Iconic enough, kids?

This book, Tokyo Real by “Ryu” is something of a milestone for me! It’s the first Japanese book I have read completely, from beginning to end, in Japanese. This isn’t as much of an achievement as some might think, because it’s a “keitai shosetsu” (Mobile phone novel), I think, or at least it might as well be. Being a keitai shosetsu means that

  • it’s in large font, double-spaced lines, with lots of very short lines for dialogue
  • The kanji (japanese characters) are drawn from the limited set on a phone, and a lot of them I can read
  • It’s only 190 pages long, with a blank page at the start of each chapter
  • chapters are short

so, you know, not really such a big deal. But it’s in Japanese! Since it’s untranslated as far as I know, and a pretty crap book, I’m going to lay out the plot, because there’s not much else to the review really. This means there are spoilers below. If you really want to read a crappy Japanese mobile phone novel about sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, skip the next paragraph:

Aya is a schoolgirl who takes lots of ecstasy and parties a lot with her friend Yuko. She is raped after a trance party by 3 guys in a van and goes into a bit of a downward spiral that is arrested by a friendly yakuza chap called Naoya who is very rich and likes her very much (presumably because she’s a schoolgirl?). They fall in love but she can only have sex on ecstasy and he won’t let her use ecstasy because drugs are bad oh no! This means they don’t get to have sex (stupid man!) so he goes and hangs out with his favourite hostess (this is really not a relevant point in the story, it fills 3 sentences at at the very end). Aya starts using ecstasy during the day because she’s sad, and then she realises that she can have sex on ecstasy with men other than her lover, so she goes to her drug dealer and spends a lot of time having lots of sex with him, on ecstsasy, and becomes a junkie, and loses weight, and Naoya notices but doesn’t want to admit that his girlfriend’s a junkie loser so he ignores it. Anyway, Aya’s dealer gives her K and she has an overdose and her friend Yuko stumbles on her being a freak ,so she calls Naoya, who comes over to the dealers house, and Aya, in the middle of her k-hole dream, stabs him to death by mistake while she thinks she’s a god. Then she goes to prison (this takes a page) and when she comes out Yuko is there for her, so she decides to try living again.

That’s it. It’s a classic overwrought teenage-junkie story, but it has a sweet ending: Aya has been in prison till she is 22 years old, and this means she missed coming of age day and spent it instead in her cell thinking about her dead boyfriend. When she gets out, Yuko takes her to a hairdresser and then a photographers, and reveals that, because Aya was not there for her, Yuko too didn’t go to her coming of age day celebration – she wanted to wait. So on the last page they’re wearing their kimono and having their coming-of-age day photo taken, and Aya gets to say “thank you” just before the flash of the camera and that’s it.

It’s a perfect movie script, and in fact it was turned into a movie. Happy days!

So, my Japanese is definitely not good enough for me to comment on the writing style. I asked a friend, though, and she told me that the narrative style is very plain and direct, really just stating the facts without any poetic twists or style. However, the dialogue is written in a very naturalistic style, like young people speaking, which helps to give a certain atmosphere of trashiness to the novel. Unfortunately, this means that for me it’s the equivalent of a Japanese student of English, having done one 6 month intensive course and a bit of self-study, trying to read the dialogue from Trainspotting. Bad plan. Fortunately by the miracle of Japanese characters (kanji) I could get the general gist of the dialogue without having to understand the nuance of teenage slang. Whew!

My main complaint about the novel is that Aya’s slide into disgrace doesn’t seem to be related to her rape at all, which means that the rape scene could be construed as slightly gratuitous. Once she reveals to Naoya that it happened, and he says “you’re not dirty”, that’s it! It just kind of slides out of her pscyhe. But, even though it’s emotionally overwrought and sentimental, I really liked the ending. The final meeting between Aya and Yuko was quite moving. Maybe if I could actually read Japanese like a native it would have come off as trite and contrived (scratch that maybe). Incidentally, I worry about this with my Japanese in general – because my education is always going to be sub-standard compared to even a middle-school graduate, I’m going to be very vulnerable to sentimentalism, cheap imagery, etc. I don’t think this is true in English, even though I like Last of the Mohicans.

My next attempt at Japanese reading will be the Japanese Pathfinder. I don’t want to tell you why because it’ll jinx me. This is going to be a lot easier to read than Tokyo Real because:

  • I don’t need to care about nuance
  • I already know what it will say
  • The language is like a formal document, say, a stats text, and I’ve studied that language before (plus it’s simple)
  • I can use rikaichan to read kanji I don’t know as I go (My God, rikaichan is the most miraculous software ever invented).

Anyway, if you’re as crap at Japanese as me, I recommend this book. If you can actually read Japanese well, I strongly suggest reading something good.