Monday, February 09, 2009

"So--when was it--I, drawn like blown cloud, couldn't stop dreaming of roaming . . . "

{Photo by rocketlass.}
The boy lost some of his shyness after that and began to point out landmarks on the road, a mountain where goblins lived, a shrine whose water healed the deepest wounds, a roadside spring that had never dried up in a thousand years.
That's from Brilliance of the Moon (2004), the third volume of Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otori, a fantasy series set in a magical version of feudal Japan, which rocketlass has been re-reading in anticipation of our upcoming holiday in Japan. While I don't expect we're likely to come across such marvels, I would certainly rather encounter them than some of the ghosts and demons with which I've become familiar through the work of Lian Hearn's namesake, Lafcadio Hearn. Like the flesh-eating jinkininki:
He saw that Shape lift the corpse, as with hands, and devour it, more quickly than a cat devours a rat,--beginning at the head and eating everything: the hair and bones and even the shroud. And the monstrous Thing, having thus consumed the body, turned to the offerings, and ate them also. Then it went away, as mysteriously as it had come.
Or the dread Mujina, whose regular appearances blighted the nights of a certain neighborhood in Tokyo:
Before the era of street-lamps and jinrikishas, this neighborhood was very lonesome after dark; and belated pedestrians would go miles out of their way rather than mount the Kii-no-kuni-zaka, alone, after sunset.
Hearn's account of that ghost is one of my very favorite scary stories, brief and effective. I won't tell you more for fear of ruining the surprise; the brave among you can find the whole story here, while the rest can simply read what they will into my fervent hope that rocketlass and I don't accidentally find ourselves alone on a dark stretch of the Akasaka road . . .

I expect, however, that the closest we'll come to wild spirits will be the snow monkeys we plan to visit in Jigokudani. So now to pack, in anticipation of which Bashō offers a reminder:
Thin shoulders feeling pack's drag. Body enough, but burdened with a set of kamiko (extra protection at night), yukata, raincoat, ink-stick, brushes, as well as unaviodable hanamuke, etc. somehow hard to let go of, part of the trouble in traveling inevitably.
The edition of Bashō's Back Roads to Far Towns from which I've taken that passage glosses kamiko as "strong paper clothing," yukata as "light summer clothing," and hanamuke as "farewell gifts." Note that Bashō didn't even touch on my biggest problem as a traveler: packing too many books.

On that front I am attempting to be more reasonable than usual, and having taken some good advice, I think I've settled on my library. Marie Mutsuki Mockett was kind enough to confirm me in my intention to bring The Tale of Genji; though I've read nearly 200 pages of it over the years, that still leaves more than enough to see me through. To accompany Genji, I've taken the advice of Maud Newton and have packed some Tanizaki (Seven Japanese Tales and Some Prefer Nettles), while Sam "Golden Rule" Jones led me to an unorthodox selection: Haruki Murakami's Underground, which he says is great for reading in Japan because of its portraits of ordinary Tokyo residents.

Now if someone can recommend a Japanese mystery novel, I think I'll be all set, ready to test my ability to apologize, in halting Japanese, for my halting Japanese--which would not, I am certain, find a place on any of Sei Shōnagon's lists of pleasing things.


  1. If you run out of books, Japanese department stores typically contain bookstores, with a modest selection of English language books, including, for whatever reason, translations of Japanese books.

    The department stores turned out to hold solutions to many, mnay problems.

  2. Oh, Basho is wonderful: if you can find the edition of 'A Narrow Road...' illustrated with the gorgeous paper cut-out art of Miyata Masayuki, you must get it (ISBN 978-4770020284).

    And Murakami's 'Underground' really is fascinating, and the book of his I've most enjoyed (having not fallen for his novels in the way everyone else who reads him seems to have done).

  3. Shouldn't Graham Greene's rule for travel reading be considered?

    Something along the likes of Jose Lezama Lima or Harry Crews?

  4. Oh, Jon, now you've made me question my judgment--for you're right, Greene's right: I really should carry something non-Japan-related. It'll have to be small . . .

    Amateur Reader: what I've heard of Japanese department stores makes me think they're straight out of Stephen Millhauser.

    JRSM: if you recommend the art, it must be good. I'll keep an eye out for that edition.

  5. I would say not to carry quite so many books, but I know I'd do the same in your situation. Oops. Anyways, I've read none of these books (Genji is fast approaching, though!), but the variety seems like it'll serve you well (Murakami alongside Genji... that's about as polar as you can get).

  6. Hey Levi,

    I passed a Dardo award your way!

    Thanks for all the good book suggestions,

    Spinster Aunt

  7. A Kindle (or Kindle 2) somehow sounds attractive right around now...loaded with T. of Genji, the complete Harry Crews, and some Graham Greene for good measure.

    Have I recommended Rachel Ingalls yet?

  8. Perhaps the travel journalism Greene conducted in Liberia and Mexico? Somehow I was just thinking of Amazon creating a simulated endorsement for the Kindle 2 featuring Mr. Greene himself, much like the "cameo" from Olivier in that Sky Captain atrocity.

  9. OK, Levi, I've done a big thing about that Masayuki artwork in the Basho book (and others): now you can see how lovely it is:

  10. I really liked Tyler's translation of Genji, though I don't really see a connection between "trip to Japan" and "read Genji". Just because they happen to come from the same geographic area doesn't mean one addresses the modern reality of the other.

    Natsuo Kirino is fairly widely translated-into-English Japanese crime author, though not a "mystery".