Tag Archives: Japanese

Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima

I had a very long break of Japanese literature. I used to read tons of it when I was in Singapore, but then I moved to Sydney, and London, and Japanese lit took a back seat. I don’t even remember what’s the last Japanese lit book I read. So with a happy heart I finally got to finish Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima — my first voyage into this master’s catalogue. Reading this with a nudge from Bellezza‘s Japanese Literature Challenge 9.


Even before I read his book, I was already fascinated by Mishima’s life story, including, especially, his death by committing seppuku (ritual suicide). I know, it seems all the great authors are either gay or suicidal.

Spring Snow is the first book in the Sea of Fertility tetralogy – a final body of work from Mishima. I’m imagining a dramatic scene at the end of his writing session in which Mishima exclaimed “I wrote my masterpiece! I can now die happy!” SEPPUKU! ;)

In Spring Snow we follow a son of a rising nouveau-riche family Kiyoaki Matsuage, and his childhood friend turned lover Satoko Ayakura, who comes from a declining aristocrat family. (The way I described the Kiyoaki to hubby is “imagine the son of Japanese Gatsby”) The story is set in early 1900s Japan, 1912 to 1914 to be exact, so I found the society dynamics and the underlying historical setting very interesting. I’m sure I missed a lot of the historical subtleties, but by reading this book you get to understand a lot more, about the rigid customs and relationships between the Imperial family, aristocrats, and upper class society in early 20th century Japan. The Western influences have entered Japan too, giving it an extra layer of color.

A semi-important character is Kiyoaki’s friend Honda – a son of an intellect, sort of the Nick of Gatsby, mostly hovering on the side of the main love story, and occassionally giving hand at crucial moments. Honda will be a very important character in the subsequent books in the series, but I shall say no more.

I have to admit, the beginning and the middle were a bit of a slog for me, and I really didn’t like Kiyoaki’s character as he was exhibiting an array of teenage angst (the early 20th century Japanese version of it). I found that I had little patience for childishness and youth pride. Mishima took his time in building his characters and setting. He was being very careful, and it’s great in a way, but you need to push through the initial hump. (The book is almost 400 pages thick)

But once I hit the half point, I raced through the book in no time at all. I finished it in my week long trip around Central/Eastern Europe just last week, mostly between city to city in a train. The end just hit me like a ton of bricks. The last sentence left me dumbstruck. It probably shouldn’t have if I knew what the tetralogy was about, but I never quite knew what to get from quick browsing around goodreads and wiki. In other words, just go and read it, no need to find too much what the book is about :).

Spring Snow has turned me into a Mishima fan. I have yet to see anyone not liking his work no matter which book they start with, and I used to wonder about this. Now that I’ve crossed to the other side, I can say, yes yes it’s true, he’s amazing, come join us!

I plan to read the rest of the tetralogy. I have the first one on Kindle, but now I wonder whether I should collect the paperbacks. There’s the Vintage UK version and the Vintage International (US) version. Which do you think has better cover? I tend to lean towards the US version (only if it’s matte though, not glossy) but it seems harder / much more pricey for us to get the US version here.

spring snow

UK version

spring snow (US)

US version

Hoping to read another Japanese lit book by the end of the challenge in January 2016! I’m thinking The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi, but we’ll see. Let me know if you’re interested in it too, perhaps we can buddy read :)
ETA: This book also fits in nicely for Aarti’s A More Diverse Universe event on October 4-17, 2015, yay!

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Incoming Non Fictions

In the midst of my non fiction binge, I succumbed to the world wide web and acquired these babies.

non fiction stack

I have since started on a new novel, so I may have passed that unusual phase. But really, I have all the intention to get to them in near future. My libraries don’t stock any of this books, which is one requirement I imposed on myself for book buying. The books above:

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks
Eva’s Assembling My Atheneum series on Oliver Sacks intrigued me enough to convince me to get a copy. It’s a collection of essays about fascinating neurological case studies, which I promise would seem a lot more interesting if you can see the table of content.

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach
First heard of Bonk from Jackie, but later on read more about Mary Roach and her other books from other bloggers. Funny non-fiction? I’m on it! I got it second in good condition from Better World Books.

Little Princes by Conor Grennan
Subtitled One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal, I was offered this book by Harper Collins (US) and could not resist. Nepal is a country and culture I’d love to know more about and a couple of reviews confirmed that I’m in for a good read ahead. Also, what an stunning cover, don’t you think? It’s in hardcover too! (see below)

Starting Point, Little Princes

Starting Point 1979-1996 by Hayao Miyazaki
Another hardcover but I have no one to blame for this one. Starting Point came to my notice when I read Sydney Japanese Foundation new catalogue. It is a collection of essays, interviews, memoirs that go back to Miyazaki’s childhood roots, animation theories, and the founding of Studio Ghibli, covering the first half of Miyazaki’s legendary career. Squee! It seems to be the quintessential book for Ghibli and animated film fans. I cannot wait to dig into this. Currently waiting for a good time in which I can dedicate my whole self to the book. There said to be the sequel Turning Point 1997-2008 yet to be translated to English and I’m already looking forward to that.

Tokyo ViceThis last book is not on my physical pile as it just came to my attention last week, thanks to my good friend (who happened to fly to Tokyo for holiday only hours after the tsunami happened. What a bad timing to visit Japan. It’s very sad to see the massive disaster that happened. Hope things will get better and they will be able to rebuild soon.)

Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein is written by the first gaijin to work for a Japanese newspaper as Japanese crime reporter. He spent 12 years covering vice and organized crimes. Tokyo Vice is about his years in Japan and Japan underworld. Sounds fantastic!

Have you read any of these books? Read any great non-fiction lately?

Oishinbo: Vegetables by Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki

oishinbo vegetables

In this volume of Oishinbo the topic of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer is very prevalent throughout. Organic grown vegetables is the way to go. Which is all nice and everything, but I’m not sure if it’d change my grocery shopping habit. I find it hard to justify the double or triple price of organic food for daily consumption. Occasionally, maybe. Or if I cook only for myself, not for a bunch of family members who eat a whole lot more than me and may not appreciate the whole organic thing price-wise.

Perhaps I should read more on this topic?

4 stars
2009, 268pp

This month’s task for Hello Japan is about Japanese cooking. Contrary to the lack of cooking post in Bookie Mee, I actually love to cook (who doesn’t if you love to eat?!). And Japanese is my favorite type of cooking, at home or outside. Will try to post something else before the end of the month, but if not, I have this post for submission :).

bacon wrapped asparagus

Bacon wrapped asparagus yakitori. My favorite! Yum! (photo source)

My next Oishinbo is Izakaya: Pub Food which I’m currently reading. I’ve committed to reading the whole series and only have a few more to go!

More in the series (links to my reviews):
Oishinbo a la Carte 1: Japanese Cuisine
Oishinbo a la Carte 2: Sake
Oishinbo a la Carte 3: Ramen & Gyoza
Oishinbo a la Carte 4: Fish, Sushi & Sashimi
Oishinbo a la Carte 5: Vegetables (this post)
Oishinbo a la Carte 6: The Joy of Rice
Oishinbo a la Carte 7: Izakaya: Pub Food

Oishinbo: Japanese Cuisine by Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki

Oishinbo: Japanese Cuisine

Oishinbo (美味しんぼ, lit. “The Gourmet”) is a long-running cooking manga published between 1983 and 2008, but only in 2009 it is published in English in thematic compilation volumes (7 volumes so far), which means they contain “best of the best” and do not follow the original manga chronological order. There are a few minor storylines that jump forward and back. But I guess in the big picture of things, it does not matter that much, because the food is really the central of excitement!

The big question throughout this volume is What constitute real Japanese cuisine? What menu is essentially Japanese? In Oishinbo: Japanese Cuisine we learn more about sashimi, rice, and green tea. (I love sashimi. I can keep eating sashimi if it’s not so expensive!) There are different cuts of sashimi, different fish (obviously), and even different way of “cooking” it, one of them with a complex method of using a special type of rice paper and pouring boiled water over the rice paper and the skin side of the fish so that only the skin is cooked, not the flesh. Definitely not something you can do at home! Then there’s one chapter about cooking rice competition. It’s later revealed that the winner hand-picks the rice so they are all the same size and cooked evenly at the same time. Talking about serious cooking!

So yes they can go a bit over the top, although are seemingly realistic at the same time. As a foodie, I just found it a joy to read a book that treats food with so much respect. The green tea ceremony at the end of this volume was a nice closure that reflects how respectful the Japanese are.


delightful sashimi (source)

4.5 stars
2009, 272 pp

The volumes in this series (links to my review):
Oishinbo a la Carte 1: Japanese Cuisine (current post)
Oishinbo a la Carte 2: Sake
Oishinbo a la Carte 3: Ramen & Gyoza
Oishinbo a la Carte 4: Fish, Sushi & Sashimi
Oishinbo a la Carte 5: Vegetables
Oishinbo a la Carte 6: The Joy of Rice
Oishinbo a la Carte 7: Izakaya: Pub Food

A rather late shout for Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge IV which runs until the end of January 2011. I’m not sure if I get a chance to read a Japanese novel before the end of January (so far I’ve read only manga), but I’ll try!

Japanese Literature Challenge IV

A Japan Meme

Hello Japan

Hello Japan! November mini-challenge: a Japan meme

(Talking about last minute!)

My favourite Japanese food is sashimi because raw fish can be surprisingly YUMMY.

Breaking into Japanese LiteratureThe best Japanese book I’ve bought this year is Breaking into Japanese Literature: Seven Modern Classics in Parallel Text by Giles Murray. (I haven’t read it but I flipped through it and it looks awesome! It has 7 short stories both in Japanese and its English translation, complete with dictionary. We need more bilingual books!)

What Japanese author(s) or book(s) have you enjoyed that you would highly recommend to others?
Haruki Murakami, of course, who wouldn’t? Then Natsuo Kirino and Junichiro Tanizaki.

What is something Japanese that you’d like to try but haven’t yet had the chance?
Practicing Kendo.


You’re planning to visit Japan next year. Money is not a concern. What is on the top of your list of things you most want to do?
Ghibli Museum. You have to buy the ticket months in advance I heard.

ghibli museum


What was your favourite Hello Japan! mini-challenge topic?
I loved the one comparing two things Japanese where I wrote about the two directors of Ghibli: Miyazaki Hayao and Takahata Isao. The one about manga and J-music brought lots of memories too, they were fun.

What topic(s) would you like to see as a Hello Japan! mini-challenge in 2011?
Share your Japanese or Japanese-inspired recipe!

Thanks for hosting Tanabata, as always!

Megumi: Documentary Manga on Abductions by North Korea

megumi manga

Before Megumi I never knew about the existence of “Documentary Manga” so I took the book out of the Japanese Foundation Library shelf with high curiosity. As what the title says, the manga is a true account of the abductions of Japanese people by the North Korea.

Revolves around Megumi Yokota (横田めぐみ) who is one of at least thirteen Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the story is told from Megumi’s parents perspectives: Shigeru and Sakie Yokota, who supervised the creation of the book (illustrated by Soichi Moto).

It is a very heartfelt manga as you learn about the poor fate of Megumi. One day happy with her family of parents and two younger brothers, and the next abducted to a foreign country, never to be heard again until twenty years later, during which Megumi’s family thought she could be dead. Until one day a North Korean agent spoke up about the whereabouts of Megumi.

What came after was horrible mind games done by the North Koreans. One day they would say Megumi was alive and the next send human bones claimed to be Megumi’s (a DNA test that followed proved that they weren’t). They said Megumi got married and had a daughter. While the daughter was allowed to send letters to the Yokotas, they do not allow any contact with Megumi. There are a lot of other little things that make me wonder what their real intentions are to play with people’s life and feelings. Megumi and the Yokotas were just ordinary people who were at the wrong time and the wrong place, sucked into psychological political war between the South and the North Korea (apparently the North Koreans abducted some Japanese to learn to disguise themselves as Japanese with the purpose to penetrate the South).

A lot of the scenes really got to me. I couldn’t help imagining if I were the 13 year old girl abducted and my parents lost me one day, not knowing whether I were alive or dead. For if there’s even a glimpse of hope that I’m still alive, I know my parents would go as far as Sakie and Shigeru Yokota do. Their perseverance and faith is so commendable, and truly touching.

I went to South Korea in 2008. Even to these days there’s huge tension between the two countries. There is a part in the book where Megumi’s parents went to visit the South and North Korean border, a place that I have visited as well. So I recognized many of the places and the experiences: the dynamites and electrified border along the highway, the armies, the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone): 4 km wide buffer zone between the South and the North–the most heavily militerized border in the world, the North Korean’s tallest flagpole (160m) with its biggest flag (270kg) in the world (which you can only see from afar with a binocular, on the South Korean side). It was such an eerie experience, to say the least.

Megumi is published with the aim to enhance the understanding of the international community concerning the abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korea. It is distributed through Japanese diplomatic offices, including embassies and consulates. But it is not available for purchase, which explains why I had never seen the book anywhere. It doesn’t even have a record on popular book website like goodreads.

Megumi is a very informative manga (as documentary should), packed with emotions as it is told from the parents of the abductee. I love how the Japanese use medium such as manga to convey an important message. It’s a bit of a weird read, since there’s no proper solution to the “story”. Even though I knew the real-life Megumi is still held by the North Korean and there’s no way the book ended up happily, there was a part of me that was still hoping for it. Alas, it’s real life and the struggle continues.

4.5 stars

You can read the excerpt of the manga here. Apart from the manga, there’s anime made available for download (25 minutes full version), and also 85-minute documentary film titled Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story that has won many awards, produced by Jane Campion. Both of which I look forward to watching sometime.

More info about Abductions of Japanese Citizens by North Korea.

Mori Ōgai and Gyogenki

Mori OgaiWhen I saw The Classics Circuit was having a tour on Meiji-Era Japanese Classics, I was intrigued. However apart from Natsume Sōseki and Ryunosuke Akutagawa, I had a big WHO? moment. I had not heard the rest of the people on the list. One name did ring a bell, and I checked the books I got from Japanese Foundation Library and found that indeed there was one book of short stories collection by Mori Ōgai. Here was a good chance to participate.

Mori Ōgai (1862-1922) produced a wide range of works, from diaries, medical essays, aesthetics and literary criticism, to biographies, plays, Japanese and Chinese poetry, short stories, and novellas. He’s also a translator of contemporary European literature. In his final period of creative writing began in 1912, he turned to write almost exclusively in the genre of “historical literature”, which I guess what we often call now as historical fiction.

There are 10 short stories in the volume and after reading the short introduction for each story, I picked a piece called Gyogenki, a historical literature based on the Chinese Taoist nun and poetess Yü Hsüan-chi (I’m following the spelling in the book). Initially equally clueless about the great Chinese poetess as I was with Mori, I was intrigued by the brief summary of her life. She became a concubine of a wealthy man, got divorced, became a nun, had a lesbian relationship with another nun, then embraced a male lover, got insanely jealous over a maid, killed her, and was beheaded at the end. What a life!

Unfortunately the story felt pretty cut and dry, like reading a textbook. I can’t be sure if it’s the translation or not, but it didn’t make me want to continue reading the rest of the other stories in the book. Maybe I will eventually maybe I won’t, but I’m not rushing. I did enjoy reading the introduction about Mori at the beginning of the book and the short introductions for each of the short stories which honestly sound very interesting.

“Despite a lasting reputation in Japan, Mori Ōgai has yet to achieve any satisfactory reception in the West. Natsume Sōseki, the only writer of Ōgai’s generation to share his stature, has been widely translated and admired, but Ōgai remains a shadowy figure, austere, even obscure. It often happens, of course, that the work of certain writers cannot be sufficiently understood outside their own cultures. Some towering figures never earn anything like their rightful reputation through translation.” ~ The Historical Literature of Mori Ōgai: An Introduction

A bit sad. I guess there’s a reason why the book was withdrawn from Japanese Foundation Library. I know libraries usually withdraw books that have not been borrowed for a length of time. I’m glad I got to know a bit more about Mori-sensei and even tried his historical short fiction, even though I may not have “got it”. Who knows, maybe we’ll cross path again sometime in the future.

Meiji-era Japanese Classics

Check out the rest of the participants here. There are only a few of us this time!

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