Sunday, April 29, 2007

'Comfort Woman'

by Nora Okja Keller

Fiction/Historical, Copyright 1997
Penguin paperback, 213 p

(Book #14 for 2007)
Comfort Woman is the story of Akiko, a Korean refugee of World War II, and Beccah, her daughter by an American missionary. The two women are living on the edge of society – and sanity – in Honolulu, haunted by Akiko’s periodic encounters with the spirits of the dead, and by Beccah’s struggles to reclaim her mother from her past. Slowly and painfully Akiko reveals her tragic story as a “comfort woman” to Japanese soldiers. As Beccah uncovers these truths, she discovers her own strength and the precious gifts her mother has given her.
I think I would’ve preferred more factual information about the lives of comfort women, spending more time on what happened to Akiko during the war and being forced into such a tragic situation, instead of focusing on her fighting off her ghosts and demons. The mysticism and shamanism lost me a bit and made the story a bit far-fetched, for me at least. (No doubt my own fault but I can’t help it). I thought the daughter’s angst was well portrayed though; I could completely understand her difficulty in accepting her Korean heritage, and her mother’s often bizarre behaviour. The interweaving of the two voices, Beccah and her mother, was at times a little confusing, especially when Akiko referred to her mother, in fact Beccah’s grandmother. And it just seemed a bit disjointed at times which all distracted me a bit from the supposed “heartwrenching and enthralling tale” that it’s billed as (on the back cover). All in all a grim, important subject that I’d be interested in reading more on, but unfortunately this particular way of telling it didn’t really engage me as a reader.

My Rating: 2.5/5

Interview with Nora Okja Keller HERE.
Reading Matters book group discussion HERE.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Five Favourite Restaurants

I've been tagged by the lovely Lotus for a Restaurant Meme.

The rules:
1. Add a direct link to your post below the name of the person who tagged you. Include the city/state and country you’re in.
Nicole (Sydney, Australia)
velverse (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
LB (San Giovanni in Marignano, Italy)
Selba (Jakarta, Indonesia)
Olivia (London, England)
ML (Utah, USA)
Lotus (Toronto, Canada)
tanabata (Saitama, Japan)

2. List out your top 5 favorite places to eat at your location.

3. Tag 5 other people (preferably from other countries/states) and let them know they’ve been tagged.

I had to give it some thought, and I really wish I had some fun, unique little restaurants to gush about, but sadly not. One restaurant that we truly called a favourite unfortunately disappeared during the 4 years we were living in the UK. So the following are simply restaurants that we enjoy going to, and that come to mind when we're thinking of where to eat.

We're in Japan after all so of course sushi must be first on the list! There are sushi shops everywhere you look, and Sushi Zanmai does have other branches throughout Tokyo, but when we feel like making the effort it's always nice to go to the source, as it were, to their main shop in Tsukiji, home of "the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world".
(Pictures of Tsukiji Fish Market by National Geographic HERE).

Next up, if we're in the mood for Japanese noodles, more specifically udon, then Tsurutontan is a good place to go. Their portions are generous and the noodles are delicious.

The Japanese love Italian food (as do I) but they can have some very interesting variations. We sometimes like to go to Kamakura Pasta. They use fresh pasta and as well as some more 'typical' Italian arrangements they have unique Japanese versions like pasta with squid and mentaiko (pollock roe) in butter sauce, or sukiyaki beef pasta. I wonder what Italians would think of it?

We go to Tonkatsu Wako when H is particularly hungry since you can have free refills on miso soup, cabbage salad, and rice! But their freshly made tonkatsu (breaded fried pork cutlets) are usually crispy and filling. I'm not crazy about pork so I usually get shrimp or chicken or something else, also good.

Lastly, a chain restaurant that's hardly special but their prices are extremely reasonable and the food is pretty decent considering. So when we just want some ordinary Japanese food we often go to Ootoya. Just to give you an example of how cheap it is, the meal in the picture is 787yen (approx. US$6.50).

Now, I tag MissSin (because I'm sure she must know some fun restaurants to go to around Tokyo), Bookfool (Mississippi- cause her trips to Oxford and her food pics make me hungry), Andi (Texas- for also making me hungry anytime she talks about eating out), and anyone else who feels like playing along.

*Photos from the respective restaurants' websites.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Election results

Good news! The guy who had the loudest, most annoying loudspeaker campaign LOST!! Apparently the top 40 people voted for will make up the Council. Out of the 56 running, he came in 46th. There is some justice after all!

*Image found here.

The Shipping News: The Movie

I'd been waiting until I'd read the book so I finally watched the movie of The Shipping News. While there were lots of changes and things left out, as usual, I thought it really did capture the spirit of the book and many of the quirky characters and main events were still in it. The fact that they filmed it in Newfoundland was great for the authentic scenery shots. Kevin Spacey isn't anything like what I pictured Quoyle to be like based on the descriptions in the book even though I knew he played him in the movie. I love Kevin and Judi though so I quite enjoyed it. Not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

'The Shipping News'

by Annie Proulx

Fiction. Copyright, 1993
Scribner paperback, 355 p.
WINNER of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 1994; WINNER of the National Book Award for Fiction 1993

(Book #13 for 2007; Book #3 for the TBR Challenge)
When Quoyle’s two-timing wife meets her just deserts, he retreats with his two daughters to his ancestral home on the starkly beautiful Newfoundland coast, where a rich cast of local characters and family members all play a part in Quoyle’s struggle to reclaim his life. As Quoyle confronts his private demons – and the unpredictable forces of nature and society – he begins to see the possibility of love without pain or misery.
I had a hard time getting used to her style of writing at first (also why I never made a note of any quotes as none seemed to stand out), but wanting to continue reading about Quoyle and all the others pulled me along. The only other book by Proulx I’ve read is Close Range: Wyoming Stories, but based on these two, she sure likes quirky offbeat characters and small towns. Set primarily in Newfoundland, the main character of the story is certainly Newfoundland itself with its harsh climate and the difficult lifestyle it demands. Due to that it was wonderfully atmospheric yet surprisingly humourous at times, in a dark humour sort of way. I’m glad I finally got around to reading it, thanks to the TBR Challenge. It was worth the read.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Saturday, April 21, 2007


..and just plain annoying!!
I thought about having a mini rant but adekun has written a much more diplomatic post about it. I'll just say Thank Goodness the election is tomorrow! Click on his name above to read about election campaigning- Japanese style.
The local candidates (all 55 of them!) for City Council.

Friday, April 20, 2007

To Mrs. Reynolds' Cat

Since I seem to share a birthday with John Keats, I thought I'd have a browse at some of his poetry online and came across this fun one.

To Mrs. Reynolds' Cat

Cat! who hast pass'd thy grand climacteric,
How many mice and rats hast in thy days
Destroy'd? -- How many tit bits stolen? Gaze
With those bright languid segments green, and prick
Those velvet ears -- but pr'ythee do not stick
Thy latent talons in me -- and upraise
Thy gentle mew -- and tell me all thy frays
Of fish and mice, and rats and tender chick.

Nay, look not down, nor lick thy dainty wrists --
For all the wheezy asthma, -- and for all
Thy tail's tip is nick'd off -- and though the fists
Of many a maid have given thee many a maul,
Still is that fur as soft as when the lists
In youth thou enter'dst on glass-bottled wall.

-- John Keats

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Wikipedia meme

As seen at A Fraternity of Dreamers and Breaking the Fourth Wall, among others, I'm tagging myself.

The Rules:
1. Go to Wikipedia and type in your birthdate, no year.
2. List 3 important events, 2 births, 1 death and 1 Holiday or Observance.
3. (optional) Tag 5 more people.


1517 - Protestant Reformation: Martin Luther posts his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.
1892 - Arthur Conan Doyle publishes The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
1984 - Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is assassinated by two Sikh security guards (riots soon broke out in New Delhi and innocent Sikhs were killed).

1795 - John Keats, British poet (d. 1821)
1887 - Chiang Kai-shek, Nationalist Chinese leader, former Republic of China president (d. 1975)

1993 - River Phoenix, American actor (drug overdose) (b. 1970)

Halloween (of course!)

I'm not going to tag anyone specifically, but if you're in the mood consider yourself tagged.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

'Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell'

by Susanna Clarke
Fiction/Fantasy, Copyright 2004
Bloomsbury hardback, 780 p.
WINNER - Hugo Award: Best Novel 2005; Shortlist - Whitbread Award: First Novel 2004; Longlist - Man Booker Prize 2004

Two magicians shall appear in England. The first shall fear me; the second shall long to behold me...
Centuries ago when magic still existed in England, the greatest magician of them all was the Raven King. A human child brought up by fairies, the Raven King blended fairy wisdom and human reason to create English magic. Now at the beginning of the nineteenth century, he is barely more than a legend, and England, with its mad King and its dashing poets, no longer believes in practical magic. Then the reclusive Mr Norrell of Hurtfew Abbey appears and causes the statues of York Cathedral to speak and move. News spreads of the return of magic to England and, persuaded that he must help the government in the war against Napoleon, Mr Norrell goes to London. There he meets a brilliant young magician and takes him as a pupil. Jonathan Strange is charming, rich and arrogant. Together, they dazzle the country with their feats. But the partnership soon turns to rivalry. Mr Norrell has never conquered his lifelong habits of secrecy, while Strange will always be attracted to the wildest, most perilous magic.
It was certainly long (and heavy!), and hardly action-packed like the Harry Potter books to which it’s been compared, but it was still a very captivating read. Set in an alternate 19th c. England during the Napoleonic wars, what an imaginative, original story Clarke has created! Witty too:
For a while he had tried to persuade the other Ministers that they should commission Mr Beckford, Mr Lewis and Mrs Radcliffe to create dreams of vivid horror that Mr Norrell could then pop into Buonaparte’s head. But the other Ministers considered that to employ a magician was one thing, novelists were quite another and they would not stoop to it.” (p. 245)
The illustrations were fun, but then I love illustrations. And I LOVED the footnotes. I never found them distracting and they really added to the story, making me believe there really was a long history of English magic.
Book-murder was a late addition to English magical law. The wilful destruction of a book of magic merited the same punishment as the murder of a Christian. (Footnote p. 314)
A fun read. I’ve already ordered The Ladies of Grace Adieu so I’m looking forward to reading those stories sometime soon as well.
“Can a magician kill a man by magic?” Lord Wellington asked Strange. Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. “I suppose a magician might,” he admitted, “but a gentleman never could.”
Interview with Susanna Clarke.

My Rating: 4/5
(Book #12 for 2007; Book #2 for the Chunkster Challenge; Book #2 for the TBR Challenge)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

spring snow

here, amidst flurrying cherry blossoms
it’s as though some spring-time snow
were falling and did not melt
-Monk Souku

Friday, April 13, 2007

weather blues and Grey's Anatomy

I'm so sick of the weather we've been having recently. If it's not rainy and miserable, it is So Bloody Windy!! Today was a windy day and I'm tired of having dust and pollen blasted into my eyes and mouth. And let's not even discuss the bad hair days to accompany that damn wind. Blah!

Plus today I finished watching Season Two of Grey's Anatomy, which I've been watching rather intensively the last couple of weeks, and I'm emotionally drained. In real life I hate, or at least dislike strongly, doctors and hospitals so what IS it about hospital dramas? Anyway, thanks Les for the gentle nudge to try it- I'm hooked! Guess I'll be buying Season Three along with Season 3 of House in a few months.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Theme Buying

Much like the Themed Reading Lists that were going around a few weeks ago, there's a definite Japanese theme running through my recent book purchases. Except for the 2 from Europe, they're all pretty much either by Japanese or about Japan/Japanese.

From the top:

Hear the Wind Sing - Haruki Murakami
--This is Murakami's first, quite short, book that appears to only be available in English in this version, easy to come by in Japan but difficult elsewhere.
Farewell to Manzanar - Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston & James D. Houston
--An account of the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. When looking up Picture Bride, see below, this came up on the also suggested list which reminded me that I put it on my wishlist ages ago.
Kinshu: Autumn Brocade - Teru Miyamoto
--Sometimes I like epistolary novels, other times not but this one's out in paperback now so I thought I'd give it a try.
As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams: Recollections of a Woman in 11th-Century Japan - 'Lady Sarashina'
--Written in the same era as The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, which inspired this blog, I've been thinking of getting this one for awhile.
Suite Française - Irène Némirovsky
--I finally tried out The Book Depository (Thanks Danielle, I think I heard about it from you first!) by ordering this and the following.
The Night Watch - Sarah Waters
--I love Waters' books and have been looking forward to this one but I was good and waited for the paperback (British edition of course!).
Zen Buddhism - D.T. Suzuki
--I love visiting Zen temples in Kyoto and I'd like to learn a bit about Buddhism, being as I'm currently clueless. And I'm reading this for the Banned Book Challenge!!
Green Tea to Go - Leza Lowitz
--It caught my eye at the book shop- short stories set in modern-day Japan. Fun title too!
Picture Bride - Yoshiko Uchida
--Heard about this recently from Robin on A Fondness for Reading and was intrigued.
Princess Masako: Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne - Ben Hills
--It's actually had some bad reviews but there's supposedly been some attempts to suppress this biography of the wife of the Crown Prince. That of course instantly made me want it!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Non-Fiction Five Challenge

I've finally settled on my list of 5 books for Joy's Non-Fiction Five Challenge which will run from May to September. According to the rules, only 2 books can overlap with other challenges, so I've indicated which ones do. I never seem to get around to reading Non-Fiction very often but I'm really looking forward to these, most of which have been waiting on the shelves far too long. So thank you Joy for the gentle arm-twisting.

1. Hitching Rides With Buddha - Will Ferguson (TRAVEL)--also for the O'Canada Challenge --FINISHED
2. The Diary of Anne Frank (DIARY/MEMOIR)--also for the Banned Book Challenge --FINISHED
3. Princess Masako: Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne - Ben Hills (BIOGRAPHY) --FINISHED
4. Embracing Defeat - John Dower (HISTORY)
5. The Mother Tongue - Bill Bryson (LANGUAGE) --FINISHED

Fast Food Nation - Eric Schlosser (FOOD)
Buddhism: Plain & Simple - Steve Hagen (RELIGION) --FINISHED

*Last updated September 29, 2007

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Friday, April 06, 2007

sakura sweets

To go with my sakura flavoured green tea..
sakura okoshi
(made of puffed rice and starch syrup)

Thinking Blogger

When the lovely Nancy nominated me as a Thinking Blogger, I wrote up a long post but then deleted it after only about a day. Well, I have just been nominated again, this time by the equally lovely kookiejar.
I'm not quite sure why this "award"/meme bothers me so much but I just don't feel comfortable with singling out 5 blogs. Like I mentioned to Nancy, it reminds me of gym class. And picking teams. Sure it's fine when your friend is a captain and picks you first. But someone has to be picked last.
So let me just say thank you very much to both of you for nominating me. I'm very pleased that you enjoy reading my blog, as I do yours. I enjoy reading all the blogs that I do for different reasons, including the ones I comment on sometimes, and the ones I just lurk at. And it's everyone's different perspectives and approaches that make the blogosphere a very fun place to be. I look forward to many more wonderful posts from all of you!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Yanaka Cemetary

Instead of the overcrowded Ueno Park, we wandered around Yanaka Cemetery which is also known for its cherry blossoms.
Cemeteries don't really bother me (although I might not want to be alone in one at night), and with people picnicking and playing music, it was quite festive.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Reading Update: March

I can't believe it's April already! Where the heck did March go?
I also can't believe I only finished two books in March! Nineteen Eighty-Four and Issue 21 of McSweeney's! (I know McSweeney's is technically a literary magazine, but it's bound like a book so I count it as a book!) Anyway, pretty lousy in the quantity department, I say. I am about half-way through Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, but still!
So I'm behind on all my challenges, except for M&N's Summer 7 Challenge, and that's only because it hasn't started yet! But that won't stop me from finally posting my list for Joy's Non-Fiction Five Challenge soon. I did refrain from both the Spring Reading Thing and Carl's Fantasy Challenge so I do have a smidgen of restraint.

I've also read the first chapter of The Shipping News, so will try to juggle that along with Jonathan. It's small and therefore more suitable for carrying around. The brick that is Jonathan Strange, and I'm reading the hardback, is simply for at home reading.
After those, I'm thinking perhaps White Teeth, and then something else from my Banned Book List.
Here's hoping for a more successful month in April.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

cherry blossom mania

The Japanese adore cherry blossoms! During this season the weather report even includes the state of the sakura across the country. They're now in full bloom in Tokyo so this weekend people came out in droves to celebrate spring.
Hanami parties yesterday in Oji.

Today in Ueno Park.