Japanese Book Review: The Tropics by Morimi Tomihiko

(熱帯 森見 登美彦)

I don’t normally write in-depth summaries of the books I read, but this one had an intricate enough plot that I wanted to do it for myself, and hopefully, someone else will come across this and find it helpful. This book has the most complicated plot I have read. Early on, we learn that one of the characters carries around a notebook to keep track everything that happens, a lesson he learned after his copy of The Tropics, a mysterious book that no one has ever finished, disappeared.

I took this as a hint and began writing down what happened as I read. If you plan to read this book I would suggest doing the same, or to save time, you can use my summary as a map.

Obviously, this includes spoilers, so if you plan on reading the book come back when you’re finished. Here goes:

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Japanese Book Review: Endless Night – Morimi Tomihiko

(夜行 – 森見 登美彦)

The title of this book could be read Yakou or Yagyou depending on whether it functions as part of the word for night train or part of the word for “The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons” . For my translation of the title into English, I didn’t have a punchy way to make the night train reference and the reference to Japanese folklore simultaneously, so I chose to use a recurring motif in the  book: endless night.

This book doesn’t really fall into the horror genre, but the eerie tone can occasionally  send you into a cold sweat. It is more like a ghost story, or more accurately, a collection of ghost stories.

Five friends gather at a traditional inn near Kyoto on the 10th anniversary of the disappearance of their friend Hasegawa, which occurred on the night of the annual  Kurama Fire Festival. Imagine a night of half-naked men carrying giant torches and portable shrines through a small town that only sees that kind of crowd once a year.

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Ten Japanese Four-Character Idioms in Context from “The Night is Short, Walk on Girl”

Four-character idioms are an interesting feature of the Japanese language. From here on I will call them yojijukugo, which is the romaniztion of 四字熟語. One example that a beginner may be familiar with is, “一生懸命いっしょうけんめい (is shou ken mei)”, which basically means to try hard. It’s often quite relevant for someone trying to learn Japanese.

I have been interested in yojijukugo since soon after I started learning Japanese. I bought a pocket-size yojijukugo dictionary and would highlight entries as I came across them in real life. I have mostly discovered them reading but have sometimes noticed them in podcasts after I know what to listen for. I would be very unlikely to pick up any yojujukugo from context by listening. When I re-discover an idiom in a podcast, I get a very rewarding feeling—lots of reading is paying off.

The Night is Short, Walk on Girl by Morimi Tomihiko (夜は短し歩けよ乙女 by 森見登美彦) is filled with interesting yojijukugo. As with any vocabulary, yojijukugo are hard to learn in isolation, so this novel provides a great opportunity to see many instances used in context by an expert. I will pull out my ten favorite and include the sentence they came from as well as the context.

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Translation of a scene from Morimi Tomihiko’s “The Night is Short, Walk on Girl”

夜は短し歩けよ乙女 by 森見登美彦 has been popular for a long time, and has recently gained in popularity based on its rankings in bookemeter.com. I think this is because an animated movie based on the book came out in theaters this month in Japan.

I have read a couple of novels from Morimi Tomihiko, and his writing style is my favorite I’ve encountered so far. The extensive and out of the ordinary vocabulary he uses, and his roundabout ways of expressing things makes his writing very interesting to read. His books are also a treasure trove of new (to me) and interesting, but not necessarily common, vocabulary to learn.

I haven’t been too drawn to the plots and settings of the Morimi books I have read so far. It’s not that they’re bad, but they’re just not quite my taste. I find that the writing style is so interesting, that I’m not too worried if the plot and setting are not my favorite and look forward to reading more of his books.

I will translate a strange scene from the middle of this novel. I’m not able to do the writing style justice in translation, but I try to get the meaning across. The section I translated was not actually too dense with challenging vocabulary.

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Japanese Book Review: 有頂天家族 – 森見登美彦

uchouten-kazoku(uchoten kazoku – Morimi Tomihiko)

Most of the characters in this book are tanukis, of which the standard English translation seems to be “Japanese racoon dogs.” Tanukis can shape shift into quite a range of things, people, or even places in this book. The story is about the interaction between humans, tanukis, and tengus, who can fly and create massive winds.  The story is told by Yasaburo, the 3rd son in a family of tanukis made up of a mother and 4 sons who are struggling to fill the shoes of their late father, who was the leader of the Tanuki world.

The rules for this fantastic world are a bit crazy and hard to understand, but it is grounded in the actual geography of Kyoto. It contains lots of detailed and excellent descriptions of real places, and almost acts like a travel book. You’ll find yourself wanting to walk around Kyoto and see the book’s setting in person.

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