Isaka World, Part 5 終末のフール(The End’s Fool)

images-1.jpg
Well, I sure did not expect to read another apocalyptic story since I stumbled across Alas, Babylon years ago in my local public library, (Which I especially liked, and which fully fulfilled me enough not to need any more similar stories in the future) but props to Isaka Kotaro for this interesting collection of short stories.

They take place in pre-apocalyptic Sendai, Japan, following the lives of a bunch of different residents of an apartment building two and a half years before a meteor is expected to crash into Earth, thus ending the world completely.

Interestingly enough, the story takes place before the destruction and also after the initial “end of the world panic” occurs. It’s a sort of weird peaceful time where people are still wary, but weary enough not to cause any trouble.

The book had a light but melancholic feel to it, and was the right mixture of hopeful, dreadful, suspenseful, and depressing.

It’s about the survivors still alive at that point in time, and the lives they’ve lived since the meteor was announced. Rather than big adventures or rescue missions, it’s just people living and surviving, in a terrible situation, making everyday choices. There are a few tense moments, like the brothers trying to get revenge on a TV announcer and his family by holding them at gunpoint, but there’s also the old couple awaiting their estranged daughter coming home, and a couple who need to decide whether they should have their baby or not with the future so bleak.

Whether people would really calm down after a few years of knowing that the world is going to end is extremely debatable, considering how people tend to freak out over the world ending in real life, but I found the stories all enjoyable, and they all have their little twists near the end, as usual.

The chapter titles are all stylized to use the same phonetic katakana pattern, which of course sounds awful in English but clever in Japanese:
The End’s Fool
The Sun Sticker
The Sieged Building (Beer?)
the Hibernating Girl
The Steel Wool
The Celestial Night
The Play’s All
The Deep-Sea Pole

…See what I mean? It was actually the title that made me take so long to read this particular Isaka book, because every time I saw it, it confused me. フール? It looks like pool and full, both of which make it incomprehensible, and even if you know it means fool, it still doesn’t make any sense until you finish the story.

_____________________________
From 週末のフール(The End’s Fool)
「お父さんって、頭の良さってなんだと思ってるの?成績とか学歴とか、ステータスだとか、どうせそういうのでしょ。どうせ。そういうのは、わたしがひきうけるから、いいじゃん。ばかじゃないの。あのね、お父さんが馬鹿なばかりに、兄貴は不幸なんだって。」まるで、犯罪者を告発するかのように、康子はこちらを指差し、声を荒げた。「兄貴はもっと大きいことをやれるんだよ。」
“Dad, what do you even think it means to be smart? Good grades, or going to a good school? Status? That’s what you think, right? That’s fine, I’ll get all of those. You’re an idiot. That’s why my brother is so unhappy, because you’re so stupid.” As if she were pointing out a criminal, she raised her finger at me and said in a wild voice, “My brother can do even bigger things.”

From 深海のポール(The Deep Sea Pole)
生き残るっていうのはさ、あんあ風に理路整然とさ、「選ぶ」とか「選ばれる条件」とか、そういうんじゃなくて、もっと必死なもののような気がするんだ。「必死なもの?」「じたばたして、足掻いて、もがいて。生き残るのってそういうのだよ、きっとさ。」
“Surviving, I don’t think it’s that logical, like people are chosen, or that there’s categories that decide whether you’re chosen or not. I think it’s something more desperate.”
“Desperate?”
“Panicking, struggling, agonizing…I think that’s probably what surviving is more like, really.”

___________
Current Isaka Count: 19/32

screen-shot-2016-01-17-at-5-18-57-pm.pngscreen-shot-2016-01-17-at-5-19-03-pm.pngscreen-shot-2016-01-17-at-5-19-06-pm.png

Isaka World, Part 4- The Monkey King

Before I go off on Star Wars again, let’s take a short trip back to Isaka World, shall we?

I read his novel, SOSの猿 (The SOS Monkey).
61JZ-WXJVHL._SX341_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg
Like the cover implies, yes, it is a bit chaotic.

To be honest, it wasn’t my most favorite of his works. It’s still low key mystery/suspense but has a half-comical, half-serious kind of atmosphere that is really hard to describe. With a catholic exorcist, the monkey king, guerrilla acapella singers, a software engineer, and a huge problem with stocks, it’s hard to imagine what kind of story it is just from the synopsis.

Written during his “Don’t give a rat’s ass” period, it is one of those books where he just wrote whatever he wanted to write, so it’s not written to please the audience, in a good way.

It’s a bit similar (and written right after) Aru King, where he connected the story to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, except this time, he’s completely referencing Journey to the West. Yes, Journey to the West. Chinese literature that I haven’t read yet.

If you’re not familiar with Journey to the west, remember that the Manga/Anime Dragonball (the original, where Goku is still small) is also loosely based off of it.

Unfortunately, any references I further make in this post will be using the Japanese names of the Chinese characters.

From information I’ve gathered online, Journey to the west is the story of the Buddhist priest Sanzo Houshi, who has three disciples:
Son Goku (The Monkey King),
Cho Hakkai (the pig/boar), and
Sa Gojo (the water sprite).

They all have some kind of issue (too violent, too gluttonous, etc) that needs to be fixed, and have shenanigans together on their journey to the west. That’s all I know.

Also, Goku has a long stick, a cloud to fly on that only those pure of heart are able to ride, and is able to create copies of himself by taking a piece of his fur and blowing on it.

I was about half confused throughout the first 60% of the story, which takes place in modern day Japan and follows about three different narrators talking about two different people who haven’t met yet. It jumps around from character to character, narrator to narrator until you’re not sure who’s actually telling what story anymore.

Then, little by little, things begin to piece together (as most of Isaka’s books do) and by the end, you get to enjoy looking at everything fit nicely like a jigsaw puzzle in retrospect.

It really is too bad that I’m not familiar with Journey to the West, because I’m sure there were things I missed because of it. I was able to read it through, especially near the end, when things got really exciting and the huge twist was revealed.

My favorite quotes this time were:

物語は、語り手が喋ればそれが真実となる。鬼がいるといえば、鬼がいるのだし、証券会社の総務部長が牛魔王だというのならば、部長は牛魔王に他ならない。
“In a story, when the narrator says something, it becomes the truth. If he says there is a demon, there is a demon, and if he says that the chief of general affairs of a stock trading company is the Ox-King, that chief must be the Ox-King.” pg 88

ばらばらに存在している星が、遠くから眺めると獅子や白鳥に見えますよね。それと同じように偶然と思われる事柄も、離れて大きな視点から眺めると、何か大きな意味がある。
“Stars exist on their own, but can look like a lion or a crane from far away, right? Just like that, some things that seem to be coincidences, when looked at from a wider viewpoint, have a much bigger meaning.” pg304

それこそが作り話の効力よ。物語は、時々、人を救うんだから。
“That’s the power of a story. Sometimes, they save people.” pg 212

That last quote is, in a sense, the moral of the story.

_____________________
Current Isaka Novel Count:
18/32

 

 

一点の差 (One Point Difference)

Current Events: 

1. ‘Tis the time of Christmas/End of Year Parties and slightly snowy mornings, also known as the time of year you really have to be careful when driving in the morning. It’s also become that time of year when taking a shower at my house becomes an internal battle between wanting to be clean and surviving bare feet on half-frozen tiles. Onsen are such a blessing; I’m so glad we have a lot of good ones in this town.

2. My Kanji Kentei results came back in November and left me close to tears, as out of the 140 points I needed for a passing score, my score was…139. The pain of missing it by only one point was both heartbreaking and extremely frustrating. And yet, in true masochistic fashion, I continue my long, arduous journey in becoming a Kanji Master. (The next test will be in January.)

3. Learning how to play Christmas songs on the guitar. (As of now, my entire repertoire is Jingle Bells and Edelweiss.) I wish the ukulele was as deep and loud as a guitar, so I wouldn’t have to worry about messing up G and D and getting sore fingertips on my left hand, but on the other hand, it sounds so nice and is easy to sing along with.

4. Been working on more and bigger translation jobs, little by little. Also been able to translate articles and websites! There’s still a lot to learn, but I feel like I’m getting closer  with every job I finish. My sleeping time has suffered a bit from this, though. Weekend recovery time is crucial.

5. Joined the health boxing tournament for the third time this year. I was able to snatch a win (and a nice-fight trophy, too!) and keep my champion title!

6: Been catching a lot of colds, about once a month for the past three months. December’s hasn’t come yet, and I hope it doesn’t end up like last year when the whole family got influenza on new year’s day. That was an incident that should never be repeated, ever.

7: Read The Lovely Bones while recovering from one of above mentioned colds. Points to Alice Sebold for creating a super creepy villain that dies a very ironic and slightly humorous death, amongst the great amount of angst and drama within the story. I thought for a while that the story would end without him being caught, but chalk that up to my usual bad literary predictions. Props to the author for the very detailed yet unexpected foreshadowing.

8: Also reread Isaka Kotaro’s Grasshopper in commemoration of its move to the big screen. It was an okay movie, but some of the action was a little corny and the bad guys were watered down to semi-bad instead of dirty, rotten, shouldn’t be allowed to breathe the same air as decent human beings-bad. But the wasp assassin subplot was done very nicely. I really want them to continue the series and make Maria Beetle into a movie too, because who wouldn’t want to watch a movie about assassins fighting on a bullet train?

DSC_000001.JPGDSC_0405.JPG

Wherein the Reader Expresses Her Thoughts Regarding the Tragic Hero, Don Quixote

Just finished Don Quixote (By Miguel de Cervantes) after quite a few months of on and off reading, including a period of not reading for so long I had to start again from the beginning. My boss recommended it after I asked for for something a little less tragic after reading Anna Karenina. It’s funny and lighthearted he said. You’ll laugh, he said.

My first impression was that Don Quixote is a very sad character, and my final impression is that the book should be labeled a tragedy. A tragedy in which a depressed middle aged man with a bad case of dementia or some other neurological issue, goes out on a journey to be a knight only to be mocked and used by the people he meets, before dying unhappily with a clear mind in regret of what he’s done.

Somehow, I couldn’t laugh along with the other characters at the Don’s eccentricities, in fact, the more the story continued, the more sorry I felt for him. And the other characters just seemed more and more cruel.

If there was one thing I really enjoyed, it was reading the chapter titles, such as

“Of the Wonderful Things the Incomparable Don Quixhote Said He Saw in the Profound Cave of Montesinos, the Impossibility and Magnitude of Which Cause This Adventure to Be Aprocryphal.”

or

“Wherein Are Related Some Trifling Matters, as Trivial as They Are Necessary to the Right Understanding of This Great History”

and

Chapter LXX: Which Follows Chapter Sixty-Nine and Deals with Matters Indispensable for the Clear Comprehension of This History.”

My favorite quote, demonstrating Don Quixote’s true nature among his “madness”:

Don Quixote and Sancho withdrew to the knight’s room, and there Don Quixote gave his squire advice about governing. He admonished him to be a champion of virtue always, to strive to know himself and not to puff himself up like a peacock, whose feathers, he bade him remember, were fine, but who had ugly feet.

Also, the saddest sentence ever:

The physician was of the same opinion as the curate and Don Quixote’s other friends: that melancholy and unhappiness were the cause of the present state of his health.

Overall, the writing was pretty good, if not a little choppy through translation. Eventually, I’d like to try reading the original in its own language, as I’m sure it would flow much better in Spanish. The humor, though, I only found in the chapter titles. Perhaps I wasn’t reading it with the right mindset.

So I Read Go Set a Watchman, and…

Now the hot, muggy Japanese summer is upon us, and school is winding down. Thus, more books!  Here is the first:

Go Set a Watchman: A Novel, by Harper LeeUS_cover_of_Go_Set_a_Watchman

The second is Kramer vs. Kramer: a Novel, which I will write about later.

I find the way they both have “A Novel” as a subtitle…a bit condescending? As if to wash away any doubt that it could have been based on a true story. Keep them guessing, publishers. You don’t have to baby us. Also, there are so many other cool catch phrases you could have used instead. Why miss the chance?

I was excited about Go Set a Watchman from the moment I read it would be published a few months ago. The wait was excruciating. It first caught my eye because…

1) It’s Harper Lee’s second book, after many years of only one published novel.

2) Something being published now that was probably written decades ago

3) Apparently, it was the first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, and a sequel to it.

Which are all obviously some really good bait.

So wow, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wasn’t too overoptimistic either, and was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed it very much (I read it in two days, out of excitement.) It probably helps that Scout is now close to my age now, and had some interesting things to say, and in a snappy way.

Things I liked about it:  (SPOILER ALERT!)
1) Scout growing from a tomboy to a lady, but keeping that lovely personality and curiosity and THAT MOUTH of hers.
2) Scout as a working woman in the big city.
3) Scout and her bantering with Hank. Very nice dialogue.

4) ATTICUS.  Oh, ATTICUS.  My two cents on him in this novel: I consider it human that he could be imperfect (aren’t we all?) and that it also makes him a better and more realistic character. The way he changed (or perhaps he was always like that, and only Scout’s view of him changed) also made sense and was relatable, especially when I think about my own parents and grandparents and how their generations definitely have lines drawn and thoughts and notions that other generations like mine may not agree with (and in some cases, find repulsive. Sometimes I listen and have to repress my
“Wow, do you realize that what you’re saying is actually quite racist /homophobic/ sexist/ xenophobic” remarks to them.) So, points to Lee for doing that, I thought that was one of the awesome points of the novel. It would have been really interesting if it had been left there in To Kill a Mockingbird, though. Imagine that.

5) The prom story (you know the one), which was hilarious.

Things that surprised me:
1) JEM.
2) Lack of Boo Radley. He must have been added in later.
3) There were a lot of explicit and implicit politics going in in this book, and the general political stance seems a bit different than To Kill a Mockingbird. Not completely, but definitely a little bit.

My favorite quotes:

”She was almost in love with him. No, that’s impossible, she thought: either you are or you aren’t. Love’s the only thing in this world that is unequivocal. There are different kinds of love, certainly, but it’s a you-do or you-don’t proposition with them all. She was a person who, when confronted with an easy way out, always took the hard way. The easy way out of this would be to marry Hank and let him labor for her. After a few years, when the children were waist-high, the man would come along whom she should have married in the first place. There would be searchings of hearts, fevers, and frets, long looks at each other on the post office steps, and misery for everybody.”

Hank: “Well, as a general rule, most women, before they’ve got ’em, present to their men smiling, agreeing faces. They hide their thoughts. You now, when you’re feeling hateful, honey, you are hateful.”
Jean Louise: “Isn’t it fairer for a man to be able to see what he’s letting himself in for?”
Hank: “Yes, but don’t you see you’ll never catch a man that way?”

“First,” he said dispassionately, “hold your tongue. Don’t argue with a man, especially when you know you can beat him. Smile a lot. Make him feel big. Tell him how wonderful he is, and wait on him.” She smiled brilliantly and said, “Hank, I agree with everything you’ve said. You are the most perspicacious individual I’ve met in years, you are six feet five, and may I light your cigarette? How’s that?” “Awful.” They were friends again.

“Well,” said Jean Louise, “it takes considerable getting used to. I hated it for two years. It intimidated me daily until one morning when someone pushed me on a bus and I pushed back. After I pushed back I realized I’d become a part of it.”
“Pushing, that’s what they are. They have no manners up there,” said Claudine. “They have manners, Claudine. They’re just different from ours. The person who pushed me on the bus expected to be pushed back. That’s what I was supposed to do; it’s just a game. You won’t find better people than in New York.”

“You’re color blind, Jean Louise,” he said. “You always have been, you always will be. The only difference you see between one human and another are differences in looks and intelligence and character and the like. You’ve never been prodded to look at people as a race, and now that race is the burning issue of the day, you’re still unable to think racially. You see only people.

Lastly, the reason why I think that, though racist, Atticus is still a good father:

“Well, I certainly hoped a daughter of mine’d hold her ground for what she thinks is right–stand up to me first of all”

Dear publishers, here’s the subtitle I would have used: To Set a Watchman: Battle of the Generations.

FOR N

Today’s home cooked lunch: Japanese snapper and salmon kaisendon with flying fish eggs. My review: really, really good.
DSC_0067
Recipe: Cook rice, cut fish (this time, Japanese snapper“madai” and salmon). Add furikake to rice. Add a shiso leaf. Arrange fish on rice. add fish eggs. Pour on sauce (this time, I used a regular shoyu). Enjoy. Cry from deliciousness.
____________________________________
DSC_0068

Last week, I read Minato Kanae’s  Nのために (For N).

The plot: A man and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Noguchi, are found dead in their luxury apartment in Tokyo . Four other people are related to the murder. What really happened in the room on that January night? Reading through each person’s testimony, and their thoughts from 10 years after the case occurs, the truth is unraveled, bit by bit.

The players:
Noguchi Takayuki-Victim one. A very wealthy businessman who also has an impressive inheritance. Successful and well-liked…or is he?
Noguchi Naoko- His wife. Victim two. Beautiful, delicate, and feminine. Rumor has it that she is cheating on her husband.
Sugishita Nozomi-Girl Nozomi. Grew up on a small island in the country. Good at playing Japanese chess. Has a tendency to make a lot of food and store it in her fridge and freezer with tupperware.
Ando Nozomi- Boy Nozomi. Lives in the same apartment building as Girl Nozomi and Nishizaki. Also from a small island. Ends up working at Noguchi’s company.
Naruse Shinji-  Went to the same high school as girl Nozomi. Works at a high-class french restaurant in Tokyo.
Nishizaki Masato- Aspiring author living in the same apartment building as the two Nozomis.  Has a handsome face and a bad case of pyrophobia. The cigarette burns on his body may be the reason.

Read if you like:
-Multi-faceted female character depicted as strong, but not technically in a physical or evil way.
-Human relationship-based suspense
-Drama!
-Constant change of POV
-A well-thought out story
-Convoluted spider webs of motive and intent

Don’t read if you are triggered by:
-Domestic violence
-Books within books

Watch the Drama instead if you:
-Can’t read Japanese

Best quote that caught my eye:


誰かに愛されたいなんて思わない。愛されるための努力なんて絶対しない。それがいかに愚かな行為であるかということは、痛いほど身にしみている。
(I’ll never want to be loved by anyone, and I won’t put in any effort to be loved by someone. t’s been stricken painfully so deeply in my heart just how pitiful it is to do so.


The beautiful part of this novel was how Minato gave each person another person that they are basing all of their actions upon. Each N is working for a different N, and may or may not like or care about any of the other Ns.
There is also a drama made about it, which I haven’t watched yet, but would like to. My rating: a strong 4/5.

Isaka World Part 3- Eine Kleine Natchmusik (A Small Serenade)

DSC_0150-2

So last month I finished reading another one of Isaka Kotaro’s books.  He’s named it Eine Kleine Natchmusik, or A Small Serenade, which I found out after reading is a musical piece written by Mozart.
Apparently the Natch part means “night” as well, so it’s literally translated as ” a small night music.”

If you don’t know it, go listen to it, the novel fits the music to a T: Light, easy, playful, and classy.

It turned out to be fourth place in the 2015 Japanese “Book of the Year” award contest, and was actually one of two books he contributed that were nominated.

The format is Isaka’s usual style, with a bunch of short, unrelated shorter stories that eventually tangle up with each other nicely as the story continues.  The style, however, is a lot lighter than his other titles (no kidnapping, assassins, murders, or anything like that) and has a surprising amount of romance, though it’s definitely not presented in an overly sappy way, which I appreciate. In fact, half of the relationships didn’t even end up happily together, which made it so much more realistic. The theme of the entire book is “Encounters.”

There were so many plot twists and reveals that it still felt like reading a mystery. Behold, a new novel genre: Romance mystery. Do these already exist?

Among the chapters within the novel, I liked “Light Heavy” and “Looks Like” the best.

Light heavy includes an almost-relationship where the couple in question haven’t met in person (only talking on the phone) and the reveal that happens is completely hilarious.

“Looks Like” is a story about a relationship that didn’t work out in the end, covering a son who dislikes being told he looks like his father, and a past relationship of said father that ended in a break up, with awesome running jokes spanning generations and a fateful reunion.

And if Mozart wasn’t enough, the musical tie-in with Saito-san (A mysterious fortune teller used in some of the stories who uses music to communicate with his customers) is also great.
He’s actually based off of Saito Kazuyoshi, a rock singer in Japan, who collaborated with Isaka Kotaro to create a song based on the short story version Isaka wrote in 2011. The song is “Very Very Strong~Eine Kleine~“, and it rocks.

So yes, I found this particular book pretty awesome. 5/5 for me!
____________________________
Current Isaka World Count: 17/30

isaka world

Unexpected

I should have seen that coming.

In my last post, you may remember that I wrote about how I am reading Anna Karenina and that I was hoping for an unhappy ending, right? And how I used that train wreck metaphor to explain how I felt reading it?

Well, I finished it last night.
And yes, I really should have seen that coming. But I didn’t.

My prediction was eerily and quite ironically spot on now that I look back on it, but I wasn’t actually expecting it to turn out that way, so props for Tolstoy for that brilliant ending and for scaring the bejesus out of me. It turned out even more frightening than I imagined.

For the record, I went into this novel knowing absolutely nothing about it, so my first expectation of it was that it would read like something by Jane Austen, and I instead got something closer to Crime and Punishment.

That’s what I get for reading Tolstoy, I suppose. Can someone recommend me some happy Russian literature? I need a break from the passion and drama and “I hate her/him/people” monologues.

___________________________
The wonderful writing I noted down this time:

“All this world of ours is nothing but a speck of mildew, which has grown up on a tiny planet. And for us to suppose we can have something great–ideas, work–it’s all dust and ashes.”

“Alexy Alexandrovitch expressed the idea that the education of women is apt to be confounded with the emancipation of women, and that it is only so that it can be considered dangerous.”

“It is a vicious circle. Woman is deprived of rights from lack of education, and the lack of education results from the absence of rights. We must not forget that the subjection of women is so complete, and dates from such ages back that we are often unwilling to recognize the gulf that separates them from us.”

“His father and his teacher were both displeased with Seryozha, and he certainly did learn his lessons badly. But still it could not be said he was a stupid boy. On the contrary, he was far cleverer than the boys his teacher held up as examples to Seryozha. In his father’s opinion, he did not want to learn what he was taught. In reality he could not learn that. he could not, because the claims of his own soul were more binding on him than those claims his father and his teacher made upon him. Those claims were in opposition, and he was in direct conflict with his education. He was nine years old; he was a child; but he knew his own soul, it was precious to him, he guarded it as the eyelid guards the eye, and without the key of love he let no one into his soul. His teachers complained that he would not learn, while his soul was brimming over with thirst for knowledge. And he learned from Kapitonitch, from his nurse, from Nadinka, from Vassily Lukitch, but not from his teachers. The spring his father and his teachers reckoned upon to turn heir mill-wheels had long dried up at the source, but its waters did their work in another channel.

” He was happy; but on entering upon family life he saw at every step that it was utterly different from what he imagined. At every step he experienced what a man would experience who, after admiring the smooth, happy course of a little boat on a lake, should get himself into that little bad. He saw that it was not all sitting still, floating smoothly; that one had to think too, not for and instant to forget where one was floating; and that there was water under one, and that one must row; and that his unaccustomed hands would be sore; and that it was only to look at it that was easy; but that doing it, though very delightful, was very difficult.”

I believe that last one rang the most true to me of all I read in this story this time.

Though I’m not married, I expect that’s exactly how it would be.

Spring is not here yet.

It is now very close to the end of the school year here in Japan, and I really agreed with the concise and profound words that came out of my coworker’s mouth today when he said,

“Each week felt so long, but one year passed in no time at all.”

That is precisely how I feel now.

The sun has been coming out much more lately, but it’s still too chilly to enjoy being outside. This has been the first year that I’m disliking the cold. I suppose my winter years are now reaching the point where the snow and cold and wearing down jackets is starting to loose its novelty.

Just last week, we had a graduation ceremony for my middle school, and it snowed. In the time I’ve been working here, that was a first. It took a lot of perseverance for everyone to get through it, considering it took place in the gymnasium, the coldest place in the school.

_________________________________

I’m reading Anna Karenina now (I have been reading it since the new year began). The first sentence is truly powerful-

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” 

It made for some interesting observations and thoughts regarding my extended family back home at our annual Christmas luncheon/mini family reunion when I was there for the holidays.

Now that I’m a little over halfway through the story, I’m surprised to find that I don’t care for any of the characters so far. They’re all so flawed, it’s like watching a few trains all colliding into each other one after another, all becoming this huge, ugly mess with each new train adding more to the destruction. All the miscalculations, mistakes, and decisions are so awful that they are making such wonderful drama and I can’t keep my eyes off of it.

I’m personally hoping for a non-happy ending for this novel, as the first sentence seems to allude. To me, it seems the most interesting way to finish it off.

Here we go, 2015!

Happy New Year!

It’s a bit late, yes. I spent my holidays this year back home in the islands, which was excellent and rewarding, except for the nasty bout of influenza that was going around infecting all of my family right after new years day, myself included. After that nasty cough I was sporting for about two months, It was not the best experience ever, but I can say now that despite being a little chubby (thank you, father dearest, for that comment) I am back to proper health now.

I am also proud to announce that I now have a Dan in Japanese calligraphy! I was surprised when I went for class as usual after break and finding that they’d advanced my level despite me being on the verge of crying every time I wrote that particular piece, which had about nine characters (twice the amount we usually practice) and being written in the beautiful yet very difficult “gyosho” style, which is like cursive but with kanji.  I didn’t expect it, so I was so happy when all my hard work from these past few years was recognized. According to my teacher, this is just the beginning, as there are higher dan to aim for. Now, I am regularly writing the six-letter monthly piece, no longer able to send in just four like before. It’s harder now because it requires a lighter touch, which I have a hard time channeling through my brush. However, I’m starting to really like kanji lately. There’s just something about how aesthetically and intellectually provoking they are.

I meant to study more kanji while I was home, but there were so many things to do that I just ended up reading instead. Here is my book roundup for late December to February.

Box! – Hyakuta Naoki- Strangely, I read this one after watching the movie first.  I enjoyed the movie, which I watched a while ago. It’s a story about a weak but intelligent kid with an extremely strong friend that boxes, and is encouraged by this friend, bullies, and his crush on his teacher to join the boxing club. I really enjoyed it because I really like sports movies and manga (tears and training and getting strong for the right reasons!) There’s a lot of technical descriptions of boxing, along with drama to keep it running along. It helps that I myself have been boxing now, so it made it much easier to get through the technical parts. I got a good rundown of the Japanese high school boxing situation, and I’m impressed with Hyakuta because he’s also the writer of Eien no Zero, that book about Kamikaze pilots I read a while ago, and those books are like oil and water. He’s writing about a lot of diverse topics, from the other titles of his I’ve seen at the bookstore.

Ed Sheeran: A Visual Journey, Ed Sheeran and Phillip Butah– I went to Barnes and Noble in Maui when we were visiting grandma for Christmas, (We no longer have any bookstores in my hometown) and this is one of the books I found there. First thing about it, its neon green hardcover caught my eye. Noticing how nice the design was and how much Ed Sheeran I’ve been listening to lately, I bought it.  It’s an art autobiography of sorts, it was nice to read about his musical influences and life while enjoying Butah’s art. One thing I noticed when reading it: Ed Sheeran swears a lot, wasn’t very great at school, but had very supportive parents and a love for music, along with a positive get-to-it attitude which led to his success. As for his songs, I’m digging Drunk, The A Team, and Small Bump, in that order, the most.

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, Malala Yousafzai– Yes, she’s an amazing person. We should all strive to be like Malala. She is much wiser and writes better than me, so I’ll just take my favorite quotes and introduce this book that way:

“I am only human, and when I heard the guns my heart used to beat very fast. Sometimes I was very afraid, but I said nothing, and it didn’t mean I would stop going to school. But fear is very powerful and in the end it was this fear that had made people turn agains Shabana. Terror had made people cruel. The Taliban bulldozed both our Pashtun values and the values of Islam.”

“Education is our right,’ I said. Just as it is our right to sing and play. Islam has given us this right and says that every girl and boy should go to school. The Quran says we should seek knowledge, study hard and learn the mysteries of our world.”

“When someone takes away your pens you realize quite how important education is.”

“The Taliban is against education because they think that when a child reads a book or learns English or studies science he or she will become Westernized. But I said, ‘Education is education. We should learn everything and then choose which path to follow.’ Education is neither Eastern nor Western, it is human.”

“Malala, you have already faced death. This is your second life. Don’t be afraid–if you are afraid, you can’t move forward.”

2BRO2B,  Kurt Vonnegut- From my experience, Kurt Vonnegut’s writing feels like like he’s slicing up your heart with a cleaver. This particular story is a short story, just a few pages, but it’s about some dystopian future where population control is a thing, through a government supported suicide hotline (for inducing it, not stopping it) and birth regulations where you need to find someone to die if you want your child to live.  It’s chillingly scary, and was really uncomfortable to read.

Divergent, Veronica Roth– My cousin is all for this book, and I watched the movie with her during the holidays, but to me it just sounded like a cross between the Hunger Games and Harry Potter, and reading the book kind of didn’t make it any better. It was well written, but I kind of didn’t appreciate the overly religious tone of it near the end and the simplistic logic of most people only having one of the five characteristics they were being sorted into…in real life, wouldn’t almost everyone be divergent? I couldn’t stop thinking about that, and will probably not be reading the other two books in the trilogy, sorry.

Alice’s Tale, Tadanori Kurashita – A compact Japanese story that was one of the winners of the light novella translation contest I entered. Of the three stories, I helped translate another one, but this one was really nice, and the translators did an excellent job. It’s a story set in a very futuristic world, about a successful stockbroker who works with Alice, his AI who he calls his ‘partner’ and is the peak of technological advancement in the future. The story reads like a hardboiled detective novel, but has a few neat twists and very perceptive comments on the future of technology and the relationships between humankind and technology.

Lastly, here are my goals (I refuse to set myself up for failure with resolutions) for this year:

1) Pass level 2 of the Kanji Proficiency Exam.
2) Get back to around 50 kilos, weight-wise, in a healthy and sustainable way. Also, if I can’t lose the fat, at least be fit and chubs.
3) Don’t chicken out on turning in translation contest submissions (You gotta start somewhere! Just do it and turn it in even if it looks awful!)
4) Write and send letters to all the friends I’ve been neglecting. (Sorry guys!)
5) Stay healthy and sleep well to do so.
6) Blog more often so I don’t do super long posts like this one.
7) Get more flexible, physically.

…And that’s about it.