Book Review: Territory of Light

book cover. Territory of Light by Tsushima Yuko“There was a leafless tree. A bird of large tropical kind with a rosy face and green feathers flew down and perched on a branch.”

“Territory of Light” is a novel by Tsushima Yûko in twelve chapters which first appeared as a series in the literary magazine “Gunzô“ in 1978/1979. She won the Noma Literary New Face Prize for “Territory of Light” in 1979.
Tsushima Yûko, born in 1947 in Tokyo, is the daughter of Dazai Osamu, a famous Japanese novelist. She first published her short stories as “Shaniku-sai” (謝肉祭 = Carnival) when she was a student.

Tsushima Yûko won many literary awards, for example the Izumi Kyoka Prize for Literature (1977) for “Bedchamber of Grass” (Kusa no Fushido 草の臥所), the Kawabata Prize (1983) for “Silent Traders” (Dammari ichi 黙市) and the Tanizaki Prize (1998) for “Mountain of Fire: Account of A Wild Monkey” (Hi no yama – yamazaruki 火の山―山猿記). Many of her works have been translated into several languages and are still being published.

Tsushima Yûko has been one of the most important female writers in Japan since the end of World War II. She belongs to the same generation of female writers such as Kôno Taeko 河野多惠子 (1926-2015) and Oba Minako 大庭 みな子 (1930-2007) who largely wrote about their experiences from a female perspective and changed literary traditions in Japan. Their themes are woman empowerment, single life, female sexuality and motherhood. They are considered the leading writers of female empowerment of their generation. Their novels, short stories and essays take a stand for social changes.

Tsushima Yûko’s works are mostly autobiographical. She writes about single parenthood, divorce and experiences of growing up without a father as she experienced a fatherless childhood herself. Her best-known works translated into English are the following titles:
• “Child of Fortune” (Chōji 寵児, 1978)
• “Woman Running in the Mountains” (Yama wo hashiru onna 山を走る女, 1980)
• “The Shooting Gallery & Other Stories” (射的ほか短編集, 1973–1984)
• “Of Dogs and Walls” (Inu to hei nitsuite 犬と塀について, 2018)
These four books have been translated by Geraldine Harcourt.

In “Territory of Light” the narrator, a young woman, tells her story of her divorce. Her husband leaves her for another woman. At the beginning, she and her three-year-old daughter move into an apartment on the 4th floor of a business building. She is working in an office of a library, and during her working hours her daughter stays in kindergarten.
Her husband has chosen another woman but lacks the understanding of his wife of establishing boundaries and wanting a divorce for herself. The surroundings – family members, friends, neighbors etc. – are not explicitly hostile but not very supportive.
Her daughter is so young, it is difficult for a single mother to handle all the day-to-day problems alone.

The narrator is going through a process of the pain of separation, self-discovery and empowerment. She pushes through the emotional garbage and solves her problems on her own and succeeds in the end. The story is told from the female perspective. The narrative style is interesting. We follow the narrator, now a single woman, through an empowering process, although there are many problems, and people around her make her life hard, she experiences feelings of happiness with her daughter.

The narrative episodes are intertwined with memories, dream sequences, daily scenes and observations in a sensitive, poetic language with expressive pictures. Although written in the 1970s the novel is timeless. Tsushima Yûko tells her story, in part autobiographical, with an emotional openness. Highly recommended!

Reviewed Title
津島 佑子. 光の領分, Hikari no ryōbun, 1979.
Tsushima Yûko. Territory of Light. Translated by Geraldine Harcourt. Penguin Classics, 2018 (cover).

Editor’s Note: This book review was first published on Japan Kaleidoskop, a blog about Japanese literature and art. (May 30, 2023)

Art on Tuesday: Full Moon

woodblock print by Ohara Koson. Plumtree branch with plum blossoms in front of full moon
This beautiful ukiyo-e of a full moon with plum blossoms was designed by Ohara Koson 小原 古邨 (1877-1945). He was a painter and print designer of Japanese woodblock prints best known for his pictures depicting birds and flowers (kachō-e 花鳥絵). Ohara joined the “shin hanga” (新版画) movement in Japan in the early 20th century. He is one of the most famous artists of his time known for his landscape and animal paintings.

woodblock print by Ohara Koson. Full Moon and Blue FlowersHe designed some more ukiyo-e with a full moon as a background. The above picture shows blue flowers and some grass plants with yellow flowers. Some clouds are hanging in front of the full moon.

woodblock print of Ohara Koson. Two geese in flight before a full moon Ohara Koson also painted this pair of flying geese before a full moon. It is an example of his (kachō-e 花鳥絵) ukiyo-e with animals. There are many other beautiful woodblock prints and paintings he made. A good source where you can find his woodblock prints is

Editor’s Note: This post was first published on Japan Kaleidoskop, a blog about Japanese literature and art. It was originally published on April 2, 2013 and was rewritten and updated on May 9, 2023.

Art on Tuesday: Calligraphy

woodblock print of Toyokuni I. A japanese woman reading a letterTitle: “Seven Aspects of Girls: Calligraphy – Actor Iwai Hanshirô”

This ukiyo-e (woodblock print) was designed by Toyokuni I (1769-1825), a Japanese artist,  illustrator and painter, who is famous for his pictures of actors in Japan. In general, kabuki actors were a popular motif of ukiyo-e prints. In this woodblock print you see the actor Iwai Hanshirô. The actor is dressed like a woman. The kimono and hair are richly decorated and styled very beautifully. Men played female roles in Japanese traditional theatre performances. The term for this is called onnagata.

Here the character is reading a scroll. Right to him on the table are brushes, an ink stone and ink. Under the desk, you can see a booklet. It was made with a Japanese binding technique.

There is also a picture in the picture showing probably the same actor in a different situation, he is walking with an umbrella and holding some scripts in his right hand.

The iris flower in the right corner of the picture is a traditional flower in Japan and its meaning is purity and protection.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 02, 2013 and has been updated.