Title: 『私をくいとめて』(わたしをくいとめて) Author: Risa WATAYA (綿矢りさ) Published by 朝日文庫
I am not very familiar with Risa Wataya’s work. I have read 『勝手にふるえてろ』 in translation before I started learning Japanese, and it did not leave a strong impression on me (I could not even tell you what is happening in the novel). I also tried to read her most famous novel 『蹴りたい背中』(Akutagawa prize), but it was too difficult to read in Japanese at the time.
In 『私をくいとめて』, we follow the daily life and thoughts of Mitsuko who is in her early thirties and single.
This is a short novel of 242 pages, so I never really thought of not finishing it, but I did not really like it either. The idea of a 33-year-old single woman as protagonist was appealing to me because I thought that maybe, there would be social elements in the novel (choosing one’s own path vs social conventions). It is not the case, however, and the story mainly focuses on Mitsuko’s internal life and thoughts.
What I disliked in this novel is that it felt like reading an autobiographical writing. If this book was an non fictional account of the author’s thoughts and life, I would be okay with it, but I would certainly not have bought it. However, given that this is a novel, I expect a little more in terms of plot and character development. I would say that none were satisfactory in 『私をくいとめて』. The story does become interesting towards the end, but it also does not seem to lead anywhere. I never felt like there is a constructed plot behind the story. As for the character development, the protagonist does have an interesting personality, but the story is entirely focused on her and the other characters are not really interesting (apart maybe, from Mitsuko’s colleague).
There are interesting things in this book however, like the thoughts on solitude and what the protagonist dares or not to do alone (like going to cafes or restaurants). But again, I could not help but have the feeling that the author was talking about her own experience rather than building a fictional setting and fictional characters.
I think that in the end, it comes down to whether or not you like this kind of novels and Risa Wataya’s writing style. I can see why some people love it, and I guess that it is easy to identify with the protagonist and share her thoughts.
I will certainly try again to read 『蹴りたい背中』one of these days because I have the book on my shelf and because it won the Akutagawa Prize. But I think that Risa Wataya’s novels are just not the kind of novels that I enjoy reading…
These are the news that I have read and studied in April. As usual, I try to compare what different newspapers say on the same topic in their editorials.
This month’s topics:
Nika Mishiyama acquitted
Closure of schools
State of Emergency
State of Emergency: one week after
State of Emergency and domestic violence
Nika Mishiyama acquitted
On April 1st, the major topics were the coronavirus, the new schedule for the Tokyo Olympics and Nika Mishiyama’s new trial.
Nika Mishiyama is a former assistant nurse who has served 12 years in prison for the murder of a 72-year-old patient. The letters she wrote in prison to her parents showed that she might have been suffering from a mild form of intellectual disability, as the investigating reporting team at the Chunichi Shimbun pointed out (this is the same journal as the Tokyo Shimbun). This was later confirmed by psychiatrists’ evaluation on Nika Mishiyama.
The 72-year-old patient died because of respiratory problems. Nika Mishiyama lied and said that the respiratory alarm went off because the police officer intimidated her into saying so and because she apparently had a crush on him and wanted to please him. With this false statement, the police accused another nurse who should have “heard” the alarm but failed to react. Upset that her statement had brought problems to another person, Nika Mishiyama made a false confession of murder, saying that she pulled out the tube for the respirator. This is why the case is referred to as 呼吸器事件.
The defense team has asked several times for retrial, saying that Mishiyama confessed the murder because she was suffering from intellectual disabilities, but the requests have not been granted and Mishiyama served her whole sentence in prison.
She was finally granted a retrial in 2019. The first and second hearings took place this year, and she was acquitted on March 31st. The retrial showed that the patient may have died a natural death, and that there was no proof of murder in the first place.
Otsu district court (where Mishiyama’s retrial took place)
a criminal nature, criminality
a false accusation
serve a prison term, penal servitude
rehabilitation, clearing sb’s name
Nika Mishiyama 西山美香
Former assistant nurse in a hospital in Shiga (滋賀) prefecture. After serving a 12-year sentence in prison for a murder she did not commit, she was acquitted on March 31st.
Even if Nika Mishiyama’s name has finally been cleared, she has served her whole sentence in prison. During her first trial, Mishiyama’s appeal has been dismissed. The defense team has asked for a retrial twice while Mishiyama was in prison, but the court has always dismissed the request.
Our three newspapers blame the way the investigation and the prosecution were conducted, and also the court itself, who failed to recognise the flaws in the prosecution.
The investigation and the administration of justice have built a murder case based on an induced confession. Their responsibility is extremely heavy.
The court failed to check the slovenly investigation, which was based on a false confession, made by the police and the prosecution. The responsibility of the court is heavy.
Apart from the police officer who knew that Mishiyama had a crush on him and used his influence over her during the interrogation, it has also been made clear that the police did not hand over all the elements to the prosecution. This includes documents that seriously weakened the theory of Mishiyama’s guilt. Yomiuri says:
If the police hid the elements that went against a guilty verdict, they committed an act as pernicious as the crime itself.
Yomiuri also blames the prosecution for not revealing in detail why they abandoned the guilty verdict during the retrial:
The prosecution who did not [explain its turnaround] is dishonest and does not deserve the name of “representant of the public interest”.
The police and the prosecution who created a false accusation, but also the court who kept making erroneous judgments must reflect seriously on their conduct.
Closure of schools
On April 3rd, one month after the general closure of schools, all our newspapers have devoted an editorial to the situation for students and families. Schools in Tokyo and Osaka will remain closed until May 6th, which means that students will miss the new school term.
While all our newspapers all report on the same topic, their editorials are different. They all talk about the repercussions of the closure on students and families, but we can easily see differences in the social engagement of the newspaper.
The less worried about negative repercussions is Sankei. The journal only lists obvious problems at the end of the article, only saying that measures should be taken to prevent a drop in performance.
Then we have the Yomiuri Shimbun. The article lists a lot more problems and is more aware of the difficulties that students face. It does not talk about students’ performance only, but also about the stress this situation confers to students. It underlines, for example, that children cannot meet their friends and that their life rhythm is disturbed. It also points out that April is an important period for children who start school.
The article finishes on a positive note, talking about measures to maintain students’ level of knowledge like online course on classes during the Summer holidays.
Left-wing newspapers are of course more socially engaged. For example, neither Sankei nor Yomiuri talked about the parents who could not go to work because they have to take care of their children, a topic that Mainichi, Asahi and Tokyo mention.
Mainichi insists on the situation of parents and the stress of the children. It also points out that online courses are not available for everyone. Some schools are not equipped to provide them.
Asahi and Tokyo are the only ones who mention child abuse and malnutrition. Tokyo Shimbun particularly underlines that, without school or social contacts, it will be more difficult to identify cases of child abuse or domestic violence:
The [current] situation where people are asked to avoid social contact increases the risk that families with problems get isolated.
State of Emergency
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a state of emergency over the corona virus outbreak on April 7th. The state of emergency will not impose a complete lockdown or self-isolation like some other countries, but it will allow the government to requisition buildings to treat the increasing number of patients.
Last month, I studied the position of two newspapers concerning the state of emergency: Sankei was absolutely supporting it, and Mainichi was warning that it would reduce individual rights.
On April 7th, every newspaper wrote about the state of emergency in their editorial:
The impossibility to supply necessary medical care (see Wikipedia)
Our newspapers have a different position concerning this state of emergency.
Yomiuri and Sankei support the decision of the government but still have written different editorials.
Yomiuri explains in detail the concrete repercussions of the measure on medical care. The main concern is the increasing number of patients and the impossibility to receive them all in hospitals.
Sankei has written a completely different article. They seem worried that the state of emergency does not impose self isolation on the population. They cite examples of public figures like sport athletes or singers and actors who encouraged people to stay at home. They hope that more public figures will help spread the word.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared the state of emergency on the 7th, but it does not legally impose self-isolation. In the end, it is each person’s awareness that dictates the conduct of the population. This is why we expect much from the message shared by stars and athletes who are influential among young people.
While Yomiuri has written an article on what the state of emergency does, Sankei focuses more on what the state of emergency does not do.
Neither of them mention the terms “individual rights” in their article, contrary to all our left-wing newspapers. Mainchi talks says that it is 私権を制限する例外的な行為であり while Asahi plainly states: 行動の自由や私権を制限する措置だ. Tokyo says that the state of emergency 私権を制限する権限を持つことになる.
All three left-wing newspapers insist on the necessity for the government to communicate and explain in detail why the state of emergency is necessary and how it will impact people’s lives.
The government must give thorough explanations at the time of the declaration in order to gain the understanding and the cooperation of the people.
The Prime Minister and the prefectural governors must secure the understanding and the agreement of the society by clearly stating their vision.
In order to extend the understanding of the people, it is necessary to explain thoroughly the necessity of the declaration.
The state of emergency allows the state to shut down public places and requisition buildings and land for medical purposes. It also allows the state to impose isolation on the population. Restraining private rights cannot be done without sufficient explanations:
This is why sufficient grounding and the understanding of the people are essential when declaring [state of emergency]. The government must start by explaining thoroughly [why the state of emergency is necessary] using the specialists’ opinions.
Because the state of emergency gives so much power to the state, it is important to choose carefully which of these measures to apply:
It is the prefectural governor who decides which measures to apply among the measures made possible by the state of emergency. This is an exceptional action that restrains individual rights. It is important to make sure of the necessity [of the measures].
I don’t understand the last part of the paragraph: 必要性を見極める抑制的な姿勢を忘れてはならない, and I cannot translate it. The literal meaning might be that the governor must not forget to keep a holdback attitude to see through the necessity of the measures. In other words, he must not apply drastic measures without being certain of their necessity.
According to Tokyo, some people misinterpreted the state of emergency, thinking it would impose a complete lockdown like in several countries in Europe. This misunderstanding resulted in people rushing to supermarkets, or fleeing big cities, thus creating favourable situation for the spread of the virus.
We also ask for another important explanation. Following the declaration of the state of emergency, a misunderstanding is spreading: [people think that] the so called “lockdown” of the city is applied, legally restraining people from going out like in Europe.
To sum up, Yomiuri mainly described what the state of emergency will make possible at a medical level. Sankei encourages self isolation given that the state of emergency will not be used by the government to impose a lockdown on the population. Mainichi, Asahi and Tokyo points out that the state of emergency restrain individual rights. Therefore, the government must communicate more and give the people better explanations concerning why it is necessary, and which measures will effectively take place.
State of Emergency: after one week
On April 15th, one week after Abe has declared the state of emergency, the Yomiuri and the Mainichi shimbun have written an editorial about it:
Both newspapers show that the state of emergency has not brought the desired effects. Specialists have predicted that if social contacts are reduced by 80%, the number of persons infected would start to decrease after two weeks and that results will be visible after one month.
Unfortunately, both Mainchi and Yomiuri note that the state of emergency did not really succeed in reducing social contacts by 80%.
Yomiuri says that the first weekend under the state of emergency, places like Ginza or Shibuya were almost empty, which shows that people refrain from going out on weekends. However, people still massively go to work during the week, leading to crowded areas.
Yomiuri also notes that if people refrain from going out in the city centre, the situation is the opposite in local areas.
Contrary to the central part of the city where fewer people [go out], people rush into local supermarkets and local shopping centers. If places become crowded, that could lead to the propagation of the infection.
While there are people who dramatically reduce their movements, there are also people who have no other choice but to go to work or to go out. There are also people who are not worried for themselves.
As Mainichi says afterwards, some people do not realise that they might be carrying the infection without showing symptoms, and go on with their usual activity.
Both newspapers call people to self-restrictions.
State of emergency and domestic violence
When I studied editorials published on April 7th, I noticed that only Tokyo and Asahi mentioned abuse and domestic violence. Actually, the Yomiuri Shimbun wrote an editorial on this topic on April 20th.
With adults and children staying at home more than usual, not only will domestic violence be likely to increase, but it is also more difficult to detect it.
Associations against domestic violence have reported cases of mistreatment that were directly linked to the current measures of self-restriction.
Economical difficulties and anxiety, added to the frustration of not being able to go out, may be leading to acts of violence.
If I understand the article correctly, a lot of public facilities have closed due to the state of emergency, reducing the number of places where victims could seek support and help. The government has called private associations and civilian groups to extend their efforts by receiving calls even during the night or weekends and by providing support on social media.
It is very important that private initiative should supplement the local victim support services.
Similarly, the state of emergency has reduced the places where victims could seek temporary shelter, like internet cafes. Here again, civilian initiative will be decisive.
Finally, child abuse and mistreatment are more difficult to detect if the children don’t go to school.
People are concerned that there are now less opportunities to notice signs of mistreatment of children, like injuries on their body.
The article insists on the necessity of civilian effort to help the victims of DV, but it does not seem like the government has taken any concrete measure.
Title: 『草花たちの静かな誓い』(くさばなたちの しずかな ちかい) Author: Teru MIYAMOTO 宮本輝 Published by 集英社文庫 464 pages
Teru Miyamoto is an author of literary fiction who won the Akutagawa Prize in 1978 for his novel 『螢川』. Some of his works are translated into English and French.『草花たちの静かな誓い』was published by 集英社 in 2016 and the 文庫 edition came out this year (2020).
I haven’t read much literary fiction in Japanese, but 『草花たちの静かな誓い』is definitely one of my favourite books in this area. I loved the characters and the story, but what I enjoyed the most is the realism of the setting, the precision of the descriptions and how well Teru Miyamoto has pictured the atmosphere of the Californian coast.
The story takes place in Rancho Palos Verdes, a place where rich people build expensive houses with spacious gardens and a view on the ocean. To be honest, I had never heard of Palos Verdes before reading this book, so it was very interesting to learn about this place through the perspective of a Japanese protagonist.
The author presents a californian way of life to a Japanese readership who might not be familiar to it. Our protagonist describes everything and points out details that are different from Japanese customs and habits. There is an emphasis, for example, on the cosmopolitan nature of the population. As such, reading 『草花たちの静かな誓い』 felt very different from reading a novel set in the United States but written by an American author.
While the descriptions allow the reader to have a clear vision of where the story takes place, they also give the novel a slow beginning. However, as soon as the plot starts to unfold, the novel becomes really engrossing. I read the first 100 pages very slowly, but then, I could not put the book down.
To sum up, I would say that 『草花たちの静かな誓い』has two layers. It is a novel on Palos Verdes and depicts the slow-paced lifestyle in this luxurious coastal city. But at the same time, it develops an engrossing plot that reads like a mystery novel. I would even say that the plot was more interesting than many other mystery novels I have read.
This is the first book I read by Teru Miyamoto, but he is now one of my favourite Japanese authors. You will certainly see other reviews appearing on this blog! I plan on reading his earlier writings, especially 『螢川』.
Title: 『まる子だった』 Author: Momoko Sakura さくら ももこ (1975-2018) Published by 集英社文庫
This is the second volume in a series of three autobiographical books about Momoko Sakura’s childhood: 『あのころ』、『まる子だった』、『ももこの話』
There are 17 short stories in this book, all have one illustration by Momoko Sakura. 『まる子だった』can be read independently from the two other books of the series.
If you like ちびまる子ちゃん, either the manga or the anime series, then you will love this book too. Reading 『まる子だった』felt like watching an episode from the anime, but a version for adults.
For those who don’t know Maruko, she is a 9-year-old girl of the 70s created in 1986 by Momoko Sakura in her manga 『ちびまる子ちゃん』. The series was adapted into an anime in 1990, and if I am not mistaken, the anime is still going on today.
Maruko is a nickname, her real name is Momoko Sakura, the same as the author. I have read on Wikipedia that Sakura’s manga was autobiographical at the beginning, and became more fictional as the series went on.
In our book, 『まる子だった』(1997), the author comes back to the autobiographical style. She gives us stories about the 9-year-old girl she used to be, sometimes briefly talking about her adult life too. It feels like watching an episode of the anime, but from the grown-up Maruko’s point of view. As such, it was very interesting to read, and I just could not put the book down. I read it in four days!
What I really loved is that most stories allowed me to experience a typical Japanese childhood in the 70s (going to Tanabata festivals, preparing for earthquakes…), while some other stories seemed to be talking about my own childhood. It looks like children are not that different, no matter the generation or the country (I also harassed my parents for a dog).
All the stories have a similar length (around 12 pages). It is not a book for children, but it is not difficult to read either. Momoko Sakura is talking about her daily life as a child, all the stories are short, and if you have watched some episodes of the anime, it is easy to picture where the story takes place and who the characters are.
I plan to read the other two books of the series in the future!
Title: 『お茶の時間』(おちゃのじかん) Author: Miri Masuda 益田ミリ Published by 講談社文庫
This is an autobiographical manga (エッセイ漫画) of 155 pages. Contrary to other books by Miri Masuda that had manga and text, 『お茶の時間』is manga only.
In this manga, Miri Masuda talks about going to a cafe and enjoy the お茶の時間, either alone or with others. Discussing work over a fancy beverage or a delicious looking cake, catching snatches of conversation from the next table, enjoying some time alone… the cafe seems to always be the place where you let your thoughts wander and eventually end up thinking about your life.
If you like Miri Masuda’s style, then you will certainly love this manga too. I enjoyed every one of the stories in this manga, and even though I don’t often go to cafes myself, I found some of the stories very relatable, like the one that takes place in Korea.
Miri Masuda goes to all sorts of cafes, from the crowded Starbucks to the fancy and expensive Afternoon Tea at the Four Seasons Hotel in Marunouchi. I have never experienced going to expensive cafes, but the Afternoon Tea experience was described in another novel I have read recently, so it was very interesting to read about it from two different points of view.
Overall speaking, I love Miri Masuda’s autobiographical manga, I like the sincerity with which she confides personal thoughts to the reader. Somehow, it makes me feel more comfortable with my own thoughts or experiences. 『お茶の時間』is also a good way to glimpse at all kinds of different tea/coffee shops in Japan. I think that I should go out more and experience different cafes for myself. (Of course, when the coronavirus is over.)
I hope that you are all well and managing to get through this period of isolation for those who live in countries under lockdown. There are a lot of books that I want to talk about this month, so you might find titles that interest you in this post!
I finished the four books of my “currently reading” section of March, I read and finished four other books during the end of March and the beginning of April, and I am currently reading four new books.
As usual, this post will mainly focus on the Japanese level of each books.
I have talked or will talk more about these books in my reviews, but I did not like 『アンカー』nor 『ファーストラヴ』. However, I loved 『草花たちの静かな誓い』and 『もっと、やめてみた』so much I will read other books by Teru Miyamoto and Pon Watanabe this year. As soon as I finished their books, I planned on reading more, and it did not take me long to carry out my plan (see below)!
I also finished four other books that I started after writing my last reading journal entry:
『お茶の時間』by Miri Masuda (益田ミリ)
I think that Miri Masuda’s manga are perfect for Japanese learners who want to read something easier and shorter than a whole novel, but don’t usually read manga.
『お茶の時間』is composed of several short autobiographical stories. The format is perfect for learners, because there is not a lot of text and the stories are all short.
If you have never read Miri Masuda, and if you are looking for something to read as a Japanese learner, I heartily recommend her fictional series すーちゃん. But if you prefer autobiographical manga, then 『お茶の時間』is a really good choice.
I personally read すーちゃん when I had still a low intermediate level in Japanese. I took what I understood, was okay with not understanding some chapters, read it several times, felt proud and happy every time I was able to follow the story.
『まる子だった』by Momoko Sakura (さくらももこ)
Another perfect book for Japanese learners! 『まる子だった』is composed of several short stories (all around 12 pages long) about the author’s childhood.
This is not a book for children, but it is not a difficult read. Momoko Sakura talks about her childhood so you will mainly find daily life situations and a setting around family and school. The short format of the stories makes them easier to read or study. Also, if you know the anime ちびまる子ちゃん, it is easy to picture the places and characters.
You will not find furigana on every kanji word, but I found that there are more furigana than in other books I read.
To give you an example of the level, this is the beginning of the first story:
I think that this passage is representative of the book’s difficulty. The author does not describe complicated things, and I find that there were never really difficult parts in the whole book. There might be some challenging words from time to time depending on your level. For example, I didn’t know the word ちり紙交換 (ちりがみこうかん), and looking it up allowed me to learn something interesting. The ちり紙交換 is a waste paper collector who collects waste paper for recycling in exchange for toilet paper. He makes a round in his truck, advertising his presence with a megaphone. This is why Maruko can hear his voice from the classroom.
I highly recommend this book! I think that you can give it a try if you are working towards N2.
『私をくいとめて』 by Risa Wataya (綿矢りさ)
Risa Wataya is well known for winning the Akutagawa prize at the age of 19 for her novel 『蹴りたい背中』. 『私をくいとめて』is about the daily life of a woman in her early 30s, still single and often talking to an imaginary interlocutor.
Similarly to Haruki Murakami, Risa Wataya is the kind of author that I would like to appreciate more, but I don’t seem to be able to see what makes their novels so special for many. I read Risa Wataya’s novel 『勝手にふるえてろ』in translation, but I don’t remember it well. It might be the kind of book that I enjoy while I read it, but that do not leave a strong impression afterwards…
I tried to read 『蹴りたい背中』in Japanese some time ago (maybe it was three years ago?) In any case, it was too difficult for me at the time, and I gave up after only a few pages. I thought it would be easy to read because it is a short a novel, and even though I read it in translation, 『勝手にふるえてろ』did not seem like a difficult novel in terms of language.
When I tried to read 『蹴りたい背中』, I was at a time when I needed to be extremely focused to understand what I read. As a result, I can remember vividly the first scenes of the novel. I will never forget, for example, that I learned the word 顕微鏡 (けんびきょう, microscope) thanks to Risa Wataya!
I am glad to see I can read『私をくいとめて』without problem today, I would even say that it was on the easy side to me, and I was able to read quickly. I think that in the range of literary fiction, Risa Wataya is not difficult to read, but I would not recommend her novels as a first book for Japanese learners. If you are used to reading light novels or genre fiction, and want to start reading literary fiction, Risa Wataya can be a good choice, provided you like her style.
As I said, as soon as I finished Pon Watanabe’s manga 『もっと、やめてみた』I planned on reading other books by this author. I picked the two autobiographical manga 『部屋がキレイになりました』and 『部屋もっとがキレイになりました』, and I have just finished the first one.
This manga was only available in large format, and I must say that it was much easier to read than the pocket edition of 『もっと、やめてみた』. I don’t usually have difficulties reading small fonts, but I do prefer the bigger format when there is a lot of information on one page.
This manga is easy to read, it allows you to learn useful vocabulary of everyday life, and Pon Watanabe’s drawings give a lot of context, so it becomes easier to guess the meaning of words you don’t know. I think that Pon Watanabe is easier to read in Japanese than Miri Masuda because the drawing style is different. In Miri Masuda, the drawings do not always help you to understand the text, but in a manga like 『部屋がキレイになりました』the drawings give a lot of information.
However, be aware that kanji words do not have furigana on them. Some text is, I think, handwritten by the author, and might be a little difficult to read for Japanese learners at first. On the other hand, it makes for a good reading exercise, and it is easy to get used to it.
I heartily recommend this manga if you are interested in this topic. I will talk more about the content when I write my review, but it is the best thing I have ever read, watched or listened to about cleaning your house.
It looks as if I have read a lot of books since March 15th, but 『お茶の時間』and 『部屋がキレイになりました』are two manga that can be read very quickly, 『まる子だった』is a short book (216 pages only for the short stories) and reads very quickly too. 『私をくいとめて』is a short novel of 242 pages.
And these are the four books that I am reading at the moment:
『ぼくらの七日間戦争』by Osamu Soda (宗田理)
First published in 1985, 『ぼくらの七日間戦争』 is the first book of the popular series for children “ぼくら”. This book targets a readership of primary and middle school students.
The book I bought is from the collection つばさ from the publisher Kadokawa (角川). The targeted readership is “小学上級から”, and the book has full furigana. There are also some illustrations by はしもとしん.
This book is easy to read and entertaining enough for adults to enjoy. It is still a book for children, but it does contain an interesting plot, and I am completely into the story, wanting to know what will happen next. I don’t usually read books for children because even if the Japanese level is easy, the story is often not engaging enough for an adult reader. To give you an example, I disliked the two popular books 『未来のミライ』and 『君たちはどう生きるか』.
The only thing that I found a little difficult was to remember who was who because a lot of characters are introduced in the first chapter. Thankfully, all the main characters are introduced at the beginning, with illustrations, so I was soon able to distinguish them and see what their characteristics are.
I am also listening to the audiobook while reading, and I heartily recommend it. The whole book is read by voice actor Kengo Takanashi (高梨謙吾) and his performance is so good! I can usually say which character is speaking during dialogues because Kengo Takanashi gave them all a different way of speaking. There are also background noises and sometimes, music, that makes it easier to visualise what happens.
If you are looking for some easy material to practice your reading and listening at the same time, then I recommend the book and audiobook of 『ぼくらの七日間戦争』!
『BUTTER』by Asako Yuzuki (柚木麻子)
I am not far enough into the story of 『BUTTER』 to know exactly what direction the plot will take. It is inspired by the real Kanae Kijima who was sentenced to death for fraud and murder, but the book is more about character development than true crime.
I was anxious when I started this book because I never read this author before, the book is very long (almost 600 pages), and I don’t know why but I thought it would be difficult to read. I was relieved to see that『BUTTER』is not as difficult as I thought it might be. However, it belongs to the books that I read very slowly.
I think that I have just reached a point where I can read some easy books relatively quickly, especially if there are a lot of dialogues. For example, 『ファーストラヴ』and 『私をくいとめて』mentioned above were both novels that I read quickly. However, books like 『BUTTER』ask more focusing from me and I think that my reading pace is twice or even three times slower than when I read 『ファーストラブ』.
I also sometimes need to check things that are mentioned in the novel. It is not necessary to understand the story, but I feel that not doing it would take away something. For example, if the novel talks about ウエスト クリスマスケーキ, I understand that we are talking about a Christmas cake from a company named ウエスト, so I don’t need to look it up to continue reading. However, the cake is not just mentioned in the novel, it will be described and will play a modest role in the plot. Googling ウエスト クリスマスケーキ only takes two seconds and gives a good idea of how these cakes look like.
Another example are the cookies Morinaga (森永製菓のクッキー箱). The protagonist does not know whether to buy the Marie, Moonlight or Choice boxes. I guess that this is something you know if you live in Japan, but I had to google it to see how the biscuit boxes look like. When the protagonist chooses the yellow “Choice” box because it has a butter photo on it, I felt like I knew what we were talking about. Checking this kind of details makes me feel closer to the story, but of course, it slows down my reading.
『錦繍』by Teru Miyamoto (宮本輝)
As I said earlier, I loved Teru Miyamoto’s novel 『草花たちの静かな誓い』, and I wanted to read more by this author, especially novels that take place in Japan (rather than California).
It seems that all his books have very good reviews on Amazon. I plan on reading the novel that won the Akutagawa Prize 『螢川』which will allow me to complete a part of my reading challenge for 2020 (read winners of literary awards). But for now, I picked 『錦繍』because it looks like everyone who has read this book has loved it.
It is an epistolary novel, which is also one of the reasons why I chose this one. I love epistolary novels, but I haven’t read many of them in Japanese (as far as I remember, the only one I read is 『往復書簡』by Kanae Minato).
It is a short novel of 262 pages, but I read it slowly. I do not find it difficult to read, but it is the kind of books that I will read slowly. There are almost no dialogues (it would be strange to write a dialogue in a letter), and there is a lot of emotions to take in with every letter, so I sometimes find that I need to take a break.
I am nearing the half of the book, and I heartily recommend it if you feel at ease with reading challenging books or literary fiction in Japanese. I feel that it is one of my best books I have read in my life, the kind of story that stays with you long after you close the book.
『無人島に生きる十六人』by Kunihiko Sugawa (須川邦彦)
I bought this book because I wanted to read an adventure novel, but I didn’t know that it was inspired by real facts. To be honest, it is hard to tell whether the story is close to the facts, or if there are fictional additions, and I could not find much information online about the real story behind. My feeling is that this is a work of fiction inspired by real events rather than a work of nonfiction.
The story is about the Ryusui maru that crashed near Pearl and Hermes Atoll in 1899, leaving its 16 members crew struggling to survive on a deserted island of the atoll.
I personally do not find this book easy to read, even though I cannot point out what exactly I find difficult. There is some vocabulary related to navigation, but the book never gets too technical. On the contrary, it looks like it is especially written for people who are not familiar with maritime terms. Knowing words like anchor, mast and deck seem to be enough to understand the descriptions. However, I find these descriptions always tiring, and I am often tempted to skip some of them, something that I usually never do.
To give you an example, this passage is when the Ryusui is experiencing difficulties:
Given that I had already looked up some maritime words that had appeared earlier in the novel, the most difficult word in this passage was 船橋・せんきょう, because I didn’t know the meaning of the word “bridge” in English. The bridge of a ship is the platform from which the ship is commanded. It is where you find all the machines and equipment necessary to navigation. I was not expecting to find a bridge on a sailing boat, so the appearance of this word in the text just to say that there was no bridge on a sailing boat was just unnecessarily confusing to me, haha.
Now that I re-read this description, I don’t find it difficult, but there are a lot of descriptive passages such as this one in the first part of the book (around 90 pages). Maybe I find them difficult simply because I am not used to reading this kind of stories in Japanese, after all, it is the first time I read about maritime adventures in Japanese.
I am really reading a lot in Japanese at the moment. I think that I will be able to finish 『ぼくらの七日間戦争』, 『錦繍』and 『無人島に生きる十六人』before my next reading journal post on May 15th, but I don’t think that I can finish 『BUTTER』, because it is such a long novel and I read it too slowly.
I think that I have found a good rhythm with reading four books at the same time, especially if one of the four is a book for children or a manga. I will keep this rotation for the next months, only starting a new book when I finish or DNF one of the four I am currently reading.
Title: 『アンカー』(Anchor) Author: Bin Konno (今野敏) Published by 集英社文庫
This is the fourth book in the series “Scoop” (スクープシリーズ). The series features the staff of the news desk 『ニュース・イレブン』, the journalist Fuse who always seems to come up with scoops, and detectives who work with Fuse.
There is something that has always bothered me when it comes to series in crime fiction. There are some series where you can pick any book and enjoy it, you can start where you want, and you don’t need to have read the previous ones to enjoy the story. On the contrary, there are series where you should read them in order, often because the returning characters evolve from book to book and you won’t be able to fully enjoy the story if you don’t know them.
The problem is that you rarely know in which category you are when you start a series. This is why I always try to start with the first one no matter what. I made an exception with 『アンカー』and I really regret it because I just could not enjoy the story nor feel the least interest for the characters’ struggles.
You don’t strictly need to have read the first three books of the story to follow this one because it has an independent murder case in it. But half, if not more, of the story is devoted to discussions and problems among the staff of 『ニュース・イレブン』and I found each one of them extremely boring.
I guess that you are expected to know the characters, because they are not described in this book. Even at the end, I could only have a rough idea of who they were, how they lived, why they think like they did and so on. If you have already read 3 books that feature the staff of 『ニュース・イレブン』, you certainly care about them, but if you start with 『アンカー』, it is very hard to feel even remotely involved.
As for the murder case and the investigation, I found that it was scarcely satisfying for the reader. There is not much going on in terms of investigation, and the end is rather abrupt and not satisfactory. If you took all the passages were the investigation progresses or when the police officers actually do something and compress it, you will end up with something very short. It feels like reading only 50 pages of a detective novel and then realise that your book is already over.
What bothered me the most is that there are endless repetitions of the same discussions. It looked like the same discussion happened again and again, but with different characters (or even sometimes, the same characters). The staff of 『ニュース・イレブン』would debate about the role of television, the evolution of media and habits of people, ethical questions about what the program is or should be, and so on. It was not uninteresting at first, but it happens again and again. Similarly, discussions as to whether to report on the case during the program or not happened several times. It was the same when police officers were involved.
To sum up, all the passages that focus on 『ニュース・イレブン』were uninteresting to me. The murder investigation was superficial and there were countless repetitions. The only thing that is great in this novel is that it reads very quickly and effortlessly. There are a lot of dialogues, and you end up turning 10 or 20 pages without realising it. As a consequence, I read this book relatively quickly, and I never thought of giving it up, even though I was frustrated by the story most of the time.
I do think that the book has flaws in itself (like the numerous repetitions), but you certainly enjoy it more if you have read the whole series. Unfortunately, 『アンカー』did not make me want to touch the スクープシリーズ again…
Title: 『老後の資金がありません』(ろうごの しきんが ありません) Author: Miu KAKIYA (垣谷美雨) Published by 中公文庫
I never read Miu Kakiya before, and I chose this book mainly to fulfill my 2020 reading challenge and read more widely. But to be honest, I was not sure whether I would like the story because I am not really preoccupied by 老後の資金 myself.
Our protagonist is Atsuko, she is just over 50, is married and has two grown-up children (still living at home). She is the one who takes care of all the financial matters of the household and when our novel begins, she has managed to save enough money for the old days of the couple. However, life gets in the way, and her financial plan starts falling apart.
To be honest, I am the opposite from Atsuko. We don’t have the same age or family situation, she is far-sighted and provident, and I am the opposite of that. I feel closer to other members of her family (like her husband or daughter) who seem to have no financial notions at all. But the generation and cultural differences between the protagonist and I made the book even more interesting to me.
I can see that this book is targeting a readership who is close to Atsuko and can identify with her. I can imagine how funny and supportive Atsuko’s story can be for readers who experience similar situations. To me, on the contrary, this book was all the more interesting because I don’t have experienced any of Atsuko’s financial ordeals. This novel has allowed me to learn about Japanese society, to peek into a typical Japanese household and see all the organisation and planning it requires from the financial supervisor. It is one thing to read about elderly households savings and public pension uncertainties in the news, but it is much more concrete to follow the daily life of someone directly affected by it.
While the topic of the book is a serious one, the tone of the novel remains light-hearted and the author has put a lot of humour in it. I found some scenes very funny. Towards the end, the novel loses in realism and becomes more a comedy than a 家計応援小説, like the summary on the back cover indicates. The summary also says that it gives courage and hints to overcome anxiety relative to financial problems. It certainly gives courage, but it is not a manual or a list of applicable tips. This book is first and foremost an entertaining work of fiction.
As such, I think that it can be read and enjoyed by a wide range of readers, no matter your family or financial situation. The term 家計応援小説 is reductive and can make many people think “this book is not for me”. If I had read the summary before buying this book, I would not have bought it. I would have thought that I don’t need advice or support concerning household finances and I would have missed the opportunity to read a humorous and engrossing novel.
『老後の資金がありません』is one of my favourite books read this year. I love novels that can tackle serious problems while being witty and funny.
Animal Crossing New Horizons is finally available, and I have spent all my free time playing the game since its release date. I was worried that New Horizons would severely take away my study time, so I have spent the whole month of March thinking about ways to integrate the game into my Japanese study routine.
When I played New Leaf, the previous game in the Animal Crossing series, playing in Japanese alone was a good reading practice. My level must have been around N4 at the time, though I cannot remember exactly. I just know that everything in New Leaf was challenging, from what the villagers said to the names of the various items. New Leaf has been a massive immersion in my early days with Japanese, and playing the game every day contributed to my progress in reading.
But with New Horizons, things are different. My reading level is now above the level of the game, even if I do encounter unknown words from time to time. Just playing the game and reading all the dialogues is not really enough to feel that I am making progress thanks to the game, or that my reading level is increasing.
This is why I have decided to use New Horizons to help me improve my writing level. New Leaf was all about reading in Japanese, New Horizons will be about writing. Even though I can read novels in Japanese, I almost never wrote in Japanese in my life. I did make several attempts to practice my writing before, but soon gave up every project I started. As a result, my writing level is very low, I make a lot of mistakes, cannot seem to find what is colloquial, cannot use properly the grammar that I have studied for the JLPT. My active vocabulary is also very limited. To sum it up, I am still a beginner when it comes to writing.
Improving my writing is not really one of my main goals in learning Japanese, but if coupled with playing Animal Crossing, it can be fun! I have started a physical diary to record what happens in the game.
Animal Crossing is perfect to write a diary
For those who don’t know Animal Crossing, it is a very slow paced game, where your character lives a carefree life among talking animals. You are free to organise your fictional life as you please. There is no main story, no main quest, no ultimate goal to achieve.
As such, Animal Crossing is a game that you can play for several years, just enjoying the change of seasons, doing daily chores, talking to other villagers, decorating your house and island, taking part in seasonal events, and so on. There is nothing that the game forces you to do, so you can just open the game from time to time and do whatever you want.
This is why I think that Animal Crossing is perfect to write a diary. First of all, your life in Animal Crossing is like a fictional life, so why not write about it? What you do in the game also depends on you, and different people will end up with very different islands and houses. It is a personal experience worth recording. If I were recording what happens in another role playing game, I would certainly end up just writing down the scenario of the game. But in Animal Crossing, as there is no scenario, you can have your own personal way of playing and tell your own story.
The pace of the game is also very slow, so you don’t feel like you are missing something if you pause the game to write down what just happened. With any other game, I just want to go on with the story, and I don’t think that I would have the patience to write anything down. If a character tells me to go somewhere or triggers a side quest, I just want to see what will happen next. But in Animal Crossing, if one of the villagers compliments me on the fitness tank top I am wearing today, I want to record it in my journal because it made me smile.
Why I always failed in keeping a diary in Japanese before
I cannot tell you how many times I thought of starting or actually started a diary in Japanese… to eventually give up. I am convinced that writing a diary in your target language is one of the best ways to improve in your language. If you start writing very early in your Japanese learning, even if you just write a sentence a day, even if you just write down the sentences you found in your textbook, imagine how comfortable you will be in writing in this language after years of practice.
Unfortunately, I have never been able to write for more than a few days in a row, and all my attempts have failed eventually. There are three main reasons why it never worked:
I don’t feel like writing in my diary everyday
I don’t know if what I write is correct or not
Nothing interesting happened anyway
I am sure that you know what I am talking about… I start writing, but I don’t know if what I write is grammatically correct, if it is colloquial, and in the end, I end up thinking “what’s the point? If I go on like this, I will only get used to making the same mistakes”. It is frustrating to think that what I write might be wrong, or to have the feeling that everything I write sounds like a textbook. It does not sound natural or “Japanese”, it sounds like example sentences of a grammar textbook…
Then, I just don’t know what to write about. Nothing exciting happened, so I end up writing the same things that I wrote yesterday. In the end, all my entries look the same, and I feel like I am always writing the same thing. I also feel that I cannot use all the cool-looking grammatical patterns and words that I have learned. I have studied all the grammar from N5 to N1, but still, I can only use very basic patterns. It is discouraging.
Finally, writing a diary every day is not easy, even in your mother tongue. You need to be consistent and write even if you don’t feel like to. And when the excitement of the very first days is over (when I just bought a new notebook and feel that this time, I will stick with it), I just never feel like writing a diary in Japanese.
Animal Crossing New Horizons diary!
I figured out that writing an Animal Crossing diary solved all these problems.
First of all: writing every day or, at least, regularly becomes very easy! I want to play Animal Crossing everyday, and if I play, I also write in Japanese. I am not sighing “Ah yes, I need to write my diary in Japanese, what a bore…”. I am impatiently waiting for the moment of the day when I will be able to open the game and write what happened in my notebook.
I find it easier to talk about what my fictional character does than to write about my real day. I won’t think that “nothing interesting happened” because I find everything that happens in the game interesting. It is also easier to write about things if they are not too personal.
What happens in Animal Crossing might feel repetitive after some time, but I find that the game leaves a lot of space to imagination too. I feel that the more I write, the more fictional my diary will become, because I like filling the blank with stories or speculate on what the other villagers are saying to each other when I am not here, how their relationships evolve. For example, I saw two villagers singing together the other day. I won’t just write that they were singing side by side, but that they somehow became friends, that they may have a common passion in singing, or try to recall the other occurrences when I saw them together. This is just an example to say that there is plenty of things to write about, even if nothing much happens in the game.
And finally, writing an Animal Crossing diary is also easier for language learners. If you don’t feel confident in writing, like me, and feels that everything you write is wrong or sounds unnatural, it will be much easier to write from a game than to write from scratch.
The game will provide you with all the words you need to start writing. Let’s say that you don’t know how to say “watering can” in Japanese, it would be a chore to look up the word if you were writing a real diary. But the word “watering can” is sure to appear in the game when you use it. This makes writing much easier.
Also, you can use the dialogues to help you write longer sentences. If a villager says something, you can write that same sentence just adding something like “Tom Nook told me…”. Writing in this manner will be very satisfying. First of all, you know that what you wrote is correct in Japanese, because you took it from the game (You just need to be aware that some characters have their own way of speaking, and they all use different level of speech, from very polite to very casual). Also, if you write down what other characters say, or if you just use their dialogues as inspiration, you will use words or grammar that you are not familiar with.
I personally feels an immense sense of reward whenever I use new words. For example, one of the things you do in the game is to collect materials 材料・ざいりょう. This is a word I feel comfortable in using. But when Timmy asked me to collect “materials” to build a store, he used the word 資材・しざい instead. 資材 is used to talk about building materials, or materials for a construction site, which is exactly what we were talking about. I started using the word 資材 instead of 材料 when talking about the store building project. I felt that I had learned something, and that I was using the correct word.
Last but not least, using what characters say as basis to write your diary allows you to write a lot, which also feels extremely gratifying. Sometimes, I just write down an entire dialogue, because I find it funny or unique. Just writing things down as a quotation may look like cheating (after all, I should be writing my own sentences if I want to progress), but it allows me to fill the pages of my notebook quicker. When I see how much I have written, I feel proud and happy. It is encouraging and I am less tempted to give up if I see that I have already done so much.
One thing is certain: I never wrote that much in Japanese before.
Just having fun
You might ask why I don’t just enjoy the game without trying to be productive through it. I would answer that I actually enjoy the game even more because I am writing this diary. I love Animal Crossing so much that I feel that just playing it is not enough, I want to record everything that happens. I also like pausing the game to write about what a villager did or said, because they look so alive compared to New Leaf. The game is so beautiful, and they have put so many fantastic details in it, that I want to take the time to write about it.
I also love stationery, fountain pens, beautiful notebooks, stickers, washi tapes and “journal with me” videos on YouTube. I think that stationery is my third hobby, after learning Japanese and reading books. Writing the Animal Crossing diary is the combination of three things that make me happy: Japanese, talking animals, stationery.
In the end, I don’t think that my main purpose in writing this diary is to improve my Japanese as I said in the introduction. I am just having fun, and I found a personal way of enjoying the game even more.
Writing a diary in Japanese has always felt like a chore, but writing an Animal Crossing diary feels like the most enjoyable thing I have ever done in Japanese. This shows how important it is to associate language learning with something that you are passionate about! I have been playing the game for more than 10 days now, and I am diligently writing my New Horizons diary too.
If you are worried that playing Animal Crossing will take away some of your precious study time, I hope that this post can inspire you to start a journal of your own (either in Japanese, or any language available in the game)! And if you are not into stationery or writing by hand, you can also start a blog to write a digital diary, or just write short diary entries on Twitter.
(I am using the new block patterns from WordPress, I hope it displays as it should:)
I like to decorate my diary with stickers and washi tape, but I don’t always have the time to do it. Some pages are only text, and some pages are more elaborated like this one.
I find that taking the time to make my diary looks pretty makes me want to come back to it, open it and write in it. I am less tempted to give up.
For now, I don’t re-read what I have written, but I hope that, when I finish this notebook, I will be able to re-read my first entries and realise that I have made progress and that my writing has improved.
I also use a separate booklet where I write new words I learned through the game, their definition and the sentence in which their appeared.