Lilisin's Japanese adventure

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Lilisin's Japanese adventure

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Nov 13, 2009, 6:17 pm

My favorite literature would have to be Japanese. I have always been an avid fan of the culture which resulted in me being a Japanese language major as an undergrad.

Thus, just for myself, but perhaps also as a means of reviving this group, I thought I'd chronicle all my Japanese reads, from the classics to the modern.

That way I can really explore the differences between the different authors I read/have read.

I welcome others to do the same.

Edited: Oct 24, 2012, 3:33 pm

What I've read so far. Some of these I have chronicled elsewhere on LT and will probably cut and paste my thoughts from those threads so I can have it all in this one thread. I read mostly in French so forgive me if most of my titles are thus in French.

Also, I have not chronicled any short stories I've read but will do so from here on out.

Kobo Abe : The Woman in the Dunes
Fumiko Enchi : The Waiting Years
Masuji Ibuse : Black Rain
Yasushi Inoue : La Favorite (about China), Shirobamba, Le paroi de glace, Le fusil de chasse
Yasunari Kawabata : Thousand Cranes, Kyoto
Yukio Mishima : La mort en ete
Haruki Murakami : After the Quake
Natsume Soseki : And Then: Natsume Soseki's Novel Sorekara
Akiyuki Nosaka : La tombe des lucioles
Kenzaburo Oe : Nip the buds, Shoot the kids
Shohei Ooka : Fires on the Plain
Murasaki Shikibu : The Tale of Genji
Junichiro Tanizaki : In Praise of Shadows, The Makioka Sisters
Hitonari Tsuji : La lumiere du detroit
Banana Yoshimoto : Kitchen

Mineko Iwasaki : Geisha, a life
Komomo : A Geisha's Journey: My life as a Kyoto Apprentice
Haruki Murakami : Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche

About Japan from foreign author, nonfiction:
Alan Booth : The Roads to Sata
Didier du Castel : Les derniers samourais, Le crepuscule des geishas
Ian Reader : Religious Violence in Contemporary Japan: The Case of Aum Shinrikyo

Edited: Nov 5, 2015, 8:32 pm

Books added since starting this thread. This post will continue to be updated with new reads.

Ryunosuke Akutagawa : Rashomon et autres contes (post 10)
Junichiro Tanizaki : Le meurtre d'Otsuya (post 21)
Nobuko Takagi : Translucent Tree (post 23)
Eiji Yoshikawa : Taiko (post 26)
Meisei Goto : Shot by Both Sides (post 33)
Mitsuyo Kakuta : The Eighth Day (post 41)
Shusaku Endo : La fille que j'ai abandonnee (The girl I left behind) (post 43)
Kenzaburo Oe : Gibier d'elevage (post 46)
Kobo Abe : The Box Man (post 49)
Seishi Yokomizo : Le village aux huit tombes (post 56)
Michio Takeyama : Harp of Burma (post 58)
Shusaku Endo : The Sea and Poison (post 60)
Yasutaka Tsutsui : Hell (post 62)
Keigo Higashino : The Devotion of Suspect X (post 64)
Banana Yoshimoto : The Lake (post 69)
Akira Yoshimura : Shipwrecks (post 77)
Seishi Yokomizo : La hache, le koto et le chrysanthème (The Inugami Clan) (post 84)
Haruki Murakami : 1Q84 (post 86)
Shusaku Endo : When I Whistle (post 87)
Hikaru Okuizumi : The Stones Cry Out (post 88)
Kobo Abe : The Face of Another (post 90)
村上 龍 : 限りなく透明に近いブルー​ (post 92)
Ryu Murakami : Almost Transparent Blue (post 92)
Seicho Matsumoto : Tokyo Express (post 98)
Yukio Mishima : Le marin rejete par la mer (The Sailor who fell from Grace with the Sea (post 100)
Takashi Nagai : The Bells of Nagasaki (post 102)
Yukio Mishima : Sun and Steel (post 103)
Kobo Abe : Secret Rendezvous (post 104)
Banana Yoshimoto : アルゼンチンババア (Argentine Hag) (post 105)
Haruki Murakami : 色彩を持たない多崎つくると、彼の巡礼の年 (Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage) (post 106)
Shizuko Natsuki : La promesse de l'ombre (The Third Lady) (post 108)
Akira Yoshimura : La jeune fille suppliciee sur une etagere (post 111)
Seicho Matsumoto : Le vase de sable (English title: Inspector Imanishi Investigates) (post 113)
Takeshi Kaiko : Into a Black Sun (post 115)
Ayako Miura : Lady Gracia: A Samurai Wife's Love, Strife and Faith (post 116)
Otsuichi (乙一) : ZOO2 (post 119)
Osamu Dazai : Soleil couchant (The Setting Sun) (post 120)
Michael Emmerich : Read Real Japanese Fiction (post 121)
Kobo Abe : The Kangaroo Notebook (post 122)
Nagai Kafu : Rivalry: A Geisha's Tale (post 123)
Akira Yoshimura : On Parole (post 129)
Ryu Murakami : From the Fatherland, with Love (post 134)
Akira Yoshimura : Un spécimen transparent : Suivi de Voyage vers les étoiles (post 137)
Otsuichi : GOTH 夜の章 (post 138)

Hiroo Onoda : No Surrender (post 136)

Nonfiction by a non-Japanese author:
Donald Richie : The Inland Sea (post 130)
Iris Chang : The Rape of Nanking (post 135)

Old reviews of already posted books:
Shohei Ooka : Fires on the Plain (post 6)
Nosaka Akiyuki : La tombe des lucioles (post 24)
Alan Booth : The Roads to Sata (post 29)

Nov 13, 2009, 10:04 pm

What a good idea, lilisin! If I were forced to pick just one literature as a favorite (awful prospect!), I believe I, too, would choose Japanese. I look forward to checking in on your reading here. I'm sure I'll get many great suggestions for books that are new to me and also be moved to ponder on ones I've already read.*

*For instance, I notice that you're reading Translucent Tree, which I read last year. I'll be very interested to know what you think of it.

Nov 13, 2009, 11:24 pm

marietherese -

Looking at your library I hardly think you need suggestions! In fact, I think you're the one who could be giving me more suggestions. Love your library by the way what with the Japanese and the French lit! In fact, it looks like we share very very similar tastes which is so refreshing.

I can't promise I'll be very deep with my thoughts as I'm not always great at expressing them but I look forward to sharing ideas with you.

Nov 13, 2009, 11:27 pm

This is a cut and paste from my 50 books challenge thread but I can't help but rave about this book. It's just spectacular. It was my first read of the new year and what a way to start!

Shohei Ooka : Fires on the Plain
5/5 stars

"People live only because they have no reason to die."

Fires on the Plain is a tremendous novel of a Japanese soldier's experiences during the 1944 Philippine campaign. In short it is about Private Tamura and his living simply because there is no purpose in dying and because life is simply a collection build off of chance. As a reader we witness an individual battling society which deteriorates into the individual versus his self which further become the individual versus man without humanity/purpose.

The novel builds up through an incredible sense of description, imagery (sense of smell, sight, sound), and a use of language that is beyond description. Ivan Morris is the master of this translation and certainly deserves all recognition for making this work available.

Japanese ideals such as the country before the individual are quickly broken down as soldiers try to latch onto anything that will guarantee their survival. In the presence of other soldiers they try and maintain their Japanese idealism, but when left to themselves they quickly degrade into the survival of the fittest with the fittest finding themselves feeding off the weak.

This novel will stay with me for quite a while. Certain scenes making me shudder, new philosophies on God and life made me ponder, and I will continue to question what makes up life.

Our world is the result of God's wrath and Tamura is the instrument of God's wrath. Truly truly spectacular.

Nov 13, 2009, 11:28 pm

Some quotes from that book that really made an impression on me as I was reading:

pg 106 -
"Their hair, tightly glued to their skin by a liquid that had oozed out in the process of decomposition, made blurred borders on their foreheads. I knew then that I could never again look at the vague hairlines of wax dolls in shopwindows without a sense of horror."

pg 223 -
"... if as a result of hunger human beings were constrained to eat each other, then this world of ours was no more than the result of God's wrath. And if I at this moment could vomit forth anger, then I, who was no longer human, must be an angel of God, an instrument of God's wrath."

pg 229 -
"People live only because they have no reason to die."

pg 233 -
"Our spirits are not strong enough to stand the idea of life being a mere succession of chances -- the idea, that is, of infinity. Each of us in his individual existence, which is contained between the chance of his birth and the chance of his death, identifies those few incidents that have arisen through what he styles his "will"; and the thing that emerges consistently from this he calls his "character" or again his "life".

Nov 17, 2009, 12:09 pm

An author's background, without a doubt, influences their writing. And I think that with Japanese literature especially, we can see those influences. Often, after reading the grimness that eminates from a story we can read that the author was depressed. Many Japanese authors have attempted suicide on many occasions, some finally succeeding on their last attempt. So, with that, in this thread I will also be posting mini-bios for the authors I read as I read them as a means of comparing and contrasting.

Edited: Dec 4, 2009, 2:42 pm

This is all from the wikipedia article, where I paraphrased everything but what is in quotation marks is straight copy and paste.

Shōhei Ōoka 大岡 昇平
6 March 1909 - 25 December 1988

Ooka was born in the Magome Ward of Tokyo, learned French in high school, and graduated from Kyoto Imperial University School of Literature. During this time he was mentored by many famed literary figures. After graduation he became a journalist for a pro-government newspaper but then quit to become a translator of French works into Japanese.

"In 1944, he was drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army, given only three months of rudimentary training and sent to the front line at Mindoro Island in the Philippines, where he served as his battalion's communications man until his battalion was routed and numerous men killed. In January 1945, he was captured by the American forces in the Philippine defeat and sent to a prisoner of war camp on Leyte Island. Survival was very traumatic for Ōoka, who was troubled that he, a middle-aged and unworthy soldier, had survived when so many others had not. He returned to Japan at the end of the year."

After the war, Ooka began his writing career publishing an autobiographical short-story of his experiences as a prisoner of war entitled Furyoki ("Taken Captive: A Japanese POW's Story", 1948) which won him the Yokomitsu Prize in 1949.

He then wrote Musashino Fujin, ("A Wife in Musashino", 1950), a psychological novel patterned after the works of Stendhal followed by "Fires on the Plain" in 1951 which won him the Yomiuri Prize.

"Considered one of the most important novels of the postwar period, and based loosely on his own wartime experiences in the Philippines, Nobi explores the meaning of human existence through the struggle for survival of men who are driven by starvation to cannibalism."

The following books followed until his death in 1988 at the age of 79.
(1958) Kaei ("The Shade of Blossoms"): 1961 Shichosha Prize
Nakahara Chuya: Noma Prize
Tominaga Taro.
Reite senki ("A Record of the Battle of Leyte").

Nov 17, 2009, 12:38 pm

I just finished Rashomon et autres contes by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. My copy contains the four following stories:
Figures infernales (Hell Screen)
Dans le fourre (In the Grove)
Gruau d'ignames (Yam Gruel)

Although I am not usually a short story reader, these were perfect reading for when I had nothing to do at work. Anyone familiar with Akutagawa or Japanese cinema should be familiar with Rashomon and In the Grove. I had already read these during my undergrad studies but I went ahead and reread them.

No matter how many times you read Rashomon, Akutagawa's imagery is just remarkable, and quite harrowing. You are immediately transported and afterward, you can't get the thoughts out of your head while images and feelings from Kubrick's "The Birds" and "Psycho" tend to also stick out.

In the Grove is a classic story deliberating over point of views. How we can all experience the same thing and yet come out with different memories. Who is right? Who is wrong? In terms of memory, can we really be wrong. What we remember is what we believe we experienced thus how can that be wrong. I've always prided myself at being very good at remembering events and details at those events. And it always bothers me when someone remembers it incorrectly. But this story tries to convince me that I might be indeed the person who is incorrect.

Out of the two stories that I wasn't familiar with Hell's Screen was the most impacting. It was remarkable. A painter getting caught up in his art and to what extent he'll go to complete his masterpiece. Remarkable story with quite the horrendous ending.

With Yam's Gruel I kept waiting for a twist, an impacting moment but it was a simple tale basically stating that too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Simple. Short. The moral we all know and remember, but this story I probably won't.

Edited: Dec 4, 2009, 2:42 pm

From the wikipedia article:

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa 芥川 龍之介
March 1, 1892 - July 24, 1927

Active in Taishō period Japan he is considered the "Father of the Japanese short story" for his superb style and finely detailed stories that explore the darker side of human nature.

Born in Tokyo, his mother went insane shortly after his birth, so he was adopted and raised by his maternal uncle. He continued his schooling while having relationships with several future authors, finally marrying in 1918.

"Akutagawa was a strong opponent of naturalism, which had dominated Japanese fiction in the early 1900s. He continued to borrow themes from old tales, and giving them a complex modern interpretation."

"The final phase of Akutagawa's literary career was marked by his deteriorating physical and mental health. {...} Towards the end of his life, Akutagawa began suffering from visual hallucinations and nervousness over fear that he had inherited his mother's mental disorder. In 1927 he tried to take his own life, together with a friend of his wife, but the attempt failed. He finally committed suicide by taking an overdose of Veronal, which had been given to him by Saito Mokichi on July 24 of the same year. His dying words in his will claimed he felt a "vague uneasiness" 「ぼんやりとした不安」. He was only 35 years old."

"Akutagawa wrote no full-length novels, focusing instead on short stories of which he wrote over 150 during his brief life."

"Kan Kikuchi established Japan's most prestigious literary award, the Akutagawa Prize, in his honor. The prize is awarded annually to promising new writers."

Nov 17, 2009, 1:36 pm

Oops - I think you mistakenly posted the link for Ooka's wiki entry where it should be Akutagawa.

Thanks for re-posting your review of Fires on the Plain and the information about the author. I will definitely be picking that one up!

Nov 17, 2009, 1:43 pm

Thanks for pointing out my mistake. It has been fixed.

Fires on the Plain was spectacular and I have no qualms reposting it everywhere. Please let me know what you think when you read it. :)

Nov 20, 2009, 1:51 am

Thank you for your kind words, lilisin! Please know that I feel the same about you and your library. We definitely share many literary interests as well as exceptionally good taste! ;-)

I've been meaning to read Ooka's Fires on the Plain for ages (having read excerpts from the Morris translation in the past). Your review and the quotes you selected have finally made me put the novel into my online shopping basket and promise myself that it's going to be one of my first reads in 2010. Sounds harrowing but well worth the psychic turmoil.

I also really enjoyed your Akutagawa review. Isn't 'Hellscreen' astonishing? Whenever I 'm asked what's the most terrifying, horrific thing I've ever read, that's the story I think of. I first encountered 'Hellscreen' in my mid teens and I've certainly read a lot of horror and dark fantasy since but nothing has ever bested the impact of that ending. It stills makes me anxious just thinking about it!

Last year I read a volume of some of Akutagawa's lesser known, less fantastic stories titled Mandarins. While a few of the pieces included are based on history, folk tale or myth, the majority are psychologically acute, surprisingly realistic tales. They're often delicate and melancholy in tone but still quite straightforward in terms of narrative structure and plot. They reveal a different but equally interesting side to Akutagawa: more lyrical and less virtuosic; and while not always less horrifying, this Akutagawa is often more compassionate, seeming to empathize more with the suffering of his characters, to take less delight in scrutinizing and cataloging their pain (there's a pronounced sadistic element in a lot of Akutagawa's most famous stories-that sadism pops up momentarily in one or two of the tales included in Mandarins but it's much less prevalent than in his more celebrated work) . It's definitely a volume I recommend to any fan of Akutagawa.

Edited: Nov 20, 2009, 4:28 am

I'm not sure if this is the best place to post this, but those who've enjoyed the work of Donald Richie may want to have a look at this.

Nov 28, 2009, 12:44 am

Can I suggest one of my favorite Japanese authors - Akira Yoshimura. He's written about 20 novels, but only a handful have been translated so far. They are all great.

Nov 30, 2009, 2:41 pm

I'm an old Kobo Abe fan. His first novel, Woman in the Dunes, you mention. The rest of Abe is definitely worth reading including Face of Another, which is another film by Teshigahara, also highly recommended.

Edited: Mar 25, 2010, 12:00 pm

14 -
I don't usually seek out short stories but I will definitely look up more Akutagawa eventually since I have always enjoyed his work in the past. Although not a Japanese author I always thought Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" was haunting as well. But since this is a Japan only thread I won't go into that more.

I finished reading Translucent Tree last night and am trying to collect my thoughts on it so that I can post later about it.

16 -
I looked into that author and he definitely seems to be right up my alley. I will have to read some of his work soon. Thank you.

17 -
I really enjoyed Woman in the Dunes but it is just taking me a while to get back to Abe. I do have The Box Man on my shelf though waiting to be read. I'll have to look into Face of Another since The Box Man seems to have mixed reviews (have you read it?).

Nov 30, 2009, 4:32 pm

The Box Man is not the first Abe I would read! Interesting concept. Execution okay, but a bit disaapointing. I would definitely advise starting with something else.

Edited: Dec 2, 2009, 2:09 pm

I read Box Man but it's been 20 or 30 years. Only vague impressions remain.
Face of Another is early Abe and might be more accessible.

Edited: Dec 4, 2009, 1:18 pm

To try and get back into good hard reading I've been reading a lot of short novels including Junichiro Tanizaki's Le meurtre d'Otsuya (The Murder of O'tsuya) at 125 pages. It starts off simply and surely builds up in dramatic tension. Shinsuke works as an apprentice in O'Tsuya's father's store but has developed feelings for O'Tsuya. She persuades him to run off together when one man, Seiji, offers to help negotiate terms between their parents. However, things change when one night during their fugue, O'Tsuya is taken away and Shinsuke is attacked. Shinsuke is forced to make dire choices to find her again.

It's certainly an interesting premise and we recognize Tanizaki's style immediately. The title "The Murder of O'tsuya" takes on so many meanings as the story progresses while we also recognize the huge changes in Shinsuke's character. It's a page turner as well as we keep wanting to know what O'Tsuya is really up to and where her allegiance truly lies.

If I give it 3.5 stars it's only because this could have been a tremendous character study but I feel that this was cut short. While the plot is allowed to develop slowly at the beginning the end is almost a bit too fast-paced. Yes the pace of the book reflects the character's changes (and very well done so) but I think this is one of those cases where I just wanted more.

But overall this is a great reflection on Tanizaki's style.


Still working on my thoughts for Translucent Tree. Since I have to write a formal review for it of course I'm getting stuck and am having trouble spitting out what I want to say. It'll come soon though.

Edited: Dec 4, 2009, 2:41 pm

From the wikipedia article:

Junichiro Tanizaki 谷崎 潤一郎
July 24, 1886 – July 30, 1965

"One of the major writers of modern Japanese literature. Some of his works present a rather shocking world of sexuality and destructive erotic obsessions; others, less sensational, subtly portray the dynamics of family life in the context of the rapid changes in 20th-century Japanese society. Frequently his stories are narrated in the context of a search for cultural identity in which constructions of "the West" and "Japanese tradition" are juxtaposed. The results are complex, ironic, demure, and provocative."

"Tanizaki's reputation began to take off when he moved to Kyoto after the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake. The loss of Tokyo's historic buildings and neighborhoods in the quake triggered a change in his enthusiasms, as he redirected his youthful love for the imagined West and modernity into a renewed interest in Japanese aesthetics and culture"

"After World War II Tanizaki again emerged into literary prominence, winning a host of awards, and was until his death regarded as Japan's greatest contemporary author. He was awarded the Order of Culture by the Japanese government in 1949 and in 1964 was elected to honorary membership in the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the first Japanese writer to be so honoured."

"Tanizaki died of a heart attack in Yugawara, Kanagawa, south-west of Tokyo, on 30 July 1965, shortly after celebrating his 79th birthday."

Edited: Jan 19, 2010, 2:29 pm

I had to write a professional review for Translucent Tree so since it's not out yet I won't paste that but I can reflect on a few of my feelings on the book. What made it hard for me to review this was that my thoughts on the book just kept going back and forth between enjoying it and not. I think this was mainly a translation issue but also a question of personal taste. It's a book about romance and love, no doubt about that. But I don't need to be told that. I don't need the characters to discuss this for me to understand what the book is about. As I mentioned though, that's just a matter of taste on my part.

I did like how much could be interpreted from the book, how she always made us question what was really being shown. Which made for a well apt title for a novel.

When the review is published I'll come back and post a link here.
I'm interested in getting this in the Japanese since it's a straightforward read which would help me get back into reading. Plus, I really do feel like a better translation would have helped.

ETA: Review can be found at in issue 3.

Dec 15, 2009, 12:23 pm

Nosaka Akiyuki: La tombe des lucioles

This is a review from a book I read in 2007 but I thought I'd paste it here. This little book contains two stories "Grave of the Fireflies" and "American Seaweed". Last I checked these are not translated into English.

"Grave of the Fireflies" - 3 and a half to 4 stars (hard to decide due to translation)
This story is infamous now due to the animated movie by Isao Takahata which has regularly sent me to the Kleenex box.

From Wikipedia about the animated movie:
"Taking place toward the end of World War II in Japan, Grave of the Fireflies is the poignant tale of the relationship between two orphaned children, Seita and his younger sister Setsuko. The children lose their mother in the firebombing of Kobe, and their father in service to the Imperial Japanese Navy, and as a result they are forced to try to survive amidst widespread famine and the callous indifference of their countrymen (some of whom are their own extended family members). Setsuko eventually dies from malnutrition, and the graphic depiction of suffering and death is uniquely harrowing in the annals of anime."

The original story by Nosaka Akiyuki was very well written but it didn't contain the emotion that the movie had, surprisingly. But, what was remarkable was seeing how the movie captured every single detail of the short story (about 70 pages): every firefly, every scrape, every tear, every word. I didn't feel as emotionally attached to the story as the movie but I wonder if that might not be due to the translator. There were two translators used, one for each story. The translator for this short story was Patrick de Vos.

"American Seaweed" - 4 and a half stars
This was translated by Anne Gossot and was very well written/translated. The story revolves around a Japanese couple (of the age where they remember WWII as the husband was in his teens/early 20s then) who invite over an American couple of the same age over to Japan. The Japanese wife had met the couple in Hawaii and was eager to invite them to her home in Japan after they had been so nice to her. The story revolves mainly around the Japanese husband who is angered at having Americans in his home and can't stop thinking about the war. Will this American remember the war as vividly as he? Will he think himself superior? When the Americans comes he insists on showing the American man the superiority of Japan and Japanese things while his wife goes out of her way to entertain the American couple. They both get annoyed when the Americans follow their own agenda and don't recognize any Japanese things as being superior.
I thought this story (about 80 pages) reflected very well the anger and frustrations between the Japanese and Americans when Americans refuse to accept Japanese norms (or, don't know they are doing as such). Having lived in Japan and been as Japanese as I could, I know it frustrated me to consistently have to prove that Americans are not as such, just to be shot down after meeting such an American. (I don't mention other cultures at this moment but I know there are issues between Japanese and other cultures as well, sometimes.) One negative was always stronger than all the positive I would do. So this story was incredibly accurate and continues to thrive during this day and age. Very interesting short story.

Jan 6, 2010, 1:41 am

Hi Lilisin! I was just thinking this morning that a lot of the books I am planning to read at the moment have a Japanese theme, so I look forward to following this thread.

I'd also like to second #16's recommendation of Akira Yoshimura, at least his book Shipwrecks which is bleak but excellent. I also have his One Man's Justice which I hope to read soon.

Good luck with the language, too. I have recently been trying to pick up my Chinese again (from having studied it at university) so I know how you feel!

Jan 19, 2010, 3:53 pm

Eiji Yoshikawa : Taiko
5/5 stars

I really enjoy a good solid historical fiction read every once in a while and this was just epic and glorious! Feudal Japan with all its samurai and lords and battles and feuding and epic-ness. Love it love it. This follows Hideyoshi and his journey to becoming Taiko but we get to see so many others! Ieyasu, Nobunaga, Mitsuhide, Katsuie, Kanbei, and the hundred other men and women who played a big part in Hideyoshi's life. So glorious I loved it! This book is already quite large at 920 pages (plus it's hardback with lovely glossy pages) but apparently the translation is an abridged version of the original. How I wish they could have just translated it all! There are a few parts where you wonder if they didn't cut something out but I didn't flinch too much over it. It's historical, it's epic. I still enjoyed this.

Other reviews state that all of the names becomes boggling but with my experience of Japanese and Japan (and if you have that same experience) I didn't have an issue and you shouldn't have too much of one. There is an index of main locations and characters before each section in case you need to look back.

But yes. Feudal Japan in all its glory. Right up my alley and I loved it.

Jan 22, 2010, 1:17 pm

Thank you for this interesting thread! I don´t know about "American Seaweed" but "Grave of the Fireflies" has been translated in 1978 for Japan Quarterly, as mentionned by Freda Freiberg in her review of Takahata´s anime for Senses of Cinema.

It took me a certain time to establish the relation between the witty and daring author of "The Pornographers" and the sensible and subdued author of "Grave of the Fireflies" because I saw the movie before I read the book and didn´t consider its origin at first as I was captivated by the filmic realization. Perhaps this was the mistake as the images are very powerful. As I didn´t read it in Japanese, I can´t say anything about the translator (they are quite good at Picquier in general).

Did you check his homepage (only in Japanese unfortunately)?

I am starting now "Involuntary Homicide", the first of "Three Plays" by Kobo Abe (transl. Donald Keene), after having read "Rendez-vous secret" (Secret appointment"?).

Gambatte kudasai.

Jan 22, 2010, 6:37 pm

Thank you! I'll have to check out his homepage someday. In the meantime I have so much to read that I'm baffled at how I'm going to do it all (and still watch all my tv shows.)

"Rendez-vous secret" would just translate as "Secret Rendez-vous". :)

Please let me know if you come up wth any Japanese books that have really excited you and recommend. Or you can look through my books with the tag "Japan" and see if you recognize anything.

Thanks for stopping by.

Feb 24, 2010, 2:14 pm

Since I'm not reading any Japanese authors right now here is a review of a book I read two years ago:

The Roads to Sata by Alan Booth
5/5 stars

The Roads to Sata by Alan Booth is a wonderful travelogue. Alan Booth decides to walk the length of Japan (all 2000 miles) to observe the quieter, less-traveled side of Japan. It depicts Japan well in all its absurdities but true beauty while driving the point home with the sentence "you can't understand Japan" because you really can't.

Throughout the novel I was reminded of my own experiences in Japan, whether that was in the mass metropolitan of Tokyo or the little side streets of Higashi Hagi all the way to the west of Japan. Ironically my experiences were the opposite of Booth's. The only times I found repulsion to my foreign-ness was in Tokyo while the little towns of Japan didn't even seem surprised that I spoke Japanese.

But Booth does an excellent job of pinpointing the true moments of Japanese-ness and writing it in a truly exquisite way while also demonstrating his exasperation with everyday encounters.

Oh how we all get sick of hearing "jouzu desu ne" (you're so good {at Japanese}!) after uttering the single word "konnichiwa" (hello). I must count myself fortunate that I've never been offered a fork.

I highly recommend this book to those who are familiar and unfamiliar with Japan or to those who are familiar with being a foreigner in another country. An incredibly written insight to what it is to be a foreigner even when you are fluent in the language of the respective country! I really enjoyed reading this.

Feb 25, 2010, 1:48 am

I second lilisin's recommendation of The Roads to Sata. It is, to my mind, one of the great books by a non-Japanese about Japan.

Feb 25, 2010, 5:41 am

Excellent! - I have it on my shelf. I'll move it up the TBR pile.

Edited: Mar 5, 2010, 1:25 am

Update on my Japanese short story progress!

As an ongoing project to get my Japanese back and up at a level where I can read fiction and transition to the post-taking classes level, I started read the reader, Read Real Japanese Fiction.

The book includes the following stories in Japanese.

1.) 'Kamisama' - Kawakami Hiromi
2.) 'Mukashi yuuhi no koen de' - Otsuichi
3.) 'Nikuya Omuu' - Ishii Shinji
4.) 'Miira' - Yoshimoto Banana
5.) 'Hyakumonogatari' - Kitamura Kaoru
6.) 'Kakeru' - Tawada Yoko

It's bilingual and very well organized. I'm enjoying it thus far and am excited to be up and running again in Japanese.

I'm currently reading the first story: 神様 by 川上博美。
And oh I'm enjoyed myself so much! I spent my free time at work these past two weeks writing out all the kanji from the short story (kanji I know and kanji I don't) and now I'm going through the story sentence by sentence. It's great how fast this is coming back to me but I am going very slowly. Mostly though because there is so much good information in this! I always say the best way to get past classroom-use language is to read and this just proves that. The grammar, the vocab, seeing how sentences are structured; it's fascinating! I could just read right through this and look at the translation but the way I'm doing it now, although slow, has just been a great journey. I can't help thinking too "well, how would I translate this? how would I format that?". Especially when looking back at how much I complained about the Translucent Tree translation.

Oh this has been so much fun. On to page 3! (out of 11)

(I'll comment on the story itself when I finish reading it.)

ETA: Just finished page 3. Love this imagery!
The bears feet treaded along the asphalt, constant and faint scraping sounds.

There's just something about the Japanese way of using onomatopoeia that is so fascinating. A seemingly simple and regular sentence that carries such charm with the sound that しゃりしゃり provokes in your mind. Really alters the mood.

Edited: Mar 16, 2010, 1:45 am

Meisei Goto : Shot by Both Sides

Akaki is on a bridge in Ochanomizu bridge waiting for Yamakawa. No particular reason why he chooses that bridge to meet Yamakawa. He could have easily have chosen the next bridge over. Or a park bench. Or the subway exit. And what a strange thought to randomly decide to meet Yamakawa. And now he can't stop thinking about his greycoat that he lost at some point twenty years ago. Or was it a blue goat? Perhaps it was tan with stripes? Perhaps it was stolen?

And on and on do those digressions go. This book is the written equivalent of listening to someone trying to tell a story who just won't get to the point. Poorly written stream-of-consciousness for a plot that could have contained many wonderful layers of complexity and intrigue.

We end up following him throughout Tokyo, aimlessly describing the subway and train lines he took 20 years ago to get to where he is today. He takes off in the early morning and follows the path he once took. Eventually he gets to the home of an old friend at chapter four. But at chapter 5 I skipped to the last chapter so I don't know what happens in the middle.

I have yet to read it the last chapter too; I just wanted to get on with this review. And I'm so bored from reading this book that the last 8 pages is proving too dull to read. In the middle of the book you're supposed to get some resolution about the coat and some insight about how it relates to his memories of his childhood in North Korea while under Japanese rule but I couldn't tell you what that insight is. I'm usually a patient reader but this just wasn't striking me at all.

And to think this book is only 215 pages long with large font. You'd think I could make it. Perhaps I'll come back when I do finally finish the last chapter (let alone the other chapters). Till then, don't hold your breath.

Edited: Mar 16, 2010, 1:50 am

Not much about Meisei Goto on Wikipedia.

Meisei Goto 明生 後藤
April 4, 1932–August 2, 1999

"Also known as Akio Gotō, he was born in North Korea, but fled with his family to Kyūshū, Japan while in junior highschool. He studied Russian literature at Waseda University, with particular interest in Nikolai Gogol. He then worked at an advertising agency and a publishing house, before becoming a professional novelist in 1968."

Prof. Tom Gill from the Faculty of International Studies at Meiji Gakuin University in Yokohama translated my book.

You can definitely see the influence of Gogol as Goto spends the majority of chapter 1 relating the story of his greycoat to Gogol's (short?) story "The Overcoat". He even names his main character after Gogol's character in that story.

Edited: Mar 29, 2010, 11:58 pm

Just finished re-watching Samurai trilogy by Inagaki. The cinematography is amazing for the mid 50's. Also recently
discovered Sword of the Beast by Hideo Gosha. More beautiful cinematography. This time black and white scope.
Also in b&w scope is Human Condition by Kobayashi.
Ever heard of Gomikawa, author of HC?

Mar 30, 2010, 10:32 am

> 35: The trilogy by Inagaki about samurai Musashi is good, but better is series of five movies about Musashi by Tomu Uchida ;-)

Mar 30, 2010, 10:35 pm

Can't say I'm familiar with any of those movies or directors.

Mar 31, 2010, 11:45 am

Like writers, the lesser-known directors are, sometimes,
the most interesting. Kobayashi you might know from
Kwaidan (based on the Lafcadio Hearn stories) or Harakiri.
All readily available on dvd.

Mar 31, 2010, 7:34 pm

And "Harakiri" (aka "Seppuku") is a masterpiece; one of the best samurai films ever made. It's right up there with Hirokazu Kore'eda's recent "Hana," and similar in that both call into question much of the samurai ethos.

Edited: Apr 1, 2010, 9:23 am

Btw, very good book about classical Japanese cinema is Currents in Japanese cinema : essays by Tadao Sato.

Edited: Jun 9, 2011, 12:45 am

Mitsuyo Kakuta : The Eighth Day
4/5 stars

This book is being published in English in May 2010 and I highly recommend people go out there and purchase it. I was stuck in a reading rut (I get into those a lot) and just could not put this down!

The novel is quite short, at 248 or so pages, and is told in two perspectives. The first half is narrated by Kiwako, a woman who steals the baby of her married ex-lover. She takes the baby, whom she names Kaoru, out of Tokyo, evading the eyes of police and familiar faces. She ends up in an old woman's home but has to flee when the police are told to come to evict her. Kiwako thus joins the Angel Home, a home for women fleeing dire circumstances. However, the Angel Home is actually a (non-religious) sect which is being placed under great criticism due to past collisions with sects such as Aum Shinrikyo. When outsiders get the police to raid the Angel Home, Kiwako flees again to an island where she works in a shop and takes care of Kaoru. That is, until she is caught on camera and the police find her and take Kaoru away.

The second half of the story is told under Kaoru's point of view, now Erina, and her life since being reunited with her biological family. We follow her as she continues to cope with the idea of being a "stolen baby" and her struggles to relate to both her biological parents and her "adoptive" mother. Her repulsion to both sides is adamant, as she obviously feels anger to both sides for her situation. Ironically, Elena now finds herself pregnant as well by a married man. It becomes interesting to see what she decides to do with the baby so as not to follow her "adoptive" mother's footsteps.

Very interesting and engaging story. I particularly enjoyed following Kiwako's struggles to keep Kaoru while evading the police, even to the extent of joining a known cult. Having studied Aum Shinrikyo it was interesting to compare the Angel Home to it (thankfully, though, the Angel Home is no where near to being like the sinister Aum Shinrikyo). Kaoru's plight was also rather interesting.

In any case, as I said, I definitely recommend this one.

Edited: May 11, 2010, 1:39 pm

We are reading Junichiro Tanizaki at the Author Theme Reads. Please join us!

Before starting on Tanizaki though I decided to read another Japanese book. Currently reading La fille que j'ai abandonnee (Watashi ga suteta onna/The Girl I Left Behind) by Shuusaku Endo. This is the first I've read from this author. It tells of a boy who manipulates a girl (Mitsu) into sleeping with him and decides to just drop and leave her. Years later though he can't get her out of his mind and decides to find her only to come upon a desperate story. Being a Japanese Catholic, Endo's works come with much criticism so it'll be interesting to see how his works differ from other Japanese authors.

I'm also rereading Fires on the Plain with my ESL student. Just as amazing the second time around.

Edited: May 17, 2010, 5:23 pm

Shusaku Endo : La fille que j'ai abandonnee (The girl I left behind/Watashi ga suteta onna)
4/5 stars

As I mentioned before, this is the first of Shusaku Endo's works I read. This is one of his first so I'll definitely go on to read his more famous ones. This one is said to yes, follow his style, but it has to be fully developed.

It tells of a boy (Yoshioka) who manipulates a girl (Mitsu) into sleeping with him by making her emphasize with his slight disability. Once he has had her he just drops and leaves her. Years later though he can't get her out of his mind and decides to find her only to come upon a desperate story.

Mitsu is a naive girl who can't help but emphasize with others misfortunes believing theirs to be worse than hers so she's always the first to help them out. Unfortunately this allows her to be easily manipulated by others. She also has an unfortunate spot on her arm that begins to hurt which later leads her to a hospital for lepers.

We really weep for how a sweet innocent girl can be punished while a character like Yoshioka manages to succeed quite well in life despite consciously doing ill acts. In Endo's postface (which he writes 20 years later) he mentions how Mitsu is based off a real woman he met and how he means to use Mitsu as a comparison to Jesus. Although I know of Endo's Catholic beliefs, I'm not so convinced of the ties to Jesus but I'll let him and others believe what they will. But I definetly see his emphasis on other moral tendencies.

Otherwise, I'm interested to read more by Endo.

May 17, 2010, 5:21 pm

From the wikipedia article:

Shusaku Endo 遠藤 周作
March 27, 1923–September 29, 1996

a renowned 20th century Japanese author who wrote from the unusual perspective of being both Japanese and Catholic. (The population of Christians in Japan is less than 1%.) Together with Junnosuke Yoshiyuki, Shotaro Yasuoka, Junzo Shono, Hiroyuki Agawa, Ayako Sono, and Shumon Miura, Endo is categorized as one of the "Third Generation," the third major group of writers who appeared after the Second World War.

Endo was born in Tokyo in 1923, but his parents moved shortly after to live in Japanese-occupied Manchuria. When his parents divorced in 1933, Endo returned to Japan with his mother to live in her hometown of Kobe. His mother converted to Catholicism when he was a small child and raised the young Endo as a Catholic. Endo was baptized in 1935 at the age of 12 and given the Christian name of Paul.

Endo studied French literature at the University of Lyon from 1950 to 1953.

His books reflect many of his childhood experiences. These include the stigma of being an outsider, the experience of being a foreigner, the life of a hospital patient, and the struggle with tuberculosis. However, his books mainly deal with the moral fabric of life. His Catholic faith can be seen at some level in all of his books, and it is often a central feature. Most of his characters struggle with complex moral dilemmas, and their choices often produce mixed or tragic results. In this his work is often compared to that of Graham Greene. In fact, Greene himself labeled Endo one of the finest writers of the 20th century.

May 17, 2010, 5:34 pm

The Endo book led me to look up leprosy in Japan, since, despite having studied the culture for so long, I have heard nothing about this. It popped some interesting articles about the state of leprosy there and how only recently (2008), the problem has been "resolved".

Interesting stuff. Here's an easy history of leprosy in Japan article on wikipedia.

Edited: May 23, 2012, 5:31 pm

Kenzaburo Oe: Gibier d'elevage
3/5 stars

I haven't had any time to read since I've been traveling since August but got this short 100 pager on a plane. Talks about the reaction of a Japanese village to a black American soldier whose plane has crashed and of which he is the sole survivor. More specifically it speaks of a boy's reaction to the soldier's impressive presence. I enjoyed Oe's style and narrative and really enjoyed the main character but I can't say I gained much from this book nor will I remember it later. Although I loved Nip the Buds.

I think the following describes the book well taken from wikipedia.

" He explained, shortly after learning that he'd been awarded the Nobel Prize, "I am writing about the dignity of human beings.""

I would elaborate more but I'm so busy!

Update on May 23, 2012: I think I'm going to blame this review on the stress and fatigue I was experiencing when I read this work. The truth of the matter is that I still remember this story vividly almost a year and a half after the fact. So this book is actually quite worth reading and I feel bad for leaving off a poor impression of it the first time around. I also found out that the title in English is "Prize Stock" and can be found in The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories.

Oct 9, 2010, 9:30 pm

Having just returned to Library Thing after a year-long absence, Lilisin, I'm pleased to find this thread devoted to Japanese Literature. I've always been fascinated by the dual poles of Japanese culture, the sword and the chrysanthemum, as they take form in works of literature.

With that in mind, the 40th anniversary of the seppuku of Mishima Yukio will take place in barely six weeks, on 25 November, and whatever you may think of Mishima and his work, I would welcome reading your thoughts.

Oct 10, 2010, 9:42 pm

Thank you Rood for the comment.
As for Mishima, I've actually only read him once and it was a collection of short stories which in general I tend to not gravitate toward. Since I have yet to read a proper Mishima I can't say anything otherwise I would definitely give you my thoughts! Perhaps I should place him higher on the TBR list.

Apr 6, 2011, 6:46 pm

Kobo Abe : The Box Man
4.5/5 stars

This one.
This one was not an easy read.

This is the record of a box man... That is to say, at this juncture the box man is me. A box man, in his box, is recording the chronicle of a box man.

I thought I got it in the beginning. Then the middle I found befuddling. And then the last 20 pages brought the clarity I sought; or at least, the interpretation that seems most relevant to my life and my role in society.

"The nameless protagonist gives up his identity and the trappings of a normal life to live in a large cardboard box he wears over his head... he describes the world outside as he sees or perhaps imagines it, a tenuous reality that seems to include a mysterious rifleman who is determined to shoot him, a seductive young nurse given to disrobing, and a doctor who wants to become a box man himself." Such is the summary presented on the back of the book.

What I ended up seeing is a man who knows not how to relate to his fellow human beings, particularly women, after a certain encounter in his youth. He loses himself in the physical and the ejaculatory when it comes to the touch of a woman and cannot handle the outside world and its "moral" pressures. A touch, an emission, seem so easy to understand but becomes muddied when standards and rules and regulations try to play a part. What can he do but try to isolate himself from this outward stimulation and simplify his life to the world of a cardboard box; a box to counter the stares of his peers like a window shields its contents from the UV rays of the sun.

Unfortunately, despite your attempt at isolation, the world will still bare down on you and even worse, will try to shock you out of unsocial behavior. Thus, the roles of doctor, the rifleman and the nurse. At the end, I believe the doctor and the rifleman are one in the same with the box man, remnants of his outside-the-box character, trying to bring him back to society as he knows is "right to do". But their threatening nature makes him fear for his life knowing that death must be approaching.

The more I think about it, the more complex and amazing this book is. It really does come down to those last 20 pages. So much to say about this one.

Kudos to E. Dale Saunders for the English translation.

Edited: Apr 6, 2011, 6:52 pm

There is a moment at the end that I really enjoyed.

The dial of the clock wears out unevenly;
Most worn
Is the area round eight.
As it is stared at with abrasive glances
unfailingly twice a day,
It is weathered away.
On the other side
The area at two
Is only half as worn,
For closed eyes at night
Pass without stopping.
If there is one who possesses a flat watch evenly worn,
It is he who, failing at the start, is running one lap behind.
Thus the world is always
A lap fast --
The world he thinks he sees
Has not yet begun.
Illusory time,
When the hands stand vertically on the dial;
Without the bell announcing the raising of the curtain,
The play has come to an end.

I regret now not having collected quotes from this book. There were some great reflections.

Apr 6, 2011, 7:02 pm

Not much from the wikipedia article:

Kobo Abe 安部 公房 (Abe, Koubou)
March 7, 1924 – January 22, 1993

Abe has been often compared to Franz Kafka and Alberto Moravia for his surreal, often nightmarish explorations of individuals in contemporary society and his modernist sensibilities.

Among the honors bestowed on him were the Akutagawa Prize in 1951 for The Crime of S. Karuma, the Yomiuri Prize in 1962 for Woman in the Dunes, and the Tanizaki Prize in 1967 for the play Friends. Kenzaburō Ōe stated that Abe deserved the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he himself had won (Abe was nominated multiple times).

Apr 6, 2011, 7:10 pm

The Crime of S. Karuma doesn't sound familiar. It's not listed on the author page either. Any english trans.?

Apr 6, 2011, 7:16 pm

There doesn't seem to be an English translation, no. After a brief jaunt on it appears to be a short story and is available in a short story collection called 壁 (kabe; Wall) released in 1969 but no one seems to own that collection on LT either.

Edited: Apr 6, 2011, 7:32 pm

I just checked wiki and it's listed as a play from 1978 with no trans.
I didn't realize he wrote so many plays. Only 3 are translated.
I'll check around for Wall. Thanks, lil. Interesting review.
The description of Kangaroo Notebook brings some of the nightmare back.
You know you're in trouble when your shins start sprouting radishes!

Apr 7, 2011, 8:41 pm

I'm a big fan of Japanese literature and movies. I didn't see Osamu Dazai mentioned. Setting Sun and No Longer Human are worth a read. Some Prefer Nettles by Tanazaki also.

I've just finished my first novel; I'm not sure how much influence Japanese writers have had on me, their movies too. I mention on my web site the idea for my main character came from Shinamura in Snow Country and a quote from Paul Bowles.

“He can spend hours merely sitting on the ground, looking out over a landscape, in a kind of contemplation that you and I will never know. His is not engaging in metaphysical reflections, you might say, rather, that he is enjoying the act of existing.”

It's kind of an existentialist love story

If you want any movie recommendations, tell me what sort of stuff you like.

May 17, 2011, 10:33 pm

Paul - I do have Dazai's The Setting Sun on my pile of books to be read but I just haven't gotten to it. So many books to get to that I can't get to them all! I do like Tanizaki as well (his In Praise of Shadows is excellent!) but I have yet to read Nettles. I look forward to reading it someday however.

In the meantime, I've read another Japanese book!

Seishi Yokomizo : Le village aux huit tombes
(The Village of Eight Tombs/Graves)
5/5 stars

Seishi Yokomizo is one of the most re-known murder mystery writers in Japan, famous for his character Kosuke Kindaichi. I read this due to a recommendation from a dear Japanese friend of mine who is well versed in all Japanese literature (a great asset to have!). And it was just as fun to read as I expected.

This particular book is about Tatsuya, who has been asked to come back to the village from his childhood, the Village of Eight Tombs, to claim an inheritance. However, this is a village that his mother had escaped in his youth due to a frightful attack and this is now a village that, he has been warned, he should not return to lest something horrible happen. And horrible things do happen as a series of murders follow him as soon as he learns about his inheritance.

All in all a fun read with some actually interesting notes on the differences between village versus city mentality and lifestyle.

My only huh? moment was the character Kosuke Kindaichi. He actually rarely makes an appearance in the book and isn't even needed to solve the mystery. From this one book alone I can't tell if he's supposed to be a spoof character of if he's supposed to be a highly respected character. I'd have to read another (and I will) to see if it's the same thing. But really interesting that he really doesn't play a big role at all. In fact, the police are pretty much worthless in this book. Interesting.

Fun read, nevertheless!

Edited: May 18, 2011, 2:44 am

From the wikipedia article:

Yokomizo Seishi 横溝 正史
May 24, 1902 - December 28, 1981

"Yokomizo was born in the city of Kobe, Hyōgo Prefecture. He read detective stories as a boy and in 1921, while employed by the Daiichi Bank, published his first story in the popular magazine Shin Seinen ("New Youth"). He graduated from Osaka Pharmaceutical College (currently part of Osaka University) with a degree in pharmacy, and initially intended to take over his family's drug store even though sceptical of the contemporary ahistorical attitude towards drugs. However, drawn by his interest in literature, and the encouragement of Edogawa Rampo, he went to Tokyo instead, where he was hired by the Hakubunsha publishing company in 1926. He resigned in 1932 to devote his full time to writing.

Yokomizo was attracted to the literary genre of historical fiction, especially that of the historical detective novel. In July 1934, while resting in the mountains of Nagano to recuperate from tuberculosis, he completed his first novel Onibi, which was published in 1935, although parts were immediately censored by the authorities. Undeterred, Yokomizo followed on his early success with a second novel Ninngyo Sashichi torimonocho (1938-1939). However, during World War II, he faced difficulties in getting his works published due to the wartime conditions, and was in severe economic difficulties. The lack of Streptomycin and other antibiotics also meant that his tuberculosis could not be properly treated, and he joked with friends that it was a race to see whether he would die of disease or of starvation.

However, soon after the end of World War II, his works received wide recognition and he developed an enormous fan following. He published many works via Kodansha's Weekly Shōnen Magazine in serialized form, concentrating only on popular mystery novels, based on the orthodox western detective story format, starting with Honjin Satsujin Jiken and Chōchō Satsujin Jinken (both in 1946). His works became the model for postwar Japanese mystery writing. He was also often called the "Japanese John Dickson Carr" after the writer whom he admired.
Yokomizo is most well-known for creating the private detective character Kosuke Kindaichi. Many of his works have been made into movies.

Yokomizo died of colon cancer in 1981. His grave is at the Seishun-en cemetery in Kawasaki, Kanagawa."

The book I read, "The Village of Eight Graves" (八つ墓村 Yatsuhakamura, March 1949 - March 1951), is apparently one of his major works.

Edited: Jun 4, 2011, 11:59 pm

Michio Takeyama : Harp of Burma
3.5/5 stars

Read this on the plane coming back from Japan as I've been meaning to read it for quite a while. It takes place during the Japanese occupation of Burma during WWII and reflects on a troop as they try to keep hope alive through music and their refusal to leave a man behind. It's a good story but I can't help but compare it to Fires on the Plain which this book simply cannot compete against. Some of the primary differences:

Focuses on despair
Focuses on a single soldier and his struggles
Struggle to keep humanity alive

Focuses on hope
Focuses on an entire troop and their struggles
Struggle to leave their humanity and compassion behind

Both books reflected on the struggles of the individual versus society but in slightly different ways. Harp's main concept is the comparison of Burma's way of living versus Japan and which is more correct. A highly civilized advanced society based on military teaching versus a society that sacrifices advancement based on religious training for the sake of a strong sense of religion and community.

"We Japanese have not cared to make strenuous spiritual efforts. We have not even recognized their value. What we stressed was merely a man's abilities, the things he could do -- not what kind of a man he was, how he lived, or the depth of his understanding. Of perfection as a human being, of humility, stoicism, holiness, the capacity to gain salvation and to help others toward it -- of all these virtues we were left ignorant."

It is believed that Japan has lost its moral sense out of greed and that's why they came to lose the war. Men forgot their own independent way of thinking to become patriotic and to conglomerate themselves to a greater sense of unity. But one can't go anywhere with such a group mentality.

This passage along with another debate between two soldiers at the beginning of the book (pg. 46 in the standard copy) are certainly the strongest parts of the book. Although the story of Mizushima is quite heartfelt and admirable.

Overall, a pleasant read but nothing compared to Fires.

Edited: May 18, 2011, 2:44 am

From the wikipedia article:

Takeyama Michio 竹山 道雄
July 17, 1903 – June 15, 1984

Takeyama was born in Osaka, but moved frequently as his father, a bank employee, was often transferred. From 1907-1913, he lived in Gyeongseong (modern Seoul), Korea, then under Japanese rule. After graduating from Tokyo Imperial University's Department of German Literature, he was sent by Ministry of Education to Europe, where he studied for three years in Paris and Berlin.

On returning home in 1932, Takeyama taught German language as a professor at First Higher School, and also translated works of German literature into Japanese. Among the works he translated were Goethe's An Anthology, Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra and Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography by Albert Schweitzer.

However, despite his close connections with Germany, he was very leery of the Tripartite Alliance between Japan, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and published an editorial called Doitsu, atarashiki chūsei? ('Germany, the medieval age refurbished?'), in which he was critical of foreign totalitarianism.

In 1944, Takeyama relocated to Kamakura, Kanagawa prefecture after his home in Tokyo was destroyed in the air raids. He lived in Kamakura until his death in 1984. After World War II, Takeyama became famous for his novel, Biruma no Tategoto ("Harp of Burma"), which was serialized in Akatonbo ('The Red Dragonfly'), a literary magazine aimed primarily at children, over 1947-1948, before being published in book format in October 1948. An award-winning novel, it was subsequently translated into English and made into a well-known 1956 movie. In 1948, he wrote Scars, set in northern China, which Takeyama had visited in 1931 and 1938. Harp of Burma is world-famous, in part because of the prize-winning film The Burmese Harp.

In 1950, during the height of the popularity of socialism in Japanese politics, Takeyama again spoke out, this time against Stalinism, and warning that totalitarianism can come from the left end of the political spectrum, as well as the right.

In 1951, Takeyama resigned his teaching position in favor of literary criticism, publishing Shōwa no Seishin-shi ("A Psychological History of the Shōwa period") and Ningen ni Tsuite ("On Human Beings"); however, throughout his career, Takeyama had a very diverse range of interests.

In 1959, Takeyama created a literary magazine, Jiyu ("Freedom"), together with fellow novelist Hirabayashi Taiko. He also started to write travelogues. His works Koto Henreki: Nara (Pilgrimage to the ancient capital, Nara), and Nihonjin to Bi (The Japanese and Beauty) combine his broad and deep understanding of the classic arts of Japan and his sensitivity to European literature. He also wrote Yoroppa no Tabi ("Travels in Europe") and Maboroshi to Shinjitsu: Watashi no Sobieto Kembun ("Fantasy and Truth: My Observations of the Soviet Union"), in which he analyzed Western civilization and his perception of the failure of the communist system in the Soviet Union.

Edited: Jun 4, 2011, 11:59 pm

Shusaku Endo : The Sea and Poison
5/5 stars

Excellent. Simply excellent.

Endo tackles the difficult prospect of understanding how a group of Japanese doctors went through with performing vivisections on American soldiers. Based on a true account, this book is so full of moral complexities and intrigue that it's very hard to put down.

This book could have been written in any number of ways but the way Endo presents it is just wonderful. It begins with a prologue, a man in a barren outskirt of Tokyo looking for treatment at the office of a Dr. Suguro, a quiet solemn man, too advanced in his craft to be a simple village doctor. After some probing we learn that Suguro was one of the doctors who took part in the vivisections and we were are then thrown into Suguro's life. But we do not stay on Suguro; we follow other participants in the vivisections and see how they got to become active members of what seems to be an easy moral decision not to participate.

This book is like walking through the atomic bomb museum in Hiroshima. As a whole, we understand what happened, why it happened and the aftereffects of the bomb that fell. But no matter how much we study, how much we read, we will never be able to fully place ourselves within the mindsets of those who were in the immediate vicinity of that bomb. So like the museum, we walk from artifact to artifact, reading snippets of the lives of the victims; those that died and those that survived. From the pieces of glass melted by radiation to the little lunchbox still containing its scorched rice ball, to the official documents warning against the bomb, to photos of the actual damage. We read, we look, we feel, but nevertheless we will never comprehend the decision to drop the bomb. We will never get the full story.

Was it worth dropping the bomb on innocent civilians to save Japan and the US from further casualties if the war were to continue? As we ask that question, we can only ask the doctors whether it was worth the sacrifice of a few American soldiers to further the medical understanding of the human body.

And with this in mind the characters are introduced to us, characters with no sense of remorse, with no ability to feel anymore, except for the sole Dr. Suguro who cannot help but question how his colleagues have developed such an inability to feel. Is Japanese culture so homogeneous in its thought that no one even dares question something as seemingly inhumane as a vivisection?

All in all, a fantastic insight onto the moral complexities of five very interesting characters and the hospital that houses them.

And as for those who have previously thought that this work wasn't to point because it was one of Endo's earlier works, I ask them to reconsider. Read the book and imagine the other ways it could have been written. Should it all have been told via the original 3rd person outsider; should it have been told via just Suguro's perspective; should it have been 5 separate accounts of the five primary characters? There are so many ways to tell the story and I believe Endo did it just right.

Jun 5, 2011, 12:15 pm

Fabulous review of The Sea and Poison, lilisin! That goes to the very top of my wish list.

Edited: Jun 16, 2011, 2:33 pm

Yasutaka Tsutsui : Hell
4/5 stars

Yasutaka's Hell isn't engrossed in flames nor is it a scene of unbearable tortures. In fact, those who enter it simply feel nothing. They might meet their murderer, or the man who had an affair with their wife, and still, feel nothing. Simply, they are able to peer into the other's mind and see what it is that so haunted their thoughts while they were living. It's an interesting book that starts off simply then builds and builds like an avalanche, picking up more characters as it goes, building this incredible network of interpersonal connections that you didn't think were going to come up. At the end everyone is linked together somehow and its really fun to see how. This is less of a character study and more a book for those interested in the surreal and seeking a little bemusement. I had fun reading this one and then ending was actually quite pleasant.

Jun 16, 2011, 2:37 pm

From the wikipedia article:

Yasutaka Tsutsui 筒井 康隆
Sep 24, 1934 – living

"A Japanese novelist, science fiction author, and actor born in Osaka. Along with Shinichi Hoshi and Sakyo Komatsu, he is one of the most famous science fiction writers in Japan. His Yumenokizaka bunkiten won the Tanizaki Prize in 1987. He has also won the 1981 Izumi Kyoka award, the 1989 Kawabata Yasunari award, and the 1992 Nihon SF Taisho Award. In 1997, he was decorated as a Chevalier Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government.

His work is known for its dark humour and satirical content. He has often satirized Japanese taboos such as disabilities and the Tenno system, and has been victim to much criticism as a result. From 1993 to 1996, he went on a writing-strike to protest the excessive, self-imposed restraint of Japanese publishers."

Edited: Jun 18, 2011, 8:10 pm

Keigo Higashino : The Devotion of Suspect X
4/5 stars

Well I haven't done that in a while. One day, an entire book. Just sat outside in the shade on a 105 degree day in Texas and read. And I must say that I had fun. Lately I've been on a serious Japan kick and decided to finally read the Early Reviewers copy I got of this book. I'm not usually one to reach for a crime thriller but if it involves Japan, I'm definitely want to read it. And I'm glad I did. It was a perfect page turner.

What I liked was that it wasn't a whodunit type of book. In fact, we already know who is involved with the murder and why the murder happened. Instead we spend the rest of the book following the detectives as they try to understand how the suspects are related to the murderer and why nothing concrete is really coming up. It was great fun as our accomplice, the brilliant mathematician Ishigami is paired against the brilliant physicist Yukawa. A battle of wits and I liked their play on conventional math theories and their actual very philosophical outlook; seeing what we want to see versus seeing what we are told to see.

"Which is more difficult: formulating an unsolvable problem or solving that problem?"

All in all a fun, fast read that I'm very happy to have read.
I hear it's quite similar to Natsuo Kirino's Out which I will have to look into as I own the book but have not read it yet.

There wasn't anything particularly Japanese about this story that I noticed but it is interesting to notice the huge difference in style between this and the more classic crime thriller a la Yokomizo. I'll be interested to see how other Japanese authors compare to one another within this genre.

As Higashino is a very contemporary author not much is written about him (on wikipedia).

Keigo Higashino 東野 圭吾
Feb 4, 1958 - living

"Born in Osaka, he started writing novels while still working as an engineer at Nippon Denso Co. (presently DENSO). He won the Edogawa Rampo Award, which is awarded annually to the finest mystery work, in 1985 for the novel Hōkago (After School) at age 27. Subsequently, he quit his job and started a career as a writer in Tokyo.

In 1999, he won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award for the novel Himitsu (The Secret), which was translated into English by Kerim Yasar and published by Vertical Inc.1 under the title of Naoko in 2004. In 2006, he won the 134th Naoki Prize for Yōgisha X no Kenshin (The Devotion of Suspect X). His novels had been nominated five times before winning with this novel. The novel also won the 6th Honkaku Mystery Grand Prize."

Jun 27, 2011, 11:57 pm

I'm reading The Devotion of Suspect X right now and very much enjoying it! It's a fast-moving book, almost deceptively easy to read (I speed along and then realize that in my haste to get on with the story, I may have missed some tiny detail that may come to play a big part in the intricate plot later and force myself to go back a bit and slow down).

I admire how well Higashino delineates the different voices of each character-they are quite distinctive without sounding forced or caricatured. Much of the contemporary literary fiction I read is written in the first person with relatively little dialogue, so there is less pressure to script multiple, well-differentiated but convincing voices (the goal being to write one compelling, extraordinary voice, an all-encompassing intelligence through which we see the story's world). Genre fiction, however, is generally written in third-person (whether limited or omniscient) and the need for distinctive voicing is great but the skill to execute this is so often lacking. Higashino apparently possesses this skill to an unusual degree. I'm really quite impressed.

Edited: Jul 31, 2011, 7:34 pm

On Akutagawa: If you haven't read 'Cogswheels' and 'A Fool's Life' you must. One of the greatest writers in the history of literature is losing his mind and is absolutely aware that it's happening and where it will lead - and is writing it down in short bursts. They are two of the most extreme documents I've ever read. Also, in a book called Japanese death poems, is his last haiku and the story behind it. Also very intense.

My absolute favorite in Japanese literature is Yasunari Kawabata, especially the later works, Master of Go and Beauty and Sadness ... but I also love House of the Sleeping Beauties ...

i haven't read Kitchen, but I loved Banana's NP.

as for books discussed above, i didn't read Fires on the Plains, but I saw the movie (which was great). I read Abe's Woman in the Dunes (a huge influence on my own work) and Ruined Map and tried to read Box Man, but it was too intense for me. That was 20 years ago, and I just pulled it off the shelf along with Tanizaki's Makioka Sister and I'm deciding which one I'm going to read now.

Jul 31, 2011, 3:45 pm

66, thanks for stopping by.

Akutagawa is definitely a wonderful read and I will have to read more of his stories soon. I love his style and use of imagery to really set a tone for his stories. Fantastic stuff. Kawabata on the other hand is more difficult for me. I've never really been able to really take in his writing so I decided after reading his last book that I'd wait a while before I tried him again. Banana, I've only read Kitchen, and since it was a long time ago I hardly remember even what it's about. But I have been reading The Lake by her and so you can expect to see my thoughts on that one soon.

If you thought the movie for Fires was great then you'll be mesmerized by the book. I can't hardly recommend it enough. Abe is indeed intense but I'm finding that to really be a great thing. I have his Ark Sakura and The Face of Another lined up to be read soon since I loved loved loved his Box Man. But it's certainly not an easy read.

I think whether you read that or the Tanizaki, you'll have a good experience.

Jul 31, 2011, 7:44 pm

Thanks, I just started Makioka sisters, but now that I read your note I'm going to switch back to Box Man.

Akutagawa's death haiku:

'Laughing at Myself'

One spot alone
Left glowing in the dark
My snotty nose

One of his first stories was called ‘The Nose.’ It was noticed by Soseki, and that led to Akutagawa’s success. I wondered if the death haiku was a reference to the story, so I asked an expert. She did not have an answer, but did say that use of ‘nose’ indicated some light-heartedness, humor, a joke.

The last two paragraphs of his suicide note:

The world I am in now is one of diseased nerves, lucid as ice. Such voluntary death must give us peace, if not happiness. Now that I am ready, I find nature more beautiful than ever, paradoxically as this may sound. I have seen, loved and understood more than others. In this at least I have some satisfaction, despite all the pain I have thus far had to endure.

P.S. Reading a life of Empedocles, I felt how old is this desire to make a god of oneself. This letter, so far as I am conscious, never attempts this. On the contrary, I consider myself one of the most common humans. You may recall those days of twenty years ago when we discussed “Empedocles on Etna” under the lindentrees. In those days I was one who wished to make a god of myself.

Edited: Aug 23, 2011, 1:54 am

Banana Yoshimoto : The Lake
3.5/5 stars

I haven't read a Yoshimoto since Kitchen which was so many years ago that I can't even tell you what I thought of it. I hadn't had much exposure to Japanese literature at that point and I was still getting a hold of what kind of literature in general I liked. I don't remember disliking it at all but I don't remember being floored by it as it seems I should be by all the reviews I read these days about that book. So I was excited to refresh my Banana memories with this new book.

And overall it was a pleasant experience.

"The characters, Chihiro and Nakajima, build their relationship off a sequence of exchanged looks from the windows of their respective apartments. Simple glances lead to meetings at coffee shops and from there, Nakajima finds himself at home in Chihiro’s apartment. Yet at their first sexual encounter, Nakajima must admit his discomfort, rising from some trouble in his past. Through Chihiro's narration, we explore her past and Nakajima’s as they find comfort in one another’s arms where there is no judgment, nor outward jeering."

This is a rough excerpt from my official review with

But I want to state that I did enjoy the ease of Banana's prose even though her characters didn't really do much for me. There was some insight on how we are perceived by others, especially when we come from untraditional backgrounds and I enjoyed the history with the cult at the end. But when it comes to that topic I think Mitsuyo Kakuta's The Eighth Day was more powerful.

These types of books I realize I don't get as much enjoyment out of. Not to say that they aren't very well written or executed but just not my passion. How to describe these books? Perhaps I don't like characters who are so lost and feel that they are so misunderstood that no one can understand them but that doesn't really matter 'cause they don't have a huge effect on the people anyway.

I think it's a mindset I don't understand.
But other than that it's an easy, quick and pleasant read especially in terms of Banana's style. But I don't think I can call myself a Banana "fan".

Aug 23, 2011, 1:53 am

From the wikipedia article:

Banana Yoshimoto よしもと ばなな
July 24, 1964 – living

"Banana is the pen name of Mahoko Yoshimoto (吉本 真秀子).

Yoshimoto, daughter of Takaaki Yoshimoto, was born in Tokyo on July 24, 1964. Along with having a famous father, the poet and critic Takaaki Yoshimoto, Banana's sister, Haruno Yoiko, is a well-known cartoonist in Japan. Growing up in a liberal family, she learned the value of independence from a young age.

She graduated from Nihon University's Art College, majoring in Literature. During that time, she took the pseudonym "Banana" after her love of banana flowers, a name she recognizes as both "cute" and "purposefully androgynous."

Despite her success, Yoshimoto remains a down-to-earth figure. Whenever she appears in public she eschews make-up and dresses simply. She keeps her personal life guarded, and reveals little about her certified Rolfing practitioner husband, Hiroyoshi Tahata and son (born in 2003). Instead, she talks about her writing. Each day she takes half an hour to write at her computer, and she says, "I tend to feel guilty because I write these stories almost for fun." She keeps an on-line journal for her English speaking fans.

Yoshimoto began her writing career while working as a waitress at a golf-club restaurant in 1987. She names American author Stephen King as one of her first major influences, and drew inspiration especially from his non-horror stories. As her writing progressed, she was further influenced by Truman Capote and Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Her debut novel, Kitchen, was a phenomenal instant success, with over sixty printings in Japan alone. There have been two films made of the story, a Japanese TV movie and a more widely released version produced in Hong Kong by Yim Ho in 1997. She won the 6th Kaien Newcomer Writers Prize in November 1987, the Umitsubame First Novel Prize, and then the 16th Izumi Kyoka Literary Prize in January 1988 for Kitchen.

Another one of her novels, Goodbye Tsugumi, was also made into a movie in 1990, directed by Jun Ichikawa. The novel received mixed reviews.

Critics think that much of her work is superficial and commercial; her fans however, think it perfectly captures what it means to be young and frustrated in modern Japan. Yoshimoto herself identifies her two main themes as "the exhaustion of young people in contemporary Japan" and "the way in which terrible experiences shape a person's life." Her novels can be fun and escapist, but are always touched with traditional Japanese ideology. Her writing can be quite piercing, haunting, poignant, and darkly humorous all at once. Though critics believe her to be "lightweight," Yoshimoto unabashedly states that she aims to win a Nobel Prize for Literature. Despite her seeming confidence, it seems unlikely that she will ever be awarded the prize, however, as it is claimed that several members of the current Nobel committee have shown a dismissive stance towards Yoshimoto's comments.

Her works include 12 novels and seven collections of essays (including Pineapple Pudding and Song From Banana) which have together sold over six million copies worldwide. Her themes include love and friendship, the power of home and family, and the effect of loss on the human spirit.

Banana Yoshimoto was awarded the 39th edition Best Newcomer Artists Recommended Prize by the Minister of Education in August 1988 for Kitchen and Utakata/Sankuchuari. In March 1989, Goodbye Tsugumi was awarded the 2nd Yamamoto Shugoro Literary Prize.

In 1994 her first long novel, Amrita, was awarded the Murasaki-shikibu Prize.
Outside of Japan, she was awarded prizes in Italy: the Scanno Literary Prize in 1993, the Fendissime Literary Prize in 1996, the Literary Prize Maschera d' argento in 1999, and the Capri Award in 2011."

Aug 27, 2011, 7:28 pm

Actually, you make The Lake sound pretty interesting. I loved Banana's NP. I highly recommend it. It takes an afternoon to read and I'd love to discuss it if you ever get to it. It has one stunning scene in it and I had a pretty intense debate with a friend about her end note. I am reading Box Man and it is rough going. I'm halfway through after more than two weeks. I think I get it now, though, and I wrote a tribute to it in a submission to the literary journal 5x5, which publishes stories of five sentences of five words each. I'll let you know how that goes! Anyway, I just got my copy of And Then by Soseki in the mail and I'm looking forward to reading that next. I saw the movie 20 years ago and have always wanted to read the book.

Aug 27, 2011, 8:33 pm

I would definitely recommend The Lake to many readers especially if I knew their tastes. Yoshimoto as I said does write very well and she has a very pleasant ease about her writing. But for me, her books aren't as memorable as say The Box Man. Of which, if you're only halfway through then you're at the part that is really difficult. It's the part where you think you got it but find yourself wavering a bit on your opinion. Now you have to get to those last 20 pages and hopefully at that point you'll find it as amazing as I thought it was. Indeed, please let me know how the submission goes. I will definitely read the tribute to see what your thoughts on the book are. And Then I read back in college and although I don't remember what it's about at all (perhaps I should reread it) I do remember really loving it and finding it quite wonderful. Yes, yes. I should reread it indeed. Or at least read a synopsis to refresh my memory! I'll see if I can't get a copy of NP to discuss with you since as you say, it's so short that it can be read in one afternoon.

Sep 1, 2011, 11:38 am

If I remember the movie correctly, And Then is a love triangle with the key third line being unrequited. Excruciatingly painful. I'll check back in soon when I finish the Box Man. I'm two-thirds in now, so I haven't reached the end and won't look ahead. I'm hoping those last 20 pages you're referring to will be faster to read than the rest of the book. I can only do about five pages at a time.

Sep 4, 2011, 5:25 pm

Well I just finished the Box Man and I can't say the last 20 pages helped me see more clearly. (I think - although I can't be sure - I can make the link between the more difficult elements and the affidavit, though, which was a spectacular story.) A very strange, challenging and powerful work.

Sep 24, 2011, 7:05 pm

Sorry I didn't get back to you sooner! I've been meaning to reply but kept pushing it forward and now it's already 20 days later!

I find myself fortunate that I was able to see what it was I saw within the story as it is really hard to find clarity in such a work. When he had the dream about the marriage to his wife was when I started seeing the relation between the nurse, the doctor and him. Then when the peeping tom scenario came in during his childhood it explained to me the reasons why he always found himself in sexual scenarios with the nurse and his confusion associated with that.

But yes, certainly a powerful work. I'm looking forward to reading more Abe. Unfortunately I have to put reading aside for a while while I prepare for an exam although maybe I can sneak in one or two on my long plane ride to France this month.

Edited: Sep 26, 2011, 3:54 pm

Box Man: It seemed to me that the story of the doctor and the imposter was the model for the story of the box man the fake box man. the death of the doctor was a very intense passage. I did not make any kind of connection between the piano studio/peeping tom/punishment story, but now that i think about it, the box man 'peeps' at the world from his box, doesn't he?

And Then: I just finished it and it's a very, very powerful book. (I'm surprised you don't remember it! But hey, there are many books I've read that I've forgotten much of, too.) My edition had an afterward that explained it is the second in a trilogy, and gave summaries and commentaries on the three books so you could have some context without reading them. (Although it stands alone just fine.)

Have a great trip to France! I lived there for eight years, studied at La Sorbonne, worked at the International Herald Tribune. Where will you be?

Oct 9, 2011, 12:35 pm

76 -
Fine. I'll have to reread And Then then. It'll have to happen again.
I'm in Paris visiting my family. We live just down the street from Musee D'Orsay. Had really great weather the first week but now it feels like fall/early winter. In a few days I'll be leaving for Barcelona for four days which will be lovely. Looking forward to it all.

On another note...


I want to do more justice with my review of the following book but I'm a bit tired and this is all
I can muster at this point.

Akira Yoshimura : Shipwrecks
5/5 stars

After non-stop recommendations, I stuffed the book into my purse for the plane ride to Paris. I ended up feasting over the text, not caring about the fact that my overhead light was probably bothering my neighbors' sleep. The book was just too good to put down.

The power of the book is its imagery. It's a visual feast to read with the first half running through the seasons. The main character, Isaku, goes through the coming and going of the squid, the octopus, and the various other types of fish at the coming of spring, winter, fall and summer. Tempting the octopus with a red piece of cloth at the end of a spear, and lying down flat on a boat on a serene sunny day waiting for a flash of silver to appear before hand catching the gathered fish. It feels like watching a National Geographic documentary; one doesn't even need to close one's eyes to see the images; the images float about the page.

Isaku is learning to become the man of the house as his father sold himself for manual labor on a boat and won't return for three years. A fisherman's catch is pivotal to keep the family afloat, allowing them enough to eat and trade. He hopes that he will become a fine enough fisherman so that his father doesn't need to sell himself again for more money. In the meantime, Isaku goes through his daily duties taking care of his siblings and his mother.

While fishing he learns about ofune-sama, a mysterious entity that allows his people to thrive instead of struggle to survive. But while the ofune-sama can bear a great gift, with it can also come great peril to the unfortunate discovery of the village.

Such a powerful book that I will be recommending to anyone as it was recommended to me. It is too beautiful not to be passed along.

Oct 9, 2011, 12:38 pm

Bought some new books in France to look forward to:

La bête aveugle by Ranpo Edogawa
La hache, le koto et le chrysanthème by Seishi Yokomizo
Le Vase de sable by Seicho Matsumoto
Tokyo express by Seicho Matsumoto

Might read one of the shorter Matsumoto works one the way back to the states. All of these are mystery books which I'm starting to really get into as they are a great way to escape and really get immersed in a fast-paced world.

Oct 9, 2011, 12:41 pm

Hi. I left a compliment about your review of the Yoshimura book on your Club Read thread, but forget to ask whether you were going to post it so we could thumb it?

Edited: Oct 9, 2011, 12:44 pm

I just posted it, thank you! (Although I wish I could have written something a bit more pretty. I'm just so tired!)

Oct 9, 2011, 2:14 pm

duly thumbed!

Oct 9, 2011, 5:38 pm

Wow, thanks for the note on Shipwrecks! Sounds great!!

Nov 21, 2011, 9:42 pm

In my group "Author Theme Reads" I decided to make 2012 a Japanese authors only year. Right now we are discussing which authors to feature here. We welcome anybody else interested in discussing Japanese literature there. And if not, I will obviously be sharing my reads on this thread as well when the time comes.

I'm doing this as a means to try and garner more discussion. As I'm much more familiar with Japanese literature I felt that leading such a thematic year would allow me to "lead" more. However, it is an ambitious project so we do tend to be a quiet group. But please make sure to take a note of the participants as they often follow the project but post mainly in their own threads. There should be some great discussion popping up all over LT next year, I'm sure!

Nov 23, 2011, 8:13 pm

Seishi Yokomizo : La hache, le koto et le chrysanthème (The Inugami Clan)
4/5 stars

I'm not supposed to be reading right now due to it being crunch time in terms of studying for an exam I have Dec 4th but I figured an easy read like a murder mystery couldn't hurt. And it was good to get me to relax a bit.

This is my second Yokomizo, the first being read around May, and it was just as fun even if I did prefer the Eight Tombs book due to it feeling predictable in terms of who the murderer was even if some of the details later are not. Basically, Sahee, the creater of this great company, dies and leaves a will behind as to who gets his inheritance. However, due to his distaste for his daughters, he decides instead to leave all his money behind to the granddaughter of a friend, but not without very complicated parameters such as only being able to get the money if she marries one of his own grandsons. Obviously, to protect her he adds an additional clause in case of her death.

This all leads to a series of murders wondering who will be next and who is the perpetrator. Fun, quick read, from one of the most famous murder mystery writers in Japan. I also believe this is the only one of his works available in English. (I read this in French.)

And unlike the Eight Tombs work, Kosuke Kindaichi has a much bigger presence in this which was good to see. However, I keep wondering who the narrator is who keeps announcing his presence in telling the story.

Fun stuff.

Dec 10, 2011, 7:54 pm

I am excited to present the list for next years authors-in-focus for my group Author Theme Reads. We're making it a Japanese authors only theme read and although we are having our traditional year-long author and mini-authors, we will also be doing a big thread for Japanese works in general (so as to have fun comparing authors) and we're starting the year off with a group read of 1Q84. Feel free to dip in an out throughout the year.

Year-long Author: Shusaku Endo
Mini-author 1 (Jan-Mar): Natsume Soseki
Mini-author 2 (Apr-June): Kobe Abe
Mini-author 3 (July-Sep): Ryu Murakami
Mini-author 4 (Oct-Dec): Yukio Mishima

+ Year long thread on Japanese authors in general.

Group read of 1Q84 starts in January.

Mar 25, 2012, 4:07 pm

This was the first book of the year that I read and a book I read as part of the group read I organized. I have just now gotten to reviewing it (although it's not so much a review as a defense for Haruki). In any case, I'm glad I read this and will definitely be reading more Haruki soon.

Haruki Murakami : 1Q84
4/5 stars

My first encounter with Murakami Haruki was via his short stories. I am not a big reader of short stories and so, unless they truly change my life, they just don't leave an impression on me. So I ended up with a sort of "whatever" attitude with Haruki. Then I read his nonfiction work Underground which was fantastic, but, once again, that was a nonfiction work and not the type of work he's usually known for, ie. Hardboiled, Wind-up Bird, Norwegian Wood, etc. But, I still had never read his fiction due to some strange inherent bias I had against Murakami although is was definitely unwarranted. This is how, despite being a huge fan of Japanese literature, it ended up taking me so long to read my first Haruki fiction work, that being 1Q84.

I have to say I really enjoyed this book. I liked the ease of the writing and I enjoyed the plot; it was the right amount of grip that you need to make you continuously want to turn the page. At the end of all that, it really wasn't too long a book considering how I would read 100 page sections at a time.

Now, does Murakami repeat himself a bit too much? Focus on some unnecessary trains of thoughts? Repeat similar plot points, or rather, plot strategies? Yes, yes and yes. But this story about how the characters Tengo and Aomame connect as they explore this crazy new world full of air chrysalis's and cults and new moons was fascinating and it really kept me going. It helped me get rid of my bias towards Haruki and has made me want to read more of his fiction work and that's what is great about his book. Despite the fact that Haruki fans tend to say that although this is typical Haruki, it's just not up to par with his previous works. But that just makes it all the better for me. I get to raise this great bar that has been set now that I plan on going back to read his more famous books.

So yes, read this as an introduction to Haruki or read this as an already-made Haruki fan. It's Haruki. Murakami. Just as we know him.

Mar 25, 2012, 4:22 pm

Shusaku Endo : When I Whistle
4/5 stars

Those who have followed my threads (particularly the Club Read 2011 thread) will remember my great praise for Endo's Sea and Poison. His writing style, for one, and his uncomfortable plot about Japanese doctor's performing vivisections on American soldiers. His take on right or wrong morality in the face of potential medical progress was fascinating as was his focus on the concept of rank and talking out in Japanese society.

When I Whistle takes on a similar role and is similarly fascinating.

Dr. Ozu is a doctor ready to do whatever it takes to get ahead in the medical world. He is quick to follow his superviser's orders and will never question a doctor of higher rank if he thinks it'll put him under a weary eye. Despite knowing that a better treatment could be at hand. He is manipulative of his peers and will downplay others to cast a "good" light on himself. His scheming brang out disgust as I read on.

But the book isn't actually about Dr. Ozu, but instead about Dr. Ozu's father, Ozu. (Distinction between Dr. Ozu and Ozu is important hence the "Dr." notation.) The book focuses on Ozu and his relationship with a childhood friend named Flatfish as they grow up during military time. Unlike his son, Ozu was a poor student growing up and didn't care about making it in life, and his friend Flatfish wasn't any better. But the two of them were able to form this friendship that helped better themselves in a better way. Flatfish's affections for this one girl and how he continues to prize his memories of her is amazing and something that is truly lost in this world.

This discrepancy between Ozu's world and Dr. Ozu's world is quite jarring but it's what makes the book so lovely and thus highly recommended. If only I hadn't waited so long to write a review; it might have come out a little better. In any case, this is a wonderful "sequel" to Sea and Poison.

Apr 5, 2012, 12:32 am

Hikaru Okuizumi : The Stones Cry Out
4/5 stars

I had this book on my Amazon wishlist for about a year but I kept not buying it in thinking I needed to reduce my TBR pile first. But serendipity had the book sitting on the shelf right in front of me on my first visit ever to Half Priced Books. At that point I couldn't resist and I'm glad I didn't.

Manase is an amateur geologist who found his passion while fighting the war in Leyte. A dying lance corporal, a geologist himself, tells Manase how the smallest stone carries the history of the universe. He comes back from the war and starts a wonderful life as the owner of a book shop with his wife and two kids, spending his spare time sharpening and polishing his geology skills. To his great happiness, his oldest son begins to experiment with geology and they are able to form the most precious of bonds. But when his son goes out one night and doesn't come back, Manase's life quickly falls apart.

While the great love for his oldest son is endearing, you feel pity for his suffering youngest boy. And while you can feel his passion for geology you can only feel sorry for his wife and she loses her mind after the loss of her little boy. Okuzumi is masterful at exploring Manase's deterioration as the memories of his time in the war intertwine more and more with his memories of today. It's a world of extremes in Manase's world but in the end, it all turns into dust like every rock must do before it can become a rock again in another life.

A great metaphor on life, I'd say The Stones Cry Out is a must read in Japanese literature.

Edited: Apr 17, 2012, 5:17 am

For the longest time I've meant to read all the short stories within The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories. I can't count the number of times I've recommended the book to readers new to the world of Japanese literature and yet I've read barely a handful of the short stories contained within the book. I've been meaning to read the stories for a long time, but never really knew how to do it. At first I thought I'd just comment on a short story as I went along on a thread such as this one but I feel that would clutter this thread with works when it could all be contained in one thread. So I decided to create a thread entirely devoted to the anthology. I think it could prove to be an interesting companion to this thread or at least, that's my intention. In any case, I welcome any commentary or feedback on that thread and I continue to appreciate the feedback on this one.

On a slightly related note, if you're not there already, I highly recommend you visit my Author Theme Reads group as we're discussing Japanese literature all year. Although we tend to respond to the books on our respective threads there has been an interesting response to the featured authors so far. It's been great fun reading everyone's reactions.

I'm also currently reading Kobo Abe's The Face of Another and hope to finish that and have a good review of it within the next two weeks. (It's short but I am a slow reader after all.) It's already inspiring some thoughts I'd like to share and I can only hope I remember enough of those thoughts to provide a good review later on as I feel my latest reviews have been a little less than inspiring to no fault of the book.

Edited: Apr 27, 2012, 1:09 am

Kobo Abe : The Face of Another
5/5 stars

I almost don't feel like writing a review; instead, just read it. If you've read my review for his The Box Man then you know how I feel about this author.

Abe is just so good at sucking you in from the first page. He has even drawn you a map to his hideaway and has put tea in a thermos jug so that you may relax as you read the three notebooks that he has written just for you. But the you is not actually the reader, it's his wife, as he wishes to recount how she has come to this hideaway to read about his story.

It's the story of a scientist who has lost his face in an accident and has decided to build himself a new one; or rather, a mask. But the mask is not to be recognizable as a mask; it should instead be capable of shaping itself to fill out its beaten out contours. Typical of Abe we go through a very lengthy, a notebook-worth, explanation of how one constructs a mask and what one should look for. Now, this could seem like it'd be as a dull as reading a scientific paper on a topic one isn't interested in but, the notebook is filled with interesting ideas about what defines a face. Is it your bone structure? Is it the skin? What creates, or rather, what defines expression and what defines a person's identity? At first the scientist wishes to think that the face has nothing to do with identify for doesn't a blind person for example identify others via scent, the sound of a voice, the feeling of touch? And what about expression? Does our face create expression or do our expressions create our face? For with each smile, each frown, each tear, lines are slowly etched into our skin, tears show off a path of wetness down your cheek and the sun and age will change the shape of your face with time.

The second notebook delves into the role of the mask. Does a mask hide our personality or enhance it, subdue it or change it entirely? His accounts on the differences between masks that are made to look like masks versus masks that are made to deceive is fascinating. At one point he creates a world where masks become a trend where more and more begin to wear a mask. In just a few short pages it goes from a mere fancy to the bringing down of a government as he realizes there is no way one could regulate such a population of masked men. And if violence is inherent to a mask like a wrinkle sits by an eye, what becomes of a world where one can change their face at whim?

But as one is to expect from a Japanese Dr. Jekyll (or was it Mr. Hyde?), the mask begins to quickly overpower the scientist and we are subjected to his mumblings about wanting to seek revenge on his wife and how he intends on letting the mask seduce her. But as he becomes part of this strange menage-a-trois we go back to the word "mumblings" as after the third notebook, we are subjected to a very powerful letter. A letter that actually confirms our suspicions and brings out the pathetic nature of our poor scientist.

Fantastic book. Should be read.
And for those who are too confused by The Box Man, this is a much easier read although just as fascinating.

May 30, 2012, 4:47 pm

I wanted to go back to my conversation with tros in posts 52-54. We were discussing Kobo Abe's work 壁 (Kabe; The Wall) which wasn't on LT at the time. Well, I'm now dating a Japanese guy and he's an avid reader and currently reading 壁 which just happens to be sitting next to me right now. It is a set of short stories, not of plays, as I had originally speculated.

The index to the book is as such:
1) S・カルマ氏の犯罪 (S・Karuma-shi no hanzai) The Crime of S. Karuma
(This one is mislabeled as a play in the US wikipedia article)

2) バベルの塔の狸 (Baberu no tou no tanuki) The Tanuki in Babel's Tower/Steeple

3) 赤い繭 (Akai mayu) Red Cocoon
a) 赤い繭
b) 洪水 (Kouzui) The Flood
c) 魔法のチョーク (Mahou no chouku) The Magic Chalk
d) 事業 (Jigyou) The Project (I haven't read this story so I'm not sure if that's the exact word to translate the word 事業 to.)

After a recent trip to Half-Priced Books, I also discovered that the short story The Crime of S. Karuma can be found in English in Beyond the Curve. Hope that clarifies a few things about the book.

Edited: Aug 30, 2012, 2:04 am

I finally did it! It ended up being a nearly 2 year long project but I did it! I read my first full-length novel in Japanese. Now, I could have read this book in a few months but this was a project: there was a reason behind my madness.

In college I had two majors: chemistry and Japanese. I was top of my class, ace student in Japanese, got nothing less than a 100% on my all my exams and assignments. Did a semester study abroad and really loved it. But then, I decided to go to grad school -- for chemistry, a subject I never aced. Don't ask why, I still can't answer that question. I finished my Japanese early in college so my last year I took Korean and focused on chemistry. Then I went to grad school for two years and got my masters degree. Then I worked for two years. So suddenly, 5 years had gone and I hadn't used my Japanese at all. Poof! Where had it gone?

Then a good Japanese friend of mine in Colorado who loves to read handed me his Japanese copy of Almost Transparent Blue and said read this. I stuttered a bit telling him that my Japanese was gone and that I hadn't read in years. He said I'm sure you can do it, it's not that difficult. So there I was with this full length real Japanese novel. I had never handled such an object before. I almost didn't know what to do with it? Should I wait and study again first? Should I just sit down and, well, read it? I put it aside for a while trying to go through old textbooks and whatnot but none of it worked. Eventually I moved away from Colorado and said screw it, I'm just going to read this. But, with a paper and pencil in hand.

I wrote every single kanji in the book. If I knew the word, I would scribble down its reading next to it. If I didn't know the word I just waited. At that point it was about trying to get a feel for reading Japanese again and get a feel for the context, the pace. I waited until the word or kanji showed up again. If it kept repeating itself I would look it up. Gradually and gradually I was building up a vocabulary again. (I can't tell you how embarrassed it was to write flashcards for all the sex words during the sex scenes. Never has a sex orgy seem so vivid!) Later though, I was remembering how to read words I had forgotten and was now learning new words. And towards the end I was better than when I was in college.

I used these two years with this novel to mark my progress with the language. As I studies alongside the book, I was able to measure myself becoming more at ease with a real piece of Japanese fiction.

It was a remarkable experience and it was because the book was interesting, that I was able to to keep up with such a daunting and strange task. However, due to this project, I have formed a strange bias to the book. I did enjoy this book, a lot, but there will be some additional love given to the book due to its important task of continuing my education.

村上 龍 : 限りなく透明に近いブルー​
4.5/5 stars

I decided on giving the book 4.5 stars. I thought five stars might show my bias too much as I'm not sure what it is that I really enjoyed about this book. It's not usually a topic I go for: sex-crazed, drugged-up youth seeking independence but who are just lost. These are not people I relate to at all. I grew up very naive about sex and drugs. I knew they existed of course, but I thought all the other high school kids were going home after school to do their homework and watch Sabrina the Teenage Witch like I was. I never for a moment thought they were already having sex and whatnot. I'm no prude, but in my mind, there was no need for those things at such a young age as high school. So what was it that I enjoyed?

I think it was the feel of the book. It wasn't forced as it felt really natural and the writing was just write for the topic. It wasn't fluttered with excessive prose, and you could actually feel for the characters, even the frustrating ones. I found myself rooting for them even though I knew there was no reason to as there was no escape for these kids.

So yes, I really enjoyed this book. It will always have a place in my heart even if I'm not super sure why.

Ryu Murakami : Almost Transparent Blue
4/5 stars

I used the English version as a means to check myself it I needed to and to have a feel for the translation. I give the translation a half star lower as I felt it was good but not great. There were moments I would have translated the Japanese a little better, or I felt the translator didn't really get the right nuance that was trying to be conveyed. But I thought she made the main female character sound like an idiot when really she was just speaking through a dialect. Also, the last letter to Lily, the first paragraph of the letter was left out in the English version. Not sure why.

But there you go. That's my story with Almost Transparent Blue.

Aug 31, 2012, 12:24 pm

Well done.

That is a tremendous achievement. You should be proud of yourself for your dedication and determination.

Sep 1, 2012, 7:16 am


Sep 13, 2012, 1:04 am

Thank you very much for the encouragement. I have just read Banana Yoshimoto's アルゼンチンババア in Japanese and hope to review that soon.

signature103 -
Can you read Japanese? I see in your library that you have a textbook for the 日本語能力試験1級レベル. Have you taken the exam?

Sep 13, 2012, 1:19 am

I have but I failed it twice. Nowadays I study (PhD), work and translate in Japanese so I have no need for the Certificate. My Japanese is good enough to get me through life in Japan including chairing meetings like the PTA.

Why do you ask?

Sep 13, 2012, 1:48 am

I was only wondering after looking through your library. I also tried the exam and failed and then realized it was a waste of time anyway and have decided not to try again. Every interview I've had with a Japanese company, they have never asked me if I have taken that exam. My speaking Japanese is also good enough to get me through life so I'm pretty happy. Just working on getting my reading capacities up! Have any of your translations been published yet?

Oct 12, 2012, 2:22 pm

Tokyo Express (French title) (Points and Lines - English, 点と腺 - Japanese)
4/5 stars

A man and woman are witnessed by Tatsuo Yasuda, and two others, getting on a train in Tokyo and one week later are found dead: result of a double suicide in Kyushu. They are found neatly put together and everything seems to be typical of a suicide. But one Fukuoka detective, Jutaro Torigai, finds a strange receipt and starts to believe something is off. He passes along his investigation to a Tokyo detective, Kiichi Mihara, who finds himself chasing a man from Kyushu to Hokkaido. They know this man is part of this suicide, but how? The answers can be found in a train timetable with the intersection of points and lines.

A classic in Japanese mystery (so my Japanese boyfriend says) and certainly interesting. I was able to come up with the how on my own but the why was a bit more mystical as it wasn't really investigated until the last chapter. Still, seeing the amount of detail that goes into an investigation was interesting and seeing the frustration of the detective as he went against a perfect alibi made you really sympathize with the character.

I enjoyed this one. I'm still not sure how to rank mysteries but this one feels like a 4 star mystery.

Oct 15, 2012, 1:46 am

> 97

No. I translated them for my thesis. Maybe one day.

These days I translate business and work material. Boring but it is money.

Edited: Oct 24, 2012, 3:37 pm

Yukio Mishima : Le marin rejete par la mer (The Sailor who fell from Grace with the Sea)
?/5 stars

I had read Mishima once before in probably my early years of college: a collection of short stories from the book La Mort en Ete (Death in Midsummer and Other Short Stories). Although I was in the middle of my Japanese major and I had already gained a lot of Japanese knowledge at the time, Mishima hadn't clicked for me then. So I waited until it would become time to read him again.

This book I've owned since at least 2006 as I was attracted to the title of this book: a poetic title, "The Sailor who fell from Grace with the Sea". Funny enough, the Japanese title is 午後の曳航 (Gogo no Eikou) which simply means "Afternoon Towing of a Boat", hardly the poetry that the translation has. Looking up the titles of translations in other languages, I found they primarily all used this new title of grace. Makes me wonder who was the originator of this title. Upon reading the book though, I discovered that there is poetry within the Japanese title as well because Mishima is all about subtle poetry.

The story is separated into two seasons: summer and winter.

In the summer, a widowed woman, Fusako, and her son, Noboru, meet a sailor, Ryuji, on land for a few days as his ship delivers its cargo. Noboru is riveted by Ryuji's stories of maritime adventures and seems to admire this man who is the definition of a man, not marked by everyday pleasantries. Fusako is riveted by Ryuji himself and they begin their love story. Unfortunately at the end of the summer, Ryuji must return to work as his ship is scheduled for Brazil. They part and Noboru is left with stories to tell his band of (intelligent but) misfit friends of this heroic sailor man.

However, winter comes as does the return of the ship. And with the return of the ship comes the return of Ryuji who decides to leave his maritime ways and settle with Fusako. This is much to the dismay of Noboru who sees this as a sacrilege to the rule of man. In the end, he meets with his band as they decide a sacrifice must be made to fix this misdeed.

It's an interesting book but when I put it down and my boyfriend asked me how it was, all I could say was that "it was a strange book". I almost felt disappointed. Once again, Mishima hadn't click for me. And yet, certain passages of the book really stick out. Is this what "Mishima's power" is? His writing is flawless as it really carries you to a destination. He is neither rushed, nor too slow-paced but at the end, what is his motivation? Mishima is a character in himself and like the characters in his book, it is difficult to see what dictates his moral compass.

An interesting book which will require some background search into Mishima. In the meantime, it has been interesting reading other reviews of this book.


In terms of translation, the last line is particularly interesting in the French version. (Technically there is no spoiler in the last line of the book but feel free to stop here if you don't want to read the last line of the book.)

Comme chacun sait, la gloire est amère.

This translates to "As everyone knows, glory is a bitter taste." (The official English translation writes "Glory, as anyone knows, is bitter stuff.") But in the French translation there is a pun. Amère, which means bitter, sounds like "a mer" which means "to the sea" so it almost reads as "As everyone knows, glory is to the sea." Depending on what the original Japanese is, this almost feels like a more perfect ending to this book.

Jan 14, 2013, 12:27 am

As I continue to work on Eiji Yoshikawa's long book Musashi I wanted to share two websites.



These two websites are the two major book community sites in Japan right now. Sort of like the LibraryThing and GoodReads of Japan. I've been enjoying reading all the reviews in Japanese there and will maybe check out the forums to see how those are. Although I of course will never leave LT.

Mar 9, 2013, 8:59 pm

Takashi Nagai : The Bells of Nagasaki
5 stars/5 stars

This little book certainly is a hard one to find. I've spent nearly a decade trying to find it in regular bookstores every since I first heard of it but since it's no longer in production and it costs a small fortune online, I had simply to be persistent. When it showed up at Half-Priced Books in January I knew it was finally meant to be and quickly snatched it up. Perhaps I could have found it in a library but as I never walk into those I'm glad I finally found it.

"The Bells of Nagasaki" is one of the top books to read about the atomic bombings in Japan. It is written by Takashi Nagai, a doctor at the University of Medicine in Nagasaki, as he describes the pre-, during, and post- events of the August 9th bombing. Although I've read a few atomic bombing books and have been both to the peace museum in Hiroshima and the peace museum in Nagasaki, this is one of the books one must read. Nagai became one of the big influences in Japan on promoting world peace and due to his direct involvement with the atomic blast, was a huge leader in investigating the medicine associated with radiation sickness.

The book is a quick read as it starts with a great introduction from William Johnston of Sophia University. Then Nagai starts with what different citizens were doing at the time of blast and their location from the epicenter. This is followed by the chapters "The Bomb", "Immediately After" and "Relief". What has always amazed me in previous readings of bomb related books has been how inspiring it was to read about those who didn't just fall straight into despair upon realizing their fate. Seeing how the doctors, after a brief understandable moment of panic, quickly came back to their feet to not only get out of their own difficult situations but to help the many wounded around them was inspiring. Quickly they gathered any utensils that survived, formed groups of surviving nurses and doctors and went on to create relief centers to aid the wounded despite their own ailments.

Nagai goes on to describe the theory behind the creation of the atomic bomb and changes the scenery from the torn apart Nagasaki to the hills beyond the city, Mitsuyama. Here we are greeted with once again green hills, thriving plants, blue skies and a gorgeous summer air. If it weren't for the wounded who had flocked from the city, there would have been no hint of the bombing. This juxtaposition was quite amazing and something I hadn't seen in other books.

The rest of the book deals with Nagai describing the symptoms and medicine involved with the different atomic bombing sicknesses ranging from lowest to greatest severity. At the time, I'm sure this was a treasure-trove of information. Months later as Nagai deals with his own ailments we admirably discover that he does not feel that the bomb was a means of punishment from God. (Nagai was deeply religious). Instead he feels that Nagasaki was God's great sacrifice to promote world peace and to prevent a future destructive atomic age.

Even now Nagai's name is synonymous with the efforts for the promotion of world peace as can be seen throughout the city of Nagasaki. I'm glad to have finally read this book.

May 21, 2013, 1:38 pm

Yukio Mishima : Sun and Steel
2/5 stars

I give up. I don't get it.
I was hoping this book would give me some insight on Mishima but it's just confusing me more.

Mishima is just one of those novelists that I have to accept I'll never get a grasp on. This book was supposed to be a semi-autobiographical text that gives clarification on his writing process and why death was such an intrinsic part of his life. But all it did was confuse me more. It was written in "essay language" making it more complex that it needed to be.

Sentences such as this:
"To embrace suffering is the constant role of physical courage; and physical courage is, as it were, the source of that taste for understanding and appreciating death that, more than anything else, is a prime condition for making true awareness of death possible."

At the end, I just couldn't be bothered anymore.

Edited: May 22, 2013, 2:33 am

I have finished Secret Rendezvous just now which was simultaneously mesmerizing and confounding, fairly typical of Abe. Having turned the last page, I started thinking about what it was I had just read and what it all meant and I found that to understand this book, I had to compare it to other Abe works. Thus, my review might turn more into an essay as I compare it briefly to Face of Another and The Box Man. Although I don't believe Abe really has "spoilers" as he does not write in a traditional way, I do warn that this review(/essay) will refer to specific plot points and will offer my idea of what the book is about, which might skew your own thoughts if you choose to read the book yourself. If you do decide to continue reading, I hope you find what will probably become a rambling, interesting.

Kobo Abe : Secret Rendezvous
4.5/5 stars (tentative)

The back of the book and most other internet users will summarize the book as such: An ambulance arrives uncalled in the middle of the night to take away a man's wife despite her claims that she is perfectly fine. The unnamed protagonist is left to find her, but when he arrives at the hospital things are atypical of a hospital visit. In his attempt to find his wife, the man becomes employed by a horse as chief of security and tunnels his way through the labyrinth of a hospital to find her. As he searches, he becomes entwined with slues of strange characters, voyeur to sexual experiments and falls to a sort of mental manipulation. The quote on the back of the book states that this is Abe's "nightmarish vision of modern medicine and modern life". Others on the internet appreciate the feel of the novel but some are not quite sure what they have just read.

This is where I look at his other works to understand, or at least, to attempt.

Abe, as I have come to understand him, likes to write about identity and the preservation of, or, destruction of identity within and outside the parameters of society. With Face of Another he explored the idea of the face and the face's physical influence on identity. When the character's face was destroyed, he was left to either rebuild his same face and recreate his once persona, or build a new face and attempt to create a new persona. But it was up to society to decide which persona was allowed to come out. In The Box Man, Abe once again explored the idea of identity when the character wished to escape the eyes of society and limit his world to that of a box. Initially he was doing fine until society knocked on his box trying to shake him out of what was considered un-society-like, thus creating a character trying to kill him. Secret Rendezvous is really just a retelling of these similar themes.

Presentation of the book as a series of notebooks.
The wife.
A character set to kill the main character or to shake him and bring him back into the eyes of "regular" society.
An enclosure where the character is constantly running, escaping.

All in all it comes to the same. The character, once a working member of society, has fallen prey to some sort of accident. In this case, an incident based on self repression of sexual thought due to wanting to fit into societal norms despite a strong sexual appetite. As often happens when people fall ill to what is considered atypical and not part of the norm, he becomes an outcast and starts to fall more into delinquency until in the end, he loses his own identity. And the book is his quest to find it and to return to normal (represented by his wife, who has most likely left him in real life). However, in his quest to find himself he just progressively loses himself even more until the hospital remains this perpetual labyrinth where toilets turn into secret passageways and festivals are actually secret plots and elevators don't seem to go to the second floor. Abe gives many hints to the reader about where reality is to be found. He often quotes "Doctors make the best patients and patients the best doctors", and just like the horse tells the man (as the protagonist is called) that the secret of his dilemma lies in the first part of the tapes he has to listen to, the secret of the book likes in the first page: the realistic introduction of the characters and his hobbies as might be written in the page of a doctor's notebook. More importantly, the notebook of a doctor based in psychiatry. And the notebooks of the character are really an attempt by the doctor to find the source of his patient's problems by having the patient investigate himself.

With this I just find it truly amazing what Abe can present. At the same time, presenting the downfall of a character while showing the limitations of a society when presented with the extremes of society's pleasures, in this case, sexual desire. In the wanting of society to dumb down and bring modesty to sexual desire and lust, and the wanting of science to understand where it comes from, both lose their ability to see it as its most basic form. And when something becomes taboo, extremes are formed which causes even more confusion and desire.

So Abe's ability to show how identity shapes society and vice versa is just remarkable and it's what makes me such a fan. I can't wait till the next one.


This is my interpretation of this book and the other two books by Abe. It is hard for me to write this out simply because I can't seem to find any other user who has come to the same interpretation as I really do think this is what it is.

I would love to discuss this with others who have read the book.

Edited: Jun 12, 2013, 2:10 am

Banana Yoshimoto : アルゼンチンババア (Argentine Hag)
3 stars/5 stars

I'm not the biggest fan of Yoshimoto but I wanted to practice reading her writing style as it's much more complicated than it first looks. Short little novella, will watch the movie later this week. As far as I know, this work has not been translated into English.

It's about a girl and her father and the aftermath of their lives after her mother dies. The father has lost a piece of himself not only after the death of his wife but also with the dwindling in demand of his profession, a grave marker sculptor. One day, the girl calls home to find that her father is not answering. She discovers that he has been finding himself in the home of the Argentinian Lady, a strange woman who lives in the Argentina house far from the town. The story follows the relationship of these three people as the father tries to find himself in the arms of this new, strange woman.

A short, 80 page story, that was quite solemn. Not too bad but Yoshimoto is certainly not the easiest to read. I look forward to seeing the movie based off the book.


I have also just completed Haruki Murakami's latest book just released in Japan and hope to have a review of that soon.

Jul 1, 2013, 6:05 pm

Haruki Murakami : 色彩を持たない多崎つくると、彼の巡礼の年 (Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage)
4/5 stars

This is Haruki Murakami's latest and newest book, out in Japan maybe three months ago. And I liked it! It was page turning and suspenseful and it had me questioning where it was going to the entire time. Murakami introduced very few fantastical elements compared to his 1Q84 and although I thought it could go into that direction, he kept the book rooted in reality.

Basically, his character, Tsukuru Tazaki, has been lost for a long time. Although he now lives a fairly standard life as a train station engineer and has overcome his dark thoughts of death, there is still a nagging within his heart that demands exploration upon the recommendation of his girlfriend. This nagging is about his group of high school friends who despite their incredible closeness, one day choose to expel Tsukuru from the group never to talk to him again. Tsukuru ends up spending the book exploring the circumstances that have happened into his life, hence his years of pilgrimage.

It's a very interesting book with some interesting moments and suspenseful wonderings and yet at the same time, you realize that nothing really happens in the book. The book leaps between the present and the past and in reality, the present goes by at a slow pace. But Murakami ends up tying the two miraculously well and despite a very pathetic main character, you do end up feeling some sympathy even if it's not for him.

All in all, the consensus out there seems to be that most people enjoy the book. It ends on a bit of a "huh? that's it?" kind of factor but that's to be expected of Murakami. So, recommended.

(I haven't heard of the English rights being bought yet but I'm sure it'll happen. I would say 2 years before a translation is out.)

Nov 26, 2013, 7:42 pm

I just found this really wonderful website that looks like a great resource into contemporary Japanese literature.

Here is a snippet of how the site describes itself:
Books from Japan is an ongoing online "book fair" that introduces Japanese works of fiction and nonfiction to overseas publishers, editors, and other interested readers. The site is operated by the nonprofit J-Lit Center with the cooperation of publishers in Japan.

The site has two main sections: a database of books selected by the J-Lit Center, and a Publishers' Corner of "booths" where participating publishers can introduce their books.

So it's pretty amazing. It will be a more useful resource for those who can read in Japanese since a lot of the books they introduce have not been translated but what I like is that if the book HAS been translated, it gives you the link to where you can purchase the work. Instant gratification!

I'm already intrigued by a book after just 10 minutes on the website.

Jan 19, 2014, 3:34 pm

Shizuko Natsuki : La promesse de l'ombre (The Third Lady)
4/5 stars

I found this book in a buy-six-for-a-euro bin outside of a dry cleaner in Paris. It was actually buy one book for a euro, but the person who wrote the sign made their "le" look like the number 6 so I got an even better bargain. In any case, I'm glad to have stumbled upon this little bin of surprises.

The story begins outside of Paris, in Fontainebleau, where Daigo meets a particular Fumiko in a hotel on a dark and stormy night. Entranced by this woman's profile, Daigo approaches her and they begin to talk but when the lights go out after a thunder clap, their conversation turns dark. Daigo ends up making a promise he's not sure he can keep to a woman whose face he never even saw. Then, a few months after returning to Japan, the man he wanted dead turns up murdered.

A great premise that follows Daigo as he wonders if Fumiko is the cause of this death and if he really is up to fulfilling his part of that dark secret. It was a great page turner and, although I was able to guess the twist, it was still a wonderful twist that kept me emotionally invested till the very end.

And Shizuko Natsuki -- although my French version was actually translated from the English version -- has such an ease in her writing that I really enjoyed. This is my first book by her but I also have her Hara-kiri, mon amour, purchased from the same bin.

I still don't know how to rate crime fiction as I don't read much of it but the sheer enjoyment I got out of this certainly deserves 4 stars, I would say.

Jan 19, 2014, 3:50 pm

Although not my usual genre, crime fiction, I've been reading more of it when Japanese authors are involved and find that I have quite enjoyed what I have been reading. An additional plus is that I have another point of interest to discuss with readers in Japan, and, I'm picking up on a lot of references to the books I've read which has bumped up my cultural aptitude.

So to see where I'm at in terms of dipping my toes into Japanese crime fiction, I found this little list of Japanese crime fiction authors (from Wikipedia):

Keigo Higashino (born 1958): The Devotion of Suspect X
Seicho Matsumoto (1909–1992): Tokyo Express, Vase de sable
Shizuko Natsuki (born 1938): La promesse de l'ombre
Otsuichi (born 1978): ZOO
Seishi Yokomizo (1902–1981): Village aux huit tombes, La hache, le koto et le chrysanthème

Edogawa Rampo (1894–1965): La bete aveugle
Natsuo Kirino (born 1951): Out
Akimitsu Takagi (1920–1995): The Tattoo Murder Case

Know the authors but have no books from them yet:
Miyuki Miyabe (born 1960)
Hideo Okuda (born 1959)

Unknown to me:
Ryo Hara (born 1946)
Kotaro Isaka (born 1971)
Ira Ishida (born 1960)
Kenzo Kitakata (born 1947)
Natsuhiko Kyogoku (born 1963)
Kyotaro Nishimura (born 1930)
Asa Nonami (born 1960)
Kido Okamoto (1872–1939)
Go Osaka (born 1943)
Arimasa Osawa (born 1956)
Joh Sasaki (born 1950)
Soji Shimada (born 1948)
Tetsuo Takashima (born 1949)
Masako Togawa (born 1933)
Yasuo Uchida (born 1934)
Misa Yamamura (1931–1996)
Kyusaku Yumeno (1889–1936)

Jan 19, 2014, 6:10 pm

Interesting resources, thanks! Of the crime fiction writers, I've read a couple by Miyuki Miyabe, also The Devotion Of Suspect X and The Tattoo Murder Case, and only heard of three or four of the others.

Jan 20, 2014, 2:25 am

Akira Yoshimura : La jeune fille suppliciee sur une etagere
4/5 stars

I started off the new year with two stories (about 70 pages each) by Akira Yoshimura, the author who wowed me with his book, Shipwrecks and these two stories certainly caught my attention.

La jeune fille suppliciee sur une etagere (The young girl martyred on a shelf)

This was the first story in the book about a young girl who has died and whose body has been donated for science. The interesting part is that the story is told via the dead girl's perspective, allowing for a vivid account of the tribulations her body is going through. I was utterly fascinated with this story and thought it was excellent at presenting the stigma of death in Japan and hinting at the responsibilities of parents towards their children and vice versa. It reminded me of the Oscar winning Japanese movie, Departures, about a man taking a job as a mortician's assistant, who has to hide his job from his wife and their neighbors due to the stigma attached to the job. This way of making a social commentary about these Japanese customs while the girl tells you how samples of her skin are being sectioned off, little by little, is masterful. And the ending is quite beautiful.

Le sourire des pierres (The stones smile)

This second story was just as intriguing as the first; it tells of Eichi and Sone, neighbors in their youth who meet again many years later. Sone had moved away without any new word so when Eichi runs into him, he is very curious as to what has happened to Sone throughout the years. What he finds is a fascinating character who earns his living stealing the statues from cemeteries that represent dead children, but he soon starts to fear Sone's magnet towards death when Sone moves in with him and his sister. This was another mesmerizing look into the stigma of death in Japanese culture that really tugged at my heart strings.

Jan 20, 2014, 1:39 pm

While visiting a thread from a member I enjoy following, I noticed a conversation he was having with another member about Haruki Murakami . The other member had wondered if anything was lost in translation when reading in English. I wrote a response to this question in the thread, but since I get asked this question a lot, I thought I would copy and paste my reply here. I hope it proves to be of interest and/or becomes a good resource for others.


Now to answer roundballnz question about whether there is anything possibly lost in translation. It is of my opinion that Murakami is such a simple writer that there is really nothing to fear in terms of the translation. By simple, I don't mean dumb or anything along the lines, but he does use very simple grammar and his quite repetitive with his styling and vocabulary. His dialogue, if it were literally translated word for word every time would be along the lines of:

"...." she said.
"...." he nodded.
"...." she replied.
"...." he nodded.
"...." she nodded.
"...." he replied.

So, quite simplistic and straightforward to translate.

Another note: Murakami is (near?) fluent in English and actually supervises the translations and is in constant contact with Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel as they translate his works. (These two translators are the new official Murakami translators: before it was Birnbaum.)

Note number 2: Due to Murakami's fascination (not exactly the right word) with English, he has been known to edit what he has written in Japanese to make sure it is easily translatable into English.

Now, the final note: So, although there isn't any need to really fear a loss in translation due to Murakami's simple writing in Japanese, it is important to note that, when it comes time to the translation into English, Murakami has been known to edit his own works and thus the copy he gives to the translators might be slightly different from the Japanese published edition. Either a paragraph will be removed here and there or he'll change some sentence structuring, or he'll know exactly how he wants one part changed.

So that's one thing to keep note of.

If anyone is interested in any of this, there's a blog I like to read written by someone who is a great Murakami fan and has a tendency to compare the English and Japanese versions as he reads. He'll post a Japanese paragraph next to its English version and he'll note differences in sentence order, structure and if there are any edits. And you can read the blog without knowing any Japanese.

The blog is called How to Japonese (this spelling is inentional) and is found here:

I also like when the blogger compares Birnbaum's style to Rubin and Gabriel's. In any case, I hope that answers any questions as to Murakami in translation.

Jan 31, 2014, 12:00 pm

Seicho Matsumoto : Le vase de sable
(The Sand Vase; English title: Inspector Imanishi Investigates)
3 stars

A man is found dead on train tracks and the Detective Imanishi has to find out who he is when his only clue is that a second man with a particular accent was seen with the man shortly before his death. This leads to the introduction of the great artists on the current Japanese scene as Imanishi tries to discover what the connection is between all the people in his dossier.

I've read one of Matsumoto's books before and really enjoyed it so I decided to make this one my second. I was originally very caught up in the book but then, admittedly, I started losing track of what was going on which made me lose my attention. Especially since when I lost my thirst for the book, it started to take longer and longer just to read a few pages. It took the detective's summary at the end for me to understand what I had just read.

Nevertheless the plot was still intriguing and I enjoy Matsumoto's pleasant, soothing, style. There is no fantasy in his work and no large conspiracies tied to underground mystical groups that I typically associate with crime fiction; his work is really like spending time with your father, the police detective, as you watch him struggle to find the right course of action.

Edited: Nov 5, 2015, 8:28 pm

A review of all the Japanese books I've read so far organized by author. Many, many more to be added with time.

Reposting my review of all Japanese authors and works I have read so I can continue updating it.

Multiple books read by single author:
Kobo Abe : The Woman in the Dunes, The Box Man, The Face of Another, Secret Rendezvous, The Kangaroo Notebook
Yasushi Inoue : La Favorite, Shirobamba, Le paroi de glace, Le fusil de chasse
Yasunari Kawabata : Thousand Cranes, Kyoto
Junichiro Tanizaki : In Praise of Shadows, The Makioka Sisters, Le meurtre d'Otsuya
Kenzaburo Oe : Nip the buds, Shoot the kids, Gibier d'elevage, Hiroshima Notes
Shusaku Endo : La fille que j'ai abandonnee, The Sea and Poison, When I Whistle
Banana Yoshimoto : The Lake, Kitchen, アルゼンチンババア
Seishi Yokomizo : La hache, le koto et le chrysanthème, Le village aux huit tombes
Haruki Murakami : 1Q84, After the Quake, 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
Seicho Matsumoto : Tokyo Express, Le vase de sable
Yukio Mishima : La mort en ete, Le marin rejete par la mer, Sun and Steel
Akira Yoshimura : Shipwrecks, La jeune fille suppliciee sur une etagere, On Parole, Un spécimen transparent : Suivi de Voyage vers les étoiles
Ryu Murakami : Almost Transparent Blue, 限りなく透明に近いブルー, From the Fatherland, with Love
Otsuichi : ZOO2, GOTH 夜の章

Only one book read by author:
Natsuo Kirino : Out
Nagai Kafu : Rivalry: A Geisha's Tale
Ayako Miura : Lady Gracia: A Samurai Wife's Love, Strife and Faith
Takeshi Kaiko : Into a Black Sun
Takashi Nagai : The Bells of Nagasaki
Shizuko Natsuki : La promesse de l'ombre
Yasutaka Tsutsui : Hell
Keigo Higashino : The Devotion of Suspect X
Hikaru Okuizumi : The Stones Cry Out
Michio Takeyama : Harp of Burma
Fumiko Enchi : The Waiting Years
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
Eiji Yoshikawa : Taiko
Meisei Goto : Shot by Both Sides
Mitsuyo Kakuta : The Eighth Day
Shohei Ooka : Fires on the Plain
Nosaka Akiyuki : La tombe des lucioles
Osamu Dazai : Soleil couchant

Nonfiction writers
Hiroo Onoda : No Surrender
Iris Chang : The Rape of Nanking
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
Didier du Castel : Les derniers samourais, Le crepuscule des geishas
Ian Reader : Religious Violence in Contemporary Japan: The Case of Aum Shinrikyo

TOTAL: 76 books

Edited: Feb 11, 2014, 5:39 pm

Takeshi Kaiko : Into a Black Sun
4 stars

It's a funny thing; all of this talk about WWI on LT has made me want to read about the Vietnam War. I've always enjoyed reading war books but haven't read one in a while and I loved the idea of reading about the Vietnam War again especially from such an interesting perspective. I've read quite a bit from the American perspective having read Tim O'Brien's novels (which I really enjoyed) but this was new as it is written by a Japanese correspondent, a country neutral to the war.

Kaiko writes about his time as a correspondent from 1964 to 1965 where he worked both on the front line and away, in Saigon. The book seems to be labeled as historical fiction but with his experiences leading the story. I really enjoyed the neutrality of the book; there was no real perspective on whether the war was good or bad, necessary or not, and was really just Kaiko's observations on the world around him and how the war affects his companions.

In one instance he is asked about the Japanese opinion of the war in which he does share at how they find the war to be unfair due to the difference in power on the two fronts. But as a whole Kaiko is very careful to not insert his opinion as is demanded from a correspondent.

In whole a great book, incredibly well-written and really engaging. My leaving off a start comes from the fact that I wish he had spoken about his time when he was detained from the Viet Cong, a fact that was given in his biography.


I wanted to mention that I've been getting a little lazy with posting reviews. Although I want to share the great books I've been reading, I've been on such a good reading spree that I don't want to lose that time to LT and posting reviews. I fear though that my lackluster reviews will make the books sound lackluster. I truly hope you all will look into these books I've been reading despite my seeming nonchalance.

Also, I have added this book to my list of Japanese books in post 114.

Feb 12, 2014, 9:50 pm

Ayako Miura : Lady Gracia: A Samurai Wife's Love, Strife and Faith
5 stars

I read the first half of this book January 2012 and I only put it down because at the time I was going through a I-only-want-to-read-half-of-a-book phase despite the fact that I was hooked on the book. Today though I came in at 8:30 for my substitute teaching job but because they had some weird test in the morning, I had nothing to do till 1:40pm so I used that time to read the remaining 200 pages left in the book. And boy, was it a great way to spend my day.

The book is a look at one of the most famous time periods in Japan: the 16th century where the three most famous generals -- Ieyasu, Hideyoshi and Nobunaga -- were all discovering their fate. I've read a book like this before -- Eiji Yoshikawa's Taiko which takes place in the exact same time period but focuses on the strategy that saw Hideyoshi become the great leader.

But this time the era is shown via the perspective of Tama Hosokawa, daughter of the great daimyo, Mitsuhide, who was allied with Nobunaga. Instead of the military strategy that dominated the great book, Taiko, we get the perspective of a woman as she learns what her role is in 16th century Japanese society. And not only do we get to see this but we also get to see her adaptation to the Christian faith that was being introduced at the time.

So overall, a fascinating look at the era via a great new perspective that is excellently crafted by the author, Ayako Miura. Definitely a must read.


I've added this book to this list in post 114.

Feb 13, 2014, 6:58 am

I haven't read him Kaiko for years. I discovered him when I first came to Japan not long after the Taisho era and he was one of the first Japanese writers I loved. Oddly, I now live just up the street from his house, which has been preserved as a rather cool museum. Lots of fishing stuff and whisky stuff.

Mar 21, 2014, 2:41 pm

117 -
Interesting. I'll have to keep an eye out for more of his books in the future. Any particular ones that I should read next? And thanks for the heads up on the museum. If it's near Tokyo I'll try to remember to visit next I'm there.

Mar 21, 2014, 2:41 pm

Otsuichi (乙一) : ZOO2
4 stars

I was first introduced to Otsuichi's story むかし夕日の公園で and was amazed that a 4 page story could be so intense. His imagination really shows through and his style, while quite simple (actually makes his books great for those learning Japanese who want to transition into reading novels), really helps the story shine through. Plus, the twists and turns in his stories are quite fun.

ZOO2 contains the following stories.

1)血液を探せ!(Find the Blood!)
2)冷たい森の白い家 (The White House in the Cold Forest)
3)Closet (Wardrobe)
4)神の言葉 (Words of God)
5)落ちる飛行機の中で (In a Falling Airplane)
6)むかし夕日の公園で (In a Park at Twilight, a Long Time Ago)

Each and everyone was enchanting in its own way and really had me turning the page.

1)血液を探せ!(Find the Blood!)
A man and his children go to a secluded mountain cottage as per tradition but when he suddenly wakes up and realizes he's been stabbed, he tries to figure out who has the greatest motive to kill him.

2)冷たい森の白い家 (The White House in the Cold Forest)
An aunt decides to kick out her sister's son, who now has to figure out how to survive in the forest. He starts to build himself a home but his use of material, human bodies, leads to a fascinating look at his mindset and leads us to quite the twist!

3)Closet (Wardrobe)
This is probably one of the weaker stories although still a fun twist. A woman and her husband go to the house of her husband's brother when the brother turns up dead, possibly at the hand of the woman. Did she really kill him?

4)神の言葉 (Words of God)
Two words: weird and creepy!
A boy discovers he has the power to command people's actions with a command. But as he seeks to separate himself from those around him, his commands become more and more frightening.

5)落ちる飛行機の中で (In a Falling Airplane)
This probably ended up being my favorite. A plane is hijacked but two passengers, instead of being scared, start haggling over the price of a drug that will let one passenger die peacefully instead of dying in a terrible plane crash. Quite an amount of dark humor in this one. Fun story.

6)むかし夕日の公園で (In a Park at Twilight, a Long Time Ago)
A young child plays in a park in Japan when he feels something frightening under the sand. This four page story packs quite the punch.

So I really enjoyed this. Page-turning, full of dark humor and fun twists. I compared the book to the English translation and while the translation leaves out a few sentences here and there, the translation is fluid. Otsuichi's style is straightforward making this a really easy read.


This book was added to my list in post 114.

Mar 31, 2014, 11:00 am

A simple review as I continue to care more about reading than reviewing (a good thing!). Book added to list in post 114.

Osamu Dazai : Soleil couchant (The Setting Sun)
4 stars

I have finally read Dazai! After so many years of this sitting on my shelf, asking to be read. After how many years of speaking to Japanese people telling me this is the only classic they've read. It's part of the Japanese repertoire, a must read, particularly when reading about post-war Japan.

It's about an aristocratic family who have to sell their home in Tokyo and move to the mountains to a less regal home. The son, deemed lost to the war and his drug abuse, comes home to wreak disorder on the life his sister and mother have created for the family. Upon the arrival, the family slowly falls as they find they cannot adapt to this new life.

A lovely, beautifully written book that gives you a great glimpse on the beginnings of post-war Japanese society. I particularly loved the images of the snakes in the garden.

Mar 31, 2014, 11:00 am

Michael Emmerich : Read Real Japanese Fiction
5 stars

I read the majority of this in previous years but only just now read the very final story. If there was any delay it's because I first started this book to help me get back into reading Japanese and after a little bit I ended up quickly outgrowing the book. But it's so good that I had to finish the last story since the selections are fantastic.

1.) 神様 - Kawakami Hiromi
2.) むかし夕日の公園で - Otsuichi
3.) 肉屋おうむ - Ishii Shinji
4.) ミイラ - Yoshimoto Banana
5.) 百物語 - Kitamura Kaoru
6.) かける - Tawada Yoko

Michael Emmerich's stories mostly fall in the suspense genre but every story is fascinating. He starts off with a very simple story and as the collection progresses, the stories become more difficult. Included are rough side-by-side translations, a dictionary, a grammar explanation and an audio cd with a native speaker reading. A great book to have if you're trying to switch from classroom Japanese to real life Japanese.

And a real bonus as, because of this book, I've bought and read other stories/books by these authors since I had such a good time and I know that they are at a proper reading level for my Japanese.

Apr 7, 2014, 4:59 pm

Kobo Abe : The Kangaroo Notebook
3 stars

Up to now Abe has been presenting stories about our sense of identity versus society's idea of identity while giving insight on certain aspects of Japanese society. In this story, Abe's last, he appears to demonstrate flaws in the Japanese medical system while examining Japan's perception of moral death. As is typical of Abe, the beginning of the story is highly relatable as its realism (despite certain fantastical elements) really puts you into the story. About halfway through though, although amazed by the storytelling and the imagery (very memorable!), you should start to get confused as to where Abe is going, as the fantasy and surrealism take over. But at the end, he ties it all together with his final reveal.

It's the story of a man who wakes up to find radish sprouts growing out of his legs. When he decides to go to a dermatology clinic to get his rash looked at, he finds himself strapped down to a hospital bed under heavy sedation. We find Abe's initial jabs at the health care industry in Japan what with it's initial first come-first serve approach (despite the degree of pain one might be in) and basic all-encompassing approach to your problem no matter what the problem might be. Then, as he is strapped to the bed we see the mocking again as we find his treatment to be much more severe than what is probably necessary.

As he comes in an out of sedation, Abe takes us on a wild ride somewhere between reality and fantasy until the absurdities take over. From here on out the characters are interesting, the descriptions comic while incredibly surreal, as the character is pursued by his hospital bed and he meets his dead mother and a blood-collection agent who is really a vampire.

But what is the character escaping? We see him trying to escape his hospital bed (escaping his illness), visiting sulfur spas (trying to treat his illness), encountering nurses and blood-collectors under different forms (perhaps another trip back to the hospital in real life), an encounter with his dead mother (is he on the brink of death?) followed by a final article published by a newspaper. Aha! Yes, indeed, very interesting (especially considering a particular club in the book).

Another good Abe read but not the book I would start off with and for me, not as inspiring or socially interesting as his other works although highly enjoyable and definitely an engrossing read.

Edited: May 1, 2014, 1:30 pm

Nagai Kafu : Rivalry: A Geisha's Tale
4/5 stars

It's been a while since I've read a geisha book so I thought I'd revisit the topic via a new point of view. This book is a fictionalized story about Komayo, a woman who has come out of retirement and returned to the world of geisha. She encounters an old acquaintance from her youth, Yoshioka, with whom she subsequently reunites. The tale is of Komayo and her attempt to regain fame and recognition in her world until she is suddenly met with competition who decides to tear her down.

The story is well-written and after the first two/three chapters, one becomes fully immersed in the story. This is one of the first geisha stories where there are no apologies made for the world nor is there a defensive point of view; the geisha do their jobs as the men also find manipulative means to outdo their own rank.

Apparently the edition I have was the newest translation of the work as the previous edition had been censored (sexual scenes were removed) and thus the new translation is of the unabridged work. The translation was fine although it felt at times that it could have been finessed a bit (although I'd have to look at the original Japanese edition to confirm that).

May 2, 2014, 10:29 am

I've just replenished my wish list with some of your books. Thanks!

Edited: May 2, 2014, 11:46 am

Wonderful! Any particular ones that caught your attention? (And apologies for my lackluster reviews lately; I've been enjoying reading more than reviewing.)

May 4, 2014, 8:23 pm

Edited: May 5, 2014, 12:11 am

126 -
An excellent article, dcozy! If I had your writing skills I think I would have written something very similar. You covered the same points I noticed while also showing the two different aspects of the book that I felt kept the book interesting. (And you even pointed out the chapter about the garden that also fascinated me.) I'm going to cross post your article to my other thread so others can read your fine review.

ETA: And now that I see you are a teacher at Showa Women's University I feel incredibly unworthy with my little whimsical meandering thoughts!

May 11, 2014, 2:16 am

lilisin, I always enjoy your "whimsical meandering thoughts." Please keep them coming.

Jul 19, 2014, 9:40 am

Akira Yoshimura : On Parole
4/5 stars

Kikutani is a man who has just spent 16 years in prison for the murder of his wife and who has now been released under a provisional parole. This story is of his adjusting to a life he has never experienced, yet needs to survive. Yoshimura, as expected, excels again at describing the main character and his interaction with his environment. Every page is remarkable and brings you along with the story. The steady pace is impeccably well-done to emulate the thoughtfulness and slowness that Kikutani must calculate to yield a successful immersion into society. Additionally, Kikutani's relationship with his two parole officers, Kiyoura and Takebayashi, is something to be envious of. Unfortunately, as is typical with Yoshimura's works, tragedy is afoot and we know how the story must end.

Other works read by Yoshimura:
La jeune fille suppliciee sur une etagere

Edited: Jul 19, 2014, 9:45 am

A nonfiction work as a change of pace.

Donald Richie : The Inland Sea
4/5 stars

One cannot enter the world of Japanese studies without hearing the name of Donald Richie, considered an expert in Japanese film and culture. Many wish to emulate his success and many more try to surpass him. This is his tale of his explorations of the Inland Sea of Japan to try and find what has been forgotten in Japan. The Inland Sea is located within the main island of Honshu (Japan is composed of 5 main islands) and Shikoku and is comprised of a series of tiny little islands that Donald Richie visits via boat over the course of a few months in the 70s. Reading the book was eerily mesmerizing as we are both horrified by some of his opinions, viewpoints and stories, while also entranced by his lovely opinions, viewpoints and stories.

Yes, reading the book is both painfully cringe-worthy and beautiful in the sense that Donald Richie is one of those men you would love to invite to dinner to introduce to your friends but you're also afraid of his words offending the majority of your guests. I tried to keep in mind that this book was written in the 70s but Donald Richie is certainly a man carrying rose-colored glasses when it comes to certain aspects of Japan. Japan can do no harm even when it he admits that it does. He praises its xenophobia while also asking to be wanted by the Japanese. Donald Richie feels like the middle child craving attention from his stern father who can do no wrong in his eyes. Let's not forget his experience with the 15 year old girl whom he tries to seduce despite being well into his 40s. (Worse for me, I have only the face of the 77 year old Donald Richie in my mind so that made the scene extra-cringeworthy.) Now, I'm not entirely against sex tourism (not paying for sex, but involving yourself in sexual adventures with "the locals"); it's true what they say that you can learn a lot about a language and a culture when in the arms of a lover. But please leave the 15 year olds alone, Mr. Richie. And stop trying to seduce the female owners of the local bars. Now you just sound desperate. But Mr. Richie does address his own faults (he provides an incredibly personal look at his failing marriage) and you do see that he really is trying to understand himself.

And within that, the trip he takes is really beautiful and he describes it quite eloquently. I cannot fault him for that and I actually say thanks. His anecdotes are humorous, many of his encounters are delightful and he adds additional notes on the history of the islands that is fantastic. All in all, a book worthy of reading.


Both books from today added to the list in post 114.

Sep 8, 2014, 2:34 am

You might like to know that Richie considered The Inland Sea a novel, not a memoir, and that he was gay.

Sep 8, 2014, 7:41 am

I actually had heard that he was gay which is why I mentioned that in this book he was trying to understand himself. And I can understand why he considers this to be a novel and not a memoir as he certainly romanticizes a considerable amount of his trip.

Sep 8, 2014, 8:15 am

I'm certain that some of the encounters the protagonist has with women in Inland Sea are based on encounters Richie had with males on his own travels. Genders get flipped, a la Proust.

Dec 12, 2014, 3:37 pm

Ryu Murakami : From the Fatherland, with Love
4.5/5 stars

I really enjoyed this book; it was fun, engaging and full of page-turning moments that made me want to pick the book back up as soon as I put it down. It probably could have been edited down in a few instances (hence me dropping a star) as certain moments and even phrases were repeated, but overall I was taken on a fun ride with this book.

It's a story about North Korean trying to take over Kyushu, Japan by sending a handful of troops to take over the city of Fukuoka. They are able to do so by taking advantage of the inadequacy of the Japanese government and the inability to take charge that comes from the Japanese people. As the Korean troops, the Koryo Expeditionary Force, starts to settle in and implement their policies, we see the struggle of the Japanese government as they try and decide how to deal with this invasive force, and we get to see the people of Fukuoka as they try and figure out what their role is under this new state. In the meantime, a group of misfits determines what they want to do about this new situation.

Seeing the utter meltdown of the Japanese government as they it is lost in bureaucracy and paperwork is the true genius of this book and it's what really allowed me to enjoy Murakami's work.

Dec 12, 2014, 3:40 pm

Iris Chang : The Rape of Nanking
4/5 stars

Since the last we met I have only read one book, Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking which I really enjoyed reading. I found it to be an interesting account of not only the Japanese occupation of Shanghai but an interesting tug of war between telling the truth and covering up facts.

The violence depicted in the book might render some people queasy as there are certainly some brutal scenes, as well a photos showing decapitated heads and raped women, so it might not be for everyone, but the subject material is fascinating.

For myself, the violence was basically a matter of fact of the war and having already been aware of it -- although I'm not trying to diminish the atrocities -- I was able to look at it without too much emotional distraction. What fascinating me instead were the chapters stating how the occupation started and what led it to be as gruesome as it was. Apparently the Chinese could have not have suffered the atrocity entirely if they had been better with their communication. Also, I though very interesting the fact that there was a change in Japanese generals that led to a change in intensity of the occupation. Fascinating.

I also really enjoyed the end were Iris Chang starts to discuss censorship amongst scholars and the Japanese government and even possible censorship from the Chinese government (to perhaps inflate the numbers of casualties). This tug of war is really fascinating and actually led me to having some really intense conversations while I was in Japan.

(My host parents (in their 70s) thought the atrocities were horrible and don't doubt it happened, but they wonder to what extent foreign press thinks the casualties go to. Another person I spoke to, a 24 year old man, actually believes that barely any of what is reported by the Chinese government to be true and thinks the events are massively exaggerated.)

My reading experience was furthermore enhanced by reading the circumstances behind Iris Chang's suicide. There is a very heartwrenching article one can find easily via Google.

In any case, although it's been a few months already since I read this so I can't go too much into the more specific details of the book, I'm very happy to have finally read this work.

Edited: Feb 9, 2015, 3:34 am

Hiroo Onoda : No Surrender
5/5 stars

Amazing. Mindboggling. Confounding. Doesn't answer any of your questions and you remain just as confused as when you first pick up the book but the journey with Mr. Onoda is fascinating.

Last year I read a news article announcing the death of Hiroo Onoda. I had never heard of him before but upon reading his story I knew that I had to know about this interesting character. Onoda is a Japanese soldier who fought in the Philippines at the end of the second world war. However, even when the war ended he did not stop fighting for the Japanese. Basically, he didn't believe that the war had ended and he kept fighting as a guerilla for another thirty years.

How could someone refuse to believe the surrender of their country? How could someone, despite being the last soldier on the island, muster up the courage (is that the word we should be using?) and determination to continue to fight for an additional thirty years. And all this despite flyers being dropped down on the island telling him to come out.

It's really a fascinating story and I could have continued reading about his story. In fact, I would have read the original 2000 page debriefing he gave upon finally surrendering. Unfortunately this book only covers 200+ pages of his life and every page is riveting. You can't stop asking questions but he managed to answer all questions in such a succinct and non-delusional way. Other than the length, another unfortunate thing is that there is no writing about his life post fighting. I want to know about his adjustment to life, his charity work and just everything.

Really, just fascinating. I could read 2000 pages about him, I could write 2000 pages about him and still remain just as mesmerized.

And perhaps my review is more a review of his life and less a review of the book but I know that when I turned the last page, I wanted to start right up again and just couldn't stop churning his life in my mind.

Edited: Nov 5, 2015, 8:30 pm

Hello everyone. Haven't been on this thread in a while! Wow!
Basically I recently moved to Japan and thus have been busy enjoying myself (having the time of my life) and living life instead of reading. If I'm not going to read, this is definitely not the reason not to!

At some point back when I managed to read Akira Yoshimura's Un spécimen transparent : Suivi de Voyage vers les étoiles. Yoshimura being one of my favorite authors I of course enjoyed reading the two short stories very much.

The first, Un spécimen transparent (A transparent specimen), is about a man who cuts bones out of bodies to reconnect them as intact skeletons which are then provided to research labs, science classrooms exactly. However, he is upset by the inferior condition of the bones from the bodies he usually receives as they come in after they've already been autopsied and prodded so the bones are already in deteriorating condition. His ideal would be to get a fresh body so he can finally use his perfected technique that would allow the bones to look perfectly transparent.

Here, Yoshimura dives back into his recurrent theme of human interaction with death. My only fault with the story lied in the fact that I was forcing myself to read the book to try and force myself back into reading so that forced reading mood wasn't the best thing to do. Also, I kept having deja vu about having already read the story. In fact, so much so that I was having deja vu about having deja vu about having already read the story. It was the strangest feeling.

The second story, Voyage vers les étoiles (Trip to the stars), was the strongest of the two stories and was actually quite mesmerizing and at the end, terrifying. It is the story about a teenager with suicidal thoughts who ends up joining a group of other teenagers who have the same thoughts. They make a pact to turn their thoughts into action and you follow them to the ocean where they plan on taking their lives. It's a frightening and intense journey.

Nov 5, 2015, 8:31 pm

I also was able to finish a book called GOTH 夜の章 by Otsuichi, a collection of three short stories (that are available in translation) but not his strongest works that I've read.

The three short stories are:
3)記録 (TWINS)

Jan 13, 2016, 2:53 am

Follow the rest of this thread in Part 2!

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