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Book review: 『駐在日記』 by Yukiya Shoji

Introduction

Title: 『駐在日記』 (ちゅうざいにっき)
Author: Yukiya SHOJI (小路 幸也)
Published by 中公文庫
253 pages

Yukiya Shoji is a prolific author of fiction who wrote several mystery novels including the series “Tokyo Bandwagon” (東京バンドワゴン).

『駐在日記』 was first published in 2017 and got its first pocket edition this year (2020). There is a second volume entitled 『あの日にかえりたい』(published in 2019), which seems to be the direct following of 『駐在日記』. It is certainly better to read 『駐在日記』 first, as it introduces the characters and the setting.

Review

『駐在日記』 is a short novel divided into four chapters. We follow the young couple Hana and Shuhei as they settle in the small and rural Kijiyama in 1975. Shuhei has been posted here as policeman and the couple moves in the police substation (駐在所). Hana decides to write a journal about their life there. Each chapter is devoted to a different case, but the story follows a chronological order and the book cannot be read as a collection of short stories.

I bought this book because I love mystery novels and I also enjoy reading stories set in the countryside. This book was exactly what I was expecting and I enjoyed reading it. I was not expecting too much in terms of criminal investigation because Kijiyama is a peaceful village, and indeed, this is not a book that you will read for the thrill of tracking a murderer. I found the mysteries in the book a little too obvious and easy to crack, but it was still very pleasant to go through them with Shuhei, Hana and the other inhabitants of Kijiyama.

I loved the setting and the characters even though I did not particularly feel that the story happens in 1975. I don’t know how a Japanese reader would see it, but to me, the novel lacked references or details that would set it in the early 70s. At times, I forgot that the story was taking place 50 years ago.

There is maybe just one thing that I did not like but that did not prevent me from enjoying the book overall. After some time reading, it became evident that everyone in Kijiyama would be nice and good. There is no real bad guy and more generally speaking, the countryside lifestyle is depicted in an idealised way: the villagers help each other, they share what they possess with their neighbours, etc.

To conclude, I enjoyed 『駐在日記』 and this is a book I recommend if you like light mystery novels. I don’t think that I will read the second tome 『あの日にかえりたい』, but I am very interested in trying the series Tokyo Bandwagon.

June wrap-up and reading challenge update!

I haven’t read that much in June compared to the previous months, but I still managed to complete my June challenge of 4 books. I read two books of the Galileo series, one children’s book with furigana and one novelisation.

Finished!

Galileo series 2 and 3: 『予知夢』 and 『容疑者Xの献身』 by Keigo Higashino (東野圭吾)

I found both books extremely addictive. Contrary to the first book of the series, there were almost no scientific parts in 『予知夢』 and none in 『容疑者Xの献身』, which made the books easier to read and also more interesting to me.

『容疑者Xの献身』 is the first book of contemporary crime fiction that I re-read. I enjoyed it more in Japanese than when I first read it in translation because I knew the characters better: I have already read not only two books, but 10 short stories with Kusanagi and Yukawa. Unfortunately, the first two books of the series are not translated into French (nor English), so readers who read The Devotion of Suspect X meet Kusanagi and Yukawa for the first time.

I will go on with the Galileo series, I already bought the fourth one. Catching up with the series could be a new challenge for 2020!

『日本沈没2020』 by Toshio Yoshitaka (吉高寿男)

This is the novelisation of the anime coming on Netflix on July 9th.

To be honest, part of the reason I bought this book was because I thought it would be easy to read, but it turned out that this book is the most difficult of the four I read this month.

I have read only one novelisation in Japanese before that, and I did not like it. It was the novelisation of the film 『未来のミライ』. To me, all the visual and magical effects of the film being lost, the book was mostly a succession of descriptions that were not easy to read and a little boring.

『日本沈没2020』 is much better to me than 『未来のミライ』, but I do have to come down to the conclusion that I dislike novelisations.

Given that the anime has not been released yet, I cannot say for sure, but I think that this book of 284 pages covers the whole season. As a result, things go on fast with awkward transitions and little time to digest what has just happened. It is also hard to get to know and appreciate new characters.

I don’t know exactly how novelisations work, but it looks like the author just watched the anime and wrote down what was on the screen and was not allowed to add elements that were not explicitly said or showed in the film.

With the constraint of compacting a whole season in less than 300 pages and the impossibility to add things that were not on screen (introspection, inner thoughts, memories… anything that could make the reader feel closer to the characters), the novelisation ends up being a format that I find a little awkward. The lack of introspection particularly bothers me.

As for the Japanese level, it is not as easy as I thought it would be, but I think that part of the difficulty I experience comes from the compactness of the book. I really find that some scenes are described too briefly. I also find that it gets worse towards the end of the book, there are some scenes that I could not visualise well, but I don’t know if it comes from my Japanese level only, or if they were not described in enough details.

This being said, this book could be a good study material if you are watching the anime on Netflix and want to practice reading in Japanese. I would not recommend it as a novel for beginners, but definitely could be interesting to read in parallel with the series.

『おれがあいつであいつがおれで』by Hisashi Yamanaka (山中恒)

When I saw the cover and title of this book, I really thought it was inspired by the film 君の名は. But on closer look, I realised that Hisashi Yamanaka wrote this book in 1979! It is now published by Kadokawa and while I bought the Tsubasa version to read with furigana, you can also buy the standard bunko version too (which is better if you want to look smart in the metro). The text is the same in both editions, but you will not have the furigana in the bunko version. This being said, there are only very few kanji words in this book and most of them are easy ones. You can read the first pages of the book on both links.

This book is extremely funny, and I kept smiling while reading it. If you liked the part of 『君の名は』were both characters have to adjust to their new life and kept making mistakes, you will certainly enjoy this book too, because it is just that. The parts on the language (talking like a girl vs a boy) are particularly funny and interesting for Japanese learners.

I really recommend 『おれがあいつであいつがおれで』to Japanese learners looking for an easy read. If you struggle with kanji when reading books, you will find that this book only has very few kanji and most of them are very common words that you want to learn anyway. If you buy the version with furigana, this will make looking up words easier.

Currently reading

There is only one book that I started in June and did not finish:

『架空OL日記1』 by Bakarythm

Bakarythm is the stage name of the comedian Hidetomo Masuno. This book is the fake diary of an OL that was published on a dedicated blog, which you can read directly. I bought the book because I prefer to read on paper.

I haven’t watched the film, and I don’t think that I will read the second volume either, but I still kind of enjoy reading the blog entries.

It is a nice read if you are looking for something short to read while commuting for example. Each blog entry is usually just about a page long, so you can easily insert some Japanese reading in your daily routine.

I don’t find it particularly difficult to read, but there are some words, expressions or references here and there that I don’t understand. However, I don’t like this book enough to want to dedicate too much time to it, so when I don’t understand something, I just go on reading.

Reading challenge update!

It’s time for a half-year check of my reading challenge for 2020. Instead of setting a quantitative goal of books to read this year, I had designed several small challenges to encourage me to read wider and go out of my comfort zone. Let’s see how far I got in each section…

Read more nonfiction

My first challenge is to read 5 books of nonfiction this year. I have only read two books out of 5 so far:

I loved both books, and I think that I would have read them both even without my reading challenge in mind.

I also read two nonfiction books for young readers, they belong to the collection Chikuma Primer Shinsho. I have decided to not include them in my challenge though, to encourage me to read three more nonfiction books this year. Reading nonfiction was also (supposed to be) a way for me to tackle challenging books. However, the two books that I have read were not particularly challenging in terms of Japanese level and vocabulary.

I did buy a book on death penalty, but I haven’t started it yet… Let’s make it my reading challenge for July!

Catch up with the Kaga series

My goal for 2020 is to read the two remaining titles of the Kaga series, but not only have I made no progress at all in this direction, I have also started the Galileo series instead…

Read winners of literary awards

I still haven’t found the courage to tackle a literary prize winner… I already decided on one title though, it will be 『蛍川・泥の河』 by Teru Miyamoto. Let’s add this to my July challenge!

Open up to new genres.

I have already completed this challenge, and I could even add more books to this list.

I am already satisfied with how wider I have read during these past 6 months. Compared to the years when I mainly read crime fiction, I will certainly end up with more books that I disliked in 2020. I guess that this is inevitable when you try to read things that you don’t usually read. From this list there are two books that I loved, one book that I liked, one that I did not like, and one that I disliked a lot.

Read Haruki Murakami in Japanese

Also completed! Even though I did not really enjoy reading 『ノルウェイの森』, I am very glad to finally have read Murakami in Japanese. I was also shocked by how easy this book was to read in Japanese.

Reading challenge for July:

So this is what I will be mainly reading in July, though I’m sure I will add one or two other books later!

Inhae reads the news: June 2020

Welcome to a new study sessions of Japanese editorials. This month’s topics are:

  • How Japanese newspapers report on the George Floyd protests
  • The death of Shigeru Yokota and the fight for the Japanese abductees in North Korea
  • North Korea’s cutting off communication with South Korea.

Starting with News 2, I have decided to try a new format for the vocabulary tables.

Note: if you are reading this post in the WordPress reader, custom CSS might not work and the vocabulary tables might be difficult to read.

Black Lives Matter

I usually focus on national news, but I also wanted to know how Japanese newspapers talk about the George Floyd protests. Sankei, Mainichi and Tokyo have devoted their editorial to the protests on June 3rd, and Yomiuri and Asahi on the 4th.

Sankei: 米黒人暴行死 融和に徹し暴力を許すな
Mainichi: 米の黒人死亡抗議デモ 大統領が分断あおる異常
Tokyo: 荒れる米国 トランプ氏の責任重い
Asahi: 米の抗議運動 不公正の根源、直視を
Yomiuri: 米国の騒乱 トランプ氏はまず融和を語れ

Useful vocabulary

圧迫あっぱくpressure, oppression, compression (圧迫死)
暴行ぼうこうviolence, attack, assault (暴行死)
人種差別じんしゅさべつracial discrimination
抗議デモこうぎでもa protest
暴走ぼうそうrun wild, run out of control
暴動ぼうどうriot, disturbance, uprising
兵士へいしsoldier, private
動員どういんmobilisation (set an army in motion)
警戒けいかいtaking precaution, cautiousness
振りかざるふりかざるraise, brandish (ideal, cause, the law)

Most newspapers say that while Trump should call for peace, he keeps on making statements that make the situation worse. The expressions 対立をあおる or 分断をあおる are commonly used to describe Trump.

Mainichi says that Trump’s statements are so shocking that you can hardly believe your ears (トランプ米大統領からは耳を疑うことばが相次ぐ) and Sankei that Trump is just adding fuel to the fire (トランプ大統領の発言も火に油を注いだ).

Yomiuri asks:

人種問題の繊細さをトランプ氏はどこまで理解しているのか

To which extent is president Trump understanding the subtlety of racial issues?

Sankei, Tokyo and Mainichi all mention the phrase “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” which is translated in Japanese by 略奪が始まれば銃撃も始まる.

Mainichi particularly insists on Trump’s failure to calm the protest and underlines that he only deepens the division of society. The article ends on a warning that this division weakens democracy.

Tokyo criticises Trump in a similar way and cites Atlanta’s mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms as an example of how a leader should response to the violence.

All newspapers mention that the rate of death due to the coronavirus is disproportionately high among ethnic minorities. Yomiuri also mentions the discriminatory treatment of African Americans by the police (警官は黒人を容疑者とみなしがちだ) and Asahi mentions the disproportionately high rate of imprisonment among African Americans (黒人の投獄率は白人の5倍に及ぶ).

Not surprisingly, Sankei has a more conservative position. The article focuses more on the violence that has crept in the peaceful protests and ends its article by citing Trump blaming left-wing extremists. It also quotes Attorney General William Barr saying 国内テロにはしかるべく対処する, giving the impression that the newspaper is siding with the Trump government.

One thing that I found very strange is that none of the editorials actually mentioned the name of George Floyd, even though they all talk about him to explain why the protests started. They only talk about the death of a “黒人男性” killed by a “白人警官”. Similarly, when citing Terrence Floyd, he is introduced as “死亡した被害男性の弟” by Asahi, which is okay because it clearly identifies who he is, but Yomiuri says “黒人男性の弟”…?

When Tokyo explains the origin of the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”, Miami police Chief Walter Headley also becomes a nameless “白人警察幹部”.

Maybe newspapers have simplified for their readers because this is an editorial? Do they think that writing the names of the persons they talk about will be overwhelming for them? But on the other hand, political personalities like Bottoms and Barr were named, so why not even mention George Floyd’s name? We are talking about the biggest newspapers of the country! It is so weird…

Week 2: Shigeru Yokota

Shigeru Yokota died on the 5th of June, at the age of 87. He was the father of Megumi Yokota who was abducted by North Korea in 1977, at the age of 13. Shigeru Yokota has fought for the return of his daughter and other Japanese abductees, pressing the government to take action and making speeches with his wife Sakie across the country to raise awareness around this issue.

Only 17 Japanese are officially recognised as being abducted by North Korea, but there might be more. Among the 17 abductees recognised by the government, 5 have returned to Japan in 2002. North Korea has announced the death of 8 other abductees, including Megumi, and 4 are still detained in North Korea. However, the documents proving Megumi’s death were insufficient and the remains that North Korea sent to Japan were not genuine.

Yomiuri: 北朝鮮拉致問題 交渉重ね首脳会談を模索せよ
Sankei: 横田滋さん死去 拉致への怒りを結集せよ 安倍首相は膠着破る行動を
Mainichi: 横田滋さん死去 43年間の長すぎる「闘い」
Asahi: 横田滋さん死去 悲劇を繰り返させまい
Tokyo: 横田滋さん死去 原点に戻り対話解決を

Useful vocabulary

拉致らちabduction.
The abductions by North Korea are refered to as 拉致問題 and the abductees are 拉致被害者.
誘拐ゆうかいkidnapping
The term 拉致 is more widely used to refer to abductees, but I also saw the expression 拉致誘拐 to talk about abductions by North Korea.
救出きゅうしゅつrescue
This is the word commonly used to talk about rescuing the abductees. The Yokotas activities for their rescue are 救出活動 or 拉致被害者救出運動.
国家犯罪こっかはんざいa state crime
Abductions by North Korea are refered to as 国家犯罪
交渉こうしょうnegotiations
The term for diplomatic relations is 国交 (こっこう).
制裁せいさいsanctions
The economic sanctions imposed to North Korea by Japan are 経済制裁. They can either be strengthened 強化 (きょうか) or relaxed 緩和 (かんわ).
奪還だっかんrescue (a prisoner of war, a hostage…)
救出 and 帰国 (きこく) are more commonly used to talk about the return of the abductees, but I also saw the term 奪還.
戦いたたかいfight, battle
When talking about the Yokotas’ battle for the return of the abductees, newspapers use 戦い, also written 闘い.
遺骨いこつthe remains
North Korea sent the remains 遺骨 of Megumi to Japan.
Shigeru Yokota (横田 滋)
Shigeru Yokota has founded the 北朝鮮による拉致被害者家族連絡会(きたちょうせんによるらちひがいしゃかぞくれんらくかい), also named 家族会 (かぞくかい) in 1997.

The death of Shigeru Yokota is a reminder that both abductees and their families are aging and that their return should be a priority. Yomiuri opens its editorial with these words:

北朝鮮による拉致被害者と、その家族は高齢化している。救出を急がなければならない。

The abductees taken by North Korea as well as their families are aging. Rescuing them must be a priority.

And Sankei ends by quoting Sakie Yokota saying, in a “letter to Megumi”:

私たちに、残された時間は本当にわずかです (…) 皆さまには、拉致の残酷な現実をもっと、直視していただきたいのです.

We only have but little time left. I wish that everyone would face the cruel reality of the abductions more boldly.

All newspapers underline the urgency of the problem and call the government for action.

Yomiuri says that the government’s action for the return of the abductees was slow (the article says: 政府の動きは鈍かった), and it is thanks to Shigeru Yokota’s work that 5 abductees were able to return to Japan in 2002:

2002年の日朝首脳会談で被害者5人の帰国が実現したのは、夫妻の活動が国を突き動かしたからにほかならない。

It was the couple’s activities that, by pushing the country, allowed the return of 5 abductees to be made a concrete reality during the Japan-North Korea summit meeting of 2002.

For Tokyo, this change of attitude from North Korea was motivated by economic reasons:

当時北朝鮮は経済難に陥っており、日本からの支援を受け、困難を乗り切ろうとしていた。

At the time, North Korea had sunk into economic difficulties and was planning on overcoming these hard times by receiving Japan’s [economical] support.

Mainichi says that the abductions intensified in the 70s, when relations between North and South Korea were worsening. Japanese were abducted among other reasons to teach Japanese. However, Mainichi says, the issue did not attract media’s interest at the time:

ただ物証は乏しく、メディアも強い関心を払わなかった。

But evidence was sparse and the media did not show a strong interest.

While Abe has shown a strong resolution to solve the issue, progress has barely been made, mainly due to the incoherent and untrustworthy attitude of North Korea. As Asahi points out, since the return of 5 abductees in 2002:

北朝鮮は拉致に関するずさん極まりない情報を相次いで出してきた。

North Korea kept providing extremely inaccurate information concerning the abductions.

Tokyo blames the Japan government’s lack of flexibility when negotiating with North Korea:

問題解決のため、日本政府も長い間努力したが、柔軟性を欠く対応も目立った

The government also has fought for a long time to solve the issue, but the lack of flexibility in its response is noticeable.

しかし、日本政府は拉致解決を国交正常化交渉の入り口に位置づけ、経済制裁を強化した。

But with the abduction issue and by strengthening the economic sanctions, the government has blocked the road to achieving normal diplomatic relations through negotiations [with North Korea].

And Asahi blames the government’s lack of consistency:

 一方で安倍政権の側も、腰が定まっていない。「最大限の圧力」を唱えた後、米朝が接近すると、無条件の対話の呼びかけに転じる。そんな態度では北朝鮮を交渉に引き出せない。

But Abe government too hasn’t taken a firm position on this issue. After advocating for the “utmost pressure”, it changed its course and asked for a dialogue without condition when the United States and North Korea began a diplomatic rapprochement. We will not get North Korea to negotiate with this kind of attitude.

Tokyo also mentions that in 2018, whereas North Korea’s relationship with the United States, South Korea and China had made some progress, Japan was excluded. It quotes Shigeru Yokota himself.

滋さんは生前、「解決のため制裁は緩和すべきだ。お互い嫌がらせをやったら切りがない」と対話路線を主張していた。

During his lifetime, mister Shigeru Yokota has insisted on choosing the path of dialog: “We must relax the sanctions in order to solve the issue. If we keep harassing one another, it won’t end.”

I am surprised to see that no newspaper mentions a collaboration with South Korea as a possible option. More than 3800 South Koreans have been abducted by the North (mostly in the late 70s, like Megumi), and working together with South Korea could be a way for Abe to reach Kim Jong-un. (In 2018, Moon Jae-in had already expressed his intention to raise the problem of Japanese abductees during the inter-Korean summit of April.)

On the contrary, Asahi ends its article with:

拉致問題の真の進展は日朝二国間でしか望めないのだから。

A step towards the truth of the abductions can only be expected between Japan and North Korea.

I guess that Korea-Japan relationships are just too bad at the moment.

News 3: North Korea

Speaking of Korea, the third news of this month will also be an international news. I was tempted to study either the end of the unusual session of the Diet for the coronavirus or the suspension of the deployment of the Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense system, but I am also always interested in knowing how Japanese newspapers report on South Korea.

On June 17th, Pyeongyang has literally blown up the building that housed the liaison office with the South. Furthermore, the North has threatened to send troops into the DMZ (demilitarised zone).

North Korean defectors and activists have been sending anti-government leaflets across the border, which triggered Pyeongyang’s anger and the spectacular and symbolic demolition of the liaison office building. Built in 2018 after the historical meeting between North and South, this building was the symbol of the detente and communication between the two countries.

On June 18th, only Sankei and Mainichi had reported about it in their editorials. Asahi wrote an editorial about it on the 19th.

Sankei: 連絡事務所爆破 北朝鮮にアメを与えるな
Mainichi: 南北連絡事務所の爆破 挑発で苦境は打開できぬ
Asahi: 北朝鮮の暴挙 孤立無援にもどるのか

Useful vocabulary

南北融和なんぼくゆうわSouth-North rapprochement.
This term is used to talk about the rapprochement between Pyongyang and Seoul in 2018. The joint liaison office is often described as the symbol of this rapprochement: 南北融和の象徴 (しょうちょう)
開城ケソンKaesong.
Kaesong is a city of North Korea, near the border with the South. The joint liaison office was situated in Kaesong.
南北共同連絡事務所なんぼく
きょうどう
れんらく
じむしょ
Inter-Korean liaison office (or joint liaison office).
The office was established in 2018 as part of the Panmunjom Declaration signed by Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un. It provided a direct communication channel between North and South.
爆破ばくはBlasting, blowing up, explosion.
This is the word unanimously used to describe the blowing up of the building.
朝鮮半島ちょうせん
はんとう
The Korean Peninsula.
This is the word used to talk about the whole Korea. South Korea used to be called 南朝鮮 (みなみちょうせん) in Japan, but it changed in 1965 to the present 大韓民国 (だいかんみんこく), shortened 韓国 (かんこく). Wikipedia.
朝鮮労働党委員長ちょうせん
ろうどうとう
いいんちょう
Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
Maybe I am mistaken, but I feel that English newspapers tend to just call Kim Jong-un “North Korean leader” while most articles in Japanese give his official title.
通信線つうしんせんline of communication
遮断しゃだんcut off.
This is the verb used to say that the lines of communication between North and South have been cut off.
軍事境界線ぐんじ
きょうかいせん
Korean Demilitarized Zone or DMZ.
Created by agreement in 1953, the DMZ runs through the peninsula, between North and South. In the DMZ, there is a meeting point called Joint Security Area (also called Panmunjom 板門店 ).
軍備ぐんびMilitary preparations.
North Korea has intensified its military preparations: 軍備強化 (ぐんびきょうか) near the DMZ.
脱北者 だっぽくしゃNorth Korean defectors.
The North Korean refugees who sent the leaflets are described as 脱北者団体 (だんたい), but I don’t know if the meaning here is just a “group” of refugees, or if it refers to an organisation.
首脳会談しゅのう
かいだん
Summit conference.
In our articles, the 首脳会談 refers to the 2018 inter-Korean summit which led to the Panmunjom Declaration 板門店宣言 (パンムンジョムせんげん) and the establishment of the joint liaison office.
制裁解除せいさいSanctions.
We talk here about economic sanctions imposed by the UN 国連制裁 (こくれんせいさい). Sanctions can be lifted 解除 (かいじょ) or relaxed 緩和 (かんわ).
非核化ひかくかDenuclearisation.
挑発ちょうはつProvocation.
A word used to talk about Pyongyang’s provocative conduct 挑発行為 (ちょうはつこうい) or military provocations 軍事挑発 (ぐんじちょうはつ).
特使とくしSpecial envoy.
Seoul has proposed to dispatch a special envoy to Pyongyang but the offer has been rejected.
毅然としたきぜんresolute (attitude).
Sankei is using this word to call for a resolute attitude towards North Korea 毅然とした態度 (たいど).
在韓米軍ざいかんべいぐんUnited States Forces Korea (USFK).

First on all, it is very interesting to note that most of the articles I read in English about this topic do not mention that stopping the anti-Pyeongyang leaflets sent across the border was part of the 2018 agreement reached by the two countries (point 2-1). Usually, articles will mention that the North has given the leaflets as the official reason for their threats, but they will also note that most experts see it as a pretext to put pressure on Seoul and obtain economic concessions.

Mainichi, however, mentions that the North is seeing these leaflets as problematic because:

18年の首脳会談でビラ散布中止も合意されていたからだ。だが、ビラ散布は首脳会談後も続いていた。真の動機は文政権への不満だと考えられる。

During the summit meeting of 2018, [the two leaders] had reached an agreement on stopping the scattering of leaflets. However, the leaflets continued [to be sent to North Korea] after the meeting. Pyeongyang’s real motive might be its dissatisfaction towards Moon administration.

The article also mentions that blowing up the liaison office is a way to attack Moon Jae-in directly:

対話路線の成果と位置づけてきた文政権への心理的な打撃を狙ったようだ。

It looks like [Kim Jong-un]’s aim was to strike a psychological blow on Moon government which is strongly associated with the successful dialogue with the North.

As for Sankei, it uses an interesting expression when talking about the leaflets. Rather than talking about the South’s “inability” to prevent defectors to send leaflets, it uses the word 許した, as if the government allowed them. But of course, they also mention that the North’s response was disproportionate:

脱北者団体による金正恩朝鮮労働党委員長への批判ビラ散布を許した韓国への報復というが、あまりに短絡的で過激な反応だ。

[The destruction of the liaison office] was presented as reprisal towards South Korea who tolerated North Korean refugees’ sending of leaflets criticising Kim Jong-un. However, it is an overly simplistic and excessive response.

I was expecting it coming from Sankei, but it also criticises Moon Jae-in. Other international newspapers I have read would not usually mention it, or if they do, say that North Korea is criticising Moon Jae-in’s promises, not criticising him directly.

国連制裁下では不可能な協力を約束した文在寅大統領は、まず前のめりの対北外交を反省すべきだ。

First of all, president Moon Jae-in must reflect on his hasty and unprepared diplomatic exchange with the North that led him to promise [economic] assistance that was impossible [to provide] under UN sanctions.

This is interesting to read because this passage almost gives the impression that, in order to criticise Moon Jae-in, it is worth briefly siding with the North.

Asahi is the newspaper who most completely sides with Seoul. The Asahi editorial does not even mention the leaflets, but only states:

友好を象徴するビル群を無残に爆破し、それを相手の責任だと言い立てる。そんな振るまいは、自らの愚かさを世界に知らしめる効果しか生まない。

Ruthlessly blowing up a building complex that was the symbol of the friendship [between the two countries] and claim that it is the other’s fault? This attitude only managed to produce one thing: showing to the world Pyeongyang’s own foolishness.

Asahi also says that the meeting North Korea-United States was made possible by Seoul:

そもそも南北会談があったからこそ、北朝鮮が切望してきた米国との首脳会談への道が開けたのだ。それも忘れたかのように今や、韓国への軍事行動さえ示唆している。

It is because there had been an inter-Korean meeting in the first place that the meeting with the United States, that North Korea was so anxious to have, was made possible at all. North Korea is now hinting at military actions towards the South, as if it had forgotten this too.

It is also interesting to note that Mainichi refers to Kim Jeong-un as 金氏 and Sankei as 正恩氏, which I find strange to be honest.

That’s it for June! I hope you all have a nice month of July, see you on the 25th!

Book review: 『運転者』by Yasushi Kitagawa

Introduction

Title: 『運転者』 (うんてんしゃ)
Author: Yasushi KITAGAWA (喜多川 泰)
Published by Discover (ディスカヴァー)
239 pages

Yasushi Kitagawa is a popular writer of fiction. His works are translated in several Asian countries and all his books have amazing reviews on Amazon. He also has a beautiful website that includes a blog updated every day and even an online shop where you can buy Kitagawa coffee…

Review

『運転者』 is a light philosophical book that is likely to help you change your perception of life.

Our protagonist, Shuichi, works for an assurance company, a stressful job where the number of sales determines next month’s salary. With his aging mother living alone and his daughter refusing to go to school, Shuichi is on the verge of a breakdown when he meets a mysterious taxi driver.

I loved the book right from the beginning, because I liked the protagonist and found it easy to identify with him. However, 『運転者』 is not as much a great fictional story as a philosophical reflection on our life and how much our attitude alone can change things. This is the kind of book that people read because the message it contains will have an impact on their own life rather than to be engrossed in a fictional story.

To be honest, I am certainly not the best public for this kind of book. At first, I loved the story, but at times, I found the book looked more like a self-help book than a work of fiction. The reader can take everything that the taxi driver tells Shuichi as life advice, but personally, instead of having things told to me by a character, I prefer have them implied by the story itself.

The taxi driver’s life lessons are certainly the reason why so many readers loved this book. And I loved it too, even though I sometimes found some discussions a little long, and at some point even a little moralising. Overall, I found that reading this book is likely to give you courage during difficult times in your life, it can help you change things, or on the contrary, give you enough energy to go on with what you are doing. In any case, the book teaches you precious things. To be honest, I personally do not completely agree nor embrace the vision of life described in 『運転者』, but I think that I am the exception here, and that most people will find this book very useful and motivating.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. It is a short novel, it is easy to read, I had sympathy for the protagonist and though I remained a little sceptical regarding the core of its message, I would easily recommend it to anyone who feels disheartened and stressed out.

Book review: 『ぼくはイエローでホワイトで、ちょっとブルー』by Mikako Brady

Introduction

Title: 『ぼくはイエローでホワイトで、ちょっとブルー』
Subtitle: The Real British Secondary School Days
Author Mikako Brady (ブレイディみかこ)
Published by 新潮社

『ぼくはイエローでホワイトで、ちょっとブルー』is a nonfiction book published in 2019 (only available in soft cover but bigger format than pocket books). It is divided in 16 short chapters (around 15 pages each).

Review

I bought 『ぼくはイエローでホワイトで、ちょっとブルー』because it had amazing reviews on Amazon, it won prizes for nonfiction, and most of all, because I was interested in (what I thought would be) the main topic of the book.

The author is Japanese, she lives in Brighton with her husband (who is Irish) and talks about the first year of middle school of her son in her book. Her son, who is half Japanese half Irish, is going to a school where the majority of students are coming from white working class families.

When I chose this book, I thought it would be mainly about ethnic identity and racism. I was particularly interested in reading about identity from a Japanese point of view in a European country. I was certainly misled by the title that suggests the book will be about these issues. In fact, the English subtitle is much closer to what the book really is than the Japanese main title. 『ぼくはイエローでホワイトで、ちょっとブルー』is really about the real secondary school days in Brighton.

There are of course anecdotes, thoughts and views on ethnic identity, but it only concerns some chapters. In her book, Mikako Brady talks about a lot of other social topics and issues like gender, adoption, bullying, or homelessness. She also explains many things about the educational system in England, how the school of her son functions, social particularities of the neighborhood, and so on.

As a consequence, I was a little disappointed by the book at first, because it was not what I expected. I also did not feel that I was learning a lot of things in this book, French middle schools are not that different from what Mikako Brady describes, so I was not surprised nor did I learn much about particularities of European school system. In the end, I found that Mikako Brady did raise interesting questions and the book was full of promising thoughts about all kinds of social issues, but she did not develop much on each of them. In other words, on the majority of topics, I did not feel that the book allowed me to push my reflections further, get more material to sustain my opinion or, on the contrary, revise it, nor did it allowed me to learn new things or change my point of view. At some point, I started thinking of this book as a beginner’s guide for people who want to start thinking about social issues, which is totally fine and a great purpose for a book, but it was not what I was looking for.

But in spite of all these things, I was and remained engrossed in this book until the end. Each chapter mixes the author’s thoughts and views on a particular topic with anecdotes involving her son or his classmates. I found this structure to work very well, and the book was very pleasant to read. The chapters being short, it was also possible for me to read them in one reading session.

Also, most of the events are told in such a way that they look like little adventures that mother and son embark on together. Most of the events and anecdotes are not special or particular (maybe they are for Japanese readers, but possibly not if you went to a European school yourself), but the way they are told and linked to broader thoughts on social issues make them exciting. Mikako Brady transforms what could be just a typical middle school year into a wonderful adventure that opens a myriad of doors and through which the author and her son grew together.

This book was not quite what I expected, but I enjoyed reading it very much, to the point where I did not want it to stop. It is not as much about being a half-Japanese teenager in England than being a middle school student, or more precisely, being the mother of a middle school student. The “we’re in this together” vibe and the growing bond between mother and son are heart-warming and the book is worth reading for that alone. Recommended!

You can read free chapters of the book on the publisher’s website.

Reading challenge update:

Book review: 『いま、会いにゆきます』by Takuji Ichikawa

Introduction

Title: 『いま、会いにゆきます』
Author: Takuji ICHIKAWA (市川拓司)
Published by 小学館文庫
429 pages

This novel was first published in 2003 and soon became a bestseller. In 2004, the story was adapted into film by Japanese director Nobuhiro Doi (土井裕泰). In 2018, Korean director Lee Jang-hoon (이장훈) made a remake of the film, under the title 지금 만나러 갑니다 (in  Japanese: Be With You – いま、会いにゆきます). This film, featuring stars like So Ji-sub (소지섭) and Son Ye-jin (손예진), has become a blockbuster in Korea and was released in Japan in 2019.

When the Korean movie came out, the idea of watching it did not even cross my mind, because it is not the kind of films that I enjoy watching. At the time, I did not know that it was an adaptation of a Japanese novel. Though I had already seen the cover of 『いま、会いにゆきます』several times in bookshops or on Amazon, I failed to make the connection until I saw a copy of the book with the obi advertising for the Korean movie.

Review

『いま、会いにゆきます』 has a beautiful story with interesting and likable characters, it deals with a heavy topic (the death of a mother and wife) but remains positive and at times even funny. Finally, it gives precious life lessons.

I only have positive things to say about the novel, but it was not quite the kind of books that I enjoy reading. I would never have read this book in English or in my mother tongue, it is simply not the kind of novels that I usually read.

This being said, I was engrossed in the story, and I read it very quickly. It took me less than a week to read and I even managed to read 200 pages on a single day (in Japanese, this is undoubtedly an achievement). There are a lot of dialogues in the book, and I found it easy to read in Japanese.

I liked the structure of the book, how past and present progress together, I liked the characters, their inner struggles and their unconventional love story, I liked the writing style of the author and how the dialogues made me feel very close to the characters.

I also liked how the author managed to talk about heavy topics with an overall positive attitude. The story is certainly not a lighthearted one, but, while it has some sad moments, I personally did not find it depressing at all. Towards the end, though, I started feeling a little bored. As a result, I may have lacked involvement, precisely at a time when the story was at its peak in terms of emotions. I also felt bored when reading dialogues including the six-year-old Yuji (I often find children’s conversation not to be that exciting in novels), but was grateful that they were so easy to read in Japanese.

Overall, I recommend this novel. Even I, who is not the best public for this kind of stories, read it until the end without thinking once to give it up, so if you like stories that include family bonds, children and first love romances, you will love it for sure.

Reading challenge update: one challenge completed!

Japanese trailer:

Korean trailer:

Book review: 『無人島に生きる十六人』 by Kunihiko Sugawa

Introduction

Title: 『無人島に生きる十六人』(むじんとうに いきる じゅうろく にん)
Author: Kunihiko Sugawa (須川邦彦) (1880-1949)
Published by 新潮文庫
258 pages

This book was published in 1948. The back cover says that this is the true story (実話) of captain Kurakichi Nakagawa and his 15 men who survived on a deserted island of the Pearl and Hermes Atoll after the grounding of their ship in 1899.

The author, Kunihiko Sugawa, says that he heard the story from Captain Nakagawa himself, in 1903. At the time, Sugawa was an apprentice at 東京高等商売学校 and Nakagawa was his instructor. Sugawa repetedly asked Nakagawa to tell him the story of the deserted island, which he eventually did.

This novel has entered public domain, so you can read it for free on Aozora.

Review

I really cannot say that I enjoyed reading 『無人島に生きる十六人』. I am sure that it is a good book, but it just was not for me. There are mainly two things that annoyed me and prevented me from enjoying the story.

First of all, I cannot believe that this story really happened as it is told. If it weren’t for the 実話 on the back cover, I would have thought that this is a work of pure fiction and certainly enjoyed it more.

When you open the book, you first read a preface written by Kurakichi Nakagawa himself, thanking Sugawa for writing this book. Again, without the 実話 on the back cover, I would have said that this preface looked like a literary trick used by authors to give the impression that the fiction they wrote really happened (this preface does not appear in the Aozora version).

The story begins with the author, Sugawa, using the first-person to explain in which circumstances he met Nakagawa and asked to hear about his story. Then the point of view changes, and the first-person is now used by Nakagawa himself to tell his story:

以下物語に、「私」とあるのは、中川教官のことである。

At the end, we switch back to Sugawa’s perspective:

中川船長の、長い物語はおわった。ぼく(須川)は、夢からさめたように、あたりをみまわした。

This obviously looks like a literary trick, the author saying that he heard the story directly from someone involved in it, and it is of course impossible for someone to tell such a long story in one go as is suggested here.

I was disappointed because I thought that I would read a true story, thinking this book might be non fiction. Of course, it is possible that this work of fiction might be inspired by real facts. I made some research to see if there really was a ship called Ryusui maru (龍睡丸) which grounded in Pearl and Hermes Atoll in 1899. I was not convinced by the results. It seems difficult to find information concerning the events that is not related to the book.

This annoyed me a lot, because I would be fine with reading a work of pure fiction, or an account of real events, but it is annoying to not know where we stand. My involvement and the way I read a book will be different if I know that it happened to real persons.

Secondly, I found that the book was very dry. There are a lot of descriptions and explanations of survival measures. I think that this might precisely be why many readers enjoy the book (it is exciting in a way to see how the men organise their life on the island), but to me it was a little overwhelming, especially in Japanese!

What put me off is not as much the large amount of descriptions as the almost complete disappearance of the characters. They have no personality, no emotions, nothing that characterises them. There are almost no dialogues. They hardly differ from one another. There are almost no passages that made me feel interested in the characters, we never get to know them. This made me lose all interest in the novel.

In the end, the characters are just indistinct Japanese sailors who do their job, show heroism, never flinch and work hard even though they are ill, hungry and thirsty. Not a single time is someone being shown as weak or failing. There is even this notion of living a pleasant and joyful life of the deserted island that is really not credible.

I still finished it, and I do think that it is a good novel, but it was clearly not for me. I was interested in the moral and psychological aspect of surviving on a deserted island (a character centered story), but this book focuses on the technical aspect of survival (organisation, constructions, installations…). If you like survival fiction book, it is definitely a title to keep in mind given that it is out of copyright and freely accessible online!

Reading challenge update:

May wrap up: starting the Galileo series!

Starting from today, I have a new blog schedule! My reading journal post, which was initially published on the 15th, is moving to the first to wrap up the previous month.

So today, I only have two weeks of reading to talk about, since I published my last reading journal on May 15th.

Finished!

Last time, I was only reading two books, and I finished and enjoyed both of them:

I am a little late in posting my book reviews (this is one of the reasons why I changed my blog schedule), but I shall publish the reviews for these two books this month.

To me, both books were easy to read, 『運転者』 being very easy, with a lot of dialogues.

I also started and finished two short novels since the 15th, and I loved them both:

『愛がなんだ』by Mitsuyo Kakuta (角田光代)

Teruko is in her late twenties, works for a company and is in love with Mamoru. She always makes herself available for him, at the risk of becoming a 都合のいい女.

I loved the story and the main character Teruko, which personality I found very interesting. It is a short book that I read very quickly and I also plan on watching the movie adaptation. The book is relatively easy to read, though not so easy that I would recommend it as a first book to read in Japanese.

If you like 『愛がなんだ』, you will certainly like『わたしをくいとめて』by Risa Wataya. Both books are very short novels centered on a female protagonist who does not fit what society or friends would expect: Wataya’s おひとりさま and Kakuta’s 都合のいい女.

I personally found 『愛がなんだ』better, with a story that was much more engaging. I also found the character of Teruko more interesting than Wataya’s protagonist, but this is a personal inclination.

『駐在日記』 by Yukiya Shoji (小路幸也)

Hana’s husband takes on his new job as policeman in the police substation (駐在所) of Kijiyama, a small and peaceful village. As they move in, meet with the locals and start their new life, Hana keeps a diary of their “cases”.

Another nice read that I enjoyed very much. The book is divided into 4 chapters, each focused on a different case. I like this kind of structure because, even if the book is still a novel told in chronological order, you can still take a break between two chapters, read something else, and come back to the book later.

I was expecting some difficult descriptive passages, but there were none and the book was much easier to read than I expected. All the chapters also follow a similar pattern, making the book easier to read.

If you like 『駐在日記』, I also recommend 『向田理髪店』 (Barber Mukouda) by Hideo Okuda. Both books describe a small community with a protagonist that occupies a central place in people’s life (a barber might not seem like a central role, but the barbershop is where people go to talk about their problems and spread the latest gossips). The two books are also divided into short stories. 『向田理髪店』 is more on the heart-warming, humorous side and 『駐在日記』 belongs to the mystery genre. I preferred 『向田理髪店』 because the author tenderly mocked his characters at times, which I appreciated, but I recommend both books.

Currently reading

『探偵ガリレオ』by Keigo Higashino (東野圭吾)

Detective Kusanagi is facing apparently unsolvable crimes. He seeks advice to his friend, the physicist Yukawa who readily helps him and always finds the key to the mystery.

I already mentioned it on Twitter, but I plan on reading the whole Galileo series in order. My main purpose is to re-read The Devotion of Suspect X, which I read in translation before learning Japanese. But as 『容疑者Xの献身』 is only the third book in the series, I will have to wait a little before reading it.

The first book of the series is a collection of short stories: 『探偵ガリレオ』. When it comes to crime fiction, I usually prefer to read novels, but I am fond of Higashino’s short stories. Yukawa being a physician, I was bracing myself for scientific explanations that might be difficult to read in Japanese (even though I find Higashino very easy to read overall). And sure enough, the first stories had physical explanations in it and to be honest, I found them rather difficult to understand. I ended up not being completely sure about how it all worked in the end, but I don’t plan on using these techniques to kill anyone, so I guess it’s fine.

I am also not a huge fan of Yukawa. Though Yukawa is not exactly disagreeable, pretentious nor eccentric (like so many genius detectives in the genre tend to be), he does not like to talk to children, does not bother to explain things right away to Kusanagi and serves instant coffee in dirty mugs… I don’t like this type of character and it is also why I love the Kaga series so much: Kyoichiro Kaga is very different from most of the fictional detectives I have encountered so far.

As a result, I think that I am bound to like the Galileo series less than the Kaga series.

There are five short stories in the book, and I have just finished the third one. This book is a real page turner, and it is hard to stop reading once I have started a story (though their length – 60 to 70 pages – makes them difficult to read in one session). Higashino really knows how to entertain his reader, and he also knows what the reader of crime fiction is looking for. Even though I am not a huge fan of Yukawa himself and even though I hated physics at school, I love the book so far!

『部屋がもっとキレイになりました』by Pon Watanabe (わたなべぽん)

How do you keep your house clean and tidy when you are lazy, hate doing household chores, and cannot stick to good habits? Pon Watanabe gives some good advice based on her own experience.

This autobiographical manga follows a previous manga on household chores: 『部屋がキレイになりました』. I absolutely loved the first one, so it was obvious to me that I had to read the next episode too.

Surprisingly, this one is in full colours while the first one was in black and white (the price is the same, 1000 yen for a big format).

The first volume was about cleaning and tidying your house when things got out of control. This one is more about keeping your house clean and tidy on an everyday basis. What I loved about this series is that it focuses on you (as a hoarder, as a lazy person, as someone who cannot keep their house clean) rather than the things themselves. Instead of explaining how to fold your clothes, Pon Watanabe explains why she bought and kept so many clothes in the first place.

I highly recommend both manga if you are interested in this topic! It is easy to read, funny, entertaining and also serves as a self help and motivational book.

This is it for May! My next post will be on July 1st. At that time, we will have been through half of 2020, so I will do a little update on my reading challenge to see how far I have gone and what kind of books I must prioritise for the second half of the year.

Lastly, my reading goal for June is to read 4 books, including the second book in the Galileo series, a children’s book and maybe a novelisation.