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Embracing Family by Nobuo Kojima

November 29, 2010

Next up on the Japanese Literature syllabus is Embracing Family by Nobuo Kojima. Set just after World War II in Japan, the novel explores the western influence in Japan and the dynamics of a struggling family, the Miwas. Shunsuke and Tokiko’s marriage is failing and the revelation that Tokiko had an affair with an American soldier simply adds to the confusion.  Their children, son Ryoichi and daughter Noriko, are lost in the shuffle. Couple that with Tokiko’s obsession with all things western, various houseguests, the construction of a new home and a breast cancer diagnosis, and you’ve got quite a lot sandwiched into this 161 page novel.

Embracing Family has a lot going on, but I can’t say I was that enthralled with the story. I didn’t care for any of the characters – Tokiko was so aggressive, dismissive and just mean, that I wasn’t routing for her. Shunsuke was so meek and pathetic that I didn’t care when Tokiko (and everyone else in the book) picked on him.

One of Kojima’s major themes is the western influence on Japan and its people. Set immediately after World War II and written in 1965, Kojima’s commentary on the situation is clear. Tokiko is enamored of western culture – in fact she even has an affair with an American soldier and demands the family’s home be constructed in a western style. Shunsuke spends much of the novel mourning the loss of his family as he knew it and working to restore order to the home. Kojima’s choice of characterization is interesting – Tokiko, the “westernised” character, is aggressive and unlikeable and fights an unwinning battle with breast cancer, while Shunsuke, the conservative, traditional Japanese character, is a meek pushover who can’t stand up to his domineering wife. Hmmmm wonder how Kojima felt about the westernization of Japan 🙂

Although this wasn’t my favorite book, some of the cultural differences between Japan and American and even post World War II and today was pretty funny to read in print. When Tokiko is dying, Shunsuke tells his children not to be too sad and now they can “grow up.” The idea of remarriage as simply something that should be done so there’s a woman in the house and the half-contrived effort at dating is pretty humorous to read. This is not on the top of my recommendations list, but Embracing Family was certainly an interesting read.

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