Monkeys, Hot Springs, and Monkeys in Hot Springs

IMG_3805A couple of weeks ago my friend Alyssa and I went on a trip to Yamanouchi, in Nagano prefecture. Our plan was to spend one day skiing, and the next looking at monkeys having baths. On that count the plan was a roaring success, but that’s not all we managed to do. We also saw monkeys fighting and bought monkey stickers. We rode through a desolate landscape on a big train. We experienced everything a kotatsu has to offer, over and over again.

After a three hour train journey starting at the austere hour of 7am, we arrived at Nagano station. From there it was another hour by train to the town of Yamanouchi, our base of operations for our monkey-and-skiing holiday. The approach to Yamanouchi was, to say the least, kind of nerve-wracking, as the town itself was preceded by a thirty minute ride through absolutely nothing. The entire landscape was populated by three things and three things only: (a) fields of tiny dead trees, (b) villages of tiny, dead-looking houses, and (c) no snow. As our journey continued and a fourth element – various kinds of rubble – was introduced we started to worry that our extensive one evening of planning had somehow led us astray. Had we come too late in the season for skiing? Had we gotten on a train for Yamanouchii rather than Yamanouchi? As the minutes passed and even the distant mountains seemed devoid of snow, we started to worry in earnest.

But luckily, we hadn’t made a mistake. Instead, we were witnessing rural Japan’s impressive ability to occasionally transform into a perfect simulacrum of a failed post-Soviet state. While Ghibli films might make us think of the Japanese hinterlands as serene, traditional places full of crystal-clear waterfalls and ornate mountain shrines, a large proportion of countryside here looks like it’s recently been hit by a bomb filled with wrecked car engines and partially-shredded tarpaulins.


When we got off the train, however, we found that Yamanouchi itself was very nice, with interesting-looking narrow streets, and steam from the underground hot springs rising from manhole covers. And soon enough we learned that the nearby Shiga-kōgen ski park was still snowy and open for business. After an all-too-brief encounter with the owner of our hotel – a man who spoke good English, but who spoke in such unusual ways that we could never tell if he was just slightly eccentric or if he was constantly and subtly mocking us – we were off to see the famed bathing monkeys of Joshinetsu Kogen National Park.

From the entrance to the park we took the long, winding path that led towards the hot springs. It was so long and circuitous, in fact, and we passed so many other foreigners on the way that we started to suspect that the improbable promise of monkeys in hot springs was merely a ruse designed to draw in the real spectacle – gullible foreign tourists – so that Japanese people can watch them undisturbed in their natural state – one of dull, impotent confusion.

But just as we we voiced these surprisingly plausible concerns a barrel of monkeys crested the hill and swarmed around us, nearly a dozen in all. Now having seen wild monkeys once before, and considering myself something of a wild monkey expert as a result, I knew that there was nothing a monkey finds less interesting than a human without food. So despite the proximity of the monkeys to us and our soft, unbitten faces, I wasn’t particularly worried. Alyssa, on the other hand, who is what we in the know like to call ‘monkey shy’, was understandably a little less tolerant of the sudden appearance of wild animals right next to her. And after beating a hasty retreat, we set about observing the monkeys from a safe distance.


The monkeys were obviously both hilarious and amazing, as all monkeys undoubtedly are. We naturally kept our distance, but some people clearly weren’t so cautious, as there were lots and lots of signs dotted around the area warning of various monkey-related dangers, including one sign that informed us in no uncertain terms that ‘the Japanese monkeys do not understand your language’, before providing an exhaustive list of all the myriad ways one can unwittingly provoke a monkey to violence.

But fortunately there was no violence, unless one counts monkey-on-monkey violence in which case there was loads. And what was most interesting about watching the monkey-on-monkey violence was that it was simultaneously so alien and so human. The incredibly needless, purposeless malice of one monkey slowly wading over to another monkey in the hot spring, before nonchalantly grabbing them from behind and plunging their teeth into their neck for literally no reason whatsoever. The sudden transition from placid calm to shock and confusion on the face of the victim. Having spent the last year teaching children I saw a lot I recognised in the actions of those terrible monkeys.

Also, while many of the monkeys were extremely cute, especially when they were sitting contented in the hot springs, I wasn’t aware of how terrifying some baby monkeys’ faces can look. From the right angle they’re nothing but cute, playful critters, but catch a glimpse of their faces and you’ll notice that they’re dead-eyed little skull monsters.


After we’d had our fill of monekys we decided to walk back to our hotel. It was about a forty minute walk up and down some fairly steep hills, but I’m glad we didn’t decide to get the bus as it meant we were able to see the Shibu onsen area. The Shibu onsen area is a small part of Yamanouchi filled with awesome traditional bath houses. Unfortunately, we soon found that, as tourists not specifically staying in the Shibu area, even the nine public hot springs lining the main street were off-limits to us. Slightly disappointed but not disheartened, we returned to our hotel and retired to the kotatsu, before going to a restaurant and trying out the hotel’s own hot spring baths, which was, like all hot springs, too hot for my pathetic baby-like skin.

The next day was all about skiing, including some runs on Olympic courses, some scarily big jumps in the terrain park, and of course a good deal of waiting behind groups of snowboarders who had decided to ruin things for everybody else. Halfway through the day we decided to ski over to another mountain, only to find ourselves trapped at the bottom of that mountain due to ski lifts that appeared not to know where they were going. Eventually we (just) made it back in time for the bus, only to then get on and off the wrong bus a good three or four times before finally stumbling upon the one we needed.


Both exhausted after around six hours of solid skiing, we decided to go to the Yudanaka public baths, which were free for anyone staying in a hotel in the area. I had a great time, sequestered as I was off in the men’s section, completely by myself. But I could hear the sound of multiple screaming babies from over the dividing wall, and sure enough Alyssa reported that the women’s section was so loud and full of screaming, running babies that she left after a few minutes to return to the safety of the kotatsu.

Our final Yamanouchi experiences were food and drink related: we found a quiet izakaya-style restaurant on a quiet backstreet, and fortunately there was none of the ‘oh my god just leave’ vibe that you so often feel as a foreigner when entering small Japanese business. Alyssa ordered a big bowl of oden, which is one of several, proudly traditional Japanese dishes that consists of various combinations of starch and meat in a bowl (Japan is rightly proud of its rich culinary traditions, though it does seem to extend that fervent pride to literally every kind of  traditional food, even the really boring ones.)

I ordered curry rice, and afterwards I tried a bottle of locally brewed porter called Shiga Kogen Porter (from the nearby Tamamura Honten brewery). I originally considered doing a review of it as part of this post, but since I’ve always found myself completely unable to describe even the most basic of tastes, I didn’t know how useful it’d be. Everyone else seems to drink wines, or craft ales and note how there are hints of persimmon and espresso chocolate, whereas the only flavours I’m really 100% on board with are ‘savoury’,  ‘twiglet/marmite-induced nice teeth aches’, and ‘this is so good my salivary glands are never going to stop going’. I suppose I can just say that the Shiga Kogen Porter is thoroughly recommended, and best enjoyed in an exhausted daze in the comfort of a kotatsu.

The next morning we were up early for the train back home. We were sad to leave, but our two day holiday in Yamanouchi was definitely up there as one of the best Japanese holidays. It was a nice change from the usual (and also brilliant) trips to bigger, more well-known cities like Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Osaka. I’m really looking forward to planning some more holidays in smaller, slightly more remote areas like Yamanouchi, and I’d recommend a few days there to anyone with even a passing interest in monkeys, hot springs, or monkeys in hot springs, even if you’ll have to pass through a lot of rubbish tarpaulin-and-rusted-car-part towns on the way there.


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A Business Trip to Shizuoka, or, 真由美の悪夢

In case you didn’t know, I currently work as an English teacher in Nagoya, Japan. My company is centered around three major Japanese cities (Osaka, Nagoya, and Tokyo), but it also has quite a few schools in less central areas, including some ‘rural’ communities (Japan’s definition of rural community generally being ‘a town of about 300,000 people, and nearly as many pachinko parlours).

These schools usually employ just one or two teachers, meaning that when one of them is sick someone from the closest hub city will be called out to cover their classes. These are technically classified as business trips, which makes me feel grown-up, so we’ll stick with the nomenclature.

Last summer I was lucky enough to be chosen for a week-long trip to Kagoshima. I climbed a cat-filled mountain with a dark past. I took a ferry to a volcano. I spent part of my daily stipend on a really great umbrella. It was brilliant. More recently I went on another business trip, though this time my destination was somewhat less exciting: Shizuoka.

I’d been to Shizuoka once before, and I didn’t have a great time. The area around both the school and the hotel seemed to consist mainly of ‘massage’ massage parlors, hostess bars, strip clubs, and endless signs featuring photos of women with sultry body language and thousand-yard stares. There was nothing for me there: even if I were really into depressing red light districts Nagoya already has that pretty much covered.


Important business trip in Kagoshima

But, when offered the chance to return to Shizuoka on a one-day business trip I decided to go. Why? Well, at the risk of sounding incredibly annoying I’ve forced myself to get into the habit of trying new things. God, I know, I sound like one of those bellends whose lives only seem to exist as a series of cloying Facebook status updates. But my point is: this last year some of the best things I’ve done have been a result of my saying yes to something new, difficult, unnerving, or just not initially that compelling. Coming to Japan was hugely intimidating. Actually making a solid effort to learn Japanese forced me to try very hard at something I’m naturally very bad at, which is itself something I’m naturally very bad at. Climbing Mt. Fuji seemed like a lot of money and effort for very little reward. But all of these – and lots of smaller things – turned out incredibly well, when otherwise I would have just been sitting in my living room being bothered by the internet.

So, I took the bullet train to Shizuoka to teach a day of classes. As before, the town wasn’t anything too special; while seeming far less sleazy this time around, there’s still wasn’t a whole lot to distinguish it from other cities. In my lunch break I had some average ramen and walked around a relatively nice park.

What did distinguish my time there were the students. First, I had a 80-minute lesson with two mid-60 year-old women (let’s call them Naoko and Mayumi, though I’ve changed names since things get a little bit personal further down). We were supposed to be discussing news reports on space travel, but we quickly veered off onto other subjects. Among other things, at one point Mayumi spent ten minutes quite happily telling us about her husband – a Buddhist monk who, upon marrying Mayumi decided to forbid her from leaving the country. She told us that she travels around Japan a fair bit, but in over thirty years of marriage she’s never gone on any of the international trips she planned on. A few years ago her friend invited her to go to Canada for her birthday, to which the husband agreed, only to later thrust divorce papers on her, stating very plainly that it was a choice between her marriage and her trip to Canada. In the end, she chose her marriage.

That lesson was more interesting than most, but since it was quite highly structured there was still a lot of time spent talking about space travel (Something they didn’t even feign interest in, with many discussion questions meeting answers like ‘No, I have no interest in space or going into space’, or ‘I’d probably die before we reached Mars, so I don’t see the point’). After the first lesson, however, Naoko and Mayumi signed up for a conversation class alongside a third student we’ll call Yoko. Yoko was also very high level, and also very nice, but rather less talkative than the other two.


There’s a relatively nice park over that bridge

It was in this lesson that things became really interesting. After discussing the recent abduction of two Japanese citizens by IS, I asked about their opinions on various Japanese political and social issues.All three were thoroughly unimpressed by the ruling LDP party, but were equally unimpressed by the state of the opposition parties. Extremely interested in politics, they were all very worried about the government’s increasingly evasive talk surrounding Japan’s role in world history, particularly during World War 2.

This conversation alone was fascinating. It’s so rare to hear people talk about these kinds of things, especially during a lesson, and I’m kind of ashamed to say that I was (happily) surprised to hear elderly Japanese people taking such liberal stances on these issues. It’s very easy to get the impression that older people in Japan are almost all ultra-conservative, but obviously it’s not that simple.

Then we started talking about the war itself, and though both Naoko and Mayumi were too young to have lived through it, they relayed some stories their parents told them when they were children. Naoko’s stories concerned the slow degradation of life during and after the war; her parents selling their clothes and possessions piece by piece to afford food. The post-war period and the long, difficult recovery of both economic and national hope. I can’t hope to do them justice here.

And somehow, Mayumi’s stories hit even harder. Her parents experienced the fire bombings of Tokyo, and she described how their descriptions of their experiences were so vivid that for years she had nightmares about being caught in the bombings, or seeing it from afar, alone in the woods at night.

Wanting desperately to hear more, but not wanting to keep treading on obviously-difficult memories simply for the sake of my own curiosity, I started to veer the conversation back to something lighter. But then Yoko interrupted me, and told us that she’d lived through the war herself. Without further prompting she explained how, as a small child, she moved with her family to occupied Manchuria in the early days of the war. Because she was so young she doesn’t have too many memories of the time, but she does remember the end of the war very clearly, when Soviet troops moved in and, well – you can look up the specifics of the Soviet invasion of Manchuria if you like, but all that really needs to be said is that Yoko’s few memories aren’t good ones.

After that we talked for a few more minutes, and then our time was up. I thanked them for the conversation, telling them how fascinating I found their stories. In turn, they told me they were very happy to talk about their lives and their experiences with someone so eager to listen. After that I taught a few more classes, caught the train, and headed home.

I realise that this blog post doesn’t have an overarching point, or really a message of any kind. It also veers kind of strangely between light-hearted observations of my time in Japan and incredibly-serious discussions I had about students’ personal experiences. But I suppose if this post has any point at all it’s that sometimes my job can be very special. It can be easy to get a little bored, and see it as just a job and nothing more. You’re teaching people English, and the purpose of any conversation that ensues is to practice their grammar, listening and fluency, and that’s the end of it. Conversation usually revolves around hobbies, holidays, and favourite foods, because that’s the easiest, most comfortable thing for both parties.

But if you’re open to it you can sometimes be lucky enough to experience moments of personal connection that stick with you. You’re not necessarily going to meet your best friend, or radically change anyone’s life, but connections with someone can be made, and you can both experience something worthwhile, even if you never see each other again, just as I don’t expect I’ll ever see Naoko, Mayumi, or Yoko ever again. I don’t think I’ll ever forget those snapshots of Naoko’s parents, Yoko’s childhood, or the vividness of Mayumi’s nightmares, though. A handful of times my job has become something special for 5, 10, 15 or so minutes at a time.

Yesterday my private student of four months left to work in America, and we were both genuinely upset to see each other for the last time. Recently a quiet, sullen student has become much happier and more talkative in my lessons, and we’ve been able to have some fun conversations after nearly eight months of grammar drudgery. This kind of thing might only happen a handful of times, but that’s more than enough for me.


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The Year in Books – Part Four

[This is the fourth and final part of my review of the books I read this year. This time I’ll be talking about Eleanor Catton’s The Rehearsal, Wendy Lower’s Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields, and Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. You can find the previous parts herehere, and here.]

Eleanor Catton - The RehearsalEleanor Catton – The Rehearsal

After falling in love with The Luminaries at the beginning of the year, I was keen to have a look at Catton’s other novel. It’s a very different beast from The Luminaries: gone is the quasi-preternatural mystery of the Hokitika goldfields, replaced by a high school gripped by a sexual scandal. Gone too is the Victorian-inspired prose, replaced by a a style that takes heavy cues from modern theatre.

The Rehearsal splits itself between two concurrent stories – the lives of several high school students in the wake of an affair between a teacher and a student, and the lives of a group of first years at a prestigious drama school. The former explores the emotional reactions of the students to the scandal, while the latter, at first, is entirely separate – focusing instead on the unusual theatrical education the students receive.  What’s interesting isn’t that the two halves come together later on in the novel, but that, from the very beginning these two separate stories form two parts of a cohesive whole.

The Rehearsal is about performance. Catton uses the explicitly theatrical sections to reflect the ways in which the high school students and teachers engage in their own kinds of performances – both in the wake of the sexual scandal, and in their everyday lives.

It sounds like the thesis of a saccharine young adult novel – “In a way, aren’t we all performing all the time?“. But this isn’t anything as simple as ‘pretending to be someone you’re not to be popular’ – it’s a complex matter of trying on different identities, of blurring the lines between who you are and how you act, of speaking in a certain way to have a certain impact, rather than because that’s the natural way the words come out of your mouth. Instead of the starched-collar, sitting-on-a-chair-backwards guidance councillor The Rehearsal so easily could have been, it’s instead a genuine, nuanced look at the process of growing up, and picking an identity for yourself in the series of disasters – both impossibly large and pathetically small – that make up adolescence.

But while so much of the novel is centred around teenagers trying to define who they are, both internally and externally, the central roles of the saxophone teacher and the drama institute’s heads of departments shine a light on how this behaviour isn’t sloughed off at the end of adolescence. To get a bit guidance-councillor again (The Rehearsal has a tendency to sound glib when summarised because it’s a complex, nuanced work about a complex, nuanced subject; one that, if simplified, is almost inevitably trivialised) –  everyone, regardless of age or position, is acting all the time, and it’s both more and less childish and dramatic than that sounds.

Just as she blurs the line between what’s natural and what is affected, Catton also blurs the lines between what’s explicitly happening and what’s merely subtext. Several of the high school girls are at times described in an explicitly theatrical way – their characters as archetypes being portrayed by an actor; their actions feeling like italicised stage directions. Isolde and Julia’s fraught relationship is described in multiple ways at different times, all of them mutually exclusive if literally true. Lighting and set changes are described within some scenes as if they were played out on a stage even though they’re real events happening to real people. And the girls’ saxophone teacher sometimes says things to people’s faces that are hideously insulting, but that are met with nothing more than a nod or a hmm of agreement.

How much of what The Rehearsal quotes as her speech is actual speech and how much is subtext – the meaning behind what she really says? How much of what is described is fact and how much is a lie, an act, a reflection of how theses characters, consciously or unconsciously want to be seen? To what extent is this acting – this performance of a character – separate from who these people really are, and to what extent is it actually central to who they really are? The Rehearsal doesn’t try to answer these questions, because they’re inherently vague, sticky questions that can’t be answered. But in asking them The Rehearsal explores an often overlooked part of life; one that constantly upends the reader, keeps them feeling vulnerable and unsteady right up until the very end.

Wendy Lower - Hitler's FuriesWendy Lower – Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields

Not exactly what you’d describe as an inviting read, Lower’s exploration of Nazi history is incredibly tough to get through. There’s none of the stultifying denseness of text that’s so common among historical takes on this era, but the subject matter is just so deeply awful that I can’t wholly recommend it to people. I think it’s an important book, but while I’m very glad I read it, at times its depictions of Nazi atrocities were so hauntingly graphic that it tested my limits. So, take that as a warning.

This isn’t a book about the whats and the wheres and the hows of genocide in the Third Reich. Instead, Hitler’s Furies focuses on something more specific: the women who helped power Hitler’s wars, and later Hitler’s genocides. Rather than simply being pitiable bystanders on the periphery of the Third Reich, Lower shows us that many German women actively took part in Nazi atrocities. They did so in various roles: as teachers and housewives and mothers occupying the eastern lebensraum. As nurses voluntarily taking part in a campaign of mass ‘euthanasia’ of the disabled and the genetically undesirable. As clerks and stenographers relaying orders and reports of mass violence. And as wives and mistresses in the east who willingly took part in massacres and random acts of violence.

At times Lower takes a general view – looking at how the Nazi state operated, and how women contributed to its ability to carry out such terrible acts of violence and genocide across Europe. At other times she focuses in on the stories of individual woman fitting in the above categories of teacher, nurse, housewife, clerk. Both parts are necessary for the understanding Lower is aiming for, and both parts are equally harrowing.

Early on in the book Lower writes: ‘The consensus in Holocaust and genocide studies is that the systems that make mass murder possible would not function without the broad participation of society, and yet nearly all histories of the Holocaust leave out half of those who populated that society, as if women’s history happens somewhere else.’ This book, then, is an attempt to rebalance the scales – to address a part of history that we ignored closer to the time, and that we still largely ignore. Countless women took an active role in Nazi war crimes, but when the international prosecutors moved in in the wake of Germany’s defeat almost no women even faced trial, let alone sentencing. And even now we consistently brush over women’s role in such crimes.

By looking at the myriad ways women contributed to the atrocities of the Nazi state – either, in the minority as individual oppressors and killers, or, in the majority as cogs in a vast machine – Lower challenges the naive view of women as somehow incapable of participating in violence and terror. To do so isn’t to attack women; it’s to attack an outdated, patronising view of both genders as inherently distinct, with men as active participants capable of the whole spectrum of humanity, and women helpless victims and bystanders too good or too weak or too motherly to participate.

Hitler’s Furies isn’t just a well-researched, well-written piece of history. It’s an attempt – an incredibly successful one – to address a part of history, and a part of life, that we often neglect. It throws our unconscious views of gender roles back in our faces and argues that even the history we’d like to forget about is important. It won’t let the reader forget that history is fraught with the same issues we see everywhere else: who writes history? What do they write about? What questions do they ask and whom do they ask them to?

We get the history we have not just because of how the past was, but also because of how the present is. This book is an important way of addressing that fact, and taking small steps to improve the way we look at both the present and the past. If nothing else, it does a wonderful job of illustrating that women’s history doesn’t happen somewhere else, even if, in some cases, we may wish that it had.

Ursula K. Le Guin - The Left Hand of DarknessUrsula K. Le Guin – The Left Hand of Darkness

I’d heard about The Left Hand of Darkness quite a few times before I decided to read it, and each time it was sold to me something like this: An envoy from a coalition of space-faring civilisations is sent to a new world to broker an alliance. This world is unique in that its inhabitants are neither male nor female – each individual can assume either male or female sexual attributes during brief reproductive periods, but is otherwise biologically and socially androgynous. Among other things, Le Guin uses the novel to explore issues of feminism and gender, as well as the implications of a society without men or women.

This description is pretty much right: it takes place on Gethen, a world without gender, and through the interaction between the Earth-born envoy and the natives of Gethen the novel explores these kinds of issues, and their implications on individuals, and on society as a whole.

But the description above feels like it misses something. It makes The Left Hand of Darkness sound like classic science fiction; that is, hard science fiction that revolves almost entirely around a central thesis. But it’s not. It’s not like Flowers for Algernon; focusing in on its central issues of neurobiology and personhood to the exclusion of almost everything else (including, as it happens, the ability to include a single woman that feels like actual human beings). The Left Hand of Darkness uses its science fiction to explore ideas surrounding gender, but it’s far too nuanced and multifaceted to be interested in any one single thesis statement. And, unlike so much science fiction, at its heart it’s book that’s interested in people, rather than a book that’s interested in ideas.

The Left Hand of Darkness is an exploration of gender, but it’s not just that. It’s an exploration of an interesting, thoughtfully-considered fictional world, but it’s not just that. It’s an exploration of isolation and belonging. Of clashing cultural norms. Of religion and faith. But it’s not just that. It’s a book about people, and what it’s like to be a person. A person on a planet of near-perpetual winter light-years from Earth, but a person all the same.

One of the aspects of the novel that most resonated with me was the most is the way it explores the protagonist’s position as a visitor to a new world; a stranger in a strange land. As someone who’s spent the last year living in a foreign country on the other side of the planet I found much to recognise. Japan is hardly as different to the United Kingdom as Gethen is to Earth, but it’s pretty bloody different all the same, and I’ve spent a huge proportion of my waking life this year feeling somehow unstuck. Learning a language so vastly different to my own, so wrapped up in history and customs that are completely alien to me. Attempting to navigate an unfamiliar culture that’s different in ways you often can’t see until you know exactly what you’re looking for. It’s been a wonderful experience, but it’s hard not to feel isolated, or alone, or unstuck at times.

The Left Hand of Darkness captures this so incredibly well. It captures the feeling of isolation, and those moments during a conversation where you look down and can almost see the vast gulf of experience and understanding separating you from the other side. It captures the awful, draining coldness that runs through you when you make a mistake – either big or small – because you simply didn’t know. It captures the way two people can come together with the best intentions – with the aim of understanding – but end up wholly alienating each other because of miscommunication borne out of a lifetime of differences.

But even moreso, it captures the feeling of a connection being made; of slowly starting to feel less and less isolated. The Left Hand of Darkness starts with a vague sense of alienation, reaches a terrible point where the protagonist is utterly adrift and alone, and then finds cause for hope. It shows that connection, and even closeness, is possible in the face of such vast distances.

And all the while these ideas are explored through the logical, compelling interaction of beautifully-realised characters. It never shouts “This is the point of the novel” at you; instead it’s driven by the thoughts and the flaws and the cultural makeup of its inhabitants. It’s a science fiction about people, not just ideas, and it feels all the more profound and true because of it.

[So that was my four part review of my year in books. I hope you enjoyed it, and/or got some good recommendations out of it. I’m going to have a rest now.

In case you’re interested, my aim for this year is to read a lot more books by authors from all over the world, but especially Japanese authors. If you have any book recommendations of your own (by Japanese authors, or not), or you just want to chat, don’t hesitate to get in contact – either in the comments below or on Twitter (@nicholaskeirle). ]

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