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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Fujisan

by
Taguchi Randy


general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Fujisan



Title: Fujisan
Author: Taguchi Randy
Genre: Stories
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 215 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Fujisan - US
Fujisan - UK
Fujisan - Canada
Fujisan - India
  • Japanese title: 富士山
  • Translated by Raj Mahtani

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Our Assessment:

B : solid collection; decent insight into parts of contemporary Japan

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

       Taguchi Randy's Fujisan is a collection of four longer stories, in all of which Mount Fuji somehow figures. Noting the central place this mountain holds for the Japanese people, Taguchi explains in her foreword that:

I wrote this anthology of stories as an expression of my veneration and appreciation for this life-affirming mountain; it is my personal tribute to Fujisan.
       The first story, 'The Blue Summit', is narrated by Okano. He is twenty-nine and a store clerk in a twenty-four-hour convenience store, most at ease in that sterile, neatly organized atmosphere there. The story opens with the well-ordered little universe briefly being upset, an event that brings a co-worker there, junior college student Kozue, closer to him. Both turn out to be somewhat damaged souls -- representative of contemporary Japan --, but while Okano -- the son of a doctor, and a one-time medical student -- seems to be adjusting to a sort of normality again, Kozue is having greater difficulty in the here and now. The calm, controlled Okano drifts repeatedly in his dreams and fantasy back to the previous stage of his life -- that saw him also in the shadow of Mount Fuji -- as it still has some hold on him, but Kozue's more immediate needs seem to help him move beyond it. Fearful as he is of human connection, she draws him out. Appealingly meditative, and skillfully layering past and present, 'The Blue Summit' is a very nice piece of work.
       'The Sea of Trees' is narrated by Jun, one of a trio of teenage students stuck in the Japanese system of endless rote learning who go off on an expedition to the 'Sea of Trees', the: "notorious woodland area of Mount Fuji" (well-known also as "suicide central"). One of them explains why he wanted to go there:
Because it's the nearest unexplored area to Tokyo, and it's a portal into the spiritual world
       Deep in the woods they confront parts of their own pasts -- each reveals a 'precious story', "secrets you've kept deep inside you, which you haven't told a single soul yet" -- and they then also stumble across something which proves to be even more of a challenge. Because of the youth of the characters, the weight -- and release -- of some of their burdens, new and old, doesn't seem entirely plausible, and it's the weakest story in the collection, but even here the details Taguchi offers, especially of the kids' lives -- and secondary characters, such as Jun's sister -- impress.
       'Jamila' is narrated by another twenty-something who has not been able to adapt to conventional adult life: uncomfortable in his job at a securities firm, he has now moved on to working in the municipal Office of Environmental Quality'. His big assignment is to clear out a local eyesore, the home of a woman he nicknames after the monster Jamila. She collects garbage -- real garbage -- and brings it home with her -- accumulating so much by now that:
The house of junk was disconnected from everyday life. The trash, estimated to be sixty tons' worth, was spilling over from the premises into the public road, where it bore an uncanny resemblance to the entrails of a road-killed cat.
       Apparently the authorities can't just clear the garbage out as a health hazard; they need the owner's permission. Eventually a woman is hired to help convince the garbage-hoarder -- a drawn-out process in which she slowly tries to gain her trust and then convinces her to let go of her trash.
       The narrator is an attractive man who had been pushed hard by his parents and has some success with women, but hasn't formed a lasting relationship and has few deep connections. As one former girlfriend put it:
Look, you're really cool and good-looking and all that, but there's nothing inside you. You're empty.
       He's not offended -- it rings too true -- but he doesn't know how to fill that void. It also leads him to being torn about what happens to Jamila: he understands, in a way, what she is doing. And, as he puts it:
Anything abnormal should be left in peace. It's safer that way.
       Trash -- real garbage -- as the detritus of our lives, collected and abandoned, is a quite effective symbol here. Mount Fuji figures in several different respects -- and one is that the deep forests around it apparently serve as: "ideal dumping grounds". As it turns out, this pristine and pure symbol of Japan is arguably also just: "a huge dumping ground".
       The final story, 'Child of Light', is narrated by a young nurse who works in a gynecological ward. On the one hand she is thrilled to be around babies being born -- but she also has to deal with the abortions being carried out there, which tear her apart. This story culminates in an ascent of Mount Fuji that she undertakes with a group of women (whom she barely knows); the sunrise at the peak proves to be a real (though perhaps too easy and obvious) eye-opener.
       Taguchi's protagonists are largely unfulfilled -- there's something missing to them, and their lives. They recognize that, too, and try to deal with in a variety of ways -- willing themselves to empty their minds of knowledge and memories, for example -- but are only partially successful. With relatively young protagonists, these stories are of rites of passages of sorts -- though without the promise of fulfilled advancement afterwards.
       Quite atmospheric, and with sharp personal detail -- often unpleasant, too: many of the secondary characters do harm to themselves, or occasionally to others -- these stories offer an interesting glimpse into parts of contemporary Japanese society and life, at least in isolation. Mount Fuji gently ties the collection together, looming over the stories but not imposed on them too artificially.
       A solid collection, with occasional flashes of considerable talent.

- M.A.Orthofer, 31 March 2013

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Links:

Reviews: Taguchi Randy: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Taguchi Randy (田口ランディ) was born in 1959.

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© 2013 the complete review

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