Category: Japanese Literature

Lian Hearn author of The Tales of Otori published another thrilling fantasy series that mixes fantasy with the samurai years of Japan. The Tale of Shikanoko includes four books.


The Tale of Shikanoko by Lian Hearn

I have been drawn to so many of Lian Hearn’s characters. Just when I thought I had met all of them in Book 2 of The Tale of Shikanoko, she kept inserting new characters that pull at my heart. Such favorites are Hina (Yayoi), Shikanoko, the Autumn Princess, Yoshimori, Gen, Mu, Kinpoge, and Tadashi.

Instead of revealing the plot to readers, I will introduce courageous Hina. She was full of grief for the death of her father, Lord Kiyomori, but she had a gift of discernment so she knew what to do to escape her father’s enemies and save baby Yoshimori, who was meant to be Emperor. When her family’s enemies came closer, she tried to jump in a boat with the baby in one arm and a magical book in the other. Her heroics remind Japanese history buffs of an amazing story in the medieval classic, Tales of The Heike, which has a chapter on how an eight-year-old emperor drowned with his grandmother Tokiko as she held on to him with one hand and the other the sacred imperial jewel. Were Hina and Yoshimori saved? And what will happen to the very individualist underdog Shikanoko, who has lost his strength and hope?

Carmen Sterba



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Kobo Abe’s novels as well as Franz Kafka’s novels come to mind when I think of the universality and genius of Murakami. The majority of Haruki Murakami’s novels are stripped of familiar culture and sensibilities of the Japanese, but Norwegian Wood (1987) and Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage (2014) are full of associations with modern Japanese.

Murakami’s newest novel impacted me more than all his other novels, except Norwegian Wood. I felt such a familiarity and nostalgia of Japanese sensibilities within the pages he wrote. Norwegian Wood was inspired by Murakami’s life as a student at Waseda University. I read it remembering my experience as an international student at Waseda at the same time Murakami was there. His new book is populated by a younger generation in Nagoya, but the sensitivity of the characters are true to my experience, also.

Tsukuru Tazaki’s four best friends inexplicably broke with him at the end of their college years. After falling into a depression, a woman and a younger man gave him some clues to what he needs to do. Nudged by the woman, he sets out to meet his four old friends, and finds it was an excruciating secret and an abominable lie that caused Tsukuru to be shut out of their lives. His ‘pilgrimage’ is to find some sense out of what happened, and ends with him visiting three of his old friends, and traveling to Sweden

In Nagoya, Ao (Blue) confessed to Tsukuru, “You know, in a sense we were a perfect combination, the five of us. Like five fingers,” he added. “The five of us all naturally made up for what was lacking in the others, and totally shared our better qualities. I doubt that sort of thing will ever happen again in our lives.” Ao concluded by saying that he does not have the same spontaneous, pure feeling for his family.

After meeting Aka (Red) and Ao (Blue) in Nagoya, and then traveling to Sweden to see Kuro (Black), Tsukuru was able to find understanding: “One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds.”


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