Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sunday Salon: Are you interested in Japan? -- Your Input Needed

What a busy week this was, with work and after work plans and of course, BBAW.  I wish I could've participated in BBAW more than I did, but it's been fun to find new blogs to read, and catch up on some of the posts I missed during the week.  Needless to say, with everything I had going on this past week, I didn't get very much reading done.  The collection of Poe's writings has been largely ignored, but I have started Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur which I'm buddy reading with Wendy.   I am only a few chapters in so far but I hope to spend some time with it tonight.

So instead of talking about my reading this week, I'd really like to get your input on some ideas I've had for my blog.  I hinted at some new content in my BBAW:  Setting Goals post on Friday, and what I've been thinking of fits in with my earlier decision to have more of a Japanese focus on my blog.
But let me say right off the bat that I would never want to detract from Bellezza's wonderful Japanese Literature Challenge. She's a fantastic hostess and I hope she continues to host this challenge for many years to come. The ideas I've had would simply be optional extra events for those interested in perhaps going beyond the books.

The first idea I've been toying with is starting a kind of discussion group or event to talk about Japanese literature and culture.  Inspired largely by Dewey's Weekly Geeks, and the Read-a-thon mini-challenges, I thought it might be fun to have a monthly(?) topic relating to Japanese literature and culture, with a fun task for you to do.  Some possible topics/tasks could be: to go out for Japanese food, or make something at home and report back with photos or recipes, to watch a Japanese film and tell us about it, to read a manga, to make an origami crane, whatever really.  Anyone who wanted to join in could write up a post on their own blog, and submit the link, or simply chat about it in the comments on the dedicated post here.

Or it could just be a central place to talk a little about what Japanese lit we've been reading that month.  Or if anyone had a specific question about some aspect of Japan, we could use that as our starting point for a discussion, say, on cultural differences, or some seasonal custom, for example. I'm certainly no expert on Japan, and in some ways my experiences here have been somewhat limited, but I'd be happy to share more of what my life here has exposed me to, and for the rest we could hopefully learn more about this fascinating country together. It would also give you a chance to have a little taste of Japan no matter where you are. And there would be little prizes.

 The second idea is ... well, first let me ask you this ... Have you ever read a Japanese literature novel and wondered about some of the customs described in the book?  Or not completely understood something and wished you could talk about it with someone else? You know the Japanese are famous for their subtle, open-ended novels.

Mark David recently mentioned that it would be nice to start up some discussions on books that we've read in common for the Japanese Literature Challenge.  I agree, and although there are already several online reading groups, I wonder if there would be interest in a very casual group that would read and discuss some Japanese literature books together.  Maybe bi-monthly(?) and nothing too formal.  Just a chance to meet in one place, as it were, to chat about a book, to ask any questions about cultural aspects that are unfamiliar, have a spoiler thread so we could talk about the ending if we wanted to, and so on.  We could start out with books that a lot of people have already read, such as The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa, which already has several reviews over at the JLit Challenge review site, and perhaps graduate to some other books later on. Like for my Reading Japan Project, I'm open to reading books set in Japan by non-Japanese authors as well.  I've been wanting to read The Love We Share Without Knowing by Christopher Barzak every since Nymeth's glowing review so that could be a choice too. 

This book group style would work for shorter books but the other possibility is a kind of read-along.  I recently found out that Matt of A Guy's Moleskine Notebook is already hosting a Tale of Genji Read-Along, which I regret missing out on, but maybe there are some other books that you would like to read together at a slower pace, and by reading them together encourage each other on. I know I keep putting off reading I Am a Cat by Natsume Soseki because I have the complete 3 volumes in 1 version and it's quite the chunkster, or I wouldn't mind re-reading The Pillow Book, or Haruki Murakami's The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, or any number of Japanese novels that might be more rewarding to read and discuss with others. 

I also know that everyone is busy, and committing to read a specific book can be difficult to do so I was thinking that perhaps the occasional group reads could be interspersed with other themed reading, such as having a short story month where you choose the story you want to read, or to read any book by a certain author, or books set in a certain time period, or... well, you get the idea.

Along similar lines, Kristen M. at We Be Reading's Poe Fridays also made me wonder about possibly doing a regular Japanese short story feature, perhaps reading one story a week, or one every two weeks.  Haruki Murakami has several short stories, for example. I wonder if reading one story a week might be too restricting though, or too slow of a pace; perhaps the straight-forward reading group method would be better?

So as you can see I haven't figured out the details yet, or even which of these ideas would work best, so that is where you come in.  Please please let me know what you think, even if it's to say that you have no interest whatsoever.  Don't hesitate to be honest because I'd rather know now if there's no point going forward with any of this. Or if one idea has more interest, I'd rather pursue that one. And if you have any other suggestions or ideas, I'd love to hear them. I'll still be reading, reviewing and highlighting Japanese literature here, along with my other reading, regardless if this gets off the ground or not.  Plus, now that it's cooler and I actually feel like leaving the house sometimes, I plan to start posting more photos again with perhaps a regular 'Views of Japan' or 'Everyday Japan' feature, or something like that.

So, as the Japanese might say ikagadeska - what do you think?  If you'd rather not get into it in the comments, please feel free to email me (inspringthedawn at gmail dot com). 

I suppose you'd also like to know who is the lucky winner of a copy of Beyond the Blossoming Fields by Jun'ichi Watanabe, courtesy of Alma Books.  Sorry for making you wade through the rest of this post to get here. Thanks to everyone who entered and tweeted.  I enjoyed reading your answers to the question I posed about the fictional characters or real women that you admire.  The answers ranged from family, to famous historical figures to beloved fictional characters, and if you're interested you can read everyone's replies in the comments section on the giveaway post. Well, I added up all the extra entries, and then with a little help of, we have a winner. And the winner is ...

I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did, Eva.  Please let me know your mailing address so that I can pass it on to Alma Books, and then hopefully the book will be on its way to you very soon.

If you didn't win today, don't despair as Buy a Friend a Book Week is coming up in the first week of October, and you'll have another chance to choose a book then.

Also a reminder that you still have until Tuesday to enter my giveaway for two mysteries.  Have a great week everyone, and don't forget to have your say on these ideas.  Thanks!


  1. Tanabata, you have such great ideas! I love them all. Seriously, I'd be interested in posting about origami, or reading a short story, or holding a mini-book group as we all discuss one book in particular. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle would be great, as I hear there's quite an ambiguous ending. I'm only thirty pages into it, due to all the reviews I've accepted, but I'm dying to get back to it. It would be fun to have a theme, too, and get more input from you. You say you don't know much about Japan, but you certainly know more than anyone else!

    So, not meaning to be vague, I just want to say I'm in for whatever you decide!

  2. I love all things Japanese, so would love to participate in any of the events you mention. I love the weekly geek idea of monthly projects, but would also like to take part in read alongs/literature discussions.

    It isn't too late to join us in the Tale of Genji readalong. We are doing it very slowly and are running way behind. I think most of us have only got to chapter 20, so there is easily time to catch up.

    Good luck with whatever you decide to do!

  3. Some fabulous ideas, tanabata! My first impulse is to say that I would definitely be interested in a read-along of I am a Cat, which I was tentatively hoping to read for Bellezza's challenge.

    In my only post for the Japanese challenge so far, of Kij Johnson's short story "The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles" I wrote that I have always been curious what the cultural significance of cats was in Japan and I would love the opportunity to discuss that query -and others that arise in reading Japanese literature- in a setting conducive to likeminded discussion.

    I'm looking forward to your endeavours and congratulations to Eva!

  4. It was busy, wasn't it? I am still playing catch up. I am excited that we are reading Tears of the Desert together. :-)

    I think you've come up with some great ideas, Nat, for your blog and the blogging community in relation to Japanese culture and literature. I am not sure how much I would participate, but I might be interested in some of the joint readings. I'm terrible at those though, so I'm not someone you should rely on. I always have good intentions but am not good with follow through when it comes to that sort of thing.

    The short story idea is especially appealing to me since I am trying to increase my short story reading.

    Have a great week, Nat!

  5. Sounds great, I love the idea of learning more about Japan lit and culture. I read a graphic novel recently which really made me want to go and research Japanese mythical figures. The bi-monthly read sounds good too

  6. I honestly like all the ideas, Nat. My favourite is probable the WG-like monthly activity that we'd all post about. I love Japanese cinema and I'm just starting to get into Manga, so I'd love to have something that would encourage me to explore more in those areas and to discover new things. The read-alongs and discussions do appeal to me too, but it might be difficult to make it work with everyone's different schedules/reading rhythms. Whatever you decide to do, though, I'm sure it will be great!

  7. I was introduced to Japanese Literature as a result of the wonderful Japanese Literature III challenge-I have read maybe ten books as a result of it so far-

    I would be very interested in a bimonthly meeting-a change to ask questions get more ideas to read etc-also open for the idea of a read along-

  8. I think it sounds neat, and it wouldn't have to detract from the challenge.

    Tears of the Desert is a powerful book. It made me cry, but it was so worthwhile. I can't wait to hear what you think of it.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  9. A Japanese book group would be super awesome. Perhaps we can have it like the Bookworm Carnival, in which different blog gets to be host in turn. It could be a separate thing with the other Japanese related things you'd like to have (photography, movies, small tasks, etc). For longer book, the book group might make it a readalong instead of discussing it at the very end only (I for one would love to have a readalong for I Am Cat or the Pillow Book, or even re-discuss The Wind-up bird chronicle). I'd say bi-monthly sounds great. Monthly makes it too tedious I think, since we all have other books to read, challenges and so on (but that's probably just me, cos I'm a slow reader). Then maybe every half a year or a year, we could turn the book group to open the "submissions" for a certain author, like you suggested (instead of one specific book). Anyway, I'm kinda blabbering, but I'm excited with the ideas! Please let me know if you need help with anything!

  10. The short story every other week or so sounds interesting. I am also fascinated by I Am A Cat.

    I like books centered in Japan (I think.) When I was in junior high school I read Shogun, Tai Pan, and Noble House, and I loved them.

    Recently, I tried reading Tale of Genji, but I had to bail out on that one. Intimidating and probably not a great book to start with as a reintroduction to Japanese literature.

  11. I absolutely love, love LOVE this idea!!! I'd be so in for anything that comes from this. I've always loved everything Japanese. It would be so neat to learn more about the culture and I would love to do some group lit reads. I've been wanting to read The Love We Share...too. I have it sitting on my TBR pile actually :)

  12. Oh I'd really love if we can push forward with this! I realize it can be a problem using a blog for this because not many readers of one blog might be have already read the featured book by the time it's posted. So I'm thinking, is there a way for you to make a sticky post on your blog so it stays at the top for like a month or two? That might help get the discussion running effectively.

    I also thought about scouring book sites like Goodreads for users that have already read and rated the featured book (and didn't just rant the whole time about it, hehe). Maybe we can invite these people over to share their thoughts in the discussion :)

    Murakami's books are always great candidates. I also wish more people have read Oe's A Quiet Life and Kawabata's The Old Capital because there seems to be a lot we can talk about with those books.

  13. If you make a mythological corner to this idea I will worship you. I want to know as much as possible about Japanese folklore that it's tearing me apart. My writing ideas will be oh-so colorful with them. You have a great idea and I hope we can discuss it to fruition.

  14. Bellezza - LOL. That's ok. It's your enthusiasm that helps inspire me! It's been quite a while since I've read The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, it would be good to read it again. And I'll definitely be calling on your for the origami month, if that's ok. :)

    farmlanebooks - Thanks for your input. Are there any particular books you'd like to read?
    As for The Tale of Genji, I really do want to read it but I have quite a few other books that I both need and want to read before the end of the year. I don't think I could realistically think about it until next year at the earliest. Maybe someone else will be interested to read it with me then. Thanks though!

    Paperback Reader - Ok, one vote for a read along of I Am a Cat. You know, I don't really know the significance of cats in Japan either, other than the 'beckoning cat'. I'd be curious to look more into that too.

    Wendy - I'm still playing catch up too. There are just so many posts and blogs, I think I have to accept I can't visit all of them. :)

    I completely understand that it's hard to commit to joint readings, and hopefully even if people don't read along or participate they'd still enjoy reading about it, at least that's my hope.

    katrina - I'm curious now which graphic novel it was that you read. I'd like to know more about Japanese mythical figures too, that's a good idea.

    Nymeth - Thanks for your input. I think the monthly activity could be a lot of fun if people got involved and were interested in perhaps trying/learning something new. If you have any other ideas for the monthly topic, please let me know.

    mel u - I'm glad you've discovered Japanese literature thanks to Bellezza's challenge. Are there any books you'd be interested in reading together with a group?

  15. Anna - I have a feeling Tears of the Desert is going to be an emotional read as I get into it more, especially now that I've been introduced to all the family.

    mee - I'm glad you're excited! :)
    I agree with you that monthly might be too much for a reading group, which is why I suggested bi-monthly. I'm a pretty slow reader myself and I know everyone has other books they want to read. I wouldn't want this to be stressful.

    I hadn't thought of having others host the book group, but that's a nice idea. Like a book group that is held at a different member's house each time. I wouldn't want to make it an obligation though because not everyone might want to do that. But it could definitely be an option if people were willing.

    I'm happy to hear any ideas so let me know!

    blacklin - I think the short story feature could go two ways. One would be to read a specific story and others could read it too if they wanted, and then discuss that story. The other way would be much looser. Just read any story and then come talk about it on that day. Is there one way that you would be more interested in?

    The Tale of Genji is intimidating and isn't exactly the kind of book to just breeze through. I know it'll take some effort, which is one of the reasons I still haven't worked up the motivation to read it properly. I'm impressed you tried!

    Chris - I know, I've had The Love We Share.. sitting in my TBR pile for a few months now too. :)

    Mark David - Do you mean keep the post about whatever book as a sticky for a couple of months? What I was thinking is putting the information and links at the top of my sidebar including current and previous discussions so that people could find and comment on them anytime. Would that work?

    I'm not a member of Goodreads but sure, usually the more the merrier for a discussion, as long as everyone is respectful.

    Harry - I have to admit that I don't know a whole lot about Japanese folklore/mythological figures and whatnot, yet anyway, but I'd be very interested to learn more. Anything in particular?

  16. @Tabanata: Ah yes, even better! Some visible links or banners at the top would be great :)

  17. I would love to read with the group
    Oe's A Quiet Life. I have read so far two of his shorter works and really admired them.

  18. It's so exciting to see the enthusiasm. Now you have the troublesome task of defining it for us, Tanabata. But, at least you have a willing group of participants!

  19. I would say monsters, spirits and gods, but well I will most likely just enjoy reading about customs and the likes. I can always help you when it comes to mythology. One reason to start googling and researching for the things I like.

  20. I love the idea of adding more Japanese stuff to your blog! :) The mini-challenges certainly sound like fun, although I always feel a bit silly asking about vegetarian sushi! lol

    I think Japanese books definitely lend themselves to discussion, and I'd definitely bump The Housekeeper and the Professor up on my TBR list in order to participate!

    I'm less good at read-a-longs, but that's because I get almost all of my books from the library so I can't read them spaced out over a long period of time. A themed read-a-long, kind of like a carnival or discussion definitely sounds intriguing though! The nice thing about Japanese lit is that the books tend to be shorter than average (at least the ones I've read), which might make it easer for people!

    I definitely look forward to more of your pictures-your photography is beautiful!

  21. Mark David - OK then. I'll get some buttons once the names are figured out and have the relevant links in the sidebar. :)

    mel u - I haven't read anything by Oe yet but added A Quiet Life to a small book order I placed today. I look forward to reading it, and hopefully discussing it with some of you.

    Bellezza - Yes, I'm so glad some people are willing, now we just have to get organized. :P

    Harry - OK, when we do a mythology theme, I'm definitely going to ask for your help. :)

    Eva - Thanks for your input! I completely understand about read alongs not being possible if you're reading a library book. Hopefully you'll join in some of the regular book group selections though. I'm looking forward to reading The Housekeeper and the Professor too.

    It's true there's not much in the way of vegetarian sushi but I'm sure we could find you something. Do you eat tofu?

    And thanks, my camera has been feeling rather neglected these last few months. It'll be good to start getting out more regularly again.

  22. YES! YES! YES! I love your ideas! :))

    Especially the monthly Japan mission, not just relating to books.

    But I would also love to join a casual reading group (I am a cat and The housekeeper and the professor a both on my wish list), or a readalong for the chunksters. I am planning to read The Pillowbook together with velvet of vvb32 reads so that would make a great start ;)

    Also I would like to recommend to you a book that is set in Japan by a non-Japanese author: The Teahouse Fire, by Ellis Avery. It was the best book I read last year! I hope I didn't already recommend it to you in another comment LOL.

    Last but not least: thanks for alerting me about BAFAB!

  23. I would love to hear more about your experience living in Japan. What is different, what is the same, what surprises you. Most of your readers will not get the opportunity to actually live in Japan and you have such a unique perspective that you can share. I am looking forward to more of your lovely photos too.

  24. gnoegnoe - Yea! I'm glad that you're interested in the monthly mini-challenge. And that's fun that you're already planning a buddy read of The Pillow Book.

    You might have mentioned The Teahouse Fire before but it never hurts to tell me again. I've got it down on my wish list now so I'll have to see if I can get a copy. Thanks. :)

    Moo - Thanks for your input. I haven't really talked about my life in Japan very much on my blog before because I wasn't sure people would be all that interested so I'm glad to know that you and others are, interested that is. :)


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