Tag Archives: Japanese Lit

Diary of a Mad, Old Man

old man Junichiro Tanizaki’s Diary of a Mad Old Man is just what the title says. Well, he’s not completely mad. The main character is an old man obsessed with his daughter in law, a former cabaret singer, whose husband’s grown tired of her.

The old man is sickly and most of his life is spent going to doctors and taking medication. His infatuation of Satsuko, the daughter in law who leads him on, but doesn’t let him do more than kiss her legs or eventually her neck, gets him to buy her jewels and later a pool. She’s got a lover and a fondness for Western fashion. It’s an interesting look at desire mixed with a battle against a failing body.

A quick read, the book provides an interesting glimpse of Japan in the post-WWII period when the Japanese were starting to prosper.

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Posted by on February 1, 2015 in classic, psychology, World Lit


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Rivalry: A Geisha’s Tale


Kafu Nagai’s Rivalry: A Geisha’s Tale presents a world that seems more realistic that Memoirs of a Geisha, which was the rage 10+ years ago. In Rivalry, Komayo is a former geisha. She left the profession when she married. Unfortunately, her husband dies. There’s no reason to stay in the countryside up north with rude in-laws for the rest of her life, so she returns to Tokyo and her geisha house.

One of her first “patrons” sees her and takes up with her. He’s just a little bit older than she is and spending time with him is far better than with the fat, bald, ill-mannered middle-aged customers. Life’s not so bad.

Then Komayo meets an attractive actor and they have a dalliance. Then they have another and another. Her first patron was going to buy Komayo’s contract. He proposes marriage and Komayo isn’t sure. The patron hears some gossip about Komayo and the actor so he buys the contract of a fleshy, jovial but uncouth geisha. So there! (Talk about biting off your nose to spite your face.)

Komayo’s life spirals and shame haunts her. At times the story meanders, but generally the realistic tone which describes geisha life (without getting as flowery as Arthur Golden sometimes did) makes for a pleasant read.

The ending seemed to pat and undeserved, but forgiveable.

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Posted by on August 8, 2014 in fiction


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From the Writer’s Almanac


Image via Wikipedia

Now I want to read some of Oshima’s manga.

Today is the 64th birthday of manga artist Yumiko Oshima (books by this author), who was born in Tochigi Prefecture, Japan, in 1947. She is a member of the Year 24 Flower Group, one of two Year 24 groups of women who are considered to have revolutionized shojo manga — comics for girls — and introduced many elements of the coming of age story in their work. Oshima and the other women of her group have brought to their art issues of philosophy, and sexuality and gender, and marked the first major entry of women artists into manga.

Oshima made her debut in 1968 with the surreal-feeling Paula’s Tearsand has continually produced manga on a nearly yearly basis up to her most recent project, which has been ongoing since 1996. In 1973 she wrote To Joker, an allegorical love triangle that includes a boy accidentally transformed into a girl, Strawberry Story in 1975, andBanana Bread no Pudding from 1977 to 1978.

From 1978 until 1987, Oshima serialized The Star of Cottonland in the shojo manga magazine LaLa. The story has since been collected in seven volumes. The Star of Cottonland tells of an abandoned kitten, Chibi-neko, who thinks she is human and speaks human words, although people can only hear her meow. She is drawn as a young girl with cat ears and a tail and believes that all humans were once kittens like her. Chibi-neko is found and cared for by a young man, and when she realizes that he loves a human girl, Chibi-neko wishes she could grow up and become the human she expects she will be. She runs away from home to seek a paradise called Cottonland, where it is said that dreams can come true.

In 1978, Oshima won the Kodansha Manga Award for The Star of Cottonland. In 1984, it was adapted to a full-length animated film that has been praised for its complex characterizations and gorgeous animation, as well as well as for going beyond a simple animal fable to become a philosophical story that explores psychological and emotional states, and functions as a metaphor for adolescence.

On a less contemplative note, the popularity of The Star of Cottonlandhelped make fashionable the Nekomimi, or catgirl, character, a young girl like Chibi-neko who has cat ears and sometimes a tail. The catgirl does not originate within shojo manga, but is rooted in the ancient Japanese folklore of ghosts and goblins, where cats are associated with the supernatural and demon cats can take on humanoid forms. In the ’80s, girls in manga began turning into cats and their real-life counter parts began wearing headbands with kitty ears to identify with and be like the Nekomimi. In May 2011, a Japanese company called Neurowear introduced their nekomimi headwear, which looks like any other headband with ears but has the distinction of also containing a brain wave sensor, so that their ears are the first to be controlled by the thoughts of the wearer, expressing concentration and attention by standing erect, and relaxation by falling down.

In 1997, Yumiko Oshima was diagnosed with and treated for ovarian cancer. She recovered and went on to create manga that shared her experiences with illness and recovery.

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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in contemporary, fiction


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