The Hole by Hiroko Oyamada (Japanese Literature Challenge 16)

I remember how as a young bride I enjoyed staying at home and caring for my husband. We lived in Germany at the time, and I would walk to the Konditorei for bread to make us lunch which I would then carry to where he worked.

It was an idyllic time, yet I eagerly grabbed the opportunity to teach when the new school year came. Could I have been happy being a homemaker forever? It is something I’ll never know, for I taught until I retired, occasionally yearning for the privilege of “only” caring for the home; having one job, instead of two.

Maybe it is as simple as wanting what we cannot have, for when Asahi’s husband is transferred to a small village, she, too, gives up her job in Tokyo. Which is not something she loved in the first place, being a part time employee. Yet she and a colleague fantasize about the prospect of not having to go to work any more. Until it becomes a reality for her.

I’d wake up a little before six, pack my husband’s lunches, make his breakfast, see him off, go shopping, clean the house, or maybe run the laundry – but, after that, I didn’t have anything to do. Living the dream? Really?

p. 17

One day, her mother-in-law calls from her work to ask Asa if she will make a deposit at the bank for her. The bills and deposit slip are waiting on the counter, where she forgot them that morning. So Asa sets off in palpable Summer heat, I can feel it through the description on the pages, and suddenly falls into a hole.

The hole felt as though it was exactly my size – a trap made just for me.

p, 23

It is a hole she did not see, could not anticipate, and therefore could not avoid falling into. A metaphor for the life she is now living in a remote village, with no job, no friends, no entertainment, and a husband who is only described as either sleeping or scrolling though his cell phone.

I knew what I was getting into. But that doesn’t mean I knew everything.

p. 40

When do we know everything? We blindly go forward, making the best choices we can, and some of us pray for wisdom along the way to guide us. But now, added to this “simple” story, Asa begins seeing strange animals. Meeting strange people, like the Sensei at the 7 Eleven, and children flipping through comics who don’t look at her. She encounters her husband’s brother, whom she didn’t even know existed, and he warns her of a sleeping animal’s fangs when he points it out at the bottom of another hole.

“Fangs? That kind of animal had fangs? Then again, how would I know? I didn’t know anything.

p. 41

And so we encounter a discouraged wife who also seems to be seeing things, or at least imagining them, and reality is mixed with a bit of surrealism. Still, I found plenty to ponder in this slim volume packed with powerful observations.

People always fail to notice things. Animals, cicadas, puddles of melted ice cream on the ground, the neighborhood shut-in. But what would you expect? It seems like most folks don’t see what they don’t want to see. The same goes for you. There just be plenty you don’t see.

p. 46

“It takes a writer of great talent to mold the banality of the everyday into the stuff of art, and to build an entire world around a metaphor other writers might quickly deploy and cast aside, but Oyamada is in complete control of her talent. “

Japan Times

The Hole by Hiroko Okayama, translated by David Boyd, won the Akutagawa Prize. It is a short book, which I read in one afternoon and highly recommend.

7 thoughts on “The Hole by Hiroko Oyamada (Japanese Literature Challenge 16)”

  1. I can see how this might resonate with expat wives. I had the children to look after whenever we went abroad (and was doing my coaching qualifications the first time and worked as a freelance trainer the second time) so I never had time to ‘just’ stay home but somehow your life can feel very constricted.


  2. It sounds a very interesting book. I have been married and working outside, married and homeschooling 13 years, I am back at teaching again and counting the days until husband retires. I wish if not for staying home again for leaving teaching for good. It’s becoming impossible. I can’t blame it entirely but it’s a reason why my reading is almost non existing these days.
    Thanks for teaching many years.


  3. This sounds fascinating! I love the idea of the hole as an extended metaphor for the turn her life has taken and how it makes her feel. I don’t think I’ll be able to participate in JLC this year, but I’m enjoying reading the other contributions around the web, so thanks as always for organising! Hopefully next year I’ll be back 🙂


  4. I reviewed The Hole in January 2022 and I recall thinking it was excellent … the weirdness and feelings of alienation are palpable. I just looked up the author’s new novel … Weasels in the Attic (2022) and my library has it! I’m on the wait list. woohoo. She’s a big talent I think.


  5. A great review. I wish I enjoyed this book more. It was my summer read (I actually took this to Venice with me because it is so small and light), but I ended up with mixed feelings. I love when Japanese literature is subtle and suggestive, and I guess I was looking for greater insight and depth. I should re-read it with fresh eyes after your review. I also somehow assumed that the Japanese Challenge runs January to March, my bad. I really enjoy reading all the review contributions.


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