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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Nipponia Nippon

Abe Kazushige

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Title: Nipponia Nippon
Author: Abe Kazushige
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001 (Eng. 2023)
Length: 155 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Nipponia Nippon - US
Nipponia Nippon - UK
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from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Japanese title: ニッポニアニッポン
  • Translated by Kerim Yasar

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Our Assessment:

B+ : neatly constructed, and well done

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Nipponia Nippon takes its title from the scientific designation for the crested ibis -- Nipponia nippon. The name is, of course, freighted with meaning: 'nippon' is the Japanese word for 'Japan'. But the bird, this most Japanese of Japanese (at least in designation) creature: "became extinct in Japan in 1981 and the birds are only bred in Shaanxi Province, China".
       Seventeen-year-old protagonist Haruo Toya feels an affinity for them, one that began when he learned in his surname, Toya (鴇谷), the first kanji (鴇): "could also be read as toki, the meaning of which was "crested ibis"". They became something of an obsession with him -- leading to him reaching the point when the novel opens, where:

     Haruo Toya narrowed his options down to three: breed them, free them, or kill them.
       In fact, only the latter two are possibly realistic options: even Haruo realizes that, even though there are only a few of them in all of Japan, he couldn't bring the birds to his six-mat room in Tokyo, and that even elsewhere he wouldn't really know how to go about taking care of them. So his plan is reduced to either freeing them or killing them. In both cases, he would have to go to the Sado Island Crested Ibis Conservation Center, the one place in Japan where they had some crested ibises and where they are trying to get them to breed. Still, readers must be wondering why Haruo feels compelled to take action of this sort -- there is, after all, a sensible fourth option: just leave the damn birds be.
       Only slowly do we learn more about Haruo and his unusual situation. It seems odd, for example, that a seventeen-year-old boy is living by himself in Tokyo, quite far away from his family. Even when some bits are revealed, there's obviously more behind the story:
He dropped out of high school and moved from his hometown to Tokyo, beginning a life on his own. This hadn't been his idea; it was his parents', which he'd agreed to.
       Only slowly does Abe fill in some of the missing details, making for a fuller picture. Haruo's crested ibis-fantasy is also given a bit more context:
     For the moment, the excitement of finding a radical ambition in life overshadowed all of his darker emotions. The mere thought of how he would rip that human script to pieces thrilled hm. Lurking within that thrill was the dream of the shock and despair his actions would leave behind, of the deepest emotions he would agitate. And of the hope he would no longer be kept apart from Sakura Motoki.
       Ah, so there's a girl involved ! But, again, Abe bides his time in revealing the nature of their relationship and what might have gone wrong -- and, eventually, just how big (or small ...) his chances of ever seeing her again are. And, the more that is revealed -- and the closer Haruo gets to accomplishing his mission -- the darker things get. And they get very dark: "His rage was indiscriminate. The hatred coursing through his body was propulsive".
       The crested ibises don't help when they start mating. Virgin Haruo feels betrayed -- even the birds are having sex, and he isn't ! (Abe's narration has an odd tone at times, but does help keep the story, with its overheated protagonist, on an even keel, as he comments here, for example: "His criticism was wildly misdirected, but Haruo didn't have the intellectual tools to comprehend that. Indignation gushed forth as if from a burst dam, and this overwhelmed his reason".)
       Though his parents set him up with a job in Tokyo, that doesn't last long. Without any friends, his computer and internet connection are his main link to the world beyond his room -- and though:
He wasn't a complete recluse, a real hikikomori, nor was he obsessed with the ibises 24/7, but as one month led to the next and then the next, the ibises became the main focus of his attention.
     At the end of January 2001, Haruo had settled on "the final solution" to "the Nipponia nippon problem."
       He works steadily towards it, purchasing weapons he might need to use (and practicing using them), even getting his driver's license -- since he decides that he will need to drive the last bit to the Conservation Center (and then also to make his getaway). It is several months then before he can put his plan into action, but he does, setting out for Sado Island. Along the way, he encounters a young girl who is also traveling on her own, and who has a mission of her own she wants to accomplish on Sado Island, but despite this distraction Haruo is more or less able to proceed according to plan.
       Even as the narrative proceeds chronologically, Abe does not always immediately reveal everything that happens. The details of what Haruo learns while at the driver training camp he attends, for example, are only revealed retrospectively. It's an effective technique that Abe handles quite well, dropping bits of information (such as about Sakura Motoki) along the way whose meaning is then only later fully explained. Only in the novel's denouement does he perhaps overdo it, with a final twist that doesn't entirely work.
       If aspects of Haruo's lifestyle seem unrealistic -- such as the extent to which his parents give him space (even as they generously subsidize him) --, on the whole Abe captures the disaffected, tortured youth very well. If Haruo's plan seems a bit harebrained, Abe nevertheless presents his obsession as plausible, not least in presenting some of Haruo's own diary-entries. Meanwhile, the narrative voice that also comments on Haruo's thoughts and actions serves as an excellent counterweight.
       Much in Nipponia Nippon is really very well done, and if Abe ultimately can't entirely pull it off, it's still a solid novella.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 September 2023

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Nipponia Nippon: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Abe Kazushige (阿部和重) was born in 1968.

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© 2023 the complete review

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