Showing posts with label Japan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Japan. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Diary of a Tokyo Teen by Christine Mari Inzer

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a short and fun graphic novel written by a seventeen year old who was born in Japan to a local woman and a US citizen father, so she has two passports. She migrated at a young age to the US, and this is a sweet and fun graphic documentary of her return trip a decade or so later.

It's quite idiosyncratic, obviously; she remarks upon and records the things which intrigue and amuse her, but much of it has a wider appeal than that. The author and I couldn't be more different than chalk and cheese in things like age and gender, but we do have the ex-pat thing in common, so I could see through her eyes quite well, and she expresses herself with smarts, erudition, and a nice eye for oddity and absurdity.

The book is also educational. Because she was absent from Japan for so long and having left at such an early age, although a lot of what she saw on her return had a familiarity to it, there was also a lot that was - or at least seemed - new, so we get to look at Japan very much through a visitor's eye, but this eye is softened by her familiarity with the culture. There is also culture shock with regard to how clean and neat everything is, how proud and polite the people are who serve in both fast food places and restaurants, and how curious the toilets are - among many other things!

I've never been to Japan, but I certainly would like to visit. Reading books like this help me feel a little bit like I've already visited. I commend this one as a worthy read.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Desert Exile by Yoshiko Uchida

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a depressing read, but never was there a better time since this travesty took place than now to read this account of one woman's experiences in the concentration camps set up by the racist hypocrite Franklin "Detain them" Roosevelt to intern Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. Most of the well over 100,000 people imprisoned behind barbed wire were American citizens.

The constitution meant nothing to a clueless and panicked government back then. These people were incarcerated in shoddy, ill-finished - if even finished - barracks and everything they owned which they could not carry with them and which they could not entrust to reliable friends, was gone when they were finally set free two or three years later. They were released into destitution and had to start over from scratch; then this same government had the nerve to ask the young men they'd detained to show their loyalty by signing-up for the same military which had pointed machine guns at them for the previous few years.

Yoshiko Uchida was merely one of these, but that doesn't make her personal story less important. She, her sister, and her mom and dad were given ten days notice that they had to leave for a camp taking only what they could carry. The camp was a racetrack and they were 'housed' in the horse stables - a family of four in a large horse stall stinking of manure with no privacy and barely any facilities. Later they were moved to a specially-constructed - well half-constructed - camp in the middle of the Utah desert.

It was a couple of months before they got sheetrock installed inside their 'apartment' to keep the desert wind and the chalky desert sand out of their 'home'. It took equally long to get their stove installed - which until then had been a hole in the roof where the desert sand and chill got in. The list of abuses continues not only back then, but also today. Like I said it's a depressing but necessary read at a time when this government is doing the same thing to illegal immigrants - using euphemisms to describe the concentration camps. You don't make America great again by treating humans beings like cattle, and apparently that's a lesson we have a really hard time intern-alizing.

I commend this book as an important and worthy read.

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Yellow Jar by Patrick Atangan

Rating: WORTHY!

This is supposedly volume one of a series of graphic novels exploring Asian folk tales, although to my knowledge there have been no others so far. This first one was compact, with dimensions barely larger than a novel, but in hard cover and in landscape format rather than portrait. It told two tales, the titular one and another, shorter one, Two Chrysanthemum Maidens, which was my favorite of the two.

Drawn in ukiyo-e style, and beautifully rendered and colored, both stories were eminently enjoyable. The Yellow Jar tells of a fisherman who nets guessed it, a large, stoneware yellow jar. Actually it’s more like a pithos, which is what the Greeks would have called it. I have no idea what the Japanese would have called this, but it was big enough to hold a person, because when he opened it, it contained a woman who was conveniently looking for a husband. These days they do it over the internet, but back then? Fishing net! LOL!

The couple get along well and everything is peachy until it’s not. Of course something goes wrong. He has lied to her about where she came from - claiming the jar was lost and she was afloat in the ocean when he found her, but she discovers the jar buried in the garden and because he lied, she leaves. The man chases after her but leaves it too late and he spends three years looking for her only to find she's now being held captive by this demon in a castle in the mountains. Fortunately the demon is a gentleman who insists on her acquiescing to his desires rather than ravishing her by force. And of course the fisherman rescues her.

In the second story, this man's beautiful garden is invaded by what appear to be two weeds - which are depicted delightfully as tiny women. In the end they prove to be pretty flowers, and attract wide attention, but when he splits them, moving the less appreciated one to a hidden location, it wilts terribly, but all's well that end's well as Master Shakespeare would have it.

I thought this volume was a delight and I commend it.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential by Brian Ashcraft, Shoko Ueda

Rating: WORTHY!

Now this is girl power!

Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential: How Teenage Girls Made a Nation Cool is a cool book in itself. It details, with great research, copious photographs, and a lot of historical and trivia information, the power of Japanese schoolgirls and their sailor outfits through the history of Japan and in particular since World War Two.

There is barely avenue of popular technology or cultural endeavor upon which Japanese schoolgirls haven't made some sort of mark. After a brief history of the uniform, the book takes off and explodes into discussions of how the schoolgirl sailor look became an icon, and transported these girls into whole genres of movies, and into pop music where the Japanese approach to creating a band was very different from western approaches.

This influence was felt in electronics, when these girls commandeered pagers and turned them into text machines, and then exploited cell phones when those came out, driving the development of the cell phone cameras which we take for granted today. They made their mark on fashion (and not just in the world of sailor suits!), on art, on magazine content, on manga, and on anime.

The story is told here with interviews, trivia, lots of illustrations, side bars, and lots of color - not all of which is pink by any means! It was a real education and a fascinating book for me. Your mileage may differ! Now my only problem is to figure out how to exploit this knowledge in my writing! I recommend this book as a worthy read!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Salad Anniversary by Machi Tawara

Title: Salad Anniversary
Author: Machi Tawara
Publisher: Steerforth
Rating: WARTY!

Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter.

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

Machi Tawara is a young Japanese poet who single-handedy revived the ancient tanka style of poetry in Japan, but for me it just tanked. The poetry left me completely flat. It was nothing uplifting or edifying. It wasn't educational or moving. All it consists of is Tawara pining over a lost love - which she personally never had to begin with - or talking about her everyday activities which frankly, was boring.

For this she became a superstar poet in Japan, selling some two to three million copies of the book. I guess you had to be there. What appeals to the Japanese isn't necessarily what appeals to we westerners, nor vice-versa, and while I am sure that Juliet Winters Carpenter gave the translation her best shot, the fact is that you can't translate Japanese to English and have the idea behind Tanka remain true. If you did, the English version would not be in a series of triplets, as it appears in the iPad translation, or in an apparently random mix of couplets and others as it is in the kindle, but printed vertically down the page, which in English would be a tough read. Clearly no thought whatsoever has been expended on the ebook versions.

Salad Anniversary begins with two blank pages in the iPad version, and the title with a capital S towards the end of Anniversary in the Kindle version. This tells me that as little thought went into the ebook as went into the print version. Given the rise of ebooks the publisher might want to give some thought to how they offer their wares.

Here's the list of poem titles:

  • August Morning
  • Baseball Game
  • Morning Necktie
  • I Am the Wind
  • Summertime Ship
  • Wake-up Call
  • Hashimoto High School
  • Pretending to Wait for Someone
  • Salad Anniversary
  • Twilight Alley
  • My Bisymmetrical Self
  • So, Good Luck
  • Jazz Concert
  • Backstreet Cat
  • Always American

You can see from this alone that there's nothing Earth-shattering on offer, but this would have been fine had what was offered actually delivered something of value. For me, it didn't. Here are some short unconnected samples so you can judge a little bit, at least, for yourself. Note that these are taken out of context, but I saw very little flowing from one triplet to the next anyway.

On Kujukuri Beach
taking picture after picture
I may only throw away
Sunday morning
in sandals, we set off together
to shop for bread and beer
I boil three chestnuts
to make an autumn for one-
remembering the far-off sea, and you
Buy myself a pair of slippers
yellow as spring flowers
now that I love here

There are three problems. First of all, the poetry doesn't speak or call out to me. Instead, it whines with self pity. I kept wondering if the author rent her clothing or wore sackcloth and put ashes in her hair before she sat down to write it. Second, it's impossible, as I mentioned earlier, to properly represent the poetry in English in the way it would appear in Japanese. Third, you cannot duplicate the cadence adequately in English and still maintain the wording or meaning which the original author intended.

I have to wonder if the choice to migrate this to English was truly done with an honest desire to share some potentially interesting Asian poetry with the west, or if it was simply done because the author scored a hit in Japan and there was potentially money to be made in the west? Either way I can't recommend this.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Ink by Amanda Sun

Title: Ink
Author: Amanda Sun
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I have neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" ebook, supplied by Net Galley! I will be reviewing others of this nature in future and will note which ones those are in the review.

Please note that I am not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration of any kind for this review. Since this is a new novel, I don't feel comfortable going into anywhere near as much detail over it as I have with the older books I've been reviewing, so this is shorter, but most probably still be more detailed than you'll usually find elsewhere!

Yes, I'm reading a Harlequin book! The shame! The book looked really interesting from the information on Netgalley. I guess I learned my lesson! I should have been suspicious when I saw that the illustration on the cover looks suspiciously like the author! Oh, and good luck (or look, maybe in this case?) trying to find this novel on the Harlequin Teen web site. I don't know if they're embarrassed by this novel, or if they simply have the worst search engine ever, but this book isn't to be found on their web site, and neither is Amanda Sun, so what she's gushing thanks to them for is somewhat of a mystery. And if anyone can explain what "...the incredible detail they've paid to INK." means exactly, I'd appreciate it. Is that a direct translation from the Japanese?!

That's not the only time that the English language runs away with her. Check out these examples:

"He rested a hand on my shoulder and it sent a jolt through my body to feel his fingers closing around me, to feel the warmth of the pads of his fingertips." The warmth of the pads of his fingertips?

At one point after Katie and Tomo are rescued, having been kidnapped by the Yakuza and rescued by a Kami employing ink snakes, Katie is concerned about the propriety of closing the doors to the castle in the park?! Honestly?

Here's a classic: "We lay there clinging to each other, knowing the world would tilt if we let go, that without each other, everything would fall out of balance." (Drama llama much, Katie?!)

What? Yes, I'm snarky! Amanda Sun had done everything right: she'd taken the story out of the USA and set it in Japan and she'd introduced a supernatural mystery. It’s always a fun thing to bring in new culture, and new experiences, but then after all of this, she had to invite along the standard bad-boy-hot-guy, whose hair is seriously in danger of impaling his eyeballs, and have him clashing with the fem protag from the off?

Why start this out in such a great way only to bury it under a liberal slathering of Trope du Ya (which is ironically and poetically reminiscent of the liters of ink in which Yuu Tomohito's himself seems to be drowning!)? Here's a sample: "He looked over at me and grinned, the breeze twisting his spiky hair in and out of his deep brown eyes. I almost melted on the spot." I detest book burning, but honestly if the books were like this, I could actually understand the Nazi passion for immolating them.

I'm really hoping right now that we can get a decent story out of this. The premise was great. I even put up with the absurdly overdone drama of the magical cherry blossom picnic, but to have Katie Greene, the sixteen-year-old fem pro act like an airhead, limp rag, thirteen-year-old was too much. Has she no self-respect? And what’s with the melodramatic agonizing over how her life is so tragic because of this horrible pressure which she apparently suffers from living in a great foreign nation layered in history, learning a new and fascinating culture, along with a new, sweet, and elegant language? It's a bit much, frankly, and Will Smith's son already did it in The Karate Kid. but at least I learned a few things from this novel. There's a glossary in the back which taught me that Che Guevara, in Japan, would be known as Dammit Guevara! That's worth knowing, but I was disturbed by the similarity of Suki, which means "I like you" and Tsuki, which means a hit to the throat. There's too much room for confusion there!

But back to our story in progress. For Katie to obsess over this Tomo guy to the point of quite literally stalking him when everything she knows about him is bad, and not just bad, but abusively bad (even as she contemplates how shallow she is!) endeared me neither to the tale nor to her! Tomo-Boy has cruelly ditched his girlfriend, he's apparently got another girl pregnant, he badly cut-up his best friend several years ago and then fled to avoid punishment, and he's a bully.

Whether all these things turned out to be exactly what they immediately appeared to be or not, is immaterial: the fact is that this is what she knows about him at that point, yet she's still stupid enough to follow him around, trilling like a love-struck guinea pig. If we had a male protag tailing a girl around like that, spying on her, it would rightly be perceived as creepy at best and threatening at worst, so why is it perfectly permissible for a female to act like this? Has she no decency Ms. Sun? Has she at last, no sense of decency?

I had an early wish that the supernatural aspects of Ink would rescue the unnatural aspects! It was the only reason I was pressing on with this, but it got no better. It wasn't all as bad as the lack of continuity between page 98 where her aunt needed the bike (which she had loaned to Katie so she could stalk the bad guy into the worst areas of the town) for Monday, but on Monday on page 99, Katie still has the bike! So was her aunt taken for a ride, or was Katie just recycling?!

Katie uses the bike on more than one occasion to stalk Tomohito, and into some dangerous locales in the town (that's where she sees him bullying another guy on behalf of his friend, so naturally she falls in love with him). What a blind, clueless, loser Katie is! She has no (intelligent) reason whatsoever for liking him (especially not with those grotesque spikes of hair sticking painfully in his eyeballs like cocktail sticks into silverskin onions...). Since she's seen drawings done by him actually move on the page (and off it!), she has to know that there's something distinctly weird going on with him, or there's something distinctly delusional going on with her, which means she should definitely not be making potentially dangerous decisions about whom she should hang with! But he's hot and has spikes of hair in his eyeballs, so what's not to like?!

So finally milady doth stalk too much methinks and ends up being abducted (that is, having her abs re-routed through a system of ducts, along with the rest of her body) to a Yakuza hang-out, where, of course, the Yakuza hang out. Is 'Yakuza' like sheep - both the singular and the plural? I'd ask them but I'm a bit sheepish. I think it's a verb: Ya, Yak, Yaku, Yakuz, Yakuza, Yowzer! Anyway, they fail, of course, to abduct her phone from her, and she calls a friend to help, but wouldn't you know it, she accidentally calls the other guy in her triangle (and you thought it was her five! Wrong! It's always a three in YA), who Juns to her aid revealing that he is also a Kami (with the emphasis on khasi), and he busts her loose before loosening her bust no doubt. I must admit, this little twist did pick things up a bit, but I fear this story is too far gone for a rescue of this nature to save it.

In the end I did make it to the end, but it was nothing but an annoying pain in the neck and I'm now officially and permanently done with this series of paper novels. Life is too short to waste it on this limp of an effort. If you feel you must pursue this novel yourself, you do it at your own risk!

One thing you might do to entertain yourself (if you get bored with the number of times she talks about Tomo's hair banging into his eyes), is to consider how many times Sun uses keitai (which is nothing but the Japanese word for cell phone!) in place of simply using 'cell phone'. She behaves as though keitai is something fundamentally different or magically special, but there's no intelligent or logical reason to use it. If there's no English equivalent for the word then by all means use it, but to employ it for pretentious reasons only, is a big turn off to me.

You can survive the excruciation of reading this if you imagine keitai to be a euphemism for something sexual. This made the novel far more entertaining, and was the only reason I got through the last one hundred pages! Here are some examples:

  • When my keitai chimed, I grabbed for it gratefully.
  • In my bathroom, I took out my keitai…
  • I’d forgotten to put my keitai in manner mode…
  • I closed my keitai and shoved it back in my bag.
  • He pulled out his keitai…
  • His palm opened slowly and the keitai dropped to the floor...
  • Then his keitai rang again, spewing rainbow colors across the floor.
  • Okay, I said, pulling out my keitai…
  • My keitai beeped with his info.
  • A buzzing noise sounded in my purse. My keitai.
  • I sat down with a bowl of shrimp chips and flipped open my keitai.
  • You could try his keitai.
  • The sound of my keitai beeping woke me the next morning. I rubbed my eyes until they turned red.
  • …although he hadn't tried my keitai yet…
  • I screamed at my brain to think. My keitai.
  • The ink and blood dripped off my wrist and onto my keitai.
  • Tomo, I said, flipping my keitai open and closed again…
  • I grabbed the keitai putting it beside his face, then breathed out in relief.
  • I lifted the keitai out of my pocked and saw him hunched over in the dim light.
  • Are you okay, he said, and my keitai blinked out.
  • My keitai went off in the middle of the night.
  • How phallic is this: Then he pulled out his keitai, the little kendo warrior swinging back and forth on his phone strap!