The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – London, Japan, Oxford – Natasha Pulley

filigree street

Why a booktrail?

For the most unique of journeys into Victorian England, oriental Japan, academic Oxford and all via a mysterious pocket watch….

Story in a nutshell

London 1883

Thaniel Steepleton works as a telegraphist at the Home Office. They have just received a bomb threat and so tension at work is high. One evening he returns home to find his tiny dwellings apparently burgled. Cautiously he looks around and all he can find out of place is a gold pocket watch which has appeared on his pillow.

Back at work one day and the watch starts to emit an alarm. Panicked, Steepleton leaves the building only to see Scotland Yard blow up behind him. Feeling that something is very wrong, he goes in search of the watch’s owner, a Japanese immigrant who opens the door of his watchmaker’s store in Filigree Street and to a world of clockwork, music and wonder.

Meanwhile a scientist in Oxford also comes across one of these watches. When she and Thaniel later meet up, their joint curiosity leads them into a world of intrigue.

But danger is just a tick tock away…

Place and setting

 Filigree Street A real life watchmaker and jewellry shop in Camden town Hyde Park Where the Japanese show village is located WhiteHall The seat of government where Steepleton works Millbank Steepleton’s boarding house where he finds the watch is close to Millbank Prison in the Millbank area Knightsbridge Fictional Fligree Street is close to here and he and Mori pass by Harrods on their way to breakfast one morning

Filigree Street
A real life watchmaker and jewellry shop in Camden town
Hyde Park
Where the Japanese show village is located
WhiteHall
The seat of government where Steepleton works
Millbank
Steepleton’s boarding house where he finds the watch is close to Millbank Prison in the Millbank area
Knightsbridge
Fictional Fligree Street is close to here and he and Mori pass by Harrods on their way to breakfast one morning

This is a journey via London, Japan and Oxford and weaves its way through a story of clockwork, music, and mythical moments.

From the moment the door of the Filigree Street jeweller opens with anticipation, the world opens to a new and exciting world, where a clockwork octopus and the creatures of the watchmaker’s world introduce Steepleton to a new and hidden London.

This London, as well as being a scene of terror with the threat of Irish nationalist  bombings, is awash with new mechanical and electrical inventions, the music of Gilbert and Sullivan and a watchmaker with a secret. Inside the shop are wonders to behold-

Hello? he called into the empty workshop. His voice was spider webbed with racks. Electric lights hummed on as he came in.

Across the wall beside him was a tall pendulum clock, its movement regulated by the joined wings and knees of a golden locust. A mechanical model of the solar system spun in mid-air, bronze birds sat perched on the edge of the desk.

The overall setting from upmarket Knightsbridge area to the Japanese show village and the grim smoke ridden underground really bring the era to life.

Japan

 Matsumoto Castle - http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6051.html 4-1 Marunouchi Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture 390-0873 Japan - Tokyo Shinbashi Station Hibuya Park Mori and Ito walk here Shibuya where Mori lives near to a monastery annd keeps bees

Matsumoto Castle – http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6051.html
4-1 Marunouchi
Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture 390-0873
Hagi Castle – where the Japanese story starts
Tokyo
Shinbashi Station
Hibuya Park
Mori and Ito walk here
Shibuya
where Mori lives near to a monastery annd keeps bees

This is the world which takes Steepleton into the world of its maker Keita Mori whose own story starts back in Imperial Japan a country undergoing extreme poltical change and upheaval

Hagi Castle  for example is home to Lord Takahiro and is where English is banned, and “commoners unrelated to or unemployed by the Mori clan were forbidden entry.”

Keita Mori therefore is not just your average watchmaker – he starts his story deep inside the political corridors of Japan where he was once the former assistant to the interior minister of Japan. He is also related to a Samurai lord and always said he planned to move to London where he now creates the finest watches in the city. But are the mechanisms behind them being used for political means?

Keita Mori is a magical marvel – he can remember the future. There are some random events he cab’t predict but his octopus Katsu more than makes up for its with its random gears and sock stealing hobby.

National identity, racism of Asians, japanese living in London, Irish nationalism and a sense of belonging create a world of complex relations. And at the centre, a marvellous sock stealing octopus named Katsu.

Bookish musings by Clare @thebooktrailer

You know the feeling that you think you’re going to like a book for one reason but then end up loving it for another reason entirely? A book that suprises and excites you in equal measure? A world where when you close the last page you immediately want to go back and stay there?

This is that book. With such a mix of Japanese culture, history and setting to Victorian clockmaking, this is a book of surprises and then some.

Plot and characters are as vividly evoked as if you were seeing them on screen. Katsu, the mechanical octopus is perhaps one of the most amazing inventions, no characters that I’ve ever come across. Now I know where all those missing socks go..

Mori and Thaniel are like a Japanese- London hybrid of a Sherlock Holmes double act with Katsu as their side kick. The mix of adventure, fantastical elements and a watch which could predict the future was mesmerising.

More please!

The Snow Kimono – Japan, Paris, Algeria – Mark Henshaw

snow book

Why a booktrail?

There is a saying in Japan that if you want to see your life you have to see it through the eyes of another….

Story in a nutshell 

A retired police officer August Jouvert living in Paris comes across a Japanese professor standing outside his appartment one day. And what the Japanese man tells him could change his life forever…

Auguste has just received a letter from a woman claiming to be his daughter. Now this mysterious  Japanese man starts to tell him the story of his own lost daughter

If you want to see your life you have to see it through the eyes of another goes the saying in Japan. But then what happens if you don’t like what you see?

Place and setting

 PARIS - Rue St Antoine Auguste Jouvert lives here and where he first meets the Japanese stranger PARIS  - 36 Quai des Orfevres Where the police staton is where Jouvert used to work JAPAN - Kamakura Where the kite festival takes place ALGERIA - Setif Omura goes here and  it’s where Jouvert’s daughter lives - in Algiers JAPAN -Tokyo and the Imperial University of Japan Omura once worked here Osaka Omura lives and where they get off the metro in Togetsu

PARIS – Rue St Antoine
Auguste Jouvert lives here and where he first meets the Japanese stranger
PARIS – 36 Quai des Orfevres
Where the police staton is where Jouvert used to work
JAPAN – Kamakura
Where the kite festival takes place
ALGERIA – Setif
Omura goes here and it’s where Jouvert’s daughter lives – in Algiers
JAPAN -Tokyo and the Imperial University of Japan
Omura once worked here
Osaka
Omura lives and where they get off the metro in Togetsu

The setting is several things in this book – both the actual settings of Japan, Paris and Algiers but also the deep recesses of the human mind and the human conscience –

Memory is a savage editor. It cuts time’s throat

Paris

Where the mystery begins and where Auguste received his letter and meets the Japanese professor. A snowy city on the Rue St Antoine where Auguste lives close to the Bastille. Belleville is the Algerian part of town not far away from his home and his mind. For his past is about to confront him on his own doorstep –

“The street lamps were lit. Rain still fell in a thin mist. The roads shone. To anybody else it would have been obvious – accidents hovered like hawks in the air”

Japan

Japan shows up two characters – one a respected professor and the other a party boy who only thinks of himself and disregards women as nothing more than conquests. The second a novelist called Katsuo Ikeda uses people to further his career. Remember the Japanese saying?

”Look at people, Tadashi. Just watch them. If you want power over people, you have to get inside them, find out what they are afraid of. Be them. It’s the only way.”

Omura is the wise man in the tale who speaks of life as being similar to a traditional Japanese jigsaw puzzle

“Some pieces are small, others large, but all are calculated to deceive, to lead one astray, in order to make the puzzle as difficult, as challenging, as possible. In our tradition, how a puzzle is made, and how it is solved, reveals some greater truth about the world”.

The Japanese setting represents wisdom, forgiveness and closure. The descriptive prose is oriental and flowing –

The events of the day jostle in her head. They settle for a moment. Then, like a flock of birds at dusk, they take to the air, whirling round and round in the sky above her”

And what of the Snow Kimono of the title? Made and sold in Osaka, its threads weave throughout the story. The Kite festival  in Kamakura is both uplifting and evocative of the joy and innocence which once existed

Algiers

The story strand which links the two man – for Auguste worked in Algiers and led a double life as an undercover government officer. His secret past comes to light and he has much to hide. During the country’s war of independence, there was a lot of pain and a sense of abandonment –

It is here where the labyrinth of Algiers’ alleyways evoke the puzzle theme of the book and the confusion of Jouvert’s mind. Logic is not present here and he struggles with both the backdrop and the ethical dilemma which he now finds himself in.

A story of many strands

The Guest Cat – Tokyo – Takashi Hiraide – Translator: Eric Selland

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Written by Japanese poet and novelist Takashi Hiraide, the book won Japan’s Kiyama Shohei Literary Award, and was a bestseller in France and America.

Story in a nutshell- 

A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo;  they might work together ( at home as freelancers) they have relatively little to say to one another. The day a cat arrives at their door and into their lives however, things change. Their relationship changes as they accept the cat into their lives and things for a while seem to be going well.

Something however is about to happen.

Place and setting

Is this the south west line they take from the Shi terminal to their home among the alleyways where Chibi comes into their lives
Is this the south west line they take from the Shinjuku train terminal to their home among the alleyways – in the alley way they call Lightning Alley –  where Chibi comes into their lives

The book is very Japanese in many ways and not just because it was a major bestseller in Japan or that its writer is of course Japanese. No, this is a book which manages to get snippets of Japanese culture into each and every page – whether it be the people in the book, places or the way that the cat comes into their lives and their homes. One thing is described at a time which is not like books in the West but then this seems to be the Japanese way of contemplating things aand describing things in detail taking time to appreciate them. The owners look to Chibi, the cat and its world to appreciate their own –

Chibi was able to sleep comfortably whenever she wanted.And from then on we got in to the habit of laying out the futon early in the evening so that we too, the human residents, could sleep any time we wanted as well.

The house and guest house as well as the other places where the couple live and the cat wanders are described and evoked so well that you can see what the cat sees. The husband explains that his wife is the cat lover but that he is starting to see things differently too –

“What’s interesting about animals, my wife explained, is that even though a cat may be a cat, in the end, each individual has its own character.

‘For me, Chibi is a friend with whom I share and understanding, and who just happens to have taken on the form of a cat.’”

A short gentle visit to Tokyo and a lyrical magical world where a cat might be the symbol of a life and existence of all of us. If the story doesn’t get you then the cover will! The green glisten of the eyes, that face, the fur that just needs to be stroked and cuddled……

The book is short and compact – that you can just pick up and appreciate in a short time – just like picking up a cat, stroking it and appreciating it before it jumps away, leaving you with the memory of it and the impressions of its paws on your heart.

guest_cat_cover-v2

The Haiku Murder -Tokyo, Japan – Fran Pickering

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Following on from the Cherry Blossom Murder, Josie Clark is once again getting herself in involved in even more tricky situations

Story in a nutshell

Josie Clark is a British expat in Tokyo  who goes on a Haiku Country tour with people from a company called Ando investments. It’s to be a getting to know you trip away for new clients and they’ll be visiting places well known for Haiku fans as well as being the ideal getaway. Writing poetry is on the agenda for every evening and the trip looks set to be relaxing as well as enjoyable.

But when the party arrive at Matasuyama castle, one of the participants of the trip, a charismatic financier is found dead at the bottom of a castle. A tragic fall! they cry, but Josie has other ideas and believes he was pushed.

Place and setting

Follow Josie around Japan on a Haiku Murder Mystery tour
Follow Josie around Japan on a Haiku Murder Mystery tour

Tokyo – where the trip departs from

Ishite temple/Dogo hot spring – first stop on the tour

Matsuyama castle – where Mr Ando falls to his death  – or does he?

Saitama – where the Ando family runs a bookshop

Yokohama – the best and  biggest Chinatown in Japan where Josie eats with Dave

We’re sure that poetry is not normally as deadly as that portrayed in the book but it was very interesting to find out about the Haiku trip and to go on the itinerary with them. It was like a poetry booktrail so was right up our street and getting to know the array of characters was interesting too. The scenes at the airport befor they even depart set the scene well with descriptions of quirky characters with hidden agendas.

As the tour progresses, we find out more about Haiku – such as lovers would converse in haiku and

Jimbocho and Saitama seem to be the places where the bookshops are in the bookand how we wanted to linger here for longer. Makes us want to learn Japanese now too.

Japanese culture seems so fascinating in Fran Pickering’s hands – the funeral traditions for one were interesting to read about as was the yuzu icrecream and the yuzu flavoured sweet bean paste that was the Matsuyama speciality.

The gesture of standing on a bridge and dropping a camellia in to the water on one side and then making a haiku before it appeared on the other side seemed like a lovely thing to do and this is one image that stayed with us.

Matsuyama Castle
Matsuyama Castle

Review

Fran Pickering’s passion for Japan really is the way in which she is able to write about the country with such skill. Her writing is easy to read and flows well and the snippets of Japanese life fit well into the case Josie gets herself involved with. I had images of a Japanese style of Nancy Drew kind of girl as Josie got herself further and further into the case despite David’s protestations. She’s a curious girl -I like that- and I urged her not to listen to the boyfriend and to get solving the case.

Some would call this cosy crime – like Grantchester or Nancy Drew but do we always have to have horrifc graphic murder everytime? It makes a nice change for the setting and the investigation side to come out on top and to  focus on the person solving the mystery. There’s lots of conversations and inner thoughts that Josie shares throughout which make it easy for us to get on side early on and I was willing her to get the criminal. To do so in a landscape that is so tricky to navigate, one where we learn about the culture along the way is really interesting.

I like Josie Clark, I really do. Poor girl gets herself into a lot of scrapes but she uses her love of Japan and the Japanese language to full effect.

Josie if you would ever like to come on a booktrail, we’d love to have you! Safer than Haiku tours we assure you!

Cuppa and a cake with Fran Pickering – Cherry Blossom Murder – Japan

cherry book

It’s a lovely sunny day here at Booktrail towers and we have a lovely lady coming over for a cuppa and a cake – Fran Pickering author of the Cherry Blossom Murder which we feature in a booktrail has come over to see us for some cake (cherry of course) and a cuppa of Japanese tea…

Hi Fran.

Fran has popped over for a slice of cherry pie
Fran has popped over for a slice of cherry pie

Here, you sit there, I’ve fluffed up the cushions – now you have a choice of cakes today – cherry cake I made or a cherry bakewell or a cherry pie (I got a bit carried away after watching the Great British Bakeoff yesterday)… Why not have a taste of all three?

Your book The Cherry Blossom Murder, is really evocative of Japan and I’m intrigued to know what your connection to Japan is and your interest in it?

I’ve always been interested in Japan but never expected to actually go there – it always seemed impossibly far off. But then my husband and I took our courage in both hands and went there for a short holiday and found we liked it so much we kept going back. We made a lot of Japanese friends and learned to speak and read Japanese, which led to my being sent there as part of my work, so it just grew and grew. Now I think of it as a second home.

How did you research your book? By going to the places that you mention in it?

Pic courtesy of Fran Pickering
Pic courtesy of Fran Pickering

I didn’t need to – I knew the places so well already. I’ve been a member of a Takarazuka fan club like the one in The Cherry Blossom Murder since the 1990’s and I visit Japan often to see the shows and catch up with my friends, so the settings came naturally. If there were any details I couldn’t recall I’d check them on Google street view. Places I describe in Tokyo are based on places where I used to live and work, and Josie’s friends are composites of people I know. I’ve been to Takarazuka in cherry blossom time and it’s so lovely. This picture is of the Flower Path, near where Mai-chan’s body is found in the book.

the cherry blossom in the parks and streets
The Flower Path near where Mai- Chain’s body is found in the book

Tell us about the Takarazuka Revue

The Takarazuka Revue is amazing – four hundred actress putting on spectacular song and dance shows with fabulous over-the-top costumes twice-daily in two massive 2,000-seater theatres, one in Tokyo and one in Takarazuka town, just outside of Osaka. It’s so popular they even have their own television channel. All the actresses are young and so talented. The stars are hugely popular, especially the ones who play men in the shows; hundreds of fans wait outside the theatre to see them arrive and leave. It’s the opposite of the kabuki, where men play women, just like actors used to do in Shakespeare’s day. This is year is the Takarazuka Revue’s hundredth anniversary, so I just had to go over and see a show.

What is your character, Josie, like?

Josie likes to think of herself as  a down-to-earth, feet on the ground sort of person, but actually she can’t say no to the chance of an adventure, like going to live and work in Japan, or investigating a murder. She knows she’s an oddity in Japan because she’s so tall, but she tries hard to fit in and be accepted, and she’s secretly rather proud of how well she speaks Japanese. She has a long-term English boyfriend, Dave, who she cares about more than she likes to admit and she misses her Mum back home in London, but she’s determined to make a success of her Japanese life.

You write a blog about the Japanese related events and places to visit in London. Where can we go to read The Cherry Blossom Murder to place ourselves in Japan?

I would suggest the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park. It’s a beautiful and calm space with a waterfall and a lovely little lake where colourful carp swim. There are stone Japanese lanterns by the lake and a little bridge that you can walk across. 

the Japanese garden - Photo from Fran Pickering
the Japanese garden – Photo from Fran Pickering

Or else, if you’re lucky enough to be reading the book in cherry blossom season (roughly early to mid-April), then I’d suggest Kew Gardens. It has dozens of varieties of cherry trees and the great white cherry in the Japanese landscape garden is a fantastic sight in full flower. 

Or, if you prefer to stay indoors, you can find some great Japanese restaurants in London. I’d recommend  Koya in Soho for wonderful noodles (but be prepared to queue) or Sake no Hana on St James’s Street for excellent sushi and sashimi.

What should we eat and drink when reading your book? (any Japanese delicacies that you want to tell us about?)

Josie loves Japanese food, and she has a lot of typical Japanese meals while she’s out and about investigating the murder.  In meetings at work the office lady will often serve green tea with mochi (little buns filled with sweet bean paste). Josie has a bad coffee habit but she also likes Yuzu tea (yuzu is a sort of cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange). So I would suggest Yuzu tea and green tea chiffon cake like the one Josie has at cafe West in Ginza. 

Ooh please tell us about your next book!

My next book is called The Haiku Murder and it’s coming out this October. Josie goes on a haiku-writing trip to Matsuyama in Shikoku, the smallest of the five Japanese islands, and one of her party falls off the top of Matsuyama castle and is killed. Everyone thinks it’s an accident, but Josie knows it’s murder and her investigations lead her to uncover a web of deceit with money and jealousy at its heart. Who’d have thought that poetry could be so dangerous?

Visit Fran here – http://franpickering.com/ or on twitter  @franpickering

The Cherry Blossom Murder – Japan – Fran Pickering

cherry book

The booktrail goes to Japan

Welcome to the world of the world of the famous Japanese all-female Takarazuka revue

The spring resort a few miles from Osaka, home to the famous Takarazuka ….

but last night its peaceful streets were the scene of a real life drama..

This is how we are introduced to Japan and the famous Takarazuka in  a novel about murder and mystery…..and a Londoner called Josie who finds herself in the middle of it all……

This is what I love about fiction – the places it takes you to and the experiences it gives you from its very pages. A novel set not only in Japan but in the heart of Japanese culture? Yes please!

Sapporo, Tokyo and Tarazuka
A Sapporo, B -Tokyo and C- Takarazuka

Story in a nutshell-

Londoner Josie Clark gets more than the bargained for as she stumbles onto a  body beneath a cherry blossom tree.

She soon become involved with the investigation and once she starts to dig deeper, she finds out a lot more than she may care to know. Who is the stranger that the victim was last seen talking to; who is Ms Kato and who or what is the Takarazuka Revue hiding?

The famous Takarazuka

Pic courtesy of Fran Pickering
Pic courtesy of Fran Pickering

Now I had didn’t know much at all about the famous Takarazuka (shameful I know) and so I was very much wanting to know more..but first I wanted to find out.

This is the Takarazuka revue is amazing – around 400 actresses singing and dancing in elaborate costumes and putting on a spectacular of a show.  They’re all female dancers but some of them dress as men and play the parts of men in the shows (rather like in the days of Shakespeare I thought when women were banned in the theatre)

These dancers are treated like mega stars in their homeland and are reverred and followed whereever they go. Fran Pickering herself took this picture to give an idea of just how  elaborate a show this is.

In addition to the theatre setting however, the way in which Fran evokes not only the landscape of the country but the culture too is very interesting  – the Japanese fan club culture to the fore and really illustrates the culture and lifestyle of Japan itself. At one of the shows for example –

Nobody on the fan club staff have boyfriends. They don’t have the time

A few flashes went off from newspaper photographers but they were kept at a distance by fan club staff.

For if Josie is a foreigner in Japan there are no stereotypes or clichés here. What we get is a very interesting jaunt into a world so far removed that anyone (certainly at the book trail) has ever been into before. Josie is not your typical Brit ‘lost in space’ kind of tourist as although an outsider, she fully embraces Japanese customs,  and so can show us things that a complete novice might not see.

Fran waves her magic wand to conjure up Japan right before our eyes and even before you get into the mystery, the setting takes your breath away –

Shinjuku garden in Tokyo - Pic from Fran Pickering
Shinjuku garden in Tokyo – Pic from Fran Pickering
the cherry blossom in the parks and streets
Cherry blossom in the parks and streets – Photo from Fran Pickering

This is a murder mystery with the beautiful cherry trees and landscapes of Japan and it makes it all the more thrilling to read of murder in paradise and that a British girl should try to make sense of her new surroundings, a relatively alien culture to her despite her having lived there for a while before the murder, and it’s a great premise for what looks to be a cracking series of mysteries. The world Fran creates is unique and exciting and the location really comes into its own  – for its very beauty and cultural clash make the mystery of the murder all the more horrifying.

If you like red herrings, twists, lots of trying to fight against what you believe to be the truth – and a rollocking great murder mystery – then may we suggest you step on board The Cherry Blossom Murder train and take a ride to Japan. For the second mystery is pulling into the station October this year and we for one will surely be on it.

Japanese Coming of Age Day

Norwegian Wood

norwegian-wood

Perfect for reading on Coming of Age day in Japan – this 1987 novel by Haruki Murakami is a story of Toru Watanabe looking back as a college student living in Tokyo.

 

This is a nostalgic journey about loss and sexuality as Toru thinks back to how he developed relationships with two very different women – Naoko who is emotionally troubled and Midori who is very outgoing.

 

My arm was not the one she needed, but the arm of someone else. My warmth was not what she needed, but the warmth of someone else. I felt almost guilty being me.” ~ Toru Watanabe 

 

The setting and timing of the novel are pertinent to the story since 1960s Japan was a time when students were protesting against the government and the changes   within society.

 

The title comes from the fact that Toru starts to reminisce following a long airplane flight and hearing the Beatles track of the same name. He starts t think if Naoko and their walks together in the snowy landscapes near the mental institution where she is undergoing therapy.

When Naoko commits suicide, Toru finds that a part of him is still wandering in that snow. The winter snow becomes a metaphor for so much in the story – of a culture that hides death and denies its very existence – in care homes and institutions. Death and its partners loss and grief, is omnipresent throughout the novel.

However death is also something that we cannot escape and Toru fails to realise this and the impact of loss on his life as he thinks back to the past. Death and particularly suicide have made him the person he is today –

Memory is a funny thing. When I was in the scene, I hardly paid it any mind. I never stopped to think of it as something that would make a lasting impression, certainly never imagined that eighteen years later I would recall it in such detail. I didn’t give a damn about the scenery that day. I was thinking about myself. I was thinking about the beautiful girl walking next to me. I was thinking about the two of us together, and then about myself again. It was the age, that time of life when every sight, every feeling, every thought came back, like a boomerang, to me. And worse, I was in love. Love with complications. The scenery was the last thing on my mind.

 

 

The film poster courtesy of Wikipedia
The film poster courtesy of Wikipedia

Norwegian Wood was hugely popular with Japanese youth and made Murakami something of a superstar in his native country. There was a film of the book released in 2010.

This is a moving story about love and friendship and first relationships. it describes perfectly the nature of the characters. The Japanese culture permeates the atmosphere of the whole novel; the style, mindset, love, and friendship.

 

How do you live in the present if you continue to live in the past?

A tale of depressing and sadness, it is extremely sad and upsetting in many place and is certainly not an easy read. But if the story is about about a teenager at a crossroads in his life, then it can also be classed as a take of transition in every sense of the word.

Quite apt for Japan’s Coming of Age Day today.

 

Book Advent – Day 4

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Day four of Book Advent and I am really keen to travel on a bit now and to find myself in  a new and distant land. So I rip off the brown paper off the parcel and take out a book I read a little while ago. I don’t know when I read it or where I travelled to via its pages. What I do know is that I’m off to somewhere from the comfort of my armchair. Book Advent is lots of fun….

I’m off to Tokyo!

Tokyo, 1912. The closed world of the ancient aristocracy is being breached for the first time by outsiders – rich provincial families, a new and powerful political and social elite.
Kiyoaki has been raised among the elegant Ayakura family – members of the waning aristocracy – but he is not one of them. Coming of age, he is caught up in the tensions between old and new, and his feelings for the exquisite, spirited Satoko, observed from the sidelines by his devoted friend Honda. When Satoko is engaged to a royal prince, Kiyoaki realises the magnitude of his passion.

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Yukio Mishima, I discovered before reading this novel,  was perhaps one of the most if not the most prolific Japanese writers of his time, and has written many plays and around 40 novels. And I had never heard of him. Right I thought, I’m off to Japan to experience his country and his writing. And I was not disappointed.

What I did discover had a air of sadness about it since Mishima committed seppuku, a brutal ritualistic suicide after a failed political coup at the age of 45.

Spring Snow is the first in his series of 4 books and tells the story of four successive reincarnations of a passionate man doomed to die young. This link with the author’s own tragic life and his works gave my reading an unexpected sense of sadness. He  died less than five years after this book was published – how could he have written such a book above love and feelings and then take his own life? Tragic in more ways than one. Although this book is set against the backdrop of Japanese history and its dying aristocracy, its emotions and themes are universal and equally captivating across cultural borders. Teenage boys in love might be something you find hard to read or out of your comfort zone yet this book is so beautifully translated and I imagine so beautifully written that it is worth a read for the journey via emotions through Japanese history.