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Discover quality writing from Asia in our award-winning magazine. Stimulating interviews and profiles; excerpts of works translated from Asian languages; fiction, poetry and book reviews, as well as a fresh look at the city KJ calls home.
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Nowhere To Go
She rested her arms, thick and fleshy, on the top of the half-wall, and cupped her face in her hands. Marilou often stood in the balcony at night to gather her thoughts. To take in the breeze, survey the expanse of the property, with its sprawling gardens, tennis courts, and playgrounds. Her room behind the kitchen was a square box with cream-coloured walls. It had barely enough space for a single bed and a cupboard. Twelve years in Singapore as a helper, and she had never really gotten used to the fact that her room here did not have any windows.
No Plan B Dream Villanelle
Whether for a single poem, or a single-author collection of poems, inspiration is offered by different muses. It can come from a place and the history of that place; from a disease and all that living with a disease entails; from travel and the changing vistas that moving from place to place, history to history, presents; from poetic form: the shape that words and lines are given. Recent collections by four Japan-based poets are examples of books that grow from just these seeds.
An academic out of a job getting by as a translator in Kyoto is approached by a mysterious woman in a kimono who offers her a remunerative job translating a novel, chapter by chapter, as it is written. The ostensible author of the novel, long thought to be dead, is the disowned scion of a family that has been in the kimono business for generations; the novel describes a crime: the murder of a woman with a full-body tattoo designed to look like a kimono.
Poet between Reality and Dream
In the museum we find relics or remnants or fragments of stories that are not disowned or abandoned; they are contained, enshrined. As readers of Miho Nonaka’s The Museum of Small Bones, we encounter exhibits of a different, ancient ilk. A native of Tokyo, and educated at Harvard and Columbia, among other universities, Nonaka is a bilingual poet/translator who teaches at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. In this poetry collection, due to her self-confessed restlessness, she pushes forward by small moves, a time-honored tradition.
KYOTOGRAPHIE 2022 “One”
Writing in their preface to the first KG catalogue, Reyboz and Nakanishi averred that “KYOTOGRAPHIE’s intention was always to stage the work in the shrines, temples, machiyas, tea houses and other emblematic locations of the city. But by using scenographers and designers to ensure that the photography and the venues will each work to enhance the other, it was our hope that by engaging the participation of Kyoto’s traditional artisans, a broader spectrum of Kyoto society will feel that this is truly their festival.” The creative fusion we are seeing after ten years seems to confirm their vision.
Seeing with Dragonfly Eyes
Novels like Dragonfly Eyes and the acclaimed Cao/Wang title Bronze and Sunflower—also set during the Cultural Revolution, in the countryside—show hopeful struggle amid tragedies playing out in a past so vivid, it could be now. Which is why we need it now. We need its way of storytelling and seeing.
Japanese Religion Through the Lens of Water
From KJ 101: As water is essential to all life, both its presence and its absence, its sufficiency, its excess, as well as its paucity, have fundamentally affected, profoundly influenced, and indeed guided the lives of Kyoto people in countless ways… In this article, I address Japanese religion through the lens of water within the context of Kyoto’s geography of surrounding mountains, waterfalls, and rivers, its long history, and its especially high concentration of shrines, temples, and tucked-away religious sites.
As a special online preview to our ‘Water in Kyoto’ issue, Paul Rossiter’s poem ‘Nanzen-ji’ reveals an example of how vitally water is intertwined with Kyoto’s rich cultural legacy.
Ink Dreams and the Space of Effusion
Ma is a favorite topic of Kyoto Journal contributors. The two books under review, companions to site-specific exhibitions presented by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), are overflowing with ma in reproductions of 20th-21st artworks created by artists from East Asia and beyond in a variety of media. The two beautifully printed, these large-format full-color volumes include essays by art historians, curators and other scholars, as well as in-depth artists’ biographies and a sense of the dynamic cross-cultural milieux in which they lived.
Feeling the trees shivering: endangered environmental knowledge in northern Kyoto
For more than 400 years, villagers in the northern mountains of the Yamashiro basin (an area now incorporated to the modern administrative system of Kyoto city) have developed a special relationship with trees—in particular, with one specific type of tree, the cedar or Cryptomeria japonica, called sugi in Japanese.
Lost in Tokyo
William Olsson’s adaptation of Catherine Hanrahan’s semi-autobiographical novel Lost Girls & Love Hotels (September 2020) is a visceral inquiry into trauma, survival and the people who help us see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Although the main character, Margaret’s (Alexandra Daddario) background remains elusive, cinematographer Kenji Katori conveys the duality of her frame of mind through shifting surroundings, offering a riveting sensory experience.
An Addict’s Memories
The city Robert Whiting stepped into in 1962 bore little resemblance to the urban utopias of its ambitious future architects and town planners. The capital’s long-suffering residents stoically put up with contaminated rivers, suspect tap water, the extraction of night soil by suction trucks, and legions of rats. In the short interim between the end of the war and the author’s arrival, Tokyo’s hastily created, prefabricated structures were already in an advanced state of decomposition. Surveying the broken, odiferous city, ravenous crime groups, known as yakuza, closed in like hyenas…
Finding Her Inner Jewish Soul in Japan
It has been common for several decades for Westerners in Japan to seek enlightenment and spiritual comfort in Buddhism and other Asian religions. It’s a well-traveled road, but Liane Wakabayashi’s path to spirituality in Japan, as depicted in this book, is unique. A native New Yorker and a not-strictly-observant conservative Jew, Liane Grunberg (later Wakabayashi) first came to Japan to cover blockbuster art exhibitions held in department stores for a Conde Nast magazine in 1985 and then again in 1987. She lost her return ticket the second time and ended up staying…
The Possibly Enlightened Aplomb of John Solt
Best known as a “Japanologist” (a term he might reject) for his critical study Shredding the Tapestry of Meaning: The Life and Poetics of Kitasono Katue, John Solt is less known for his poetry. This collection, Poems for the Unborn, lovingly, methodically, assembled and presented here bilingually in hardcover, a coup of book design by Tetsuo Haketa, is drawn from the contributions Solt has made over 30 years to the private coterie organ, gui, an ongoing journal based in Tokyo.
Editor Barbara Summerhawk explains in her useful introduction to the “Gender / Queer / Here” issue of the Tokyo Poetry Journal that in selecting the poets whose work appears in this volume she was taking a big tent approach: “ . . . there are no divisions in this book between lesbian/gay/bi/trans/intersex/asexual/ally; some poets have chosen to identify themselves a certain way in their bios, others have not.”
A Silent Sage on the State of the World
Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet takes many of the greatest hits of Nhat Hanh and presents them as a single, running discourse on the perilous state of the world and how the Vietnamese Zen sect of Buddhism with which Nhat Hanh is affiliated — especially the socially active brand of “engaged Buddhism” he made popular in both the East and West — offers a viable road out of this human-created morass.
A Cut Above
The samurai is iconic to Japanese history. These two titles provide the reader with engaging depictions of an ancient warrior culture.
“What Becomes a Legend Most?”[i] Medieval Hobbies, Gift Giving and Grizzly Power Grabs
Spectacular Accumulation: Material Culture, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and Samurai Sociability by Morgan Pitelka. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 240 pp., $60.00 (cloth). Spectacular Accumulation: Material Culture, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and Samurai Sociability is, like a thought-filled offering, at the same time scholarly and accessible. In this fascinating analysis of ego-satisfaction among the leading influencers during…