Book Review: Moshi Moshi

cover image Yoshimoto Banana Moshi Moshi“When we start something new, at first it is very muddy, and clouded. But soon, it becomes a clear stream, whose flow conducts itself quietly, through spontaneous movements.”

‘Moshi Moshi‘ is a love declaration to Shimo-Kitazawa, the beloved neighborhood in Tokyo with the hipster, Bohemian air. Famous for the many cafés, bars and restaurants, the secondhand shops. A lively, colorful atmosphere. The young and vibrant city district is known for its varied nightlife, local art, and design. Some call it the coolest part of Tôkyô.

Shimo-Kitazawa 下北沢 is six stops from Shinjuku with the Odakyû Line or four stops from Shibuya with the Keiô-Inokashira Line, a district in Tokyo (Setagaya).

But this quarter is in danger. City officials planned to build an 81-foot-wide thoroughfare, which will tear the neighborhood apart. In 2013 the train tracks were removed, and the station is under construction. Plus, it will be allowed to build higher buildings, which was restricted before. (links to articles about Shimo-Kitazawa with pictures: https://trulytokyo.com/shimokitazawa/ and https://www.shimokitazawa.info/ and https://www.odakyu.jp/station/shimo_kitazawa/).

The story in outlines
Yoshie–Yocchan– a young woman moves to Shimo-Kitazawa after the death of her father. He had died in a mysterious double suicide with a strange woman. On this day he forgot his cellphone at home and could not call for help. Ever since, Yoshie is haunted by dreams and her wish to call her dad because she wants to know who the woman was, and if he really wanted to die with her.

As she moves into a small, shabby apartment in Shimo-Kitazawa she feels free from the home of her parents. She tries to get rid of her memories. She grieves but gets better when she takes a job in the café Les Liens. Then, her mother comes to visit her, and asks if she can stay with her in Shimo-Kitazawa for a while. Imagine your mother wants to move into your tiny student apartment with you! So, that is the situation in the beginning.

Moshi Moshi もしもし means ‘hello’, especially on the phone. Or, if you want to say ‘excuse me!’, when calling out to someone. (for different use and meaning, please see: https://ejje.weblio.jp/sentence/content/もしもし).

Evaluation
The story is told by Yoshie’s point of view. You learn about her inner thoughts and her emotions in an interior monologue. The narrator reflects about the death of her father, about childhood and her future as the story moves on. The setting of Shimo-Kitazawa is essential. It becomes a symbol of the transience of all things.

Banana Yoshimoto’s novel sounds a little nostalgically, but it is understandable, because she describes changes, which are not only due to a natural cause, but due to gentrification of the beloved Shimo-Kitazawa. So, this is not mere regretting of the past, but some critical viewing about modern capitalism.

As always, I liked the writing style of Banana Yoshimoto. And I liked especially this novel, because I once knew the Shimo-Kitazawa, she is describing in her book very well. So, farewell lovely Shimo-Kitazawa, it was good to know you.

Reviewed title
吉本 ばなな. もしもし下北沢. 2010.
Banana Yoshimoto. Moshi Moshi. Translated by Asa Yoneda. Counterpoint, 2016 (Cover).

Book Review: The Lake

Cover image- Banana Yoshimoto- The Lake- english versionIn ‘The Lake’ Banana Yoshimoto tells the story of Chihiro, a young Japanese woman, who gets to know a young man who is living across the street. Nakajima, a shy, extraordinary intelligent and interesting man. She watches him every day when she is looking out of her window.
Chihiro recently lost her mother, who died at the hospital after a long illness. She is mourning her loss deeply and struggles with her feelings. In this situation she is glad about a new friendship with her neighbor. In the beginning they are just friends, who become lovers.
Chihiro also loves her freedom very much. Coming from a small village she embraced the opportunity of moving to Tokyo. As an independent woman she is not actively seeking a relationship, she is still grieving, and she does not feel ready for a new boyfriend, not to speak of marriage. The friendship with Nakajima feels comfortable, and it is nourishing her soul. After a while Nakajima is moving into her apartment, and it feels right for her, but they are still struggling with their past.

Nakajima has an enigmatic aura. It comes apparent that something went terribly wrong in his childhood, and he seems to suffer from a childhood trauma. Chihiro is patient, cautious and caring towards him, but she also doubts sometimes if she can handle it.
She learns about Nakajima’s mother and about two childhood friends. After a visit of his former home, a small house at a lake, Chihiro is deeply moved emotionally but somehow feels alienated. She stays with Nakajima and their relationship further deepens when the backstory of Nakajima’s trauma is revealed.

The novel is written from the perspective of Chihiro in the first-person narrative. She describes the development of her relationship with Nakajima in a detailed description of her conflicting emotions. It reminds me of a diary, as she writes most parts of the story in a stream of consciousness.
The novel is mostly about Chihiro’s inner conflicts and the novel tells everything about the evolving relationship, therefore the story feels very lively.
You even can feel Chihiro’s feelings because she tells you about them in her inner monologue, she uses emphatic language, and you can imagine, yes, this is the way how it feels when you are falling in love.
She reflects her doings and emotions, sometimes she shares her philosophical thoughts. Not every word she writes is particularly wise, but it is very interesting.
The underlying topics are tough, as it is emotional or physical abuse in childhood and how it affects human wellbeing and relationships.

Banana Yoshimoto is one of my favorite Japanese authors. I have been reading her books for a long time. In my opinion ‘The Lake’ is a very emotional and extraordinary book. Her language is very colorful, and her story is moving. I like her writing style very much. The story reminded me a little of her debut ‘Kitchen’ in the beginning, but then it took another road. Banana Yoshimoto is a mature author now and although the book’s topic is serious, I liked how she deals with it: Her attitude towards others is positive and caring. And that is what I like most about the ‘The Lake’.

Reviewed title
吉本 ばなな. みずうみ. 2005.
Banana Yoshimoto. The Lake. Translated by Michael Emmerich. Melville House, 2011 (Cover).

More book reviews of Banana Yoshimoto’s books on Japan Kaleidoskop

  1. Book review of Banana Yoshimoto: Kitchen.
  2. Book review of Banana Yoshimoto: Lizard.

 

Three Exciting Coming-of-Age Books by Japanese Authors


The ‘Coming-of-Age Day’ is celebrated in Japan on every second Monday of January as a national holiday since 1948. It is called 成人の日 – Seijin no Hi.
Japanese who turn 20 are celebrating this day, because from now on they are fully grown-ups with every right and responsibility legally speaking. And from now on they are also allowed to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes. Young women are dressing up on the ’Coming-of-Age Day’ in a long-sleeved kimono and men in formal suit and tie.

Coming-of-age is an exciting topic described in world literature as in Japanese novels as well. The following books are good examples of what it feels to become an adult in Japan.

Kafka on the Shore by Murakami Haruki
What is it about?
It is a surrealist novel about a 15-year-old boy leaving his father behind and going on a secret journey. With only one photo in his hand, Kafka Tamura searches for his mother and sister, who left him and his father behind years ago. Read the full review on Japan Kaleidoskop.

Title in Japanese: 海辺のカフカ (Umibe no Kafuka) 2002.
Translated by Philip Gabriel. Vintage International (Cover 2006).

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Ôgawa Yoko
What is it about?
This is a story about an extraordinary friendship between the 10-year-old boy named Root and a retired math professor, who is slightly losing his memory because of brain damage. In the beginning they share only their passion for baseball, but soon the professor needs more help.  Read the full review on Japan Kaleidoskop.

Title in Japanese: 博士の愛した数式 (hakase no aishita sûshiki) 2003.
Translated by Stephen Snyder. Vintage International (Cover 2010).

Kitchen by Yoshimoto Banana
What is it about?
It is about a young woman dealing with life after the death of her beloved grandmother. A new friendship with a boy and his transgender mother. It is about mourning a profound loss and the beginning of a new life. All in all an emotional and touching debut novel of the now so famous Japanese author. Read the full review on Japan Kaleidoskop.

Title in Japanese: キッチン (Kitchin) 1988.
Translated by Megan Backus. Grove Press (Cover 1988)

Book Review: Lizard by Yoshimoto Banana

bookcover- Banana Yoshimoto- LizardLizard is a short story collection dedicated to the late Kurt Cobain by Banana Yoshimoto. She is a well-known Japanese author, with her roots in the pop-culture of the 90s.

What should one think of a person who calls herself a fruit? Maybe she is someone who does not take things so seriously? This is wrong!

On many pictures she looks sweet and well-behaved. Her books mostly appear nice and smooth at the first glance — But to think her stories are simple is anything but true.

In this small book you find six stories about “time, healing, karma, and fate“. Hope becomes a „transforming force“ (p. 175).

A newlywed Japanese is afraid of going home to his wife. He drank too much and on his way home he meets a homeless on the train. They talk to each other and in his imagination the other person suddenly changes into a beautiful woman. He confesses his feelings and fears of settling to the stranger. Eventually he is able to return to his house.

Lizard is a little tattoo of an autistic girl. This is also the title of a very emotional story of how she learns to know her boyfriend and opens up. It is told by the man, who is actually working as a therapist, not hers- but has the right feeling and empathy for her needs. He himself is deeply wounded and has difficulties to get close to other people.

Helix becomes a metaphor of love. Whereas Dreaming of Kimchee explains how cabbage can be the ultimate bliss for a couple. Thoughts about transience and knowledge of being alone is the topic of Blood and Water.

A Strange Tale from Down by the River is the story of Akemi. Shortly before her wedding she remembers her affairs and wild love life. Her character is described as:
“You understand how to flow with time, and not get stuck in one place. Once you master one thing and have done it enough, you move on. Or at least you´re good at pretending to move on. I think most people live their whole lives repeating the same patterns, again and again and again.“ (p. 150)

Yoshimoto’s stories are minutely observed and filled with lovely details. Many of her characters suffered from extreme experiences, but they try to overcome their difficulties. Spiritually inspired, they are able to see the magic in life again. Yoshimoto Banana writes as if her hand is guided by an angel, poetic, and her words are sometimes sparkling with joy.

Reviewed title
吉本ばなな. とかげ, 1993.
Banana Yoshimoto. Lizard. Translated by Ann Sheriff. Washington Square Press, 1996 (Cover)

More book reviews of Banana Yoshimoto’s books on Japan Kaleidoskop

  1. Book review of Banana Yoshimoto.The Lake.
  2. Book review of Banana Yoshimoto. Kitchen.

Book Review: Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

bookcover- Banana Yoshimoto- Kitchen„The place I like best in this world is the kitchen“ says Mikage Sakurai in the beginning of the novel ‘Kitchen’. She was brought up by her grandmother who had died recently. Now Mikage is all alone in this world and she states: „everything before my eyes seemed false“. After the funeral she pulls her futon into the kitchen. Deep sorrow falls upon her.

One day Yuichi Tanabe, a guy she knows from university and who knew her grandmother well, asks her to come over to his mother’s house and move in, which Mikage accepts gratefully.

On the first visit at the house of the Tanabe’s she likes the kitchen instantly. Eiko Tanabe, a beautiful, perfectly styled mother arrives. She had done some plastic surgery, and was a man before, actually Yuichi’s father, but changed after the death of his wife and became his mother. Mikage instantly likes also Eiko and feels adopted by the warm hearted loving person.

Mikage overcomes her grief slightly and enjoys staying at the Tanabe’s. But this situation interferes with the relationship with her boyfriend, so she finally leaves him. Yuichi also begins to struggle with his feelings for his girl-friend and for Mikage.

Many scenes take place in the kitchen, which Mikage loves so much. The kitchen is a metaphor for home, caring, nourishment, joy and togetherness, of life itself.

But things will not go on so smoothly. The next catastrophe is already near and will burden Mikage’s and Yuichi’s relationship soon. They both have to find their way on their own.

‘Kitchen’ is a story of mourning and loss. It describes well how you feel when you miss someone who is dead, with all your memories and embodied memories as well; remembering all the things which belong to the relationship and  to oneself. Mikage goes all through this mourning process and finds relief in astonishing ways.

„No matter what, I want to continue living with the awareness that I will die. Without that, I am not alive.“ Mikage finds hope and joy and searches a way to Yuichi. In the end they will meet each other again, but different. Their relationship needed commitment and openness on both sides to grow.

The story is mainly about how to deal with mourning and loneliness, but it is not a sad story overall. In all that sorrow Mikage finds also beauty. She loves food, cooking, the smell of things. She seeks relief in nature and with people. There are many magic sparkling moments in this book. It is often warm and friendly and full of hope. Mikage herself is full of life.

‘Moonlight Shadow’, the second novella in this book, is a variation of the themes and motifs of ‘Kitchen’. It is like her little sister, but not standing behind.

It is also a story about loosing a loved one. Hitoshi had died. Satsuki, his girlfriend is mourning over the loss of her dead lover. She goes through the deep feelings of loss and absolutely unbearable sorrow. One morning she walks to the river in her hometown, a place where she often went with Hitoshi. There she meets a strange woman named Urara, a ghost-like creature, and the story turns somehow into a mystery.

Then there is a counterpart to Satsuki: Hiiragi, the brother of Hitoshi. He has lost his lover at the same car  accident. Hiiragi has his own special way in coping with his feelings and one can see similarities between him and Eiko Tanabe in ‘Kitchen’.

‘Moonlight Shadow’ has more transcendental moments than ‘Kitchen’ and therefore a certain magical power in itself.

Both novellas are well-written and I recommend them as Japanese stories one has to read if you are interested in Japanese literature. Banana Yoshimoto writes simple and lightly. It goes directly into your heart. She writes emotionally and is a good observer. No wonder, that this book is one of the best-selling novels in contemporary Japan. First published in 1988, it created a ‘Bananamania’ and she won many literary prizes.

Reviewed title
吉本ばなな. キッチン, 1988.
Banana Yoshimoto: Kitchen. Translated by Megan Backus. Grove Press, 1993 (Cover).

More reviews of Banana Yoshimoto’s books on Japan Kaleidoskop

  1. Book review of Banana Yoshimoto: Lizard.
  2. Book review of Banana Yoshimoto. The Lake.