Maki Kashimada deserves more recognition. Now 45, the Tokyo-born multi-literary-prize winning author releases Touring the Land of the Dead (Ninety-Nine Kisses) in English, thanks to Hayden’s Trowell’s superb translation.
This comes as fantastic news for readers of translated Japanese fiction – eager to dive into two thought-provoking stories that picked up the 147th Akutagawa Prize in 2012: Japan’s most prestigious literary award.
A lingering meditation on family, memory, and identity that fans of Yoko Ogawa and Mieko Kawakami will particularly enjoy.
Touring the Land of the Dead
Touring the Land of the Dead speaks to those who associate a powerful memory to a certain destination. That place, for Natsuko, is a modern spa. She first visited here with her grandfather and mother when as a child. It served as a luxury hotel back then. Now, in her mid-30’s, she decides to revisit with her husband after seeing it advertised:
‘She found herself being carried away, torn by a contradiction of callous pleasure and unbearable pain. It was the luxury resort hotel where she had gone with her parents and brother as a child.’
Natsuko is used to suffering. Her family lived in poverty – still now her mother and brother refuse to accept their loss of status and hold their entitlement. They hound her for favours and material goods, and, at the same time, berate her for living with and supporting her unemployed husband (who has long-term brain illness) with her part-time wages.
‘She had already given up on everything. And she never thought too deeply about why such unreasonableness, such unfairness, such unhappiness always befell her… [she]… referred to her past only as that life. That life— truly, the only words with which she could describe those unspeakable experiences. Not poverty, not loneliness, not sickness, but that life.’
The trip ushers up old memories for Natsuko of time before greed and snobbery engulfed her family. It also changes her relationship with her husband. Since Taichi’s brain injury shortly after their marriage, they’ve lived 8 years in quiet acceptance and resignation. Melancholy pervades the pages as Natsuko describes an
‘evening spent together with someone who didn’t understand her at all, in that gorgeous world in which she didn’t belong.’
But the trip brings a mutual understanding of their dependence – and her husband’s quiet wisdom. Above all, she reaches a cathartic moment of self-awareness as she realises her identity is moulded by those around her; and leaves the spa with a new sense of freedom.
This is novella asks you what memories remain etched in your heart and just what you want to be in life
Ninety-Nine Kisses is a weird, wild, and highly-sexualised novel that's a retelling of The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki.
The youngest of four sisters, Nanako, tells us the story. She is obsessed with her older sisters. At the start, she tells us:
‘Meiko, Moeko, Yoko, I thought, chanting their names like some kind of love spell.’
With quasi-incestuous-type language, Nanako is hugely protective of them. And so when an attractive man called ‘S’ turns up and infatuates them, she’s driven to jealousy and is desperate to keep her sisters away from him.
‘When I got home, my sisters were all gossiping about this guy called S whom we had seen at the Azalea Festival at Nezu Shrine. He had only just moved into the neighbourhood, but my sisters had already fallen for him.’
Maki Kashimada explores Nanako’s sexuality and psyche throughout, sometimes with a touch of humour. Above all, she fantasies about them.
‘They’re all my sisters. We were all one body to begin with. But then we were born, cut away from each other one by one. That’s why I want him to stop, this S – to stop planting these seeds of love inside them. We don’t need all that… We’re a perfect whole. Like Adam before Eve. Or like a hermaphrodite.’
Set in modern-day Tokyo, Ninety-Nine Kisses has a very strong sense of place and female sexuality. Beautiful Tokyo descriptions litter the work, which is slow, meditative – and about finding yourself as you journey into adulthood.
Strange, yes. But unforgettable, also.
Maki Kashimada has also won the Bungei Prize, the Mishima Yukio Prize, the Noma Literary Prize. Want to read more talented Japanese authors? Browse our Book Packages to receive a translated Japanese novel every month.