Kenjiro Haitami’s A Rabbit’s Eyes is something of a modern Japanese Dickens story as Haitami focuses on some charming children from the wrong side of town and sympathetically reveals how worthwhile they are. I’m told that Haitami’s famous for writing about children. This novel focuses on the children who live by the town disposal (waste) plant.
At first, like the new teacher Ms. Kotani we feel a bit repulsed by the boy who collects flies and the whole area he lives in where ash from the incinerators fall from the sky like snow, except its all year round.
As Ms. Kotani decides to persevere, we come to know the children of the disposal plant, how bright and charming they are. Her colleague, the off-beat, unorthodox Mr. Adachi challenges Ms. Kotani to rethink her attitude and his presence and success with the students helps her to stay in the game.
Because she doesn’t let setbacks deter her, Ms. Kotani succeeds where others failed. She overcomes her sheltered upbringing to reach out to Tetsuzo, a silent boy who collects flies of all species and a girl who is developmentally delayed, who races out of class and wets her pants a lot. Ms. Kotani manages to get the student to help with Minako and they all become more compassionate as a result.
The first two thirds of the book had charm and while Haitami’s style doesn’t rival Dickens for imagination and I think his descriptions could be richer, more creative, he does manage to draw attention to a forgotten group. The last third of the book got bogged down in a bland blow by blow of a strike and protest of the moving of the disposal plant. While a writer can take on this topic, it’s hard to make it engaging to read. Still it’s a quick read that shows a different side of Japan.