“For the sewing machine, with a dignified bearing and fated to be stationary, the shock all but caused it to lose its reason for existence. The 100-30, warped by the flames and with its needle broken, was embedded in the ground. It was unlikely a sewing machine could survive sich a calamity.” [From “The Life Story of a Sewing Machine”]
“After his death, Kenta had initially been unaware he’d become a ghost. He would search out his old friends and run over, calling out to them. But he was invisible, apparently, even when standing right in front of them. Shouting didn’t help either – he was inaudible, too, it turned out, and it only made him more dejected.” [From “Kirara’s paper plane”]
As I’ve mentioned before, I love Japanese literature. I started reading more contemporary but also classic Japanese works in recent years. Yoko Ogawa, Yukito Ayatsuji, Toshikazu Kawaguchi, Sayaka Murata, Mieko Kawakami, Hiromi Kawakami, Junichiro Tanizaki, Kikuko Tsumura were the authors I read, and there was only one book – “Breast and Eggs” by Mieko Kawakami – that I didn’t like (though not the whole book, but that’s another story …). As I have stated before, when writing about my reading experience with Tanizaki, Tsumura, and others, I find the Japanese art of storytelling to be rather soothing and even refreshing. For the most part, it is a quiet and sometimes even detached way of narrating the stories of the protagonists. Detached in a sense of respectful distance to grasp a bigger picture, to avoid rushing to a hasty judgment, letting the story unfold itself over the pages of the book, not over dispensable adjectives or use of too much emotion.
You may have already guessed, I’m having a hard time finding the right words for explaining why I enjoy losing myself in Japanese fiction – and why I often consciously choose WHEN to do this. It is a sort of withdrawal from everyday life, ever-present academic work, tedious tasks, dubious work assignments, and living with a brain that is constantly five steps ahead of me – in all directions. So one has to choose literary moments of silence carefully …
Anyway, in Things Remembered and Things Forgotten, Kyoko Nakjima grants my fuzzy brain and weary mind another wonderful break. Ten stories set different moods and relate in different ways to a Japan (obviously) never known to me, possibly long forgotten by some of its residents. It is a book about memory, how we want to remember, and how easily some things are simply forgotten … or lost.
While I chose to quote one story that refers to someone coming back as a ghost, the supernatural is not always taking center stage. Though when it is, I had a chance to catch a glimpse into the rich cultural and religious history of Japanese customs, like in “The Last Obon.” Reading about Tokyo’s history and different neighborhoods too was something I enjoyed – even though I had to google some photos because I was not satisfied with the images I came up with within my mind.
“Things Remembered and Things Forgotten” and “When my Wife was a Shiitake” gave me a warm fuzzy feeling deep down inside – I adore these stories. “Global Positioning System”, “Kirara’s Paper Plane”, and “The Pet Civet” are equally heartwarming tales though they may not seem to be so at first glance. With “Childhood Friends” you will see an interesting twist; “A Special Day” and “The Harajuku House” offered me some special insight into Tokyo neighborhoods. “The Life Story of a Sewing Machine” and “The Last Obon” allow us to catch a glimpse into Japan’s history and traditions.
This, in a few short sentences, is my takeaway from this book. I am already looking forward to rereading it in a few years.
Sounds interesting? Take a look – I highly recommend it!