Book review: 『ひと』 by Fuminori Onodera


Title: 『ひと』
Author: Fuminori Onodera (小野寺史宜)
Published by 祥伝社
330 pages

『ひと』has won the second place of the Japan Booksellers’ Award in 2019.


『ひと』was not a book for me unfortunately. It tells the story of 20 year-old Seisuke whose mother dies unexpectedly, leaving him without family ties (his father died several years ago) and without finacial support. Seisuke has no choice but to quit university and try to make a living of his own.

With this setting, I thought that this book would be about loneliness, struggle and fight to both support oneself financially and find a new place in the society outside of preconceived tracks. I was looking for a memorable character who will find a way to stand strong despite everything.

The novel is the reverse of what I was expecting. We don’t really see Seisuke fighting in a hostile world, rather, good things happen to him and keep happening to him. Instead of a character who has to be stronger because he has less, we have a character who receives more because he has less. The obi actually summarises the book very well when it states: 独りだから、そばにひとがいる、ありがたさを知る. The only true challenge for Seisuke will be to learn to rely on people and accept their help.

The word 独り is also a little misleading. Even though Seisuke finds himself without family support, he is far from being alone. His new employer and collegues act like a new family, he has friends, and is dating a former classmate. There is not a single page in the novel that made me feel even a tiny sense of solitude, mourning, despair or fear, which are things you certainly should expect to feel in this context.

I also found Seisuke hard to identify with. He is a bit too passive to make an interesting protagonist to me. Things (mostly good things) happen to him, but he does not really provoke them. He looks like a lucky character rather than an inspiring figure.

This book is more a heart-warming story which shows you that there are always good people out there who are eager to help. We learn that one can be generous even in poverty, and that there is no shame in accepting a helping hand when one is in need. There are several things I liked in the novel, and sure, reading this book felt good in the end, but I don’t think that reading it brought me much.

Overall, I was expecting more from a book that won the second place in the Japan Booksellers’ Award (本屋大賞), but I would still recommend it if you are looking for a feel-good story or a relatively easy book to read in Japanese.

Book review: 『あのころ』by Momoko Sakura


Title: 『あのころ』
Author: Momoko Sakura (さくらももこ)
Published by 集英社文庫
213 pages

『あのころ』is the first title in a series of three books about Momoko Sakura’s childhood. The other two books are 『まる子だった』and 『ももこの話』. The book contains 15 short episodes, all accompanied by an illustration.


I love reading Momoko Sakura’s recollection of her childhood. The way she talks about it makes her stories extremely heart-warming, relatable and funny.

I think that I already wrote this in my review of 『まる子だった』, but I am surprised by how similar children’s everyday life can be across the world. I can relate to so many episodes described by Momoko Sakura, even though I grew up in France. Waiting until the last days of the holidays before starting your homework, struggling to learn how to ride a bike when everyone else is doing fine, pestering your parents to get some money and buy useless things you immediately regret… there are so many relatable episodes in there! I remember that I hated gymnastics at school, and the marathon episode reminded me of the dreaded gymnastics competition we had in primary school.

Overall, the tone is mostly light and funny, but there are some moments that I found a little sad. Adults (parents and teachers) can sometimes say harsh things or have an attitude that will wound children, even if they didn’t mean to. But even these unhappy moments become cherished memories. The whole book feels very nostalgic.

I only have positive things to say about 『あのころ』, and I heartily recommend it. With its short chapters and everyday life vocabulary, it is also a perfect reading material for Japanese learners.

Book review: 『駐在日記』 by Yukiya Shoji


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.


『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.

Book review: 『運転者』by Yasushi Kitagawa


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…


『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: 『まる子だった』by Momoko Sakura


Title: 『まる子だった』
Author: Momoko Sakura さくら ももこ (1975-2018)
Published by 集英社文庫

This is the second volume in a series of three autobiographical books about Momoko Sakura’s childhood: 『あのころ』、『まる子だった』、『ももこの話』

There are 17 short stories in this book, all have one illustration by Momoko Sakura. 『まる子だった』can be read independently from the two other books of the series.


If you like ちびまる子ちゃん, either the manga or the anime series, then you will love this book too. Reading 『まる子だった』felt like watching an episode from the anime, but a version for adults.

For those who don’t know Maruko, she is a 9-year-old girl of the 70s created in 1986 by Momoko Sakura in her manga 『ちびまる子ちゃん』. The series was adapted into an anime in 1990, and if I am not mistaken, the anime is still going on today.

Maruko is a nickname, her real name is Momoko Sakura, the same as the author. I have read on Wikipedia that Sakura’s manga was autobiographical at the beginning, and became more fictional as the series went on.

In our book, 『まる子だった』(1997), the author comes back to the autobiographical style. She gives us stories about the 9-year-old girl she used to be, sometimes briefly talking about her adult life too. It feels like watching an episode of the anime, but from the grown-up Maruko’s point of view. As such, it was very interesting to read, and I just could not put the book down. I read it in four days!

What I really loved is that most stories allowed me to experience a typical Japanese childhood in the 70s (going to Tanabata festivals, preparing for earthquakes…), while some other stories seemed to be talking about my own childhood. It looks like children are not that different, no matter the generation or the country (I also harassed my parents for a dog).

All the stories have a similar length (around 12 pages). It is not a book for children, but it is not difficult to read either. Momoko Sakura is talking about her daily life as a child, all the stories are short, and if you have watched some episodes of the anime, it is easy to picture where the story takes place and who the characters are.

I plan to read the other two books of the series in the future!

Book review: 『老後の資金がありません』by Miu Kakiya


Title: 『老後の資金がありません』(ろうごの しきんが ありません)
Author: Miu KAKIYA (垣谷美雨)
Published by 中公文庫

I never read Miu Kakiya before, and I chose this book mainly to fulfill my 2020 reading challenge and read more widely. But to be honest, I was not sure whether I would like the story because I am not really preoccupied by 老後の資金 myself.



Our protagonist is Atsuko, she is just over 50, is married and has two grown-up children (still living at home). She is the one who takes care of all the financial matters of the household and when our novel begins, she has managed to save enough money for the old days of the couple. However, life gets in the way, and her financial plan starts falling apart.

To be honest, I am the opposite from Atsuko. We don’t have the same age or family situation, she is far-sighted and provident, and I am the opposite of that. I feel closer to other members of her family (like her husband or daughter) who seem to have no financial notions at all. But the generation and cultural differences between the protagonist and I made the book even more interesting to me.


I can see that this book is targeting a readership who is close to Atsuko and can identify with her. I can imagine how funny and supportive Atsuko’s story can be for readers who experience similar situations. To me, on the contrary, this book was all the more interesting because I don’t have experienced any of Atsuko’s financial ordeals. This novel has allowed me to learn about Japanese society, to peek into a typical Japanese household and see all the organisation and planning it requires from the financial supervisor. It is one thing to read about elderly households savings and public pension uncertainties in the news, but it is much more concrete to follow the daily life of someone directly affected by it.

While the topic of the book is a serious one, the tone of the novel remains light-hearted and the author has put a lot of humour in it. I found some scenes very funny. Towards the end, the novel loses in realism and becomes more a comedy than a 家計応援小説, like the summary on the back cover indicates. The summary also says that it gives courage and hints to overcome anxiety relative to financial problems. It certainly gives courage, but it is not a manual or a list of applicable tips. This book is first and foremost an entertaining work of fiction.

As such, I think that it can be read and enjoyed by a wide range of readers, no matter your family or financial situation. The term 家計応援小説 is reductive and can make many people think “this book is not for me”. If I had read the summary before buying this book, I would not have bought it. I would have thought that I don’t need advice or support concerning household finances and I would have missed the opportunity to read a humorous and engrossing novel.

『老後の資金がありません』is one of my favourite books read this year. I love novels that can tackle serious problems while being witty and funny.

Book Review: 『向田理髪店』by Hideo OKUDA 奥田英朗


Title: 『向田理髪店』(Barber Mukouda)
Author: Hideo OKUDA (奥田英朗)
Published by 光文社文庫

『向田理髪店』 is a novel that contains 6 chapters written between 2013 and 2016. Each chapter is a different story, but they all feature the same characters and are in chronological order.


Tomazawa is a little coal mine town in Hokkaido. Like many other similar towns, it flourished during the 19th Century but lost its vitality and most of its appeal when the energy policy changed and the coal mines shut down. Most of the youth left the town to Sapporo or even Tokyo.

Our protagonist is Yasuhiko MUKOUDA, one of the two barbers of Tomazawa. He was 28 when he came back from Sapporo to his native town and take over the shop. He is now 53-year-old, lives with his wife and mother and has two grown-up children.

If Tomazawa has lost its glory, its vitality, its youth and most of its population, those who stayed or returned, know how to make the most of any event.

Why I loved it

『向田理髪店』is an extraordinary heartwarming story, I loved every single page of it. We get to share the lives of Tomazawa inhabitants, get exciting or worried about the same things, get involved in their disputes and share their comradeship.

I liked how the stories depict real problems of towns like Tomazawa: the ageing population, the lack of public services, the lack of youth and the difficulty to get married… But Hideo OKUDA is a fantastic storyteller and all the stories in this novel made me either smile or got me involved.

I liked all the stories, but my favourites are 中国からの花嫁, 小さなスナック and 赤い雪. The story 小さなスナック was particularly funny, I loved it.

In the end, I felt like I was myself a part of Tomazawa, and I wish that there more stories to read… I highly recommend it!