June 2009


Review – Kitchen
by Banana Yoshimoto

Banana Yoshimoto pondering the phlosphical meaning of a sundae, perhaps.

Banana Yoshimoto pondering the phlosphical meaning of a sundae, perhaps.

When it was first published in the 80s, Banana Yoshimoto’s first novel quickly flew to the best seller list and earned the young writer many awards. Critics said she captured the voice of young Japan. A few years later she’s been translated — and translated well — into English. I had never heard of her until I arrived in Japan. I am so happy her writing has become a part o my life. Even today, a quarter century later, her writing remains fresh and relevant.

The stories is simple, yet deeply complex and emotional. In Kitchen‘s two slim and graceful novellas Yoshimoto tackles love, and loss, death, grief; and the ever prickly topics of sexuality and gender identity. Through the darkest of times, Yoshimoto’s voice rings through with optimism and strength. Sometimes all you need is a good bowl of katsudon to bring you back down to earth.

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Bicycles are pretty much a way of life in Japan. And around Kamakura, so is surfing. It’s only natural that the two should go hand-in-hand. These special surf board racks mean you don’t get stuck in the heavy beach-bound traffic and guarantees you prime free parking.

Cycle to the Surf

Cycle to the Surf

Japans mass transit and beautiful flowers.

Japan's mass transit and beautiful flowers. A Yokosuka Line train leaving Kamakura station.

the great buddha, or daibutsu as hes called peacefully ignores the crowds of admirers.

the great buddha, or daibutsu as he's called peacefully ignores the crowds of admirers.

Kamakura is about a 30 minute bike ride from my house. It’s one of the most beautiful and interesting places I’ve seen in a while. Not only is it a former capital of Japan and oozing with culture and history, it remains a young and vibrant city. There are hippie health food restaurants, a farmer’s market, and on sunny days the beach is packed with young families, high school kids with hiked up skirts and loosened ties and surf bums. The wave’s may not rival Hawaii, but they’re big enough to have some fun.

Every trip to Kamakura uncovers something new. I finally made it to Kamakura’s Giant Buddha, the Daibutsu. He’s pretty amazing and has survived many natural disasters.

Daibutsus giant slippers

Daibutsu's giant slippers

the daibutsus face in udon. you might find this tacky, but the noodles were homemade and probabl the best Ive ever eaten.

the Daibutsu's face in udon. You might find this tacky, but the noodles were homemade and probably the best I've ever eaten.

(Canadian Edition, 2006)

Will Fugu-san Fergussons travelogue

Will "Fugu-san" Ferguson's travelogue

In the midst of packing and getting my Japanese work permit in order, I managed to fit in some good procrastination time at the bookstore. I originally went looking for Kate Williamson’s A Year in Japan, (they didn’t have it) but was happy to leave instead with a copy of Will Ferguson’s travelogue, Hitching Rides with Buddha—an enthusiastic recommendation from a clerk who had spent three years in Japan through on the JET program. (more…)

Kannon, a multi-tasking goddess, hears prayers for world peace, atomic bomb victims and homesickness

Kannon, a multi-tasking goddess, hears prayers for world peace, atomic bomb victims and homesickness

Even from a speeding train, the Buddha at Ofuna is impossible to miss. Glowing white she peeks out over the top of a bamboo forest, peaceful and smiling, even on the rainiest of days.

Well, I finally paid her a visit with some friends, following the stream of visitors up the hill past some of the biggest bamboo I’ve ever seen. Paid my 300 yen entrance fee and was surprised to get an English print out.

Kannon, or the Goddess of Mercy of the White Robe, as she is known, stands 25 metres tall. Construction started in 1929, the statue representing wishes for “permanent world peace.” After World War II and the atomic bombing of

A smaller statue of the goddess

A smaller statue of the goddess

Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the statue became a place to commemorate the victims. Construction was finally competed in 1960 and contains stones from the ground zero. People now bring strings of paper cranes to adorn the shrine. Though I didn’t see it, Wikipedia now tells me a fire somehow carried from one of the bombed cities still burns in a mushroom-shaped statue.

By extension of the world peace mandate of Kannon, she’s supposed to instill foreigners to Japan with a sense of comfort. This makes here, unofficially, the goddess of homesickness.

The grounds are beautiful, though the view of Ofuna is mediocre. Looking out through the main gates of the shrine you see a massive department store-sized pachinko parlour. It’s no wonder the the Goddess of the White Robe has her eyes closed. Somehow world peace and salary men gambling away their pay just don’t quite mix.

Kannon overlooks Ofuna

Kannon overlooks Ofuna

Here are some photos of the garden.

shota-kun climbs a tree in the yard

shota-kun climbs a tree in the yard

Shota helped me plant all the beans and then we played soccer. fortunately my crappy Japanese language vocabulary include things like “ants,” “snakes,” “posion” and “dangerous.” We get along great.

digging out bamboo

digging out bamboo

Bamboo is incredibly invasive and appears to grow out of nowhere. This root was more than six feet long.

rei plants corn

rei plants corn

makoto plants tomatoes while suzuki-san and rei chat

makoto plants tomatoes while suzuki-san and rei chat

one corner of the garden

one corner of the garden

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