Monday, September 16, 2019

Super Sushi Ramen Express by Michael Booth

Super Sushi Ramen Express
One Family's Journey Through the Belly of Japan
by Michael Booth
narrated by Ralph Lister
Published: 2016
Publisher: Picador
Genre: Memoir, Food, Travel
Hardback: 336
Rating: 5

First sentence(s):
It had started off as a perfectly temperate discussion about the relative merits of French and Japanese cuisines.

Japan is the pre-eminent food nation on earth. The Japanese go to the most extraordinary lengths and expense to eat the finest, most delectable, and downright freakiest food imaginable. Their creativity, dedication and ingenuity, not to mention courage in the face of dishes such as cod sperm, whale penis and octopus ice cream, is only now beginning to be fully appreciated in the sushi-saturated West, as are the remarkable health benefits of the traditional Japanese diet.

Inspired by Shizuo Tsuji's classic book, Japanese Cooking, A Simple Art, food and travel writer Michael Booth sets off to take the culinary pulse of contemporary Japan, learning fascinating tips and recipes that few westerners have been privy to before. Accompanied by with two fussy eaters under the age of six, he and his wife travel the length of the country, from bear-infested, beer-loving Hokkaido to snake-infested, seaweed-loving Okinawa.

Along the way, they dine with - and score a surprising victory over - sumos; meet the indigenous Ainu; drink coffee at the dog café; pamper the world's most expensive cows with massage and beer; discover the secret of the Okinawan people's remarkable longevity; share a seaside lunch with free-diving, female abalone hunters; and meet the greatest chefs working in Japan today. Less happily, they trash a Zen garden, witness a mass fugu slaughter, are traumatised by an encounter with giant crabs, and attempt a calamitous cooking demonstration for the lunching ladies of Kyoto. They also ask, 'Who are you?' to the most famous TV stars in Japan.

What do the Japanese know about food? Perhaps more than anyone on else on earth, judging by this fascinating and funny journey through an extraordinary food-obsessed country.

My two-bits:

Loved the details and historical bits on Japanese food including convenience store offerings, sumo wrestler's diet, tempura, umami, etc.

Side stories with family members were cute.


* weekly theme: Japan - food

* listened to the audio version

Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima

The Sound of Waves
by Yukio Mishima
Published: 1956
Publisher: Berkley Medallion
Paperback: 141
Rating: 5

First sentence(s):
Uta-Jima--song Island--has only about fourteen hundred inhabitants and a coastline of something under three miles.

Set in a remote fishing village in Japan, The Sound of Waves is a timeless story of first love. It tells of Shinji, a young fisherman and Hatsue, the beautiful daughter of the wealthiest man in the village. Shinji is entranced at the sight of Hatsue in the twilight on the beach and they fall in love. When the villagers' gossip threatens to divide them, Shinji must risk his life to prove his worth.

My two-bits:

Beautiful love story with folktale feels.

Loved the unexpected ways this storytelling went.


* weekly theme: Japan - small town

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Sea of Japan by Keita Nagano

The Sea of Japan
by Keita Nagano

Published: September 2019
Publisher: SparkPress
Genre: Women's Fiction, Japan
Paperback: 344
Rating: 5

First sentence(s):
I was okay with living in a town where work was boring, there was not entertainment, and almost nobody spoke English when I thought I could leave whenever I wanted.

After fleeing a disastrous teaching job (and a bad gambling habit) in Boston, Lindsey starts teaching English in Hime, a small fishing town in Japan. One morning, while trying to snap the perfect ocean sunrise photo for her mother, she slips off a rock at the edge of Toyama Bay, hits her head, and plunges into the sea―and in doing so, sets off an unexpected chain of events.

When Lindsey comes to in the hospital, she learns that she owes her life to a young man named Ichiro―a local fisherman who also happens to be the older brother of one of her students. She begins to spend time with her lifesaver, and in the ensuing months, she becomes increasingly enmeshed in her new life: when she is not busy teaching, she splits her time between an apprenticeship with the local master sushi chef and going out fishing with Ichiro. As she and Ichiro grow closer, however, she also learns that not all is well in Hime, and she is drawn into a war to stop the town next door from overfishing their shared bay. Soon, she, Ichiro, and her pastrami-obsessed best friend, Judy―the person who talked Lindsey into coming to Japan in the first place―are spending all their free time working together to rescue the town. But when their efforts backfire, Hime gets closer to falling apart―putting Lindsey’s friends, her budding relationship with Ichiro, and her career in jeopardy. To save Hime, Lindsey realizes, she’ll have to become a true American fisherwoman and fight for her new home with everything she has.

My two-bits:

Loved getting exposed to the small town fishing village in this story. I really felt the sense of community and history through the eyes of the protagonist.

Also loved the character growth.


* part of blog tour

* weekly theme: Japan - small town

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Convenience Store Woman
by Sayaka Murata
translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori
narrated by Nancy Wu

Published: 2018
Publisher: Portobello Books
Genre: Contemporary, Japan
Paperback: 163
Rating: 5

First sentence(s):
A convenience store is a world of sound.

Keiko Furukura had always been considered a strange child, and her parents always worried how she would get on in the real world, so when she takes on a job in a convenience store while at university, they are delighted for her. For her part, in the convenience store she finds a predictable world mandated by the store manual, which dictates how the workers should act and what they should say, and she copies her coworkers' style of dress and speech patterns so she can play the part of a normal person. However, eighteen years later, at age 36, she is still in the same job, has never had a boyfriend, and has only few friends. She feels comfortable in her life but is aware that she is not living up to society's expectations and causing her family to worry about her. When a similarly alienated but cynical and bitter young man comes to work in the store, he will upset Keiko's contented stasis—but will it be for the better?

My two-bits:

Oh, the pressures to be "normal".

I found myself chuckling at the interaction between the quirky characters.

Loved the character growth of the protagonist.

Appreciation for convenience stores. Definitely a place to visit when in Japan.


* weekly theme: Japan - conformity

* listened to the audio version

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Lion Cross Point by Masatsugu Ono

Lion Cross Point
by Masatsugu Ono
translated by Angus Turvill
Published: 2018
Publisher: Two Lines Press
Genre: Coming of Age, Ghosts, Japan
Hardback: 128
Rating: 5

First sentence(s):
I hated it. Detested it. I just wanted to get away as soon as I could.

When 10-year-old Takeru arrives at his mother's home village in the middle of a scorching summer, he's all alone and in possession of terrible memories. Unspeakable things have happened to his mother and his mentally disabled 12-year-old brother. As Takeru gets to know Mitsuko, his new caretaker, and Saki, his spunky neighbor, he meets more of his mother's old friends, discovering her history and confronting the terrible acts that have left him alone. All the while he begins to see a strange figure that calls himself Bunji—the same name of a delicate young boy who mysteriously vanished one day on the village's coastline at Lion's Cross Point.

At once the moving tale of a young boy forced to confront demons well beyond his age, a sensitive portrayal of a child's point of view, and a spooky Japanese ghost story, Lion's Cross Point is gripping and poignant. Acts of heartless brutality mix with surprising moments of pure kindness, creating this utterly truthful tale of an unforgettable young boy.

My two-bits:
Beautiful melancholy passages.

Loved the writing with its parallels, repetitions and moments of kindness.


* Filipino character mentioned

* weekly theme: Japan
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