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Posts Tagged ‘book’

It’s been a while. So much has happened yet so much left unwritten. But in a way, I feel that I am more alive these days than I had been before.

As I strive to live in each and every moment, I am thankful too, for every person and blessing along the way that has brought me to the beginning of another new journey.

This is a story about a new beginning many years ago.

~~~~~~

Some partings are poetic. My favourite sensei gifted me one literally.

Years ago, she ignited my love for the Japanese language when she came to Singapore to teach at the foreign language centre run by our education ministry. I looked forward to every lesson she taught and enjoyed every minute of the time she spent with our class. Sadly, her contract ended two years later, and she had to return to Tokyo with her family.

Before she left, she gave me a book of poems by a Japanese writer Yuri Mitsuhara (光原百合). The title was Michi「道」, which means “The Path”. It was a pocket-sized picture book, or e-hon as the Japanese would call it. Each poem was accompanied by a delicately beautiful hand-drawn illustration of forests, fields, hills or lakes by the award-winning Niigata-born illustrator, Ken Kuroi (黒井健).

Mitsuhara herself was born in Hiroshima and studied English literature and linguistics in Osaka University. She is well known in Japan for her large volume of works, ranging from Japanese mystery novels and translations of English novels to poetry and e-hon. Michi was published in 1989 and was one of her earliest works.

The book featured 14 short poems and my favourite was the opening piece Tabi no Hajime ni 「旅の初めに」, which means “The Beginning of a Journey”. It aptly summed up the anticipation and trepidation that I, and probably my sensei too, had felt at that time – she had found a new job in Tokyo and I was awaiting the start of my junior college years.

As our paths diverged and took us further and further away on our respective journeys, we lost contact with each other.

Three weeks ago, when I retrieved the book from my bookshelf, it suddenly dawned upon me that perhaps there could be clues to where my sensei was right now. I decided to turn to Google.

Thanks to the proliferation of social media, her profile popped up in one of the search results, much to my delight. With the click of a button, and an email that she wasn’t expecting, we were reunited online.

Amazingly, both of us were about to begin our new adventures once again. I am going back to school for my full-time studies, while my sensei is taking up a new teaching position in Paris. It felt as if everything had gone a full circle.

And here’s the poem. I couldn’t find any English translation, so this is my feeble attempt at translating it.

The Beginning of a Journey

The mountain paths are difficult

So set your sights on the tree in the distance

And take your steps towards it

Look up if you think you have lost your way

Keep your eyes on the tree

And you will arrive there someday

You can reach for a milestone far away

Or aim for a goal, oh so high

When you traverse a path that is long and far

「旅の初めに」

山道はわかりにくいから

遠くに見えるあの木を

目印に行くといい

迷いそうになったら見上げてごらん

あの木をめざしていけば

いつか必ず着けるから

目印は遥かなものがいい

高いものがいい

遠い道を行くときには

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The Train Reader has gotten off her train for a while.

Not literally, of course. She still jostles for her spot on the morning train everyday.

Anyhow, she’s back.

And in her usual habit of attempting to down three to four books at a time – which can be rather futile sometimes, she has made an accidental observation of the similarity in the choice of profession for the protagonists in two of the books she is currently reading.

Henry DeTamble in Audrey Niffenegger‘s best-selling The Time Traveler’s Wife and Georgy Jachmenev in John Boyne‘s latest novel The House of Special Purpose are both librarians.

Yes, librarians.

And they are oh so romantic.

Or at least that’s what The Train Reader can tell from whatever she has read so far. She’s halfway done with Henry’s adventures and non-chronological love life – now at Book II: A Drop of Blood in a Bowl of Milk; and at the third chapter 1979, where Georgy is recounting his trip with his cancer-stricken wife Zoya to a Finnish harbour town called Hamina.

Are librarians a subject of writers’ fantasies, she wonders?

Trivial, huh?

Maybe that’s what happens to your brain when you have your personal space crowded out first thing in the morning.

Now it’ll be interesting if someone in Shusuke Shizukui‘s (雫井脩介) 2006 novel Closed Note (クローズド・ノート) turns out to be a librarian too…

The Train Reader will find out in due course.

She’s still at Chapter 1.

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Looks like Ken’ichi Matsuyama (松山ケンイチ), one of the red-hot idols in the Japanese pop cultural world, not only sells jeans, mobile phones and candies, but is also helping to move books off the shelves with his looks.

And we’re not talking about the manga series called Detroit Metal City (DMC) or the one titled Death Note.

The young actor is known for his leading roles as a very confused singer in the movie adaptation of DMC and uber-cool detective L in the movie versions of the latter.

Kadokawa summer 2009This year, he became the face of Japanese publisher Kadokawa Books’ marketing campaign “Discover: Kadokawa Books – 100 Books of Summer” (発見。角川文庫 夏の100冊).

Apparently, the 60-year-old publisher has been rolling out its marketing blitz every summer. (And so I reckoned I should be posting my entry here before summer is over in the Northern Hemisphere.).

And where can Matsuyama’s presence be found?

On TV, in black and white commercials that featured him reading or walking in surrealistic environments. Think dialogues that go: “‘How are you? I am a human being.’ ‘I’m a human being too. Nice to meet you.'” You get the idea.

If you don’t, try this:

And on airwaves, in radio commercials featuring Mastuyama’s readings of excerpts from the late writer-director-photographer Shūji Terayama’s (寺山修司) novels. Nothing fanciful. Just Matsuyama’s calming voice luring you into the world of the spoken words, and hopefully the written ones as well.

Matsuyama bookmark frontOn the bookmarks in the 100 books recommended for summer reading. This might have driven some fans to lay their hands on as many copies of the books as possible, though you might wonder how many books sold are actually read.

Of course, plastering his face all over the books probably does the job best. Like printing special editions of classics with him as the cover boy instead of featuring the regular illustrations on the book cover. So now, you can have a forlorn-looking Matsuyama gazing into the stars on your copy of Kenji Miyazawa’s Night on the Galactic Railroad (銀河鉄道の夜).

And we see how the publisher has harnessed star power to sell books, even age-old ones.

A cool and edgy Mastuyama aside, there is also a cute hippo mascot doing the job of attracting buyers for reasons other than the books themselves. Like mobile phone accessories, tote bags, tee shirts and even a trolley suitcase which readers could exchange for with their hard-earned loyalty points chalked up over several purchases.

The publisher even offers pretty protective book covers which come in seven designs. Readers are entitled to one for every two books purchased.

Unfortunately, our local bookstores do not offer the same promotion here…

So there goes my classy Girl with A Pearl Earring book cover. And the cheery Keroro Gunsō cover.

Sigh…

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bookmarksBooks are a wonderful invention. So are bookmarks.

And Japanese publishers seem to have the knack for binding the two in a perfect union.

Japanese books, especially novels, often come with delicately designed bookmarks nestled between the pages. And you never know what illustration or design your copy comes with.

I find delight in discovering the leaf of paper between the pages of my newly bought book. Like my latest purchase, that came with a sleek bookmark bearing the image of Japanese idol Ken’ichi Matsuyama of Death Note fame. (More about that another time.) Wonder if any other reader shares this tiny ripple of excitement as I do when opening a new book.

This slip of paper probably doesn’t cost the publisher much, but it definitely goes a long way towards giving the reader greater convenience and a more gratifying reading experience. Not to mention how well it serves as a constant reminder to the reader of the name of the publisher.

A practical touch, for publisher and reader alike.

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