Category Archives: Japanese Literature Challenge 4

The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima

The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima

Translated from the Japanese by Meredith Weatherby

Vintage International, New York, 1994

183 pages.

Borrowed from the library.

This is, quite simply, a love story.  Shinji, a young fisherman helping to support his widowed mother and younger brother sees a young women, Hatsue, on the beach.  He is instantly attracted to her and, as the two get to know each other, they fall in love.  She is the daughter of a wealthy merchantman.  The island they live on, Uta-Jima,  is small and insular and, as their relationship becomes public knowledge, they must face the gossip of their neighbors and the jealousy of others.

This is  beautifully written, a lyrical story of first love.  It takes place in a simpler time, one which filled me with nostalgia.  Reading Mishima’s prose is like viewing Japanese brush painting, much is expressed with a few words, like a few brush strokes.    A lot of this has to do with Mishima’s way of depicting the people, the land and the sea that surrounds them.  He had the ability to express human thought and feeling in a way that appears simple and yet hold great depth.

The boy felt a consummate accord between himself and this opulence of nature that surrounded him.  He inhales deeply, and it was as though a part of the unseen something that constitutes nature had permeated the core of his being.  He heard the sounds of the waves striking the shore, and it was as though the surging of his young blood was keeping time with the movement of the sea’s great tides.  It was doubtless because nature itself satisfied his need that Shinji felt no particular lack of music in his everyday life.  From pages 44/45.

In this way the spring had neared its end.  It was still too early for the clusters of crinum lilies that bloomed in the cliffs on the eastern side of the island, but the fields were colored here and there with various other flowers.  The children were back in school again, and some of the women were already diving in the cold water for the seaweed called “soft lace”.  As a consequence there were now more houses that were empty during the daytime, doors unlocked, windows open.  Bees entered these empty houses freely, flew about in them lonesomely, and were often startled upon running headlong into a mirror.  From page 119.

I enjoyed this novel and will be reading more of Mishima’s work in the future.

Other reviews:

Fizzy Thoughts

Stuff As Dreams Are Made On

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Filed under Historical Fiction, Japanese Literature Challenge 4, New Authors 2010, Review

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Translated from Japanese by Megan Backus

Grove Press, New York, 1993

Borrowed from the library.  This is my second book for the Japanese Literature Challenge 4.  Thanks to Bellezza for organizing this wonderful event.

Oh, what a book!  Kitchen is a combination of a novella and a short story.  Simply and beautifully written, they present emotions in a way that is direct and clear, never simpering or overly sweet.   Both tell of loss, love and family and I moved through then easily.  Sometimes the words felt like a  warm breeze, sometimes like a sudden shower.   Yoshimoto’s storytelling is magic, reading this book I did not expect the depth I found there.  So subtle, so simple, it all snuck up on me.

Kitchen is the story of Mikage, a young women who has lost most of her family.  She lives with her Grandmother, but is always aware of the possibility of loss.

The space that cannot be filled, no matter how cheerfully a child and an old person are living together – the deathly silence that, panting in the corner of the room, pushes its way in like a shutter.  I felt it very early, although no one told me about it. From page 21.

When her Grandmother dies she is invited by a friend to join him and his mother in their home.  These kind people help Mikage open herself to memories and emotions.

In the uncertain ebb and flow of time and emotions much of one’s life history is etched in the senses.  And things of no particular importance, or irreplaceable things, can suddenly resurface in a cafe one winter night.  From page 75.

Part of this novella are strangely chilling.  Maybe it is the shadows of Mikage’s past, like ghosts, that create this effect.

The second part of this little book is a short story, Moonlight Shadow, also about love and loss.  It reads like  a fairy tale.

In retrospect I realize that fate was a ladder on which, at the time, I could not afford to miss a single rung.  To skip out on even one scene would have meant never making it to the top, although it would have been by far the easier choice. What motivated me was probably that little light still left in my half-dead heart, glittering in the darkness.  Yet,without it, perhaps, I might have slept better. From page 127.

While reading this book I kept thinking of  the fall of cherry blossoms in Kurosawa’s Dreams. Kitchen is that beautiful.

Other reviews:

A Striped Armchair

Adventures in Reading

An Adventure In Reading

Regular Rumination

The Reading Life

14 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Japanese Literature Challenge 4, New Authors 2010, Review

The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki

The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki

Translated from the Japanese by Edward G. Seidensticker

Vintage International, New York, 1995

Borrowed from the library.

This novel, set in Osaka during the years leading up to World War II, tells the story of the four Makioka sisters, members of a wealthy merchant family now in decline. In gentle prose Tanizaki gives us a picture of each sister and of the struggle between traditional, aristocratic Japanese culture and the  modern influences filtering in from Europe and America.

A main theme that weaves through this novel is the strict and appropriate behavior for young women in  Japanese.  Each of the sisters is different but all are expected to follow the same path, learning the arts of women, marriage and children.  The family is trying to find a husband for Yakiko, the third sister.  They have been trying for years.  Each candidate has had his faults and, as the years go by, the offers of marriage become few and far between. The men become less and less “acceptable”.

The youngest sister, Taeko, known as Koi-San, is rebellious and struggles for independence.  In the end she suffers great loss.  Possibly Tanizaki’s idea of what women will suffer as punishment for turning away from traditional culture.  Then again, the staid and honor-bound behavior of the family as not brought about the best outcome either.

I found the best parts of the book to be the quiet times, bits of daily life gently painted like sumi-e, with soft strokes.  Tanizaki was wonderful at creating a sense of place and of ritual events.

The house was built in the old Osaka fashion.  Inside the high garden walls, one came upon the latticed front of the house.  An earthen passage led from the entrance to the rear.  In the rooms, lighted even at noon by but a dim light from the courtyard, hemlock pillars, rubbed to a fine polish, gave off a soft glow. Sachiko did not know how old the house was – possibly a generation or two.  At first it must have been used as a villa to which elderly Makiokas might retire, or in which the junior branches of the family might live.  Not long before his death Sachiko’s father had moved his family there from Semba; it had become the fashion for merchant families to have residences away from their shops.  The younger sisters had therefore not lived in the house long.  They had often visited relatives there even when they were young, however, and it was there that their father died.  They were deeply attached to the old place.  Sachiko sensed that much of her sister’s love for Osaka was in fact love for the house, and, for all her amusement at these old fashioned ways, she felt a twinge of pain herself – she would no longer be able to go back to the old family house.  She often enough joined Yukiko and Taeko in complaining about it – surely there was no darker and unhygienic house in the world, and they could not understand what made their sister live there, and  they felt thoroughly depressed after no more than three days there, and so on-yet a deep undefinable sorrow came over Sachiko at the news.  To lose the Osaka house would be to lose her very roots. From page 99.

**********

They turned off the flash lights and approached in silence.  Fireflies dislike noise and light.  But even at the edge of the river there were no fireflies.  “Maybe they are not out tonight,” someone whisperd.  “No, there are plenty of them.  Come over here.”  Down into the grasses on the bank, and there, in the delicate moment before the last light goes, were fireflies, gliding out over the water, in low arcs like the sweep of grasses.  On down the river, on and on, were fireflies, lines of them wavering out from this bank and the other and back again, sketching their uncertain tracks of light down close to the surface of the water, hidden from outside by the grasses.  In the last moment of light, with darkness creeping p from the water and the moving plumes of grass still faintly outlined, there, far as the river stretched- and infinite number of little lines in two long rows on either side, quiet, unearthly… From page 342.

The book is dense and slow in places.  At times I found myself bogging down and wanting to skim.  That may have to do with the translation, or it may be Tanizaki’s way of portraying the distinctions between the traditional way of Japanese life and the struggle with modernity.  This is my first book for the Japanese Literature Challenge.  I enjoyed it and am excited to discover other Japanese authors.

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Filed under Fiction, InTranslation, Japanese Literature Challenge 4, New Authors 2010