Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

How to Be an American Housewife

Posted by nliakos on March 16, 2013

by Margaret Dilloway (Berkeley 2010)

Immediately after World War II, Japan is in tatters, and many Japanese take any opportunity to escape–among them young women who married American soldiers. Margaret Dilloway’s mother was one such woman, and so is the protagonist of this novel, Shoko. Shoko is beautiful, bright, and talented, but she risks her family’s good name by becoming involved with an Eta, a charming young man who belongs to a kind of untouchable caste. Shoko’s parents urge her to find an American GI to marry. She dates some soldiers, brings her father their photographs, and lets him select one. Then she asks the chosen one to marry her. He is willing, and she leaves Japan for the United States, already pregnant with her son Mike. Years later, she longs to return to Japan to make peace with her brother, from whom she has been alienated all those years, but a bad heart prevents her from traveling. She convinces her daughter Suiko (Sue) to make the trip for her, and Sue takes along her own daughter, 12-year-old Helena.  Sue actually finds Shoko’s brother Taro, who has become a Konkokyo priest, like their father. And she discovers in herself a love for her mother’s culture that she did not anticipate.

Shoko describes her relationships with her husband and children in the first part of the book, as she recounts the story of her first love, how she met and married her husband Charlie, and how she learned to survive in America.

In the second part of the book, Sue narrates the story of her and Helena’s trip to Japan to find her uncle.

It’s a great story and a fast read. I think high intermediate to advanced English language learners would enjoy it, especially if they are Japanese.

Posted in Fiction, Recommended for ESL or EFL Learners | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Butterflies of the Night: Mama-sans, Geisha, Strippers, and the Japanese Men They Serve

Posted by nliakos on July 4, 2008

by Lisa Louis (New York and Tokyo: Tengu Books, 1992)

I read this one right after reading T. R. Reid’s Confucius Lives Next Door.  It was like night and day.  Reid showcases the positive–the Asian social miracle as exemplified by Japanese culture.  Louis describes a dark side of Japanese culture: the mizu shobai, or “water trade”–bars, clubs, teahouses and houses of prostitution.  Louis herself worked for a while as a hostess at several nightclubs in Kyoto and Tokyo, and when she stopped hostessing, she began researching and interviewing both the women who work in the clubs and the men who frequent them.  The result is this book, which is brutally frank about some of the more sordid aspects of the mizu shobai, while also showing that  hostesses are not prostitutes (besides professionals, they may be moonlighting college students, or in the case of Louis, moonlighting English teachers!).  (Geisha, the highest level of female entertainer, are accomplished artists–usually singers, musicians, or dancers.  The chapter on geisha reminded me of Arthur Golden’s controversial novel, Memoirs of a Geisha, which was denounced by Golden’s source as lies, but which in fact, if I remember correctly, included much of what Louis tells about the world of the geisha.)

Parts of the book made me feel sick, but on the whole, I found it very interesting.  It does not flinch from exposing a side of Japanese culture that most Westerners would find extremely alien.  It certainly made an interesting contrast with Confucius Lives Next Door!

A Western reader would do well to remember that prostitution, crime, debasement and abuse of women, and sexism are found all over the world.  The Japanese form of these is strange to us, and presumably Western forms of them are strange to the Japanese.

Posted in Non-fiction | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »