It’s a hot summer day. You’re staring at your ice cream. It sits naked in its bowl, looking like it’s missing… a little something. What that sultry sucker needs is to be drowned, in a bit of classic matcha tea. Hello, 21st century, meet my dessert needs—the matcha affogato.
Not only will it look great on your Instagram feed, but using matcha is a delicious way to dress up your ice cream without using sugary syrups or other crap. Alternatively, it’s a way to make your morning matcha a little bit extra.
You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford. -Samuel Johnson
This week I had the best surprise I didn’t think I was going to get. Rob got a last-minute ticket from Halifax to London and came and visited me for a week. I was still working at my CBC internship during the day, but by night we toured around London, saw the city from the London Eye, had some amazing ramen, enjoyed British pubs and spent a day at Oxford and London’s West End before he had to catch a flight back to Halifax this morning.
During his stay Rob discovered (for me) that I’d won an award! Although I couldn’t attend the award ceremony as it was in Toronto, I ended up taking home 1st place in the audio storytelling category and they also wrote a nice blog post about me. Not a bad surprise to get.
Then today, after leaving ourAirBnB at 6:15am, getting separated on the underground to Paddington (take note: if traveling with someone you should never make a mad dash for the closing tube doors without alerting the other person), re-uniting for a brief breakfast and then saying goodbye as he went off to Heathrow, I went back to my home for the next few weeks at the Victoria League in Leinster (Lin-ster, not Line-ster) Square and promptly slept for a few hours before wrangling the washing and then heading off to do a lovely interview on the other side of town.
When the hot, sweet sun came out this afternoon I fled with other sensible Londoners to Hyde Park for a few glorious hours of Vitamin D. I’m even watching football (whoops, soccer) and can feel myself slowly turning British. That’s when you know you’re good at colonization, when visitors to your country start assimilating for you! I’m hoping I leave the country with a silly walk.
p.s. Do you like the header video? Bam! WordPress magic. I took the video at Kensington Palace in Hyde Park this afternoon. It’s partially the reason why this is going up so late. Technical difficulties (and maybe that nap this morning…maybe).
On Monday, March 20, 1995 five members of the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo released sarin, a poison gas, on the Tokyo subway system during the morning rush hour.
This was the first time the Tokyo transit system was the target of a terrorist attack. It’s still the most deadly attack that’s happened in Japan since World War II.
12 people died, 50 were severely injured and nearly 1,000 others suffered temporary breathing and eye problems from the gas. A lot of the people who died were Tokyo subway workers who tried to moved the packets of sarin gas off the trains before realized how toxic they were.
I asked my classmate Lisa Takagi about it. She’s from Tokyo. She said even now if people mention they’re in a yoga group, or taking a hippie or new age class it’s met with a bit of a skepticism because of the way people felt about the cult after the attack.
The Aum Shinrikyo cult has about 2,000 members still today. The religious aspect of the cult is syncretic – that means it mixes together – parts of Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism, The Book of Revelations, Nostradamus’ Prophecies and yoga. Whatever the founder, Shoko Asahara, thought to be relevant. It started off as a yoga and meditation class in his one bedroom apartment, and less than ten years later ended up being tied up in extortion, weapons dealings, murder and this terrorist attack on the Tokyo subway.
This is not Murakami’s normal work. He’s known for his surrealist fiction set in contemporary Japan with allusions to American pop culture.
This book is a series of interviews with people who were there the day of the attack. Murakami was critical of the media following the attack. He felt it sensationalized the lives of the people in the cult who led the attack and didn’t focus enough on the victims.
It the preface, he said his interest in writing the book was piqued while flipping through a magazine and in the letters to the editor section seeing a letter from a woman saying that her husband resigned from his job because he still suffered from aftereffects of the gas, but found his coworkers were unsympathetic.
Work culture in Japan also plays a bit part in this. You can see in Murakami’s interviews: a lot of the people were on their way to work when the attack happened, and a lot of them continued on to work despite vomiting or suddenly feeling sick or being unable to see right. In Japan, you’re expected to
In Japan, you’re expected to always show up to work, unless you’re dying. Even then, you should probably try and make it in. I posted on Sunday this article about the normal 105-hour workweeks for Japanese lawyers.
So about a year after the attack happened, Murakami started looking up these interviewees who had been survivors of the attack. He says it was more difficult than he expected. For such a large event, most people were only referenced by their first or last name in media coverage and a lot of people he could identify wanted to move on with their lives and forget the tragedy.
Everything that appears in the book was first given the go-ahead by the interviewee. Nothing appears in print that they didn’t want.
This is interesting. In media here, we’re trained not to ask the subject of their pieces what’s okay to include, unless they’ve specifically stated that it’s off the record. In fact, it’s usually frowned upon to let your subject have full control over the vetting of your writing because of the conflict of interest the interviewee has.
Obviously, people want to be able to shape their image and it’s up to the journalist to determine what the public should know and what’s relevant to the story.
Murakami takes prosaic jumps to craft a story that a normal reporter wouldn’t be able to. Statements like this one, interviewing a widow of a sarin victin:
“The real Yoshiko Wada (as opposed to the media invention) was bright, articulate, and smart. By “smart” I mean she chose her words carefully as she had chosen her way of life. Although I had never met her late husband, somehow I knew that anyone who had chosen her as a mate had to have been an all-right guy.”
This is Murakami appraising Wada’s character for the reader. These are lovely and dangerous statements. They bring more light and life to the people than the official media interviews, but it’s a light seen by Murakami’s lantern. Through his filter. Even if it’s a very neutral filter, it’s still a filter.
That’s just Murakami’s approach. It’s not right or wrong, but it is worth remembering when you’re reading the book. If there’s one thing that reading Wuthering Heights has taught me, it’s to always know where your narrator’s coming from (hello, Nelly).
You can tell he’s a fiction writer at heart because he does take such care to bring people’s character through. Of course, you wouldn’t get away with in hard news writing, even for a feature piece.
It was funny reading at times because my brain wasn’t sure whether to look at this like a novel, or like an article. As an essay, long form non-fiction or journalism? Novelized reality? What was it?
Published in 1997, two years after the gas attacks, it was Murakami’s first non-fiction novel to be published in English. He has another one since, “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” (2007).
I didn’t expect any surreal or whimsical plots, and I didn’t get any. It’s a credit to Murakami that he’s able to write such succinct non-fiction. He was able to interview 60 people to include in the book, from a range of demographics.
The book is a series of vignettes into everyone’s lives that day. Most of the interviewees are people caught in the subway who were exposed to the gas that day.
From a reading perspective, although the individual vignettes are interesting, it’s a hard book to stay with because there is no larger narrative structure.
Each ‘section’ of the book is based in a station where an attack took place, and the chapters are all interviewees from that station.
Because of the short chapters that are pretty identical in structure, it becomes monotonous after awhile, even if you’re really trying.
You feel like you owe the subject matter your attention – this is a crazy and horrible thing! And all the ‘characters’ are real people – no composites. But, the characters don’t stick around for more than their brief chapter, and after reading a few you kind of start to think (despite your best intentions), “Yeah, I get the idea.”
This publication included the original Underground text as well as a second part he did shortly after called ‘The Place That Was Promised‘ which is the same style of interview, but with Aum members. He did this to combat the criticism that Underground was too ‘one-sided’ (probably the journalistic critics). He explains this more elegantly in his second preface, but essentially he also wanted to see if the media has the Aum side of the story correct as well.
The Aum side delves more into the lives and philosophies of the cult members. It also switches up the format a bit. In the Underground section Murakami almost never inserts himself, but in the Aum section, he includes his questions as well as the the interviewee’s responses.
Despite Murakami’s original criticism that the media was putting too much focus on Aum, I actually found the second part of the book about people who had joined Aym more interesting. Murakami talks with them more about the lives leading up to joining Aum and how they came to be a part of it.
Some members of Aum had no idea these attacks were happening and viewed the association they were a part of as more of a spiritual lifestyle place. Others, obviously, were more insidious.
Overall, the book was really interesting and enlightening, but a slog because of the monotonous format. Still, absolutely worth reading.
I survived the first module in grad school and I couldn’t be happier. My brain feels like it has that post-workout euphoria you feel after going to the gym.
My next module of study means I’ll be working in radio for a few weeks. I just read Out on the Wire and am excited to get my writing succint enough for airwaves.
There’s no shiny pictures to distract viewers in radio, so your writing has to be good enough that it carries the story alone. A lot of people have been telling me over the past few weeks that radio is an even more visual medium than television. YOU have to create what the listener sees in their head.
Tomorrow I get to start the week with, “Between the Pages: An Evening with the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize Finalists”. The Giller is one of the big prizes in Canada for literary fiction. The first place author receives $100,000. I have a media pass for the event and can’t wait to write about it!
Yesterday I published a piece about an anxiety attack I had a few weeks ago. Writing it was cathartic, but it seemed kind of dark so I decided to balance it by writing some lessons I’ve learned from anxiety over the years to publish at the same time. Double trouble.
Today is the start of NaNoWriMo. If you like writing, join in! I’ll be spending 30 minutes every day writing as much as I can to participate. Find me if you decide to do it! We can buck each other up with encouragement. My username is @melhadtea. I had a few ideas, but settled on doing a sci-fi story that takes place over the course of 30 days through radio broadcasts. I plan to listen to the original 1938 War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast by Orson Welles tonight to celebrate. Did you know it was originally broadcast on Hallowe’en eve? Timely.
For Canadians: I love this video interview with former MP Peter Stoffer as he packs up his eccentric office on the hill.
Did you know you can test to see if you’re using the passive voice in writing by just adding zombies?
Now that I know that the town from Spirited Away was based on a real place (with delicious food), it’s only a matter of time before I go there!
Need a reminder why you got into the biz? WNYC held a great talk this summer called How To Be a Grown-Ass Woman. Lady comedians, writers, actors, directors. All right here with their own badass stories.
On March 11, 2011 a tsunami triggered by a 9.0 megathrust earthquake off the pacific coast of the Tōhoku region in Japan rolled across the coastal towns in Iwate prefecture and Sendai area.
Some places were wiped completely off the map. Equipment failure as a result of the tsunami caused the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which further threatened lives and caused widespread fear.
People stopped eating food and fish from the area.
Over 15,000 people were killed. Over 8,000 were left with injuries. Many disappeared into the ocean forever. In terms of psychological injury, I don’t think there was a single Japanese who went unaffected by the tragedy.
This collection of stories and essays reflecting on the March disaster is a one year retrospective. It comes from mostly Japanese authors, and a couple foreigners with strong ties to the land of the rising sun. It serves as a collection for them to express their feelings through works of fiction, non-fiction, and (of course) manga.
What’s nice about the anthology is the range of authors presented. In terms of demographics they’re male, female, old and young. The stories themselves span across genres. None of the stories are very long. You could probably read a couple on your morning commute, time depending.
Elmer Luke is an editor of fiction and non-fiction, and is known for his work editing translations of contemporary Japanese fiction. David Karashima also translates contemporary Japanese fiction into English and served as director of the first Tokyo International Literary Festival.
I came to Japan in March 2012, nearly exactly one year after the tsunami diasaster.
I flew into Tokyo and took the bullet train to Yamaguchi station, in Yamaguchi prefecture, in southern Japan, which is quite far away from the area directly hit by the tsunami.
Even though Yamaguchi is about 1,000km away from Tōhoku area, people in the city still spoke fervently about the tsunami. How their family or friends had lost a home, or how they had lost people. My server in a café had ‘3.11’ tattooed on his inner forearm. In a culture where tattooing is by no means mainstream. I asked him about it. “Do you know about the tsunami?” he said, “it’s so we don’t forget.”
There was no shortage of stories.
There was a shortage of power.
During the summer everyone was very conscious of their power use. Not just for moral reasons, but also because it was damn expensive. Sometimes my Chinese roommate who had been there longer than I had would remind me to turn off my A/C overnight, and just sweat the evenings out instead.
It was expensive because Japan had reduced its nuclear power creation in the wake of public outcry by running facilities at lower capacity or, in the case of a few, turned them off altogether.
This is known as a ‘phase-out’.
I sweated, and loved that the Japanese, whom so many associate with consent and mildness had taken such a strong political stance.
Later in the summer, I went to Tokyo and attended a rally in the Kasumigaseki political district in front of the National Diet (the diet is akin to parliament in Japan).
After I left a new Prime Minister was voted into power in December 2012: Shinzō Abe. He has since restarted construction on nuclear sites, and has turned many of the nuclear power plants back on as a part of his new Abenomics policy.
There was a protest just last month in Kagoshima, as the power plant there was turned back on for the first time in years.
I loved reading this collection of stories. There’s a few that take a magic-surrealist approach to dealing with diasaster. Think Haruki Murakami, or Alice in Wonderland, with the sweet sauce of Japanese nostalgia thrown in.
Reading this brings to mind some of the vintage post-atom-bomb manga and cartoons that came out of Japan following the end of World War I. The Japanese have turned coping with trauma and defeat through stories, visual imagery and metaphor into an art form. They are also practiced and proficient at rising from the ashes. As anime teaches us, they love a good underdog.
The stories themself are short and sweet, translated to English by an assortment of authors. It was also nice in that it introduced me to some contemporary Japanese writers I wasn’t familiar with.
Hearing Japanese stories by Japanese authors is also important for outsiders to read, as it lets us hear their experiences with their own voices, rather than through the voices of western journalists.
Even though stories about post-tsunami Japan have faded from our newspapers in North America, there is still a lot of fear, stigma, anger, hurt and broken families.
It is hard to believed that the upcoming March in 2016 will be the five year anniversary of this tragedy.
Reading this continues to give me hope that the resilient people of Japan will continue to find hope in its many forms – planted in a rice field, found in a shoe, felt in a shrine, borne into a family, voted for, and yelled at political rallies. And that Japan will once again surprise us all with another phoenix-like flight from the ashes.
And read this book, it’s quite lovely.
All royalties from the book’s sale are donated to earthquake relief and radiation cleanup in Tōhoku.
LIKE AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, Murakami’s latest novel did not take me where I thought it would.
The prose was beautiful, the characters extremely well-crafted, the introspections poignant, but the overall story arc was not pleasing. Whether or not this was Murakami’s attempt at a wabi-sabi style of writing, I’m sure I will never know, but I would definitely caution readers not to compare it to previous masterworks such as 1Q84 and/or Kafka on the Shore.
Did I like it? I liked the act of reading it. His words are so well put-together, that it could never be a displeasure to read. But I really didn’t enjoy the story all that much. Our protagonist moves, only to go nowhere. He hesitates, only to find out his hesitations were made in vain. Our story takes place after the action, and there isn’t really any apex to crest over our suspense. It’s a procedural uncovering of the truth.
The hardest part for me was that instead of closing on a definitive chord, the book seemed to sort of trail off… how very Japanese. In a funny echo, the last paragraph of this book reminds me of The Great Gatsby. Pick it up for a read and tell me you get the same impression.
This book is surprisingly realist compared to a lot of his other novels, and yet I found it weird because of its realism. Sure, there are some weird dreams and an unexplained murder, but seen from the perspective of our main character, these only surreal elements of the book feel more like his over-active imaginations, than an active presence of surreal-ness in the world.
From a physical aesthetic standpoint, I want to mention this book is very well-bound and attractive. It’s slightly shorter than most books, and fits well in your hand. Also, the hardcover design beneath the cellophane-fingered dust jacket is very nice as well. I actually prefer it with the dust jacket off.
So, should you read it? Hmmm, I think you should. Despite its oddness, it definitely has a sad beauty about it. And its theme of unresolved issues from adolescence and the incredulity of where we all end up is one that everyone can relate to. Plus, as I said, it’s beautifully written.
Let me know what you think! Murakami is one of my favourite authors, and I’d love to hear some opinions of other frequent Murakami readers about this one.
I’m reading 41 books this year. See original post here.