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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Shade of Blossoms

Ooka Shohei

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To purchase The Shade of Blossoms

Title: The Shade of Blossoms
Author: Ooka Shohei
Genre: Novel
Written: 1961 (Eng. 1998)
Length: 128 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Shade of Blossoms - US
The Shade of Blossoms - UK
The Shade of Blossoms - Canada
L'ombre des fleurs - France
  • Japanese title: Kaei
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Dennis Washburn
  • First serialized in Chuo koron in 1958-9, and then published in book-form 1961
  • Includes the Author's Postscript to the 1972 limited edition

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Our Assessment:

B : good but sombre story of aging bar hostess

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Shade of Blossoms is set in 1950s Japan, mainly in the Tokyo-Ginza bar and nightclub milieu. The central character is Yoko. Already in her late thirties, she has worked as a nightclub hostess all her life, but unlike most of her colleagues has never managed to either get a man to take her away from all this, or to set her up with her own place. She's wilful, and unwilling (and unable) to make the necessary compromises. With her looks (and thus her potential to be a nightclub draw) diminishing, her situation looks ever bleaker.
       There are others in her circle who are little better off, most notably Professor Takashima Kenzo, who "had once been called a prodigy in the world of antiquities, but that was ancient history." Involved in a complicated property dispute, he has squandered most of his money and barely gets by. His gambling habit (and his habit of borrowing money from his friends) don't help matters either. Yoko stands by this particular man -- one she is not romantically (or at least sexually) involved with -- though it's ultimately not a friendship that helps her much.
       A stark contrast is Junko, who has parlayed her hostess earnings into a bigger fortune, and uses both Yoko (whom she employs when she opens a new club) and Takashima for her own ends. She's driven, and successful -- but even she isn't happy.
       "Yoko had never become an adult" -- a big problem as she ages. It's not that she's childish, but that she doesn't understand the obligations and responsibilities of adulthood. A husband could shelter her, and though she considers marriage that's ultimately not something she can embrace either. But, unfortunately, she can't take advantage of her position either: rather than earning well (and saving the money) from being a hostess she repeatedly flees "into the life of a kept woman" -- the worst of all the possible worlds.
       Ooka describes her life in these later years, her position (like Takashima's) becoming more vulnerable as age creeps up on her. She is still attractive, and she still finds some men who fawn over her and desire her, but she does not find what she truly wants.
       The world around Yoko is changing, the Ginza now neon-lit and the centre of activity shifting -- something Junko understands and uses to her advantage, but which leaves Yoko feeling only more unsettled. Without any true family, and unable to find (or hold onto) a man who could help her, her isolation only grows. The ending is not an unexpected (and not a happy) one.
       Ooka tells this sombre tale well, and it is a good character study of the troubled Yoko. Readers are perhaps expected to be familiar with the Japan of this time, as Ooka does not focus as much as might be expected on this fast-changing society; those that aren't might wish for a bit more background and development.
       Not very uplifting, but an interesting slice of modern Japanese life.

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Ooka Shohei: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Ooka Shohei (1909-1988) was a leading Japanese author.

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