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

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.



The story closely follows four characters and their experience through an international piano contest and is told from a variety of perspectives including the contestants, a contest judge, and a documentary filmographer.Kazama Jin is the most intriguing character. He is younger than most of the contestants, he doesn’t dress the same, he’s nonchalant while all of his peers are dead serious and tightly wound. His piano playing is shocking. The reaction of the judges to his music really caught my attention.

One of the Judges, Mieko, thinks about Jin’s music, and realizes that with years of experience in the classical music industry, the original and true music people love as a child becomes locked away inside a small room deep inside your chest.

The novel describes Jin’s music like this:

…Kazama Jin’s performance comes in and tears open the door of that all but forgotten small room in an instant. Your reaction could only be one of two extremes: wild excitement that the door has been flung open for you, or repulsion at the brash rudeness of the sudden intrusion into your private room.

The reactions to Jin’s performance make me think of people’s reactions when they heard Jesus teaching. Jin and Jesus both brought on this kind of polarized reaction. Jesus was the son of a carpenter, without formal education, while Jin was the son a of a beekeeper and didn’t even own a piano, so neither had the usual pedigree to earn respect from the elites. Many Jewish leaders were so offended that they were trying to kill Jesus while others were completely amazed at the authority of his teaching. Jin’s performance caused a similar reaction among the Judges because he tapped into something that was deeper and surpassed all of the hard work it took for the judges to become the elite of the classical music world. Some judges were viscerally angered, while others were amazed.  However, while the Jewish leaders and the piano contest judges were divided into polar opposite opinions, just as Jesus was adored by crowds of common people, the audience at the contest had no qualms about fully embracing Jin’s unorthodox performance.

Jin is able to create something more real and moving than the traditional classical music world of the elites could offer. I think we are designed to be attracted to a character like Jin, and this is why I think the book has become so popular.

If you are interested in learning more about this book, take a look at other reviews here and here. I posted an unofficial translation of a small section of the novel, so please check it out. Also, of course, please support the author by buying and reading the book.








3 thoughts on “Bilingual Review: Honeybees and Distant Thunder by Onda Riku (蜜蜂と遠雷 恩田 陸)”

  1. Great review! I think you did a great job getting touching on some deep topics about this book (which I don’t think I did as much in myreview), and the comparison to Jesus is also insightful.

    The translation snippet here is done really well. My only (very minor) complaint is I would have used a colon instead of a semicolon.

    Thanks for linking to my review (:

    I’ll tell you funny coincidence–I just went to a used book sale recently and just happened to pick up a copy of, yeah you guessed it, 夜のピクニック!

    1. Thanks! I didn’t want to cover the same things that you and others had already covered, and I wanted to keep it short since I tried to write it in two languages.

      I debated over the colon and semicolon, so I will go ahead and change it to a colon.

      I hope you enjoy 夜のピクニック

Comments are closed.