Happy midweek everyone! Wow. We are already halfway through the week. As it is midweek, it is time for a fresh WWW Wednesday update, my first this year. WWW Wednesday is a bookish meme originally hosted by SAM@TAKING ON A WORLD OF WORDS. The mechanics for WWW Wednesday are quite simple, you just have to answer three questions:

  1. What are you currently reading?
  2. What have you finished reading?
  3. What will you read next?

What are you currently reading?

After dedicating a month to reading the works of new-to-me Japanese writers, I am switching back to the basics by dedicating my May reading journey to the works of Japanese writers who are familiar to me. I already started it with Haruki Murakami’s Dance Dance Dance, more about it below. I am now reading Yukio Mishima’s Forbidden Colors. This is my fourth novel by Mishima, a prominent and influential figure in Japanese literature during the 20th century. I have also listed the book as part of my 2023 Top 23 Reading List. I just learned that the novel’s Japanese title 禁色 (Kinjiki) is a euphemism for same-sex love. This perfectly encapsulates what the novel was about. I am more than halfway through the novel and I can’t wait to see how the story pans out. I found this novel interesting for its theme because, as I have noted last year when I shared my impressions on Tanizaki’s Quicksand, this is a subject I rarely encounter in the ambit of Japanese literature. For their era, Tanizaki and Mishima are really visionaries who push the boundaries of what storytelling can accomplish.

What have you finished reading?

I again had a very productive reading week, although not as productive as the previous one. Nevertheless, completing three books in seven days is no small feat. The first of these three books I completed was Mizuki Tsujimura’s Lonely Castle in the Mirror. I first came across the book in the past year although I initially dismissed the book. There was a spate of new works of Japanese literature taking over bookstores and I was also limiting my purchases. Ironically, I remembered the book when I started my April 2023 Japanese Literature month. Thankfully, the book was available so I did not hesitate in buying it.

Originally published in 2017 in Japanese as かがみの孤城 (Kagami no Kojō), the novel was narrated by Kokoro, a freshman junior high school student. At the start of the novel, she decided to stop attending her classes mainly because she was being bullied by one of her classmates. One day, she noticed a light emanating from her bedroom mirror. Upon checking it out, she found herself transported into a mysterious fairytale-like castle where she was welcomed by a young girl with a wolf’s mask. Kokoro immediately retreated but returned the following day. She was then introduced to six other junior high school students: Aki, Rion, Subaru, Fuka, Masamune, and Ureshino. They have contrasting personalities but they share one quality: they all stopped attending school. It was a reality, however, that they skirted around. The Wolf Queen, as the young girl with the wolf mask wanted to be called, has gathered them around and gives them one mission: to find a key to the Wishing Room. The one who can find it will have one wish granted. It was a typical work of young-adult fiction but the plot twist toward the end elicited a tear or two.

Like Lonely Castle in the Mirror, it was during the pandemic that I first encountered Toshikazu Kawaguchi. I bought a copy of one of his books Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Café because I found its vibe very warm and cozy. I was actually planning on reading it last month. I changed my plans after I learned it was the sequel to Before the Coffee Gets Cold; a third book, Before My Memory Fades completes the trilogy. Thankfully, the first book in the trilogy was available in the local bookstore. Once I had a copy of the book, I immediately dived in, making it the last book I read in April.

The novel’s premise is pretty straightforward. It involved time travel, a subject that has tickled the imagination of many a reader and even nonreaders. The story starts in an unassuming café on one of Tokyo’s alleys. Rumors abound that it can make customers travel across time. As the old adage goes, where there is smoke there is fire. Sure enough, we meet four customers who wanted to travel across time. Each of these customers has their own story. One was left by her boyfriend who pursued his career overseas. One was a mother who wanted to check up on her child. Each has a concern that he or she wanted to settle. There is one condition for their time travel, they must finish their business before the coffee gets cold lest they end up becoming ghosts haunting the coffee shop. Because of these four separate stories, the novel felt more like a collection of short stories but Kawaguchi managed to weave all these elements together into a cohesive and heartwarming tale about love, death, and life in general.

It has been nearly two years since I read a work by Haruki Murakami. Because of this, I resolved to read one of his novels. I was originally planning to read his newest novel, The City and Its Uncertain Walls. Imagine my disappointment when I learned the book has not yet been translated into English. Plan B then: read his other novels I have not yet read. Dance Dance Dance was the first one that came to mind because I just learned it was a novel; I thought it was one of Murakami’s nonfiction works (LOL) in the same vein as What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

Anyway, it was with Dance Dance Dance that I kicked off my May reading journey. I keep forgetting it but I was reminded that Dance Dance Dance is a sequel to A Wild Sheep Chase, making it effectively an extension of Murakami’s The Rat Trilogy. Dance Dance Dance commenced four and a half years after the conclusion of the events covered in A Wild Sheep Chase; the unnamed narrator reminded the readers about these events. Since then, the narrator has become a successful writer. He went back to the Dolphin Hotel in search of closure but abruptly returned to Tokyo where he was asked to chaperone thirteen-year-old Yuki. Although they have not met previously, the two found an immediate connection when they shared meeting a mysterious man they called the Sheep Man (like Rat). As this is a Murakami Cinematic Universe, different characters were introduced but unlike Murakami’s work, there was a palpable theme built around prostitutes and the sex trade. The exploration of sexuality is a common theme in Murakami’s works. Other hallmarks of Murakami’s novel, such as loss and abandonment, were also present. It was a novel that I had a far easier time to dissect and understand compared to other Murakami works.

I will be concluding my May reading journey with Natsume Sōseki’s I Am a Cat. As some of you might have noticed, I have recently read quite a lot of Japanese books with cats such as Takashi Hiraide’s The Guest Cat and Genki Kawamura’s If Cats Disappeared From the World. Yes, the presence of our feline friend is prevalent in Japanese literature. Even Murakami’s works abounded with them. It seems that one of the precursors for this phenomenon, if you may, was Sōseki’s I Am a Cat. Interstingly, Sōseki is one of Murakami’s literary influences. I Am A Cat, meanwhile, is a book I have long wanted to read and I am finally good to make good on that promise.

Next up on my lineup is Yōko Tawada’s The Last Children of Tokyo, a dystopian tale. It has been quite some time since I read one of Tawada’s works and I am hoping to break up the streak of male writers with this slender novel; I am planning to read the works of Banana Yoshimoto and Hiromi Kawakami this month as well. I also want to explore Tawada’s prose from a different angle; I was not a fan of Memoirs of a Polar Bear. I am planning to read Shūsaku Endō’s Deep River. From the previous two novels by Endō that I read, I think I can tell what the story is about although I feel like this one would be a little different from Silence and The Samurai. Whatever magic the book holds, I can’t wait to experience what it has in store.

That’s it for this week’s WWW Wednesday. I hope you are all doing great. Happy reading and always stay safe! Happy Wednesday again!