Aru Otoko – A Man

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

I have just finished reading the novel Aru Otoko (A Man) by Keiichiro Hirano. It has been translated into English, but I read the original Japanese version. I enjoyed it immensely. It made a change from the dark, postwar detective novels which I read in Japanese.

The book is set in the present day, and centers around a lawyer who is asked to investigate a dead man who had been using someone else’s identity. It raised some interesting questions. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to just walk out of one’s life and live the life of someone else. Would your past catch up with you? Would you slip up and get found out? Could you live the life of another person, fool everyone around you, even those you love, and not feel guilty about it?

The book also raises the question of how love relates to the past. Does the past of someone you love matter? Do you love the person in front of you, as they are now, or do you love them as an accumulation of their past experiences?

I won’t go into details (don’t want to spoil it for anyone!) but it is well worth a read.

The book made me cry at the end, something which doesn’t happen with my dark detective novels. Speaking of which, I’m going to start a new one tonight. Can’t wait!

Kobayashi Takiji

Kobayashi Takiji is one of the most well-known writers of proletariat literature in Japan. He was born in Akita in 1903 into a farming family. While at school, he became interested in literature, and because of the economic hardship that surrounded him, joined the labour movement.

Kobayashi is most famous for his story “Kani Kosen”, which has been translated into English as The Cannery Boat, The Factory Ship and The Crab Cannery Ship. It tells the story of the harsh conditions endured by the men on the ship, and how they stood up to their cruel manager. He wrote it in 1929, but it really took off as a best seller in 2008, around the time of the financial crisis, when people were examining their working lives and conditions.

Kobayashi’s writings, along with his support of the banned Japanese Communist Party marked him out as a potential threat, and he was put under surveillance by the special police. He was arrested and imprisoned numerous times, before officially joining the Communist Party and going underground. The latest translation of The Crab Cannery Ship includes a story called The Life of a Party Member, which offers an insight into the lives of activists.

A special police spy infiltrated the party, and he was arrested. He died of torture at the hands of the special police on this day, 20th February, in 1933. He was 29 years old.

Nakamura Tempu – Heaven’s wind

My favourite Japanese non-fiction writer is Nakamura Tempu. The name “Tempu” can be translated as “heaven’s wind”.

Nakamura Tempu was born in 1876, and died in 1968. He is known as the founder of Japanese yoga, and as a public speaker on self-help. He began his career as a military spy in China in the Russo-Japanese War. Out of 113 spies, he was one of only 9 who made it back to Japan alive. Soon after, he developed TB, and was given months to live.In an effort to save his own life, he travelled the world in search of a cure. He enrolled in Columbia University and studied for a medical degree, and travelled to Europe. Getting no closer to a cure, he decided to return to Japan to die in his homeland.

On his way back, he met an Indian yoga master in Egypt. This yoga master took Tempu back to India with him, and for two and a half years taught him yoga and meditation. The way of life Tempu experienced more or less cured him of TB, and he lived to the age of 92. Back in Japan, he established his own association based on teachings he had learnt. His philosophy was “Shinshin Toitsu Do”, or “mind and body unification”. The organization he established is still going strong today. Over the years, Tempu’s teachings have influenced a range of people, from famous business owners, and politicians, to sports stars.

I have read most of Tempu’s books in Japanese. One of my favourite quotes from him is “okoranai, osorenai, kanashimanai” – “don’t get angry, don’t be scared, don’t be sad”. Whatever happens in life, he says we are to remember these three phrases. When times are tough, I recall these words and they have a calming effect.

Tempu believed humans are supported by six kinds of power, or energy. These are physical power, courage, the ability to judge, the ability to make decisions, vitality, and capability. Combined, these make up the life force.

If you can read Japanese, I recommend his most popular work Unmei wo hiraku (運命を拓く). As far as I know, his books have not been translated into English, but there are books about his philosophy and life. These are The Teachings of Tempu: Practical Meditation for Daily Life by H.E. Davey, and Heaven’s Wind: The Life and Teachings of Nakamura Tempu-A Mind-Body Integration Pioneer by Stephen Earle. They are well worth a read if you are looking to improve your life, or discover a new way to live!