I was introduced to the Japanese language and culture when I was in third grade. Our teacher arranged for a Japanese woman to come in and teach us for one hour a week, and we began learning nihongo. I can still remember how to sing “Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes” in Japanese. I remember being introduced to items like kimonos and a tea ceremony.
That brief time of discovery eventually led me to anime and manga, which led me to re-start learning Japanese my freshman year in college. Unfortunately, although these are all still an interest of mine, I just have not put the time into them like I used to. That is changing. I am slowly making my way back to my love of all things Japanese thanks to a recent, and now favorite, read: “A Tale for the Time Being“ written by Ruth Ozeki. Told in alternating perspectives, the readers learn about Nao, Ruth, and of course, Japanese culture.
Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island, finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox one day, possibly washed ashore from the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Inside the box, Ruth finds treasures and a journal. As Ruth learns more and more about the journalist, the readers learn about Ruth, too, as she tries to help Nao.
Nao lives in Japan and she starts writing in her journal to tell all about her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun, but ends up telling her own story: about her dad’s depression, attempted suicides, and her own bullying and thoughts of suicide.
Throughout their two tales is the theme of time. A time being, we are told, “is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.” What is time? What is the relationship between the reader and the author? The past and the present? History and myth?
This book was well-paced and had me hooked from the very beginning. If you can, I’d recommend the audiobook as the author narrates it. There are footnotes and more information in the print version, making each version as unique as the tale itself.
“A Tale for the Time Being“, while dealing with the complex idea of time, also covers topics like mental health, what it is to be alive; all interspersed with bits of Japanese and the way of life in Nao’s town and Ruth’s town.
The novel hooked me from the very beginning and I was sad when it ended, but I loved hanging out with Nao and her great-grandmother and learning from them. It rekindled my interest in nihongo, anime, and Japanese literature. It made me realize that I miss learning the language and learning about the culture. My freshman year in college, I had a friend who would tutor me in Japanese, and we both decided to become Zen Buddhists. I had nearly forgotten about that time in my life, but “A Tale for the Time Being” reminded me of it, and now I feel the need to get back to these interests.Don’t be surprised if I start writing a few articles on anime and more. Until then, go get a copy of
Don’t be surprised if I start writing a few articles on anime and more. Until then, go get a copy of “A Tale for the Time Being” and let me know in the comments what you think about it.