Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura

Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura

Japanese Fiction

Original title –  Hasen (破船)

Translator – Mark Ealey

Source – personal copy

I will try a couple of books for this year’s January in Japan here is my first book one I have had sat on the shelves a good while ago. Akira Yoshimura was president of the Japanese writers union for over twenty years and a member of Pen. He was married to a fellow Japanese writer Setsuko Tsumura. He wrote over twenty novels and also a number of non-fiction books including one that was about a Tsunami that sold well after the 2011 tsunami his wife donated the profits to a village affected by the Tsunami. This book is one of two he is best known for.

His mother chatted with the old women as they trudged along the path. Isaku was happy; for the first time he had helped the men carry the firewood up to the crematory for a funeral. He was being treated as an adult; before long he would be carrying the coffin with the men. But he was small for his age and slight of build. His father was due to return in two and half years, and like other teenage boys and girls in the village Isaku would no doubt be sent into biondage in his fathers place, pretending to be two or three years older than he actually was.  At such time, if he was small, the broker would either refuse to barter for him or would take himon for a paltry amount

He has to grow beyond his years and beyond his frame in the book

The book is narrated and seen through the eyes of Nine-year-old Isaku. The setting is a small fishing village in Medieval Japan where his father has had to go and spend three years at sea as an indentured sailor to help the family thrive. Life for this nine-year-old is tough as he becomes the man of the house trying to help his mum as much as possible. Struggling learning to catch driftwood this is a tough world but he gets on there are moments where we see him growing when he notices a girl a year older than him that also lives in the same poor village as him Tami he worries she will be sent away as a servant as they never return to the village the life is tough the things they do the fishing follows the seasons and when things are hard to catch they suffer. like the lack of octopuses. They also make salt from the seawater in large cauldrons this is a day and night job on the beach when the chief appoints Isaku in charge of keeping the fire going overnight in the cauldrons his mother is honored but this act as a lure to get sink ships that are lured onto the rocks in the winter or as the village calls it O-fune-sama its been a while since a ship has done this so when one does and then the agents for the owners start sniffing around the village panics but what happens when later a second ship with no real bounty just the red outfits of the dead sailors arrives what happens to the village after this event. Will Isaku’s father make it home?

It was agony tending the salt cauldrons on snowy nights. Again and agian Isaku would carry firewood throughthe driving snow and throw it under the cauldrons. The snow appeared to dance wildly, glimmering red from the colour of the flames. Once in Febury, they were hit by a blizzard. The houses were snowed in; it was almost dark inside. Isaku and his mother cleared the snow from the roof and outside the windows, making a space for the sunlight to shine in

A harsh world for the ten year old Isaku looking after the fire every night through the winter.

This is a beautifully written book of a harsh world the village is a dive the only way out is through indentured work for those living there and that is via the man in the next village that gets them the jobs. Like Isaku’s father or his observance of all the young girls that are sold off to be servents and never return which means either they die from overwork or just never see freedom again. Stark world of the village is governed by the seasons from the capturing of the small fish then, they move on the go for octopuses or look to the mountain and rabbits to eat. a tough world that is dotted with funerals but also a hard observation at times like when food is scarce the rice running low and a dying relative is taking too long to die and is still eating his share. I am always a fan of books set in the village and here we see a village caught in its time the lack of options is hard to accept through modern eyes so you feel for this ten-year-old and his be=leak future and no wonder his mother seems so distant at times she is broken by the loose of her husband and having to bring up three children. Have you read this book?

The glass slipper and Other stories by Shotaro Yasuoka

The Glass Slipper and other stories by Shotaro Yasuoka

Japanese Short Stories

Original title -ガラスの靴 (title story glass shoe)

Translator – Royall Tyler

Source – personal copy

I have brought a number of Dalkey Archives older books when I have seen them cheap. I picked this up by the Akutagawa Prize-winning Shotaro Yasuora. He fought in the Philippines in world war two and was one of the few survivors to come back from there. He then started to study English but near the end of this contracted tuberculosis which affects his spine, he had spent a long time just lying on his back that is what started his writing career. The title story of this collection was one of the spending time recovering and amongst his earliest ones. He wrote and was listed for the Akutagawa prize but he did win it two years later in 1953. He won a number of other prizes and was the translator of Alex Haley’s books after he had visited the south of the US during that time and wrote about it.

I soon became caught up in Etsuko’s fantasy play. I enjoyed it goign along with her stories mademe feel as though I had taken possession of her. At her suggestion we played hide and seek. For all pratical purposes, the house and evertything in it belonged to us. There were hiding places everywhere – under the bed, behind the curtains, in the chest of drawers, in the dressing room woth all of it mirrors, I went upstairs and hid in a battlefield water bag that hung unused, in the closetat the end of the hall.

The played as the romance blossomed in the glass slipper

The title story The glass slipper sees the narrator a young man that has a job in a gun shop as he is asked to deliver a rifle to a US Colonel. Colonel Craigow house. When he arrives with his delivery he is meet by the families Japanese maid Etsuko he is smitten with her and returns as they spend the summer but then she isn’t there a nod to the fairy tale of the glass slipper. There are eight other stories. One sees a man selling his father’s beautiful enameled war medal to a US serviceman so he can make ends meet in the poor post-war times which is the time the stories are all set. Elsewhere a man is told by his boss to compose the company song via a shared love of verse. Jingle bells as the title suggest see a boyfriend on his way to his girlfriend but are running late and as is the case he keeps getting held up.

“JIngle Bells” was playing on the radio, and I was walking in time to it. It was christmas day. Noonetheless, the eateries lining both sides of the street in front of the station were flying big red-and-white banners against the leaden sky advertising “Grilled Sweetfish Tamagawa Specialty!Tasty !Tasty

Jingle bells, jingle bells

I tred not to walk in step, but it didn’t work. I seemed to have cords around my ankles that kept me marching along. I remembered how in my first year as a member of the Takasski Infantry Regiment the sergant had called “Hup,Two,Three,four” they called came a gap in the rhythm. Jingle(Hup) Bells(two) Jingle (three) Bells(four)

Jingle bells a man called by his girlfriend to visit her.

I read that this is a collection that Murakami recommends to readers it is a light-hearted collection of self-perception with a collection of characters that are all struggling in post-war Japan. The translator is American so we have a lot of American terms like Pants and vacations. But you can cope with that, Shotaro characters all have odd jobs a man guards a half-burnt house, a man writing a song and a translator. A varied section of post-war Japan. he died a few years ago. There is only this and another collection available in English by him. Have you read him?

Two Japanese classics

I hadn’t been to the local Oxfam (sorry anyone locally it has very little in translation on its shelves as I have them!) for ten day which for me is a long time due to training last week and other things I hadn’t got to town. But I was pleased to find two Japanese classics one had been on my radar a while and the other is by a writer I have tried before and want to try again as my first encounter wasn’t the best but everyone rates him as a writer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First up is Kobo Abe’s Woman in the Dunes, a modern classic that is also a well-known film. It follows seven years in a man’s life as he is trapped by the woman in the dunes. A cat and mouse tale as the two try to escape and the woman uses here female sensuality to keep him there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then we have another backlist book from Peter Owen (i do wish they’d make more of the backlist it is one of the best around) this is by Yukio Mishima whose sailor who fell from grace with the sea, I really didn’t get along with since then I have brought a couple of his books to read . Looking back it reminds me it is a year and half since I reviewed a book from Japan so I need to address that missing Tonys Japan in January which is when I would save my Japanese books to read.

What gems have you found recently ?

Botchan by Natsume Sōseki

Botchan by Natsume Sōseki

Botchan by Natsume Sōseki

Japanese fiction

Orginal title 坊っちゃん

Translator J cohn

Source – Library book

Another for Tony’s January in Japan project and another of those older Japanese writer I hadn’t got too  before now ,so this time it is Natsume Sōseki .He  was a writer from the Meiji period of writing ,he studied both Chinese and British literature .He wrote poems Haiku and Novels .He also left an unfinished book when he died .He is also on the 100 yen note in Japan .

In January of the sixth year after my mother’s death , the old man had a stroke and died ,That april I graduated from a private middle school ,and in June my brother graduated from his business school ,He took a job with some company , and was assigned to their office in Kyushu ,I still had to finish my education in Tokyo .My brother announced that he was going to sell of the house and all our parent processions before heading off to Kyushu .

How Botchan end up as a teacher a lot of bad luck .

Botchan is the name of title character of this book ,we meet him as he is finishing his education .But the path he had in mind is cruelly cut when his parents die and their home is sold by his older brother and he has to take a job as a schoolteacher in the very traditional area of Japan Matsuyama .So he starts to teach maths ,but is drawn into a world of tricks at the hands of the pupils as they see him as an easy target .Add to this a bunch of strange fellow teacher that have a lot of nicknames  which Botchan gave them when he arrived in his new job  they are ,the porcupine ,red shirt and the principal the badger .We see this young man torn between the modern Japan that he left and the old values and customs he is surround with here .Also he faces moral questions as things happen  around him ,as he has been brought up with very strong morals and is finding them challenged .

I got here yesterday .It’s a nothing place .I’m staying in a 15 mat room .I gave them a 5 yen tip and the lady who runs the place bowed down so low she scrapped her forehead on the floor .Last night I couldn’t et to sleep .I dreamed that you were eating those sweets ,bamboo leaf wrappers and all ,I’ll be back next summer .Today I went to school and I gave all the teachers nicknames ,The principal is the badger .The assistant principal is redshirt ,The English teacher is pale squash ,the other maths teacher is the porcupine ,and the art teacher is the hanger -on .I’ll write you more about it later .Goodbye !

Botchan maybe shows his youth with the nicknames after his first day in his new job .

I loved this and can see why that over a century after it came out it is still highly popular in Japan and outside Japan .Botchan is a young man on the brink of manhood  ,he is facing taking the right path for him or for what is expected  for him? He reminded  me a times of a later character from english fiction and that is the Paul pennyfather in Evelyn Waugh’s decline and fall, they share same reason of bad luck to end up being a teacher and both find the school and teachers they are surrounded with very strange at times .But also like Naomi which I reviewed earlier this month it tackles the changing face of Japan the traditional Japanese world and the modern Japanese world .This was also based on the writers own experience he spent three years teaching in the same region as Botchan was a teacher .

Have you read this or any book by Natsume Sōseki

The restaurant of love regained by Ito Ogawa

the restaurant of love regained

The restaurant of love regained by Ito Ogawa

Japanese Fiction

Orginal title 食堂かたつむり

Translator – David Karashima

Source – library

Well for my fourth book for Tony’s January in Japan event I decide to take a dive into something different I had seen this book in my library as it stacked next to Yoko Ogawa .I had looked at it and thought it was maybe not the sort of book that appeals ,but with recent talk of not reading or translating enough women into English I decide to give it a whirl .Ito Ogawa is a graduate of Classical Japanese writer ,she has been a writer since 199 writing poetry ,as a lyricist  of her husbands  band fairlife ,this book was her debut novel .

I came home from my part-time job at the Turkish restaurant to find my apartment empty .Literally everything gone .The television ,the washer ,the fridge .the lights ,the curtains .Even the netrance mat had been taken !

The opening lines as Rinko returns home to find her life has taken a turn for the worse .

The restaurant of Love regained is the story of a twenty-five year old girl Rinko ,she is living in the city with her boyfriend when she returns home one day to find her house empty her boyfriend has gone and left her with nothing .She faces a tough decision that is to return home to the mother she ran out on ten years earlier .She does and starts to mend her broken relationship with her family at the same time she opens a very small special restaurant called the snail ,this is a single table that serve the food the customer wants prepared specially every day a different feast that the customer loves  to eat .As a knock on effect strange things start to  happen to the people who visited the restaurant they start to have things go right for them after eating a meal at the snail .

In the beginning , many customers had been attracted by rumours of the snail as the place where dreams come true .nowadays ,people were returning because they simply wanted to eat here again .

The snail starts to become popular with the people who use it .

Well I liked this one not loved it ,it fell into that place I call lite magic realism the tinges of magic realism recalled like chocolate for water ,Chocolat and such .I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy this book but I wasn’t left with the desire to read her books again .But I did want to read a cook book if she did a cookbook at any point ,she does daily recipes on her website in Japan and that is the one thing that did shine through in this book is the writers obvious love of food .The is a touching feeling of family coming together again the bond between mother and daughter being rebuilt was very well written .But over all I would say this is a mid point book in the books I ve read in that I mean it has its good points but also its bad points .I must note this is the 400th book reviewed on winstonsdad as well .

Have you read books that you feel not so strongly drawn too for a change ?

 

The sea and poison by Shusaku Endo

the sea and poison

The sea and poison by Shusaku Endo

Japanese fiction

Orginal title 海と毒薬

Translator – Michael Gallagher

Source – personnel copy

I’m so happy that I have got round this years Japanese reading month by Tony ,I have finally got to cross of off some of the big names in Japanese fiction ,that I haven’t already read .Shusaku Endo is one of what is known as the third generation of writer from Japan that followed world war two .He is noted for being a catholic writer in Japan ,he worked in a munition factory during world war two .He published his first novel in 1955 ,this was the third book he wrote .

I soon found the wing containing the first surgical department ,where the vivisection had been performed pretending to be someone visiting a patient I climber to the third floor up to the third floor the wig consisted entirely of wards .In the corridors the smell of grime mingled with the permeating odour of disinfectant .

Visiting where the horrors had taken place .

The sea and poison is the story of one doctor  and two other people as he faces the horror of the after effects of what he had done in the war years in a small hospital he worked in .The doctor had been involved in an experiments on the prisoners in his care in particular one american that they do some horrific things to and offer no pain relief .and taking bits out and messing with other bits of the airmen he was meant  to be treating .Haunted by this post war we see it effect on three of the people involved at the time for them unfortunately none of the men they treated this way survived  the treatment .We see the three struggle to deal with the moral dilemmas  this act brought to each of them in civilian life .

“now ,don’t take it like that .this is for your country ‘s sake .They’ve all been condemned to death anyway .This way they can do some good for the advancement of medical science ” Dr Asai gave me all the reasons he didn’t believe himself .

How many people have done acts for just what was said here ?

Well I wish I had reach Endo earlier ,I loved the way this book confronted the past so openly ,to say it was written just twelve years after the war .I also hadn’t fully gather this had happen on the Japanese side in the war ,I knew the Germans did things like this during the war in fact many years ago ,I  worked with a Latvian man who I cared for that had procedures done  similar to the ones in the book ,so at times I did struggle to read the book at times remembering what had happened to the man I looked after ,but I also want the insight into what made people do acts like this .I loved the way he confront Peoples guilt and moral upheavals .Also how refreshing to see it done so soon after the war I struggle to thing of European based books that tackled the subjects so soon after the war .As I said I found the experience describe in the book hard as I kept remember someone I knew but it all so made me gather how lucky he was and also how brave as he made it seem everyday when he once in passing mention what had happened and it wasn’t .

Has a book ever effect you because of some you have known ?

Naomi by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

naomi1

Naomi by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

Japanese fiction

Original title -痴人の愛( a fools love?)

Translator – Anthony H Chambers

source – personnel copy

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki according to his Wiki entry is the second most well-known of the writers that took Japanese fiction into the modern age behind Natsume Sōseki .His books were known for the sexual and erotic content .His family were printers but after a huge earthquake in the mid 1890 he had to become a tutor in a house he went to university in Tokyo to study literature but left to become a full-time writer .A number of his books have been turned into film in fact one Quicksand has had four different versions made of it .Naomi this book has twice been made into a film .As you can tell Tanizaki is a major writer in the Japanese Canon .Also fitting to be my second book for January in Japan .

I’m going to try and relate the facts of our relationship as man and wife just as they happened ,as honestly and frankly as I can ,It’s probably a relationship with out precedent .My account of it will provide me with a precious record of something I never want to forget .At the same time .I’m sure my reader will find it instructive too .As Japan grows increasingly cosmopolitan .

Open lines show what I mean about Culture clash in this book .

 

Naomi is a love story ,story of a marriage ,story of a women coming of age and story of culture clashing .The story focus on a couple Naomi of the title in english is a bar girl but with a western yearning she likes all things western .She is saved from her life as a bar girl by  Jōji who marries  .He is in love with her as she seems so different to all the other women he knows ,he loves the western touches she has .But the relation ship has many twist and turns and it is a lot about who is in control of the Marriage as it ends up Naomi is 15 when she meets and starts the relationship with Jōji he is 28 so there is an age gap there and initially he use his superior position to control Naomi but over the course of the story you see Naomi is actually clever and very good at getting here own way and making Jōji tow the line .A lot of sexual power games in here and also fun of manners at times .

At first Naomi had looked after the house and done the cooking ,but this didn’t go on for more than six months or a year .An even bigger problem than the laundry was the house : it got messier and dirtier every day .

Naomi is never going to be the perfect housewife .

I loved this book it centred on a theme that I love in fiction and that is what I call culture clash here it is the western culture and traditional Japanese culture and of course the two of these in some ways represent the sides of this but there is also a sense the even thou Jōji is quite traditional at his heart ,even he likes the western things and maybe that is a metaphor for what happen to Japan post world war two ? This book was published in 1947 .Also the relationship and the way that Jōji help Naomi move on from being a bargirl actual remind me of The Pygmalion by George Bernhard shaw the way Jōji took Naomi and made her a lot more than she was ,but also the way Naomi saw what she could be as well .

Have you read this or any other novel by Tanizaki ?

The diving pool by Yoko Ogawa

the-diving-pool1

The diving pool by Yoko Ogawa

Japanese fiction

Translator – Stephen Snyder

Orginial titles – Dailbingu puru ,dormitori and Nishin Karenda

Source – Library

Well earlier in the year I read Yoko Ogawa latest collection revenge a collection of dark interlinking stories and feel in love with her style so knowing Tony was bound to do January in Japan again I decide to read another of her books and found this one in the library ,which was the first of her books to be translated into English .The bio on the rear cover tells me she has written more than 20 works of fiction and non-fiction so it means we will hopefully get some more of her books in English .It also said she had won every major prize in Japan and after this book one can see why .

SOmetimes I wish I could describe how wonderful I feel in those few seconds from the time he spreads his arms above his head , as if trying to grab something , to the instant he vanishes into the water .But I can never find the right words .Perhaps it’s because he’s falling through time ,to a place where words can never reach .

Aya describes the feeling as her adoptive brother Jun waits to dive .

The diving pool is a collection of three novellas that are all about fifty pages in length ,unconnected barring the fact the lead character in each story is a female and at that a seemingly unhappy female in different ways and for different reasons .The title story involves an adopted daughter and the actual son of the family she lives with ,she sits watch him in the diving pool .She falls in love with this Boy Jun ,but this leads her life in an unusual direction .Then we have a story about a women how may or may not be pregnant and her sister .There is a feel of more behind this story than there seems at first and also a wanting to know more of the sister who is recording here pregnancy in a diary .The last story involves two women that are related the older women is waiting to leave Japan but is drawn back to a college dorm by her younger cousin and a strange collection of people who are living there .All these novellas show how fragile humans can be .

May 16 (Saturday), 25 weeks + 5 days

Sometimes I think about my sister’s relation ship with her husband – particularly about his role in her pregnancy if he ever had one .

When she’s having on of her crises , he looks at her timidly and stammers meaningless little phrases meant to comfort her , but in the end all he can do is put his arm around her .The he gets the sweet expression as though he’s sure that’s all she really wanted anyway .

A sister record her sister pregnancy day by day but is there more to this than seems ?

I love the way Ogawa makes the world seem so dark ,without being depressing her prose are readable but tinge with the worst of human nature ,but also encompass the big moments in life here we have first love that is tinged with being wrong ,a women struggling having a baby .Two women face changes in the lives .I felt these were more unsettling after I had read them and sat back and thought of each one and what happened .There is something so simple in Ogawa prose style something so Japanese like the art of a bonsai or origami each sentence has been chosen and trimmed down to make each novella be perfect not to flabby so the point she is wanting to make shines through .

Have you read Ogawa ?

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