On Words, Japan & Book Inspired Wanderlust

Japanese literature
Whilst it's easy to romanticise the power of words, it's equally as easy to underestimate the effect the printed word can have on a person's mind. Across the past few months, I've experienced an intense desire to travel – more specifically, to visit to Japan. And why? Due to words.

I guess this begins with Murakami; it's his Japan I initially fell in love with. In After Dark, I found myself bewitched by the hypnotic energy of Tokyo at night ("Midnight is approaching, and while the peak activity has passed, the basal metabolism that maintains life continues undiminished, producing the basso continuo of the city's moan, a monotonous sound that neither rises nor falls but is pregnant with foreboding.") Whilst Norwegian Wood and Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage introduced me to a different side of Japan; a Japan of many shades, full of so many feelings, thoughts and interests. And then 1Q84 and Kafka on the Shore intrigued me to no end; they brought about this alluring idea of two separate versions of Japan – the everyday, albeit beautified, Japan and a surrealist, somewhat different Japan – that coexist alongside one another.

Perhaps Murakami has given me an idealistic vision of Japan; though I can't deny his words have also shown me the darker side of Japan: a confused Japan, a realistic Japan, a Japan that evokes such curiosity within me.

Needless to say, it wasn't long before I found myself wanting to read more about the country; I reached for A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (highly, highly recommended) and Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami (currently reading). Kawakami depicts Japan tenderly, and, with every turn of the page, I can't help but feel a strange sense of nostalgia for her Japan – despite the fact I've never been to the country.

Last week I picked up Granta 127: Japan, which consists of writers, artists, residents and visitors offering readers their Japans. Their short stories, articles and artwork have shown this country in so many different lights that my curiosity has only heightened; I can't help but wonder what, if I visit, the Japan I see will be like.

On the back of the Granta issue it says: "Everyone knows this country and no one knows it." Despite my recent obsession with reading about Japan, I'm aware that I know very little about the country. Though I've fallen in love with the inked Japan – author by author, book by book, page by page – I've yet to experience Japan for myself. So, for a now, I can only hope that one day I'll be able to fall in love with the country through my own thoughts and feelings.

Is there a particular country you love to read about?
Just as a general update, I'm pretty confident i'll be setting up a second blog sometime in the near future. This won't affect this blog, but I thought it was worth noting. :)

12 comments:

  1. I don't often get wanderlust with books but I really do with film. I have a serious urge to go to Quebec, all because of Xavier Dolan films and I'm slightly obsessed with Scandinavia, again because of film. Great post ♥

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    1. I know what you mean! Whenever I watch a tv show set in Scandinavia, I find myself dying to visit (despite the fact most the tv shows are gruesome crime dramas aha).

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  2. I'd love to travel to Japan, too, it's crazy expensive (both to get there and to stay there) so I'm putting it off for a while. But it always looks so beautiful in books/movies/photos!
    Another country I fell in love through books is Scotland - I've only been to Edinburgh but I really want to hike & camp all over the Highlands one day - soon, hopefully.

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    1. It looks gorgeous in all the photos I've seen!
      I've only been to Scotland once & I've read hardly any books set there – I definitely need to find some books set there as the Highlands are so beautiful.

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  3. It's always films and books that kick nostalgia in for me. I've always wanted to go to Canada, and Norway, because i have family from both places, and I love the sound of both countries. Scandanavia and Japan as well. Then there's The Netherlands, because I speak Dutch and it's a country that's held great fascination since I was little.

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    1. Ooh I didn't know you speak Dutch! That's amazing. I hope you travel to all these places one day. :)

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  4. "'sehnsutch' -- "the inconsolable longing in the human heart for we know not what"; a yearning for a far, familiar, non-earthly land one can identify as one's home."

    What a beautiful post, Ruby. I've not read any Murakami ... but I will. With which one do you recommend I start?

    I just read A Room with a View by EM Forster, the first half of which is set in Florence; it made me long to go to Italy! The strongest love of a country that I've ever got for a book, I'd say, is for Wales, in Llewellyn's How Green Was My Valley. I'd never really thought much of Wales before I read it, but now I want to go there again (I went a few times when I was very young) and see it as he saw it.

    LotR also made me homesick for Middle Earth. "'hiraeth' -- a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past."

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    1. Wow, "sehnsutch" is a beautiful word – thanks for sharing!

      Thank you Emily. :) Norwegian Wood is arguably Murakami's most 'normal' novel, so it's always a nice one to start with. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is also a good introduction. However I'd maybe suggest After Dark as one of the best to start with – it's not too surreal that you'll have no idea what's happening/be put off, but it's not too 'normal' that you'll get the wrong impression of Murakami.

      Yes, I fell in love with Middle Earth when I read LotR! "Hiraeth" is also a gorgeous word. :)

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  5. It's so awesome how books make us crave to visit a place! I sort of visited Japan before, but I say sort of because our plane stopped over there and we had to get on a plane in an airport in Japan. Their stuff are so cute especially their school supplies! Haha. When I read Anna and the French Kiss, I immediately wanted to go to Paris! Also, I'm currently reading the Percy Jackson series and although I've already been to New York, I just want to go AGAIN. I went to NY years ago, but when I go in the future, it will be different because I will be thinking of Percy and his friends walking down Manhattan and taking the elevator in the Empire State building haha.

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    1. It's always so lovely to associate locations with book characters! It doesn't only bring the book to life, but makes the location in question appear even more magical.

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  6. Oh, goodness, Japan is one of my favourite places in the world. It has an ethereal sort of loveliness, especially if one visits during winter time - I've found there's something about snow that tends to muffle all the voices in the din, and that is a gift I never want to underestimate. I hope you get to visit one day; I think you'll adore it.

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    1. It sounds gorgeous! Your description of "ethereal sort of loveliness" sounds exactly like somewhere I'd love. Thanks for sharing! :)

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