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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Sheltering Rain

Hanmura Ryō

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To purchase The Sheltering Rain

Title: The Sheltering Rain
Author: Hanmura Ryō
Genre: Novel
Written: 1975 (Eng. 2019)
Length: 177 pages
Original in: Japan
Availability: The Sheltering Rain - US
The Sheltering Rain - UK
The Sheltering Rain - Canada
  • Japanese title: 雨やどり
  • Translated by Jim Hubbert

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Our Assessment:

B : fine neighbor-/liveli-hood novel of fast-changing Japan

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Sheltering Rain is a novel of post-war Shinjuku, the Tokyo entertainment district where after dark "distinctions are up for grabs, and boundaries are marked ambiguously", focused on the local bar-owners, hostesses, and customers. The novel consists of eight quite distinct chapters, as the work resembles a loosely connected story-collection. There is quite a bit of overlap however, and one character, Senda, features in most of the episodes, including several in which he is the main character, first as a bartender at The Pot Still and then as owner of his own bar, Lui.
       The dominant theme of The Sheltering Rain is inevitable change, and attempts to maintain the comfortably familiar. The first chapter, 'Pushover', already brings this strikingly to the fore, introducing Senda and the bar which he works at, a traditional small outfit in Shinjuku, but also featuring a hostess who can't help but be a pushover when it comes to men -- and who it seems defies time, standing out in a world where a constant complaint is over everyone's inevitable aging and how little remains the same. The local bars try to be islands of stability, despite a constant refrain that: "things are changing fast. For better or worse, no one can say", but the example in 'Pushover', of the one hostess who is all constancy, suggests that there's a disturbingly unnatural aspect to things not changing with the times.
       Shinjuku itself is in a constant state of flux in the novel, being reshaped, replacing the Ginza as the entertainment-heart of the city, and becoming more vibrant (and less seedy) with the expansion of the local trains stations -- which also brings more interest from outsiders, including gangsters. One episode specifically deals with a threat to a local, very traditional institution, with a much fancier club opening up next door -- and the local bar-owners and their clientele organizing to counter this out-of-place -- so they feel -- new establishment.
       There is some sense of a natural order and progression in the industry and area, specifically that those who work at a bar save up and eventually open up their own, but the examples here follow closely in established tradition -- so also Senda, when he finally opens his own place. The milieu Hanmura describes is a uniform one, even if the cast of characters around them differs from place to place, and they are also unified against the changes constantly encroaching on them -- even if there is only so much they can stem the tide. Nostalgia certainly pervades the local atmosphere.
       Several of the stories also revolve around romance and specifically marriage, a settling down that not all the characters find themselves capable of. Several are disappointed along the way, the ones they fall in love with proving unable to be true. Senda, too, mulls over staying single, and in the title-chapter has a fling that seems to be true love, leading him to consider settling down -- only to find that he's been used. This, too, is one of the chapters in which criminal activity figures at least in part of the episode, and Hanmura ties these instances in cleverly, the crimes and criminals repeatedly not quite what they first appear. So also when he introduces the "Sage of Shinjuku", who: "knows everything about its night life, every bar and club in the district [...] He's not a fortune-teller, but he has a discerning eye", to whom many locals go for advice, but who ultimately proves not to be as reliable as everyone had thought.
       The final chapter shifts to a first-person narrative, the narrator stumbling across (in Shinjuku, of course) an old friend from school, Komai Keisuke, whom he had not seen for some two decades. The narrator here works in finance, selling stocks, and it is Komai that is the would-be writer -- an amusing inversion of the usual rounding-off tale in which the author steps to the fore. Komei even introduces his old friend to bartender Senda -- "a character in a lot of my stories", he explains. Here the narrator -- married, with children -- enjoys a brief blast of the past and glimpse of how things went for Komei, but at the end is able to return to his staid domestic arrangement -- a nice way of rounding out the collection.
       The Sheltering Rain is a fine little panorama of its place and time -- and changing times -- with an appealing cast of characters from that scene. It gives good insight into the conditions and life in a rapidly modernizing Japan, during a time of great change, in quite well turned small episodes and stories.

- M.A.Orthofer, 17 November 2019

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The Sheltering Rain: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Hanmura Ryō (半村良) lived 1933 to 2002.

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© 2019-2021 the complete review

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