More Than Murakami: Straying from Norwegian Wood

Haruki Murakami became a household name after releasing the ever-popular coming of age novel Norwegian Wood. This sensual and tragic story centers around Toru Watanabe’s life in Tokyo amidst the student movement that took place in the sixties. Norwegian Wood became a hit in the West, with 2.5 million copies sold in the U.S. alone. Murakami demonstrates how a coming of age story is one that is nostalgic at its core and more than often harbors tragedy-stricken characters.

As a fan of both Japanese literature and the bildungsroman genre, as well as someone who quickly became a fan of Haruki Murakami, I finally decided to read Norwegian Wood, his most recognized work. The book had been recommended to me countless times and I began to ask myself just how great it is in comparison to his other works.

When I finished reading, I was surprised at how disappointed I was, despite still having enjoyed it. It was beautifully written, but something was still lacking. The book had become so glorified, most likely for its depth and beautiful prose. However, in comparison to his other books, something about Murakami’s portrayal of certain characters painted a picture of instability and insecurity, especially for the female characters. This isn’t always a bad thing, but I feel Murakami exaggerates a bit too much.

Despite a range of talented writers, Japanese literature had become dominated by Murakami and this one book is what the West most frequently associated the genre with. It’s almost a crime to limit yourself to one writer in a genre where the sky’s the limit.

The hangover from Norwegian Wood led me to order a few books from some of Japan’s finest modern authors. I decided on three books, although if I’m honest, choosing which three felt like Sophie’s Choice. I finally decided: Banana Yashimoto’s Goodbye Tsugumi, Ryu Murakami’s Coin Locker Babies, and Yoko Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and the Professor.

Goodbye Tsugumi follows cousins Maria and Tsugumi as they prepare to spend one last summer together in their sleepy coastal town, bidding farewell to their childhood home. I wasn’t a stranger to Banana Yoshimoto’s simplistic yet equally existential style, but Goodbye Tsugumi took me by surprise. Through the author’s minimalist imagery, the mundane is celebrated and appreciated. This narrative stayed with me long after leaving the page.

Next on my list was Coin Locker Babies. This postmodern novel follows the lives of two young boys abandoned by their mothers at a Tokyo train station. Known for his visceral horror stories, Ryu Murakami explores themes similar to those found in Haruki Murakami’s work. Ryu Murakami’s style deviates, however, in its exploration of the darker facets of life in Japan. Coin Locker Babies is an exceptionally told story for those who seek a coming of age account with a splash of dark comedy and surrealism.

Finally, The Housekeeper and the Professor centers around a brilliant mathematician who, due to an accident, suffers short term memory loss. The story follows his interactions with a lowly but irritated housekeeper and her son. Ogawa’s brilliant use of mathematical terminology is intertwined into the book, along with her usual earnest tone. This book is a much lighter read than the rest, but still manages to make the reader question the world they live in, even in the most ordinary moments. Ogawa leaves you wanting more each time, but that’s just part of her charm.

Japanese bildungsroman novels zone in on the psyche and moral growth of their characters, subjecting the readers to an often turbulent journey. They’re rewarding but also difficult to digest at times. Just as anyone would attest, no human life is devoid of adversity. If you’ve ever sought out the perfect coming of age story, one with a cut-and-paste happy ending, it’s simple: there just isn’t one.

Graphic by @sundaeghost


Yum or Yikes: Kinton Ramen

A new classic Japanese-style ramen restaurant has recently opened its doors in the West Island of Montreal.

Kinton Ramen is an authentic Japanese ramen bar chain, with multiple downtown locations as well as in Toronto and the United States. Their first location in the West Island is located on the corner of St-Jean’s and Brunswick Blvds., a short walk away from Fairview Shopping Centre.

You can choose to sit at larger tables where you may end up sitting next to strangers, or at the bar that faces the kitchen area where you can see the chefs preparing your food. The furniture and fixtures of the restaurant are all made of a light-coloured wood and dark (almost black) metal trimmings/accents. This restaurant design can be seen across all locations, and solidifies its branding.

Ambience: 4.5/5

The main type of food offered is, of course, ramen. There are different options as you can choose the type of broth you want (pork, chicken or miso for a vegetarian option). The noodles are also customizable: you can choose between a thin, thick or gluten-free/low-calorie noodle style. Kinton’s side dishes are also traditionally Japanese––steamed and salted edamame beans, Japanese fried chicken, rice bowls, fried octopus, etc. If you can handle the heat, I recommend getting the spicy garlic pork ramen (amazing, but very spicy). If you want something without spice, try the chicken miso ramen with thick noodles and a side of steamed edamame beans.

Food: 4.5/5

I find that there is a standard price range for this type of ramen in Montreal, and Kinton is no exception to this rule. Expect to spend around $14 per bowl, which can seem pricey as ramen is a pretty simple food. However, they are quite large portions, so you will not be leaving hungry. That being said, I would consider this more of a treat rather than a quick and cheap meal.

Price: 3/5

The service Kinton gets a 5/5 from me as I was truly happy with the entire  experience. From the time I walked in the door until I left the restaurant, I was taken care of. As this is a new restaurant to the West Island, it was fairly busy and did have a slight waiting time. However, the staff moved very quickly and ensured that we did not wait too long. There were no problems with our orders and the staff was extremely friendly.

Service: 5/5

Photo by Cecilia Piga


Puppets make light of Canada’s dirty little secrets

Paul van Dyck’s latest offering tackles the reality of Japanese internment camps

The Nisei & The Narnauks is an outlandish play set in a historical Canadian context. In the guise of an Alice in Wonderland-like coming-of-age adventure story, this play examines the distressing treatment of Japanese Canadians during World War II and juxtaposes it with the overall treatment of First Nations people.

Rising playwright and director Paul Van Dyck states that the idea for the play came during his exploration of Canada’s “real” history.

“In school I was taught that Canada was a ‘melting pot,’ a happy multicultural utopia. I was lied to. When I later learned about the internment of Japanese Canadians, the treatment of First Nations, and the ever present racism in my own community, I was perplexed and angered. I wondered how this could happen in my own country. But mostly I was afraid at how easily these events could be swept under the rug, for when our mistakes are forgotten, that’s when they’re repeated,” he said.

However, this play is a guaranteed pleasure for all ages and all walks of life. Life-like puppets (sometimes giant-sized), live music, lively actors and a magical storytelling experience will captivate you, move you and transport you to a fantastical land where a young girl makes sense of her world.

The Nisei & The Narnauks uses captivating visuals to illustrate difficult themes.

“I believe this will be an important play. I think it will educate a lot of people, and it will do so in a delightfully subversive way. It will take them on a journey of magic, and beauty, and adventure. And at the end of it all hopefully they won’t want to put their heads back in the sand. They may even want to know more and demand more of the country we live in,” he continued.

And at the very least, Van Dyck says that if you’re not learning anything, you will still be very entertained!

Persephone, once again, has given opportunities to emerging artists. The play features four young, energetic and vibrant actors playing multiple parts through mask and puppets, while also providing all the live sound effects and music. Dawson College alumna Stefanie Nakamura plays young Kimiko. From John Abbott, Michael Briganti takes on the role of Kimiko’s side kick, Raven. Concordia University gives us the final two actors in Jimmy Blais and Brefny Caribou.

Blais tackles the physicality, the voice and the focused performance of a     myriad of characters, ranging from princes to wolves. He said that the experience is an “opportunity to tie down to his native roots,” and that the puppets form a bridge that allow the audience to enter the story, while the engaging use of live music helps to tell “a multi-layered show,” allowing this mythical story to be “carried along.”

On the production side, Peter Vatsis provides designs for both set and lighting, while Melanie Michaud takes on costume design. Persephone welcomes the chance to work with puppet and mask maker Zach Fraser. Assisting Van Dyck with direction is Sara Rodriguez, all under the helm of stage manager, Isabel Quintero Faia.

The MAI (Montréal, arts interculturels) presents, in collaboration with Persephone Productions, The Nisei and The Narnauks by Paul Van Dyck from Feb. 5 to 22.

Exit mobile version