drives you insane.

- I agree with what you just said.
- I didn't say that.
- But you did say that.
- Really? Well, maybe I did. But that's not what I meant.
- Ah, I see what you mean. I agree with this new statement that is now contradictory to what you said previously that I had agreed with.

At the end I'm not sure what Kawabata wanted to discuss with this book. This was his last book before he committed suicide and it was published unfinished. The book does manage to end cleanly but what is it about? I had to read a professional review online from someone else and they seemed to have gotten a lot more out of the book than I did.

The review in question:
https://therumpus.net/2018/09/dandelions-by-yasunari-kawabata/

But this is why I never recommend Kawabata to anyone who wants to pursue Japanese literature. This was my first revisit of the author in 20 years since reading one book and abandoning the other and even with my gained life experience and gained Japan experience I still found this terribly boring.

74SqueakyChu
Edited: Aug 6, 2020, 12:10 pm

Sorry you were disappointed in the last two books. I did not read through all of what you said lest I choose to read them in the future. Both are authors I've read before and whose books I've previously enjoyed. In fact I was probably introduced to Japanese literature with the recommendation and reading of The Master of Go. My introduction to Kirino was from the book Out.

Now for my family is the more pressing issue of my older son not being able to visit Japan due to the pandemic and the deplorable conditions in the USA related to this disease. He is heartbroken about not being able to visit Japan (especially Tokyo) this year, and who knows when he'll be able to return. That's not even mentioning the other deplorable conditions in the USA related to the pandemic. On a luckier note, he did visit Japan just prior to the pandemic. He is still so grateful for that.

I do keep up with this thread no matter how infrequently you post. So...thanks for it!

75lilisin
Aug 6, 2020, 8:08 pm

>74 SqueakyChu:

I wasn't disappointed in Intrusion, the book itself. I was disappointed in the marketing which unfortunately took away from what would have been a nice reading experience. But it's definitely an entirely different book form Out which I enjoyed as you did.

I haven't read Master of Go and I think I should read his more famous works (I have a tendency to read the obscure works by authors before getting to the more famous ones) but not now. It can wait.

As much as your son is sad he can't come into Japan I'm sad that I can't leave it! It'd be nice to visit my family in the US and eat some tasty barbeque while I'm there but then I wouldn't be allowed back into Japan as they are not allowing foreign residents to leave and come back unless it's for emergency and bbq doesn't seem to be included under the emergency criteria. This weekend my friends and I will be visiting the Izu peninsula which I've never been to, as we are working on doing some small domestic travel to make up for the restrictions led on by the virus. We will of course be taking all precautions and wearing masks and socially distancing from other groups. My friends and I, none of us take the train to get to work and we've all been diligently staying at home and away from virus hotspots so we know we can have each other in our social bubbles. Looking forward to it. Just have to get through work today!

76SqueakyChu
Aug 6, 2020, 9:03 pm

>76 SqueakyChu: Enjoy your trip. It’s so sad that people have to endure this separation for who knows how long. I don’t see people here in the USA taking the guidelines seriously enough so I believe we’re in this terrible situation for the long haul. It’s not only what an individual does, but it’s that we’re dependent for our health and maybe even our lives on what others do. We have no real control over others.

My daughter and her husband bubbled up with another couple and just got back from a week at the beach in North Carolina. My husband and I are of the age that we cannot afford to contract this virus so we have stayed at home. Occasionally our younger son brings over his family and we socially distant visit in our backyard. It’s bittersweet.

I’d love if you posted a bit about your travels here if you have the desire to.

Since I can’t focus on reading much, I’ve read a few manga that passed through my Little Free Library this past month. I find most of them fun to read although I had a hard time following the story in one called Blue Exorcist. My son gave away his translated manga and now only collects manga in Japanese. I’m impressed by how much Japanese he knows.

Be safe!

77Cecrow
Edited: Jan 31, 2021, 4:23 pm

Glad you took on the admin task for this group, I would have suggested you immediately if asked who it ought to be. :)

78lilisin
Feb 1, 2021, 6:17 am

>77 Cecrow:

No problem! When I read they were looking for admins it seemed like it was definitely something I could do. Now to change up the intro to the group.

79lilisin
Feb 11, 2021, 10:43 pm

I haven't yet reviewed the Japanese books I read in 2020 but to not fall further behind I have decided to proceed with the two Japanese books here in 2021. Unfortunately, what will come as a huge surprise, I have abandoned both of these halfway through (and they were only 200 or so pages long!). I know, I know. Me? Abandon a Japanese book?! Blasphemy! And an Oe at that! Wow! But I just couldn't do it.

41) Kenzaburo Oe : A Quiet Life *abandoned
This was supposed to be my first read of the year and it took two weeks just to read the first 100 pages at which point I decided that it was time for me to adopt a policy of it being okay to abandon books. I must admit to feeling a little bit of pressure to finishing this because a) it's an Oe and I like Oe!, and b) I feel like I'm known for reading Japanese books so I don't want my opinion to sway people's reactions too much. With this book, although few, all the reviews here on LT were glowing. I just couldn't get through it.

This book is sort of a meta book where Oe expresses his sense of guilt at abandoning his handicapped child via a character who is also an author and who has left to the US with his wife for a writing workshop, leaving his 20 year old daughter behind to take care of her older handicapped brother. We do not follow the author's perspective and instead we follow the daughter as she goes about her duties and talks to family and friends as they discuss the emotion left pending in the air.

This book has a topic I should have fallen in love with, especially as I absolutely loved A Personal Matter, which had also explored the topic of a father's guilt to having a handicapped child. But while that book was bold, daring, and almost vulgar, this book was almost heavy with its mundane-ness. And unfortunately I just couldn't get through it. There were sections I found myself confused at wondering what they had to do with the topic of the book and I couldn't read 10 pages without finding myself staring at the walls in boredom.

So yes, I abandoned this. It just wasn't for me. Maybe it's for others as other reviews seem to prove, but this book was just a bit too quiet for me.

42) Takeshi Kaiko : Darkness in Summer *abandoned
Another story I couldn't get through, but this time not through the way the story is presented as the writing is superb (not to say Oe's writing isn't wonderful but Kaiko is indeed fantastic at describing the tension in a scene), but instead due to the story itself. A story of two former lovers who find themselves together again in Germany and fall into the same disastrous tendencies they had back in Japan. The woman had initially escaped Japan due to the patriarchal society preventing her from succeeding as a woman, just to find herself back into the clutches of her former lover, a man without passion or direction who spends his days sleeping and dragging her down with him.

Me abandoning this book was a case of not liking the characters, which is typically fine with me as I don't have to find characters likeable to enjoy a book. But as he dragged down his former lover, he was also dragging me down with him and I just had to let go of the book to escape his clutch.

While I relatively enjoyed Kaiko's other book Into a Black Sun about a Japanese journalist reporting on the Vietnam War, I had mostly enjoyed that book because of the interesting perspective: a perfectly neutral view of the war. But with this book, I don't think I'll be revisiting Kaiko's work again. It's funny because the blurb on the front cover of my book states that Japanese critics state Kaiko is the best Japanese author since Kobo Abe himself and all I find myself wondering is who the hell these critics are and how many of them there actually are.

80lilisin
Edited: Nov 25, 2021, 3:37 am

The following books were written by Aki Shimazaki who moved to Canada as an adult and writes in French. However, since she still writes about Japan, using Japanese themes, I'm including her in this thread.

21) Aki Shimazaki : Azami
43) Aki Shimazaki : Hozuki
44) Aki Shimazaki : Suisen

I read Azami in 2018 and wrote the following about it:

Azami is a little book that I would consider "traditional Japanese literature", not in a Yasunari Kawabata praising traditional Japan kind of way, but in its look at a Japanese marriage on the brink of falling apart and the husband starting to look outside his marriage. Our protagonist is a copy editor who finds himself in a sexless marriage after his 2nd child is born. He has become frustrated with his situation but remains faithful to his wife and has no intention of divorcing. However, when he is taken to an entertaining bar by a childhood friend he hasn't seen in ages, he finds that his first childhood love Azami is working there as a hostess. His curiosity to discover why, despite having been such a good student, she has fallen into the entertaining business leads him down a path to infidelity. But in the arms of Azami he finds a resolve to change things between him and his wife.

A good little book to see the life of a very common marriage situation in Japan, followed by a look at the real everyday Japanese culture: not tea ceremonies, not geisha, but the backstreets of sexless Japan.


I had read Azami without thinking too much about it once I finished reading it. It gave a glimpse into a life that I've become familiar with since living in Japan but it was nothing too transcendental. However, this year, I then picked up Hozuki and was amazed to recognize the character of Azami. Turns out, these books are part of a pentalogy called L'ombre d'un chardon, and it's actually quite a genius idea.

It's the series for those who have ever wondered what happens to 'the other character'. What is their backstory? What happens to them?

This series does exactly that and it absolutely changed my feelings towards Azami (which I reread after reading Hozuki).

Hozuki follows our mysterious hostess, Azami, from the first book, Azami. We see what led her to become a hostess, who the child is who is with her, and what she does after her affair with the copy editor ends. It's a lovely book about a woman who finds a meaning to her life after finding a deaf mute child in a storage locker at a station. We relive her life as she reflects on those people and experiences that have directed her to her path now.

Then, the book Suisen follows the childhood friend, Goro, from the first book Azami: The owner of the sake company who runs into our copy editor and brings him to the hostess bar that will eventually lead to his affair with Azami. In this book, Goro is the typical Japanese CEO-type who has inherited his father's company, and believes he is the master of all things. He spends his time 'networking' at different events making sure to flaunt his title of CEO, as he chases after actresses (they must be attractive of course) which he believes he is owed as he takes appropriate care of his little woman at home. But everything comes crashing down when he loses his title of CEO and his mistress and wife leave him.

There are two more books in the series that I am eager to get my hands on as never have I read something where I'm allowed to glimpse into the lives of side characters. It's really a remarkable and clever idea. And Shimazaki (who lives in Canada and writes in French, not Japanese), writes in such a lovely straightforward manner that really brinks out each character's personality. Really enjoyed these.

81lilisin
Nov 25, 2021, 4:00 am

45) Seio Nagao : Meurtres à la cour du prince Genji (Death in Genji's Court)

I was excited about this one as it was a chance to revisit Genji. I mean, how exciting is the thought of a murder mystery in the middle of Heian Japan! Unfortunately this read as a good bad fanfiction. Yes, a good, bad fanfiction, meaning that it was written quite well but all in all it's a fanfiction that utterly scrambles the original characters. I was even excited at the prospect that the author, Murasaki Shikibu, is herself a character in this book as she is written to have been a tutor of the young Genji. But Nagao seems to not know whether he wants to make her a strong character with personality or a typical weak female and he just ends up disrespecting her entirely as he allows her only to predictably fall in love with Genji.

In any case, I loved the revisit of the time period, with the sleeves of royal kimono peaking under their screens, dark corridors connecting the different apartments of the court, the political plotting of the Minister of the Right, and the Minister of the Left. All with the addition of poisoned needles, evil spirits, and revenge. It was really a fun book if it hadn't been for the additional unnecessary murder of the original characters.

Read this for the whimsy of this but ignore all you know about the original Genji Monogatari.

82lilisin
Dec 22, 2021, 3:56 am

46) Risa Wataya : Pauvre Chose

I scored a bunch of Japanese into French translation books at the yearly summer (and very large) French language book sale. Since all the books were 60% off which is even cheaper than what I would get in France, I pretty much just picked up every Japanese book in the sale boxes. Which is a lot since the store being in Japan it definitely features those books quite prominently. In any case, this was one of those books by an author I had never heard about.

Julie is quite tolerant of her boyfriend letting his ex, Akiyo, stay with him as Akiyo is struggling to find a place to live in and can't seem to find a job either. She is quite certain that love is what is most important and so love is what will keep them together. But wait? There was love between her by and his ex? Perhaps that love ranks higher? In any case, something has to give, eventually.

What seemed like just a cute light story was, well, it was exactly that, but I was also surprised with how much I enjoyed this. It turns out that the boyfriend and Akiyo were a couple in the US and came back to Japan together, both being half-Japanese. Julie, despite her name (which she resents her parents for) is actually full Japanese, so the book comes up with many interesting musings on the difference between in-Japan Japanese and Americanized Japanese. She tries to explain many things away by stating cultural differences and is actually amazed at the truly honorable American custom of being able to remain friends with your exes. But of course, she becomes equally horrified at the idea, along with other things.

As the story progresses with great humorous conversations with her friends ("Yeah, they're totally doing it"), her fears take over and she ends up ending the relationship although in reality nothing was going on between the bf and the ex. But at the end of the day, there was just too much of a cultural gap. They are just too American.

So a great fun story that shows the continuing struggle to understand other cultures. Really enjoyed this one.

47) Soji Shimada : Tokyo Zodiac Murders

Note before starting this review: I read the French translation which is actually the translation of a reworked version of this book. (If you were to read the English translation you will be reading an earlier version.)

Heikichi Umezawa has come up with the ultimate artwork: to create the perfect creature which he plans to create using different parts from his daughters. But before he can work on his masterpiece he has been murdered. A few days later, his daughters are discovered murdered as well using the exact instructions from Umezawa's manuscript. But Umezawa being already dead, who could have murdered the daughters? Was he actually murdered or did he actually succeed in his plan and it was just a suicide after killing his daughters?

The mystery has remained unsolved for decades until a new clue appears and is handed over to two "detectives" to solve the case. These two aren't detectives at all, in fact one is but a mere fortune teller. But his genius, along with his assistant, are being trusted to discover how this case came to pass.

I found this to be a fun mystery and was really engaged for about the first half but eventually thought the book runs too long. I understand that a lot of the repetitiveness of the story was to highlight the difficulty of the case but the constant recapitulations of every detail as our detectives struggled got a bit tiring. It got better once they got past that point and finally had a path to take into solving the case. However, I also never ended up enjoying the two "detectives" which means that I would not read more works with them as the lead characters. But the mystery is indeed quite clever and I can see why it was a difficult case to crack.

So, despite what I wrote it's still a recommended mystery but I would have liked 100 fewer pages, that's all.

83lilisin
Jan 18, 2022, 3:34 am

48) Fuminori Nakamura : L'Hiver Dernier, Je Me Suis Separe de Toi (Last Winter We Parted)

I chose to read this now because I wanted to get a feel for this unfamiliar author as another of his books is coming out this year in English translation. It's a thriller, which I don't read much of but do read on occasion, and I just can't wrap my head around how I feel about this one.

It's about an author who takes on a project to write a book about a man on death row for the killing of two women by burning them to death. The prisoner maintains his innocence and concurrently warns the author not to take on the project as it will bring him down into a world of darkness he is not prepared for. Our author of course ignores the advice and begins digging.

The book is very clever and the way the author connects everything together is remarkable. But I was very detached from the method of telling this story even though the method is also explained in the book. It's hard to fully explain how I feel but the gist is that it feels like I was given a puzzle with pieces A through M and before I even had a chance to start assembling the pieces, someone has already revealed the puzzle. Again, the reveal is really clever and it really finds connections behind parts of the book that I wondered what the hell this could have to do with anything, as I was reading. But the feeling of too sudden a reveal is because I don't feel like I had the chance to really sink into the characters and the situation at hand.

It was just all information that was given to me (which again, is explained very well and makes sense) like a manual to a machine I've never used before. Manuals often only make sense to the person who wrote the manual themself. It even seems redundant to them. But to those of us who have only just gotten the manual in our hands, we don't understand how switching these buttons leads to launching a rocket into space.

So again, super clever and once I was at the end, the manual all made sense, but I just wanted a bit more of a seamless lead up to the conclusion. However, I think this book will definitely appeal to many people, with the reminder that I don't read too many thrillers to begin with.

---

Also to note that this author won the Akutagawa Prize in 2005 for 土の中の子供 (A Child in the Ground).
In fact, I've been reading a lot of Akutagawa Prize winners lately, although unaware as I haven't been reading the exact book that won.

84lilisin
Feb 5, 2022, 10:31 am

49) 藤野 可織 : 爪と目 (Nails and Eyes)

This is an as-of-yet untranslated book that won the Akutagawa Prize in 2013, by Kaori Fujino, and it was like being on a huge roller coaster ride, this one! Wow! I ended up cackling! I don't think I've ever cackled from a book before.

There are two additional stories in the Japanese copy that accompany the prize winning novella, and I want to discuss each because it was once I read all the works that I got a better understanding of the author's intent, which is an interesting case of realistic Japanese concerns in society, blended with horror. Yes, horror.

1) 爪と目 (Nails and Eyes)
This is a story about a woman who moves in with her lover and his 3 year old daughter after his wife has died. The story is related by the daughter of the man in a future time where she is fully grown up although we know nothing about her adult self other than a brief two sentence interaction with the mistress as an older woman, giving a hint that the family seems to still be together in the future.

Interestingly the narrative is presented as a false 2nd person narrative as the daughter tells the story of the mistress by using the pronoun "you" in an almost accusatory tone. When you first met my father it was... When you first entered our home it was... When you... etc. We don't even discover the names of the characters until halfway through story and this is important because the daughter is careful to create a barrier between you and me.

Along with the interesting style with its accusatory tone we are given extra information that permeates our thoughts throughout the story. Turns out the wife died of very mysterious circumstances, locked out on her terrace, her body discovered only the following day. The daughter has been traumatized by this event and can't even enter the living room of the home because she can't lay her eyes on the terrace. We are left to wonder throughout the story what lies behind this mysterious death and if our characters were actually involved.

You is a fascinating character as she is a woman with no real direction, inspiration, thought of her own. She goes through life defying Japan's expectations on her, not because she is trying to make a point, but mostly because she just can't seem to care. For example it takes the discovery of home decorating blogs to get her to decorate the new home but it's still all motivated by nothingness; just an understanding that things should be a certain way so might as well go through with the motions.

In the meantime she is not able to foster a connection with this three year old girl at her feet. The girl is obviously traumatized but instead of trying to take on a motherly role, she just gives the girl sweets to help pass the time, and takes no notice of the child's increased obsession with fingernail biting, an obsession that matches You's seeming obsession with her contact lenses that continue to feel foreign in her eyes despite her long years of wearing.

In any case, we following My's interaction with You as she observes You, and all along you are pushed through this intense tension because the book's blurb has indicated that the book is a horror but so far we have had no hint other than the mother's death. Where is the horror? What's going to happen?

In a way though, nothing happens, and yet something crazy happens at the end, which I won't reveal (although I really want to as it is just so intense) but the book sort of ends up a reflection on two characters who don't follow the traditional roles as one would expect. They are both so locked up in their trauma that really they end up having to lean on each other but not without major consequences.

In any case, there is so much more to process but I can't really do that without revealing everything which would be a shame to do if the book were indeed to get translated at some point. However, I admit that when I finished the novella I kind of ended up with a reaction of "what the hell did I just read!?"

2) しょう子さんが忘れていること

So then I started the following short story which translated to (What Shouko forgets) which is about the horrifying topic of a grandmother who is staying in the hospital recovering from a stroke. This all seems normal but we are revealed that man has been slipping into her bed at night and she wakes up in the morning not seeming to be able to remember the happenings of the night before, but seems to have a lingering queasy feeling when she interacts with another patient who seems to not belong in the hospital wing.

This is the story that left be cackling like a maniac because I couldn't believe I was reading a story about a grandmother getting sexually abused! Who is this author and why is she doing this to me?! The author is mad!

But the story became a revelation as to the neglect the elderly experience as her daugther and granddaughter don't seem to want to listen to her frightening suspicions of the man in the hospital. There is such a disconnect with her family that she is too scared to talk to them. So you get this criticism of society with this incredibly horrific story and this is where I started to understand the author's vision. And it's insane but it actually works!

3) ちびっこ広場

This short story is just called "Kiddy Playground" and follows more traditional horror tropes. A little boy is frightened because he was caught in the playground at 4:40pm and believes that he has now been cursed and that a ghost will visit him to drag him back to the playground where who knows what will happen? In the meantime his mother is busy getting ready for a friend's wedding and is going through all the emotions of what it is like to have a young child and all the responsibilities of being a mother and how something as simple as going to a wedding is no longer as easy at it once was. It also has some fun commentary on the absurd etiquette rules of Japanese weddings (and other events), and then it all comes down to a fierce ending that is classic horror. Loved this one!

So yes, this book and its following stories made me cackle, and gasp in shock, and feel queasy and it was all very very good. I went from "I think I hate this book" to absolutely loving it and I feel almost guilty for feeling as such! I mean, come on, a grandmother getting abused! Who is supposed to enjoy that?! But it just works. The author really pulled it off in a way that very few authors could.

Boy could I write even more but I'll leave it there but yes, so good.

There is an excellent write-up here although he makes one mistake where he says the child pushed fingernails into the mistress's eyes but really it was peeled off nail varnish that came off in the shape of a contact lens which is why the girl thought it would help and I disagree with him when he says the child did it as revenge. As the girl was only 3 years old, you can't really understand the idea of revenge at that age so I don't think that was the child's motivation at all.

85lilisin
Edited: Apr 7, 2022, 4:15 am

50) Kazumi Yumoto : 夏の庭 (The Friends)

I really enjoyed The Friends and thought it was a well done coming-of-age novel. Three young boys become obsessed with the idea of death after one of them returns from their grandmother's funeral. Having just seen the grandmother's body but not having witnessed the process of dying makes the concept of death bewildering for the young boys. So when it is rumored that an old man in the neighborhood is on the brink of death they decide to observe the man so they can be first on the scene when he passes. However, once the old man realizes that he is being followed, to the dismay of the boys, he instead seems to regain energy. Once the boys start to interact with the old man it creates a bond and finally, a friendship that no one expected.

We experience with the boys, who all come from troubled backgrounds, this one wonderful summer, when they start to form an understanding of relationships not based on family. And as they finally start to see what possibilities lay ahead, the book can only end in one way but I think it's in knowing the end that one can savor this quaint little book. The English translation has interestingly enough been marketed as children's fiction despite the original being slotted in with regular adult fiction and I think this is a book that doesn't read juvenile and is appropriate and enjoyable for all ages to read.

I appreciated the added look at certain aspects of a dying Japan: the old man and his experiences during the war; family expectations to inheriting the family business; the abandoning of the elderly population. While I also enjoyed unexpected elements like the troublemaker in the car who shows a caring side after he experiences the old man's homemade fireworks, igniting a forgotten flame towards his youth. There really is so much to take from this delightful book and I keep finding more I want to say as I type these words.

51) 今村 夏子 : むらさきのスカートの女 (The Woman in the Purple Skirt)
The Woman in the Purple Skirt was as surprising as I was lead to believe after having witnessed other people's reaction to it. I can see why the ending is controversial but I had fun with it. Not my favorite by all means but still glad to have finally sat down and read this one! It's about a lady in a yellow cardigan who becomes obsessed with the comings and goings of the woman in the purple skirt, who wavers between employed and unemployed and whose only consistency is the sweet bread she eats in the park every day while the local kids bet on who has the courage to tap her on the shoulder before running away.

Curious to become friends with Purple, Yellow comes up with a scheme for Purple to work in the same hotel as part of the cleaning staff. The scheme works well and to Yellow's surprise Purple is finding great success with this new employment. However, Purple is easily manipulated and the story starts to descend into chaos. It ends up becoming a book about identity, control, manipulation, and deception. Really fun although I can see why it's such a divisive book.

52) 加藤 千恵 : アンバランス (Unbalanced)
Unbalanced was a choice for my Japanese reading book club. (As was The Friends from above.) And it proved to be an intriguing book for all three of us. (We've really been enjoying all of our reads.) This is the book that does not yet have a translation in English.

Unbalanced starts off strong and unapologetic when our protagonist spots an ugly woman on her intercom camera: her husband's mistress. In shock to this discovery, we descend into the wife's mind as she rants about the woman. How could her husband be attracted to this 10, no, maybe 15 years older woman, with her knappy, tangled hair, peeling fake leather bag, smeared makeup, pudgy sides, not to mention her 3-layered stomach (三段腹). This word got me howling as a 3 layered stomach is an amazing description for a fat potbelly. I felt this woman's wrath, pain, confusion. She torments herself wondering how her husband could have sex with this woman, especially considering there own marriage is sexless. In fact, we learn they have only had sex twice in their decade long relationship, while it is revealed he has had sex 11 times with this woman. Has her husband lied about his impotency?

Now, you might think this is just another book about a woman dealing with a husband's affair but it goes so much deeper than that. It turns out the husband was sexually abused and raped by an older woman when he was about 12 years old. This has lead to his impotency, and consequently only being able to have an erection when in presence of a woman who looks like his abuser.

The book stays within the mind of her wife as she goes over the course of her relationship with her husband and questions every moment of every part of their courtship, marriage, and subsequent sexless days. It becomes a book about self-discovery but it all remains in a very real world where there are no heroes or Eat, Love, Pray epiphanies. The marriage is a dirty mess and there is no way to clean it up easily. But the wife discovers that she does have power to make a decision and this book is her lead up to that.

A really great book worth reading as it is so realistic. I really felt the wife's pain with every word and the way the book remains so realistic was, for a lack of better word, impressive.

86defaults
Edited: Apr 7, 2022, 3:41 pm

Themes of loneliness and isolation have been front and center in my readings this year, and The Woman in the Purple Skirt sounded just up my alley, so I looked up the author in the local library network... and a copy in Japanese is right there in Latest Arrivals. Unmei da.

In another coincidence, I've been exploring the works of the too-early-departed film director Shinji Somai, and I'm bumping his adaptation of The Friends to the top of my to-watch pile. I didn't even know it was based on a novel. He had a breathtaking ability to evoke the liminal magic and strangeness of teenage, and your description of the novel suggests a perfect match.

Thanks for keeping us posted on your discoveries!

87lilisin
Apr 7, 2022, 7:58 pm

>86 defaults:

Purple Skirt is one of the easiest books I've read in Japanese so definitely try out the original if you can! And I hope you fall on the side of people liking it. I haven't seen anyone love the book and I can't say I do either but I enjoyed the chaos it led to.

That movie sounds like it'd be very good. A lot of reviewers (both on the Japan and English side) compare the books themes to the American movie Stand by Me and coincidentally having finally seen that movie recently I can see the parallels. Would be interesting to see The Friends and Stand by Me side by side to compare the themes.

88lilisin
Edited: Jun 21, 2022, 4:27 am

53) 巧 豊田 : 駅に泊まろう!
This is a simple book along the Live Love Pray type of books you get in the states except it's just Live Enjoy Eat. It's about a woman who quits her high stress lifestyle in Tokyo and moves to Hokkaido to take over her grandfather's bed and breakfast which he leagued to her. Except, it turns out the B&B with several stories and pastel curtains she dreams about is actually a train station! Turns out her grandfather created a place to stay out of an old (but still functioning) station and now, along with always being sure you catch your train (it comes only once in every two to three hours so you wouldn't want to miss it), you can also eat BBQ right on the train platform!

Turns out this book is now a series so I read the first out of four books so the first book is just her coming to Hokkaido, discovering the station inn and dealing with her first clients. It's a quaint and delightful story that serves as a nice palate refresher. I doubt I'll read the other books but the option is always there if I just want something lighthearted.

The most interesting part about the story though is the discovery that this station is actually real! There is indeed a B&B located inside a rural train station in Hokkaido where you can eat BBQ for dinner right on the train platform!

This book is currently not available in translation.

54) 住野 よる : よるのばけもの (At Night, I Become a Monster)
This book has been translated into English but I do not recommend bothering to read it at all. I hate everything about this book. In fact I dreaded picking it up just to read and only continued because it was a book club pick. I would have abandoned this otherwise. Fortunately, pushing through a read in Japanese is never a waste of time because I at least will have gotten reading practice out of it and the last 100 pages were definitely an exercise in speed reading!

This book is about Adachi who turns into a literal monster at night. One day he sneaks into the school to pick up forgotten homework and runs into Yano, a victim of bullying. Adachi is not innocent in the class's endless bullying of Yano and yet they form a strange bond from meeting at night, while he continues to ignore her during the day. So basically the whole book is a very obvious metaphor for whether Adachi's true monster form isn't when he's actually a human, while he is most human when he turns into a monster at night.

It's all very obvious and annoying, and this is worsened by the horrifying bullying in the book that makes it so hard to read. I hated all the characters, even the victim who I couldn't stop myself thinking that she deserved to be bullied. Not sure that's what is supposed to happen but I just hated everyone. So while it's an accurate portrayal of the ruthlessness of bullying by classmates, and the absolute uselessness of Japanese teachers when it comes to doing anything that could stop bullying, it was just too painstaking for me to read and I just ended up really hating this.

89lilisin
Edited: Oct 7, 2022, 4:48 am

I have two more books from my Japanese-language book club to talk about.

55) Eto Mori : カラフル (Colorful)
Yet another 青春 novel (books about adolescents and their problems). After having also recently read Kazumi Yumoto's 夏の庭 (The Friends) and Sumino Yoru's よるのばけもの (At Night, I Become a Monster), my book club has decided that we will need a break from the genre.

This book is about a man who discovers he has won the lottery when he arrives in heaven. The lottery gives him the opportunity to borrow the body of Makoto, a young high schooler who committed suicide, to atone for his past and earn the chance to be reborn. Our protagonist initially refuses the task, settled with the idea of not having to go back, but ends up having to take up the offer. We then follow our protagonist as he discovers the reasons behind Makoto's suicide and decides to make Makoto's life better.

It is an obvious book and not a book I would read if I weren't using it to improve my Japanese, but that doesn't take away from the fact that it is a well done book. I can see why it was well received and is popular among different generations. Although this is not a book I would have even read in middle school (I was already Les Miserables at the time time), I can see the connection kids of that age might have to this poignant little book. Because it's a book about communication (with friends and family) and understanding that this too will pass and it often just takes a slightly different perspective to see that. Everything can be improved on and changed with help and support and not everything is as desperate as it seems. It's a book about finding the color in your invidualism and using that to create the future you want.

So, a quaint middle school book that doesn't pander down to the age group and that adults can find a connection to as well.

This book was translated into English in 2021.

As for my ranking for the three 青春 books:
1) Kazumi Yumoto : 夏の庭 (The Friends)
2) Eto Mori : カラフル (Colorful)
3) Sumino Yori : よるのばけもの (At Night, I Become a Monster)

56) 尾崎世界観 : 母影 (Mother's Shadow)
This book was a nominee for the Akutagawa Prize in 2021, but ended up losing. I have only ever read Akutagawa Prize winners, never just a nominee, so this was a fun exercise in exploring the shortlist. I was surprised at how extremely easy this book was to read. Great for low level Japanese learners who want to start looking into reading novels in Japanese.

It's a book told from the point of view of a young elementary school girl who tells us about her relationship with her mother. Her mother works in a massage parlor that is a front for sexual services. Our protagonist (who I will call Watashi from now on) lies in bed doing her homework not realizing that on the other side of the curtain her mother is giving handjobs to customers. Watashi is still too young to understand this adult world and can only feel when something makes her uncomfortable, like when she hears the moans and grunts of her mother's customers.

To convey the child's world, the author plays with language in interesting ways. Watashi, being so young, cannot read that much kanji yet so any words that contain kanji she doens't know, are left in hiragana. For example, the standard word for worry 心配 becomes 心ぱい in the text because she cannot read the latter character yet. When adults speak in the book, their dialogue is left in all kanji indicating that she doesn't understand the adult conversations.

Another play with language becomes a pivotal sentence in the book. When she overhears a customer asking if he can come (cum), she asks herself "where is he going?".

So we spend the entire book with Watashi and her perspective of the world, and everything is balanced on a foggy line inbetween the adult sexual world and the innocence of youth. You could say, that between the two is a fine line the width of a curtain.

This book does not currently have a translation available.

90lilisin
Oct 24, 2022, 4:00 am

57) 原田 マハ : ハグとナガラ (Hagu and Nagara)
Our September book club book was a delight to read. It's not the type of book I would typically read in English but I can see why books such as these are popular as it is indeed nice to get a dose of refreshful ease and calm every once in a while.

The book focuses on female friendships, mother/daughter relationships, and gives you permission to take a detour in life.
Hage and Nagara are two friends from college who believe in the idea of working hard so that you can then look forward to breaks and get maximum satisfaction from trips. They have both accepted the fact that they will not be following the traditional route of getting married and having a family as they have now passed that age and moment. So they instead lean on each other and look forward to exploring the countryside together. We follow them in 6 stories, that are linked, but skip through time as Hage goes through the age 38, 41, 46, early 50s, 55. As they become older, their responsibilies change as they now both have ailing mothers that are proving to be quite the workload.

But they realize that no matter what, they always have each other and the looking forward to a good trip.

Again, quaint, enjoyable, with moments that are easy to share similarities with, while giving us a nice look at the beauty of a simple trip in the Japanese countryside, while also letting the reader know that it's okay if life doesn't go "as planned".

91Cecrow
Oct 24, 2022, 7:44 am

Just a note to let you know, still reading and appreciating your updates. :)

92lilisin
Edited: Dec 10, 2022, 10:05 pm

58) Kaori Ekuni : Dans la barque de dieu (God's Boat)

The perfect book for a long train ride. It tells of a mother (Yoko) and her daughter (Soko) as they move about city to city every few years because the mother is afraid of "putting down roots". She instead prefers to leave her fate in the hand of the gods as they float down the river (hence the title). We start with a wonderful two person family who share a beautiful love for each other but as her daughter grows from elementary school age to high school age, she starts to doubt her mother's motives. Basically the father wasn't able to stay when Soko was born but before he left he made the promise that he'd come back and find Yoko, no matter where she was. Yoko has held on to this promise all her life and this has led her to fear putting down roots lest she fall into a new life that doesn't involve him.

As we go back and forth between the mother and the daughter's point of view we, along with Soko, start to question if the mother was indeed truly in this sublime relationship, or if, like many single mothers, she fell dupe to a young man who wanted to flee responsiblity. But the mother believes, and we still want to believe with her, leaving us with an ending that I was quite happy with.

Up to the reader to now decide if true loves exists.

I would not consider this book mediocre, nor awe-inspiring, but it was the perfect dose of following two people: one who is looking towards the future, and one who is stuck in the past. It was a simple read, but pleasant; it wasn't magnificent prose, but it was a tasteful jaunt through tiny cities outside of Tokyo. A delightful book that I'm happy to have read.

59) 小林 泰三 : 玩具修理者

For our October pick, my Japanese book club decided to engross in the season with some horror.
This book contains two stories: 玩具修理者 (The Toy Repairman) and 酔歩する男 (The Drunkard).

玩具修理者 (The Toy Repairman)
The first story I can't say I was engrossed with. The story was obvious just from the title and linking it to the genre. Let's see, a toy repairman, what can he not fix? Turns out he can't not fix anything. In fact, anything has potential to be fixed. So, it's no surprise that when our narrator tells about the accident that killed her brother, we find out she goes to the toy repairman and something goes wrong.

This story felt like a creative writing assignment where everyone was given the same prompt and at the end the better written story was the winner. Yes, it was well written, but there was no originality in the story and the story lacked the tension that could make even a predictable story great. So it was well done, good, but not awe-inspiring.

酔歩する男 (The Drunkard)
The second story was much better.
A man is drinking in a bar when he is confronted by a man telling him that they are best friends. Our protagonist is shocked because he has never met this man. So then the man starts the story, telling him how it is that they are best friends and what happened when they fell in love with the same woman.

We are led down a story of horrors. The woman, confronted by their love, creates a rendezvous at the train station. When they arrive they find she has fallen beneath the train tracks and has been killed. Allegedly, our protagonist, as the other man narrates, picked up the pieces of her body and vowed to bring her back to life.

Unable to pull a Frankenstein, he comes up with the idea that perhaps, if one were able to modify their brain and thus modify their perception of time, then they could travel back in time and save their love.

But unfortunately, our protagonist does that and sends both men to their ultimate punishment.

This part was the creative and intersting part as it really explores the often unconsidered consequences of time travel. And that is where we discover the ultimate horror that can come upon a man.

Allegedly.

93stretch
Dec 5, 2022, 7:52 am

>92 lilisin: The first sounds like a perfect travel book. The kind where its just mellow.

I'll definitely pick up the second if it ever gets translated into English, the second story sounds like something I wish Frankenstein actually was.

94lilisin
Dec 5, 2022, 8:36 pm

>93 stretch:

Exactly, very mellow, and very transportative without any effort needed.

Just be wary that the Frankenstein-esque bit was really only two pages. Otherwise it's a time travel story!

95Cecrow
Dec 6, 2022, 8:56 am

You write great reviews, I wonder why you don't post them to the book pages?

96lilisin
Dec 7, 2022, 2:51 am

>95 Cecrow:

Thanks for the lovely compliment. I stopped posting my reviews on the book pages because I'm so out of the habit of writing reviews now. When I do write them it's always 2 or 3 months after I've read the book. So I fear that by that time it's too late and I've poorly described my opinions on a book and I've left out the majority of what I initially planned on saying while reading the book.

97lilisin
Dec 8, 2022, 9:51 pm

>92 lilisin:, >93 stretch:

It has come to my attention that the book by Kaori Ekuni has an English translation that was published in 2012 as God's Boat.

98stretch
Edited: Dec 9, 2022, 8:44 am

>97 lilisin: I'll add it to the wishlist, thanks. Not being able to read in French or Japanese is becoming a real handicap.

99lilisin
Dec 12, 2022, 3:16 am

60) きょうや 織守 : 花束は毒 (The Bouquet is Poison)

Our November group pick was a mystery.
Our young protagonist runs into his former tutor and discovers that his tutor has been receiving threating messages telling him "to stop the wedding or there will be consequences". Wanting to come to his tutor's aid, he decides to hire a detective, or rather, a wanna-be detective; a girl who had once solved a case of his when they were in middle school together. The two begin a series of interviews to discover the sender of these letters but will discover many other things along the way.

The "twists" were all very good, and even though I figured out the enigma to the book before the end, it was still a very good satisfying end. But when it comes to the path taken to the reach the end, it can be said that nothing happens in the book. From the very beginning till the end, the book is just a look at our main character and the "detective" as they interview the related parties. She shows a stern, all-knowledgeable face and searches for logic and rational, and he provides a look at the emotional decisions being made. Basically she asks the questions and we listen to him ponder over each statement with the same repeated key ideas: ah yes, her/he saying that makes sense because in this situation one would indeed think that; and if the opposite were said it also seems logical but I understand this interviewee making the statement they said. Oh poor my friend of mine, no one believes him.

There is also no actual real action as they just go from one interview to the next to gather the information they need to solve the case. So it's basically the same scenario over and over again, with no time wasted making any longwinded descriptions of anything other than the basic information needed to set the scene: no descriptions of the colors of curtains, or the way the sun beams through the window. Nope. We are given a table, we are told what kind of building it is in and who is sitting there, and then we'll most likely get told there is coffee on the table. But, while repetitive, it does mean that we the reader also have all the information to solve the case. So by all means, try to solve it!

And enjoy the twists.

100lilisin
Sep 20, 2023, 11:48 pm

61) Aki Shimazaki : Fuki-no-tô: L'ombre du chardon
62) Aki Shimazaki : Maïmaï: L'ombre du chardon

I finally finished the last of Aki Shimazaki's series: L'ombre du chardon, a series title that makes sense when you read the books, although I must admit I've forgotten what that meaning was now. Although the whole series can, I believe, be read in any order, the publication order is as follows, and it is the order in which I read the series.

Azami ; Hozuki ; Suisen ; Fuki-no-tô ; Maïmaï

Although a Japanese author, Shimazaki lives in Canada and writes in French. These have been translated in neither English or Japanese. Also, despite being written in French, as these books were written by a Jpn author, take place in Japan, and have Jpn themes to them, I categorize the books as Jpn literature.

My review of the first few books can be found here although to resume the gist of the series as a whole. We follow a different protagonist in each book of the series where all the characters are connected in some way. Each book is about 120 pages short and they are very quick to read. I quite enjoyed the series as it gives you the ability to follow through with the characters like you don't get the opportunity to do with other books. What happened to the side character once any interaction with the protagonist was stopped? Well, with this series you get to find out. And it's a lovely way to read through the life story of a group of people.

However, I found the three first books stronger than the last two. The last two, in particular, Fuki-no-to, become almost laughably unrealistic and it's hard to believe the coincidences. To spoil the plot: In Fuki-no-to we follow the wife of the man who started off the series, as she comes to terms with her husband's infidelity. Fortunately a woman from her past shows up, the wife discovers she's a lesbian and they live happily ever after. The book just ignores all the difficulties that can arise from discovering your sexuality and leaving your family to create a happy-go-lucky ending for the wife. I just couldn't not find that fairly preposterous.

Following, with Maimai, we follow the son of the mistress who has now grown up to be an artist. His mother dies (the mother-son relationship was beautifully rendered), and decides to open a gallery while continuing to live with his grandmother. Then one day a former grade school friend shows up again and they begin a romantic relationship. We know that this girl is his half-sister so the sex scene was obviously horrifying to read. And then, we are left with him finding out about their relations and yet not telling her, so we are left with the idea that he never tells her and continues to sleep with his sister.

So really strange ending to the series but I'm still looking forward to reading the other series I have on hand (which I've read is a stronger series).

101lilisin
Nov 27, 2023, 2:31 am

63) Ted Goossen (editor) : MONKEY New Writing from Japan: Volume 2: TRAVEL

Finally read this literature magazine that I purchased in 2021. I have never in my life been able to sit down and actually read through a literature magazine so I definitely had wild and fantastical plans when I bought this but two years later, I finally managed to read it! I had very much the smart idea to make this my lunch read at work since it's all short stories.

Now, to get to the blunt of it. I can't say I really liked any of the short stories featured. Which is unfortunate. But since such taste is subjective I will say this literature magazine of new writing from Japan is truly beautiful. What a publication!

Authors featured in this edition were: Mieko Kawakami, Hiromi Ito, Hiromi Kawabata, Haruki Murakami, Yasunari Kawabata, Yuko Tsushima, among others. Translators featured were Polly Barton, David Boyd, Michael Emmerich, Jay Rubin, etc.

A huge list of names on all sides and all balanced by a beautiful selection of full page, full color illustrations and drawings to accompany the stories. The first volume of the magazine that came out was based on food, this one on travel and the current edition that just came out is based on music.

If you're interested, and you should be, you can find the magazine here. New edition comes out every year, November, and it is sold initially in paperback and then the ebook is made available for purchase shortly after.
https://monkeymagazine.org/

102lilisin
Nov 29, 2023, 7:21 pm

64) Yasunari Kawabata : Pays de neige (Snow Country) *abandonned

This is my official declaration of giving up on Kawabata. I just can't anymore. I said I would never read him again after Dandelions but thought I couldn't make such a decision without having tried his most famous book but this is now official. No more trying until at least a decade has passed.

I constantly find myself staring at the wall when I try to read him and shaking my head at his characters that it's never an enjoyable experience. I had a moment of excitment with the opening train scene in Snow Country as it was absolutely stunning. Truly his best writing yet. But as soon as the character got to the inn and met the geisha I lost all interest.

Alas. This Japanese Nobel Prize winner is just not for me.

103stretch
Nov 29, 2023, 7:44 pm

>102 lilisin: I have let Kawabata languish ion the TBR for a long while after finishing Thousand Cranes that train scene is astounshing but never gotten further in Snow Country. Not sure I will now or at least let in languish a while longer, not ready for a wall staring contest.

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