In the Shade of Spring Leaves, by Robert Lyons Danly, is part biography of Ms Ichiyō and part a collection of nine of her short stories. I decided to read the stories first and then go back to the biography. To my disappointment, I didn’t like any of the stories, and I struggled to get through the 150 pages of stories before today. Alternatively, I’m now reading a little bit about her life and it sounds very interesting. She was a celebrity in Meiji Japan (a “shooting star,” says the introduction, page vii), and her stories are distinct because of the realism in them: “one imagines a yarn as much to tell the truth as to tell a story.” The realism may have been my problem. I prefer happy endings.Continue Reading
Ginko Ogino was just sixteen when her mother and older sister arranged her marriage, as was custom in nineteenth-century Japan. When she returned home violently ill three years later, overcome with fever and infection due to gonorrhea, her family was shamed. Her story begins here, though, for during her embarrassing treatment in the male-dominated hospital, she determined that she would become a doctor so other women wouldn’t have to be so disrespected for being treated for such infections, especially when the infection was the fault of a spouse.
Beyond the Blossoming Fields by Jun’ichi Watanabe (published 1970, translated by Deborarh Iwabuchi and Anna Isozaki in 2008) is a novelization of Ginko Ogino’s life story. Watanabe succeeds in illustrating the difficulties Ginko faced, both struggles from her family and struggles from the male hierarchy surrounding her. I shuddered as she described the verbal sexual assaults she received as she attended the all-male medical school. She had no recourse against the assaults, since even the school leaders did not think she should be there.
Reading a bulk of haiku at once helped me to get a general appreciation for the format. I enjoy the clear but succinct image that three short lines are able to conjure. The volume I enjoyed (Haiku, selected and edited by Peter Washington and published by Everyman’s Library Pock Poets series) included mostly Japanese classic haiku (for about 200 pages), with a few Western style haiku as well for the remaining 50 pages. I found I related better to the Western style haiku, I think because the images were more familiar to me: Japanese traditions of snow fall, flower blossoms, and so forth seemed foreign, rather than calming.Continue Reading
Silence by Shusaku Endo is an unusual book compared to the other Japanese novels I’ve read. It’s an historical fiction novel, taking place in 1600s Japan, and it is about faith. It is about trusting in God, or not, when things get hard.
Yet, to some extent, Silence seems similar to the other Japanese novels I’ve read (Naomi, The Makioka Sisters, The Old Capital) because all occurs under the conflict of Japanese society versus western society; Silence happens to take place 300 years earlier, showing that such conflicts are long-rooted in Japan. Silence, although at its heart a Christian novel, is likewise a Japanese novel in the way it adopts the common struggle toward accepting western ideals that seems to recur in Japanese literature (at least, in the ones I’ve read: I suspect this is a common theme).