Category Archives: Literature

Book & Bed (+Beer) Hostel Opens in Kyoto

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The Book & Bed Hostel who opened their first branch in Tokyo in late 2015 are opening a new hostel in Gion entertainment district of Kyoto this December. This time the minds behind this bibliophile’s dream have added a crafty bar space into the mix. I’ve written all about it for the ZenVita blog and you can read that right here: Browse and Carouse at Kyoto’s Newest Hostel: Book & Bed & Beer!

Matsuo Basho Colloquium by Writers in Kyoto on October 28th 2016

Here’s news of an upcoming event hosted by Writers in Kyoto (WiK) this week:

BASHO COLLOQUIUMbasho

OCT. 28 (FRI) 6.00-8.15 pm

RYUKOKU UNIVERSITY, OMIYA CAMPUS

Shofukan B101  (Shofukan is located at the intersection of Shichijo Omiya. From Horikawa Shichijo walk west on the south side until you reach Omiya. Shofukan is on the SW corner.)

Contact on the day: 080 4028 3158 (Dougill) or 090 9878 9408 (Carty)

Guest speakers:

Stephen Gill – haiku poet, lecturer

Robert Wittkamp – Kansai University

Jeff Robbins- Compiler of Basho4Now

Co-chair: John Dougill and Paul Carty, English Dept, Ryukoku University

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Flow of events:

5.30 – Doors open for reception

6.00 – Welcome and Stephen Gill presentation: Basho: Self-portrait

6.20 – Robert Wittkamp presentation:

The failed institutionalization of fictionality

―Reading Oku no Hosomichi as a literary work―

7.00 – Questions for either presenter

7.10 – Break for snacks etc.

7.20 – Jeff Robbins presentation:
Humanity in Basho: Bonding the Generations

8.00 – Questions

8.10 – Conclusion

8.15 – Retire to the nearby “Public House” for drinks, food and discussion

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Stephen Henry Gill – university lecturer, haiku poet, translator , BBC radio scriptwriter

Basho: Self-portrait

When Basho portrayed himself, either in his painting or his poetry, he did so as the very epitome of Travel (tabi) itself – garbed in rain-hat and robe, with steadying staff and disposable straw sandals. Through haikai images of his own person, he managed to instill in the mind of his readers the scale of walking and the impact of the elements. In his travel sketches, or kikōbun, he saw himself as a dot on the land, visiting places of literary import, utamakura, subjecting himself to all that nature might offer him, for better or for worse. As evidence of this, we not only have a plethora of marvelous hokku by the poet, but also a small number of paintings of him travelling. He thought of himself as maintaining a tradition of literary travel and often used his own travel accoutrements to represent himself in the images he created.

My presentation will focus as much as possible on Basho in his own words and through his own eyes. Basho evidently thought of himself as ‘a wandering crow’ (tabi-garasu) and painted himself in tattered black robes both on journeys and at rest.

旅烏(たびがらす)古巣(ふるす)は梅(むめ)になりにけり

A wandering crow –

He finds a plum has flowered

At his old nest.

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Prof. Dr. phil. Robert F. Wittkamp – Department of Humanities at Kansai University

The failed institutionalization of fictionality

―Reading Oku no Hosomichi as a literary work―

Contemporary theories consider fictionality as a “fiction contract” concluded between author and reader. Consequently fictionality is not something contained within the text but tied to the pragmatic aspects of language. It is a special use of speech, and this use on the other hand is institutionalized. However, while fictionality itself is not a particular content, the text contains signs labelling it as fictional speech. For example no rational reader would take a modern novel as a factual report on real or historical events due to the fact that one wouldn’t expect it in the first place. We read the novel based on the contract (knowledge) of fictionality. The label “a novel” on the book itself, its place in the designated corner of a book shop, a review in a magazine and so on are examples for institutionalized markers of fictionality, but of course such markers can be found within the text as well. As an author Bashō provided his literary travelogue in haibun stile (haibun kikō) with many such markers, but his attempt―may it be intentional or not―eventually failed. Despite the remarks by several scholars that Bashō the author and the first person narrator are not identical, to say nothing of the usual recipient even most experts, usually are reading the text as a factual travel diary depicting a real journey undertaken by the author in the year 1689. Being asked who is the “I” in the text, most would answer “Bashō”, but actually the text itself reveals almost nothing about the narrator’s identity. In passages which seem to be a little awkward, i.e. which cannot be explained as “laughing in high dimensions” (kōji no warai), or do not fit to the image of Bashō as a “lonely wanderer in the autumn wind” (shūfū kokaku), commentaries fall silent, and smaller “mistakes” usually are explained as a “false memory” (kioku chigai).

In my talk I am going to read the Oku no Hosomichi as fictional speech and examine the text for corresponding markers of fictionality―from the unusual masugata book format over the unreliable narrator to details like “speaking as if”.

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Jeff Robbins: Compiler of Basho4Now

Humanity in Basho: Bonding the Generations

The Basho haiku, travel journals, and few haibun available in English are a mere one-third of his poetry and prose available in Japanese. The two-thirds never or rarely translated — 1700 stanzas of linked verse, several tanka, 118 haibun, and 229 letters – include Basho’s most humane and life-affirming works. Each attendee will receive a pamphlet Bonding the Generations containing Basho linked verses, haiku, tanka, and passages from his letters, about the bonds between parents or grandparents and children. The presenter will explore the “compassionate intuition” in a few of Basho’s linked verses and letters, then attendees can share their insights. You will take away an awareness of the vast ocean of Basho works beyond his haiku and travel journals; an ability to further explore these profound resources for human self-understanding.

Alex Kerr Book Launch Party – Another Kyoto

Last night I attended a book launch party for Alex Kerr’s latest book, Another Kyoto. The setting was a lovely old machiya townhouse in the Kamishichiken area of Kyoto where his friend and co-author, Kathy Arlyn Sokol has been living. Apparently about 70 people attended the event, and it certainly did feel like a crowd in the unseasonably hot weather. It was a nice occasion though, and I was happy at the opportunity to meet some old friends, and new people – and not least Alex Kerr himself!

Kathy Arlyn Sokol & Alex Kerr

Kathy Arlyn Sokol & Alex Kerr

Another Kyoto is a book born out of conversations that Alex had with his friend Kathy whilst strolling round some of his favorite locations in Kyoto. It is on the surface a book about architecture: gates, walls, floors and roofs… However, the book goes much deeper than that into the culture that has produced these architectural forms, into exactly why they take the forms that they do, into what these forms signify, and also rather interestingly it compares and contrasts these forms with those of other cultures with which Alex Kerr has a great deal of familiarity, those of China, or Bali, or Thailand for example. I am still only on chapter 3 myself but am finding it very absorbing and not least because of the style in which it is written. Kathy Sokol spoke last night about how the book is a transmission of old and erudite knowledge that has been passed down through generations of scholars to Alex, and now through him to us. And this is true. However, the tone in which it is written is so light and conversational that it really doesn’t feel like a heavy or scholarly book at all, but more like a chat with a particularly knowledgeable friend while sightseeing. That’s quite a balance they have struck there and it makes for a very enjoyable read!

John Dougill with Alex Kerr

John Dougill with Alex Kerr

Let me a add a quick word of thanks to John Dougill of the Writers in Kyoto group for suggesting last night’s event and also to Kathy and Alex for organizing and hosting it. I must admit I was very excited to finally meet Alex Kerr, whose book Lost Japan was a huge inspiration for me before moving to Japan in the 1990s. I was glad to find him in person to be just as amiable and friendly as I had imagined from his books. It was a very nice evening.

another-kyoto

More pictures and details about the event, plus a video link can be found on the Writers in Kyoto website.

Another Kyoto by Alex Kerr with Kathy Arlyn Sokol is available from Amazon.co.jp

WiK Writing Competition Winners

Here’s some news from John Dougill, and Writers in Kyoto (WiK):

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The judges of the first WiK Writing Competition are delighted to announce the winners, as listed below. The competition was on the theme of Kyoto, with a maximum of 300 words. Each of the three prize winners will receive a small gift from the Kyoto Convention and Visitors Bureau, in addition to which the First Prize will feature in the forthcoming Writers in Kyoto Anthology. The Local Prize Winner will receive a gourmet meal for two at Tadg’s Irish Bar and Restaurant in Kiyamachi, Kyoto.

* First Prize “Kimono Memories”
Name: Peter Jonathan Mallett

* Second Prize “Nippon”
Name: Jesse Efron

* Third Prize “To live in Kyoto”
Name: Richard Steiner

* Local Prize Winner “In the spring. summer, autumn and winter – Colors in Kyoto”
Name: Mayumi Kawaharada

The judges wish to express their appreciation to all those who entered, and the high quality of submissions made the final decision difficult. Indeed, each of the judges chose a different piece as their favourite! In the end though consensus was reached as to the outstanding pieces. (It should be noted that the judging process was done on a completely anonymous basis throughout.)
The entries came from a surprisingly wide range of places. Nearly half were submitted from different parts of Japan, not just within Kyoto but such areas as Miyazaki and Fukuoka. Others came Malaysia, Kathmandu, Philippines and Montreal. As it happened, however, the winners are all resident in Japan – two in Kyoto, one in Kyotango, and one in Kobe.

In form the entries ranged from a single haiku to essays, pieces of fiction, poems, conversations and personal impressions. By and large, the prose was more successful; some of the poetry was too slight, some too obscure. The best pieces were those that got under the skin of Kyoto life, and this was the case with the overall winner which used the Nishijin connection with kimono to reveal something of the secrets that lie behind the courtesies of Kyoto manners.

The one surprise was that some applicants thought a single haiku would carry enough weight to win a prize. Unless you’re a Basho or a Buson, this seems improbable. However, one of the prizewinners did string a series of haiku together to convey images of Kyoto throughout the year, and this amounted to a substantial and impressive portrayal of seasonal changes. An alternative approach, which no one attempted, would be to write a poetic essay-cum-haiku in a genre known as haibun.

Our thanks to the sponsors, the Kyoto Convention and Visitors Bureau, Tadg’s Irish Bar and Restaurant, and for the backing from the International Community Center (kokoka). I’d also like to publicly thank Karen Tawarayama in particular for facilitating the whole process, as well as Tadg McLoughlin and Shigenori Shibata for acting as judges. Finally, thanks to all those who took the time to enter the competition. Your entries made the whole thing worthwhile, and each one was appreciated.

We are eager to build on this year and make next year’s competition even better, so if you have any suggestions or feel you could contribute in any way, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me, John Dougill, at dougill<at mark>mbox.kyoto-inet.or.jp.

Peter Mallett of Kobe, whose 'Kimono Memories' took first prize

Peter Mallett of Kobe, whose ‘Kimono Memories’ took first prize

Geiko & Maiko of Kyoto by Robert van Koesveld now on sale at Maruzen Bookstore

Last week I was very happy to catch up with photographer Robert van Koesveld while he was in town. Robert was kind enough to give me a copy of his new book, “Geiko & Maiko of Kyoto” which he self-published after an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign.

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If you are at all interested in the world of geiko and maiko then I would happily recommend this book. Robert’s beautiful photography and insightful text provides a wonderful pictorial guide to the world of Kyoto’s geisha. And I particularly like the part of the book that also introduces those people who work behind the scenes; the footwear makers for instance, the kimono artists, and the shamisen teacher etc…

Robert and his book in Maruzen bookstore.

Robert and his book in Maruzen bookstore.

Pop into Maruzen bookstore in Kyoto now, and you will see a large display of Robert’s books close by the Maruzen Cafe. Several of his images are also featured on posters there, to give you an idea of the contents of the book. Take a look. I’m sure you’ll be tempted.

Useful links: Geiko & Maiko of Kyoto
Robert van Koesveld Photography
(always) Learning to See: A photography blog by Robert van Koesveld

Maruzen Bookstore on Inside Kyoto

My review of the new Maruzen Bookstore & Cafe is now up on Inside Kyoto

Maruzen Bookstore Returns to Kyoto

After a 10-year interval Kyoto’s best bookstore, Maruzen Books has returned! Our resident bookworm, Michael Lambe, went to take a look at the new premises and see if the new store matches up to its legendary past.

Check out the full story here: Maruzen Bookstore Returns to Kyoto!

Kyoto’s 39th Autumn Antiquarian Book Fair 2015

antiquarian

Kyoto’s annual Autumn Antiquarian Book Fair starts Thursday Oct. 30th at Chion-ji Temple – just a stone’s throw away from the Hyakumanben intersection. Though the majority of the books available (about 200,000 in all) are Japanese, there are always some English books available, as well as art books and ukiyo-e prints etc. The grounds of the temple are also a very peaceful and pleasant location in which to browse for bargains.

Dates: Friday October 30 – Tuesday November 3
Location: Chion-ji Temple
Time: 10 am to 5 pm
Access: Chion-ji Temple is on the north side of Imadegawa opposite Kyoto University. It’s a ten minutes walk east of Keihan Demachiyanagi Station, or 3 minutes from the Hyakumanben bus stop. (map)

This is one of three annual used book fairs held in Kyoto, the others being held in spring and summer. I have written about the summer sale here.

Once again the flyer for this event has been designed by the very talented Nakagawa Non. You can view more of her artwork at her site here: http://nonkimegane6-6.com/

antiquarian reverse

The First Annual Kyoto Writing Competition; Deadline March 1st

From John Dougill,

wikcompWRITERS IN KYOTO PRESENTS

THE FIRST ANNUAL KYOTO WRITING COMPETITION

(Sponsored by Tadg’s Irish Bar and Restaurant)

Theme: Kyoto (English language only)

Deadline: March 1, 2016 (midnight JST)

Genre: Short Shorts (unpublished material only)

Form: Haiku, short poems, character studies, essays, whimsy, wordplays, experimental verse, anything that helps show the spirit of place in a fresh light

Word Limit: 300 words (to fit on a single page)

Submissions:
send to kyotowritingcompetition2016@gmail.com
Please use Microsoft Word format, headed by the following information:
※ Full Name ※ Email Contact ※ Nationality ※ Location of Current Residence

Prizes to include Kyoto crafts and publication in the Writers in Kyoto Anthology

Kyoto resident prize: Gourmet meal for two at Tadg’s

Maruzen Bookstore Returning to Kyoto!

MaruzenIt’s been ten long years since Kyoto’s best bookstore closed it’s doors… but now Maruzen is coming back! Kyoto’s legendary bookstore occupied a special place in the hearts of expats because of it’s huge English language book section. Locals too were sad to see the historic shop close down, for Maruzen had occupied a spot on Kawaramachi Street since 1907.

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The new Maruzen store will occupy two basement floors of the renovated Bal building which reopens on August 21st. Apparently it will include a cafe, western books and stationary – and it is going to be huge. This is a team effort with Junkudo, so we will have to wait and see if the new shop really has that old Maruzen magic. I’m going to be there on August 21st to find out though, and I’m sure a lot of other Maruzen fans will be there too. You can find a map for the Bal building and other details on the Bal Kyoto website here: http://www.bal-bldg.com/bal-kyoto/

Thanks to Mewby for giving me the hot tip on this breaking news!

Writers in Kyoto – Launch Party with Amy Chavez on April 19th

This month sees the birth of a new group in Kyoto: Writers in Kyoto (WiK).

A screengrab from the new Writers in Kyoto website.

A screengrab from the new Writers in Kyoto website.

This from the website sets out its aims:

Writers in Kyoto is a group of published and self-published English-language authors working or living in the city. It is run on a membership basis and its purpose is for writers to help each other by creating opportunities for promotion, book launches, readings, the exchange of information, and social events. We work in an informal way and are open to new ideas for projects, such as the ongoing ‘Books set in Kyoto’ feature. We are an independent group, but collaborate with Kyoto Journal and SWET (Society of Writers, Editors and Translators).

Wik’s first event will be a talk by the popular columnist Amy Chavez on being a freelance writer in Japan. The event will take place on Sunday April 19 at Pub House ROARS near Sanjo Bridge (see map). Doors open 4.30 and the talk begins at 5.00. ¥500 entry (free for those joining WiK). Drinks and food will be available afterwards, with time for socialising.

For those who wish to sign up for a WiK membership there are all kinds of perks:

* Featured writer spot on the website’s top page, on a rotation basis according to membership numbers
* Books advertised on the website
* Book extracts carried in the Featured Writing category
* Participation in a closed Facebook discussion group with access to archival material
* Discounted entry for WiK-sponsored events
* Participation in WiK social activities, such as get-togethers and literary dinners
* WiK backing for future book launches
* Eligibility for WiK public readings, to be held twice a year

For more information about WiK and their upcoming event please check the website: http://www.writersinkyoto.com or contact the facilitator, John Dougill.