A Japanese Boy – Shiukichi Shigemi

A Japanese Boy

In a small, quaint fishing town of Imabari, nestled in the midst of Mt. Myozin and adorned with elegant Buddhists temples, there lived a humble Japanese boy who prayed to Tenjinsan (the god of penmanship) for blessing him with a dexterous hand at Japanese calligraphy. He sat separating his quiet sister from his jovial younger brother across his parents during family dinners of rice and a pickled vegetable dish; exclusively served by the eldest daughter-in-law. He knew the intricacies of boiling rice to perfection (a crucial skill seen while selecting a young bride), pickling vegetables and knew how to identify a man freshly exited from a public bath-house. He wondered as to why women take an hour more to ready themselves for an evening of theatre outing and was enthusiastic about the bundled medley of snacks carried by his mother at the theatre. He immensely enjoyed his fishing trips with his father, the kite flying ritual during three-day New Year’s celebrations, Tanabata and Inoko and never used a soap for old folks believed that its(soap) usage would turn their hair red like foreigners. When his school introduced a Western pattern, for the very first time he saw how textbooks looked and found himself studying arithmetic, geography and history. His mother used to throw elaborate parties where neighbors and friends used to chat over a card game and dance. He despised Yaito (the conventional cure for illness), adored the lovely Madame Chrysanthemum and fretted over the possibility whether of his father would take a liking to his beloved dog-Gem. He yearned to write about his journey to Manhattan, but he feared that it would rob him of his juvenile memories of Imabari and would spin into a bombastic biographical version.

Imabari was a lowly ditch where people went clam digging and shrewd merchants supervised weekly goods carriers shipped to the port by examining rice by rubbing on their palms. It was a homely abode undergoing a slow transition into a westernized dome. Samurais were commoners and would attack an innocent passer-by in sheer frustrations as their life had no importance now. Old traditions and cultures were diminishing beneath contemporary mores and soon age-old customs would be paragraphs in moralistic tales. But, that did not matter anymore, for the humble Japanese boy was set for a voyage to America, a place where pillows were not made of small wooden blocks and people had to look out for their safety from getting hit by horse-carts. As he sailed to the land of horse buggies and waltz, Japanese landscaped revolutionized through the constitution of the Meiji Restoration Era.

I tried not to adulterate the review of this spectacularly unpretentious book with towering vocabulary and flurry of redundant emotions, as it a story of a Japanese boy’s life told by a Japanese boy himself. I dare not spoil it for him and his sweeping fountain of memory.

4/5****

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