Three Interesting Spring Novels by Japanese Authors

book cover collageSpring is called haru 春 in Japanese. The spring season goes from March to May with its peak in late April and early May, highlight is the Golden Week as a national holiday.

Spring is associated with a new beginning, starting a new life and nature awakening from sleep. In Japan you see cherry blossoms, plum blossoms and hear chirping birds.

It is the time of hanami 花見 (cherry blossom viewing). Normally there are a couple of festivals held in spring. Some of the best known are for example the following matsuri.

A spring festival celebrated in Tokyo is the Sanja Matsuri. It is one of the biggest festivals with about 100 floats and a big crowd around the Senso-ji, normally on the 3rd weekend in May. (Here are some pictures to get an impression about the crowd and the festivities. link to: https://www.japan-talk.com/jt/new/sanja-matsuri-Tokyos-biggest-and-wildest-festival).

Aoi Matsuri is celebrated in Kyôto on the May15th at the Shimogamo Shrine and Kamigamo Shrine (for more information see pictures and explanation at https://matcha-jp.com/en/3892).

The charming Takayama Spring Festival is normally held on April 14th and 15th every year. See some pictures at  https://www.japan-talk.com/jt/new/takayama-spring-festival and https://matcha-jp.com/en/4233.

Thinking of spring, the following Japanese novels come to mind.

The Old Capital by Kawabata Yasunari
What is it about?
It is the most famous Japanese book by the Nobel prize winner. The love story begins in spring and takes place in extremely popular places at Kyôto.
Title in Japanese: 古都, 1962
Read the full review on Japan Kaleidoskop

Spring Snow by Mishima Yukio
What is it about?
‘Spring Snow’ is the story of a young man, Matsugae Kiyoaki, placed in Tokyo of 1912. He was raised in the family tradition of the aristocracy. He falls in love with the elegant and sophisticated Ayakura Satoko.
Title in Japanese:  春の雪, 1968
Read the full review on Japan Kaleidoskop

Hear the Wind Sing by Murakami Haruki
What is it about?
‘Hear the Wind Sing’ is the first novel of Murakami Haruki published in the literary magazine ‘Gunzo’ in 1979 and won the ‘Gunzo Prize for New Writers’.
Title in Japanese: 風の歌を聴け
Read the full review on Japan Kaleidoskop

Book Review: Thirst for Love

6725882“To ask for nothing means that one has lost one’s freedom to choose or reject. Once having decided that, one has no choice but to drink anything — even sea water…”

Thirst for Love is a novel written by Mishima Yukio 三島 由紀夫 (1925-1970) in 1950. A story about a young emotionally disturbed  Japanese woman.

One year after the death of her husband Etsuko moves into the house of her father-in-law and lives with him as a couple. No one of her relatives understands her motifs being the wife of the old patriarch, who is also playing around with her. Yet on the outside she seems happy, but inside she has blocked all feelings and has become a shallow being.

At home the strange couple is accompanied by a maid and a servant, who are responsible for the housework and gardening. Living by her daily routine Etsuko gets to know the servant better. After a while she is finding herself addicted to his attention. In order to manipulate him to like her, Etsuko buys him two pairs of socks in blue and brown color. The whole situation of choosing, buying the present and  giving it to the young man, is very painful for Etsuko and in the end leaves her behind feeling ashamed. But this is not stopping her from seeking after his love. Suddenly she has to realize, that the servant and the maid are having an affair and the maid is pregnant. Etsuko’s jealousy is now driving her crazy and she is seeking for revenge.

Mishima is a literary genius. He describes Etsuko as a suffering woman cut from her feelings. The reader knows her inner reflections, because the story is told from her perspective. Yet I do not think that Mishima has empathy for her. He is knowing the dynamic of the relationships and his narration is lively and beautiful. He is a good observer. Sure Etsuko has a pre-history and roots for her tragic fate, but that is not in the focus of this novel. Mishima portrays a woman with no love in her life and that is a very sad story. He draws a picture of an emotional disturbing fate.

It took me some time to finish the book. I somehow find it hard to read, but I wanted to know, if the main character could change or if there would be something in Etsuko’s life, that brings joy to her. The end is surprising, but comprehensible and therefore follows the logic of the story.

三島 由紀夫. 愛の渇き (ai no kawaki), 1950. Mishima Yukio. Thirst for Love. Translated by Alfred H. Marks, 1969.

Reading in October

In October people visiting Japan Kaleidoskop were mostly interested in Japanese Literature. As in the month before the two mostly read book reviews were the same as in the month before.

Men without women by Murakami Haruki  and Thousand Cranes by Kawabata Yasunari.

Two titles of Tanizaki Jun’ichirô  are on the third  and fourth place. Books I personally adore: The Makikoka Sisters followed by Naomi.

And  surprisingly for the first time people were much interested in reading the book review of Hiromi Kawakami’s The Nakano Thrift Store  which is a fun book to read.

I am currently reading Murakami’s 1Q84 and Yukio Mishima’s  Thirst for Love, probably I will finish the last soon and will write a review here.

My readers came mostly from this countries, in this order:

  1. The United States
  2. Phillipines
  3. Japan
  4. Germany
  5. Netherlands
  6. Canada

There were many searches on Japan Kaleidoskop and I am very happy, that you enjoy my blog and that it is useful for many readers.

Surprisingly ‘Dreaming of Kimchee‘ was searched for several times. And first I did not know, what is was. But then I remembered: It is a short story of Banana Yoshimoto in her book Lizard.

My favorite search term of October is ‘Japanese woman holding a lantern‘, which probably was not found, because there is no tag like this. But there is a very lovely picture of Suzuki Harunobu (c. 1725-1770) on this blog. It was on Art on Tuesday on January 7th, 2014.

Thank you for visiting and reading Japan Kaleidoskop. I wish you a happy autumn!

Plumblossom

Book Review: After the Banquet by Mishima Yukio

mishimaMishima Yukio 三島 由紀夫 (1925-1970) is a well-known Japanese author and playwright. As a multi-talent he wrote novels, dramas and modern Nô-plays furthermore he was a political activist. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize several times.

After the Banquet is based on historical incidents and takes up the political atmosphere of the 1960’s and the personal story of the politician Hachirô Arita, who was a Japanese politician and served as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The story is written from the perspective of a strong-willed woman in her fifties named Kazu Fukuzawa, “a plump, attractive figure, always bursting with energy and enthusiasm”. She is the owner of the highly exquisite Japanese restaurant Setsugoan.

There she meets Noguchi, a radical politician and ambassador with his entourage. After a stroke of an elder statesmen  in her restaurant, she takes this as an opportunity to get closer to Noguchi. From now on she manipulates him to catch and hold his attention permanently. Finally she marries him, but it will be a sad and cruel marriage from the very first day based on prestige reasons in the first place. But being the wife of a famous politician makes her very proud though.

“Her marriage involved no sacrifice, no confinement in a stranger’s house, nor any annoyance from a mother-in-law or sisters-in-law, but married life had on the other hand not brought with it any surge of happiness. When she and Noguchi went out together as man and wife, she felt a joy she could not conceal. But when she attempted to track down the ultimate source of this social pleasure, she discovered that it was connected with the melancholy delight which stole over Kazu’s heart in the middle of the wedding ceremony. Kazu had kept her eyes lowered as she drank the ritual cups of saké to hold back the tears, but she was thinking all the while, ‘Now I’m sure to be buried in the grave of the Noguchi family! At last I’ve found some peace of mind!'”

With full enthusiasm she throws herself into an electoral campaign to assist her husband. And then Noguchi forces her to give up the Setsugoan. He uses all her property for his political career. Eventually he and his party loses the election. Kazu finds herself broken but not desperate.

Kazu is an ambitious female character with strong narcissistic tendencies. Although her marriage is unhappy and her husband acts very violently, she devotes herself to him. Penniless but still strong Kazu finds a way to gain her freedom then — of course through an intrigue.

The narration is very lively. The setting and the plot is interesting. Mishima is a master of storytelling and the characters are very elaborated. All in all a good read.

三島 由紀夫 : 宴のあと Utage no Ato, 1960. Mishima Yukio: After the Banquet. Translation by Donald Keene, 1963.

Book Review: Spring Snow by Mishima Yukio

spring_snow

Spring Snow is the first novel of the tetralogy named The Sea of Fertility by Mishima Yukio.

The scandal of his theatrical suicide in 1970 performed as an act of seppuku, (also known as harakiri in the West),  made him probably immortal. The fact is, he announced his death plan many times before, stating, that he will kill himself after finishing the fourth novel and he did it. It is known as the Mishima incident and still today controversially discussed and also made into a film.

Mishima is regarded as an avantgarde author, because of his mixture of modern and traditional Japanese aesthetics. His themes are often characterized by the effects of obsession and political changes. Yet his writing became world literature. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize three times. Apart from that he has also many faceted talents as a writer, playwright and actor.

Spring Snow is the story of a young man, Matsugae Kiyoaki, placed in Tokyo of 1912. He was raised in the family tradition of the aristocracy. He fells in love with the elegant and sophisticated Ayakura Satoko.

Their relationship is disturbed by the behavior of both: Satoko is teasing him involuntarily by her distinguished  behavior. The young Kiyoaki feels inferior and reacts insulted by drawing back. Yet he wants to possess her. As Ayakura Satoko was promised to marry a prince, all hope become non-existent for Kiyoaki and in a childish act of stubbornness he rejects her totally, a step which is not reversable. This is the groundwork for their failure.
Later Kiyoaki is in despair and his love for Satoko is driving him to an obsessive secret affair with Satoko, who is then engaged with a member of the imperial family. This love affair is doomed from the start  and both will have to pay an extraordinary price for it.

The story is written in a highly elaborated style with much love for detailed scenes. Aesthetically composed Japanese traditional settings and nature descriptions are well-designed. Yet the narration is mixed with manly obsession, crime and lively sublime characters. It is not an easy read, but worth the effort to get to know  a really good modern Japanese classic.

If you want to read more of it the tetralogy consists of the following titles:
Spring Snow
Runaway Horses
The Temple of Dawn
The Decay of the Angel

Japanese: 三島 由紀夫. 春の雪. Mishima Yukio. Haru no Yuki, 1968.