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Sabbath Day – Japan

January 24, 2016

OK. So I didn’t really take a sabbath day this week. Worked, actually, all day through my day of rest. However, the blizzard descended today and gave me a day at home after all. Not exactly a day of rest, but a change of rhythm, which is a good substitute.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. 

13-01_Haruki Murakami

Over the past week I did manage to continue reading multi-national literature: this week, Japan. I have been wanting for some time to read something by Haruki Murakami, but could not imagine having the time to read one of his very long novels. By chance, on my way home from a hospital visit on Friday, I stopped at the library and picked up The Strange Library, perhaps the creepiest thing I have read in a long time. It’s really an artfully packaged short story which only took me two cups of coffee to finish, but the surrealist imagery lasted much longer. An award winning, best-selling author both in Japan and internationally, he is often criticized as “not Japanese enough,” whatever that may mean.

I also read a short story by Nagai Tatsuo called “Brief Encounter.” I first read this piece in college and still carry around the anthology in which I found it. In contrast to Murakami, Tatsuo is a traditional Japanese writer, recipient of many national prizes, including the Order of Culture from the Japanese government in 1981. “Brief Encounter” is a story within a story within a circular, framing narrative set in post-war Japan. An ideal text for teaching all manner of literary device.   


By another odd chance this week I found myself locked out of my apartment for an hour and a half – I had accidentally left my keys with my wife when she went to a meeting midweek. With nowhere in particular to go, I stepped into Barnes an Nobles, bought a cup of coffee, and read a volume of Japanese Death Poems: Writings by Zen Masters and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death. Apparently, this is a thing. And has been for at least seven centuries. My favorite was by Dairin Soto, who died in 1568 at the age of eighty-nine:

My whole life long I’ve sharpened my sword

And now, face to face with death

I unsheathe it, and lo – 

The blade is broken – 


A profoundly moving poem as I set about preparing a funeral eulogy for saint who had finally succumbed to prolonged illness. Rounding out, or undergirding, my week was the anthology of international poetry I keep at my bedside, which included work by Mitsuharu Kaneku, Tatsuji Miyoshi, Shunter Tanikawa, and Kazuko Shiraishi.

Stay safe and warm in this winter weather.


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