Crime: Evil under the Rising Sun.

Watching the cherry blossoms burst forth and fade always makes me think of Japan. But my Japan is not a place of samurai, ninja and serene Zen temples. The Japan I think of is lit by neon rather than a rising sun. A place of tailored suits, leather jackets, discos and hostess bars, a place where the eternal human game of life and death, cops and robbers, is played with a unique style. Here are some favorite titles – fiction and non-fiction – Tokyo Vice, by Jake Adelsteinabout this Japanese underworld (and here they are in our library catalog).

Jake Adelstien did not intend to become a crime reporter for Yomiuri Shinbun, one of Japan’s largest newspapers but this was Tokyo in the 90’s and he needed a job. Jake was soon rubbing elbows with police detectives and senior yakuza figures. Adelstein uses his status as an outsider supplemented with sometimes insane courage to take the reader deep inside the Japanese criminal world. Tokyo Vice, by Jake Adelstein.

Another outsider to penetrate the darker places of Japan was British journalist, Richard Lloyd Parry. His investigation following the disappearance of Lucie Blackman while she was working in a hostess bar takes the reader along a convoluted path stretching from London to Tokyo’s Roppongi district, from the oceanside cave where her body was found through the long and complex trial of her accused attacker. People Who Eat  Darkness, by Richard Lloyd Perry.

Yakuza Moon, by Shoko TendoShoko Tendo was born inside this darker world. In her revealing and sometimes harrowing memoir she shows us the unadorned life of someone raised inside the yakuza. This is an unblinking look at the rare joys and frequent despairs of a criminal life where women are considered accessories or chattel, if they are considered at all. Ms. Tendo’s path leads through drugs, loan sharks and violence until she creates her own way out and in so doing transforms the traditional yakuza tattoo into a symbol of strength. Yakuza Moon, by Shoko Tendo.

Turning to fiction, Natsuo Kirino’s Out details the story of a group of women working the night shift in a Tokyo factory that produces bento lunches. An accidental murder soon has the group tangling with the yakuza and the police. However do not Continue reading “Crime: Evil under the Rising Sun.”

Allen Say’s Beautiful Children’s Books

Allen Say was born in Yokohama, Japan in 1937. At age 16 he came to the United States. He first went to a military high school, and then to different colleges to study art. In 1989, he earned his fist Caldecott honor award for his illustrations for The Boy of Three-Year Nap written by Dianne Snyder. Since then he embarked on a career creating children’s picture books.

Allen Say has frequently examined the immigrant experience in the United States. His glowing and exquisite paintings often explain his simple and well written stories extremely well and bring endless imaginations to his readers- children and adults alike.

Grandfather’s journey, written and illustrated by Allen Say
When grandfather was a young man, he came to America from Japan to see the world, and later settled down in California, the place he loved best. Time went by, and by the time his daughter had grown up, grandfather could no longer wait to return to Japan, for he had been missing his home country for years, and yet after his family moved back to Japan, grandfather grew to miss California: “the moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other.”

Tea with milk, written and illustrated by Allen Say
May comes to Japan and is excited about Osaka’s vastness and the noises that made her think of her home in California. She finds a job at a department store, and eventually finds a husband who, much to her amusement, also drinks tea with milk and sugar.

Tree of cranes, written and illustrated by Allen Say
After a Japanese boy catches a cold from playing at his neighbor’s pond on a chilly winter day, he fears his mother will be upset, but all her seemingly odd actions turn out to be a big surprise!

Erika-san, written and illustrated by Allen Say    
As a young girl, Erika was enthralled by a picture she saw in her grandmother’s house: a quiet and plain Japanese cottage with lighted windows. Now, after graduating from college, Erika starts her journey to look for the old Japan and the serene scene she has imagined all these years.

Kamishibai man, written and illustrated by Allen Say
Kamishibai means “Paper Theater,” a form of street performance disappeared in Japan, until an old man returns to the city to be a kamishibai man one more time to share his stories and candies with his audience.

The Lost lake, written and illustrated by Allen Say
Early one summer morning, a father wakes up the his son to take him on a camping trip to the lost lake, just has his own father had when he was a boy. When the lost lake turns out to be a found lake, cramped with vacationers, father and son start their own tradition.

A River dream, written and illustrated by Allen Say
Sick at home, Mark receives a fly box as a gift from his beloved uncle, and dreams the streets become a river where he joins his uncle to angle for rainbow trout, and catch something far more important that fish.

The Sign painter, written and illustrated by Allen Say
An absorbing and provocative story about a sign painter his young helper, both artists. When the two are offered to paint a dozen billboards along a lonely road through the desert with only a woman’s face and a simple word “ArrowStar” on them, the sign painter naturally takes on the job in an instant. The boy struggles: is this his artistic dream?

                ~ Duan, International District

The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, by Gail Tsukiyama

cover-of-a-street-of-a-thousand-blossomsI haven’t really thought about the lives of ordinary Japanese people during World War II  until I started to read The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama. The concepts that were deeply rooted in my mind were how the war and Japan’s soldiers brought disaster, tragedy, and despair to the Chinese people and to the foreigners who lived in China at the time, as seen in Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking or Empire of the Sun by J. G. Ballard. But the war also brought extreme tragedy to ordinary Japanese people.

The story starts in 1939. Two orphaned brothers, Hiroshi and Kenji, live with their loving grandparents. Hiroshi has a dream to become a great sumo wrestler, while Kenji is fascinated with mask-making for the Noh Continue reading “The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, by Gail Tsukiyama”

Cherry blossoms bloom herald the spring

kanji for cherry blossom 'hanami'The appearance of cherry blossoms marks the arrival of spring in Japan, sending revelers of all ages outdoors to enjoy wine and picnic lunches under flowery pink canopies in the nation’s parks and orchards. One cannot delay cherry blossom viewing, or “hanami,” because the cherry blossom is like life: beautiful and tragically fleeting.

image-of-girl-looking-at-cherry-blossoms-courtesy-of-piero-sierraIn Seattle, consumption of alcohol on public land may not fly as it does in Japan, but the beauty and fragrance of the cherry blossom is just as sweet! The year the Seattle Center will be holding its annual Cherry Blossom and Japanese Culture Festival on April 18 – 20, providing folks in our area with a chance to welcome the spring in this centuries-old tradition.

If the beauty and barbarism, poetry and mysticism of medieval Japan have captured your imagination this season, you may be interested in these books and movies available at The Seattle Public Library.

 

Literature

A fantasy set in a world that closely resembles medieval Japan, this first book in the series Tales of the Otori provides an engrossing blend of history and magic that will leave readers anxious for the sequel. Our hero, Takeo, begins this story as a young man whose village was destroyed by an evil warlord. Tests of loyalty, romantic intrigue, secret cults, assassins, Continue reading “Cherry blossoms bloom herald the spring”