A Woman’s Ambiguous Place in Japan’s Creation Myth To appreciate The Goddess Chronicle, you need to be familiar with The Kojiki, the oldest recorded mythical origin story of Japan. (Kirino provides a good summary in part II, chapters 5-6.) In The Kojiki, the first anthropomorphic gods are Izanami (She Who Beckoned) and Izanagi (He Who Beckoned). They quicklyContinue reading “The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino”
The Evaporated People in Contemporary Japanese Literature Each year in Japan, thousands of people disappear. They haven’t been kidnapped. They haven’t been murdered. (Japan has one of the lowest murder rates in the world. An American is almost twenty-seven times more likely to become a homicide victim.) They are the evaporated—the johatsu. First, let’s acknowledge that theContinue reading “Manazuru by Hiromi Kawakami and A Man by Keiichiro Hirano”
“The number of women aged between 15 and 50 is fixed. Because the number of birth-giving machines and devices is fixed, all we can do is ask them to do their best per head… although it may not be so appropriate to call them machines.”—Former Japanese Health Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa Yanagisawa served under Shinzo Abe,Continue reading “Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi”
Cannibalism in Two Contemporary Japanese Novels Like many other countries, Japan has its own body of folklore with cannibalistic monsters. For more than a thousand years, demonic female yamauba have roamed Japan’s mountains, assisting some travelers, eating others. The connotations of cannibalism in Japanese folklore are always negative. Today, cannibalism is a quietly contentious political issue inContinue reading “ME by Tomoyuki Hoshino and Earthlings by Sayaka Murata”
On Female Bonding and Bathing Culture “The Europeans are compelled to take [a] bath in order to clean off the filth… on the contrary, bathing of the Japanese is far beyond the simple object of cleaning their body.”—T Fujimoto, 1914 — Where the Wild Ladies Are is a loosely-connected series of short stories taking theirContinue reading “Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda”
Recently divorced, Taro lives in a small apartment complex in a Tokyo neighborhood on the cusp of redevelopment. The complex is doomed, fated to be torn down as soon as the current residents’ leases run their course. To the extent Spring Garden has a central narrative, that narrative revolves around Taro’s budding friendship with aContinue reading “Spring Garden by Tomoka Shibasaki”
“Hooray for God’s plot conveniences! Namu-namu!” … The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl is an essentially simple story. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy chases girl. Girl is oblivious. Simple. Until you add in the triple-decker train, a tengu demon, and the God of Used Book Fairs. As in Morimi’s other novel published inContinue reading “The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl by Tomihiko Morimi”
Or, What the Hell Is a Double Metaphor? “I am a Metaphor, nothing more… I only follow orders—acting as a link between phenomena and language. Like a helpless jellyfish adrift on the ocean.”—Long Face … As in many novels by Haruki Murakami, 2017’s Killing Commendatore doesn’t have an obvious antagonist. Yes, there are characters with ominous secrets,Continue reading “Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami”
One day, a residents of an exurban Japanese town wake up to find a field full of penguins. Aside from some gossip, the people in the town essentially dismiss the artic birds as a fluke. Our 4th-grade protagonist, Aoyama, and his friend, Hamamoto, do some research—impressively coordinated, observation-based research, carefully following the scientific method. BecauseContinue reading “Penguin Highway by Tomihiko Morimi”
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