Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday Salon: Reading Retrospective (December 2002 to January 2003)

Sunday SalonI don't know if anyone noticed but I haven't posted a Reading Retrospective in the last few months, when up until November of last year I'd been posting them monthly. As you know, blogging kind of collapsed for me in late December, but I still like the idea of looking back on what I read so I hope you don't mind if I reinstate this mini-feature. I often wish I'd started keeping track of the books I read even earlier, but as it is my reading spreadsheet goes back to 2002. Since I started doing these retrospectives last year, in 2009, for each retrospective I've been reminiscing about the books I read 7 years previously. So today I'm going to look at December 2002, and January 2003. Then I'll do February and March next month to get back on track. I may continue to post bi-monthly after that but we'll see. But now to step into my literary time machine...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

'The Housekeeper and the Professor'

by Yoko Ogawa
First published in Japan in 2003 as 博士の愛した数式 (Hakase no aishita sushiki). Translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder, 2009.
Winner of the Yomiuri Prize, 2004.
Harvill Secker (Random House), trade pb, 180 p.
From the back cover:
He is a brilliant maths professor with a peculiar problem – ever since a traumatic head injury some seventeen years ago, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory.

She is a sensitive but astute young housekeeper with a ten-year-old son, who is entrusted to take care of him.

Each morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are reintroduced to one another, a strange, beautiful relationship blossoms between them. The Professor may not remember what he had for breakfast, but his mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past. He devises clever maths riddles – based on her shoe size or her birthday – and the numbers, in all their articulate order, reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her little boy. With each new equation, the three lost souls forge an affection more mysterious than imaginary numbers, and a bond that runs deeper than memory.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Random thoughts on life, the Olympics, Japanese literature (and a poll)

It figures that just when I finally get over my blogging funk, I don't have any time to actually blog! This week has been super busy and I feel like I've barely been home all week, but I'm so glad to finally be out from under those oppressive grey clouds. Actually feeling cheerful, and energized. And I feel so much lighter. The mind really is a powerful, and dangerous thing. I haven't had a chance to reply to your comments yet (will do so this weekend) but I truly appreciate all your support. Thank you so much. You guys are the best!

Vancouver Olympics 2010The Olympics have also been a distraction.  I've kind of surprised myself at how much I've been enjoying the Olympics this time around. I haven't watched all that many events in entirety but little snatches here and there and I got completely caught up in the figure skating, especially the men's and women's singles. It can be kind of frustrating being in a country that is not your home country during the Olympics. Understandably, each country focuses on its own athletes, but that often means you're out of luck if you want to watch some other event. I barely watched any of the Beijing Olympics because many of the sports that Canada was competing in, there weren't any Japanese athletes in those events so those events didn't get any coverage here. Rowing, for example. And it's hard to find ways to watch online internationally, that either don't require downloading some strange software and/or aren't incredibly dodgy. So I suppose luckily for me, this time, there seemed to be Japanese athletes in a wide variety of events. Anyway, I've been feeling quite patriotic, cheering on the Canadian athletes. I may not have lived there for quite a few years now but I am still a Canadian at heart. And proud of it! :)

'Pillow Book' Friday Read-along

The Pillow Book The Pillow Book

A few people expressed interest in reading together The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon, a collection of random thoughts, lists, and observations about court life, written about 1000 years ago in Heian era Japan. The diary-style and lack of a continuous narrative makes it an ideal book to dip in and out of, so we'll be reading along at the leisurely pace of 10 entries a week (unless otherwise notified).  Starting in February 2010, and lasting until the autumn, every Friday (unless otherwise notified), I will put up a post where we can discuss the week's reading.  Feel free to join in any time. As we're reading quite slowly, it'll be pretty easy to catch up, or you can simply jump in at our current discussion, or any of the previous posts.  Also, if you've read The Pillow Book previously we'd love to have you share your thoughts too.

A note about the translations. For this read-along I'll be referring to the Penguin Classics edition [ISBN: 978-0140448061] translated by Meredith McKinney.  Also well-known is the Ivan Morris translation published by Columbia University Press [ISBN-10: 0231073372] which was my first introduction to The Pillow Book a few years ago.  However, it is a more abridged version with only 185 entries compared to 297 in the Penguin/McKinney edition.  As well, the order that the entries are presented sometimes differs so it can be confusing.  I know that some of you will be reading along with the Morris translation though so each week I will try to include the relevant section and page numbers in the Morris that correspond to the same entries in the McKinney translation where possible.

Reading schedule:
(Links will take you to the discussion posts for the respective entries)
February 5th - Week One (Entries 1-10)
February 12th - Week Two (11-20)
Due to a slow start, read-along will resume in March.
March 5th - Week Three (21-30)
March 12th - Week Four (31-40)
March 19th - Week Five (41-50)
March 26th - Week Six (51-60)
No discussion on April 2nd, Good Friday.
April 9th - Week Seven (61-70)
April 16th - Week Eight (71-80)
April 23rd - Week Nine (81-90)
April 30th - Week Ten (91-100)
No discussion on May 7th.
Moving to bi-weekly posting (but following a similar pace of 10 entries per week, therefore 20 entries approx. every 2 weeks).
May 14th - Week Eleven (101-120)
Break for BEA, Book Blogger Con, etc.
June 11th - Week Twelve (121-140)
June 25th - Week Thirteen (141-160)
July 9th - Week Fourteen (161-180)
July 23rd - Week Fifteen (181-200)
August 20th - Week Sixteen (201-240)
Break for Summer Vacation
September 24th - Week Seventeen (241-260)
November 20th - Week Eighteen (261-297, Supplementary 1-29)
end November - Final thoughts

This is how the schedule stands at the moment but is subject to change. Any changes to the schedule will be indicated here. For the most part we'll discuss each week/every couple of weeks, but occasional changes or delays to the schedule will be made when necessary, so please refer back to the schedule above for confirmation. If you have any questions, or concerns, please don't hesitate to email me (inspringthedawn AT gmail DOT com).

The small print:  Links in this post to Amazon contain my Associates ID.  Purchases made via these links earn me a very small commission.  For more information visit my About Page.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Recent acquisitions

I haven't posted a Mailbox Monday for quite a few weeks, since last year I believe. I have acquired a few new books though so here are the ones that have come through my door since the beginning of the year. Except for the new Jasper Fforde, the first batch are all Japanese authors. The last 2 volumes of the Emma manga series. The Murakami novels for "Murakami March" (aka the JLit Book Group). The Sound of the Mountain and Silence, which are both on the schedule for the Japanese Literature Book Group later this year. And Some Prefer Nettles because I've been meaning to get it for ages and I like the new Vintage covers on some of their Japanese classics.

Mailbox Monday

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Salon: Blogging Burnout Blues

As you know, over the last 2 or 3 months I haven't been blogging as much as before. A lot of that has been time-related, either due to real life commitments, or my own inadequate time management, but I've also been stuck in a rather big negative spiral. It seemed that the more behind I was, the less energy I felt to blog. The less time I spent blogging, the more distanced I felt from the blogging community. In a word, it was Overwhelming, with a capital O. It wasn't just blogging either though, life generally seemed to have a permanent blue cloud hanging over it, which when it happens, always tends to make me overly sensitive, kills my self-esteem, and results in me wanting to just hermit myself away. I often seem to get quite low during the winter but it really lasted much too long this year. Anyway, I'm still behind, I still have time issues, and I'm still insecure, but I'm happy to say that I think I'm finally coming out of my reading, blogging, general life funk.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

'Pillow Book' Friday: A bad idea?

The Pillow BookYou may or may not have noticed that I haven't posted on The Pillow Book this week. To be honest I'm a little discouraged due to lack of interest and participation. Is there something I could be doing differently to encourage more conversation? I realize that I've been bad myself about not participating in the blogging community as I would like lately but I have been trying to keep up with the Japanese literature schedule. So I guess I'm wondering if I've finally driven away my readers because of my sporadic blogging over the last couple of months, whether it's the choice of book, or if it's simply down to timing.  So could you please give a virtual show of hands if you are, or would like to join in a read-along for The Pillow Book? If you want to read along but haven't had a chance to start yet, or have gotten behind, please let me know. We're only a handful of pages in so far so you could easily still catch up, plus I'd be happy to slow down the pace or change the dates if that would be better as I think reading and chatting about it together could be a lot of fun.  I'm quite enjoying reading The Pillow Book again with this newer translation and do plan to continue with it myself regardless, although again, I do think reading together would be more fun. From now on I do plan to include more of my own thoughts on the posts, so even if you haven't read it hopefully that will be less book club-ish. Anyway, I'd really appreciate it if you could let me know either way.

Monday, February 15, 2010

'I Am a Cat' Volume Three (JLit Read-along)


Welcome to the discussion for the third, and final, volume of  I Am a Cat by Sōseki Natsume.

Historical and Cultural Context

However, anyone interested in deepening his understanding of this fascinating subject is always welcome to call upon me, bearing a proper fee in dried bonito, for further instruction. (p. 369)
Dried bonito, or katsuobushi, is a staple ingredient in Japanese cooking.

Image courtesy of wikipedia

Friday, February 12, 2010

'Pillow Book' Friday: Week Two

Here we are at the second week into our read-along of The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon. If you haven't yet started, not to worry as we're going at a very leisurely pace, and are only a few pages in. Plus it's the type of book you can just dip into here and there, so feel free to join in any time. Also just a reminder that for the numbered entries, we're following the McKinney translation but I'll include the corresponding number in the Morris translation when possible. For more information on the translations, check out 'Pillow Book' Friday: Week One.

The Pillow Book


[11] Markets - Tatsu Market in Nara. Sato Market ...

[12] Peaks - Yuzuruha Peak, ...

[13] Plains - Mika Plain, ...

[14] River pools - Kashiko Pool. I wonder what hidden depths someone saw in its heart, to give it such a name.

[15] Bodies of water - Lake Biwa is special. ...

Lake Biwa
Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

[16] Imperial tombs - Ugurusu Tomb, ...

[17] Ferry crossings - Shikasuga Crossing, ...

[18] Large buildings - Tamatsukuri.

[19] Residences - The Konoe Gate. ...

[20] The sliding panels that close off the north-east corner of Seiryoden, at the northern end of the aisle, are painted with scenes of rough seas, and terrifying creatures with long arms and legs.

Morris (11): The sliding screen in the back of the hall in the north-east corner of Seiryo Palace is decorated with paintings of the stormy sea and of the terrifying creatures with long arms and long legs that live there. (p. 34)

A lot of lists this week, mostly just the names of locations. So, what do you think? Did you enjoy the lists? Do you think they were worth reading? Did you try to Google any of the places? Or do you think the Morris version had the right idea to skip these?

Entry [20], referred to the Kokinshū (古今和歌集, or "Collected Japanese Poems of Ancient and Modern Times") anthology of early Heian poems originally collected in the early 900s. Poetry plays an important role in life at court and in this section Sei talks about memorizing the poems from this important anthology.
There was also the occasion when Her Majesty placed a bound book of Kokinshū poems in front of her, and proceeded to read out the opening lines of various peoms and ask us to complete them. ... Her Majesty then read out the complete poem for each of those that nobody had been able to answer, marking them with a bookmark, and everyone groaned, 'Oh of course I knew that one!' ... Some of us had copies out the Kokinshū many times, and should really have known it all by heart.
Are there any poems that you know by heart?
On one particular day that Sei recounts, the Empress asked, 'Now I want each of you to write here the first ancient poem that springs to mind.'
If you were asked to write down the first poem that came to mind, which one, if any, would it be?

Page spread from a copy of the first volume of Kokinshū.
Image © National Diet Library

And as always, feel free to ask your own questions on anything from the book, be it culture, history, clothing, and so on. Plus don't forget to let us know what you thought of the week's reading.

For next week:

[21]  Women without prospect...
Morris (12): When I make myself imagine... (p. 39)

[22]  Dispiriting things
Morris (13):  Depressing things  (p. 40)

[23]  Occasions that induce half-heartedness

[24]  Things people despise

[25]  Infuriating things
Morris (14):  Hateful things (p. 44~)

[26]  Things that make your heart beat fast
Morris (16):  Things that make one's heart beat faster (p. 51)

[27]  Things that make you feel nostalgic
Morris (17):  Things that arouse a fond memory of the past

[28]  Things that make you feel cheerful

[29]  A palm-leaf carriage should move at a sedate pace.
Morris (18):  A Palm-leaf carriage should move slowly...

[30]  A priest who gives a sermon should be handsome.
Morris (21):  A preacher ought to be good-looking. (p. 53~)

*Morris sections 15, 19, 20 appear later in the McKinney.  I couldn't easily locate the corresponding sections for the McKinney entries [23], [24], [28] in the Morris but will update this post if that information becomes available.

The topics of next week's reading should be a lot of fun though.
Happy reading!

The small print:  Links in this post to Amazon contain my Associates ID.  Purchases made via these links earn me a very small commission.  For more information visit my About Page.

Friday, February 05, 2010

'Pillow Book' Friday: Week One

Welcome to the first 'Pillow Book' Friday, as we begin our leisurely read-along of the writings of Sei Shōnagon. As The Pillow Book was written approximately 1000 years ago, no original manuscript survives and there are a few versions now in existence. This means that depending on the translation and the reference version used, some sections are either missing or presented in a different order. For this read-along, and in terms of the schedule, we are following the McKinney translation [Penguin Classics, ISBN: 978-0140448061]. However, since I know some of you are reading the Morris version, and so that you can still follow along, I have copied the first line, or two, of each section of the McKinney translation, and included the corresponding entries from the Morris translation, when available. The page numbers for the Morris translation refer to the Columbia University Press edition [ISBN: 978-0231073370], although I believe it was also published by Penguin previously.

The Pillow Book The Pillow Book

This will be my second time reading The Pillow Book. I read the Morris translation a few years ago and I'm really looking forward to reading it again, this time with the new McKinney translation. As you know, the first line of The Pillow Book is where I got the name for my blog. Besides being from a Japanese book (I was looking for a bookish AND Japanese theme), one of the main reasons that I chose it was because I like to think that if Sei Shōnagon were alive today she would most certainly have a blog, and a fun, amusing blog to read it would be too. One that I can only aspire to! I look forward to seeing if, by the end of the book, you agree with me.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Hello Japan! February: On the Big Screen

Hello Japan!
Hello Japan! is a monthly mini-challenge focusing on Japanese literature and culture. Each month there will be a new task which relates to some aspect of life in Japan. Anyone is welcome to join in any time. You can post about the task on your blog. Or if you don't have a blog, you can leave a comment on the Hello Japan! post for the month. Everyone who completes the task will then be included in the drawing for that month's prize. For more information, just click on the Hello Japan! button above, or if you have any questions please feel free to email me at inspringthedawn AT gmail DOT com.
February's Topic

February is all about Japanese films. The Academy Award nominations have just been announced and while there aren't any Japanese films up for awards this year (I didn't miss any, did I?), some have won or been nominated in the past.  Departures (おくりびと, Okuribito) won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film last year. Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し, Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi) won Best Animated Feature in 2002. The Twilight Samurai (たそがれ清兵衛, Tasogare Seibei) was nominated for for Best Foreign Language Film for 2003. And Rashômon (羅生門) won an Honorary Foreign Language Film Award in 1951, among others.  Not to mention the Japanese films that have appeared at Cannes, or other International Film Festivals, or the J-Horror that Hollywood seems to like re-making lately.

Departures Spirited Away The Twilight Samurai Rashomon

February's Task

This month's task is to appreciate Japanese film. The most obvious way to complete the mini-challenge is to watch a Japanese film. But as always, feel free to use your imagination as long as it involves Japanese film in some way.  For example, you could visit a Japanese film exhibition. Read a screenplay, or a book, that a movie is based on. If you have time, maybe even read the book and then watch the film. Write about a favourite Japanese actor or director. Re-create a scene from a favourite Japanese film. Or whatever else you come up with. The only thing I'd stipulate is that it should be related to a film, or films, that appeared "on the big screen" as opposed to TV dramas.

Here are a few links to get you started:

Cinema of Japan - listing by decade (from wikipedia).
Midnight Eye, 'the latest and best in Japanese cinema'.
Nippon Cinema - news, reviews, trailers.

February's Prize

One participant who takes part in the challenge this month will be chosen at random to win this pack of playing cards, or as the Japanese would say トランプ (toranpu), featuring scenes from Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away.

Spirited Away playing cards

To be eligible for the prize, you must complete this month's mini-challenge and provide a link to your post.  If you don't have a blog, you can leave a comment with the details on this post, or email me at inspringthedawn AT gmail DOT com. You are welcome to post more than once and add the links below.  I love it when you are enthusiastic about a topic!  However, each participant will receive only one entry per month.  It doesn't matter if you've won previously, you're eligible each month that you participate.  Please let me know if you have any questions.

Once you have completed the task, don't forget to come back here to add your link to the Mr. Linky below. Please submit the link to the actual post, not just to your top page, and please only submit links to posts relating to the Hello Japan! task for this month. All other links will be deleted. Thank you for your understanding.  Have fun!

The small printLinks in this post to Amazon contain my Associates ID.  Purchases made via these links earn me a very small commission.  For more information visit my About Page.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Hello Japan! January round-up

Hello Japan!

January's mini-challenge was to listen to any kind of Japanese music and I'm glad to see that it was a little more successful that December's mini-challenge. And thank you so much to Novroz and Gnoe for their enthusiasm in sharing their love of Japanese music with us. If you haven't yet visited everyone's posts I hope you'll do so now.

Here we go...

Novroz at Novroz' Life shared how she came to love J-Rock, and some of her favourite bands. Then she posted her tribute to the band, L'Arc-en-Ciel. Next she talked about Taiko and the Amazing Hono o Daiko. And to round out the music theme, she went on a childhood flashback and talked about her first love of Japanese music in the Sounds of Anime & Tokusatsu.

Michelle at su[shu] highlighted the music of composer, Joe Hisaishi.

Gnoe at Graasland gave us a 5-part music series! First, she wished us a Happy New Year with a little help from Pizzicato Five. Next she shared music from the movie Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto. For the third part of the series, she posted about a concert of contemporary classic composers that she attended. The next installment was a little change of pace with dj maho☆thaidisco. And for the last part of the series, she talks about the music of Sheena Ringo.

Mee at Bookie Mee also returned to her past for a nostalgic look at some of the Japanese music that helped lift her spirits during a difficult time in My YA J-Pop.

Sakura at chasing bawa also revisited old memories and shared some of her old favourites.
Velvet at vvB32 Reads talked about some Japanese Taiko concerts that she's seen.

Kristen M. at We Be Reading shared some of her and her son's favourite anime music.

Natakiya at Bento Anarchy created a tribute bento to a favourite Japanese band, plus she also shares some of what she learned about traditional Japanese instruments, the koto and the shakuhachi.

Photo © Monty H. Levenson

Teresa talked about the band, Blue Hearts.
Thanks to my son, I've been listening to The Blue Hearts (they're punk music) for a year now. My son started me on them, because the Clash are one of my favorite bands and they were a major influence on The Blue Hearts. My son gave me The Blue Hearts' 5th CD (I already have the first 4) "High Kicks" for Christmas and I listened to it today for the first time. Sounds good and I look forward to listening to it (and the other CDs I have of theirs) again.

Kathrin at Secret Dreamworld of a Bookaholic shared some of her old favourites as well.

Thank you to everyone who took part in the mini-challenge for January. It was fun to see the different kinds of music that everyone posted about.  And reminiscing seemed a common theme for this month's challenge. I hope you enjoyed looking back and reliving the music of your past, if only for a few songs.

I have to admit that I don't listen to much Japanese music these days. I did when I first came to Japan in the late 90s and listened to J-Pop quite a bit, like Globe, The Brilliant Green, Love Psychedelico, hitomi, and so on. But I got away from Japanese music during the years we lived in England and even after we moved back to Japan I just never got back into the J-Music scene, although reading about everyone else's favourites has kind of made me want to again. The only real exception is that I do like listening to some of the traditional Japanese instruments, like taiko (drums), shamisen, koto, and so on. One of my favourites is the Yoshida Brothers who play the shamisen. Fitting in with the season, here is their song, Fuyu no sakura (Cherry blossoms in winter).

Before I announce the winner of the January prize, I'd just like to clarify how the winner is selected. As you know, to be eligible for the prize, you have to participate in that month's mini-challenge and either provide a link to your post, or leave a comment with the details. I love it when your enthusiasm for a topic inspires you to post more than once! However, to be fair, each person receives one entry per month, regardless of how many times you post on that month's topic. On the positive side, there is also no rule saying you can't win again, so even if you've won previously, your name will be entered again each month you complete a new mini-challenge. I hope this seems reasonable but let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

Ok, so without further ado, the winner of the Year of the Tiger ornament is ...
... Sakura!
Congratulations!  I'll be in touch for your mailing address. 

In case you're waiting impatiently, the Hello Japan! February mini-challenge will be up tomorrow, but I'll give you a hint... it just might involve popcorn.  ;)

The small print: Links in this post to Amazon contain my Associates ID.  Purchases made via these links earn me a very small commission.  For more information visit my About Page.