Talking About Books at the First Rakuraku Eigo Event…

The first Rakuraku Eigo event at イタリア料理バッカ (Italian Ryouri Bakka) on Tuesday 8th October from 3pm to 4:30pm. We chatted about various books over coffee and dessert.

I began by talking about Westward Ho! by Charles Kingsley, a historical novel set in Elizabethan times. It would be a difficult book for most Japanese students of English to read as much of the dialogue is written in a “mock Elizabethan” style.

I then talked about Big Chief Elizabeth, by Giles Milton . Big Chief Elizabeth is a history book. It tells the story of the first two English colonies on the east coast of America. The first colony was planted at Roanoke while Jamestown was the location of the second. We looked at some of the water-colour drawings that John White made of the Indians and of the local wildlife when he was with the colonists on Roanoke.

We looked at how the Indians burnt down trees to make canoes…

… and their method of stewing food in earthen vessels over open fires.

Next we looked at Mother Goose and talked about how the verses are often quite violent.

I was asked what I was reading to my daughter these days and so I talked about The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. The Indian jungle is the setting for the stories about Mowgli, the boy who was raised by wolves.

There is also a story about boys being raised by a wolf in Siena as well as Rome. We were not sure what the Sienese story was. Actually, it is connected to the story of Romulus and Remus. When Romulus killed his brother Remus and founded Rome, the sons of Remus, Senio and Aschio, escaped carrying with them a statue of the wolf who raised their father and uncle. They became the founders of Siena. There are a lot of statues and other depictions of the wolf and boys in Siena.

Frederick Forsyth‘s novels, The Day of the Jackal and Icon were mentioned.

Then we started talking about Japanese authors.

Kawabata Yasunari‘s novel, Meijin (The Master of Go) was mentioned.

Everybody expects that this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature will be awarded to Haruki Murakami. His novels The Wind Up Bird Chronicle and Norwegian Wood were mentioned but nobody seemed to understand what his novels were about. I mentioned Thomas Pynchon as a probable influence on Murakami. Actually, I called Murakami a copycat. 😉

I said that the first Japanese writer I read was Yukio Mishima. I bought a translation of his short stories on my 18th birthday and was impressed by Patriotism and I was asked if I was familiar with Gogo No Eiko, but I do not remember having read it.

Tanizaki Junichiro was mentioned as a writer who shared a lot in common with Mishima including a commitment to aestheticism and the beauty of literature, or “art for art’s sake“.

Donald Keene was mentioned at this point and I suggested that Japanese students of English could try and read Keene’s English translations of their favourite Japanese writers.

As we chatted about Mishima and Tanizaki somebody said about the film version of Gogo No Eiko, or The Sailor Who Fell From Grace,

“That film made a strong impression on us.”

One of our group told us how she had seen Mishima at the Kanzai Kaikan noh theatre and a year later he had killed himself. He committed suicide after a failed coup attempt.

The last writer who we chatted about was Hyakuta Naoki. Two of his novels were mentioned, Kaizoku To Yobareta Otoko (A Man Called A Pirate) and Monster. A Man Called A Pirate is about Idemitsu Sazou, the boss of a Japanese petrochemical company, Idemitsu Kosan and one of our group explained how she felt that his focus is narrow; he writes in a cut-down style, a bare style; everything is black and white. There is a lack of nuance.

By now it was nearly 4:30pm so we moved to Kotobukiya where the ladies ordered home-made ginger ale and the men ordered Loewenbrau beer.

Here is a video report of the event: