Category Archives: Japan/Japanese Literature

Four Seasons in Kyoto and The Makanai



Dolce Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge is well under way, and I am really enjoying my reading and film watching for this challenge! I’m always fascinated by the connections that happen when you start reading about a particular topic or theme. The more I immerse myself in the literature and culture of Japan, the more interconnections I run into. But that’s what “immersion” is all about, so I am enjoying this year’s dive back into all things Japanese. Here is a part of my winding path of connections so far:

I started the month by reading Snow Country, by Yasunari Kawabata, and watched a beautiful film made of the book. In that book and film, I learned about the day to day life of a geisha living in a small rural village. The geishas, however, were trained in the city. This week, I found a new Japanese nine-part series on Netflix, The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House. It is a lovely story of two teenage girls, best friends all their lives, who move to Kyoto to become apprentice geishas. They move into the school, the “maiko house,” and start their training. One of the girls excels in all the classes with obvious talent in the art. The other girl is slow and somewhat clumsy in her attempts to learn the art form, but reveals a passion for cooking, so she instead becomes the cook for the school. It was so interesting to see the traditional training of these young women, and to see what life is like in Kyoto with the combination of tradition and modern life.

At the same time, I had started reading another book by Pico Iyer. This one was about Japanese culture, and in particular about a year he spent in Kyoto with the intention of learning about Zen Buddhism. It was called The Lady and The Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto, and was a very interesting deep dive into the Japanese culture. So as I continued reading that book, and watching this new series, it created a visual experience that connected the stories of Pico Iyer’s year in Kyoto with the beautifully filmed story of two young apprentice geishas. The connection enriched both stories!


The Strange Library

“ The library was even more hushed than usual.”

Early this morning, I listened to the audiobook version of The Strange Library, by Haruki Murakami. I love to read in the early morning, and this novella has been waiting patiently for just such a morning.

It’s a strange story, a fantasy about a young man visiting the library and asking for books about an obscure topic. He was led into the basement of the library, which was an endless labyrinth, and ultimately imprisoned there. His experiences in captivity, and his plan for escape were surreal. The story was infused with both humor and insight, and was fun and interesting to read.

I’m a fan of the great Ray Bradbury, and I thought of him all the way through this book — in the story, the storytelling, and in that it took place entirely in a library. The only problem with listening to the audiobook was that the hard copy version has wonderful illustrations that really augment the story. After listening, I then read my hard copy. Don’t miss those illustrations if you choose to listen to the book!

Some favorite quotes:

My mind was in turmoil. It was too weird—how could our city library have such an enormous labyrinth in its basement? I mean, public libraries like this one were always short of money, so building even the tiniest of labyrinths had to be beyond their means.

The sheep man has his world. I have mine. And you have yours, too. Am I right? “That you are.” So just because I don’t exist in the sheep man’s world, it doesn’t mean that I don’t exist at all. “I get it,” I said. “Our worlds are all jumbled together—your world, my world, the sheep man’s world. Sometimes they overlap and sometimes they don’t. That’s what you mean, right?”

This book was on my list for Dolce Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge #16.


I now have two grandkittens. Yes…I’m a grandma to two kittens that are always getting into mischief one way or another. At the library last week, I saw a children’s book with a cat on the cover, and because I have kittens on my mind these days, I had to take a closer look. It was the story of a Japanese kitten, and I realized it was a must-read for me because I am currently participating in Dolce Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge #16, which is a celebration of Japanese literature and culture, and Sumo Wrestling is a major part of that culture.

It turns out that this book, called SumoKitty, by David Biedrzycki, is about a very hungry stray kitten who follows the sumo wrestlers home and mooches free food from them. The matron of the training center (their “heya”) doesn’t like having a stray around, so shoos him out of the house. However, when mice find their way into the home, and one of the sumo wrestlers is terrified of mice, they welcome SumoKitty back into the home where he works hard to become a really good mouser.

It’s just a fun book to read, and it’s also quite educational. I didn’t know anything about Sumo Wrestling, and this little book is packed with information on this very old traditional sport! It’s a great introduction to that part of Japanese culture, and my finding it was serendipitous in numerous ways because this week in Japan is the beginning of the January Grand Sumo Tournament!

So…you can download the ebook version of this little book to become familiar with some of the basics of Sumo (and find out what happens to SumoKitty!), then go to this link to learn everything you need to understand Sumo Wrestling:

And then watch the Grand Tournament this week, starting on January 8th!  It will be a complete immersive cultural experience!


Snow Country

My first book read in 2023 was Snow Country, by Kawabata Yasunari. The writing in this book is elegant in its simplicity and imagery. The story is an existential love story. I was completely drawn in by the storytelling, the images the author painted in my mind, and the sadness of what the author called “wasted effort.”  This sad story was considered his masterpiece.  Kawabata received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968 for all of his works.

At an isolated mountain hot spring, with snow blanketing every surface, Shimamura, a wealthy dilettante meets Komako, a lowly geisha. She gives herself to him fully and without remorse, despite knowing that their passion cannot last and that the affair can have only one outcome. In chronicling the course of this doomed romance, Kawabata has created a story for the ages, a stunning novel dense in implication and exalting in its sadness.

While looking online for information about Kawabata, I discovered that the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation, NHK- Japan, was making a new film adaptation of the novel available free until October 2023. It is presented in two parts, each about 50 minutes long. I watched it last night after finishing the book, and it was absolutely beautiful. Along with the film, there was a lot of very interesting information about the author and the writing of this book. CLICK HERE TO LINK TO THE FILM.

This book is included on my list for the Japanese Literature Challenge, and for my second Classics Club challenge.

2023 Japanese Literature Challenge

Japanese Literature Challenge

Meredith, at Dolce Bellezza, is once again hosting her Japanese Literature challenge. I have participated in this challenge many times and it’s always enjoyable. I have a special interest in Japan and it’s history and culture because my husband’s mother was Japanese. His grandmother was a picture bride from Japan to Hawaii in the early 1900s. It’s a fascinating family history, so over the years, we have collected a lot of books and DVDs about that culture. I lost my husband, Byron, to cancer in September, so this time my participation in this immersion into Japanese literature and culture is a part of my grieving process.

For the challenge this year, I decided to list only the books that I already own and would like to read. There are quite a few books already sitting on my shelves that fit this challenge, so I’ve put together a list of some of them to choose from. I also have quite a few DVDs of Japanese films because that was an interest my husband and I shared. So, while I will be enjoying the reading for this challenge, I’m also going to have my own Japanese Film Festival and re-visit some of those movies. That’s the plan!

Thank you, Meredith, for hosting this lovely challenge once again!

My Want-to-Read List:

  1. How Do You Live?, by Genzaburo Yoshino
  2. Snow Country, by Kawabata, Yasunari
  3. The Guest Cat, by Takashi Hirade
  4. A Bowl Full of Peace, by Caren Stelson
  5. Novelist as a Vocation, by Haruki Murakami
  6. The Strange Library, by Haruki Murakami
  7. The Book of Tea, by Kazuko Okakura
  8. Kokoro, by Natsume Soseki
  9. SumoKitty, by David Biedrzycki
  10. The Lady and The Monk, by Pico Iyer

My List of Japanese Films to Watch:

  1. Woman in the Dunes
  2. Picture Bride
  3. Ikiru
  4. My Neighbor Totoro
  5. The Seven Samurai
  6. The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House (Netflix)

My husband’s grandmother and aunt…

2023 Reading Journeys


My Decembers are always filled with enjoyable planning for my next year’s reading journeys. This December is no exception. I’m always so tempted by the many creative reading challenges that are presented to us in November and December, and I get excited and motivated to do much more reading than is humanly possible in one year. But that’s okay. I enjoy the planning and the dreaming and the camraderie of all those readers involved in these challenges. So I plan away.

In 2023, I’m planning on participating in most of my favorites: Adam’s TBR Pile Challenge; Meredith’s Japanese Literature challenge; my yearly Goodreads goal; the Classics Club; and my many personal reading projects. I’m also going to join a challenge that is set up to be a year of reading six of George Eliot’s novels, one chapter at a time! In the next few days, I’ll post about each one of these challenges.

Getting back to my reading is a real comfort right now, and I return to it with new perspective and appreciation.

I hope you are enjoying making plans for your reading for next year. And I hope you enjoy the journey…of both the planning and the actual reading!

Day of Remembrance

Monument at Manzanar Cemetery

“Our differences in beliefs do not truly separate us or elevate us over others. Rather, they highlight the rich tapestry that is humanity.”
   ~ George Takei

In the United States during World War II, about 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, most of whom lived on the Pacific Coast, were forcibly relocated and incarcerated in concentration camps in the western interior of the country. Approximately two-thirds of the internees were United States citizens. (Wikipedia)

A few books I have read and recommend highly on the subject of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II:

The Cat Who Saved Books

The Cat Who Saved Books, by Sosuke Natsukawa, is a book I read for Dolce Bellezza’s fifteenth Japanese Literature challenge.  It is a book for book lovers! There are many books in that genre of books and bookstores, but this book was a sweet fantasy that didn’t disappoint. It’s a perfect read for a dark January afternoon.

From the publisher:

Bookish high school student Rintaro Natsuki is about to close the secondhand bookstore he inherited from his beloved bookworm grandfather. Then, a talking cat named Tiger appears with an unusual request. The feline asks for–or rather, demands–the teenager’s help in saving books with him. The world is full of lonely books left unread and unloved, and Tiger and Rintaro must liberate them from their neglectful owners.

Some wise words from the book:

“Suddenly the cat spoke.
‘ Books have a soul.’
‘ A book that sits on a shelf is nothing but a bundle of paper. Unless it is opened, a book possessing great power, an epic story is a mere scrap of paper. But a book that has been cherished and loved , filled with human thoughts, has been endowed with a soul”

“I think the power of books is that – that they teach us to care about others. It’s a power that gives people courage and also supports them in turn. [. . .] Empathy – that’s the power of books.”


A Man and His Cat

My first book read in 2022 was a manga/graphic novel called A Man & His Cat, by Umi Sakurai. It is a story about a lonely widower who adopts a cat and of all the changes that happen because of that new relationship. It was delightful!  A gentle, sweet story that warmed my heart was the perfect beginning for 2022!

And then I discovered that it is the first in a series of six books — oh joy! — so I’m off to the library to find the other volumes!

I read this book as part of Dolce Bellezza’s Japanese Literature #15 challenge.


Japanese Literature #15

My friend, Meredith (@Dolce Bellezza) is hosting her fifteenth Japanese Literature challenge. I have participated in it many times over the years and always enjoyed the books I read and the films I watched for it, so I am happy to join her once again. Here are her instructions:

The term ”challenge” comes from the early days of blogging, when reading challenges were set forth by so many of my blogging friends. But, this is not really a challenge; it is more of an opportunity to read and share works written by Japanese authors.

Here are a few guidelines:

  • Read as many books as you like from January through March. (Even if that is ”only” one.)
  • Make sure the work was originally written in Japanese.
  • Choose from classic to contemporary works, whatever appeals to you.
  • Leave a link on her website to your review.

I have a number of books I’d like to read for this challenge already on my bookshelves, but instead of listing them ahead of time, I’ll just keep a growing list of the books I read here on this post. Please check back often to see what I’ve been reading and enjoying for this challenge.

Red = Link to my review
Blue = Read but not reviewed

  • A Man and His Cat, (volume 1) by Umi Sakurai
  • A Man and His Cat, (volume 2) by Umi Sakurai
  • A Man and His Cat, (volume 3) by Umi Sakurai
  • A Man and His Cat, (volume 4) by Umi Sakurai
  • The Cat Who Saved Books, by Sosuke Natsukawa
  • Descending Stories, Volume 1, by Haruko Kumota


Looking Ahead

I have started looking ahead to my 2022 reading. I will continue with my personal reading projects, and  “round 2” of my Classics Club reading. I always look forward to the Readers Imbibing Peril challenge in the fall. And in January, I will again participate in Dolce Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge #15. It’s always such a lovely one. All of that should keep me busy and out of trouble next year!

They Called Us Enemy


They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei, is a beautifully written and illustrated autobiography of his childhood years when he and his family were relocated to the American concentration camps during World War II.  This is a book that I think should be a must read for everyone. It is so alarmingly relevant today, and I mean this very day, with Iranians now being detained at our borders and children that continue to be separated from their families and incarcerated at our southern border!

from the publisher:

In a stunning graphic memoir, Takei revisits his haunting childhood in American concentration camps, as one of over 100,000 Japanese Americans imprisoned by the U.S. government during World War II. Experience the forces that shaped an American icon—and America itself—in this gripping tale of courage, country, loyalty, and love.

I was very moved by this book and learned a lot that I didn’t know about that shameful period of time in our nation’s history. It was both moving and uplifting. An excellent book, in my opinion, and one of the most important books I’ve read in a long time!