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The Street of a Thousand Blossoms

The Street of a Thousand BlossomsLess than a week after starting The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama I have finished reading it. The book isn’t short at over 400 pages, but I found it hard to put down. That, coupled with having to wait for breakfast in bed on father’s day for three hours 😉 , allowed me to finish The Street of a Thousand Blossoms in little time.

As mentioned in my prior blog entry on the subject, I really enjoyed the Yanaka setting. I felt like I could connect with more than just Yanaka though. For instance, I spent a day in the late 80s watching Sumo at Ryogoku Kokugikan. The highlight of the day was witnessing the great Chiyonofuji’s bout in person. So all of the Sumo dialogue in this book brought back pleasant memories. I’ve always been fascinated with Japanese masks (check out this blog daily for some outstanding photography and discussion) so Kenji’s story held my interest. And, of course, there is the trip to Hakone which I have also made. Basically everything felt familiar and resonated well.

The story is compelling, drawing on the themes of renewal and hope. I don’t want to give away too many details for those of you who haven’t yet read The Street of a Thousand Blossoms.

The occasional errors in Japanese are my main criticism. Although Tsukiyama has a Japanese name, she doesn’t understand Japanese. This won’t be noticed by readers who are in her same shoes, but those who can speak the language will cringe at times. One example is her use of hai. She uses it far more frequently and in situations in which Japanese would not. Another is her use of the unconjugated verb hairu (to enter) as a command. She should have said something like haitte kudasai or o hairi kudasai instead of just hairu. A final one (there are others) that I’ll offer as an example is the Hakone Lake which she calls Ashino. In English it should be called Lake Ashi. In Japanese it is called ashinoko (芦ノ湖). The “no” indicates it is the Lake (ko) called (no–shows possession like ‘s in English) Ashi. Put another way, one could translate Lake Tahoe as “tahoe no ko” in Japanese but you would never call it “tahoeno” in English or Japanese.

She gets Japanese culture and customs wrong on some counts as well. For example, she has the school year starting in September like it does in the U.S. In Japan, though, school years, company fiscal years, etc. start in April–not September.

These minor critiques aside, this book is very enjoyable even if you haven’t been to Yanaka, Sumo, Hakone, Nara, or even Japan.

Here are a couple more pictures I took last year from areas mentioned in The Street of a Thousand Blossoms.

ashinoko Lake Ashi hakone japan mt. fuji

This is Lake Ashi with Mt. Fuji, mostly shrouded in clouds, in the background. The place on the right may be where Tsukiyama envisions Hiroshi and Aki staying.

hakone jinja 箱根神社

This is another picture from the ferry on Lake Ashi. The kanji say 箱根神社 or Hakone Jinja. “Jinja” means Shinto Shrine or Temple.

One Response to “The Street of a Thousand Blossoms”

  1. 1
    Carmen Sterba:

    I was trying to find a review on The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, written by someone who enjoyed aspects of it, but was surprised by the mistakes in Japanese and some mistakes in customs. I agree the parts on masks and the Yanaka area, near Ueno, are interesting, besides the characterization of Fumiko, Yoshio and Haru were certainly recognizable for a person who has lived in Japan. I’ve read several other books by Gail, and enjoyed them, but it was frustrating to understand her frequent use of “Hai” as a substitute for many other responses. For example, when Haru’s father-in-law says she’s come home early, she says “Hai,” but the usual response would be Tadaima (I’m home) not yes. Other times, the natural response instead of “Hai” would have been Wakarimashita (I understand) or So desu, ne (That’s true). “Hai” is used as an answer when a teacher is taking roll. Is Mari here? “Hai!” Or will you do this or that? “Hai!” I noticed that the author commented on December as being the end of the Autumn quarter, when it is January for colleges. Gail is half Chinese and half Japanese American, so her understanding is different than a Japanese born person or even a gaikokujin who have lived in Japan. I still want to read more of her books. Especially if they are on China. By the way, I’ve written reviews on quite a few books by Asian American writers besides many articles on Japanese history or literature on my Blog, too.