Book Club: Japan!

Amazing Japanese Literature

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Hey. It’s Mew and welcome to the second ever episode of book club here on my blog. ^_^

As I said in last month’s post, at the end of each month, I will be recommending some of my favourite stories and novels that I got to read throughout the month. And as each episode has a theme, this month we’re going to talk about Japan. I recently found out I would be going to Tokyo next year, so of course I had to channel my excitement by learning as much about the culture as possible. And what better what to do that then through books written by Japanese authors?

Are you ready? Let’s start!

Strange Weather in Tokyo

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I don’t know what it is about characters that spend all of their time alone that makes them so charming and relatable, but the main character, Tsukiko, is someone I really fell in love with.

Strange Weather in Tokyo is such a heartwarming story with  really bitter-sweet atmosphere of nostalgia shrouding the events throughout.

This is a love story that revolves around an ageing woman. On a lonely night at a bar, she encounters her old and aged high school teacher. Little by little, a type of shy, hesitant type of affection develops between them, making for a truly sweet, tender and ultimately poignant love story.

Much like the photograph of the cover, the story through the way it’s narrated is surreal, delicate, floaty and dreamy. It’s a wonderful and calming book to read, offering a great deal of cultural insights into life in Tokyo from culinary customs, cinematic sakura scenes and romanticised depictions of everyday life. If you’re into dreamy atmospheres and otherworldly settings, then this is a book you’re sure to love.

The Guest Cat

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It’s funny how animals can have such a strong impact on the highs and lows of your daily life, and this is exactly what this book is about; the before and after of the arrival of a stray cat to the house of a couple who are bored in their daily lives and in their marriage.

There is quite a lot of depth to this story and is a book that really makes you ponder life and transience. Much like a lot of Japanese literature, the overall pace of the novella is slow, tranquil and reflective. (Which is just so peaceful and calming)

As the couple become more and more mystified by the mysteriousness of the cat’s behaviour, they develop a strong attachment to the animal and become much closer as a result.

This novel has a lot to do with the passage of time as well as the destructive affects and reconstructive affects of it on our lives. I won’t ruin too much more of it so you can experience the same surprise that I did when I read it. But this book is unlike anything I’ve ever read before by a western author. So for something a little reflective and a little different, I’d definitely recommend it.

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman

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Though this book is neither written by a Japanese author nor set in Japan, it still delves quite deeply into traditional Japanese culture which is one of the reasons why I included it in this month’s list.

This is really one of those books that stays with you for a long time because the events are so sudden and unexpected, yet so strange and multifaceted at the same time, they can be interpreted in so many different ways depending on how you see them.

To me, this is a book about being shy and introverted more than anything else. The plot revolves around Bilido, a lonely, socially awkward postman who doesn’t have many friends or pleasures in life, except for opening and reading the letters he is supposed to deliver. When he comes across the letters of Segolène, a lady who writes vivid haikus to another man on the postal route, Bilido falls in love with her and decides to write to her -only not as himself.

This book is so tragic. The entire story really leaves a great deal of room for self reflection because it focuses so strongly on the way that sometimes we can be so insecure in ourselves that we would rather go to any extreme to have someone else’s life than our own.

If you can easily relate to shy characters or you just have an interest in traditional Japanese lifestyle, then you are sure to love this book as much as I did. ^_^

Kitchen

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Banana Yoshimoto’s writing is appealing for the way in which she deals with loss as a central theme in her texts and creates such surreal atmospheres in doing so. Her characters are often enchanting and mystifying and they almost always bear the heavy burden of the death of a loved one.

What kitchen is primarily about is a young woman’s search for structure inline again following the death of her grandmother. Each of the characters in the story is also dealing with a loss of some kind and it’s sweet to see how they each offer each other love and support while also seeking comfort in the mundane aspects of everyday life. The kitchen routine, going running, even getting a sex change, these are all the things that help each character recover from their loss.

Seeing the characters begin their processes of healing in these ways is really heartwarming and I always finish this book feeling a little more grateful for the life I have. Kitchen has a lot to offer on the subjects of tragedy and grief. It’s a thought-provoking read and more than worth it if you’re looking for something with a bittersweet air to it.

My favourite part of the novella however was Moonlight Shadow, a forty page narrative at the end of the book. The story was really unlike anything I’ve ever read before and had such an emotional ending, I would recommend it to anyone.

Here, Yoshimoto writes about a high school student whose boyfriend’s life was suddenly snatched away from her in a fatal car accident. The story is set during the aftermath of this loss and incorporates both a surrealist style of writing and magical realism to highlight the fact that in life, we don’t always get a last goodbye when the people we love are taken away from us. And even if we did, there would still be too much left unsaid.

Even if you’ve never directly experienced what happens in the story before, this book hits so close to home that it’s sure to tug the heartstrings of anyone that reads it. It definitely struck a chord with me anyway and I’d suggest reading this if you’re in the mood for something emotional.

Asleep

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Of course I had to include another book by Banana Yoshimoto and Asleep is one of my favourite novels of all time. The way that it is written from the very first page is just amazing. It’s a hard book not to fall in love with straight away.

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The book actually contains three short stories, but al of them correspond with the title ‘Asleep’.

The first short story, Night and Night’s Traveller’s is about a woman who finds herself sleepwalking at night after her daily life is thrown into disarray following the death of the man she loved. The second story, Love Songs follows a young alcoholic whose sleep is tormented by visions of her rival in a love triangle with another man. And the third and final story, Asleep, involves a main character, who, following the passing of her sleep-deprived friend and her affair with a man whose wife is in a coma, can no longer do anything but spend her life heavy with exhaustion and confined to a deep sleep.

Each story in the novel is truly touching and deeply moving as each of the characters attempt to overcome their fatigue and move past their losses. And following them on that journey is just so exciting.

So these were all of the books I picked out this month. Hopefully you will have seen something by now that interests you. ^_^ Most of these books were picked up online. I’ve never actually seen any of them in real life or in a bookshop before. So if you are looking for them, you might want to try this website. 

What kind of books do you like or would you like to see? Let me know on twitter or better yet in the comments below! That’s all from me for now and I will see you very soon in my next post.

BE HAPPY ♥ BE HAPPY

~Love Mew xx

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