Touring the Land of the Dead

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Touring the Land of the Dead
Author: Maki Kashimada
Specifications: ISBN  978-4309021225
156 pages
13.4 x 19.0 cm / 5.4 x 7.6 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Kawade Shobo Shinsha, Publishers
Tokyo, 2001
Awards: Akutagawa Prize, 2012
Translations: Simplified Chinese, Korean
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China Simplified Chinese
South Korea Korean
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Natsuko lives with her husband Taichi, who came down with a brain disease and was forced to stop working eight years ago. Ever since then they have had to get along on her part-time wages and what he receives in disability. But to Natsuko this is an improvement over the days before she met Taichi—a time she doesn't even want to remember. She refers to those days simply as "that life," unable to find any better description for when she lived with her mother, a proud woman who clung to illusions of affluence long after her means had fallen, and her younger brother, too spoiled by their mother to get a job. Despite having no income, her mother and brother refuse to give up their longstanding lifestyle, going deeper and deeper into debt as they indulge in luxuries they can't afford. They are like haunted spirits, unable to rest in peace.

One day, Natsuko sees an ad for a rest-and-recreation center posted on a bulletin board: "February Only: Weeknights 5,000 Yen." She recognizes the place as a former luxury hotel—a symbol of that time in her mother's youth when she wanted for nothing. Natsuko's grandfather, who singlehandedly built the family fortune, had taken her mother to the storied hotel when she was little.

For the first time in eight years, Natsuko and her husband, in his wheelchair, go for an overnight stay away from home. She wants to see the hotel with her own eyes; she seeks a glimpse into the thorny history of her family that goes back three generations. It is in effect a trip into the netherworld—a journey to the point of criticality, the portal of death, and from there back to life. In the course of this journey, Natsuko realizes that her husband's incurable disease is actually a miraculous turn of good fortune, and she is able to recapture her zest for life.

The volume also contains Kuju-ku no seppun (Ninety-Nine Kisses), a short story portraying four unmarried sisters that is modeled on Jun'ichiro Tanizaki's famous novel The Makioka Sisters, but with the action moved to the Shitamachi section of contemporary Tokyo.