Category Archives: Japanese Literature

Looking Back at 2019


Looking back at 2019, I am happy with my reading year. In addition to my usual reading,  I took on a number of challenges and enjoyed the books I read for each one. I love the journey of each challenge and the exposure to new authors, genres, and ideas that really expand my world.

Turning seventy years old felt like a big milestone and I wanted to celebrate it in some special way. So I put together a self-challenge called “EMBRACING SEVENTY.”  I created a 1949 list of books and movies– anything to do with 70. It turned out to be a fun research project. Here are the books I read, and the one movie from 1949 that my husband and I watched:

”WANDERLUST” was another self-challenge I put together this year in an effort to read more international literature. I read both children and adult books and liked the glimpses into other cultures. I will continue this challenge in 2020 and beyond.

For a second year in a row, I signed up for Adam’s 2019 OFFICIAL TBR challenge. Last year I read 4 books for his challenge, and this year I did the same. That’s 8 books that have been sitting on my bookshelf for far too long, so I’m happy to have been motivated to finally read them. Thank you, Adam, for hosting this challenge. I’ll miss it! Here’s my list of books read in 2019:

Dolce Bellezza’s JAPANESE LITERATURE Challenge always calls to me, and in 2019 I read one book and watched three Japanese films. Meredith always puts together a really classy challenge! My 2019 books and movies:

Films:

I had good intentions when I signed up for Rachel’s (@hibernatorslibrary) A YEAR of SHAKESPEARE Challenge this year. I was going to read three Shakespeare plays, but I ended up only reading one (which I enjoyed very much!). But I also read a lot of different books about that play, so it really was an immersive experience, and a lot of fun. Here’s what I read for this challenge:

A Shakespeare Comedy : The Winter’s Tale

READERS IMBIBING PERIL- XIV was a great challenge this fall! It’s one of my favorite challenges each year, and I enjoy it more and more each year!  I love mysteries and suspense novels, good book series and good TV mystery series, so I had lots of fun reading and watching movies!

PERIL the FIRST:

  1. The Lost One, by Mary Stewart
  2. The Little Sister, by Raymond Chandler
  3. Christmas in Absaroka County, by Craig Johnson
  4. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
  5. The Religious Body, by Catherine Aird
  6. An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good, by Helene Tursten
  7. The Case of the Famished Parson, by George Bellairs
  8. Rose Cottage, by Mary Stewart
  9. The House on the Strand, by Daphne du Maurier
  10. Trouble in Nuala, by Harriet Steel
  11. Whiteout, by Ken Follett

PERIL on the SCREEN:

  1. 4:50 From Paddington
  2. Murder at the Gallop
  3. The Mirror Crack’d
  4. Murder Most Foul 

I joined THE CLASSICS CLUB in March of 2017 and agreed to read 50 Books in 5 Years. This is a great challenge, so well organized and with fun activities. I’ve always loved reading classics so it’s a perfect fit for me. As of right now, I’ve read 28 of my 50 books list. This year I read these classics:

Having time to read is such a precious luxury for me and this year has been full of reading joy. And now I’m looking forward to my 2020 reading.

For all my reading friends, may 2020 be a year of joyful reading for you, too!

Ugetsu

 

Last night, my husband and I watched the old Japanese film, Ugetsu, a film based on two stories from the book, Tales of Moonlight and Rain, by Ueda Akinari, which I read many years ago. The film was directed by the great filmmaker, Kenji Mizoguchi, and released in 1953. It is a classic of Japanese film and a beautifully filmed, ethereal and haunting story.

from The Criterion Collection:

By the time he made Ugetsu, Kenji Mizoguchi was already an elder statesman of Japanese cinema, fiercely revered by Akira Kurosawa and other directors of a younger generation. And with this exquisite ghost story, a fatalistic wartime tragedy derived from stories by Akinari Ueda and Guy de Maupassant, he created a touchstone of his art, his long takes and sweeping camera guiding the viewer through a delirious narrative about two villagers whose pursuit of fame and fortune leads them far astray from their loyal wives. Moving between the terrestrial and the otherworldly, Ugetsu reveals essential truths about the ravages of war, the plight of women, and the pride of men.

summary of the story from Roger Ebert:

Two brothers, one consumed by greed, the other by envy. In a time when the land is savaged by marauding armies, they risk their families and their lives to pursue their obsessions. Kenji Mizoguchi’s “Ugetsu” (1953) tells their stories in one of the greatest of all films — one which, along with Kurosawa’s “Rashomon,” helped introduce Japanese cinema to Western audiences. The heroes are rough-hewn and consumed by ambition, but the film style is elegant and mysterious, and somehow we know before we are told that this is a ghost story.

We were captivated by the story and enveloped by the visual beauty of this film. It is a film experience I highly recommend.  It is available for purchase or rental from Amazon Prime, but we streamed it free-of-charge from Kanopy, the movies available for streaming through our local library system.

 

 

I watched this film as part of the Japanese Literature 12 Challenge hosted by Meredith at Dolce Bellezza.

Ikiru

“Ikiru,” in Japanese, means a number of different things:

  1. to live; to exist
  2. to make a living; to subsist
  3. to be in effect; to be in use; to function
  4. to come to life; to be enlivened
  5. to be safe (in baseball, go, etc.)

The film IKIRU, directed by Akira Kurosawa and released in 1952, is a classic of Japanese film. It is a heartwarming and heart wrenching story of a bureaucrat in Tokyo, a man whose days are always the same, full of endless piles of paper essentially “signifying nothing.”  He finds out one day that he has terminal cancer and less than a year to live. His world is instantly upended, and over the next few months, he goes through all the stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — and finally finds a way to do something meaningful with the time he has remaining in his life.

It’s a very moving story, and expresses all the different meanings of the word “Ikiru,” especially the fourth definition, to learn to live!  I’ve watched it numerous times over the years, and it is one of my favorite movies. I highly recommend it.


I watched this film as part of the Japanese Literature 12 Challenge, hosted by Meredith at Dolce Bellezza.

Sweet Bean Paste

People’s lives never stay the same colour forever. There are times when the colour of life changes completely.

Sweet Bean Paste, by Durian Sukegawa, is a story of friendship and renewal.  It is set in modern-day Japan, and focuses on some cultural changes that are just happening within the last twenty-five years or so.

from the publisher, Oneworld:

Sentaro has failed. He has a criminal record, drinks too much, and his dream of becoming a writer is just a distant memory. With only the blossoming of the cherry trees to mark the passing of time, he spends his days in a tiny confectionery shop selling dorayaki, a type of pancake filled with sweet bean paste.

But everything is about to change.

Into his life comes Tokue, an elderly woman with disfigured hands and a troubled past. Tokue makes the best sweet bean paste Sentaro has ever tasted. She begins to teach him her craft, but as their friendship flourishes, social pressures become impossible to escape and Tokue’s dark secret is revealed.

Sentaro begins to learn from Tokue how to make the wonderful sweet bean paste, and he learns so much more than that from her! She has a wonderful outlook on life, but is mysterious about her past.

It turns out that Tokue had leprosy as a child. She had been cured more than 40 years ago, but because of the cultural stigma and harsh laws against lepers, she lived all her life in a sanitarium, isolated from the rest of society. In 1996, Japan changed the laws about lepers, and she was given her “freedom” from the confines of the leper community. Sadly, there was no family left and no place for her out in the world, so she and many of the other residents simply stayed at the sanitarium.

In a culture that defines a person’s success as what one can contribute to society, she and the other former lepers were denied that personal identity and meaning. But Tokue was able to find an elemental freedom in her imposed isolation from society, and found deep personal meaning in the language of nature. She taught Sentaro that life is so much more than what society dictates, and that every single thing that lives on earth contributes in their own way.

One thing I can do in Tenshoen is sniff the wind and listen to the murmur of the trees. I pay attention to the language of things in this world that don’t use words. That’s what I call Listening, and I’ve been doing it for sixty years now.

It’s my belief that everything in this world has its own language. We have the ability to open up our ears and minds to anything and everything. That could be someone walking down the street, or it could be the sunshine or the wind.

Anyone is capable of making a positive contribution to the world through simple observation, irrespective of circumstance. This is the idea that Tokue expresses when she writes in her letter, ‘We were born in order to see and listen to the world.’ It’s a powerful notion, with the potential to subtly reshape our view of everything.

from Booklist:

‘Although Tokue’s past is a reflection of a dark chapter of Japanese history, her wisdom, patience, and kindness shape this touching and occasionally wistful novel. Through Tokue’s story, Sukegawa eloquently explores the seeds of biases and challenges us to truly listen to the natural world and the messages it artfully hides.’

This was really a lovely, positive book to read. There is also a movie that was made of the book, and it stayed very true to the story. It is available on DVD as “Sweet Bean,” and was beautifully filmed.


This book was on my list of choices for the Japanese Literature Challenge.