Intriguing Japan

22 04 2009

I’ve picked up this book called Hardboiled & Hard Luck by Banana Yoshimoto recently.  The reason is simply that I wanted to read some Japanese literature and found this book and author mentioned somewhere on Shelfari. The book consists of two stories: Hardboiled and Hard Luck, which are tales of resonant grace about young women coming to terms with change and heartbreak.

 When I picked this book from the library shelf, I didn’t have any idea about what it’s all about.. 

As I started reading Hardboiled, I felt very creepy. In fact the plot itself is a bit eerie with ghosts and all. It starts with the narrator (a woman) walking on a mountain road near a small village where she was staying at a hotel.  It was the evening of the death anniversary of her former lover, a woman named Chiruzu, but she has forgotten about it. She comes across an eerie shrine in the mountains, and feels haunted by it. She keeps remembering about her relationship with Chizuru, dreaming strange dreams in which she sees Chizuru or her ghost and spends a sleepless night at the hotel. She also comes across the ghost of a woman who committed suicide in that hotel a long time ago.

 Even before I say anything more, you might have started feeling creepy too.  It’s a story about love lost and found. The strange narration and characters immediately reminded me of a Japanese animation movie I’ve seen a few years ago: Spirited Away. I loved the movie, in fact I was very fascinated by the secret world of spirits, sorcerers, strange creatures and  magical, mysterious things that happened there. 

Here is the brief summary of the movie:

A ten-year old Chihiro and her family are moving to a new place and get lost in between. They stumble upon a mysterious park and go exploring it. Chihiro meets a boy named Haku there who seems to know all about that strange place. Meanwhile she discovers that her parents have transformed into pigs after they tasted some of the food displayed over there. She has no option but to stay in that place to figure out how she can get her parents back into normal.  With the help of Haku she ventures into the secret world of spirits and undergoes strange experiences and fancy adventures before she could escape that haunted place with her parents in the end.

 I think you might have guessed why Hardboiled reminded me of this movie. Both has ghosts/spirits in them which made me feel.. well, creepy.

 I was haunted by the movie for so many days after watching it. And I’m sure Hardboiled will also have the same effect on me now. This is a kind of story you can’t forget easily. 

On a lighter vein, I was also intrigued by the bathhouse shown in the movie and the hot spring baths mentioned in the book.. Somehow all this talking about baths didn’t seem very casual. So, I did a little research and found out these interesting  facts:

 Hot spring baths is a cultural thing in Japan. It would be in fact shocking to hear that there was a Japanese person who never visited one.

  • The natural hot spring is called Onsen and an artificial one is called Sentou.
  • Typically there would be separate bath areas for men and women.
  • Baths are usually meant to relax and warm the body, not for washing. Washing should be done before entering the bath.
  • There used to be many communal bathhouses in the past where customers pay for entrance. But these are increasingly becoming rare these days.

 Hmm.. The concept of a bathhouse really struck me odd. Well, we are after all talking about Japan…

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