Wednesday, 2 May 2012

読み道 - Yomi-dou : the way of reading.

My Japanese is now at the level where doing a bit of reading for pleasure is not unthinkable. And since that which can be thunk, will be thunk, I dive in: a storm of kanji I can barely make out, hiragana that curl and crunk around my cranium, and grammar-we-haven’t-done-yet piled on grammar-we-haven’t-done-yet.

Still, it’s a fun challenge. No, honestly.

On my hunt for the yomi-dou, I’ve equipped myself with a three-pronged trident:

The first prong consists in banishing all shame and pestering Nihon-jin about “what the hell does that mean?” and “why is he talking about Janacek sinfoniettas if, in the picture, he’s got a helicopter stuck to his head?” This was the thrust of a conversation I had with Tak-Tak in a delayed-up New York subway tunnel back in March.

The second is a pencil. I hate writing in books, but somehow writing in pencil that I could-but-never-will rub out makes it ok.

The third is the Google Translate app on my iPhone. We have a bit of a belligerent relationship ‘the-other-G’ and I. He claims to have a voice recognition function, but does what most of my students do and JUST DOESN’T LISTEN, except he sometimes listens but only if I speak in an American accent (but ‘Autumn’ will always be Autumn and ‘the-other-G’ will not bend this G to its post-Columbus readin’ rules).

Seb’s history classes, rare as they were, have turned into Seb’s reading classes and so my first destination along the yomi-dou is Oe Kenzaburo’s short story ‘Fui no Oshi’ or ‘Dumbstruck’. Oe is a Nobel laureate, so it was rather trite of Henry-sama to observe woefully, ‘gosh, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write Japanese like this’. Still.
The story examines power relationships in Japan immediately post-war, when a group of American soldiers post in a village where they’ve never seen a white person before (sometimes you’d think that was still the case for some people, but I de-digress…). The interpreter thus becomes the power broker in this tense situation, which Oe explores using every device available to the Japanese language. This includes manipulation of the kanji he employs(a device an English reader would be – and is - at pains to grasp). Here: a character that is slightly archaic but where the radicals suggest the raping of holy Japanese soil by unholy foreigners. There: hiragana instead of kanji for aesthetic balance. Tough, but fascinating.

Doraemon is the next stop-off point. Here he is:

Robot-cat sent from the future to improve the life of the inventor’s useless great-great-great grandfather (I know, if only), Dorae-chan is extremely intelligent. His infinite pouch is bursting with gadgets (a go-anywhere-door, helicopter-hats &c) that cool in extremely handy (paw-y) in getting Nobita-kun out of the bumps in the road of his pathetic life.

Likes: dorae-yaki. Dislikes: mice (one of the little buggers bit his ears off, can you blame him?)

Last, the holy-grail: a Korean friend gave me a copy of Murakami’s new book ‘1Q84’ (‘kyuu’ is Japanese for 9, so work it out).  

If I ever read a book by Haruki Murakami in Japanese I’ll be elated. He may well be my favourite writer, even in translation. I was introduced to Murakami, who will surely win the Nobel in the next few years, when I arrived in Japan. I’ve read about half of his books, but my mind needs some rest before I tackle another. They are at once well put-together, beauteous, poignant and, best of all, mental. Like all good things in Japan.

His most famous work is “Norweigan Wood” which they made a film out of, but my favourite is “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World”. Do have a try if you get the chance.

With names like Murakami, Oe, and Mishima (whose life was as colourful as his books), Japanese literature is a gold mine I cannot wait to tap into, bleed dry and profit from.


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