[diary] 15 – japan

Ohayô everyone !

I have been waiting for a long time to read the book for Japan : Mina no kôshin by Yôko Ogawa has been recommended to me by a reader of the library I work at, and I really was looking forward to discover it. I have been charmed both the résumé and by the cover, and I was expecting a lot from this author who is among the most well-known Japanese writers in France. For all these reasons, I plunged into this book as soon as I could… and I couldn’t stop reading it ! A pretty and delicate book crush, that I am glad to present you today.


The story ? After her father’s death and as her mother has to go away for work, twelve-year-old Tomoko is sent to live at her uncle’s for a year. There, she meets her cousin Mina, Pochiko her pygmy hippopotamus, grandma Rosa… and she gets to learn about the world beyond her archipelago. You can imagine it by the résumé : the universe of this book, even if it is anchored in reality, is full of details that make it singular and kind of magical. The home of Tomoko’s uncle looks like a foreign castle, and is a house filled of surprises : the park has once been a zoological garden, the multiple rooms contain books and art masterpieces, and the building even includes a “light baths’room” resembling a meditation sauna. The story itself is quite pragmatic – the life of a Japanese family in the 70s – but finely singles out by its action twists and the attention paid to the imagination of the children, Tomoko and Mina. Between spiritualism sessions with Kokkuri-san, the spirit who knows everything, stories invented by Mina (inspired by the pictures printed on matchboxes) and fictional volley-ball plays, the two girls grow up without losing their imaginative state of mind, tainting the text with the colours of a dream.

Not only their fantasies are surprising : the family members and even their activities also escape from the commonplace. From the point of view of Tomoko, everything at Ashiya is unexpected and remarkable. The uncle, a radiant but often absent man, strikingly contrasts with his more modest wife – whose main distraction is to index spelling errors in everything printed she can find, with a glass of alcohol at hand. Beside them, grandma Rosa the German emigrant and her sister of heart the dedicated housekeeper Yoneda-san, Kobayashi-san who cares for the garden, Pochiko the pygmy hippo serving as a consenting means of transport… and of course Mina. Mina, the excentric reader of foreign literature, Mina the passionate, Mina the asthmatic, fragile and carefully protected… For the “normal” child Tomoko, Mina becomes an idol, a model and mainly a little sister. Their friendship is at the heart of this book, and appears progressively in all the acts of Tomoko.

Shaped as an initiatory story during which Tomoko and Mina learn to build up, Mina no kôshin moved and bewitched me. The writing style of Yôko Ogawa, all sweetness and pictures, made me travel to Ashiya, to Japan’s sea and mountains, to the 70s. This immersion in the atypical family of Tomoko has been a tender parenthesis, in an original world. I loved this read a lot, and I am delighted to have been able to discover Yôko Ogawa with this simple et beautiful story, giving such an important place to creativity and reading. A grace-filled moment for an amazing dip into Japanese literature – I highly recommend !

> The next review will be about Nouvelles de Tunisie, a collection of novels published by Magellan & Cie (more details here).

> OGAWA, Yôko – La Marche de Mina, Actes Sud – translated from Japanese by Rose-Marie Makino-Fayolle.
> written listening to “Kimi Ga Yo” .

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