mjj (flemmings) wrote,


So used am I to mangaka writing their own stories that I tend to forget that not all of them do, and that some manga are done from pre-existing novels. Partly because of that, partly because I tend to binge shop for Japanese books late at night when the brain and eyes don't work as well as they should, when I turned up this book in the middle of an amazon.jp search for Hatsu Akiko and saw it was a romance set in Taishou, I bought it with no more thought than 'My, the Ohchou Romanse mangaka draws like Hatsu Akiko.'

It's a novel, of course, by the Ohchou Romanse *novelist*, with illos by Hatsu. Still, physically it's a very pretty book, hardcover with silk bookmarkers, and larger than the usual bunko format, for which I'm grateful. And it's still set in Taishou and still has 'independent but well-spoken country boy encountering ill-tempered Tokyo beauty with hair to his bum' plot: any one of which elements may prove to be promising.

Country orphan Kotarou- put-upon by his remaining family but not one to weep over that fact, just get himself through school and up to Tokyo as fast as possible- has a letter of introduction from his dead father to Natsume Soseki, with the expectation that he'll stay at Soseki's and work as his secretary while attending college. I was all prepared for the usual 'now we meet famous men' kind of historical novel: in which anyone living in 1590s London will but naturally run into (and converse with) Shakespeare, Essex, Walter Raleigh, Burbage, Lord Cecil and the Queen herself, in spite of the fact that most Londoners must have lived their lives without even setting eyes on most of these worthies.

The novel however does a switcheroo. Consternation greets Kotarou's appearance at Soseki's house and his announcement, in exquisite keigo, that he will do his utmost best if permitted to act in a secretarial capacity. Soseki never met the father, who pretty much lived in a dream world of his own. Kotarou's letters to Soseki never even got delivered: his grandmother told him to give them to the maid to post, and the maid threw them away.

Which is cool. We descend to lesser known figures (Terada Torihiko) and I assume fictional ones like Muroi Juntarou, and concentrate on our protagonists: though I hope Gingetsu learns some manners soon. Bad-tempered biseinen are so not my thing. I'm also not sure Hatsu was the best choice of illustrator for this: her guys are a bit umm drooping-lily-like and I'm not convinced Kotarou is indeed an etiolated Hatsu hero. However I shall recast it in Ima Ichiko style and see if that works any better. (Except that bum-haired Gingetsu then becomes Young Dork. There seems to be no way of avoiding Young Dorks in Taishou works.)

The book also succeeds in telling me the generic name of that indispensable article of clothing, the padded jacket, meant for wearing in the kotatsu to keep your upper body warm. They're called hanten and they keep you warm even in Canadian winters. True, they're never big enough for a gaijin (I suppose one can buy made-for-rikishi hanten in Tokyo) and true they also lack a proper collar to keep the neck warm. There's a cultural crux here: the Japanese seem never to have registered that heat evaporates through the head and that to keep warm one needs the head or at least the neck wrapped up as well. Stomachs must never be uncovered in Japan for fear of dying of pneumonia on the instant, but I can't count the number of times I see jidai-geki characters confined to bed, coughing pitifully, with their night kimonos open to the breastbone and the futon covers pulled up only to mid-chest. No wonder Edo mortality rates were so high.

And because google drops odd blessings on our heads, here's today's: the Marchesa Luisa Casati. The picture I knew, but the details I didn't.
Tags: art, hatsu_akiko, history, japan, reading_07

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