Hotel Royal
Author: Shino Sakuragi
Specifications: ISBN  978-4087714920
192 pages
13.8 x 19.0 cm / 5.5 x 7.6 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Shueisha Inc.
Tokyo, 2013
Awards: Naoki Prize, 2013
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This is a collection of seven stories connected with the eponymous Hotel Royal, a hilltop "love hotel" overlooking a scenic marsh outside an eastern Hokkaido city. Beginning with a story set in the present, when the hotel has been abandoned, the volume moves in reverse chronological order to the time some 30 years earlier when the property was first built.

The opening story is about a couple who ignore the no-trespassing sign and enter the deserted structure through a service entrance with a broken lock to conduct a nude photo shoot. Miyuki, the point-of-view character, has been working at a local supermarket for the last 13 years, ever since finishing college. She began dating Takashi, an old classmate of hers in middle school, shortly after the supermarket hired him three years ago. Once a rising star as a hockey player, he was forced to retire by a knee injury, and has since cut off all ties with the sport; his passion now is a new digital SLR camera he bought, and the photo shoot is his idea. He's been eager to try his hand at the theme of nudes in an abandoned building, he tells Miyuki, and asks her to be his model. She is reluctant, but ultimately gives in, even acceding to his demand that she go on a crash diet to lose some pounds before the shoot. She imagines he is planning something artistic, but once on site, she discovers to her disappointment and distaste that he intends to send the photos to a reader submission?style amateur porn magazine. Then, on their way home, he suggests that maybe it's time for them to meet each other's parents . . .

The penultimate story takes place when the hotel was still thriving, ten years or more before its closure, and centers on Miko Yamada, 60, who works there as a maid. Having grown up in a hardscrabble farm family, Miko went to work right out of middle school, taking a variety of low-wage jobs. She got married at 35 when she met the 25-year-old Shotaro, who worked on a fishing boat. But five years later, Shotaro gave up his place on the boat after being injured in a fight with a coworker, and for the last ten years he's been unable to work at all, putting the burden of support entirely on Miko's shoulders. The couple have three grown children, two sons and a daughter, all of whom left home immediately after finishing middle school; only the younger son, who became apprenticed to a plasterer, has remained in touch. One day Miko receives a letter from this son saying he has a new employer and his pay has gone up, enclosing 30,000 yen for her to use as she pleases. Shortly thereafter, his name is splashed across the news when he is arrested for a gruesome gangland murder, and Miko is shaken to learn that her son had actually been a member of the yakuza all along . . .

The collection delves into the complex textures of the human psyche, leaving us with vivid images of characters who, far from being comfortable or contented with their lives, struggle to overcome loneliness and poverty or to find sexual fulfillment.