Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Scurry, travelers!
Bridge offers you no shelter
from sudden downpour.

© 2008 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Snow Walk

parasol dangling
carelessly from her shoulder
woman walks through snow

© 2008 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Monday, December 29, 2008


Rising at midnight
to survey my dominions—
good, the moon still shines.

© 2008 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Sunday, December 28, 2008


three ravenous cranes
pecking diligently for
scattered grains of rice

© 2008 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Saturday, December 27, 2008


No one seems to mind
that snow drapes tree and stone or
blue lake lies frozen.

© 2008 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Friday, December 26, 2008


Picking up a book
on a cold winter’s morning—
great comfort, great joy.

© 2008 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Posted by Picasa

What cry rises from
frozen lake to starry sky?
Ah, season’s greetings!

© 2008 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Posted by Picasa

Spirit of Christmas,
skipping through snowy streets, shout
tidings of great joy!

© 2008 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


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The women ponder
how they will make love again
after the snowfall.

© 2008 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Monday, December 22, 2008


Bemused by snowfall
cranes remember warm breezes
and white plum blossoms.

© 2008 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Sunday, December 21, 2008


crow on snowy branch
longing for summer skies and
clouds of plum blossoms

© 2008 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Struggle

Like fierce animals
struggling to be free, wild kites
tug at their restraints.

© 2008 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mt. Fuji

Do you remember
when you were but a hillock
stretching toward the clouds?

© 2008 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Thursday, December 18, 2008


calligraphy brush
lying beside blue ink pot
longing for paper

© 2008 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Five Women Who Loved Love by Ihara Saikaku

I actually read Ihara Saikaku's Five Women Who Loved Love about a month ago and I blogged about it then on my personal site. I didn't have the energy at the time to post about it here, and as time went on I put it off because I felt this book deserved more thought and serious attention than I could then give it.

So, this is my second review for this great Japanese Literature challenge, and I chose Five Women Who Loved Love for two reasons. The first was that I believe this is the first Floating World book to be discussed here. The Floating World (浮世) refers to the excesses, dangers, and beauties of urban Japan during the Edo Period (1600-1867).

More, from Wikipedia, which actually kind of got it right:

Ideas of the Floating World were "centered on Yoshiwara, the licensed red-light district of Edo (modern Tokyo). The area's brothels, teahouses and kabuki theaters were frequented by Japan's growing middle class. This particular Floating World culture also arose in other cities such as Osaka and Kyoto.

It is also an ironic allusion to the homophone 'Sorrowful World' (憂き世), the earthly plane of death and rebirth from which Buddhists sought release."

Ihara Saikaku (1642-93) is considered the creator of Floating World literature for the ways in which he evoked the energy and inclinations of pleasure-seeking urbanites while also remaining focused on Buddhist concerns of letting go of this world. This is a difficult balance to maintain indeed, for these books were widely read and considered what we would now call best-sellers. Attraction and repulsion seem to have been of equal importance in Saikaku's works and I think that must have been part of what contributed to his books being so widely read.

The other reason I chose this book is that I'd previously read Saikaku's The Life of an Amorous Man and very much enjoyed it. I didn't initially enjoy Five Women Who Loved Love as much but as time passes, I find myself remembering it more and more positively. At the time, all I wanted were some good yarns but now I find myself returning mentally again and again to the beautiful melancholy underlying all of the young characters' attempts to hold on to things which must be lost, sooner or later: the life of the body and heart, and all their extremes of pleasure and pain.

As an introduction to Floating World literature, I would definitely recommend both Five Women Who Loved Love and The Life of An Amorous Man.

Friday, November 28, 2008

My Challenge Completed

I've read 4 books for Dolce Bellezza's Japanese Literature Challenge 2, and since I'm getting ready to dive into some new challenges, I thought I would post a wrap-up of this very enjoyable one. This is my second time reading Japanese literature with Bellezza, and I enjoyed it again very much! Her challenges are elegantly done, and I always look forward to them. Thanks, Bellezza for hosting another fascinating challenge!

Books read:
  1. After the Quake, Haruki Murakami
  2. Twenty-Four Eyes, by Sakae Tsuboi
  3. Tales of Moonlight and Rain, by Akinari Ueda
  4. Knit Kimono, by Vicki Square
I liked all four books, but the sentimental Twenty-Four Eyes was my favorite.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Goodbye, Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto

“From the time she was born Tsugumi was ridiculously frail, and she had a whole slew of ailments and defects. Her doctors announced that she would die young, and her family began preparing for the worst. Of course everyone around her spoiler her like you wouldn’t believe. Her mother carted her around to hospitals all across Japan, not sparing any effort, offering up every ounce of her strength to try and extend Tsugumi’s life even just a little. And so as Tsugumi toddled her unsteady way towards adulthood, she developed a personality that was just as pushy and insolent as it could be.”
The narrator of this story is Maria, Tsugumi’s cousin. Despite Tsugumi’s unpleasant personality, the two grow to be very close friends. Goodbye, Tsugumi is the story of the last summer they spend at the seaside town where they were born and grew up. Maria returns after having moved to Tokyo with her family, and Tsugumi is stoon to leave because her parents are going to sell their inn and open a pension in the mountains.

It’s not surprising, given the title, that this story is about saying goodbye in several different ways. Goodbye, Tsugumi is filled with bittersweet nostalgia and with a deep awareness of the passage of time. Look at this passage, for example:
Summer was coming. Yes, summer was about to begin. A season that would come and go only once, and never return again. All of us understood that very well, and yet we would probably just pass our days the way we always had. And this made the tickling of time feel slightly more tense than in the old days, infused it with a hint of distress. We could all feel this as we sat there that evening, together. We could feel it so clearly that it made us sad, and yet at the same time we were extremely happy.
But there are, of course, issues other than the summer coming to an end at stake in this story. There’s growing up, and becoming distant from people who once filled your whole life. And there’s mortality, as Tsugumi’s frail health makes her, and those who surround her, deeply aware of death, and constantly unsure of whether each passing day will be her last.

So what Goodbye, Tsugumi is is a lovely book about vulnerability and change. And despite the fact that one of the main characters is a teenager who might not live to see another year, the result is not nearly as bleak as you’d expect. But worry not, it’s also not artificially optimistic or cheerful – the tone is absolutely perfect.

I think my favourite thing about Goodbye, Tsugumi was the narrator’s voice. Maria sounds so intimate and nostalgic. Sometimes she’s funny, sometimes she sounds sad, and she’s always so insightful and sincere. There isn’t all that much of a plot to this book, but unlike what can sometime happen with more character-oriented novels, this one isn't slow-going in the least. I read it for the read-a-thon and I think it was a perfect choice. The focus of the story is the characters, their relationships and how they change, but it’s told in a way that keeps you eagerly turning the pages until the end.

This might sound odd, but the tone of Goodbye, Tsugumi reminded me a little of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne books. And I mean this as a compliment, of course. Reading this book made me forget all about my previous disappointing experience with Banana Yoshimoto. So Kitchen, here I come.

One more memorable passage:
Right around the time when the hustle and bustle of preparations for the festival take a hold of the town, all of a sudden you find yourself noticing that autumn had begun to weave itself into the rhythm of your days. The sun is still just as strong as before, but the breeze blowing in off the sea has turned just the tiniest bit softer, and the sand has cooled. Now the rain that quietly drenches the boats ranges along the beach carries the damp, misty smell of a cloudy sky. You realize that summer has turned its back on you.
This is my third book read for the challenge, so officially I've completed it. But since there's still plenty of time, I want to see if I manage to read another book or two. I'm enjoying myself too much to stop :)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Woo Hoo!

For those of you who are Words of Affirmation people (like me), look at the rating we just received from blogged! Way to go, all of you Japanese literature reviewers!!! You make me proud.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

After the Quake

Many of my blogging friends are reading and enjoying the books of Haruki Murakami, so I was very interested in reading something by him for Dolce Bellezza's Japanese Literature Challenge 2. I chose his book, After the Quake, a collection of six short stories, each one connected indirectly with the 1995 Kobe Earthquake in Japan.
Another reason I chose this book was because I live in "earthquake country" and have personally experienced an earthquake and some of the emotional after-effects that inevitably follow such an event. In 2001, the Nisqually quake shook Western Washington. It did not have the destructive power of the Kobe quake, but there was significant damage to structures in the area and to everyone's sense of well-being. Even though I'd felt earthquakes before, on that day I felt the earth's crust ripple beneath my feet and I will never be the same. The earth simply doesn't feel as solid to me as it did before that experience.
"Strange and mysterious things, though, aren't they -- earthquakes?" the man says. "We take it for granted that the earth beneath our feet is solid and stationary. But suddenly one day . . . the earth, the boulders, that are supposed to be so solid, all of a sudden turn as mushy as liquid."
Murakami, in these six short stories, writes about the emotional upheavals and after-effects that follow a major disaster. Lives are changed in little and in big ways, and he writes about individuals that are searching for themselves and for meaning in a world changed by disaster. And I liked this comment from an unofficial, but very interesting, Murakami web site:
But the most compelling character of all is the earthquake itself--slipping into and out of view almost imperceptibly, but nonetheless reaching deep into the lives of these forlorn citizens of the apocalypse. The terrible damage visible all around is, in fact, less extreme than the inconsolable howl of a nation indelibly scarred--an experience in which Murakami discovers many truths about compassion, courage, and the nature of human suffering.
After the Quake was well-written and powerful. I will definitely read more of Murakami's books.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Junko Aoki has the gift of pyrokinesis: she can set anything on fire with her energy. When she retreats to an abandoned factory to displace some of her energy into a huge pool of water there she inadvertently witnesses a murder.

The Asaba gang has kidnapped a woman and killed her date; they are trying to throw his body into the pool of water so that it won't be detected.

Junko is so incensed at what she sees that she kills three of the gang members by burning them, and as the leader escapes she promises herself that she will seek to destroy him as well.

A parallel part of the story tells of Chikako Ishizu, the only woman in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, who seeks the person who is setting these fires as well as burning criminals.

A third strand tells of the Guardians, a special group which made me think of the Mob in a way: they have taken it upon themselves to "deliver justice" and formed a band of members with special abilities who also try to do away with criminals. The Guardians woo Junko into their midst, luring her with gifts and the promise of love from one of its members.

There are several fascinating aspects to this story:
  • the whole idea of pyrokinesis (and other abilities such as telekinesis)
  • the loneliness of those who are set apart by their gifts or hidden talents
  • the way families are effected by those with such gifts
  • the question of justice

When we discover that the crossfire is between the victim and the criminal, between the law and those who have taken it upon themselves to deliver justice, we're faced with two critical questions:

Does anyone have the right to kill another?

Is there ever a right reason to take a life?

I found this book profound on many levels, not only as a mystery/thriller, but also a treatise on ethics. It was excellent.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura

Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura

This is a beautiful book, first published in 1906.

'Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday life' p3

The book describes the history of tea, it's origination's in China and it's adoption in Japan with the rise of the Japanese Tea Houses.
How in the 4th & 5th centuries CE 'leaves were steamed, crushed ina mortar, made into a cake, and boiled together with rice, ginger, salt, orange peel, spices, milk, and sometimes even onions.' p23
In those days you had the choice of this teacake, powdered tea, or seeped leaves, the latter being todays prefered method of choice!

The book goes onto tell us how the Japanese Tea Ceremony arose from Zen Buddhist rituals, and describes the art and beauty associated with the ceremony.

A lovely book. Beautifully written. Simple and delightful as a well made cup of tea itself.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Never Let Me Go Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let me Go by Kazuo Ishguro is a unique novel in that I read the first few chapters thinking that I knew what the story was about then realized there was much more to the story than I first thought . The story is narrated by Kathy a student from an elite boarding school somewhere in Britain and she remembers growing up there and tells of the special bond between her friends Ruth,Tommy and herself. It asks questions that really made me wonder about value of life. I liked this book and I also found it hard at times. It would be easy to give away too much info in a review,read the book before reading more reviews or you will lose the edge of learning each new twist and turn. Never Let Me Go is a Man Booker finalist.

about the author
Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan, in 1954, and moved to Britain around the age of five or six. He attended the University of Kent at Canterbury and the University of East Anglia where he studied creative writing. He is the author of The Remains of the Day, an international best-seller that won the Booker Prize and was adapted into an award-winning film, as well as A Pale View of Hills, An Artist of the Floating World, and The Unconsoled. In fact, Ishiguro has received many honors and awards including an Order of the British Empire for service to literature in 1995, and in 1998 was named a Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government. His work is known internationally and has been translated into 28 languages. He currently lives in London with his wife and daughter. ~

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tales of Moonlight and Rain

First published in 1776, the nine gothic tales in this collection are Japan's finest and most celebrated examples of the literature of the occult. They subtly merge the world of reason with the realm of the uncanny and exemplify the period's fascination with the strange and the grotesque... 

The title Ugetsu monogatari (literally "rain-moon tales") alludes to the belief that mysterious beings appear on cloudy, rainy nights and in mornings with a lingering moon.
--Columbia University Press

Tales of Moonlight and Rain, by Ueda Akinari, is a great book to read on a dark and stormy night during Halloween week, or if you are just in the mood for ghost stories.

This book is a scholarly work, so each story comes after quite a bit of historical background and cultural explanations. I decided to read the stories first and then read the background information, which worked well for me.

Of the nine stories in the book, my favorites was "The Reed Choked House" which is the story of man who leaves his wife behind when he goes to the city in hopes of making lots of money. He tells her to wait for him, that he will return in the Fall. Circumstances prevent his return for seven years! When he finally does arrive home, he finds the house overgrown and choked in reeds and in decay. He is astonished to find his wife waiting for him there. However, by the light of morning, the sad truth is revealed.

This story was also combined with another in the book and made into the 1953 award-winning movie "Ugetsu," which is a beautifully haunting classic film by director, Kenji Mizoguchi.

Read two other excellent reviews of this book were written by Dolce Bellezza and by Moo.


by Natsuo Kirino
Translated from the Japanese by Rebecca Copeland
Fiction/Crime, 2003 (Japan), 2007 (English translation)
Vintage UK, trade pb, 466 p.
WINNER - Izumi Kyoka Literary Award, 2003
Two prostitutes are murdered in Tokyo.
Twenty years previously both women were educated at the same elite school for young ladies, and had seemingly promising futures ahead of them.
But in a world of dark desire and vicious ambition, for both women, prostitution meant power. Grotesque is a masterful and haunting thriller, a chilling exploration of women’s secret lives in modern day Japan.
It felt like it took me forever to read this! Thank goodness for the Read-a-thon or who knows, it may have taken me the whole month! I really enjoyed her first book to be translated into English, Out, so I had high hopes for this, her second work to appear in English. Unfortunately, for me, it just doesn’t compare. I simply found the pace too slow and the narrative a bit long-winded. It did pick up a bit when the narration changed for awhile part-way through, but it slowed down again once it returned to the main narrator. The majority of the story revolves around her remembering years past when she went to school with both of the women who later became the two prostitutes that were murdered. There is a hint of a mystery but the murders are really just the context for the reminiscing and the framework for analysing the role of women in modern-day Japan.
Professor Kijima wrote about the intensification of the individual’s sense of self and the changes in the shape of life-forms and such, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on. Mitsuru and Yuriko and Kazue didn’t mutate; they simply decayed. A biology professor certainly ought to be able to recognize the signs of fermentation and decay. Isn’t he the one who taught us all about these processes in organisms? In order to induce the process of decay, water is necessary. I think that, in the case of women, men are the water. (p. 318)
I also never came to like any of the characters, which isn’t a requirement for me to enjoy a book, but I also didn’t care enough for there to be any sense of drama about their lives or demise either. The reasons, or perhaps the social pressures that led them to follow the paths they chose, are real enough but oh so depressing. A week after finishing it and the characters are haunting me a little, but thinking about them just leaves me feeling blue. I realise Kirino seems to be making a statement about the inequality of the social hierarchy in Japan but it didn’t make for a very thrilling or enjoyable read.

As for the translation of Grotesque, there were a few times, due to the way she chose to describe something, that I was very aware that I was reading a translation but overall it wasn't too bad. The copyright page says “Originally published in a somewhat different form in Japan…” though which makes me wonder how and why it was changed and whether that has contributed to my lukewarm enjoyment of the novel.

I’m still curious about her most recent book to be translated, Real World, and perhaps I’ll like it more since I know not to expect much suspense next time. And there seems to be a fourth book that has been translated, What Remains, and that was supposed to be released this year but doesn’t seem to be available anywhere. The topic is pretty dark and disturbing, about a kidnapped child held captive for a year, but it sounds intriguing too. Like something Joyce Carol Oates would write about. I hope it reappears at some point. I also found that Kirino has apparently written an installment for the Canongate Myth Series, to come out next year, which I’d be interested in reading. So even though I wasn’t crazy about this one, I do want to try again. Out really was that good!

Author's website
Review in The New York Times
Review at Mystery Ink

My Rating: 2.5/5
*originally posted at In Spring it is the Dawn

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Geisha, A Life

Written by Mineko Iwasaki, Geisha, A Life is a detail-filled account of one woman's journey from girlhood into young womanhood as a geisha, or, geiko. I found it interesting, but sad. Interesting because it was all true - what this young girl experienced! She was introduced to her future life as a geisha at the age of three; quite literally she was 'chosen' to be a Very Important Person in the world of 'geisha-dom.' For 26 years Mineko Iwasaki lived a life of beauty, entertainment, and non-stop excitement, as well as a life of (at times) feeling isolated and depressed. (That's the sad part that I mentioned earlier.)
I actually read this book a couple of months ago, but had not been able to wrap my brain around what this young girl went through mentally as well as physically enough to write a review. I still can't. Yes, she led a glamorous life, and made a lot of money. But she basically lost her childhood as a result.
I understand that in Japanese culture it is an honor to be so revered and admired. What I don't understand is the willingness for her family to give her up at such an early age, and that she just accepted it and resigned herself to the geisha life. But, then again, I am not Japanese!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Knit Kimono

KnitKimono, by Vicki Square, is an unusual book for me to review on my blog, but I love to knit and recently discovered this book in the knitting section of the bookstore. I stood there transfixed by the gorgeous photographs and projects in this book, and had the overwhelming urge to head straight to the knitting store to buy some yarn. I haven't gone there yet, but I bought the book and have been enjoying it in the evenings when I'm too tired to actually knit. It's not a matter of self-control that kept me from heading straight to the knitting store, but my indecision over which of these absolutely beautiful projects to choose first!

The book has the instructions for 18 different designs/kimono, but it's more than a pattern book. I am fascinated by the background of the kimono as described by the author.
In a traditional sense, the particular color, cut, and design of a kimono conveys social messages: gender, life/death, season, age, formality or occasion, or propriety.
She explains kimono basics: Kimono are generally constructed from rectangular pieces of fabric in standard widths. A bolt of cloth, called a tan, is cut into seven straight pieces: two long body panels, two sleeves, two overlaps, and a neckband.

And she also includes a brief, but very interesting, history of the kimono that describes changes during different periods of time from ancient Japan to the present.

All of this makes this a very interesting read, but it's the creativity and artistry of the author/designer that deserve accolades. This is a beautiful book, full of beautifully designed projects! And it was very nice addition to the books I've read for Dolce Bellezza's Japanese Literature Challenge.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki

Published in 1924, Naomi is one of Junichiro Tanizaki's earliest novels. I picked this book for my first blog post on this group because in my past reading experience, Tanizaki has been a constant winner - I can't recommend enough books such as Quicksand, The Gourmet Club, and The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi.

Tanizaki's fiction is known for its sensuality and dreaminess, both drawn in terms that evoke simultaneously the sublime and the seedy underbelly of excessive and improper desire. Beautiful and disturbing (but not in the "loud" and sensationalist vein of Ryu Murakami or even, it could be argued, Yukio Mishima), Tanizaki always treads one step away from the complete destruction of the recognizably human. Indeed, even as his characters engage in dissipation of all kinds, they usually remain sympathetic to some degree because they remain comprehensible and familiar-seeming.

I have to say that, unfortunately, the fine edge of Tanizaki's pen was not yet so finely honed when we wrote Naomi. The sensuality and depravity are certainly present in his story of Joji (an upstanding salary man in his late 20s) and his obsession with Naomi (a 15-year old of dubious background whom he meets and rescues from working in a cafe of sorts).

Joji's obsession is intense and masochistic...but somehow neither terrifying, compelling, nor (as the back cover copy suggests) hilarious - at least not to me. I found the characters to be rather more in the realm of caricature and Joji's submission to Naomi just plain pathetic and therefore intensely irritating. This is likely because I found his need for Naomi neither believable nor his reasons for it comprehensible, and so felt that I was wasting my time reading about it.

In spite of all this, I don't believe that my negative response to this book should put anyone off Tanizaki or even Naomi. Rather, I think Tanizaki is an author who really should be read chronologically. Starting with his most brilliant works can only invite negative comparisons to less mature efforts such as this one.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

All She Was Worth

Title: All She Was Worth
Author: Miyuki Miyabe
Publisher: Mariner
Number of pages: 296
Genre: Crime Fiction/Mystery
Awards: Best Novel of the Year and Best Mystery for 1992 in Japan
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

When police inspector, Honma, is asked by his nephew (Jun) to investigate the disappearance of Jun's fiance, he has no idea that he will be enmeshed in an enormous tangle of deception and woe.

Apparently, the fiance has had her identity stolen by a beautiful girl who must escape a life of desperation which is brought upon her by enormous financial distress.

I found it terribly ironic to read such a novel considering the economic struggles America is currently suffering:

"Honma could well imagine the vicious circle the Shinjo family had been caught up in. A small down payment and a large loan. Then, when things got tight, a second loan, for a smaller amount, this time from a loan shark. That set the pinball rolling, picking up speed, than going too fast for anybody to stop. Finally, they came up against one of those operations that charge ten percent interest every ten days, a front for the yakuza-all the debts had fallen into their hands, apparently." (p. 231)

Every country has people who want the best, and want it now, regardless of their ability to pay for it. Credit card debt, mortgages much higher than the property is worth given to families who cannot afford them...these very issues are raised in this novel which not only examines a murder mystery but Japan's contemporary life. Which is not so very different from America's.

With this important exception: in Japan, the creditors hunt you down. Until the hunted become the hunters as they are in this crime thriller.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Laws of Evening by Mary Yukari Waters

When I picked up this book, after reading several synopses of it, I expected a collection of stories about mother-children relationships in postwar Japan. True, there were several of them, but I wouldn't say that this is what the book is "about." In the stories about fathers and in the absence of children, I tried to find that thread of thinking; I tried to look for the "hidden" meaning of a mother-child relationship. In some cases, it was completely absent.

Instead, I believe this collection is more a meditation on the effects of Westernization in Japan on those who remember what it was like before rationing, before the bombs dropped, and before their children came home with candies given to them by soldiers. It's about waking up and realizing how old you are, how much you've lived through, and seeing before you all the changes in the world since your birth. It's about recognizing clearly the differences between Japan then and Japan now, and not necessarily appreciating those changes.

The characters have all lost something, whether it be family, traditions, land, food, friendships, or sanity. What they haven't lost is the memory of the war and how it caused these things to be taken from them. They also haven't lost love; these characters understand that an unbreakable bond comes with love, even past death and pain. Though some marriages were arranged, as they were in the "old days," there is still a kind of love between partners, who sometimes feel as though they are worlds away from one another. There is also evidence that they haven't lost life, or the will to live. In all of these stories, something beautiful comes out of loss, whether it be an old man's lasting understanding of his wife, a son's outward love for his father, or the memory of a child who entertained a group of soldiers. The stories are sad, yet they remind us of something a character says: "Isn't life a resilient force, turning the worst of its disasters into something like this."

Each story is a photograph of a life, with some threads commonly running through (a TV show that explains health issues, old religions dying out in favor of Western ones), but all of which describe moments based in the structure of relationships. A mother whose favorite daughter dies, who instead of turning that favor to her second daughter, finds more beauty in her granddaughter. A son who, as he's growing older, loves his father more and more, but doesn't know what to say as the old man is dying. A daughter who never finds a husband but wants nothing more than children in her life. And in all cases, they always feel the pressure of the war, whether the war ended yesterday or twenty years ago.

These graceful tales pave the way through a culture of men, women, and children who have felt devastating results of World War II in Japan. It is a beautifully written, touching meditation on human spirit and familial relations. Enter the thoughts of eleven Japanese people and learn just what the laws of evening are.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Winners Announced For The Basho Book Contest

These are the lovely haiku submitted for the chance to win "Basho: The Complete Haiku" sent to me by Kodansha International:

violent downpour
quickly replaced by the sun
rain in the desert
~Terri B

leaves gently falling
a crisp coolness to the air
fall is here again

the nights are cooler
the leaves have lost their lustre
autumn is coming


chilly autumn rain
curled up with a good book
adventure beckons

letters on a door
two hearts forever entwined
by cobwebs and dust

Because I am entranced by each I have decided to award each submission a prize. By random drawing, the copy of Basho goes to...

Terri B!

A magnetic poetry kit goes to...


Two cranes that I folded, because they are an international symbol of peace and love, go to...

Robin and...


So, ladies, please send me your addresses at, and I will send you your prizes. Thanks for playing!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Diving Pool By Yoko Ogawa

From The Washington Post
These three quiet novellas, composing the first of Yoko Ogawa's books to be translated into English, share an eerie quality of nightmare, the precarious sense that beauty and distress are equally possible at any moment. Ogawa's fiction reflects like a funhouse mirror, skewing conventional responses, juxtaposing images weirdly. Depending on the viewer, it can induce wonder or a vague nausea

My review pending

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Tales of Moonlight and Rain

by Ueda Akinari

“First published in 1776, the nine gothic tales in this collection are Japan’s finest and most celebrated examples of the literature of the occult. They subtly merge the world of reason with the realm of the uncanny and exemplify the period’s fascination with the strange and the grotesque.” Quote from the front flap of the book.

These nine tales of ghosts, demons and spirits range from the mild ghost stories involving civil conversations with entities that just happen to be ghosts to the truly horrific involving tenacious demons and cannibalism. In general my favorite stories in this collection were the more sensational ones but I also really enjoyed one that wasn’t scary at all.

The Carp of My Dreams was simply a lovely story with a hint of the supernatural. A monk likes to paint carp and spends many hours studying them in the lake and painting them. He becomes ill and in his delirium dreams that he is a carp swimming in the lake, or is it a dream? He recovers from that illness and lives a full life. When he knows the end is near he takes all the carp paintings to the lake and releases the carp which swim off the paper and into the lake. It reminded me of something Borges could have written. I didn’t find anything gothic about it but I certainly enjoyed it.

I also really enjoyed the Reed-Choked House about a peasant that goes off to the capital to attempt to become a merchant but cannot return home because of civil unrest. Six years later he finally returns home and finds his home unchanged and his wife dutifully waiting for him. He awakes the next morning. “Feeling something cold dripping on his face, he opened his eyes, thinking that rain was seeping in: the roof had been torn off by the wind, and he could see the waning moon lingering dimly in the sky. The house had lost its shutters. Reeds and plumed grasses grew tall through gaps in the decaying floorboards, and the morning dew dripped from them, saturating his sleeves. The walls were draped with ivy and arrowroot; the garden buried in creepers - even though fall had not come yet, the house was a wild autumn moor.” He finally realizes that his wife is long dead.

In two other stories the women are not such benign ghosts. In the Kibitsu Cauldron a husband runs off with a prostitute. Instead of waiting for him to return the wife becomes an angry spirit, kills the prostitute and gets revenge on her husband. In A Serpent’s Lust a handsome young man is seduced by a beautiful serpent demon. Although he eventually catches on that she is not a young lady all his attempts to escape her and live a normal life are to no avail. These are two of my favorite stories in the collection but make me wonder a little about the author’s relationship with women.

In the Blue Hood an abbot at a monastery becomes infatuated with a beautiful young servant boy. When the boy becomes ill and dies the abbot is driven mad, becomes a demon and terrorizes the nearby village by digging up graves and eating the corpses. A traveling priest is able to help the village and the abbot attain peace. These are just my favorite tales but I did enjoy all of the them.

The book itself has a lengthy introduction and each story has its own introduction and contains numerous footnotes and endnotes. I found that what worked best for me was to read each story straight through without all the additional material as a simple gothic tale. I don’t think it is necessary to read anything but the tales themselves to enjoy them as stories. Simply because I was interested, I then went back and read it again with all the supplemental information which certainly added another dimension to the work. The supplemental information was exhaustive and while much of it was way more information then a casual reader would need, much of it was really fascinating. For example, the homosexual overtones of the Chrysanthemum Vow totally escaped me until I read the supplemental material. As it has been a long time since I took Japanese history classes in college I had forgotten how important a role Chinese culture played in the development of Japanese culture. I found the comparisons to No theater interesting. I enjoyed the supplemental material but if you want to simply read it as a collection of gothic tales that works too.

The Laws of Evening by Mary Yukari Waters

The Laws of Evening by Mary Yukari Waters

'In the wake of World War Two, a generation of Japanese women found itself frozen, as if in amber - the last representatives of an exquisite, ancient culture slowly being crushed between the realisation of its own brutality and the coming American Century' Amazon synopsis

This is a lovely collection of tales, exploring different generations of women during and after WW2.
In an ever changing society their hopes, dreams and recollections are explored in this extraordinary collection of stories.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

THE TOKAIDO ROAD by Lucia St. Clair Robson

I have added this book to the Japanese Literature Challenge, it will be read while taking my time, in between my other reads.
Go to my blog to see more regarding this historic fiction:

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Japanese Women Poets: An Anthology by Hiroaki Sato

Japanese Women Poets: An Anthology by Hiroaki Sato

This is a great anthology pf women's poetry, from early songs to present day poems.
There are over 100 poems, covering all verse forms, on a variety of differnet themes>
I particularly like the early poems in the sections 'Poems from the Man'yoshu' and 'The Age of Tanka' which are very beautiful.

A couple of my favourite poems from the anthology are posted on my blog here

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Basho: The Complete Haiku and Giveaway

It seems hard to believe that a little less than one year ago, I had never heard of Basho. The Basho, touted as the most famous Japanese writer of all time.

In November of 2007 I went on a walk while the colors in Illinois were changing, took photographs of them, and then searched for poetry to express their beauty. I found haiku by Basho, and the post ended up looking like this.

Again this summer, I posed a few beautiful photographs with Basho's haiku accompanying them, and then I received a delightful surprise.I was contacted by Kodansha America, Inc. to review an anthology of Basho which was released this July.

The minute I opened the book I was entranced. It is a beautiful hard cover book of approximately 400 pages of the creamiest paper you ever saw. They are illustrated with original sumi-e ink drawings by Shiro Ysujimura; each poem suspended on the page as an entity of itself.

Basho: The Complete Haiku is the first ever complete collection of the poet's work in English. It was translated with an introduction, biography and notes by renowned American haiku poet and translator Jane Reichhold, and includes Basho's 1,012 haiku as well as a detailed study of his methods.

I found this paragraph in the introduction particularly infomative: "Long before Gertrude Stein was espousing the importance of using the exact word in poetry or any writing, the Japanese had based their writing on creating images of actual things. Instead of telling the reader what to think or feel, words describing images were used as signposts. The placement of these signposts moved from one image to another, with one word and then another, the reader created the journey to the unspoken conclusion of the poem. This process of making the reader see or imagine parts of the poem has, on one hand, made it harder for people to learn to read haiku. Still this miracle of involving the reader in the creation of the poem has expanded our own definition and concept of poetry. No longer is poetry what someone tells us. It is the mental and emotional journey the author gives the reader.

This technique of juxtaposing images so the reader's mind must find a way from one image to another has greatly influenced how we perceive simile and metaphor. Metaphors were and are one of the cornerstones of poetry, and for years scholars told us that Japanese poets did not use them. They did. They simply made their metaphor in a different way. Instead of saying "autumn dusk settles around us like a crow landing on a bare branch," Basho would write:

on a bare branch
a crow settled down
autumn evening

The simplicity and economy of the words demand that the reader goes into his mind and experiences to explore the darkness of bird and night, autumn and bareness, and even how a branch could move as the dark weight of a crow pressed it down. The reader is writing the rest of the verse and making it poetry."

Understanding poetry does not come naturally to me. I must read these haiku, ponder them, and not be tricked by their simplicity into missing an important concept the poet is trying to convey. I like their brevity. I like the mental imagery. I like reading the works from a masterful poet who lived three hundred years before I was born.

I leave you with a few of my favorites for Fall...

as autumn draws near
our hearts feel closer
to this small tearoom

how pleasurable
sleeping late in autumn
as if master of the house

already autumn
even sprinkles of rain
in the moon's shape

and this promise of a prize:

Write a haiku for us (five syllables, seven syllables, five again) in the comments, and your name will be entered to win a copy of this book for your own shelf. Or, if you'd prefer, email me with your entry.

Contest ends September 30, 2008.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Geisha's Journey

by Komomo
Photographs by Naoyuki Ogino
Non-Fiction/Auto-biography/Photography, 2008
Kodansha International, hardback, 139 p.
This is the story of a contemporary Japanese teenager who, in a search for an identity, became fascinated with the world of geiko-as Kyoto's geisha are known-and discovered in herself the will and the commitment to overcome the many years of apprenticeship necessary to become one.

It is a story related by a young Japanese photographer who grew up overseas, and who also was captivated by the lives led by these women who choose to dedicate their lives to their art. He began following and documenting the life of the teenager, Komomo, as she studied and grew into her role.

The photographs are accompanied by autobiographical text and captions by Komomo, as she shares her thoughts and emotions, and describes the life of a Kyoto apprentice. It is an illuminating view of seven years in the life of a very unique young woman.
Given my fascination with traditional Japanese arts and my interest in photography, when I came across this book in the bookstore earlier this year, I knew that it had to come home with me!
The focus of the book is certainly the beautiful photographs, so the text is a bit sparse, but we still get an idea of the girl who became the geiko, Komomo, and the journey that took her there. I’ve read some other books on geisha, like Liza Dalby’s Geisha, or Geisha of Gion (Geisha: A Life, US title) by Mineko Iwasaki, but it was interesting to get a modern look at the hanamachi (geisha district) through the eyes of a “twenty-first century geisha”. And I’m sure I’ll return to it often to admire the gorgeous photos. Recommended.

© Naoyuki Ogino

Short interview with Komomo
Naoyuki Ogino's online photo gallery
More photos from the book can be seen here.

My Rating: 4/5
*cross-posted on my blog.