Tag Archives: japan

Read 3 of 2022. In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki. Translated from the Japanese by Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker

In Praise of Shadows by Jun'Ichirō Tanizaki

Title: In Praise of Shadows Author: Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
Translated from the Japanese by Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker Publisher: Vintage Classics
ISBN: 9781784875572
Genre: Nonfiction, Design
Pages: 128
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I have always wanted to read this book, and #JanuaryinJapan made me get to it sooner than later. I must say though that I loved it through and through, no matter how outdated some of the ideas may seem in today’s time and age.

Tanizaki’s book is about shadows and light when it comes to Japanese architecture or the layout of a home, but it is so much more than that as well. It is about how we approach darkness and the significance we give to light. Tanizaki appreciates shadows and the role they play not only in aesthetically but also in our lives and what they say about us as people.

It is about how shadows are all-pervasive in our ordinary lives and thereby then extending to the ordinariness of living and what encompasses it. When Tanizaki speaks of woodwork, sliding doors, walls and the projection of shadows on them, Japanese houses, the traditional restaurants, candle lights, and Japanese toilets, it all fits beautifully and merges with the reality of living, where harshness of light is preferred to the understated beauty of darkness.

Japanese aesthetic got me then thinking of how we also live our lives – more tuned to Western aesthetics than the Oriental and perhaps that leads to more restlessness and anxiety. Like I said, the book does seem outdated when it comes to some concepts of space and light and shadow but overall, it is a wonderful primer on not just design but also on how to live in the modern age.

Books and Authors mentioned in In Praise of Shadows: 

  • Natsume Sōseki
  • Saito Ryoku
  • Kôtei
  • Takebayashi Musôan
  • Pillow of Grass by Nastume Sōseki
  • Some Prefer Nettles
  • The Makioka Sisters
  • The Key
  • Diary of a Mad Old Man
  • The Mother of Captain Shigemoto
  • Seven Japanese Tales by Howard and Hibbett
  • The Tale of Genji
  • Susan Sontag

 

The Sakura Obsession: The Incredible Story of the Plant Hunter Who Saved Japan’s Cherry Blossoms by Naoko Abe

The Sakura Obsession Title: The Sakura Obsession: The Incredible Story of the Plant Hunter Who Saved Japan’s Cherry Blossoms
Author: Naoko Abe
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 9781524733575
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography,
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

One should always get out of their comfort zone and try things they say. Different things. For me reading something which I wouldn’t otherwise is radical enough. I mean, this book intrigued me, and I just had to read it to know more. I am so glad I did. To experience a different culture (which of course I have through other reads), but also knowing about the Cherry Blossom and how it came to be saved was a brilliant experience.

The story starts in 1907, when Collingwood “Cherry” Ingram fell in love with the sakura or the cherry tree, as he was visiting Japan on his honeymoon. He was taken in with the tree to such an extent that he couldn’t help but bring back hundreds of cuttings back to England, where he literally grew them, creating a garden of cherry varieties. In fact, in 1926 when he learned that the cherry tree was extinct in Japan, he sent a cutting of his own through the Trans-Siberian express. Not only that, Ingram also ensured that cuttings were sent to other parts of the world, where it was conducive to grow the specimen.

This in short is what the book is about. However, there is so much more to it. Abe writes elegantly, and not only that – the research is spot on – with photographs, details, linking of other events, and personal perspectives. At times, I also felt that I was actually reading a historical novel, it is so well-written.

The Sakura Obsession is what it is because Abe understands Ingram’s motivations, his complex nature – the oddity and the gentleness and that’s what makes this book so unique and refreshing. The Sakura Obsession tells a story that most people aren’t aware of – of how it took one man to save blossoms people enjoy over the world and are in awe of. I am only too glad that I got out of my comfort zone and read this one.

My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1 by Gengoroh Tagame . Translated by Anne Ishii

51rq4hPobXL Title: My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1
Author: Gengoroh Tagame
Translated from the Japanese by
Publisher: Pantheon Graphic Novels
ISBN: 978-1101871515
Genre: Graphic Novels
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“My Brother’s Husband” is a graceful manga by Gengoroh Tagame. It handles homosexuality, homophobia and xenophobia (to some extent) very tenderly and not once did I feel berated being a gay man or an insider looking out while reading this manga. Tagame tells the story of parents and in turn of children and how important it is for children to learn, believe and accept alternate sexualities. At the same time, this manga doesn’t get preachy at all. It doesn’t sermonize or ask you to change yourself. It provides different perspectives and that’s that to it.

Yaichi – a single Japanese dad is forced to confront his painful past when an affable Canadian named Mike Flanagan shows up at his door, declaring himself to be the widower of Yaichi’s estranged gay twin Ryoji. Mike wants to explore Ryoji’s past, his family and his growing-up years. Yaichi takes him in reluctantly and thus begins a relationship of understanding, apprehension and fear not only between Mike and Yaichi but also between Mike and Yaichi’s young daughter, Kana. It is how Kana begins to question and understands Mike and at the same time Yaichi’s overcoming of homophobia is what the manga is all about.

Japan as a country is quite conservative when it comes to the question of homosexuals. It isn’t easy to talk about it in the open – more so in traditional societies of Japan. Maybe that is why this manga is needed now more than ever. Tagame explores each aspect – alienation, small incidents of homophobia, questions about the relationship that wasn’t mainstream and the differences of perception between the East and the West tenderly and with much insight.

There are multiple viewpoints, which is great because he then doesn’t give only one point of view and leave it at that. It also talks of how relationships can alter feelings and how life as it goes along, gives you the opportunity to keep embracing the new, no matter how different it might be. The story is beautiful and the characters are so well-rounded.

This book is definitely for those who want to understand what the LGBT people face, no matter how basic it seems in the book. This could however be the perfect guide and also not just for adults but children as well. “My Brother’s Husband” embraces differences and talks of cultural clashes at the same time. I cannot wait to read the second volume soon.

The Gods Lie. by Kaori Ozaki

Title: The Gods Lie.
Author: Kaori Ozaki
Publisher: Vertical Comics
ISBN: 978-1942993360
Genre: Manga, Graphic Novel
Pages: 216
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

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This was the first book read this month and it has stuck and how. I never thought a Manga could leave me all emotional and almost in tears, but this one did and in the most wondrous way. “The Gods Lie” is about everything I think, as you are growing-up, it is also more than just a coming of age tale and yet the innocence and charm of the book isn’t gone at all, no matter how dire the circumstances. There is always some hope and light at the end of the tunnel and maybe that is why I could connect with this read.

Natsuru Nanao is a 6th grader who lives with his mom, loves soccer and isn’t what you’d call the popular kid in school or maybe he is. Enter Rio Suzumura and the both of them have an unlikely friendship, given how different they are. The soccer coach changes and Natsuru hates the new coach (there are several instances) and decides to not to go soccer camp. In all of this, he ends up staying over at Rio’s house with her kid brother. He does find it strange to see these two children living alone but then secrets start tumbling out of the closet – including a dark one which will test his love for Rio.

That in short is the plot of the book. It is a coming-of-age story for sure but there is so much more to it – the harsh realities of modern life, how one just hangs on to hope no matter what, and of course the bittersweetness of first love. It is a short-read. There is not much dialogue but I think when you are dealing this strongly with emotions, the need for dialogues doesn’t really arise. At the same time, you are vested in the story of Natsuru and Rio, that you just want it all to be fine for them. That to me is the power of a great book. When it engages you to this extent. I can’t recommend this book enough. Do read it.

Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon and Mu by Junji Ito

junji-itos-cat-diary-yon-and-mu-by-junji-ito Title: Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon and Mu
Author: Junji Ito
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
ISBN: 978-1632361974
Genre: Graphic Novel, Manga
Pages: 120
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Another cat book this month, another cat graphic novel and that too a manga which I adored to bits. I was browsing Amazon and chanced on this graphic novel and was elated on discovering it. After all, it is a real story and it is a real story about two cats, Yon and Mu and how they came to be Junji Ito’s cats – the one who did not like cats to begin with.

junji-itos-cat-diary-yon-and-mu-by-junji-ito-image-1

I have always considered myself to be a dog person and not a cat person at all. Till cats entered my life and now life is no longer the same. I could so relate to the book as I went along and even though I knew it was a Manga and it would end soon, I just didn’t want it to end.

junji-itos-cat-diary-yon-and-mu-by-junji-ito-image-22

The book is about Ito’s experiences with not one but two cats and how his life is never the same. Cats are not like Dogs and they never will be. They do what they must and when they must. They will never listen to you, no matter how hard you try and all you want to do then do is love them. There is also a portion that will shock you and move you to tears (don’t worry, this is not a spoiler).

junji-itos-cat-diary-yon-and-mu-by-junji-ito-image-3

Ito’s experiences with his cats are something else – he makes them seem larger than life of course given he is the horror hero of manga and translates that superlatively in this book as well. Cats can be full of horror if you don’t know them – Ito uses that angle to the book. The funny vignettes about his wife and the cats are heartwarming and beyond any mode of social media – Thank God for that! You need this book in your life if you love cats! That’s all there is to it.