A Man by Hirano Keiichiro

I just finished listening to my first novel by Hirano from Audiobook.jp. The story mostly follows Kido, a lawyer looking into a strange case where a woman finds, upon his unexpected death, that her husband wasn’t using his real name.

This story explores several themes. One is the dilemma facing Kido as he tries to find a balance between caring about ideals and focusing on his family. He is at odds with his wife for his decision to volunteer to give legal counsel for victims of the Tohoku Earthquake and his attitudes underlying that decision.

Another theme is racial discrimination. Kido is a naturalized third-generation Korean. He was raised Japanese, but discrimination subtly shows up at different times in his life. As a Japanese citizen, he is caught between identifying as both the perpetrator and victim of discrimination, raising challenging questions about his identity.

The third theme in this novel was whether when you love someone, do you love them from the moment you meet them, or do you also love their past. If that past turns out to be fictional do you still love them? I liked the character Misuzu’s reply to Kido when he was getting too caught up in this theoretical dilemma. “If you fall in love with someone once, that’s not all there is to it. Over time, you just have to fall in love over and over again.”

With the variety of themes covered in this novel, I’m not sure how they are all connected, and I would have to listen to it again to get a better idea. Overall I think the themes may be loosely tied together by the question, “what is happiness?”

After listening to the novel, I found that an English translation is available. Also, I realized that the translator, Eli K. P. William actually writes English novels as well and has been interviewed recently by my friend and fellow blogger at Self Taught Japanese.






聴き終わったら、この作品はすでに英語に翻訳されていると気づきました。翻訳家のEli K. P. Williamは作家でもあります。それに去年、友達のブログにインタビューが載せていると気づきました。英語のみですけど、面白いですから読んでください。

Run, Melos! by Morimi Tomihiko

Morimi has re-written five Japanese modern-classic short stories with his own twist. He recreates the stories with his specialty, college students in Kyoto, bringing in references from his earlier works such as The Night Is Short Walk on Girl.

I was thrilled to see that one of Morimi’s works is available on Audiobook.jp. This one is more challenging to understand than other audiobooks I have listened to because of some of the decorative phrasing used in descriptions, but even without 100% knowledge of some of the advanced vocabulary used, the stories are still understandable.

The Moon Over the Mountain

This first story of the collection one was my favorite. Not just for the story itself but for where it led me. This story was written by Nakajima Atsushi. I found that he wrote short stories in the early 20th century that are set in ancient China. I have been working on learning Chinese lately, and I have found learning about China from Japanese sources is quite rewarding. The original story is, although short, quite difficult to read, so I haven’t worked through it yet. Once I get to it, I’ll share my thoughts in another post.

Another neat aspect of this story is the incorporation of Daimonji Mountain, which shows up in many of Morimi’s works including The Tropics

In a Grove

This story is about a student in a university film-making club who creates a film featuring his girlfriend and her ex-boyfriend rekindling their love. It takes the perspective of several different characters describing the same situation.

The final narrator uses a lazy way of speaking, possibly with Kansai intonation—it’s hard for me to pick out accents in Japanese. It was difficult for me to understand, but with the many other descriptions of the same situation, I was better able to parse what he is saying. I have a very hard time understanding conversation, as opposed to something like an audiobook, which is relatively slow and deliberate. I think listening to the final narrator a few more times will be helpful for my listening comprehension of conversations, where you need to be able to understand a wide variety of speaking styles, which are not always clear and deliberate.

Run, Melos!

This feature story is also the most humorous and ridiculous. While the original, by Dazai, based on a Greek myth was probably not so humorous, peach-colored briefs play a prominent role in this updated version.

Under The Full-bloom Sakura Forest

This one had the least humor and seemed more serious to me. Quite possibly I’m missing humor if it is there though. I really liked the structure of this story, but I can’t give away the details.

One Hundred Ghost Stories

This is a great story to tie everything together. A mysterious character organizes an event where one hundred ghost stories are told, with one of 100 candles blown out after each story. When it becomes pitch dark, the real ghost is said to appear!

Final Thoughts

This work will probably be most enjoyable if you have read Morimi’s other older works that are based on university students in Kyoto, such as Walk on Girl The Night Is Young, Tatami Galaxy, and Tower of the Sun. I haven’t read the latter two, but I have a feeling I’m missing references from those works. Overall, this compilation of short stories is an enjoyable way to get some exposure to modern-classic short stories, all while never leaving Morimi-world, which has been fleshed out in his other works.

Image of Daimonji used under Creative Commons License 



















Scientific Taskforce – Murder in Moscow by Konno Bin

黒いモスクワ – 今野敏

Audiobook.jp has added two novels featuring the team of eccentric crime solvers called ST. I listened to Case File: Blue when it was the only one available and appreciated it as a straight forward mystery for listening practice, but I wasn’t too into the story as it centered around a ghost. It turns out a ghost comes into play in this one as well—I guess Konno likes ghosts—but I found this one had more to offer.

First, most of the book was set in Moscow. The Japanese investigators interacting with the FSB, former KGB, officers was an interesting dynamic. It raised the question of how much the organization has been influenced by its history versus how it has changed with Russia’s evolving political landscape.

I enjoyed the descriptions of Russian scenery, customs, and food. I have no idea if they were accurate, but I like having a window into another culture from a third culture. Even if there are stereotypes, they are likely subtly different from the stereotypes I would be exposed to in my own culture. Hopefully, this kind of interaction can slowly paint a more accurate picture.

The other reason I preferred this novel to Case File: Blue is the references to martial arts. ST member Kurosaki, is featured in this book as seen by the use of “black” in the Japanese title, which is one of the characters in Kurosaki’s name (they all happen to have colors in their names). Kurosaki is at an advanced level in several schools of martial arts. In this novel, he is a rising star in a fictional school. I couldn’t understand the details of the martial arts descriptions, but the part I could pick up was something fresh to listen to. If you are deep into martial arts maybe you would enjoy this aspect of the book, as long as you don’t take it too seriously.

There is nothing else like Konno’s novels on Audiobook.jp, so I highly recommend them if you searching for a light and fun mystery story. Although the title is quite intense, I look forward to listening to the remaining book, Murder by Poison.






Bilingual Japanese Book Review: Powder Pursuit by Higashino Keigo

バイリンガル・レビュー: 雪煙チェース – 東野圭吾

Here is another entry in Higashino’s series about skiing and snowboarding. I also reviewed and posted a short translation of Hakugin Jack, from the same series. This novel features two of the same characters from Hakugin Jack, but it’s not necessary to read the previous novels before reading this one.

This is a murder mystery, but solving the murder is an afterthought to the story of Tatsumi, the prime suspect, fleeing the police as he tries to find the “goddess” who can confirm his alibi. It jumps back and forth from the perspectives of the fleeing second-rate college students to an underrated pawn in the police force and his partner in pursuit. It plays out as both a police procedural, complete with Metropolitan Police Department politics, and a fugitive story.



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Bilingual Review: Honeybees and Distant Thunder by Onda Riku (蜜蜂と遠雷 恩田 陸)

Winning two major awards, the Naoki Prize for 2016 and the Booksellers’ Award for 2017, this book has been very popular in Japan. I don’t live in Japan but get a sense of popularity based on rankings from Bookmeter.com.

I decided to read this book because I knew I liked Onda Riku’s writing style from reading her novel Night Picnic. Night Picnic is about an entire school taking an annual epic walk through the night, so it is filled with descriptions of a monotonous activity: walking. In Honey Bees and Distant Thunder she describes song after song performed by a young person alone on a stage with a piano. In both of these novels she demonstrates her skill as an author by engaging the reader through vivid and creative descriptions of something that doesn’t seem like it could be so interesting on the surface. Each new song is a new experience, and I think I enjoy reading her descriptions more than I would be able to appreciate an actual piano contest. Although, after reading her novel, I do think I would be able to appreciate real piano music a bit more than before.



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