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Animal Crossing New Horizons diary

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.

Conclusion

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.

Inhae reads the news: March 2020

Welcome to a new episode in my series “Inhae reads the news (in Japanese!)”.

In this series, I read, study and compare what different newspapers say about the same topic. I particularly like to see how conservative and left-wing newspaper will tackle the same issue. I mainly used Yomiuri and Sankei for conservative newspapers and Mainichi, Asahi and Tokyo for the left-wing ones. The goal of this series is to help me to improve my reading level in Japanese and my understanding of social and political issues in Japan. I am still learning, so be aware that there might be mistakes!

This month’s topic:

  • Abe’s press conference of the Coronavirus
  • Three aides to the couple Kawai arrested
  • State of emergency pros and cons: Sankei vs Mainichi
  • Satoshi Uematsu sentenced to death

(I wished I had the time to study editorials about the postponement of the Olympics, but the news came out yesterday, which was too late for me to include in this post.)

Abe’s press conference on the Coronavirus

On February 29th, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave his first press conference since the outbreak of coronavirus. People are particularly concerned with the decision to close the schools. Abe promised financial supports to parents who had to take time off from work.

Yomiuri: 首相記者会見 感染拡大防止へ態勢立て直せ
Sankei: 安倍首相の会見 矢継ぎ早に具体策講じよ
Mainichi: 新型肺炎の首相会見 もっと不安減らす説明を
Asahi: 新型肺炎対策 不安拭えぬ首相の説明

Useful vocabulary

感染症かんせんしょうan infectious disease
感染症対策かんせんしょうたいさくmeasures to control infectious diseases
感染者かんせんしゃan infected person
新型コロナウイルスしんがたころなういるすNovel Coronavirus
忙殺されるぼうさつされるbe very busily occupied
矢継ぎ早にやつぎばやにrapidly, in rapid succession
自粛じしゅくvoluntary restraint (from going out, travelling, etc.)
医療保険いりょうほけんhealth insurance
緊急事態きんきゅうじたいa state of emergency

A lot of people criticise Abe’s handling of the situation and ask for more explanations concerning the measures taken by the government. One of the recent issues is the decision to close all the schools in Japan and the fact that families and institutions had but little time to make arrangements. The decision to close the schools has severe and direct repercussions on families, and the government now needs to obtain the understanding of the people.

Our four newspapers have a different attitude about Abe’s call for understanding and collaboration.

Sankei sides with the government and relay Abe’s message: people must cooperate.

新型ウイルスとの戦いは首相や政府任せではいけない。各自治体や企業、国民一人一人も力を尽くす必要がある。

We cannot let Abe or the government handle the fight against the New Coronavirus alone. Every local government, every company and every citizen must do all they can.

Yomiuri has a slightly different tone. It says that in order to gain the people’s understanding, Abe should be more active and publicly involved:

首相は国政のトップとして、国民に直接語りかけ、理解を求める機会を増やすべきではないか。

The Prime Minister is the head of the country. As such, shouldn’t he increase the occasions where he can talk directly to the people and ask for understanding?

Mainichi doubts whether Abe could ever get the people’s understanding if he does not take the time to explain his policy. It opens its editorial with:

国民に呼びかけた理解と協力がこれで得られるだろうか。

Can [Abe] really gain the understanding and collaboration he is asking of the people with [this kind of press conference]? (Mainichi considers that Abe has not responded to the concerns about the current measures to control the spread of the virus.)

And closes it with:

首相は感染終息に向け「深く深く協力を願う」と国民に頭を下げた。真剣にそう願うのであれば、疑問にもっと正面から答えるべきだ。

Abe appealed to the people saying “I profoundly wish your collaboration” for (the purpose of) the cessation of the infection. If he seriously wishes it, he must answer the questions more directly.

Asahi opens it editorial in a very similar way:

国民の不安を拭い、納得を得るためには、説明も対策もまだまだ不十分だ。

Both the explanations and the measures are still insufficient to dispel the anxiety of the nation and gain understanding.

Concerning the decision to close the schools, we also have different approaches depending on the newspapers.

Sankei says that in a time of crisis, decisions must be taken fast. The newspaper supports the government’s decision, praising Abe for his quick decision. There are several expressions in the editorial that insists on the necessity to act quickly.

  • 必要だと確信する具体的な対応を時機を逃さず:
  • 矢継ぎ早に講じていかなくてはならない。
  • 後手に回る対応をしている余裕などない
  • 政治判断をスピード感

Also worth noting is that Sankei acknowledges that people criticise this decision, but eventually insists on the necessity of the measure. On the contrary, Yomiuri acknowledges the positive impact of the measure but underlines that it created a lot of confusion among families and institutions.

だが、唐突な方針転換で、学校関係者や保護者に混乱が広がった。

But the confusion among the families and schools extended with this sudden switch of policies.

Mainichi also mentions that the decision caused a lot of confusion because it was taken so suddenly:

首相が唐突に出した全国の小中高校への休校要請は、教育現場や保護者に混乱を起こしている。

The sudden request for closing schools (primary, middle and high schools) in the whole country created confusion among the families and the places of education.

It is interesting to note that both Yomiuri and Mainichi use the same words: 唐突 (sudden) and 混乱 (confusion). What Sankei praises as a quick response, Yomiuri and Mainichi see as a “sudden” and “abrupt” decision.

Asahi is more precise and says that families only had one day to prepare themselves:

平日の準備期間は1日しかなく、学校関係者や保護者、その勤務先まで、困惑と混乱が広がった。

As the period of preparation was only of one day, the confusion and chaos spread among persons in the education, the families and even the workplace of the parents.

Finally, another interesting point in our comparison of these 4 editorials is that Sankei is the only newspaper who does not imply that this press conference was long overdue.

Yomiuri mentions that this press conference by Abe is the first one since the beginning of the outbreak: 新型肺炎に関して初めて記者会見. Mainichi also writes that this is the first time that the Prime Minister talks directly to the people on this problem: 首相がこの問題で、国民に直接説明する場を設けたのは初めてだ。

Asahi states more plainly that Abe’s explanations were long awaited, using the word ようやく (at long last, finally):

国民生活にこれほど大きな影響を与える決定である。自身の口から直接、説明すべきだとの声に押されるように、首相は先週末、ようやく記者会見を開いた。

This is a decision that has a big impact on people’s life. The Prime Minister finally gave a press conference last weekend, after being pressed by people asking for a direct explanation.

But Asahi deplores that the press conference only lasted 35 minutes with Abe mainly repeating what he had prepared in advance.

It is very interesting to note that the Yomiuri Shimbun, which always tends to side with the government, criticises Abe’s handling of the situation. On the contrary, Sankei supports the government’s decision and relays Abe’s message. This surprises me because last month, the Sankei editorials I studied were criticising the government. I was not surprised however, to read that both Mainichi and Asahi were disappointed by Abe’s lack of explanations.

Three aides to the couple Kawai arrested

Last year in October, Katsuyuki Kawai had to resign from his post of Justice Minister over allegations of election law violations during his wife’s (Anri Kawai) campaign for the Upper House.

Early in March, three aides to the couple have been arrested. According to the election law, the daily allowance to campaign staff members is limited to 15.000 yen. The three aides are suspected of paying double this sum to staff members of Anri Kawai’s campaign. This paiement concerns the staff of the sound trucks, who were given two receipts of 15.000 yen each. Only one of them was registered as campaign fee.

Katsuyuki Kawai is also suspected of having orchestrated his wife’s campaign.

Yomiuri: 秘書ら逮捕 河井夫妻は説明責任を果たせ
Sankei: 河井氏秘書ら逮捕 夫妻の政治責任免れない
Asahi: 秘書ら逮捕 首相と党の責任は重い
Mainichi: 河井夫妻の秘書逮捕 議員本人の責任は免れぬ
Tokyo: 河井氏秘書逮捕 夫妻は事件の真相語れ

It is interesting to see that all the titles are very similar. Note how the word 責任 is used by almost all newspapers, but Yomiuri and Sankei talk about the 責任 of the Kawai, while Asahi talks about the 責任 of the party and the Prime Minister.

Useful Vocabulary and persons involved

公職選挙法こうしょくせんきょほうthe Public Offices Election Law, also: 公選法
参院選さんいんせんHouse of Councillors Election
選挙カーせんきょかーSound trucks (used for political campaign)
陣営じんえいthe camp, the ranks (ex: the LDP camp)
連座制れんざせいthe guilt-by-complicity system*
公設秘書こうせつひしょa Diet member’s secretary whose salary is paid for out of public funds
禁錮きんこimprisonment, incarceration
買収ばいしゅうbribery, buying off
遊説ゆうぜいcanvassing tour, canvassing for votes

*Guilt-by-complicity system: The provision, under the Public Office Election Law, that a candidate is disqualified from taking office if his campaign manager or finance officer has violated the Law to help him win.

河井 案里 Anri Kawai
Member of the House of Councillors (LDP)
河井 克行 Katsuyuki Kawai
Former Minister of Justice
Member of the House of Representatives (LDP)

The key word for this topic is 連座制, the guilt-by-complicity system. According to this system, Anri Kawai will have to resign from her post at the House of the Councillors, if her campaign manager is found guilty of violating the Election Law. This will apply even though Anri Kawai did not know about it. Even if she still denies all implication or knowledge of the paiements, she still could lose her post.

All newspapers underline the same points:

  • The couple has always refused to give a public explanation
  • This looks even worse because Kawai was Justice Minister

While the Yomiuri, Sankei and Tokyo only states that the couple has the duty to explain themselves publicly (説明する責任がある), both Asahi and Mainichi use the stronger expression 許せない (can’t tolerate):

Mainichi: こうした事態に至っても、説明しようとしない姿勢は許されない

Even with this turn of events, they don’t show the intention to give explanations. We cannot tolerate this attitude.

Asahi: 一貫して説明責任に背を向ける姿勢は、国会議員として許されるものではない。

From start to finish, they have turned their back on their duty to explain themselves. This attitude is not something we can tolerate from members of the Diet.

Yomiuri notes that the explanation is all the more overdue because Kawai was Justice Minister:

国会議員は疑惑をかけられた時には国民に説明する責任がある。ましてや克行氏は、法秩序の維持を担う法相を務めていただけに、なおさらではないか。

When a member of the Diet is the subject of suspicion, they have the duty to explain themselves to the nation. Even more so when Katsuyuki Kawai was assuming the post of Justice Minister, who has the responsibility to maintain the legal order.

I don’t know how to emphasise the “…だけに、なおさらではないか。” without sounding too redundant in English. Especially given that the ましてや already conveys the intended meaning.

Sankei goes further and uses the word 恥ずべき (shameful):

法の番人である法相の重責にあった政治家として、恥ずべきところはないか。

Isn’t it a shameful instance for a politician who had the important duty to be Justice Minister, the guardian of the law?

Shouldn’t there be a で after ところ? Also, I do not know how to translate ところ here. I tried “instance”, but maybe we can drop it entirely and say “isn’t it shameful…?”.

The only difference between our right and left wing newspapers is the mention of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. While Yomiuri and Sankei only talk about the Kawai couple, Asahi, Mainichi and Tokyo all mention that the Kawai are close to Abe.

Asahi mentions that Abe has a part of responsibility too:

案里氏の擁立を主導し、全面的に支援した安倍首相と党執行部の責任もまた重いと言わざるを得ない。

Prime Minister Abe and the administration have taken the initiative of putting forward Anri Kawai as candidate and support her entirely. We have to say that their responsibility is heavy.

Mainichi also underlines that the couple is close to Abe:

克行氏は安倍晋三首相の補佐官を務め、菅義偉官房長官にも近い。(…) 案里氏に肩入れした自民党も、事件を重く受け止める必要がある。

Katsuyuki Kawai worked as an assistant to the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and he is also close to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga. The Liberal Democratic Party who supported Anri Kawai must respond to this affair seriously.

Even though all newspapers adopt a similar position in their criticism of the couple’s lack of public explanation, it is interesting to note how the left-wing newspapers go further and involve Abe in the scandal while the conservative ones don’t.

State of Emergency pros and cons: Sankei vs Mainichi

For this topic, we will only look at two editorials, one by Mainichi, one by Sankei. They both talk about the possibility for Abe to declare the State of Emergency, Mainichi advising against it, and Sankei supporting it.

Sankei: 緊急事態宣言 発出のタイミング誤るな
Mainicihi: 新型コロナ 特措法成立 「緊急事態」にせぬ努力を

Useful vocabulary:

新型インフルエンザ等対策特別措置法しんがたインフルエンザとうたいさくとくべつそちほうAct on the prevention of infectious diseases*
緊急事態宣言ひじょうじたいせんげんEmergency State
蔓延まんえんspreading, diffusion

*The 新型インフルエンザ等対策特別措置法, also shortened as 新型インフル特措法 is an act on special measures for the prevention of infectious diseases (this is not an official translation). It was enacted in 2012. A part of this act has been amended in March 2020 to adapt to the prevention of the Coronavirus. This version is called 新型コロナウイルス特措法. (Cf. Wikipedia)

Referring to this amended act, Sankei uses the long version 改正新型インフルエンザ等対策特別措置法 and the short version 改正特措法, while Mainichi uses the short version 改正特別措置法 and the mini version 改正法 (as far as I am concerned, the less eight-kanji-in-a-row words, the better).

The two newspapers have clearly opposite positions concerning the Emergency State: Sankei insists on the necessity to implement it, while Mainichi insists on the importance to avoid it if possible.

Sankei:

感染拡大のペースが上がるなど、悪い変化の兆しが出てくれば、首相は緊急事態宣言を積極的に考えなくてはならない。

If signs of aggravation appear or if the pace of expansion of the contagious disease increases, the Prime Minister must actively think of declaring the state of emergency.

Mainichi:

冷静かつ客観的に、必要性を判断しなければならない。

We must judge the necessity [of the state of emergency] calmly and objectively.

A state of emergency basically gives the government the power and means to perform actions and impose policies in order to deal with the emergency in question. The state can thus perform actions that it is normally not permitted to perform, and these actions can affect individual rights and freedom.

When explaining what the state of emergency is, Sankei remains vague, only saying that it would give the government and local authorities a lot of means of response (多くの対応手段). On the contrary, Mainichi goes straight to the point saying that it would allow the government to close public places and ask for people to remain at home, thus limiting the rights of the people (国民の権利制限を伴う).

Mainichi’s main concern is that the state of emergency would limit individual rights, and that there is no clear mention of when the state of emergency can be declared. One of the conditions to call the situation a situation of “emergency” is the risk of spreading (まん延のおそれ), a vague notion that is in turn defined as “when clusters of patients have been confirmed in a large number of prefectures” (相当数の都道府県で患者クラスターが確認される).

Sankei concedes that several people call to caution, but it discredits this attitude, calling it “unrealistic” (非現実的な). The newspaper insists on the necessity to put individual rights aside to protect the people, simultaneously underlining the necessity of the state of emergency if the situation worsens, and the priority to protect the life of the people and to maintain the economy. With all this, it will be difficult to guarantee the rights of the people (国民の私権を守ることは難しい).

It is interesting to note that Sankei insists on the temporary nature of the state of emergency while Mainichi sees it as a last resort measure.

Sankei:

国民や社会を救うための時限的な措置である

[The state of emergency] is a temporary measure to save the people and the society.

Mainichi:

特措法は制御不能な最悪の事態への備えだ

Laws on special measures are provided to respond to uncontrollable and critical situations.

Satoshi Uematsu sentenced to death

In 2016, Satoshi Uematsu (植松 聖) stabbed disabled people in an institution, killing 19 and wounded 26 persons. The case is referred to as the Sagamihara stabbings (相模原事件), Sagamihara being the city in which the events occurred.

The name of the care center in which the stabbings took place is Tsukui Lily Garden (津久井やまゆり園).

On March 16th, Satoshi Uematsu was sentenced to death by the Yokohama District Court.

Yomiuri: 相模原事件判決 偏見に基づく凶行を指弾した
Sankei: 相模原殺傷に死刑 「事件」は終わっていない
Mainichi: 相模原殺傷で死刑判決 事件の意味考え続けたい
Asahi: 「やまゆり」判決 問い続ける責任 社会に
Tokyo: 植松被告に死刑 「なぜ犯行」今なお残る

(Sankei published its editorial a day after the others, and therefore after I had written this part of the blog. I read it, but I did not study it in this post.)

Useful vocabulary:

相模原障害者施設殺傷事件さがみはら しょうがいしゃしせつ さっしょうじけんSagamihara stabbings
障害者しょうがいしゃa person with a handicap
福祉施設ふくししせつa welfare facility
極刑きょっけいcapital punishment
裁判さいばんtrial, hearing
起訴きそprosecution
審理しんりtrial, examination, inquiry
匿名とくめいanonymity, using a pseudonym
大麻たいまcannabis*
植松 聖 Satoshi Uematsu
Perpetrator of the Sagamihara stabbings. Sentenced to death on March 16th, 2020

*I think that the reading おおあさ is used when talking about the plant “hemp”, while the reading たいま is used to talk about the drug…? I am not sure though…

All four newspapers have written very similar editorials. Our conservative newspapers are the only ones who actually comment on the decision of the court. Yomiuri says that due to the number of victims, there was no other choice than to hand down the capital punishment (極刑以外の選択肢はなかったのだろう), and Sankei also says that the death penalty was inevitable (死刑の判断は不可避だった).

What all newspapers mention is that the ruling did not allow us to understand how such an act was possible, and why the defendant acted like he did. Given the repercussions of this case, the trial should have been more thorough.

Mainichi says:

社会に大きな衝撃を与えた事件である。もっと時間をかけて、丁寧な審理をすべきだった。

It is a case that gave a great shock to our society. They should have taken the time to make a more through inquiry.

The newspapers deplore that the focus of the trial was to determine whether Uematsu was in full possession of his faculties or, as the defense stated, under the influence of marijuana. But the reasons and background (原因、背景、なぜ) of his act were not sufficiently studied.

Yomiuri: 残念だったのは、裁判を通じて、事件の背景が十分に解明されなかったことである。

What is regrettable is that the background of the case has not been sufficiently clarified through the trial.

Mainichi: しかし、これほどの凶行に至り、人の命に格差があると言い続ける原因や背景は何だったのか、裁判で解明されたとは言い難い。

But what were the background and reasons that led [Uematsu] to keep repeating that there is a disparity in human lives, and eventually commit such a violent act? It is hard to say that it was made clear during the trial.

Asahi: このゆがんだ認識が生まれ、ふくらんでいった原因や背景が、裁判を通じて、その一端でも浮かぶことが期待された。しかし、それはかなわなかった。

We were expecting that the background and the reasons that led to the creation and growth of this perverted point of view [in Uematsu’s mind] would emerge during the trial, if only partially. But this expectation was not fulfilled.

Tokyo: それでも「なぜ」の問いが今なお残る。(…) ゆがんだ差別意識はどうして生まれたのか。だが裁判では深掘りされなかった。

But the question “why” still remains. (…) How did this perverted, discriminatory consciousness came into being [in Uematsu’s mind]? But [these questions] were not looked deeper into during the trial.

This trial’s purpose should not have been to hand down a sentence on Uematsu only, but to understand how he came to develop the convictions that led him to commit one of the most shocking mass murders of the country. This would have helped to prevent that such cases occur again. As Yomiuri mentions, we cannot forget that a lot of people had shown sympathy for Uematsu after the killing.

And as Mainichi says, we cannot just handle this case as the doing of a violent person. Even if Uematsu’s trial is over, “the case is not over”, as Sankei puts it in its title. We should still keep in mind the meaning of this case: it revealed how strong discriminations can be, and how urgent it is to work towards a society without discriminations.

Conclusion

I found this month’s topics very interesting, and though I still have a lot of difficulties to translate sentences and paragraphs, I feel that it becomes easier to read news articles! 

Thank you for reading.

Stay safe everyone!

Book review: 『もっと、やめてみた。』by Pon Watanabe

Introduction

Title: 『もっと、やめてみた。』(「こうあるべき」に囚われなくなる暮らし方・考え方)
Author: Pon Watanabe (わたなべぽん)
Published by 幻冬舎文庫

Pon Watanabe is an author of エッセイ漫画, manga that are autobiographical. 『もっと、やめました』is following a previous book simply called 『やめました。』. You don’t need to have read the first one to read the second.

Review

I bought this book because I love Miri Masuda’s manga, and I thought it would be similar. But I did not expect to love this autobiographical manga so much!

First of all, I love Pon Watanabe’s drawing style. It is so cute, funny and relatable. I could easily see myself in all the situations described.

Frome the title and the cover, I thought that this book might encourage a minimalist way of life, which scared me a little because I am not into that at all. I was happily surprised to see that there is nothing moralising in this manga. The idea is not to stop buying things, but to go for quality over quantity. It also shows that changing some habits can lead to discovering new hobbies.

But this manga is not only about physical objects, it is also about changing one’s negative way of thinking, either in the relation with others or in the relation with oneself. The manga goes from trivial things like stopping hoarding vinyl umbrellas, to more profound thoughts like trying to accept oneself and gain self-confidence.

No matter if it is what you buy, what you do or how you think, this manga is simply about learning to be happier.

I personally could relate to everything Pon Watanabe describes. At many times I was thinking “Oh, so I’m not the only one!”, especially in chapters about relationship with others and self perception. One passage made me very sad and I had tears in my eyes, but the next moment I was laughing at the author’s sense of humour.

I read the paperback (文庫本) version of the manga, and I found that some parts of the text were printed very small. If you have trouble reading small characters, I would recommend going for the bigger format if you are interested in reading this book.

I loved this book so much that I am going to read all Pon Watanabe’s manga!

Book review: 『天使のナイフ』by Gaku Yakumaru

Introduction

Title: 『天使のナイフ』(てんしのナイフ)
Author: Gaku Yakumaru 薬丸岳
Published by 講談社文庫

『天使のナイフ』was first published in 2005. It won the Edogawa Rampo Prize and is Gaku Yakumaru’s first novel.

This is the third book I read by this author. The other two were 『誓約』and 『ガーディアン』.

Review

『天使のナイフ』is a good thriller, I found it entertaining and suspenseful. However, there are one or two things bothered me a little…

First of all, this is a novel about Japanese Juvenile Law 少年法. The Juvenile Law states that juvenile offenders are judged by a family court. Those found guilty are sent to juvenile institutions were they receive education for rehabilitation. Until 2008, when a major offence like murder was committed, the family of the victim did not have the right to know the name of the offender, nor to have any information concerning the court proceedings.

This is a fascinating topic, and I have learned a lot about it through Gaku Yakumaru’s novel. However, I also found that the topic was too present in the book, sometimes introduced in artificial ways. For example, a character would appear and have a discussion with our protagonist about the Juvenile Law. This dialogue’s only purpose is clearly to introduce a debate over the pros and cons of a harsher punishment for juvenile offenders, but it does not bring anything else to the story.

I am perfectly alright with having serious debates in my thriller (though I do buy a thriller for the story, not for academic purposes), but I don’t like when the author wants to talk about a certain topic too much (for example, because he consulted many documents about it and wants to share the maximum of his research with the reader…). I would rather read a good thriller without any special topic in it and a good nonfiction book about Juvenile Law rather than a mix of the two.

The story is so much about this particular law, that I found some parts of the plot unconvincing.

I also found that the story was good enough in itself without a need to include debate between characters. Just reading the story makes the reader go through contradicting conclusions, experience the point of view of each position and create an inner debate. There was no need to do the work for us.

The other thing that bothered me a little is that this novel is very similar to 『誓約』. The story, obviously, is different, but some mechanisms are the same, so it was easy for me to see through it. Unfortunately, I already found these mechanisms a little far-fetched in 『誓約』, so I was all the more unimpressed by it in this novel.

This being said, 『天使のナイフ』remains a good thriller that does its job: it is a page-turner, I was engrossed in the story until the end, and overall, I enjoyed reading it. It is just not my favourite one.

Book review: 『ボッコちゃん』by Shinichi Hoshi

Introduction

Title: 『ボッコちゃん』
Author: Shinichi Hoshi (星新一)
Published by 新潮文庫

Shinichi Hoshi is well known for his short short stories and is considered to be the pioneer of Japanese SF. 『ボッコちゃん』is a collection of 50 short short stories chosen by the author himself.

Review

This is the first time that I read stories by Shinichi Hoshi, and I was very surprised by the author’s unique style and impressive creativity. These stories are unlike anything I have read before. It sometimes felt like reading stories for children, sometimes like listening to a friend telling a joke. The stories all belong to the speculative fiction, mostly science fiction but also fantasy or mystery.

What surprised me the most is how the author managed to create an interesting outcome for each story. Even though they are very short (3 to 6 pages), many surprised me at the end. Sometimes, I even doubted whether I understood the Japanese well, because I felt that something did not make sense, but everything became clear at the end. (for example: 闇の目)

I find that some stories were mainly entertaining, while others had a more profound meaning and could be read as modern parables on human nature or contemporary way of life.

Although there are 50 stories in this collection, I cannot name a single one that I did not like. As for my favourites, they are ボッコちゃん、おーい でてこーい、マネー・エンジ、肩の上の秘書、波状攻撃 and ゆきとどいた生活.

The 50 stories of this collection are all so inventive and original, it is hard to believe that the author wrote more than 1000 short short stories!

Conclusion

I highly recommend Shinichi Hoshi’s short short stories to Japanese learners. They are not difficult to read, and their short format makes them perfect for reading practice and study.

I am very glad that I decided to challenge myself to read different genres in 2020, because I am having such interesting reading experience!

Reading Journal: March 2020

I am very happy with my readings at the moment, not because I like everything that I read, but because I feel that I am reading more than usual. As I did last month, I will talk about the books that I am currently reading (and just finished).

Books I finished

I have finished three of the books that I mentioned in my reading journal of February: 『ノルウェイの森』, 『マチネの終わりに』and 『ボッコちゃん』(link to my book reviews).

I have finished the second short story of 『帰郷』, and I will take a break for now. This short story was really difficult to read. I constantly needed to re-read what I had just read. If I tried to just move on, I would soon realise that I was unable to follow the characters’ conversations. I also have to look up words, for example, I never saw the word かかあ to talk about your wife.

I also finished two books that I started after posting my last reading journal entry:

The cover of the books I just finished
『老後の資金がありません』by Miu Kakiya and 『天使のナイフ』by Gaku Yakumaru

First of all, I returned to crime fiction because I was frustrated with 『マチネの終わりに』. If you have read my review, you know that I did not like this book, and I felt I needed to read a good thriller! I chose 『天使のナイフ』by Gaku Yakumaru. It was a nice thriller, not my favourite one, but a good way to relax. It also felt good to be engrossed in a story!

It has become easy for me to read this kind of books. I have mainly read crime fiction in Japanese, and I do think that the more you read in a genre, the better you get. Not only do you know the words that are likely to appear, but you also become better at guessing what will happen next. My advice to read in a foreign language: find a genre you like and stick to it at the beginning!

I read and finished the novel 『老後の資金がありません』by Miu Kakiya (垣谷美雨). It was quite easy to read. Specialised vocabulary would occasionally appear when the characters discuss particular events (like organising a funeral service), but it remains very simple. Most parts of the story are just describing the everyday life of a woman who worries about money, so there is nothing really difficult in terms of vocabulary.

Currently reading

The cover of the books I am currently reading
『草花たちの静かな誓い』by Teru Miyamoto, 『アンカー』 (Anchor) by Bin Konno, 『ファーストラブ』by Rio Shimamoto and『もっと、やめてみた』by Pon Watanabe.

『もっと、やめてみた』by Pon Watanabe (わたなべぽん)

This is the easiest book that I am reading at the moment, but none of my currently reads are difficult this month.

『もっと、やめてみた』is a short エッセイ漫画, or autobiographical manga of 120 pages. The author, Pon Watanabe, talks about different things she stopped doing or buying, and how this allowed her to discover new hobbies, save money, and lead a better life.

It is easy to read, cute and extremely relatable, so I highly recommend it to Japanese learners. Just be aware that some text passages are printed very small and use a funny font, so some people might find it difficult to read. You can see of the picture a sample of the different fonts used and how small it can be.

An extract from 『もっと、やめてみた』
『もっと、やめてみた』, Pon Watanabe, p.12

I find that this kind of books are perfect for Japanese learners who want to start reading in Japanese, still cannot tackle an entire novel, but are not that into manga either. When I started reading in Japanese, I read several of Miri Masuda’s (益田ミリ) manga, and it really helped me take the next step. Similarly to Miri Masuda, Pon Watanabe talks about everyday life, and the thoughts, worries or tendency to overthink of her characters are very relatable.

『アンカー』 (Anchor) by Bin Konno (今野敏).

Last year, I read another book by Bin Konno (『継続捜査ゼミ』) and it was one of the easiest and most engrossing books I had read at that time. It was almost entirely composed of dialogues.

The beginning of 『アンカー』was more difficult than I expected. The Japanese level was not particularly high, but it was hard to understand the situation or follow the characters’ conversation. Exactly as it would be if you were a new employee who just arrived at your workplace and listen to colleagues’ conversation.

I guess that it is because『アンカー』is part of a series. It is the fourth book in the Scoop Series (スクープシリーズ), and I think that the reader is expected to know the characters.

But this only concerns the very first pages. When the story starts, it becomes much easier to read, with a lot of dialogues. This book reads very quickly. I often end reading double the number of pages that I intended to. I think that it comes from the many dialogues that make turning the pages very fast. There is also a line break after every one or two sentences. That means that even when there is a passage without dialogue, you never get to read an entire block of text.

『草花たちの静かな誓い』by Teru Miyamoto (宮本輝)

This book is the exact opposite of 『アンカー』: it reads very slowly, haha. I never read Tery Miyamoto before but several of his novels are translated into French, and he also won many literary awards.

I am not used to reading literary fiction in Japanese so I was afraid that『草花たちの静かな誓い』would be difficult to read, but it is surprisingly not. There is nothing very difficult in terms of kanji, grammar or Japanese level in general, but there are a lot of descriptions and the pace is very slow. We follow the protagonist in everything he does. The first chapter of 100 pages, except for some pages at the beginning, only describes one day.

Extract: The protagonist describes the house of his deceased aunt. She lived in California. The protagonist notices the turkish stones flooring of the entrance and then describes the wooden floor of the kitchen:

「キッチンの床は杉綾の形に組んだたくさんの微妙に色の異なる木が敷き詰めてあった。」

The only word I didn’t know was 杉綾・すぎあや (herringbone), and I guessed the meaning of 敷き詰める because I knew the word 敷く・しく (spread out) and the context made it easy to understand. But even if you don’t understand these words, it is enough to know that the narrator is talking about the wooden floor of the kitchen. You can also guess that it has an exquisite/complex appearance.

To be honest with you, I didn’t know the English word herringbone… 😔 And then I wondered how we say it in French but had no idea 😨 I looked it up, and apparently we say “chevron”… Maybe I should stop all Japanese activities right now and start learning my mother tongue! 😅

What follows is much easier, the narrator then talks about his aunt’s habit to give slippers to visitors of the house, even Americans:

「しかし、菊枝(きくえ)おばさんが、訪ねてくるアメリカ人にも靴を脱いでスリッパに履き替えるのを求めたのは、各部屋の特別な材質の床を傷つけたくなかったからではない。おばさんは家のなかに外履きの靴やサンダルで入り、そのままソファに横たわったり、ベッドに乗るという、アメリカ人の習慣だけは我慢ならなかったのだ。外で履いた靴がどんなに汚いものかがどうしてわからないのかしら、菊枝おばさんはよく言っていたなと弦矢(げんや)は思いながらキッチンから庭に出た。」(p.40)

There is not a single unknown word to me in this passage, and in fact, this book is not very challenging in terms of vocabulary. I am thinking of using it to study and look up the words I don’t know and add them to Anki. I don’t usually look up words when reading novels (apart from very difficult ones), but it has been a while since I studied vocabulary seriously (since the JLPT to be honest 😔)…

Just started: 『ファーストラブ』by Rio Shimamoto (島本理生)

I like reading several books at the same time, so I also started 『ファーストラブ』by Rio Shimamoto. This novel won the Naoki Prize in 2018.

I am still at the very beginning, so it is hard to say if it is easier or more difficult than the two above. I would say that for now, it looks like the most difficult book, but it might just be because I am still not used to the characters and the setting and find some things a little confusing.

For instance, the narration is clearly told from the first-person perspective, but it does not feel like a first-person narration, it feels like a third-person one. I am therefore surprised everytime our protagonist says 私 in the narrative parts, because I tend to forget that it is indeed a first-person narrative. I don’t know if it makes sense 😅, in any case, I am still not really into the story yet.

Conclusion

My reading challenge for March (monthly challenges/goals are published on my home page) is to start and finish 3 books. I have already finished 『老後の資金がありません』, I will certainly finish 『アンカー』before the end of the month, but I am not sure whether I can finish 『草花たちの静かな誓い』. I love the story and the main character, but as I said, it reads very slowly. But I will try my best to complete my monthly challenge!

Book review: 『マチネの終わりに』by Keiichiro Hirano

Introduction

Title: 『マチネの終わりに』
Author: Keiichiro Hirano 平野啓一郎
Published by 文春文庫

This novel is a best-seller in Japan and has been adapted into film in 2019. It tells the love story between Satoshi Makino and Yoko Komine.

Satoshi, 38 years old, is a talented guitarist of classical music. After one of his concerts, he meets the reporter Yoko Komine, 40 years old, who lives in Paris and will be soon dispatched to Baghdad. We follow the long-distance relationship of these international lovers.

This review is divided into:

  • Book review I (spoiler-free)
  • The audiobook
  • The music (yes, the books has its soundtrack!)
  • Book review II (spoilers)

Review

I could have loved this story very much, but I did not enjoy reading the book. There were too many things in the novel that bothered me, and while I could see that the story had a strong emotional potential, I just could not feel any sympathy for the characters nor care about them.

This being said, I very much want to watch the film, I don’t know if I will like it, but the trailer looks good and I love the music. I kept listening to the main track 『幸福の硬貨』 during the long one and a half month it took me to read the novel. To me, the music brings the emotional dimension that I was unable to feel while reading the book.

What I disliked the most in the whole novel is how elitist it is. This is true of the setting and the characters.

The setting

『マチネの終わりに』has a very ambitious setting.

The story takes place in Japan (several cities), Paris, Bagdad and New York. Unfortunately, I find that the Keiichiro Hirano did not succeed in building the atmosphere proper to each place. We knew a scene happened in Paris for example, because the author would give very precise locations like name of streets, public gardens or subway stations, but I found the descriptions insufficient to give each place its particularities.

Furthermore, I found that naming with such precision all these places in Paris sounded pretentious. It felt like the author was displaying his knowledge of the city but did not invite the reader to follow him by explaining what kind of place it is.

As a French reader who knows Paris well, it was easy to picture the places mentioned, but I doubt whether a Japanese reader who does not know Paris can have the same reading experience. Similarly, I was not able to feel that some scenes actually happen in New York, because I don’t know the city myself, and I didn’t feel like the book was bringing me there.

Instead of sharing, instead of allowing the reader to learn something and to experience living in a foreign country through the characters, the novel only shut out the reader who is not cultivated enough or who has not travelled enough.

The characters

This elitist way of telling the story finds echoe in our two main protagonists: Yoko Komine and Satoshi Makino.

I found that Satoshi was the character I could the most relate to, but I really had a hard time with the female protagonist Yoko. She is so well educated, so perfect and has so high standards that I kept rolling my eyes each time she said something. I have nothing against culture obviously, but I didn’t like how culture was constantly handled as something sacred. I found Yoko extremely snobbish, and I could not feel sympathy for her, let alone identify with her.

I would not be surprised if the privileged, highly cultured and refined world of the characters prevented many readers to be able to identify with them. Again, it did not feel like the author was sharing something with the reader. In the story, secondary characters (like Sanae or Richard) cannot share the profound intellectual and artistic awareness of our two protagonists. To me it felt like the reader was also treated the same way: either you belong to the same elitist world than Yoko and Satoshi, either you don’t, but the novel will not introduce you.

I also found that all the other characters were often neglected. They appear to serve the plot, but we never really know them, their motivations and sentiments. As a result, I found them uninteresting and was bored everytime we had to cope with one of them.

The plot

As I said, I find the story interesting, but unfortunately, I find the mechanisms of the plot very unconvincing. I just could not believe that things could happen as they were described. As a result, I was more frustrated than emotionally involved.

Finally, what bothered me the most is certainly that I could not feel involved or even interested in each character’s life. I expected each character’s personal life to be interesting and the love story to be exciting, but in 『マチネの終わりに』, I found the love story to be interesting only because the other parts describing each character’s personal life were boring. As a result, I was bored most of the time, and even when the plot did raise my interest, I remained sceptic and detached.

Conclusion

『マチネの終わりに』is a best-seller in Japan and has a lot of good reviews too, so it certainly has a lot of good things in it that I was unable to see, and the story must have found echo in many readers. Usually, when I don’t like a novel, I still can understand why other people do. With 『マチネの終わりに』, however, it remains a mystery. If you have read this book, I would be very interested in knowing your thoughts!

And with this novel, I am moving forward in my 2020 reading challenge:

The audiobook

The only reason why I finished 『マチネの終わりに』is because I had bought the excellent but expensive audiobook. I listened and read at the same time in order to improve my listening.

I have never been disappointed by an audiobook I bought on audiobook.jp, but the audio version of 『マチネの終わりに』was really excellent.

The narrator and each character are voiced by different voice actors. The voice actors were all excellent, and I particularly enjoyed listening to Takayuki Masuda (増田 隆之) who plays Satoshi Makino. He really brings the character alive. I also liked the narrator Nozomu Sasaki (佐々木 望) very much, he made the audiobook very pleasant to listen to.

The only thing that I did not like that much is how Yoko always sounded so serious and delicate. But it does match the character very well so I think that it was intended.

The audiobook does not contain background noise or background music that would make it sound like listening to a film. However, it does contain tracks of classical guitar played by guitarist Shinichi Fukuda (福田進一). I really love this addition, but there are only three or so occurrences. It only happens when Satoshi himself plays guitar in the novel. I find that they could have added more tracks and more often, for example each time a piece of classical guitar is mentioned.

Finally, the pace of the audiobook is very slow. While it makes a perfect listening practice, it can also be frustrating to advance so slowly.

幸福の硬貨

The tracks used in the audiobook come from the CD 『マチネの終わりに and more』interpreted by Shinichi Fukuda (福田進一). There were two releases of the CD, the second one adding more tracks.

I find it so interesting that there should be a soundtrack for a book! The tracks on the CD follow the chapters of the book, so you can listen to the pieces that are mentioned in the novel. It is a nice addition to the reading experience, especially if you are not an expert in classical music and find all these names of classical pieces a little abstract.

Most of the pieces mentioned in the novel are real pieces of classical guitar. However, Keiichiro Hirano also created a fictional one: 『幸福の硬貨』. In the story, it is the main music theme of the fictional film 『幸福の硬貨』 directed by Yoko’s father. The name 『幸福の硬貨』 comes from one of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem, to be precise, the fifth elegie of the Duineser Elegien, and I guess that is why many people translate it in German (Münzen des Glücks) rather than English (Coins of Happiness). It is an important element in the story and has a lot of meaning for both protagonists.

I hope that I am not mistaken, but what I understand is that composer Soyoka Hayashi (林そよか) composed a piece for 『幸福の硬貨』, which was released in the CD 『マチネの終わりに and more』, interpreted by guitarist Shinichi Fukuda (福田進一). This version of 『幸福の硬貨』 is the one used in the audiobook. You can also find covers of it on YouTube if you search for Soyoka Hayashi’s version.

For the film, however, a new version of 『幸福の硬貨』 has been created, this time by composer Yugo Kanno (菅野祐悟). This is certainly the most popular version of the two, having been featured in the film. It is interpreted by guitarist Masaharu Fukuyama (福山雅治) himself (who plays Satoshi Makino in the film).

I highly recommend that you listen to Yugo Kanno’s version of 幸福の硬貨 if you intend to read 『マチネの終わりに』, there are numerous covers on YouTube. It is a beautiful piece for guitar and easily conveys all the contradicting emotions both characters must have felt.

Spoilers – more about the characters and the plot

The characters

Yoko.

Clearly, the author wanted Yoko to be a global character, but I do think that he got carried away. Her mother is Japanese, her father has Croatian, Yugoslavian and Austrian origins, and her fiancé is American. She studied in England, Switzerland and the United States, she lives in Paris, works in Bagdad, and later moves to New York. She speaks Japanese, French and English perfectly, she also speaks German (she reads Rilke in German), she can read Latin (because she turned to studying Latin and Greek when she got frustrated with learning the kanji), she can also speak some other languages like Romanian, and to complete it all, she can quote the Bible by heart (rolling my eyes).

I mean, it’s great to have such a rich experience and to know so many languages, but what bothered me is that it just looks like Yoko is packed with all the cool things the author could think about. It does not feel real in the novel, it just feel extremely elitist and pretentious.

Similarly, the author placed Yoko in prestigious, upper-class residential areas. I don’t know New York enough to have a clear vision of what living in Chelsea represents, but I can tell you that not everyone can afford to live rue du Bac, in the 7th Arrondissement. It is not as simple as to say “my character will do what rich people of this country do”. Readers of this country might end up associating the character with a certain social class and moral values. I am sure that Japanese readers would not feel it this way, but as a French reader, I kept feeling that Yoko had something unpleasantly bourgeois in her.

There was also an episode that made Yoko unlikable to me. When she comes back from Baghdad, suffering from PTSD after having survived a bombing, she has a panic attack in the metro when she realises that a young man of Arab origin is watching her. The man is certainly French of Maghreb descent, and I really felt bad for him, not for Yoko. I understand very well that surviving a bomb attack is a traumatic experience, but I think that the author could have chosen another trigger for Yoko’s panic attack. As it is, it only supports the negative image I have of her.

Moreover, I find this whole PTSD thing unconvincing. It was all tell and not show. I knew she was suffering from post traumatic disorder because the narrator told us so, but I could not feel what Yoko must have felt, I could not experience, through her, what it means to witness and survive a bomb attack.

And finally, I just find Yoko boring. I had this impression right from the beginning, when they all eat together after Satoshi’s concert. The conversation was lively with people telling jokes, but Yoko would always try to come back to serious topics. She would also display at length all her capacities as if she was doing a job interview or something. (rolling my eyes)

The other characters.

I found that the other characters were neglected. Two characters only seem to be there to serve their part in the plot: Jalila (ジャリーラ) who is Iraqi and Seiichi Sobue (祖父江誠一). I particularly found that Jalila was completely in the background, faded so to speak. She could have been an interesting character, but we never truly get to know her. Granted, the story is about the love story between Yoko and Satoshi, but they only meet three times and the novel is 464 pages long, so there was ample space to develop other characters.

When Yoko, Satoshi and Jalila spend an evening together, Satoshi and Yoko start talking about Yoko’s father’s film 『幸福の硬貨』. The film is about the resistance against the Ustashe, a Croatian fascist and ultranationalist organisation inspired by Nazi racial theory, who slaughtered Serbs and Jews during WWII. Satoshi asks where the title of the film comes from, and Yoko explains that it comes from German-language poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s fifth elegie from the Duineser Elegien. And then Yoko realises that Jalila does not know Rilke and cannot follow the conversation:

洋子は、ジャリーラが実は、リルケをよく知らないらしいことを察して、彼が二十世紀のドイツ語の詩人としては最高峰の存在であることを、極簡単に説明した。

I guess that the author did not intend it to sound this way, but I found Yoko’s attitude condescending: Poor Jalila is not as well educated as we are, of course she does not know European poets, she has not studied in Columbia University and Oxford, so how could she be as intellectually and artistically aware as I am…

Later, it is said that Jalila has difficulties to understand the meaning of Rilke’s poem:

ジャリーラは、その難解な詩句の意味を理解しようと考えながら、少し戸惑っている様子だった。

It looks like well educated people like Yoko or Satoshi can understand Rilke without problems, and other people like Jalila cannot. This is ridiculous. Obviously, you cannot just take one of Rilke’s poems, read it, and pretend that you understand it all!

It feels like Jalila is only here to make Yoko look good by contrast. For example, Yoko and Satoshi can speak Japanese, French and English, but Jalila can only speak English. To me, however, it had the opposite result. Jalila is in a distressing situation: she had to flee her country because she was being threatened, she left her family behind, she is a refugee in a country whose language she does not speak. And what about Yoko? She is reading Rilke’s poems aloud, translating it on the spot in English and reading it in German too on Satoshi’s request… (rolling my eyes)

Another character that I found needed more attention is Sanae Mitani. Even though she plays a central role in the story, we only know very little about her past, her motivations, her feelings. As a result, when she finally plays her part, she only appears as a bad person, she is just the bad guy of the story. I would have liked to know more about her own sufferings to understand why she acted like she did. She does have more space in the novel towards the end, but it is after the events, and it comes a little late in my opinion.

The plot

The story borrows the topic of the forbidden love that will never be fulfilled. But for a love to be impossible, there has to be things that get in the way, like social conventions, social class, customs, parents, religion, and so on. None of these affect our characters. They are grown-ups, and they are not burdened by social conventions or pressing parents.

In order to make their love impossible, the author had to use some mechanisms, but to me the result felt scarcely credible.

First of all, there is Sanae Mitani’s fake email to Yoko. This is really an ugly thing to do, and I would have liked to feel that Sanae had to act this way, that her own sufferings made it impossible for her to resist the temptation. As it stands, I just could not buy it. Would a grown up woman really do such a nasty and stupid thing? Even a child would realise this action is bound to be discovered.

Sanae’s action was unconving to me, but what was even more unrealistic and improbable were the protagonists’ reactions to the email. It just does not make sense! They are in love, they think of marriage, they don’t see each other often but spend a lot of hours talking via Skype. Yoko flies to Tokyo to meet Satoshi and when she arrives she receive an email, supposedly by Satoshi, to tell her that their relation is over. And she accepts it?? Obviously, this is the time for a “we need to talk” scene. Anyone’s reaction would be to want to meet and discuss it in person. But Yoko? She shuts down her phone and later delete all messages from Satoshi without reading them.

Things must have been even weirder for Satoshi. They were supposed to spend several days together in Japan, and suddenly, Yoko says that she “cannot go on like this anymore”, does not answer his messages and becomes unreachable.

Later in the story, Yoko’s PTSD and the guilt of the survivor are called upon to explain her behaviour, but as mentioned earlier, I just could not believe in Yoko’s trauma. It didn’t feel like Yoko reacted like she did because she was suffering from PTSD, but rather that she was suffering from PTSD because the author needed something to explain her behaviour.

Another key element of the disastrous turn of events is Yoko and Satoshi’s utter respect for the other’s decision. This really drove me crazy. Those two protagonists are so perfect and so understanding that they are constantly thinking “I must respect the other’s decision”. The other just let them down suddenly and without apparent reason, and they are okay with that? Then why should I care about their love story if the characters don’t care about it themselves?

It looks like Yoko never gets cross, like she does not have emotions. When Richard, who insisted on marrying her, cheats on her and asks for a divorce, she does not get angry or depressed. She even prays for Richard and Helen’s happiness (rolling my eyes). When Sanae confesses to Yoko, Yoko similarly prays for Satoshi and Sanae’s safety and does not look angry at Sanae at all (rolling my eyes). I mean, if this state of mind was the result of a long internal conflict, with Yoko struggling to not hate Sanae, why not? But no, Yoko is so perfect that she does not need to make an effort to think this way.

To me, this whole “love story” was all about putting feelings and emotions aside and behaving like respectable grown-ups. It is not the story of lovers who will fight against social conventions to be together no matter what. It is the story of lovers who don’t even try to put up a fight when their relation is in danger, give up easily and end up in a conventional marriage, each one on his side.

As a result, this book is not a romance at all, even though it is sold as a 恋愛小説. I would even say that it is the opposite of a romance. When I first heard about this book, I thought that it was great to have a love story involving two characters around 40 years old, especially in Japan. There seems to be tons of romance for young people, but I think that love stories for adults are less common. In a society where you are expected to get married and have children, characters who fall in love at 40 is certainly refreshing and appealing for readers of that age. I thought that this point was one of the reasons why the book was such a best-seller.

But what happen in our story? Yes, they fall in love when Yoko is 40 and Satoshi is 38. But then? They separate and they both marry someone they do not love. Two years later, they both have a child. While Satoshi eventually learns to love his wife, Yoko’s fate is more tragic: her husband cheats on her, they get a divorce, and she only get to see her son three days a week.

You thought that you’d read a story that says it is never too late to fall in love, but you find yourself with a book that is telling you: it is not too late to fall in love, but if you do, it will only make you unhappy.

I also find it unnatural that both characters end up marrying and having a child just after their separation. None of them was really interested in marriage when they met. Yoko easily discarded her fiancé because she was attracted to Satoshi, and Satoshi was single at the time. But soon after their separation, they hurriedly marry and have children, as if it was a race or something. It sounds artificial: the author just wanted to make sure that they would not be able to go back to each other easily or at all.

Finally, I was expecting the last scene, at the end of the matinée, to be very emotional and I was bracing myself for some tears, but no. I could not feel anything, even though I was willing to break in tears with Yoko when Satoshi plays 『幸福の硬貨』. Maybe it comes from Satoshi’s “for you”, whose double meaning is explained in Japanese at that moment. I found it a little ridiculous to be honest.

This review ended up being very long 😅 I am glad that I read and listened to 『マチネの終わりに』until the end. Despite all the things that bothered me, reading this book, which was rather difficult, is a big achievement in my “reading in Japanese” journey!