A Man & His Cat by Umi Sakurai (or, Me & My Cat)

Minou was a bit disgruntled to be woken for her photo shoot. But, I seized the opportunity to highlight A Man & His Cat for the Japanese Literature Challenge 15.

The book first came to my attention from Robin’s review. Not only did it sound lovely, but I needed something light after slogging through Keigo Higashino’s Silent Parade. A book about a cat and a man, written in the manga style, seemed quite endearing.

A kitten languishes in a pet shop, unwanted and unloved. Even as his price drops with each passing day, no one spares him a glance unless it’s to call him names. Having practically given up on life, the kitty himself is most shocked of all when an older gentleman comes into the store and wants to take him home! Will the man and the cat find what they’re looking for…in each other?

(back cover)

I realize this sounds a little sappy, or even melodramatic, but this is a charming little book told from the kitty’s point of view, and I quite enjoyed the hour or so it took to read it.

“…the past isn’t something you can go back to.”

It seems that I am reading everything but what I have put on my original list. The books come in from the library, where they’ve been on hold since I first heard about them, and I devour them before they are due. (Next up? Silent Parade by Keigo Higashino, also not listed in my sidebar as an intended read for the Japanese Literature Challenge 15.)

Touring The Land of The Dead is one of two novellas included in this book by Maki Kashimada. It is one of those Japanese books which is not really a story; it is more of a discovery. A tour of one’s past, if you will, to find one’s place in the present.

Nasuko has married Taichi, a man who developed a neurological disease such that he must walk with the assistance of a cane, or at least the support of someone. All four of his limbs are unable to coordinate properly, and yet this does not discourage him. When people help him onto the bus, he thanks them, and praises their kindness to his wife. When he gets to the baths, he lets others help him to the water, and basks in its comforting warmth. He finds joy in everything.

Not so the people in Nasuko’s past, what she has come to call that life. It is a life inhabited by a selfish, entitled mother and brother, who seem to find joy in nothing. They take. They accuse. They want more. It stands in stark contrast to her husband who has every reason to complain, yet never does.

Anyone else would no doubt have been fed up with it all, with the unfairness of everything. But, Taichi wasn’t like that. Of course unfairness still existed in the world – but he just swallowed it down whole. No matter how bad it was, no matter how poisonous.

p. 70

It’s a very interesting concept to think about, especially in these days of great discontent. Blame. Taking. Thinking of oneself before others. I wonder how it is that some people are able to swallow unfairness whole, while others choke on a single morsel.

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama (translated from the Japanese by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies) and Give-away

It isn’t a new copy, I bought if for myself from Book Depository, yet I am giving away one of the best pieces of crime fiction I have ever read. Six Four is an international best seller; it is the winner of the best Japanese Crime Fiction of the Year Award, but it is not just about crime by any means. It is about the Japanese: police, media, families, pride, shame, and perseverance.

But, that might sound boring. And Six Four is anything but boring. Gradually, the layers of the case are lifted, delicately, as though by a surgeon’s hand. The reader wonders, along with Mikami (once in the department of Criminal Investigation now transferred to Administrative Affairs) where his daughter is, and why did the case of Six Four go so wrong so long ago?

Six Four. The term for a fourteen year old case, the kidnapping and murder of a young girl named Shoko…It went without saying that Six Four was the Prefectural HQ’s greatest failure.

p. 33

Parallel to this case is the fact that his own daughter, Ayumi, has run away from home. Her parents have had no word from her, they do not know if she is alive or dead, only why it is that she has run away. One day, Mikami’s wife answers the phone while he is away, and hears nothing but silence. This happens two more times, and she is convinced that it is their daughter silently reaching out to them. Mikami is not so sure, as he learns of two other households also receiving these silent calls.

I dare not tell you the conclusion to the novel, of particularly the case, or even of Ayumi. I would not dream of spoiling one of the best pieces of crime fiction I have ever read. But, I do highly recommend this book with all my heart, and I will send it to one winner. Simply leave a comment below indicating your wish to be entered, and I will declare a winner at the end of January.

Winner of Six Four is the blog A Hot Cup of Pleasure. Congratulations! And, there will be two more give-aways before the conclusion of the Japanese Literature Challenge 15.

The Woman In The Purple Skirt, by Natsuko Imamura (for the Japanese Literature Challenge 15)

I am often deceived by the apparent simplicity of the Japanese. One stem can make a flower arrangement. A book of 224 pages can win the Akutagawa Prize. ”This isn’t a very dramatic story,” I tell myself as I read, and then I find myself unable to think of much else for a very long time.

The Woman In The Purple Skirt has been labelled a mystery. It has been compared to a thriller, such as Hitchcock’s Rear Window. But to me, it is more sorrowful than anything else. It is hard to imagine the depth of loneliness that this novel so “effortlessly” depicts.

The Woman in the Purple Skirt sits in the park every day, in her Exclusively Reserved Seat, eating a cream bun. The children come up to her from behind, and tap her shoulder, then run away laughing. But, The Woman in the Yellow Cardigan watches her.

She knows The Woman in The Purple Skirt’s every move, every detail, from the way she is able to skillfully maneuver through a crowd without being touched, to her stiff, dry hair. The Woman in The Yellow Cardigan gives her ’fresh floral’ shampoo, handing out the sample packets she has saved to passers-by until she can hand one to The Woman in The Purple Skirt. She also finds the Woman in The Purple Skirt a job as a housekeeper, so that they both are working in the same hotel.

It is an obsessive, stalking situation, which The Woman in The Purple Skirt seems not to notice. Not once do we see them interacting on a personal level; we only see one through the other’s eyes. The Woman in The Yellow Cardigan tells us of the affair The Woman in The Purple Skirt is having with the hotel’s director, and then the fight they have in which he falls from her balcony.

The Woman in The Yellow Cardigan happens to be wherever The Woman in The Purple Skirt is, somehow, such that no detail is too small for her to notice. When The Woman in The Purple Skirt is terrified at the supposed death of her lover, The Woman in The Yellow Cardigan devises an escape plan, hoping they can catch up with each other later.

But, she never sees The Woman in The Purple Skirt again and sorrowfully tells us, ”I’m still looking for her, even now.” (p. 198)

It is heartbreaking, really, how neither one has a friend. Neither one has someone who will really love her. Their isolation seems to reflect the way many people feel: living in a big city, surrounded by people, and yet utterly alone. Even their names are unknown.

Sunday Salon: Origami Ornaments and Two Japanese Literature Books

“When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”

Matthew 2: 9-10

Bible Study Fellowship International has been studying the book of Matthew this year. How perfect it is, then, that I can fold each member of my group a star in remembrance of that which appeared before the Wise Men.

These are only seven of the sixteen I folded yesterday. While my hands are a little sore, there is nothing I like quite so much as origami ornaments on my tree.

Here is a geometrical one, of many, which hangs on a miniature tree in our dining room. I don’t even recall how to fold it, as I made it many years ago with paper my parents brought back from one of their trips. True Japanese paper is very forgiving, almost like cloth; perhaps that is one of the reasons I like it for Christmas…

Ever since I put up the announcement for the Japanese Literature Challenge 15, I have been thrilled to see the response. There is a desire to continue with it, and #January in Japan, even after a decade and a half. So, I am compiling a list of my own, too, and I was thrilled to discover these two books at our local library:

There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura was published November 26, 2020. Bloomsbury Publishing says, “This is the first time Kikuko Tsumura–winner of Japan’s most prestigious literary award–has been translated into English. There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job is as witty as it is unsettling–a jolting look at the maladies of late capitalist life through the unique and fascinating lens of modern Japanese culture.”

The Woman In The Purple Skirt by Natsukawa Imamura. Penguin Random House says, “A bestselling, prizewinning novel by one of Japan’s most acclaimed young writers, for fans of Convenience Store Woman, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, and the movies Parasite and Rear Window.”

So, I will definitely begin with these before moving on to others such as Haruki Murakami’s latest, Murakami T: The T-Shirts I Love.

And you? Are you planning to make anything to decorate your tree? Or, something to read for the Japanese Literature Challenge 15?

Any interest?

Photo of Tokyo taken from our hotel window, 2018

I am beginning to receive inquiries about hosting the Japanese Literature Challenge. When I notice the many venues for reading Japanese literature, such as are on Instagram for example, I wonder if there is interest in reading here as we have done?

Do let me know if you would like to read for the Japanese Literature Challenge 15 this year (from January through February). I have several books awaiting me, and I am certainly glad to sponsor some prizes of a literary nature.

If there is interest, I will begin setting up a review site and spreading the word.

Domo arigato!

(Thank you!)