Common wisdom is that you learn to read Japanese by reading Japanese even if you don't look up the kanji. That's not logic but it is true. If you haven't got a good memory for the shapes of kanji- and very few people do- there's something about just looking at unknown kanji that starts imprinting them in your head. Then when you do look them up they're more likely to stick. (This is quite apart from the preliminary problem of learning to read a language that doesn't separate its words. Reading will certainly start sorting that out as non-intuitive sentence patterns become familiar.)
The down side of that is that there are plateaus to the process. I was in one for years, from 2000 to just recently. The everlasting usual- looking up the same words and the same kanji and still not remembering them the next time. For all I know what made the difference really was gingko biloba, but I only take that intermittently now and still my reading skills have suddenly improved dramatically. It's been about a year and a half now that I can pick up a book and just read. Used to be my brain had to get on the author or mangaka's wavelength, and if it didn't no amount of taking sentences apart would tell me what this sentence means.
I'll admit there's usually some preliminary difficulty whenever I start in on an Ima Ichiko manga, but that's cause she likes to confuse. (I confess to still not quite getting the title story. *Which* youki is 'that youki', for crissake?) However the WTFery of Cloud Slayer was largely dispelled by reading the prequel, so it turned into a solid satisfying read. Especially when the predictable comedy in the first story did a fish-flip and went serious. And then there was the afterword which is yet another reason Why I Love Ima Ichiko.
These two books are set in what the katakanizing amazon.jp reviewers call an Oriental Fantasy. A China that's not quite China and that gets arbitrary about details of costume, and an unplaceable Silk Roads setting that's, well, unplaceable as anywhere but 'on the borders of the China that's not quite China.' Both books are generally about people who come to a certain lake Seeking Water: a ritual in which you walk from wherever your hometown is to the lake in question, and if the lake spirit likes you, water will then flow in the track your footprints have made across the hills and over the desert. This second one has more stories set in mountainous areas, linked to the previous stories only by a pair of recurring characters
Ima remarks in her afterword: "There were a lot of films that influenced the stories in here" and then goes on to list them, with notes: one called Caravan, one about I think Beijing Opera singers (this was where I needed to look words up and didn't), one about a Buddhist monastery in Tibet, and- henh- The Joy Luck Club. And some, like the monastery and caravan ones, I could see where and how she used them, and others- like Joy Luck for very sure- I hadn't a clue, though I'd have said myself that the 100 Demons family of sisters who lived in the room that wasn't there could as easily have come from Joy Luck. But it's nice to know she incorporates stuff she's seen lately into her works as well; though she, lucky stiff, can draw what she's seen while I have to try decsribing it.
Meanwhile, mvrdrk, I found a copy of Five Box Stories at amazon.jp and ordered it, and only today see that it's a bunkou. Woe. There was a second-hand seller I should have gone for instead. Oh well, too bad. I shall squint my way through it after all.