The Decay of the Angel

The Decay of the Angel
Yukio Mishima

Former judge Honda is 75 years old and long retired when he meets Toru by chance. The teenage boy bears three moles that make Honda believe that Toru is another reincarnation of his school friend Kiyoaki. Honda sees another chance to prevent Kiyoaki’s/Toru’s premature death, and he decides on the spot to adopt the orphan.

But Toru could not be more different from Kiyoaki. He has a malicious streak and joyfully seeks to thwart Honda’s best intentions. He gets one of his tutors dismissed, destroys a proposed marriage and abuses the maids. Things only escalate when Toru becomes a legal adult, and he is now violent towards Honda as well.

However, when his presumed former lives are revealed to him, and that he may be a fraud after all if he survives his 20th years, Toru cannot accept this. Clearly upset, he makes a drastic decision that changes his life for good.

This is the last of the four books of the “Sea of Fertility” and the one I liked least. Toru is, quite frankly, an asshole from the very beginning. In “Runaway Horses”, I didn’t care for Isao’s nationalistic views, but he honestly believed that he’s doing the right thing. Toru, on the other hand, has no redeeming qualities, he is mean because he can. Interestingly, it seems that Honda can see through his facade also from the beginning, and yet, he doesn’t do anything to address the issue, not even when he stop believing in his reincarnation theory.

Over all, the book is worth reading, though – Mishima was a great writer – but you may need the other three books to understand some of the references, and the ending in particular.

Yukio Mishima (1925 – 1970) is considered one of the greatest writers of 20th century Japan. Already his first short story was a great success, and in 1968, he was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in Literature, which ultimately went to his benefactor, Yasunari Kawabata. Besides being part of the intellectual elite of his time, Mishima trained rigorously in martial arts and achieved several black belts in kendo, battojutsu, and karate, respectively. After a failed coup d’état that he instigated, Mishima committed ritual suicide. This book was finished only shortly before that.

Follow Mr. Honda through the last years of his life and get the book from amazon.

The Temple of Dawn

The Temple of Dawn
Yukio Mishima

Shigekuni Honda, successful international business lawyer, is called to Bangkok in 1941 to settle a dispute. While engrossing himself in the study of Buddhism, in particular reincarnation, he is permitted an audience with the royal princess Chantrapa. She is the daughter of Honda’s high school classmate and insists that she belongs to Japan. When she recognizes Honda, he believes her to be a reincarnation of the revolutionary Isao whom he had defended years ago, but in the end, he must leave Thailand without proof.

They meet again 11 years later when the princess – now 18 years old and calling herself Ying Chan – comes to Japan to study. Honda is obsessed with the young woman and tries to crack her secret, but Ying Chan avoids him whenever she can, just spurring on the advances and scheming of the lawyer.

The first part of this book, set in Thailand, is heavy with Buddhist teachings that demand quite some attention. In the second part, we can focus on Honda and his desire to find out whether Ying Chan is indeed Isao’s reincarnation. Although some of Honda’s schemes are quite unsavoury, I still felt sympathy for him overall. I feel that Mishima is at his best when describing land- and cityscapes, and I loved the images of Bangkok he could conjure up in my mind’s eye. This is probably the reason why I liked this book more than the “Runaway Horses”, and I myself got very curious about this whole reincarnation business…

This is the third book in Mishima’s “Sea of Fertility” cycle, and it centres on Honda, who has hitherto been a mere side character. There were so many references to Isao, the protagonist of the second book, that it would be hard to follow without having read “Runaway Horses”.

Yukio Mishima is regarded as one of Japan’s foremost authors of the 20th century. A weak child, he took up bodybuilding and kendo when he was older and became very fit. He started writing early and eventually became the protégé of Yasunari Kawabata, the first Japanese winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Besides his numerous books, he also wrote plays for Noh and Kabuki, as well as for contemporary theatre. He was 45 when he committed ritual suicide.

If you’re interested in a deep dive into Buddhism and the practice (or art?) of reincarnation, you can get this book at amazon.

Runaway Horses

Runaway Horses
Yukio Mishima

Japan, 1932. Isao is a youth who lives and breathes the ancient samurai spirit. He is worried about the modern Japan that he sees in the hand of greedy industrialists instead of that of the benevolent emperor. Spurred on by a book bout a group of rebels in the early Meiji era, he forms his own “League of the Divine Wind” with 20 of his best friends. Supported by high-ranking men in the military, they set out to kill the country’s business elite and to restore the purity and integrity of Japan under the emperor.

This book tells of a fanatic group of young men in their early 20s who see the greatest honour not necessarily in killing, but in dying for a cause they believe just. Ideas of nationalism are expounded in detail, which make this book difficult to read at times, in particular when knowing that these ideas led to war just a few years later.
This is the second novel in the “Sea of Fertility” series by Yukio Mishima. Except for a few recurring characters, it can be read as a stand-alone, though.

Yukio Mishima was born into an old samurai family in Tokyo in 1925. He started writing at a very young age and had his first work published in a literary magazine when he was only 16 years old. Five years later, he approached Yasunari Kawabata with manuscripts and became his protégé. Mishima wrote 15 novels and more than 250 other works in his lifetime. He is regarded as one of Japan’s foremost novelists, but his nationalistic tendencies are viewed more sceptically by the Japanese. The above novel foreshadows his own death in 1970.

Not my favourite novel of the four, but if you want to have a go at it yourself, here’s a link to amazon.

Spring Snow

Spring Snow (Sea of Fertility I)
Yukio Mishima

Japan 1912. The Meiji era has just ended, and the old ranks of aristocrats are slowly giving way to a new class of rich people who are staking their claims at the top of society. Kiyoaki Matsugae, of lower samurai class, has been raised by the aristocratic Ayakuya family, together with their daughter Satoko, who is two years older. Kiyoaki’s complex feelings for Satoko eventually blossom into a tender young love, which is destroyed because both lovers avoid being open with each other. Only when Satoko is promised to an Imperial Prince do they recognize what they are about to lose, but now it is too late for a happy ending…

This is one of those romances where you’d like to slap both parties and force them to speak to each other. Much pain would have been avoided. And yet, Mishima draws a detailed picture of the time with all the scheming going on so that the Matsugaes can advance their position and the Ayakuras can at least keep theirs.

I greatly enjoyed this book; the romance between the two youths is only a part of it, which is growing in importance towards the climax. I loved the insight into Japan of the early 20th century, and Mishima once again is able to draw up splendid pictures in your mind’s eye.

Yukio Mishima (1925 – 1970; pen name of Kimitake Hiraoka) is considered one of Japan’s greatest authors. When he was 16, he got a story published in a very prestigious literary magazine, the editors of which thought him a genius already. After the war, Mishima was taken under the wing of Yasunari Kawabata. Both of them were considered for the Nobel Prize of 1968, but the elder Kawabata received it. Mishima wrote 34 novels in total, and committed ritual suicide after a failed coup attempt.

This book is the first of four novels that make up the “Sea of Fertility” cycle, which were the last four books written by Mishima before his suicide. I have read them all, and will give a final verdict when I post the last one. In the meantime, you can get this one from amazon and judge for yourself.

Thousand Cranes

Thousand Cranes
Yasunari Kawabata

Kikuji is on the way to a tea ceremony held by Chikako, who had been his father’s mistress. Over the years, he had received many invitations from her, but since his father’s death, this is the first one he accepts. At the ceremony, he meets Mrs. Ota, who is the total opposite of Chikako, and Kikuji falls for her immediately, just as his father once did. From then on, Kikuji finds himself at the center of Chikako’s intrigues, and although he is not a born fighter, it is not clear yet who will get the upper hand in the end.

I couldn’t help but feel sorry for poor Kikuji who is torn apart by his feelings for no less than four women: meddlesome old crone Chikako who wants to see him married to Miss Inamura, a nice girl and protégé of hers, and the attractive and still young-at-heart Mrs. Ota and her daughter Fumiko, who doesn’t quite know how to deal with her mother’s strange attraction to Kikuji – or her own.

Yasunari Kawabata (1899 – 1972), was born in Osaka into a wealthy family, but was raised by his grandfather after he was orphaned. From a young age, he showed talent – and was interested in – both painting and writing, but he eventually turned to writing and published his first stories when still in high school. After graduating from university, Kawabata quickly became one of the most important modern Japanese writers. After WWII, his fame spread internationally, and in 1968 he became the first Japanese to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

If you’re up for something melancholy and short, try this one – it’s available on amazon.

Coin Locker Babies

Coin Locker Babies
Ryu Murakami

When Kiku and Hashi meet at an orphanage, the two boys quickly bond and become friends, because of their shared history: Both were abandoned by their mothers in coin lockers at train stations in Tokyo. They are adopted by parents from a rural village where they grow up together, but at all times they keep harbouring the wish of finding their mothers. As young adults, both leave the village and return to Tokyo where they end up in Toxitown, an abandoned plot of land within the city where outcasts, criminals, and other lost cases end up. Hashi eventually escapes to become a successful singer, but in the end, Kiku’s destructive tendencies will catch up with both boys.

An interesting story of two boys looking for the love of a mother they never knew. While each of them seemingly finds their own solution to the feeling of loss, in the end, they both succumb to violence and self-destruction. It would not be a book by Ryu Murakami if they didn’t…

Ryu Murakami was born in 1952, and started his artistic career as a member of a number of bands, before moving on to film and writing books. His first book, written in university, won him the acclaimed Akutagawa Prize for fiction, only the first of many more prizes to come. A number of his novels have been turned into films. Most of his works center around the dark side of humanity, they describe sex, violence, drug use, and the abysses of the human soul in general very graphically, and are not for the faint of heart.

If you want to try anyway, Coin Locker Babies is available on amazon.

Musashi

Musashi
Eiji Yoshikawa

Takezo and his best friend Matahachi barely survive the battle of Sekigahara in the year 1600. Upon returning to his village without his friend, Takezo incurs the wrath of Matahachi’s mother, but he is saved by the travelling priest Takuan Soho who becomes Takezo’s teacher for the coming three years. Afterwards Takezo – now calling himself Musashi – travels through Japan to study swordsmanship and to challenge other famous fighters. However, he soon learns that brute strength alone is not sufficient to win and he begins to study calligraphy and painting, wood carving, and even farming. On the path to ever refine his Way of the Samurai, he makes a number of influential friends, and even more powerful enemies, until it comes to the great duel with Sasaki Kojiro, another of the great wandering samurai of his time.

Miyamoto Musashi is probably the best-known swordsman of Japan. It is said that he never lost a duel, and he has 61 victories to his name, more than any other samurai. This book depicts about 15 years of his life from the battle of Sekigahara to the duel with Sasaki Kojiro. In this fictionalised biography we nevertheless meet a number of real people who influenced him, like Honami Koetsu, Takuan Soho, Yoshino Tayu, and of course, Sasaki Kojiro, another great swordsman of the time who eventually becomes Musashi’s arch enemy. Overall, the story is that of a reluctant hero trying to find his own way.

Eiji Yoshikawa, born in 1892, began his literary career when he was 22. During his 30s he worked as a journalist, but kept writing short stories and novels that were often published as a series in newspapers and magazines. He received the Cultural Order of Merit, the Order of the Sacred Treasure and the Mainichi Art Award. When he died from cancer in 1962, he was considered one of the best historical novelists of Japan.

If you’re in for an excellent novel about one of the great figures of Japan, this book will do the trick. Get it from amazon.

Last Winter, we Parted

Last Winter, we Parted
Fuminori Nakamura

A writer – whose name we never learn – has taken a commission to write a book about Judai Kiharazaka. The famous photographer has been convicted of burning two young women alive, and the writer interviews him to understand the motive. Kiharazaka is reluctant to open up, but the more the writer learns about Kiharazaka’s background, the more an obsessive personality comes to the foreground. However, when his investigations lead him to K2, a group centered on an artist who creates life-sized dolls after the image of dead women, the writer begins to doubt everything he has found out about Kiharazaka so far…

A complicated thriller, written from perspectives of both the writer and that of Kiharazaka. It is comprised of interviews, letters, and the writer’s notes and memories, and the plot unfolds slowly and in bursts. The big reveal at the end is a twist so far out there, I doubt that anyone could see it coming.

Fuminori Nakamura, born in 1977, is a Japanese writer. He published his first novel “The Thief” in 2002 and won three prestigous literature prizes within three years, one of them the Akutagawa Prize. In 2010, he won the Kenzaburo Oe Prize. A translation of “The Thief” was selected among the best 10 books of 2013 by the NY Times. Out of his 15 books, 7 have been translated into English so far.

If you’re in for something different – warning: it’s not a lighthearted read this one – then you can get it on amazon.

Journey under the Midnight Sun

Journey under the Midnight Sun
Keigo Higashino

Cover for "Journey under the Midnight Sun" by Keigo Higashino.

Osaka, 1973. In an abandoned building in a poor part of town, a local pawnbroker is found stabbed to death. Although the investigation is able to zero in onto a prime suspect – the man’s lover – the case cannot be solved and is put on ice. But inspector Sasagaki is not deterred and keeps a watchful eye on Ryo, the son of the pawnbroker and on Yukiho, the daughter of his suspected mistress.

Over the years, Yukiho turns into a mesmerising and independent woman, and Ryo becomes a small gangster involved in computer crime before he disappears without a trace. Only 20 years after the murder inspector Sasagaki is finally able to tear apart the web of deceit that surrounds Yukiho and Ryo and finally finds out who and what was behind the murder.

Another fascinating novel by Keigo Higashino with a startling twist near the end. We follow the two children at the periphery of the murder from their teens to their early adulthood and although they never seem to meet openly, there are too many coincidences in both their lives not to believe in an ongoing connection. What starts out as a strong bond of friendship between them is soon brimming with criminal energy, both out in the open and hidden in the dark.

Keigo Higashino was born in Osaka in 1958 and received a Bachelor of Engineering from Osaka Prefecture University. He started working in the automotive industry, but left the company in 1986 after receiving the Rampo Prize for best unpublished mystery. Has written more than 85 novels and short story collections, and is one of Asia’s most popular authors. From 2009 to 2013 he served as the president of Mystery Writers in Japan.

Get this great summer read on amazon before heading to the beach.

The 10 Loves of Mr. Nishino

The 10 Loves of Mr. Nishino
Hiromi Kawakami

The first time we hear about Mr. Nishino is when he suddenly appears in the garden of one of his ex-lovers, and claims that he’s dying. She and her daughter, who knows him as the man who bought her parfait as a child, sit with him and reminisce, until he disappears again as unexpectedly as he has come. This pattern (minus the dying) repeats itself with nine other women of Mr. Nishino’s life who share their own memories of their often brief relationship with this fascinating man, who nevertheless remains elusive to each one of them.

This is not so much a novel than a set of 10 vignettes centered around the main character, Mr. Nishino. From early childhood on he is irresistable to girls and women, who fall over each other to land in his arms. Yet, even though some of them know he’s double-dating, they still describe him positively, almost as if he couldn’t help it.

Unfortunately, each chapter is written from the viewpoint of the woman du jour, so that the “real” Mr. Nishino never has to reveal himself. And the women themselves function merely as chroniclers of rather than as participants in the stories. This left me unsatisfied and none the wiser about any of the characters, and there is no plot either to provide a cohesive whole. I like Kawakami’s books in general, but this was not one of her stronger ones.

Hiromi Kawakami was born in Tokyo in 1958 and started out as writer and editor of science fiction stories after graduating from college. She has since received numerous Japanese literary awards, including the Akutagawa Prize, the Tanizaki Prize, and the Yomiuri Prize.

I’d recommend getting this from the library, but if you prefer to own your books, here’s a link to amazon.