Wednesday, 08 November 2017 12:20

Site update

Books from Japan was updated on November 8, 2017, adding synopses for 7 works of fiction, 1 of other categories, and 1 children & YA title. (Italicized English titles are those of finished translations; others are tentative titles.)

■ Natsuko Imamura, Hoshi no ko
(Child of the Stars)

■ Ayako Miyagi, Kōetsu gāru
(Proofreader Girl)

■ Yūsuke Miyauchi, Amerika saigo no jikken
(America: The End of the Experiment)

■ Shinsuke Numata, Eiri
(Back of Shadow)

■ Shino Sakuragi, Kōri no wadachi
(Tracks in the Ice)

■ Shōgo Satō, Tsuki no michikake
(The Waxing and Waning of the Moon)

■ Chisako Wakatake, Ora ora de hitori igu mo
(I, I’m Going Alone)

Other Categories
■ Hungry Grizzly, Sekai-ichi oishii nitamago no tsukuri-kata: Ie-meshi shokudō hitori-bun 100 reshipi
(How to Make the Most Delicious Seasoned Boiled Egg in the World: 100 Home Recipes for Solo Diners)

Children & YA
■ Ken’ichi Tamukai, Chinjū dokutā no dotabata shinsatsu nikki: Dōbutsu no inochi ni matta nashi!
(Doc Rare-Beast’s Clinic Diary: No Effort Spared to Save a Creature’s Life!)

This is a book of recipes from “Hungry Grizzly’s Cooking Blog,” which held the top spot in Japanese blog rankings for 26 months straight. The blogger with the nom de plume of Hungry Grizzly declares “The only recipes you really need are ones that are easy, cheap, and hit the spot with great taste.” The 100 recipes collected here range from the eponymous seasoned boiled egg to a variety of donburi (rice bowls), pasta and oriental noodle dishes, meat dishes, sweets, and more. All require only three to six steps to make, and most cost less than ¥100 per serving—without stinting on flavor. Better yet, Hungry Grizzly strives to make sure that if 100 people make the dish, all 100 of them will get it perfect the first time. To aid in this, each recipe is accompanied by photos for every step, and a single-frame cartoon highlights a key preparation tip.

Mealtime at home has never been so much fun or so tasty.

Monday, 06 November 2017 11:48

Hungry Grizzly

Hungry Grizzly is a 20-something male food blogger. Two months after starting his blog in 2014, he uploaded “How to Make the Most Delicious Seasoned Boiled Egg in the World,” which was shared 30,000 times on Facebook and received notice on TV as well. In 2017 his Sekai-ichi oishii nitamago no tsukuri-kata: Ie-meshi shokudō hitori-bun 100 reshipi (How to Make the Most Delicious Seasoned Boiled Egg in the World: 100 Home Recipes for Solo Diners) was awarded the Cookbook Grand Prize.

A veterinary doctor who is passionate about his work recounts his successes and failures—and ponders the nature of life and death for all living creatures.

In an era when not just dogs and cats but an increasingly diverse variety of animals are being kept as pets, animal hospitals find themselves being asked to treat frogs and rabbits, lizards and salamanders, and all manner of other creatures. Faced with a suffering animal, author Ken’ichi Tamukai is one of those vets who will do everything he can to help, whether it be conducting stomach surgery on a two-centimeter tree frog, taking a hammer and chisel to a massive bladder stone in a turtle, or attempting some other completely unprecedented treatment. In this work he describes his clinical encounters with more than 100 different kinds of animals, sometimes with humor, sometimes with soberness.

The book is also an autobiographical account of what led Tamukai to become a veterinarian, what he finds fulfilling about his chosen occupation, and what his life in constant close contact with animals has been like. He tells of the many different animals he kept as a child when his curiosity about all kinds of living creatures bloomed—including how he carelessly let some of them get away or die. He tells of his surprise when he discovered that the university he chose in the hope of learning how to treat iguanas had no courses in treating reptiles. He also discusses whether actions taken by humans in the belief that they are good for animals really make the animals happier, as well as various welfare issues associated with experimental animals, invasive species, trap-neuter-return (TNR) activities for feral cats, and the like.

A highly entertaining read, the book is also deeply thought-provoking about the place that creatures unable to understand language have in human life, as well as about the nature of life in general.

Monday, 06 November 2017 11:42

Ken’ichi Tamukai

Ken’ichi Tamukai (1973–) was born in Aichi Prefecture and graduated from the Department of Veterinary Medicine at Azabu University. He has loved animals from the time he was a little boy, and has always lived with a variety of living creatures in his company. When he opened his veterinary clinic, he decided he wanted to offer care to any creature that was brought in. He has treated over 100 different kinds of animals, from cats and dogs to rabbits, insects, monkeys, and anteaters—earning him the nickname “Doc Rare-Beast.” His publications include Chinjū no igaku (Medicine for Rare Animals), Chinjū byōin: Chippoke dakedo onaji inochi (Rare-Animal Hospital: However Small, Life Is Life), and Ikimono to mukiau shigoto (Working with Living Creatures).

Monday, 06 November 2017 11:38

Child of the Stars

This story of a girl who grows up in a family that finds comfort in a new religion centers mainly on events when she is a ninth grader, with flashbacks taking the reader to her earlier years.

Chihiro Hayashi is considerably below normal weight at birth and spends nearly three months in an incubator before being released from the hospital. At home, she has difficulty nursing and remains sickly, requiring frequent trips back to the hospital for additional care. At about six months she breaks out with an itchy rash on her face, which quickly spreads to the rest of her body over the course of a week. Home remedies as well as ointments prescribed by a specialist have no effect. Chihiro wails through the night from the discomfort, while her parents sob helplessly beside her. Even her five-year-old sister Masami joins in the tears.

When Mr. Hayashi mentions their troubles to a work colleague named Ochiai, the man immediately blames their water. The next day he brings Mr. Hayashi some special water in a plastic container. “Wet a washcloth with this water and gently wipe Chihiro’s body with it,” he says, and when Mrs. Hayashi follows these instructions, the rash begins to fade noticeably in just three days, Chihiro gradually stops crying at night, and in two months her skin is completely clear. With this experience as proof of its efficacy, the Hayashis become true believers in the water known as the “Gift of Venus,” touted as “holding the energy of the universe” and having many other efficacies. On Ochiai’s recommendation they also adopt the peculiar custom of placing a cloth soaked with the water on top of their heads.

Eight years later, when Chihiro is in the second grade, Mrs. Hayashi’s younger brother, Yūzō, who lives nearby, is no longer willing to stand idly by as his sister’s family sinks ever more deeply into the cultish religious practices that began with their faith in the special water. He starts dropping in frequently, telling them they are being duped and exhorting them to open their eyes. But after a time, he stops criticizing the sect and even says some things that seem to acknowledge the special powers of the water. Then one Sunday, he reveals his true purpose: “That water came from the tap at the park,” he tells the Hayashis. He had secretly removed several cases from the Hayashis’ Gift of Venus stockpile and replaced the contents with water from the park. By the time Yūzō reveals his subterfuge, the Hayashis have been using ordinary city water for two months without noticing any difference from their special water. They fly into a rage and drive Yūzō from the house. Their relatives cut off all further relations with them.

Three years later, Chihiro’s sister Masami is expelled from high school for barely ever showing up, and runs away from home. The night before she leaves, she reveals to Chihiro that she helped Yūzō with the water switch. By around this time, Mr. Hayashi has resigned from his position at an insurance company to take a job he learns of through a “church” connection, and Mrs. Hayashi has almost completely stopped caring about her appearance. The couple wear matching green sweat suits and have taken to going everywhere with Gift of Venus–soaked cloths on their head, not caring what people might think. In fact, their neighbors have all begun to view them with considerable misgivings. Masami remains missing. The family moves several times, each time to a home with less living space. As their lives grow increasingly erratic, sometimes barely eating, Chihiro reaches the age of 15.

Much of the interest of the story comes from Chihiro’s ability to retain her bright, cheerful disposition while living under such challenging conditions. Even though she has almost no friends at school, she experiences crushes on a young math teacher as well as on a classmate. Meanwhile, she has plenty of friends she can confide in at church. Since her parents have been banned from family gatherings, Chihiro heads off by herself to services for the sixth anniversary of her grandmother’s death. She remembers the fancy meal that followed the second anniversary services. (Note: The second and sixth anniversaries hold special significance in Buddhism.)

When one of the only friends she has at school tells her that she and her parents are being hoodwinked, Chihiro insists that it’s not true, but she does have her doubts. If she passes the exam to the high school she wants to attend next spring, she will have a 90-minute commute by bicycle, but it would be only five minutes from Uncle Yūzō’s house. Yūzō suggests that she move in with him for high school, but she flatly refuses. “I’m fine,” she insists. “I like the way things are.” But at other times when classmates ask, “Do you really believe?” all she can say is, “I don’t know.”

In December, Chihiro and her parents take a bus trip to the annual overnight retreat the church holds at the “Village of the Stars.” In the final scene, the three Hayashis go outside to search the sky for falling stars.

Author Natsuko Imamura demonstrates an ability to capture the subtle movements of the impressionable adolescent heart with a high degree of authenticity. Her first novel-length work was shortlisted for the prestigious Akutagawa prize and seems certain to give this promising young writer’s career a boost.

Monday, 06 November 2017 11:32

The Waxing and Waning of the Moon

The story of a love cut short by death—but that then persists over multiple reincarnations. The event that sets everything in motion is an illicit love affair that takes place in the mid-1980s between Ruri Masaki, 27, and Akihiko Misumi, 20, a college student. Ruri’s husband of four years, Ryūnosuke, is an architect who works for a major construction firm. Business travel often takes him away from home, creating the opportunity for both of them to stray. Ruri first meets Misumi on a day in early July when she is out for a walk and takes shelter from the rain at a soon-to-open video store where he works part-time. The two become intimate over time and fall in love, but then in December of that same year, Ruri dies when she is shoved onto the tracks in front of an arriving train by two men who get into a fight on a subway platform.

Something Ruri said at an assignation just a week before the accident is etched indelibly in Misumi’s memory. She told him that a senior colleague at her husband’s workplace had killed himself that May leaving behind a suicide note saying, “I decided to see what dying is like.” Not a single person living has experienced death, so no one knows what happens after we die. She thought trying it out was a legitimate option, and said she’d be willing to do it herself. In fact, if Misumi ever stopped loving her, she would do her own test run of dying, and come back as a sweet and beautiful young thing to capture Misumi’s eye again. She went on to say that God offers those born into this world a choice of two ways of dying. The first is to die and leave behind descendants. The second is to die and be reborn over and over, like the waxing and waning of the moon. She would choose the latter.

This “first generation” Ruri is subsequently reborn as Ruri Osanai, Nozomi Konuma, and Ruri Midorisaka. At the age of seven, each of these girls experiences an unexplained high fever, during which they all become aware that they are the same person as the original Ruri. They not only know details of the lives of all previous Ruris, but they also share a distinctive mannerism in which they show the tip of their tongue. And even though they are only seven years old when they gain this awareness, they begin repeatedly running away from home in an effort to see Misumi. With no idea that their daughters are transmigrations of a soul from an earlier life, their parents are utterly mystified by the eccentric behavior, and their lives are rocked with turbulence. Only at the end of the story does it become clear that Misumi believed in the original Ruri’s reincarnations and accepted his fate from the beginning. Master of the intricate and tricky plot, author Shōgo Satō unfolds the checkered life of Ruri, who would by the end be 60 years old if she had lived, in a manner that is divorced from the normal dictates of time (60 years is generally regarded as “one full lifetime” based on the sexagenary cycle, the traditional way of reckoning time in East Asian cultures). He draws the reader into the story by seamlessly blending the impossible with the real in a way that prompts one to willingly suspend disbelief. Joining the reader in finding himself increasingly willing to believe the impossible is the other main character in the story, Tsuyoshi Osanai.

At the beginning of the tale, Tsuyoshi is 61 years old. He spent his working career at a mid-sized oil company, but now lives with his elderly mother in his native Hachinohe in northern Honshu. On this particular day, he has come to Tokyo on the Bullet Train for a meeting with actress Yui Midorisaka and her seven-year-old daughter Ruri at a coffee shop in the Tokyo Station Hotel. Misumi is also supposed to come, but he is perhaps running late, for he has yet to appear. This meeting, which lasts three hours, forms the framework for the overall tale, with Tsuyoshi gradually revealing the astonishing truth he has come to accept over the course of recent months based on numerous pieces of evidence: that the reincarnation of Ruri is real. In short order we learn that Tsuyoshi lost his wife Kozue and 18-year-old daughter Ruri in a traffic accident 15 years ago. Yui was a close friend of his daughter and she has asked Tsuyoshi to bring to today’s meeting a portrait that his daughter painted when she was in high school. With one look at the portrait, Ruri Midorisaka claims that she painted it and begins recounting details of her previous life with Tsuyoshi and Kozue. The portrait is that of a young Misumi whom Ruri cannot possibly have met. It is a gripping set-up for the story that is to follow.

Each of the reincarnated Ruris tries to find her way to Misumi. Fifteen years ago the 18-year-old Ruri Osanai headed for Tokyo to meet Misumi in a car driven by her mother. Eight years ago Nozomi Konuma sweet-talked Ryūnosuke Masaki, whom she had met, and headed for the Nagoya Branch where Misumi was then stationed. Both attempts ended in tragic traffic accidents. While still only in elementary school, the fourth Ruri finally succeeds in being reunited with Misumi, who now heads the General Affairs Department at the Tokyo headquarters of a major construction contractor. The desperate determination of the young Ruris pulls on readers’ heartstrings.

Near the end, there are hints that Mizuki Aratani, the middle-school daughter of a single mother in her forties Tsuyoshi recently began seeing, is a reincarnation of Tsuyoshi’s wife Kozue. The implication is that if people would only pay attention to the signs, they would realize that reincarnation is occurring constantly all around them.

A seasoned author in complete control of the devices of novelistic writing has produced a masterpiece overflowing with all the delights fiction can offer.

Monday, 06 November 2017 11:24

I, I’m Going Alone

Universal and eternal truths about human existence emerge in bold relief from the reflections of an elderly widow on what at first glance appears to be an unexceptional life.

Narrator Momoko Hidaka is 74 years old. Her husband died 15 years ago, and since then she has been living alone in the home they shared in a suburban Tokyo residential community. Lacking anyone to talk to, she gets to thinking back over her life as she enjoys her daily cup of tea, or when sitting alone in a coffee shop, or as she makes a pilgrimage to her husband’s grave by an isolated back route. She is the mother of two children. The eldest, son Shōji, dropped out of college and moved away to a job in another prefecture. He rarely contacts her, and the words he spat out when he left home still ring in her ears: “You’ve got to stop smothering me, Mom.” Momoko had once lost ¥2.5 million (about $25,000) to an “It’s me, it’s me” scammer, thinking she was sending the money to Shōji. As she reflects on these and other events involving her son, she feels remorse at having taken the joy out of life for Shōji by being overly attached to him.

Her daughter Naomi lives with her husband and two children just 20 minutes away by car. Their relationship has long been strained and distant, but she now calls occasionally to see if she can pick some things up at the store for her mother. During one such call, she asks for money to sign her son up for special art lessons. Caught off guard, Momoko is momentarily at a loss, which prompts Naomi to remind her pointedly that she was quick to pay when she thought it was her brother asking for money.

After the exchange with her daughter, Momoko reflects on the relationship she had with her own overbearing mother, and her thoughts then drift by association to how she left northeastern Honshu for Tokyo 50 years before. Upon graduating from high school, Momoko had taken a job with the agricultural co-op in her hometown. When she reached 24 her parents arranged a marriage for her—as was the practice in a rural region still bound by old traditions. But the man meant nothing to her, so three days before the wedding, she fled to Tokyo. This was during the boom era of Japan’s economic growth, and there were plenty of jobs to be had. While working at a restaurant, she met and fell in love with a handsome customer named Shūzō who came from the same part of the country she did, and they eventually got married. Until this she had been self-conscious about her country accent and dialect, but the marriage allowed her to renew her fondness for the language she’d grown up with. From then until Shūzō died of a sudden heart attack, she had devoted herself body and soul to serving her husband and family. Shūzō’s death had brought her an unbearable sadness as painful as being torn limb from limb.

Even after so many years have gone by, she still misses Shūzō dearly in her now solitary life, and frequently wishes she could see him again. But she also wonders if it was her love that killed him. It was out of love that she’d devoted herself to serving her husband, but at the same time, she had in effect held power over him by making it impossible for him to live without her. Then, just when she began to feel hemmed in by the walls she had constructed for herself, he had died. She blames herself for failing to notice how tired he had become. Now she feels her own decline, sensing the approach of death day by day. Momoko’s reflections often take the form of conversations in her childhood dialect with and among voices in her head—voices that are different “layers” of herself. One of the voices tells her that Shūzō died in order to let Momoko live freely.

On a winter’s day, Momoko recalls a vision she once had in which a procession of women were walking along with mute determination, their eyes fixed straight ahead. She understands them to be women of the last generation who, like her, lived their entire lives in silent endurance. Soon spring arrives, and out of the blue one day, her eight-year-old granddaughter Sayaka comes to visit. Momoko feels a surge of happiness as she sits talking with her beloved grandchild.

The reflections on love, self, and meaning that unfold within a lonely old woman’s internal conversations with herself will pull on every reader’s heartstrings.

Monday, 06 November 2017 11:22

Chisako Wakatake

Chisako Wakatake (1954–) was born in the city of Tōno in Iwate Prefecture, and now resides in Chiba Prefecture. She graduated from the Faculty of Education at Iwate University. She began writing as a full-time homemaker and made her literary debut in 2017 by winning the Bungei Prize for her mid-length story Ora ora de hitori igu mo (I, I’m Going Alone).

Monday, 06 November 2017 11:16

Back of Shadow

Taking place partly in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake, this story focuses on characters who feel marginalized in their communities in today’s Japan. Remarkably, first-time author Shinsuke Numata accomplishes the acrobatic feat of bringing his protagonists and their plight to the fore while giving very little explicit information about either.

The narrator is 31-year-old Akihito Konno. In October 2008 he is transferred to the Iwate Prefecture subsidiary of a company that distributes pharmaceuticals to medical facilities. There he becomes friends with Norihiro Hiasa, a colleague who is about his own age in the Logistics Department, and they spend time fishing nearby mountain streams and going drinking together. In a scene where they encounter a massive tree that has fallen across their path, the narrator describes Hiasa as “a man who is particularly susceptible when something big collapses, and easily affected by it.” This sets a key theme for the story that follows, which is most centrally about the relationship between these two men.

In February 2010, Hiasa disappears without saying anything to Konno, who subsequently learns from colleagues that he quit his job. Konno feels a little hurt, but does not try to pursue Hiasa. Then in June, Hiasa comes looking for Konno as an agent for a mutual aid society in which members pay a premium of ¥2,000 per month to cover the cost of a wedding or burial. They renew their friendship. In August, Hiasa begs Konno to sign up for a plan so he can meet his sales quota. The following month, Konno, Hiasa, and a guest of Hiasa go fishing together, but for some reason Hiasa is on edge and hostile, and seems to find something wrong with everything Konno does. Their friendship once again breaks off.

In March 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake causes devastation all up and down the Pacific coast of northeastern Honshu, including coastal Iwate. Fortunately, the city where Konno lives is far enough inland to be spared significant damage. In May, a woman named Nishiyama from the Logistics Department tells Konno that she thinks Hiasa died in the tsunami. Besides signing up for three plans with the mutual aid society (for her husband’s and her own funeral, and her daughter’s wedding) even before Konno, she has loaned Hiasa ¥350,000. When they contact Hiasa’s company, they’re told that he is officially listed as missing. Although the day of the earthquake was supposed to be a day off, Hiasa had gone out to the coast on his own initiative to try to make some sales, and is thought to have been caught up in the tsunami.

Konno conducts inquiries in an effort to find out what happened but fails to turn up any leads. When he visits the inland village where Hiasa grew up and meets his father, he is surprised by what he learns. Hiasa claimed to have graduated from a university in Tokyo, but his degree certificate was a forgery and he had never actually enrolled at the school in question. Hiasa’s father had learned of this when the man who forged the certificate came to ask for money. Enraged at the deception, especially since he had continued to send money for tuition and rent year after year, the elder Hiasa had disowned his son, and he now has no desire to file a missing persons report. At the same time, he says he believes his son is still living, and will eventually cause a major incident of some kind. Hiasa had lost his mother at the age of four, after which he was raised by his father and older brother, but he’d grown up rarely speaking to his father; he’d never had more than one friend at a time, with one short-lived friendship replacing another in quick succession.

With regard to Konno himself, readers are largely left to read between the lines. He apparently had a relationship with a man named Kazuya Soejima, who ultimately underwent sex reassignment surgery and became a woman. Konno initially sees his transfer to the subsidiary in Iwate as a good opportunity for him, but he knows he will return to the parent company in Tokyo in three years, so he makes no real effort to establish local ties. In some ways it appears that Konno is the one “susceptible when something big collapses,” and that he is desperately trying to guard some secret.

The highly polished prose, deeply evocative descriptions of nature, and careful and intricate plotting mark Numata as a newcomer from whom still more great things can be expected.

Monday, 06 November 2017 11:14

Shinsuke Numata

Shinsuke Numata (1978–) was born in Otaru, Hokkaido. After graduating from Seinan Gakuin University in Fukuoka, Kyushu, he worked as a cram-school instructor teaching English to middle-school students. It was during this period that he first began trying his hand at fiction. In 2012 he moved back in with his parents, then living in Morioka, Iwate, and for roughly two years devoted himself to the study of creative writing and spirituality without taking a job. He made his literary debut in 2017 by winning the Bungakukai Prize for New Writers for the story Eiri (Back of Shadow), and was subsequently awarded the prestigious Akutagawa Prize for the same work. In August 2017 he published his first story since gaining the national spotlight, Haioku no nagame (View From a Tumble-Down House).

Monday, 06 November 2017 11:01

Ian Hideo Levy

Ian Hideo Levy (1950–) was born in California and spent many of his childhood years in Taiwan and Hong Kong. A resident of Japan since 1989, he is a non-native author writing in Japanese, and also a professor in the Faculty of Intercultural Communication at Hosei University. He previously taught at Princeton University and Stanford University. In 1982 he received a National Book Award in the United States for his English translation of Manyōshū (The Ten Thousand Leaves), the oldest extant anthology of Japanese poetry, compiled sometime after 759. He was awarded the Noma Prize for New Writers in 1992 for his Seijōki no kikoenai heya (tr. A Room Where the Star-Spangled Banner Cannot Be Heard), and since then has gone on to win the 2005 Osaragi Jirō Prize for Chiji ni kudakete (Thousands and Thousands of Pieces), the 2009 Itō Sei Prize for Kari no mizu (Fake Water), and the 2016 Yomiuri Prize for Literature for Mohankyō (Model Village, Taichung). His other fiction titles include Ten’anmon (Tienanmen), Kokumin no uta (Ode to the Nation), and Henrī Takeshi Rewitsukī no natsu no kikō (Henry Takeshi Lewitzky’s Summer Travels); his nonfiction titles include Nihongo o kaku heya (A Room for Writing Japanese) and Tairiku e: Amerika to Chūgoku no genzai o Nihongo de kaku (To the Continents: Writing in Japanese about America and China Today). Demonstrating a sensitivity to the Japanese language that exceeds even that of native speakers, he is a treasured figure in the world of Japanese literature.

Monday, 06 November 2017 10:54

Tracks in the Ice

An elderly man’s body is discovered on a beach in the eastern Hokkaido port city of Kushiro, and the investigation begins with few useful clues to go on. The tale proceeds from there in the form of a conventional police procedural, but both the story of the investigator and the story she investigates emerge as explorations of the many vicissitudes of the bonds between parent and child.

The main character is Mayu Daimon, a 30-year-old police detective, and she is partnered with veteran detective Shūhei Katagiri, three years from retirement. They arrive on the scene to find the victim with his skull caved in, and they presume this to be the cause of death. There is nothing on his person to aid in identifying him, but he appears to have been in his seventies or eighties. One unusual thing that catches their eye is that he is wearing a short-sleeved shirt. Though the time is mid-July, the temperatures in this part of Hokkaido hadn’t even been reaching the upper sixties on most days.

Mayu grew up as the daughter of two cops. Her father Shirō has been retired from the force for five years and is now in rehab, following a stroke a year ago that paralyzed his left side. Her mother Kiyo has her hands full as his primary caregiver. It wasn’t until the high-school-age Mayu expressed an interest in joining the force, too, that Kiyo told her daughter she is not her biological mother. Two years after Kiyo and Shirō were married, Shirō had had an affair with a younger colleague and gotten her pregnant. Events after the baby was born led to Kiyo taking the child in and raising her as her own. Shirō requested a transfer out of the Criminal Affairs Department and spent the remaining 25 years of his career in the Traffic Division. Mayu’s investigative partner Katagiri is one of very few people left on the force who has known both Shirō and Kiyo from those earlier days, when Shirō was still a detective. Mayu’s true relation to her parents and how she feels about it ultimately play a significant role in the path the investigation takes.

The first break in the case comes when they get a match with a fingerprint on file from a traffic violation: the victim is identified as Nobuo Takigawa, age 80. A lifelong bachelor, he had driven a taxi until retiring five years ago, and his current address is in Sapporo. Further investigation reveals that he has no living relatives. Why was such a man found dead with his head bashed in more than 300 kilometers from home?

Next to surface is a possible link between Takigawa and a Kushiro woman named Sayuri Yonezawa, who runs a kamaboko (processed fish products) factory and shop catering to tourists. It is a popular destination that receives mention in various travel guides consulted by visitors to the city, but curiously, Takigawa had made repeated phone orders from Sapporo. Was he just a satisfied customer, or was there some other connection between him and Sayuri?

The original founder of the kamaboko business, Hikozō Yonezawa, had noticed Sayuri’s skill and business acumen and persuaded her to marry his son and heir, Hitoshi. Shortly after Hikozō turned the business over to Hitoshi and Sayuri 20 years ago, a fire had broken out at the factory, and Hikozō died in the blaze. Though he was now nominally the president of the company, the dissolute Hitoshi was clueless about what to do, so it fell to Sayuri to singlehandedly rebuild the business. Having been raised by a foster father, Sayuri appears at first to have no living relatives, but then it emerges that her mother is still living, and she also has an elder sister. Her mother Sachiko Namekata had for many years operated a strip joint in Hachinohe, a city on the Pacific coast near the northern tip of the main island. Her sister Chieko was fathered by the leader of a troupe of traveling entertainers Sachiko had worked with early on in her career. Sachiko tells Mayu that she’d had to sell off her two daughters due to poverty.

Takigawa, for his part, was born into one of the wealthiest families in Aomori, but he had been forced to drop out of college when his family went bankrupt. He wandered the entertainment district looking for work, and ultimately ended up as a live-in helper at the strip joint Sachiko ran, where at one time part of his job was to look after Sachiko’s two small daughters. He had recently recognized Sayuri in a segment featuring her flourishing kamaboko shop on television, and it had prompted him to reach out to the sisters in an effort to reunite them with their mother. Instead of welcoming his overtures, however, Chieko had killed Takigawa in order to keep secrets of the past from being revealed—especially to her sister.

The man named Senkichi Katō who had raised Sayuri, forcing her to work instead of even going to elementary school, was not only the one who had arranged the sale of Sachiko’s daughters but Chieko’s biological father as well, and Chieko still feels guilty for the way her father treated Sayuri. Further, when Chieko got married, she had changed her given name along with her surname to become Keiko Hyōdō. Running an insurance agency with her husband, she had kept an eye out for Sayuri over the years from close by without revealing her identity. It was Chieko/Keiko who had made sure that the beneficiary of the kamaboko company’s insurance policy would be the company itself rather than Hitoshi and his two sisters. Sayuri had been so wrapped up in running the business, just trying to get through one day at a time, that she had failed to recognize Keiko Hyōdō as her sister, and Chieko was hoping to keep it that way.

“You can’t throw something away and then go chasing after it,” says Sachiko when Mayu visits her at the nursing home where she now lives. Mayu realizes that she has never once had the slightest desire to meet the mother who had abandoned her at a temple when she was an infant.

Monday, 06 November 2017 10:49

Proofreader Girl

A volume of linked stories featuring a young woman who works in the Proofreading Department at a major publishing house.

Our heroine is the 24-year-old Etsuko Kōno. It is now two years since she joined the publisher Keibonsha after graduating from a women’s university that caters to the pampered daughters of well-to-do families. Etsuko grew up reading Keibonsha’s magazines from the time she was in elementary school, and it was through their pages that she had cultivated her sense of fashion. During her student years she was a particular fan of the company’s Lassy, a magazine targeted primarily at young working women, which she read cover to cover. Dreaming of a chance to help edit a fashion magazine herself, she had applied to Keibonsha, even though she knew it was an almost impossible long shot for someone with her academic background. The job offer she subsequently received came as both a surprise and a delight, but then somewhat to her disappointment she learned her position was to be in the Proofreading Department.

There was a reason she’d been able to garner an offer from a major house that usually drew all its new recruits from top-ranked universities: the head of the Proofreading Department had been impressed by her prodigious memory—though it should be noted that her unusual powers of recall actually applied only to articles that had appeared in Keibonsha’s fashion magazines. Just two other women were recruited by Keibonsha that year: Morio, who landed a place in the Fashion Magazine Department, and Fujiiwa, who was assigned to Literary Publications. The continuing threads that run through the linked stories center on Etsuko’s efforts to win a transfer into the Fashion Magazine Department, and the ups and downs related to an unrequited love interest.

Work in the Proofreading Department calls for sitting at her desk and concentrating intensely on the pages in front of her from 9 AM to 6 PM. Her boss assures Etsuko that the better she performs at her assigned tasks here, the better her chances of having a transfer approved, but initially she has a hard time working up an interest in the works of fiction directed her way, which she finds utterly dull. Then the editor of a book she is proofing, a senior colleague in the Literary Department, asks her to accompany him on a night out entertaining big-name author Daisaku Hongō. As it happens, Hongō takes a shine to Etsuko, and she is soon caught up in a series of incidents in which Hongō’s wife, who constantly suspects him of cheating on her, disappears, then Hongō himself goes missing as well.

The man Etsuko falls in love with is also linked with one of her proofreading jobs. She is at a café near the office one day when she sees a gorgeous young man with afro hair walk in, and she is instantly smitten. After leaving the café, the young man goes into the Keibonsha building, and lo and behold, it turns out that he is none other than Koreyuki Korenaga, an anonymous author whose new book she had proofed just a few days before. Besides writing books, Korenaga also works as a fashion model. When Etsuko makes bold to introduce herself to him, he thanks her for her proofreading labors, and she even manages to win a date with him for Valentine’s Day—but then all manner of problems begin popping up for her at work . . .

Besides the engaging details of working for a publisher, the episodes are stuffed to overflowing with a love story, fashion interest, gourmet cuisine, and more. Yet narrated as they are in the light, brisk style author Ayako Miyagi has become known for, the installments never seem overburdened. Miyagi has created an appealing new heroine who, while suffering from a tendency to recklessness, wins our hearts with her dauntless determination.

Monday, 06 November 2017 10:45

Ayako Miyagi

Ayako Miyagi (1976–) was born in Kanagawa Prefecture. In 2006 her short story Hanayoi dōchū (The Courtesan’s Walk) won both the Grand Prize and the Readers’ Prize in the Women’s R-18 Literary Awards competition; the work became the title story in her maiden collection. Following the March 2011 earthquake off Japan’s Pacific coast, she joined the Bungei Anemone magazine collective of women writers who came together with the purpose of sending aid to the disaster zone. In 2013 she won the Tippling Booksellers Prize—an award that spotlights overlooked bunko books (pocket paperbacks) more than a year old—for her linked story collection Seremonī kuroshinju (Ceremony Black Pearl). Her Kōetsu gāru (Proofreader Girl) was a hit and spawned two sequels, Kōetsu gāru: Aramōdo (Proofreader Girl: À La Mode) and Kōetsu gāru: Torunēdo (Proofreader Girl: Tornado), then generated even more buzz when it became a television series in 2016. Her other titles include Nora onna (Stray Women), Taiyō no niwa (Sun Garden), Garasha (Gratia), and Kannō to shōjo (Sensuality and the Girl). Not only is she prolific, but she appears to be equally accomplished in whatever genre of entertainment fiction she tackles, from historical to erotic to business and more. She is regarded with high expectations for the future.

Monday, 06 November 2017 10:16

America: The End of the Experiment

This tale of a young Japanese pianist competing for entry into a famous music school in the United States is crossed with the mystery of his missing father and told in a hard-boiled style that resonates perfectly with the jazz-piano theme.

As the story opens, it is just five days since protagonist Shū Sakurai, an aspiring jazz pianist in his early twenties, arrived in an unidentified West Coast city. His aims in coming to the United States are twofold: to go through the highly competitive application process for the Gregg College of Music, known especially for its jazz program, which screens applicants in four separate rounds; and to try to find his father Shun’ichi, who has not been heard from since he successfully completed the application process and was accepted into Gregg seven years before. Shū has been able to learn that Shun’ichi, already a skilled jazz pianist but generally considered second-rate at the time of his application, had briefly enjoyed some success on the local music scene playing a homemade synthesizer called “Pandora” that produces a distinctively mystical sound.

The highly unconventional application process at Gregg is famous for the spur-of-the-moment demands it places on aspirants. For example, in the preliminary round, during a music festival sponsored by the school, applicants are sent onstage as last-minute additions to the program. Whether or not they pass through to the next round is based solely on how well the audience responds to their impromptu performance. Virtuoso skills mean nothing if the audience doesn’t show its approval with sufficient enthusiasm. The following day, in the first stage of the main screening, applicants are required to perform on a piano without being informed beforehand that it has been tuned to pure temperament. All performance venues are off-campus: only candidates who pass the test and make it through to the next round are admitted onto the school grounds. The format of the next round is a piano duet, with two applicants pitted against each other on separate pianos. They take turns improvising four bars each, and since they know only one of them can survive the round, their incentive is to make things difficult for the other by handing off complicated transitions—except that if the joint improvisation fails to come together as a satisfying piece of music, both applicants may be eliminated. The rules are reminiscent of the prisoner’s dilemma in game theory, and in no case can both players survive . . .

Shū makes two friends among his fellow applicants. Zachary, who appears to be about 16 or 17, is the pampered son of a local mob boss and always has a bodyguard named Arno at his side. Massimo is a 26-year-old skinhead who knows a lot about the local music scene and is Shū’s primary source of information about Shun’ichi and his Pandora performances. He introduces Shū to a Native American woman name Louie, who had been seen hanging out with Shun’ichi quite a bit at one point. Shun’ichi has left his Pandora with her, and Shū takes it with the intent of using it in the duet round. Then events take a sudden turn. A student is killed in the hall where applicants are performing. The phrase “The First Experiment of America” is found written in large letters on a whiteboard. Photos of the crime scene are posted to the Web, word of the incident spreads rapidly, and a second killing and a random shooting follow in other locations.

Arno reveals to Shū that the killer in the first instance was a man name Ernest. Arno, Ernest, and Shun’ichi had been applicants to Gregg together. Ernest was the adoptive son of Johann Schlink, head of the Schlink Foundation and founder of the Gregg College of Music. When this city was still a small country town on a Native American reservation, Johann had plowed large amounts of his personal capital into it to build it up, and had turned it into a bellwether city for divining the future of capitalism in decline. The name he had given this project was “The Last Experiment of America.” Johann was a pianist in his youth, but is now said to suffer from amusia. Ernest had long continued to play only in the hope that it might help cure his adoptive father of his affliction, but when it grew increasingly clear that his efforts were for naught, and he was also feeling no love from Johann, he had disappeared.

Ernest reappears during the final round of the application process and guns down Johann, who is participating in the proceedings as a judge. In the aftermath, Louie is discovered to be Johann’s daughter, and Shū and Shun’ichi are reunited. Shun’ichi suffers from focal dystonia, which has dealt a deathblow to his ambitions as a pianist. Shū, Zachary, and Massimo are all accepted into Gregg.

Author Yūsuke Miyauchi’s trademark is his utter unpredictability, with one surprising twist after another coming in rapid succession. His determination to break new ground in entertainment fiction shines through as he leaps over existing genre boundaries with the greatest of ease.

Friday, 06 October 2017 09:50

Site update

Books from Japan was updated on October 6, 2017, adding synopses for 12 works of fiction, 1 of nonfiction, 7 of other categories, and 1 children & YA title. (Italicized English titles are those of finished translations; others are tentative titles.)

■ Kairi Aotsuki, Chitei apāto nyūkyo-sha boshū-chū!
(Underground Apartments Available Now!)

■ Mami Aoya, Shopan no shinzō
(Chopin’s Heart)

■ Jin Fukazawa, Eikoku genshi no shōnen-tachi: Fantazunikku
(Visionaries: Phantasnic)

■ Keigo Higashino, Kataomoi
(Unrequited Love)

■ Kaori Ishida, Kyō no hi wa, sayōnara
(Goodbye for Today)

■ Shoh Kataoka, Sayonara, Musshu
(Goodbye, Monsieur)

■ Hiromi Kawakami, Boku no shitai o yoroshiku tanomu
(Please Take Good Care of My Corpse)

■ Yūsuke Miyauchi, Ato wa no to nare Yamato nadeshiko
(After Us the Deluge)

■ Tomihiko Morimi, Yakō
(Night Train)

■ Shichiri Nakayama, Seirēn no zange
(The Confession of the Sirens)

■ Tomoka Shibazaki, Hoshi no shirushi
(A Sign in the Stars)

■ Tomoyuki Shirai, Tōkyō ketsugō ningen

■ Koutaro Ould Maeno, Batta o taoshi ni Afurika e
(To Africa to Conquer the Locusts)

Other Categories
■ Ichiyō Higuchi and Hatsumi Chigira, Manga-ban bungo Takekurabe
(“Child’s Play” in Classical Japanese: Manga Edition)

■ Haruyo Miyakawa, Donna hito de mo kōkando appu! no koe no mahō
(Vocal Magic: Anyone Can Make a Better Impression!)

■ James Shūichi Nakano, Hyakusai made ugokeru “Ohayō” ato no shakkiri! taisō
(Morning Exercises to Keep You Sprightly to Age 100)

■ Kenji Nishi, Aidoru/media-ron kōgi
(Idol Culture through the Prism of Media Theory)

■ Yoshiaki Nishino, Zen’ei-shi: Mirai-ha, Dada, Kōsei-shugi
(Avant-Garde Publications: Futurism, Dadaism, and Constructivism)

■ Hikaru Tansei, Senryaku purofesshonaru ga eranda furēmuwāku 115
(115 Frameworks Selected by a Business Strategy Pro)

■ Seiji Yasumura and Kenji Kamiya, Public Health in a Nuclear Disaster: Message from Fukushima

Children & YA
■ Yutaka Sado and Kōshirō Hata, Hajimete no ōkesutora
(The First Concert)

In today’s world, we have to move our bodies less and less to get things done. But the more sedentary we become, the more our muscles weaken, and as strength in our legs and back declines we may ultimately find ourselves unable to walk under our own power anymore. In an era of lengthening lifespans, it is more important than ever that we maintain our strength so that we can stay independent, and not have to worry about becoming bed-bound or requiring nursing care. The first priority in building a body that will keep us going until the century mark is to strengthen our lower extremities. And the best way to do that is to adopt the dietary recommendations and exercises suggested in this book.

Author James Shūichi Nakano explains that it’s possible to build muscle even after 60 and recommends a daily diet high in meat and dairy in order to obtain the quality protein needed to strengthen the lower body where physical decline has the most serious effects. In addition to four key exercises designed to enhance general walking strength, he includes 13 additional exercises targeted at specific objectives such as preventing knee pain and avoiding falls. From lunge walking, to rising from a chair on one leg, to leg lifts and more, all exercises can be done at home without special equipment. The description of each is accompanied with clear illustrations, and beginning at ten reps a day, they include suggestions for varying the difficulty according to one’s strength level.

Businesses today must contend with a shrinking workforce even as the volume of work continues to increase. It can be useful in such circumstances to turn to scientifically systematized frameworks that can help in organizing and deepening one’s thinking; in the smooth sharing and communication of that thinking; and in diagramming a business strategy for ready comprehension, analysis, and proposal.

This book has been designed as a highly comprehensive yet easily portable tool for keeping such business frameworks at the ready. It describes and discusses 115 frameworks for problem-solving, strategic planning, developing hit products, proposal-based marketing, and more, with concrete commentary focused on how they have been and can be applied in actual business settings. A third of these are previously unpublished frameworks that author Hikaru Tansei developed in the course of more than a quarter-century as a business-strategy consultant. With several sidebars between chapters that offer Tansei’s broader thinking on strategic frameworks as well, the book makes it easy for readers to grasp the remarkable utility of these aids.

Tuesday, 03 October 2017 13:29

Hikaru Tansei

Hikaru Tansei (1954–) was born in Kanagawa Prefecture. In 1977 he joined the Bridgestone Corporation, where he worked as an engineer in product planning and development and was responsible for numerous patent applications. In 1990 he moved into management consulting at Sanwa Research Institute Corporation (now Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting Co., Ltd.), and in 1998 he founded his own firm, Initia Consulting. He has offered his highly creative ideas to a broad variety of businesses, helping them improve their operations in such areas as management strategy, business plans, marketing strategy, branding strategy, human resource management, and more. Besides developing strategic plans, he also offers implementation aid as well as continuing corporate reform support.

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