Yomimono in The Japan Times!

Kris Kosaka recently reviewed Yomimono #15 in The Japan Times. You can read what she had to say here.


Five Questions for Shogo Oketani

 Shogo Oketani was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1958. His great-grandmother was a geisha, and his great-grandfather was a gambler. He graduated from Keio University and spent over a decade as a staff writer for The Sangyo Times. He has been a translator for Apple, Eastman Kodak, The Mori Group, Lucasfilm, IBM, Hitachi, Applied Materials and LAM Research, and others.

Oketani is author of a collection of poems, Cold River, co-author of Designing with Kanji: Japanese Character Motifs for Surface, Skin & Spirit, and co-translator of America and Other Poems by Ayukawa Nobuo: 1947-1986, for which he received the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Award for the Translation of Japanese Literature, and a grant from the NEA.

His translations have appeared in Manoa, Another Chicago Magazine, The Poetry of Men’s Lives,  and  W. W. Norton’s Language for A New Century, among others. His essay on translation appeared in The Poem Behind the Poem: On Translating Asian Poetry (Copper Canyon).  His fiction has appeared in Wingspan (All Nippon Airline’s inflight magazine) Kyoto Journal, and Another Kind of Paradise: Short Stories from the New Asia-Pacific

His story “A Farewell in the Snow” appears in Yomimono #15. It will appear in slightly different form in his book J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, Tokyo 1965, which  is forthcoming in Summer, 2011 in English translation by Avery Fischer Udagawa with Stone Bridge Press.   

Oketani is a black belt in Karate and Shaolinquan and also practices Kendo and Judo. He teaches Self-Defense workshops at Sun and Moon Yoga in Tokyo and at various corporations.

What was the inspiration for your story?

This story is based on a memory from childhood. When I was ten years old, my classmate, whose father owned a local meat shop,  disappeared after summer vacation. We weren’t that close,  but we sometimes played together after school. Towards the end of summer vacation, I was walking along the street in the shopping district when I heard someone call my name. I looked around to find him in front of the shop. “Hey, did you finish your homework yet?” he asked. “No, not yet. I still have a lot to do!” I said. He laughed. “Me, too. See you at school in September.” That was it.

But he never came back to school. The teacher even tried to find him, but he’d completely disappeared. Later, another classmate told me that his father had mixed rabbit meat with pork meat at their shop, and  no one knew where his family had gone.  At the end of September, the teacher told us that his family had moved because of a family matter (katei no jijo). This memory stuck in my mind, so I used this episode in one of the stories of J-Boys. 

 Describe your writing space.

I mainly write at a kotatsu (heated table) in my home office,  sitting on the floor. I write by hand, vertically, with a fountain pen, on Japanese notepaper.  I’ve studied at a small Japanese desk on the tatami mat ever since I was a teenager, and I just got used to writing and thinking sitting on the floor. 

What are you working on now?

I’m working on edits to J-Boys.  I’m also writing a story about Kazuo, the main character in J-Boys, who is now in his fifties. And I plan to revisit a draft of a novel about an eccentric medieval Samurai lord, called Basara, and work on a sequel to a YA novel about a ninja that my wife (Leza Lowitz) and I wrote.

What’s the last book you’ve read?

Ant Soldiers (ari no heitai), a nonfiction book (also now a documentary) about soldiers who were forced to stay in China after WWII by top-ranking Japanese Army officials in order to fight with the Kuomintang against the Communist party. Even though the war had ended, the Japanese Army wanted to maintain Japanese military power in China and forced 2,600 soldiers to stay in Shantung province in China against the Potsdam Declaration.    

 What is your favorite place in Japan?

The back streets of Ginza in Tokyo. They’re very quiet and not so crowded. You can still feel the earthy atmosphere of old downtown Tokyo (shitamachi) there, even amidst the glamour of the Ginza.

You can buy a copy of Yomimono #15 here.

Five Questions for Morowa Yejide

Morowa Yejidé is a fiction writer and a native of Washington, D.C.  She was educated at Kalamazoo College, where she received a B.A. in International Relations, and graduated from the international exchange program at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan.  Her literary works have appeared in the Adirondack Review, Istanbul Literary Review, Underground Voices, Ascent Aspirations Magazine, the Taj Mahal Review, and the Willesden Herald. Her story, “Tokyo Chocolate,” about an African-American exchange student in Japan, appears in Yomimono #15.


What was the inspiration for your story?

 I think we discover many profound things in people and places that we least expect. For me, that place was the dining room table of a Japanese family that hosted my year-long exchange student experience. That table was the place where real and imagined history, dreams and disappointments, commonalities and differences all mixed together to reveal new truths. “Tokyo Chocolate” was a great way for me to look at the layers of that discovery through the eyes of a character in an unusual situation.  I wanted the reader to experience this situation as if it was a box being slowly unwrapped.  When we come to the end– along with the character– we discover something that maybe we hadn’t expected.  It was my desire to create this effect that inspired me to write “Tokyo Chocolate.”

Describe your writing space.

 I don’t have one specific writing space.  It often changes depending on my family and schedule.  I write when and where I can, which usually tends to be the dining room table, a pen and notebook in the bathtub, or my iPad.

 What are you working on now?

 A literary novel.

 What is the last book you read?

 Song for Night, by Chris Abani.  I love stories that depict the interior world of a character, and how that character projects that out into what is around them.  Chris Abani does this with beauty and precision.

What’s your favorite place in Japan?

 The shores of the Japan Sea.  I can still close my eyes and feel as if I’m standing on its black sands, with the brightly colored volcanic pebbles sprinkled about me.

Five Questions for Ann Tashi Slater

 Ann Tashi Slater is an Associate Professor of American Literature at Japan Women’s University in Tokyo. She did her BA in Comparative Literature at Princeton and her MFA in Fiction at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her publications include a story in American Dragons, an anthology of work by Asian American writers (HarperCollins). Her stories have also appeared in Painted Bride Quarterly and Private: A Journal of Arts and Literature. Her translation of a novella by Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas was published in Old Rosa: A Novel in Two Stories (Grove Press). Slater does radio and TV programs for NHK, and has also worked in Tokyo publishing and journalism. She’s Tibetan-American, was born in Spain, grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and has lived, traveled, and worked around the world in places including France, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Bali, India, and Tibet.  Her story “Things You Dreamed of and Things You Didn’t” appears in Yomimono #15.

1. What was the inspiration for your story?

 A trip I took years ago with my kids to see the Big Buddha in Kamakura. When we got there, my son—who was about three—stood at the foot of the Buddha, saying, “Where’s the Big Buddha? Where’s the Big Buddha?” It seemed like a very philosophical question at the time and still does!

2. Describe your writing space.

My writing space is a tatami room with a view of trees, sky, crows perched on rooftops and stone walls. It’s filled with things from my travels: a statue of Ganesh from India; a Mexican Day of the Dead tableau of a skeletal orchestra; a bird cage from Hong Kong. There are old family things—a Tibetan prayer wheel, my grandmother’s sandalwood rosary, photos from turn-of-the-century India and Tibet. And other photos: Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn on the Spanish Steps in Roman Holiday, a shot of elephants crossing the African plain. Lots and lots of books. A small sofa for napping . . . I mean, deep thinking. And always—under my desk or at the window watching the rain fall or sprawled on the tatami—my little Westie.

3. What are you working on now?

I recently finished a multi-generational novel based on the Tibetan side of my family and set around a funeral in Darjeeling; it’s about letting go of the past, how death gives us a chance to move forward. I’m now writing a travel memoir set in India, ranging from the byways of Old Delhi to the monasteries of Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama’s home-in-exile. I’m really enjoying writing this book. A travel memoir is shaped a lot like a novel, but non-fiction has its own challenges: how to bring a true story to life, transform it into art; how to find the story that lies beneath “what happened.”

4. What’s the last book you read?

Learning to Breathe: One Woman’s Journey of Spirit and Survival by Alison Wright. A memoir about the author’s road to recovery after she barely survived a horrific bus accident in Laos. This book made me think about how through faith—and what we do because of faith—we can change what seems to be our fate. Also, Olive Kitteridge, which I really enjoyed for its nuanced, precise illumination of the characters’ mental and emotional states. And I recently re-read the tour de force trilogy at the end of Unaccustomed Earth. Lahiri’s portrayal of Bengali immigrants in America, of how they navigate family and romantic relationships, loss and its aftermath, is deeply believable and very moving.

5. What’s your favorite place in Japan?

I love Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto. The wide veranda, the huge pillars, the cherry and maple trees, the view of the city. The two “love stones” at one of the shrines: pilgrims who walk the 18 meters from one stone to the other with their eyes closed will, it’s said, find true love.


Read the short short story “X-patriate” by Yomimono publisher/editor Suzanne Kamata in Monkeybicycle!


JAPLISH WHIPLASH, the long-awaited collection of poet Taylor Mignon, is reviewed in this past weekend’s Japan Times. You can read the review here.

Several poems in this collection were previously published in Yomimono. Mignon also contributes a new series of short poems, “The Saitama Suite,” to the current issue, which can be ordered here.

Where The Dog Star Never Glows: Stories by Tara L. Masih


In Tara L. Masih’s story “Suspended,” a woman accidentally drives her car off the road and is saved by a tree: “The old tree somehow knows to hold her just so, and when she focuses again, she finds her car is suspended, engine taking her nowhere.” Stuck in its branches, unable to move her body, she licks condensation from the window in order to survive. By the time she is rescued, she has formed a bond with the tree. The unnamed driver experiences a gamut of emotions – anger, fear, relief, love, joy and grief – all in the space of a couple of pages.

Masih, editor of the award-winning Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction is clearly in command of the short short form, but in this, her first full-length collection, she shows that she has the stamina and skills to sustain a longer narrative as well. “Delight,” which stretches out over 15 pages, is a fully realized- and delightful – love story featuring a young woman with a disability selling sweets at a seaside confectionary in Puerto Rico and a surfer from the States.

Although slim at 143 pages, this volume encompasses a breath-taking range of styles and settings. The title story takes place in a mining town in the late 1800s, while Champagne Water, one of the longer stories in the book, follows an American couple trying to save their marriage while on vacation in Dominica. “Memsahib” is told from the point of view a young girl living in a village at the foot of the Himalayas on the verge of Indian independence. In “Bird Man,” a woman visits Belgium and Holland, trying to figure out what became of her father during the war.

In every story, Masih evokes the natural world in creating a sense of place and also in creating character. In “Catalpa,” a man is defined in terms of his relationship to a tree, while “The Dark Sun” opens with an expat wife observing the migration of butterflies. In the latter, the narrator’s response to the flora of Mexico, as opposed to that of Canada, creates a sense of foreboding: “Such strange things grow here, so different from the delicate, almost puritan-like flowers in the east. I’m used to paper-petaled poppies; flax petals that fall in the lightest breeze; baby’s breath, an enormous lacy cloud made up of tiny clouds. Here, the brightness and heavy perfumes assail my senses. Bougainvillea chokes the house, portulaca’s fleshy branches spread like a weed along the driveway, and the pepper bushes, harmless now, will be a hazard to the baby.”

Where the Dog Star Never Glows provides a fine introduction to Masih’s poetic language, while taking the reader on a dazzling journey to distant landscapes and forgotten times. This is a stunning debut.

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