Saturday, June 27, 2009


This blog was for the Japanese Literature Challenge 2 which ran from July 30, 2008 until January 30, 2009.

If you would like to join, or follow, the Japanese Literature Challenge 3 you're just in time. It begins July 30th, 2009. As soon as the challenge begins, I will post the new review site here as well as on my regular blog.

Until then, you can begin choosing some books you'd like to read listed here.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Let Us Not Say, "Good-bye..."

let us say, "Until we meet again."

The Japanese literature challenge 2 has officially ended. However, please feel free to continue to write posts for any more Japanese literature you have read.

Feel free to peruse this blog for ideas to read further in this genre.

Feel free to join in the next time it comes around: July, 2009.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Prizes Announced!

"Knowledge without wisdom is a load of books on the back of an ass." (Japanese proverb)

"Life without endeavor is like entering a jewel-mine and coming out with empty hands." (Japanese proverb)

"An accomplishment sticks to a person," (Japanese proverb) and so without further ado:

Prize #1: Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto (donated by Terri B.) goes to Nymeth!

Prize #2: Coin Locker Babies goes to Chris at Stuff as Dreams Are Made On!

Prize #3: "The Wave" notebook, set of cards, and froggie origami goes to Iliana!

Prize #4: two CDs of Japanese music go to Tanabata!

Prize #5: All She Was Worth and Crossfire go to Dream Queen!

Prize #6: Hear The Wind Sing, and a matching button, go to The Holistic Knitter!

Prize #7: the Japanese cookbook, and a dish with a Japanese Maple leaf, go to Terri B!

Prize #8: The DHC catalogue, with accompanying samples and olive soap, go to Madeleine!

Prize #9: Tanabata's lovely Japanese calendar goes to Raidergirl 3!
and that leaves us with Carl V., Mee, and 3M who, as yet prize-less during the challenge, will be rewarded with a small token of my appreciation.

If all of you will email me your address at:, I will send your prizes off in the next week. Thank you, thank you for joining me in the Japanese Literature Challenge 2.

And, for the rest of you, mark your calendars for the JLC3 beginning this July!

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Congratulations to all of you who completed the challenge this time around.

I, unfortunately, am not one of them. I just couldn't get on track for a couple of my challenges, which has led me to shy away from challenges this year. But, Bellezza, if and when you do JLC3, I'll give it another shot because I still have these wonderful books that I truly want to read!

Again, congratulations to you all!


Challenge Complete!

Bellezza was a wonderful host (thank you!) for this second Japanese literature challenge, and I enjoyed this one as much as I did the first challenge.

My favorites were The Housekeeper and the Professor and Fear and Trembling. Fear and Trembling was not technically Japanese, but it was set in Japan and had a lot to say about Japanese culture. I loved both of these books! I also read two mangas, a Japanese vampire book, and a book by a Nobel laureate. I'm very happy with the books I read, and I continue to be very much interested in both Japanese books and movies. Thanks, Bellezza, and I look forward to the next challenge as well!

Books I read:

  1. X-Kai by Asami Tohjoh
  2. Vampire Hunter D by Hideyuki Kikuchi
  3. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
  4. Thousand Cranes by Kawabata
  5. X-Kai- Vol. 2 by Asami Tohjoh

Of interest:

Japanese movies I watched:

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

by Haruki Murakami

This is the story of a man who’s wife leaves him and his efforts to get her back. At the beginning of the novel Toru or Mr. Wind-up Bird, has quit his job at a law firm and putters around the house cooking and looking for their lost cat while his wife supports them. One day his wife goes to work and simply doesn’t come back. Because this is Murakami it does not involve any navel gazing about the what could have gone wrong in the marriage or any action by the man to go out and get a job to impress her and win her back. Instead Toru drifts along letting fate take him where it will and in this case it takes him on some very interesting adventures. In his wife’s absence Toru meets Malta Kano, a psychic helping him look for his lost cat and her sister, Creta Kano, a prostitute of the mind. He crosses paths with his evil brother in law, Noboru a pragmatic politician who defiled Creta Kano years ago and may have something to do with his wife’s absence. He meets Lt. Mamiya who tells him about war atrocities in Outer Mongolia and Manchuria. He runs into a mother and son team that he calls Nutmeg and Cinnamon and joins up with them to psychically heal wealthy women. Toru also makes friends with a teenage girl down the street, May Kasahara , and spends quite a bit of time sitting in a dry well where he has some unusual experiences.

What I really love about Murakami is his writing. This is how he described a smile: “The hint of a smile played about his lips, as if he had just heard a joke and was smiling now in the most natural way. Nor had the joke been a vulgar one: it was the kind of elegant pleasantry that the minister of foreign affairs might have told the crown prince at a garden party a generation ago, causing the surrounding listeners to titter in delight.” Most authors would just call it a smile but Murakami draws a vivid picture. I also love the crazy characters and the way you never know exactly what is going to happen because reality as we know it does not apply in a Murakami novel (the New York Times review called the novel Kafkaesque). I have read some reviews that said they didn’t like the ambiguous ending but I like to be left guessing about what happens after the novel ends. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. While I like Kafka on the Shore better because I liked the main character more, this was a great read and I will certainly continue to read Murakami.

Japanese literature giveaway

To celebrate my blog's 3rd anniversary, I'm having a giveaway and this is what you could win.

For more information and to enter, please visit my blog here.


Blanketed in snow
fields, trees and travelers
share winter’s journey.

© 2009 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto

Asleep is a collection of three short novellas, all of which focus on some aspect of death and also a sleeping, either literal or psychic, born of trauma.

Night and Night's Travelers
"Night and Night's Travelers" is a tale of the literal death of one and the resulting temporary emotional death of another. The narrator is Shibami and she tells the story of her "vibrantly charismatic" brother Yoshihiro and her dreamy cousin Mari. Yoshihiro and Mari are not only cousins, but lovers. After Yoshihiro's death, Mari withdraws and enters a year of dreamlike fog and sleepwalking.

Love Songs
"Love Songs" tells of the haunting of one woman by another. Fumi has found herself at the end of an affair and drinking to excess. She often hears a "soothing voice singing." This voice belongs to Haru, a dead woman with whom Fumi once shared her ex-lover. Fumi is drawn to this voice from the beyond and, through consultation with a midget psychic, is able to meet with Haru. In life, the two women were in a relationship of bitter resentment and jealousy, yet in this meeting of life and afterlife they find peace and friendship.

"Asleep" is the story of Terako who shares the deep sleep of her lover's comatose wife. Mr. Iwanaga has an unusual effect on women ... he puts them to sleep. His wife is in a coma and his lover, Terako, becomes increasingly sleepy. As Terako separates herself from Mr. Iwanaga and creates her own life, she finds a new energy.

Supernatural occurrences seem natural throughout the stories in Asleep. The language is sparse, creating silences and the stories lack any attempt to draw the reader in emotionally. Yoshimoto's writing style reminded me of minimalist Japanese decor. The setting is sparse, but what is there is beautiful. The writing often seems like a prose version of haiku:
Late at night the trees in my garden seemed to shine.
Awash in light from the street, the quiet glittering green of the
leaves and the deep brown of the trunk seemed startlingly vivid.

Those looking for an exciting read will not find it in Asleep. What the reader will find is a quiet and beautiful collection of stories that take the vicissitudes of life in stride.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


In the back garden
where no one can see them, four
women are painting.

© 2009 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse

Black Rain is set both several years after the end of WW2 and in the days following the bombing of Hiroshima. Shigematsu Shizuma’s niece, Yasuko, is not yet married, and rumours that she was hit by poisonous black rain after the Hiroshima bombing, and is now suffering from radiation sickness, lower her chances of finding someone. When someone makes inquires about her, her uncle decides to copy his diary of the days after the bombing so that he can set the record straight about what the family went through. Black Rain alternates between long passages from his diary and episodes set in the character's present.

Confession: I mooched and began to read Black Rain completely convinced that this was in fact The Ash Garden by Dennis Bock (a book about one of the scientists involved in the making of the atomic bomb meeting one of the survivors from Hiroshima). I’m not sure how I got the books mixed up. I guess there’s the fact that they’re both about Hiroshima, of course, and also that I first heard of both at tanabata’s blog. But anyway, I spend the first chapter of Black Rain being confused and waiting for the scientists to be mentioned. Then I realized my mistake, felt stupid, and began to read the book I actually had in my hands rather than the book I thought I did.

Black Rain is not about the political or social implications of nuclear warfare. Rather, it’s about its everyday consequence, its direct impact on people’s lives. A lot of the story deals with the practical consequences of the war. What did people eat? How did they treat their burns after the bombing? How did they react to seeing large chunks of their skin fall off? A lot of it is not for the faint of heart, but the writing style is as undramatic and subdued as it could possibly be. And I think this matter-of-factness made it even sadder.

The sections set in the present deal in part with long-term consequences of radiation, and with how the lives of so many people were permanently changed. There was a part I found particularly interesting, about how these people’s treatment clashes with their traditional way of life:
There had been a dozen or more people suffering from radiation sickness in the village, but now only three survives – mild cases, of which Shigematsu was one. All three had checked the progress of the disease by taking care to always get plenty of food and rest. Where the rest was concerned, however, it was not enough—nor was it tolerable for the patient himself—simply to lie in bed all day. The doctor had suggested doing light jobs about the place, supplemented by “walks”. Unfortunately, it was out of the question for the head of the family, to all appearances in the best of health, to stroll idly through the village. For someone to “go for a walk”, in fact, was quite unheard of. A “walk” was unthinkable in terms of traditional custom, and this unthinkable in principle.
Black Rain is a very moving book, but like I was saying it’s written in a very quiet, restrained tone. This is something I actually associate with Japan. Normally I shy away from making generalizations of this kind about entire nations or cultures, but from what I know of Japanese literature and art in general (admittedly not very much at all), I do get the impression that emotions tend to be expressed in more subtle ways than in the West.

Black Rain is actually not a depressing book. There are a lot of horrific things happening, but there are also moments of humour and beauty. I’ll leave you with this great passage from the introduction by the translator, John Bester:
Black Rain is a portrait of a group of human beings; of the death of a great city; of a nation crumbling into defeat. It is a picture of the Japanese mind that tells more than many sociological studies. Yet more than this, it is a statement of a philosophy. Although that philosophy, in its essence, is neither pessimistic nor optimistic, it seems to be life-affirming. Dealing with the grimmest of subjects, the work is not, in the end, depressing, for the author is ultimately concerned with life rather than with death, and with an overall beauty and transcends ugliness of detail.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Day's End

Merchants plod homeward
after long day at market,
full moon shining bright.

© 2009 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Everything is metaphor. Nothing is metaphor. Metaphor is reality. Murakami takes the reader on a surreal trip that will leave you breathless while also leaving you to wonder what you missed.

Kafka on the Shore is, in part, a quest. Fifteen year old Kafka Tamura runs from home in order to pursue his past, to find his mother and sister who haven't been seen since he was a little boy, and to find out who he is apart from his father. His quest begins as he seeks for answers to his past, but at some point in the journey he realizes the futility of this and turns to pursue his future instead. The story alternates between Kafka and an elderly gentleman by the name of Mr. Nakata. Nakata wants to find the half of himself that was lost when he was a young boy during World War II. A mysterious event left Nakata unable to read, and in his own words, "not very bright." As he journeys, Nakata is not sure where he is going or what he is looking for, but intuits that he will know it when he sees it.

The mysterious event of World War II, which took a part of Mr. Nakata, remains a blurry element of the novel. It is never looked at directly, but is something that is seen in the "peripheral vision" and is similar to those things that, in the darkness, are better seen when looked at indirectly. Mr. Nakata can not remember what happened and suffers an amnesia that might be metaphor for a national amnesia surrounding the events of World War II. I am aware of the concept of national amnesia, but am hardly an expert in this area and so will leave this thought to be pursued by those better qualified.

Murakami is known for his use of magical realism, and Kafka on the Shore has plenty of opportunity for the reader to suspend his or her disbelief. Talking cats, fish raining from the sky, and appearances by Johnny Walker and Colonel Sanders should not surprise Murakami's readers. If this isn't enough to confuse many of us, Murakami also takes occasional jaunts into the metaphysical realm.

The novel is often confusing and requires the reader to simply follow where Murakami leads. The ending is ambiguous, but somehow the book makes sense without a coherent resolution. Murakami has written a novel that is hopeful and speaks of the human capacity to go forward and reach for that "brand-new world" that is constantly before us.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Monday, January 19, 2009

Japanese Literature Challenge 2: Prizes are Coming!

A catalogue from DHC with fourteen samples, including one full size bar of Extra Mild Olive soap,

a Japanese cookbook and a little black dish made with a real Japanese Maple leaf,

a spiral notebook featuring The Wave, a box of 10 notecards, and a package of Froggie Origami,

2 CDs of Japanese music: The Very Best of Japanese Music and Vista (contemporary koto),

two paperback books of Miyuke Miyabe's: All She Was Worth and Crossfire,

an extremely hard to find copy of Haurki Murakami's book Hear The Wind Sing which was written when he was in college, along with two buttons.

So, are you ready to throw your name into the pot? If you've read three Japanese works, please leave a comment below. You have until January 30 to finish the Challenge; I can't wait to hear from you!


A summer’s evening—
villagers stroll through the gate
to greet the darkness.

© 2009 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Monday, January 12, 2009


Succulent apples
waiting for the harvesters—
dark mountains brooding.

© 2009 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Rootless travelers
scurrying from here to there—
where are you going?

© 2009 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Masks by Fumiko Enchi

This is the third and final book I'll be blogging about for this great Japanese Literature Challenge. Thanks again to Bellezza for organizing this! I've gotten some great ideas for future reads here.

Fumiko Enchi
(1905-86) was and is still considered one of the most important female writers of Japan. As the daughter of one of Japan's most pre-eminent scholars and a sickly child educated at home, she was widely read and incredibly learned - the latter of which is quite obvious in Masks, which manages to be both a fantastic story and a sort of treatise combining literary criticism, mythology, and history.

Enchi's reputation is, in my view, well deserved for Masks is a really, really good book. Enchi was clearly influenced by Junichiro Tanizaki at his best (i.e., not Naomi) but her authorial voice was entirely her own too. I loved the way she was able to blur the lines between physical and intellectual obsessions and passions. Many writers see these as antithetical but Enchi really explored the disturbing things that can occur when research into mythology, spirit possession, and Noh theatre get mixed up with physical lust and emotional desire.

And the writing was fantastic. Thank all good things for talented translators.

Central to the book's look at the complicated relationships between the widow Yasuko, her mother-in-law Mieko and Yasuko's two suitors Ibuki and Mikame is the ethereal magic of the masks used in Noh drama. The masks are made with static impressions but the way actors position their heads and pose their bodies appear to change the masks' expressions according to the needs of the plays performed.

Mieko is deeply interested in Noh masks and she is both directly and obliquely compared to an actor manipulating a mask to establish certain "dramatic" ends known entirely only to her.

When it was finally revealed what her ends were, I was both incredibly disturbed and somewhat disappointed; I'm not certain how to reconcile such contradictory feelings. But my confusion over the book's conclusion is minor. Masks is an absolutely beautiful book and I recommend it whole-heartedly.

The Dance

Swirling in her silks
young maiden sways to music
she alone can hear.

© 2009 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


She wonders how soon
her samurai will come back,
claim her as his own.

© 2009 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Travelers ignore
ocean’s gray susurration
but pine trees draw near.

© 2009 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Monday, January 5, 2009


Two pilgrims journey
over snow-covered bridges
toward sacred mountain.

© 2009 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Sunday, January 4, 2009


Even sparrows weep
as somber violinist
stumbles on the notes.

© 2008 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Cherry Blossoms

Ah, cherry blossoms
perfume the air, while people
saunter here and there.

© 2009 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Friday, January 2, 2009


unopened journal
calligraphy brush in hand
waiting for the muse

© 2009 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year

Greeting the new year—
do we hold hope in our hearts
or grey lumps of dread?

© 2009 by CaliforniaTeacherGuy