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Hello Japan! mini challenge logoHello Japan! is a monthly mini-challenge focusing on Japanese literature and culture. Each month there is a new task which relates to some aspect of life in Japan.

MAY’s mission was ‘Mystery and Mayhem‘: to enjoy a Japanese mystery story. And I did, but never got around to telling you about it. Until today! :)

My reading comfort zone is literary fiction. But every once in a while I’m in the mood for some suspense. A bookcrossing copy of All She Was Worth, by de Japanese author Miyuki Miyabe (translated by Alfred Birnbaum), dropped into the mailbox to meet my needs at exactly the right time.

Cover All She Was Worth (Miyuki Miyabe)All She Was Worth can be read as a straightforward detective story about the beautiful office girl Shoko Sekine who goes missing the night after her fiancé informs her the bank has turned down her request for a credit card. Police inspector Shunsuke Honma, single parent of a 10 year old boy, is asked to conduct the search.

But this book contains more than just the solving of  a mystery. It’s an intelligent tale about [this is a spoiler so you will have to check out the remark below if you want to know], contemporary Japan and life in a big city (Tokyo). I learned about how different it still is today being male or female, and about the pressure on women to marry before their early twenties — or you’ll be considered a spinster and not worth much. Hm, rather sounds like the age of the Brontë sisters! But we’re in 1992, after the money bubble exploded. The story unfolds linearly from January 20th on.

To be honest, all the background on the credit-based economy of Japan was the only thing that made me zone out every once in a while. Miyabe does a good job explaining but I just wasn’t interested. For the rest All She Was Worth is a real page turner and I would love to read more about Inspector Honma; an imperfect but likeable human being to whom I could really relate.

There’s just one more thing I feel I should add. Although the crime(s) described in this book may be horrible, the narration doesn’t contain any ‘gore’ like one might expect from a Japanese thriller. So don’t let that keep you from reading All She Was Worth! And don’t just take my word for it. ;) It won the prestigious Yamamoto Shugoro Literary Prize, which is awarded annually to a new work of fiction considered to exemplify the art of storytelling.

Original title: Kasha (火車)
ISBN: 0-395-96658-2
Publication date: 1999 (first publication 1992)

Sunday Salon logoThe Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of book lovers on the web, blogging about bookish things of the past week, visiting each others weblogs, and oh — reading books of course ;)

*** SPOILER ALERT ***
I learned a lot about identity theft — how scary: it sounds so easy!
[back to where you came from]

Japanese Literature Challenge #5 logo

Hello Japan! is starting the new year with some music lessons. January’s topic is ‘Music to my ears’.

Music is pretty big business in Japan. There’s J-pop, J-rock, J-rap, R&B, anime music, enka, folk music, music from Kabuki, or Noh, taiko drums, shamisen, and a whole host of other traditional Japanese music and instruments. This month’s task is to listen to Japanese music. What kind, and how much is completely up to you.

And since I find it so hard to choose… I’ve decided to use this mini-challenge for a short series! Each Friday of the month of January will feature a Hello Japan! Music ‘Lesson’. Well, I’ll try to live up to that promise anyway ;) A good way to start the weekend, isn’t it? And yes, I’ve backdated this first post to January 1st because I had meant to write a New Year’s post anyway — but didn’t get to it ;)

Listen to the traditional New Year’s song 1 Janvier (一月一日), by Pizzicato Five.

Pizzicato Five (also known as P5) consisted mainly of Maki Nomiya and Yasuharu Konishi. It was the most famous pop group of the Shibuya-kei movement of the nineties: music made by artists associated with the Shibuya district in Tokyo. Typical for Shibuya-kei is that there’s a great interconnection between artists. Also, it’s not just one genre like J-Pop but can be any type of music: bossa nova, chanson, dance, ska, 80’s & 90’s etc. Actually, it’s even not just music: design is a very important aspect of Shibuya-kei as well! You’ve got to be stylish, don’t you ;)

I’ve been interested in Japan for a long time, but it took a huge flight once Mr Gnoe stumbled upon Pizzicato Five by accident and our home became a real life Shibuya-kei reservoir. One thing led to another: Japanese lessons for Mr Gnoe (so he could understand some of the lyrics), getting into vegetarian Japanese cooking, watching more Japanese movies, picking up Haruki Murakami’s Wind-Up Bird Chronicle etc. Oh, and did I mention my big discovery of bento lunch boxes? ;)

The song 1 Janvier comes from P5’s last cd which came out in 2000: Çà et là du Japon. It’s overflowing with things Japanese: the songs all refer to Japan and Japanese culture. There’s one about Pokémon, one of the titles is the same as the Japanese anthem, they’re singing the Japanese alphabet and so on. The cover refers to the poster of the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, showing the Japanese flag with the kanji for ‘Tokyo’ on its rising sun. And there’s a LOT more in the booklet, like a picture of Maki in traditional New Year’s kimono, koi in a pond, the Shinkansen and Fuji mountain. You should check it out someday!

In the new millennium Shibuya-kei had passed. Çà et là du Japon was meant as a round-up record and it contained a lot of artists with whom Pizzicato Five had previously worked together. And now, the first decade of this millennium has already passed as well! Time flies.

On December 31st I’ve been practicing all day to wish people a happy new year in Japanese on Maki’s lead. I’m afraid I’m still not very good at it so I’ll leave it to her to wish all of you Akemashite omedetō gozaimasu!

BTW as a tribute to Pizzicato Five we’ve sent a geocaching trackable on the way to Tokyo!


What a horrible book.
Story.
Book.
Translation.
Erm… Let’s make my mind up!

Cover Butterfly in the WindI was pretty curious about the life of Okichi Saito, concubine of Townsend Harris, the first American Consul to Japan in 1856. ‘Tojin Okichi‘ (‘tojin’ being the mistress of a foreigner) didn’t want to be his courtisane but the feudal system made her because it would provide better negotiation opportunities for the Japanese. It ruined her life – and of those around her. No, I am not giving anything away by saying that because it is common knowledge (early in the book) and even so, the author herself… No, I’ll get to that later ;)

At first I just got annoyed by the awful translation. To make some of my Dutch readers cringe, I would like to present 3 short sentences (I couldn’t choose!). Non-Dutch readers will just have to accept that these quotes are really terrible ;)

Alleen door zichzelf zo te kastijden kon ze de pijn lenigen van een uitstoting die ze de rest van haar leven zou voelen. [p.47]

Het was een pand tussen een vriendelijke rij nameko-huizen, zo typisch voor Shimoda en zag uit op het drukke puin. [p.55]

Dan drukte zich de hel opdringende omgeving van haar noodlijdende kapperszaak haar op de werkelijkheid van wat er van haar geworden was en haar gezicht betrok. [p.68]

Hey, reading these translations I think I just discovered who is really behind the Google translator! LOL

Picture of 'tojin' Okichi SaitoMore and more I got the feeling I wouldn’t have liked the original either. The book is full of Okichi’s thoughts and feelings, almost more than anything else. I guess (and hope) author Rei Kimura studied a lot of Egodocuments in the Okichi Museum in Shimoda (there are no endnotes so I can’t be sure) but I still think she has filled in too much of what she can’t know. At one time she even lets the protagonist mourn that her friend Naoko was born in the wrong place and time for her ambitions. Of course it would be great if the author made us think that, but Okichi could not have known how much times would change, especially for women.

There’s just a small voice in the back of my head that keeps wondering… Before Butterfly in the Wind was printed, it was published digitally and nominated for the E-book Awards of the Frankfurter Buchmesse :\

But I also didn’t like how the story got ‘thrown together’. Way before the middle of the book the reader already knows how it will end. And then has to read about it again and again… First Kimura tells us what is going to happen next, then she decribes it in detail – only to look back on it again in the following pages. I got REALLY tired of it! I assumed I would still like to read her book about Aum Shinrikyo, the religious group that carried out the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subways in 1995. That also seemed like an interesting topic. But now that I have finished Butterfly in the Wind… PLEASE don’t make me?!

I can’t recommend this book to anyone: it left me feeling completely miserable. Yes, Okichi Saito has had a very sad life. But this horrible book and translation don’t do her much credit.

Celebrations logoHaving said that, I would like to tell you why it has been interesting reading Butterfly in the Wind at this moment. Before the Americans entered Japan in 1856 and Townsend Harris ‘negotiated’ the Treaty of Peace and Commerce, a.k.a. Harris Treaty, Japan Vijfje, geldig betaalmiddelthe Dutch were the only foreigners allowed to trade with (and live in) Japan for more than two centuries, starting in 1609. So this year we are celebrating 400 years of exchange between Japan and Holland! There’s even a special coin: Japan Fiver (valid currency worth 5 euros) — and I’ve got it ;) I will hang on to it for a while and then find an appropriate event to spend it.

This weekend I will be visiting From here to Tokyo, an exhibition where the authentic 1609 trade permit from Shôgun Ieyasu Tokugawa on display; the document allowing the Dutch East India Company (VOC) monopoly of trade. I am looking forward to that more now that I have read Butterfly in the Wind! It brings Japanese history closer to today.

1609 trade permit

There’s also an online exhibition on this topic in Het Geheugen van Nederland; texts are in Dutch but you might just look at the many ancient pictures!

I have thought about getting rid of Butterfly in the Wind, but I think I will keep the book because of its photographs — and to look up places to visit when we may be planning a trip to Japan in the future… But first I am going to do some more ‘virtual’ traveling through books. I am not finishing the Japanese Literature Challenge with a disappointing read like this! Just wait and see :)

A simple bento accessory I would like to have is a packet of grass dividers. Dividers are used to prevent different bento dishes from mixing too much. You can cut these strips of plastic grass in the right size. I have only two that came out of Japanese takeaway meals — and I seem to rather cherish then use them LOL. Grass dividers come in all sorts of colours but I prefer them ‘natural‘, i.e. plain green. They are really not expensive, but… adding shipment & handling from Japan or the US, the price suddenly goes up quickly :(

Now I’m keeping my fingers crossed because friends of elm@ are visiting Japan (hi Katie & Anita!) and maybe, just maybe they’ll have a chance to buy me some… That would be great! :) Then again, they’re really busy shopping for Lolita clothes etc. so it might be that they won’t have a penny erm.. yen left! I’ll just have to wait and see ;) But hey, the anticipation is exciting as well!

Anybody else going to Tokyo soon??? ;)

Last stop before traveling non-stop to Tokyo

Last stop before traveling non-stop to Tokyo

Ha! On the last day of our holiday (*sigh*) Eek & Gnoe planted their first travel bug in a geocache! Miffy (or Nijntje in Dutch) is non-stop on her way to Tokyo :) Well, non-stop… first she had to say goodbye to her hometown Utrecht at Nijntjepleintje (‘Miffy Court’)! What do you think: will this delft-ware Miffy clog reach Japan during our lifetime?

The name of this ‘TB’ was inspired by the Pizzicato Five song Nonstop to Tokyo.

And yes, I know I have too many hobbies..! :\

Gnoe goes ExtraVeganza!

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