Kaiju Unleashed! Free E-Book Giveaway For March Only

It’s done! My final volume of the Lucky Cat Series, Lucky Cat and the Kaiju Horde, is now available in print and e-book formats at Amazon.com:

(Did that link show up properly? If not, you can head on up to the menu at the top of this page where it says books and hit the “Lucky Cat Series” from the drop down menu or just go to Amazon to find it directly.)

For the month of March only, I’m partnering with Voracious Readers Only to do a special edition e-book omnibus giveaway of The Lucky Cat Series. That is, all four volumes compiled into one e-book for a limited release only. Sign up to get your copy here, which will also get you on my newsletter mailing list:


I haven’t gotten around to preparing the book trailer for the third installment yet, but here’s Kirkus Review’s take on Lucky Cat and the Gods of War, which I’m pleased to say they clearly liked. It’s great to see people getting into the series:


As I close out the series with this volume, let me say a few words about my inspiration for some parts of it. Of course, my research and presentation of the Godzilla franchise certainly has been influential, especially on volume 4 where things really get crazy with the kaiju, but I also just finished binge-watching all of the currently available seasons of “Attack on Titan” for more inspiration. My haunted, chic ball-joint doll set I feature as the antagonist/protagonists certainly have some direct influence, though I would say the beautiful puppets in “Thunderbolt Fantasy” are a bigger inspiration. The doll design was particularly inspired, too, by a really impressive South Korean doll maker, Iple House, in Seoul, which has an incredibly beautiful type of ball-joint doll they make, especially their doll Miho, which you can still get a look at here:

The photos of the doll version in her black lace and red number were very much what I had in mind as a starting point for the Empress’ design. Their male dolls are equally amazing, and I just wanted to give a shout out to them for their great work. I don’t think I’ve seen dolls more beautiful and realistic anywhere. Of course, the Empress’ haunting form was strongly influenced by the Umbrella Goddess of Japanese anime series “Yamishibai,” so if you want to explore some possible elaboration on that character, you could check out The Lucky Cat Series, though the head tilt and intimidating style of the character is probably the only resemblance.

I also kept the Just War Theory in mind when writing this series, too:


I’ve already talked at length about the real-world totalitarian state angle of the project at length, so I thought I’d give you some insight into other aspects of the series this time.

Now, let me also announce my upcoming panels for Tekko. I will be speaking on the following topics:

Japanese Castles

The Westernization of East Asia

Buddhism 101

Thunderbolt Fantasy and East Asian Puppetry

I will be back to my normal blogging around April 1st, though I should have a post or two before that comes about.

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2020 Schedule and Publication News

I’m going a little slow on my reading schedule for this blog for the moment as I get the final volume of The Lucky Cat Series finished up. I should be done with that in a few weeks along with some related videos, illustrations, etc.

My schedule of appearances for the first half of the year is shaping up as follows:

Tekko, April 2-5, 2020

Steel City Con, April 17-19, 2020

Momento Con, May 9-10, 2020

3 Rivers Comic Con, May 30-31, 2020

Living Dead Weekend Monroeville, June 12-14, 2020

I also have started a newsletter for subscribers called the Scholar’s Circle in late 2018 that is semi-annual. It often focuses on cultural and historical topics, depending on what I want to do. If you would like to subscribe to it or get back issues, drop me a line at icepinepalace at yahoo dot com. Past issues include a focus on Asian tea culture, Silk Road music, and topics in bilingualism and foreign language education, a topic I will revisit again as I feel a need to return to it. I think for 2020 I need to address some historical topics that I think are being ignored in public discourse these days to everyone’s detriment, and I’m going to go out of range a little with the next one to cover topics like the history of the NAACP, some select civil rights leaders, and basic genetics and historical intermarriage patterns in East Asia. The second one for the year will probably look at East Asian immigration history. My recent bilingualism newsletter looked at little known laws surrounding foreign language education in America in the early 20th century and the historical reasons for the aggressive monolingualism of the Anglosphere, so be sure to get on my mailing list if any of those topics are of interest.  

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Slaughter at Yeoraesa Temple and the Search for Munno – Queen Seondeok, Vol. 2 – Part 1

We’re kicking off 2020 by returning to last year’s Korean selection, Eunkyeong Ryu’s Queen Seondeok (류은경의 “선덕여왕”), which is a novelized version of the Korean TV show by the same name. This story comes in a three volume set, and I will look at volume 2 next.

To recap since I didn’t continue with the series later in the year last year as planned, the story takes place in the Silla Era with the Queen of Silla giving birth to a set of twins that they separate since they are in a power struggle with Mishil, the leader of the Hwarang fighting force and former concubine of a deceased Silla king. The King keeps his daughter Princess Cheonmyeong and sends his second daughter off with palace lady-in-waiting Sohua with the help of the revered Hwarang leader, Munno. Once the second princess, only known as Deokman and raised in Central Asia in a Silk Road caravan town, Mishil’s agents have traced her. After a series of misfortunes and Sohua’s death, Deokman goes in search of Munno, uncertain of who her father may be, and meets Princes Cheonmyeong along the way, though neither of them know who the other really is.

Turning to chapter 1 in this volume, “A Fated Encounter,” I realize I must have skimmed the end of volume 1 too quickly, because we’re starting in a very dramatic, ugly place with volume 2, and I wasn’t prepared for that. I haven’t watched the series in quite a long time, and maybe I should refresh my memory, but chapter 1 starts with 5 scenes worth spending some time on.

In scene 1, we begin with a description of a midsummer day at what is probably a Buddhist temple called Yeoraesa. The description of the scene includes a “sea of blood,” assassins and a massacre. Deokman is there, and she leaps up the main sanctuary’s stone steps. A clanging sound can be heard in the distance, and the assassins disappear.

At this point, Deokman heads straight for Yeoraesa, looking for the man she thinks is her father, Munno. She is surrounded by corpses covered with black flies and the fishy smell of blood in the intense heat in the temple’s garden. She can hardly believe a great man like Munno could have been killed in this attack since he is a Hwarang leader with an extensive background in the martial arts. Tears are running down her cheeks as she looks over the dead bodies to find him.

When she finds one man who is still alive but near death, she asks whether Munno survived and says he is her father. The dying person is certain Munno wasn’t there during the massacre and asks if she is really his daughter. Near the end of scene, Deokman snatches an ornamental knife she finds in the garden.

The story returns to Mishil’s palace in the next scene. Mishil is wearing a wide, floral print skirt, and she’s talking with Sejong and Misaeng about her son Bojong, who has disappeared. Bojong is known to have a calm demeanor and superior skill at the military arts, so they are concerned that he disappeared, which is also connected to the massacre at the Yeoraesa temple in Gongju.

Mishil also speculates that Prince Yongchun and Princess Cheonmyeong have an illicit relationship although they are in laws, and Misaeng mentions that Cheongmyeong also went missing after she fell off a cliff, but no one knows if she died or survived the fall.  Seolwon goes to look for Bojong.

In scene three, we go back to the Silla palace and King Jinpyeong, who drops a cup of wine as he speaks with Prince Yongchun about Princess Cheonmyeong’s disappearance. He wants to know why she went to Yeoraesa Temple, and Yongchun tells him she went to meet Munno. This news surprises Jinpyeong, but Yongchun says she has wanted to meet Munno for a year and had gathered intelligence that he was at Yeoraesa. Both men think she fell off the cliff there at a place called Mannogun. They then talk about the kings of the other kingdoms of Baekjae and Koguryeo.

The next scene appears to be a flashback with Yongchun with Princess Cheonmyeong at Mannogun. They are with Kim Yusin’s mother Wife Manmyeong, who is married to Kim Seohyeon. She doesn’t realize at first that the weeping girl with them is a princess of Silla. Their discussion ranges from Silla’s royal family, Mishil, and the Hwarang as Kim Yusin himself arrives.  

The final scene in the chapter shows an injured Bojong among a pile of corspes. Deokman is there with a male friend Jukbang, and Jukbang takes Bojong’s amber ring before they leave the area.

Chapter 2, “A Deal With the Enemy,” opens with Mishil having an audience with King Jinpyeong and Queen Maya about the disappearance of their children. Queen Maya is tearful and heartbroken over the situation, and King Jinpyeong is also very depressed. The second scene shows more of these characters, but I’m going to stick with the juicier subplot with Deokman and the Princess.

We get back to Deokman in the chapter’s third scene where she’s traveling with two men, Jukbang and Kodo. Jukbang still has Bojong’s ring, and they’re looking for somewhere to sell it in the Eastern Market. Later in the scene, there’s an extended description of a victim of the Yeoraesa Temple massacre who owned the ornamental knife Deokman took. At the time, she is concerned he might regain consciousness, but he doesn’t recover.

In the next few scenes, the missing characters Bojong and Princess Cheonmyeong return to the palace. First, Mishil and her coterie go to visit Bojong, who gets very emotional and cries as they discuss Munno and Yeoraesa. Then, the next scene begins with a description of a pine forest known as Cheonkyeongrim, located in Gyeongju, and contains a few references to the northern and southern skies. Of course, astronomy is central to the plot of this series since there’s the prophecy of the rise of Mishil’s enemy when the stars of the Big Dipper change. After a brief description of the people of the land and some commentary on the kings of Silla, Deokman and Cheonmyeong appear near a stream that passes by Heungryusa Temple, a large temple situated in Gyeongju during the Silla era. Deokman tells her she’s now safe, but Yongchun chides Deokman for speaking so casually to the princess. Deokman is surprised to hear that Cheonmyeong is a princess.

They talk about Munno, Yeoraesa Temple, and how members of the Hwarang massacred the monks there. Deokman says she hates the Hwarang and doesn’t want to live with them, and Cheonmyeong asks if she has given up on meeting Munno in that case. Deokman says she hasn’t, and Cheonmyeong promises to show Deokman books written by Munno that are kept in a library. Deokman says she prefers to stay with Jukbang and his brother since she’s more comfortable around them. Finally, Cheonmyeong asks Deokman to give her Bojong’s ring and the ornamental knife, which Deokman does still have, and she hands them over.  

The final scene of the chapter shows Mishil going to Cheonmyeong’s palace with a bowl of honeyed fruit juice as an offering. She finds Cheyonmyeong there, and they chat a bit. Mishil asks if she remembers the prediction she made to the princess years before. Chyeonmyeong says she does, mentions the Big Dipper, and says that Mishil encouraged her to flee her fate and run away from the palace. They also discuss Kim Seohyeon’s family briefly and refer to a cover up of the Yeoraesa Temple massacre.

This is where I’m going to stop for the first installment of this series. We’ll continue it in the next post.

Part one of a three part series.

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An Ominous Murder Attempt – Land, Vol.6, Part 6

I’m going to quickly finish up this volume of the second story arc of Kyeongni Park’s Land series (박경리의《토지》) this time. The rest of part 5 has 10 more chapters to review, which is the end of the story arc. There are three main storylines that come up in this part of the novel and intertwine: Gilsang and Seohui, Lee Yong and his family, and Kim Dusu.

We start off with chapter 2, “Traveling to Harbin.” Gilsang is in the Chinese city of Harbin, looking at a map and the houses surrounding him. It’s a middle class district, and a woman asks who he is looking for. She confuses him at first since she is Chinese yet speaking to him in the Joseon language. She asks if he’s looking for Mr. Song, and when he says he is, she tells him to wait.

A Chinese girl opens the door to a house and speaks Chinese with the woman then tells them to enter. Song Janghwan is there, and the woman who led Gilsang there appears to go by the name Sunyang. They discuss meeting Kihua and how Sunyang had learned to speak the Joseon language, which turns out to be because Sunyang isn’t really Chinese. Finally, after talking about a number of other topics, Gilsang asks what items Kim Hunjang left. Song Janghwan says they are written documents, which appear to have something to do with the independence movement. Towards the end, the sound of the wind outside indicating the coming of winter is emphasized.

Chapter 3, “The Last Report,“ has 2 segments. The first one shows Kim Dusu now as head police officer, and he feels the world is ridiculous as he leaves the police station. He’s starting to resemble his father as he approaches 40 years old, and he likes running into Japanese soldiers on the street. The police post wasn’t great, but Kim Dusu felt lucky to get it given his regular education and Joseon nationality. The police needed a Joseon officer who spoke both Japanese and Chinese.

Kim Dusu asks someone if they saw Geumnyeo in Harbin. The person answers they aren’t sure if the person they saw was her or not because she looked Chinese. When they ask Kim Dusu if it’s possible she is hiding with Yoon Yibyeong disguised as a Chinese woman, Kim Dusu laughs then becomes enraged and threatens to grab the wench alive rather than kill her outright. He promises she will die by his hands eventually, however.              

In the second segment, Kong Noin is looking for Gilsang. He finds Seohui with Yoonguk and talks with Seohui about Gilsang’s trip to Harbin to look at Kim Hunjang’s personal effects. They chat a bit about how Bongsoon (aka Kihua, though they don’t call her that here) is doing these days then laugh together before he leaves.

I’m skipping the next three chapters since they get into the convoluted storyline of Lee Yong and company. The other subplots are more interesting, so I’ll stick with those for now.

In chapter 7, “Looking For Someone,” the story transitions from a few pages about Lee Yong then moves on to Gilsang and his son Hwanguk in the spring after Gilsang has returned from Harbin three times. He now is arranging some books in the main quarters of the house with Hwanguk asking him about his trip. Then the household servant arrives to tell Gilsang that someone has come to speak with him. It’s Kong Noin and Kim Hwan. They talk about the characters from the old Choi Champan household, and by the end of the chapter, Gilsang and Kim Hwan end up spending three days and nights drinking together.   

In chapter 8, “Memory of a Familiar Face,” Seohui asks Gilsang about the guest in the main section of the house. When she goes herself to see the guest, it’s Kim Hwan, but his resemblance to her late grandmother Wife Yoon confuses her terribly to the point where she refers to him as “grandmother” 할머님, halmonim.

As they talk, Kim Hwan explains how he has traveled from Jirisan (Mt. Jiri) to Myohyangsan (Mt. Myohyang) to see the sights. It seems that Gilsang went with their guest to Harbin on business, and Seohui becomes very angry about the situation. The text briefly mentions the children: Yoonguk is sleeping while Hwanguk is out in the garden playing with a dog. It mentions again that Seohui is afraid for some reason, but she’s afraid because she loves her husband and children.

Kong Noin is also there, and Seohui asks him if he went with their guest to Jirisan before putting it together that the guest is related to Kim Kaeju and Wife Yoon and that he is Kim Kaeju’s only son. For some reason, Kim Hwan also goes by the name Kucheon, and the ending of this chapter emphasizes that and has one of the characters questioning Seohui’s memory. (I should note the text also refers to Kim Hwan in places as Hwani, too, so it makes the story even harder to follow.)

Gilsang and Seohui Confront Kim Hwan

Chapter 9, “Human Limitations,” shows Gilsang on another trip to Harbin, most of which covers some of Gilsang’s conversation with Kim Hwan, but things really heat up in chapter 10, “Kim Dusu.” Geumnyeo goes to the market to shop for tangerines, and Kim Dusu is following her. He ends up following Geumnyeo down a deserted street to her house.

When she finally turns and their eyes meet, they talk a bit, and she asks if he has come to see her. In response, he asks her when she turned into a Chinese woman. She answers that she isn’t a Korean, that she went there to stand in as an adopted daughter to a childless couple.  Then she takes a revolver out of her basket and shoots Kim Dusu in his thigh.

Geumnyeo Shoots Kim Dusu

Once the deed is done, Geumnyeo rushes into one of the buildings and locks the door against him, calling calls for a Chinese woman. A fifty something woman appears, and Geumnyeo tells the woman she killed someone whom she doesn’t name. It would seem she means Kim Dusu.

The Chinese woman goes out and discovers Kim Dusu didn’t die but was taken to a hospital after many people had gathered. She reports it back to Geumnyeo. A quick reference to Sunyang in this scene connects the characters back to the Chinese woman Gilsang met in Harbin in an earlier chapter mentioned above, suggesting maybe that he had met Geumnyeo on that visit.

In the chapter’s second scene, Kim Dusu dreams of his late father Kim Pyeongsan, his mother Hamantaek and brother Keobok. The bullet only went through the flesh and hadn’t hit a bone, but he was now in the hospital. His injury wasn’t serious even if he was worried of being harmed further. He goes into a monologue about how Geumnyeo had a gun, talking to his dead father and family, and so on.

The final chapter, “Like An Arrow,” has 4 segments, all following Seohui and Gilsang’s storyline, which here mostly shows the two boys wondering where their father is after he went back to Harbin with Kim Hwan.

We’ll look at the next story arc in the series in 2020.  Happy New Year!

Part six of a six part series.

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Plans to Leave Home, Plans to Return Home – Land, Vol.6, Part 5

Our final scheduled selection for 2019 is the last volume of the second story arc of Kyeongni Park’s Land series (박경리의《토지》), and it begins in the last few chapters of part 4, “Yongjingcun and Seoul.” Yongjingcun was a city in China not far from Korea. Jilin Province in what used to be Manchuria in China was a popular place for Koreans living under Japanese occupation to live, and I assume this city was in that region – the transliteration of the name in Korean is Yongjeongchun, not that that really makes anything clearer. This volume starts off with a chapter about some new characters we haven’t encountered yet, so I’m going to move on and stick with the ones we’ve already become familiar with over the first and second story arc.

The second chapter, “Shower of Love,” returns to Kihua’s storyline. The first scene shows someone asking Kihua about her plans to go to Jeonju. The text notes that Sanghyeon had been studying the Japanese language and left for Japan, but that Seo Widon who had been studying Japanese with him stayed behind in Seoul because he couldn’t forget Kihua and has a one-sided love affair with her. The chapter turns out to be a conversation between Seo Widon and Kihua. With the missing dialogue tags, it takes a little while to figure out who is talking.

This day, Seo Widon is visiting Kihua and drinking, but she is due to leave the city to study singing under Kwon Bongteuk. Seo Widon tells Kihua that he is thinking about going to Japan, too, like Sanghyeon. She thinks it’s a good idea, but she wonders what she would do there if she went with him, and he says she could attend an arts school there. Then she suggests if they go to Manchuria. He wonders what she would do there, and she mentions opening a restaurant. Their conversation is interrupted by Kong Noin’s arrival and announcement that Seohui gave birth to a son.

In the next segment, Kong Noin goes to Im Yeokkwan’s house to speak with him. They talk about Kihua and the loan Im Yeokkwan gave to Cho Jungu that they feel he can’t even pay back the interest on. They also talk about Japanese merchants. This scene continues into the next chapter, “Gangwon-do Ginseng Longevity,” with them talking about the same subjects in more depth. I should note the text uses a derogatory term for the Japanese here, since of course Joseon was still under Japanese rule at the time this story arc is set, and the Koreans weren’t happy about it. I would guess the whole situation regarding the colonization of the peninsula will get a lot tenser in the next few story arcs as the novel moves into the early 20th century.

In the second segment of the chapter, Kong Noin returns to a peddlers’ inn to stay overnight before searching for a particular house that Kihua had given him information on. He ends up speaking with Eoksui about a number of other characters.

Yoon Tojip and his wife drying red peppers

The next chapter, “A Hero’s Son,” starts with Yoon Tojip’s wife drying red peppers out in the garden when Monk Hyegwan arrives and waits for Yoon Tojip in the men’s quarters. They joke about getting eaten by tigers on Jirisan, but Monk Hyegwan chides him for not sending news when he returned from the Kando region, which is the southeastern part of Jilin. Among the interesting topics the men discuss are the doctrinal differences and similarities between the new Tonghak faith and Buddhism, Confucianism, and Christianity. They discuss the social position of a few people they know in the Tonghak Movement, like Mr. Unbong and Kim Hwan, and Yoon Tojip seems surprised to hear that Kim Hwan isn’t higher up than his rank. The text gets dense and philosophical here with some detailed historical references regarding the Tonghak, so I’m not sure if they’re talking about the Taiping Rebellion in China or the actual doctrine of heaven among the faiths. However, they are making comparisons between the people of China and the people of Joseon. They finish up by talking about Cho Jungu and his debt when Kong Noin arrives looking for Kim Hwan. 

Segment two continues with Kong Noin walking on a mountain path where he meets Kim Hwan. They sit under a tree and chat about the old days at the Choi Champan household with Kucheon and Byeoldangasshi. As they smoke together, they also talk about being eaten by tigers on Jirisan before moving on to discuss the deaths of Kim Kaeju and Choi Chisu. At the end they discuss going to Seoul together.

This part of the story ends and a new one begins. Part 5, “Over the Years,” starts off with a chapter called “Premonition.” This chapter only has one scene, but it’s kind of interesting. At the beginning, we see Gilsang drinking too much and sleeping a bit. He later interacts with Seohui and his two sons Yoonguk and Hwanguk as Seohui is feeding the children. It seems they are now living with their family in China.  

Gilsang leaves the room where his wife and children are because he is very melancholy and is losing hope. He sees trouble ahead rather than a new dawn, and the passage is an extended description of the “night” he feels in his heart. He hears crying all night in the forest. The images of his family’s faces flash before his eyes and ponders the way Seohui cares for them herself instead of a nanny.

He also thinks about some other things that happened as well was Okineo and Oki.  At some point, Gilsang goes to the ferry to meet Okineo and learns that Oki is working for an American Christian pastor at a church school. He thinks it would be easy to find the American pastor again in Harbin and wonders if he should look for him. At that point, Gilsang leaves the forest.

Seohui leaves, too, and takes a rickshaw. Like Gilsang, she is also worried and wonders if Gilsang will take the family back to Joseon. It seems the past ten to fifteen years have been difficult.  She notes that Gilsang is neither an aristocrat, a commoner, nor a servant; neither rich nor poor; and not a patriot or traitor.

The rickshaw stops in front of the Japanese consulate, and Seohui gets out with her two sons. The text describes her hanbok and how happy everyone is to see her beauty. I’m not going to scan the drawing for this part, but it shows her in her hanbok greeting a woman in a kimono outside of a building near a carriage, so it is notable that she’s wearing her national dress in such a locale as Yongjingcun. She goes in, and it turns out that the upper class Japanese wives have a regular meeting day at the consulate once a month in the form of some sort of church event since they are lonely. Apparently both the Koreans and the Chinese usually ignored the Japanese. Seohui was the only Joseon woman to attend the meeting of around ten people.

Later that night when she gets home, Gilsang tells her he is going to Harbin. She asks him why, and he says, and he mentions that Song Janghwan has some belongings of Kim Hunjang that he wants to go see. Next time, we’ll find out what’s really in Harbin.

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Kumori and the Lucky Cat Named to Kirkus Review’s List of the 100 Best Indie Books of 2019!

I got great news last month that my novella Kumori and the Lucky Cat, volume 1 of my Lucky Cat Series, was put on Kirkus Review’s Best Indie Books of 2019. They only select 100 out of all of the books they review for the year in a few different categories, and I think this year that was a total of around 7,000 books. It’s a great honor, and it gives me a lot of incentive to finish the last book in the series; I’m nearly finished with the first draft of book 4 and should have it ready to go soon.

Kirkus Review also recently reviewed the second novel in my Lucky Cat Series, Lucky Cat and the Snow Maiden’s Vengeance, and the review can be found here:


This is one of those moments where I wish the review were longer and more detailed. Volume 2 takes a turn into traditional horror and begins to use my favorite Japanese horror writer Fuyumi Ono’s tactic of writing from an interfaith perspective, though I don’t get detailed with that aspect too much. I really just wanted to dig deeper into the cultural landscape of East Asia, to figure out how I wanted to represent the major faiths of the regions I was featuring in each subplot along the Shinto-Buddhist-Christian axis, and as a nod to the interfaith nature of the real-life resistance movements against the various totalitarian states I’ve been highlighting in my supplemental study guide.

Some of the tropes in the series starting with this volume will be familiar to anyone who read my gothic horror novel, The Haunting at Ice Pine Peak, since I felt I wasn’t done with some of those ideas. I wanted to explore a darker version of that basic story premise this time, moving from a sympathetic, romantic ghost to something more sinister and driven.

Along with the new cover and edition, which will be ready by the end of the year, I also released a new book trailer for Lucky Cat and the Snow Maiden’s Vengeance:

I should have some reading videos ready to go on this volume soon, too. People ask me sometimes if I have audio books, but I don’t, and although these videos are only excerpts, they are good resources for people who need to listen rather than read.

I’ll be finishing up the year’s reading schedule this week with a few posts on the final volume of the second story arc on Land, so stay tuned for that.

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The Sun Rose From the Sea Like Metal Tongs From a Fire – Ten Nights of Dreams, Natsume Soseki, Part 2

Today I’m going to finish going over the Japanese original of Natsume Soseki’s “Ten Nights of Dreams” (夏目漱石の”夢十夜”). We only have five more dreams to go. All of the dreams in this second half of the piece begin with more varied sentences, while four of the first five dreams begin with the sentence, “こんな夢を見た。” This just translates to I dreamt this dream.

Night 6 begins with the narrator thinking about someone named Unkei who was carving guardian statues at the gate of the Buddhist temple Gokokuji. The narrator takes a walk and joins a crowd of people watching Unkei. He notes a large pine tree in front of the gate, contrasting colorfully with the gate. Although the temple is old-fashioned, the onlookers are Meiji subjects, many of whom are rickshaw drivers. He talks with the other observers about the guardian statue.

Meanwhile Unkei continues to move his hammer and chisel and work without regard for the onlookers. The narrator is jarred with how old fashioned the scene is and wonders how Unkei can be alive. The men around his seem uneducated, but they are all impressed with Unkei’s marvelous skill. The text gets kind of detailed describing Unkei’s carving strokes. Suddenly, the narrator decides anyone can be a sculptor and goes home to try it himself.

Night 7 starts with a narrator announcing he is on a huge ship. Day and night the ship belches black smoke, and the narrator doesn’t know where it’s going. The dream has a long, vivid description of the sun at this point, including the title of this post comparing it to tongs taken from a fire. This imagery is a really interesting contrast to the reality: the sun is far away and intangible coming out of water, while the metal tongs are small and easy to manipulate coming out of fire with fire and water are opposing elements.

The narrator is afraid of where the ship is headed and grills a sailor about it without getting a straight answer, causing the narrator to feel despair to the point of suicide. The other foreign passengers seem to be just as distraught. As the narrator feels particularly suicidal one night on deck, and a foreigner who comes out to look at the stars with him asks him if he believes in God, but he is overcome with the meaninglessness of everything.

On night 8, the narrator goes to a barbershop where a few people in white kimonos are talking. He notices the place has six mirrors and sits down before it. After getting comfortable, he notices the window behind him in the mirror. Shotaro goes by with a woman, and the narrator hears a horn being blown at a tofu shop, then he sees the horn blower and a geisha without her makeup in the street.

The barber, dressed in a white kimono, comes over to the narrator with his scissors and comb and begins to cut his hair. The description here of the barber and the haircut is fairly long. The narrator hears more activity out in the street and sees a woman counting money in the next room as the barber finishes up. The narrator goes outside and observes a goldfish seller in another long slice of life description.

Night 9 suggests a war is about to break out as a mansion is attacked around its perimeter. A woman and three children are in the house, and the father leaves. It is nighttime. The mother keeps asking the children where their father is, but they don’t really know what’s going on. The father never returns.

The mother then takes one of the children on her back out the side door toward a large gingko tree.  She goes down the slope until she reaches a stone torii gate where one side is a rice paddy and the other is bamboo grass. Going through the torii gate, she enters a dark grove of cedar trees. She notices a bell hanging nearby and ornate calligraphy that resembles a bird. The text continues to describe the surroundings and her walk in detail. There are also a lot of bird references in this short section.

Ultimately, she rings the bell and claps in prayer for the safety of her husband along with some elaborate actions involving the baby, and she comes often to repeat the gesture, but it turns out her husband is already dead.

Night 10 returns to a character in the barber shop dream named Shotaro who gets entangled with a deceptive woman at a candy shop and ends up dead.

All in all, I’d say the dreams aren’t really meant to have a punchy ending, though some do. Mostly, they are just short mood pieces with nice, slice-of-life descriptions that are enjoyable reading in themselves even if the dream ending doesn’t really make sense.

Part two of a two part series.

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Petition to Get Moribito Series Translated Into English

I had a reader comment on an old post about a petition she started to get the rest of Moribito translated, so I thought it should be on the main page where everyone can see it. Here is the request for assistance from Iuka Sylvie:

I just started the petition “Tell Scholastic to publish the next volumes of the Moribito series! #Moribito_eng” and wanted to see if you could help by adding your name.

My goal is to reach 1,000 signatures and I need more support. You can read more and sign the petition here:


“Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit” is a great anime, too.

Thanks to all who want to help with the petition.

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Digging Your Grave With A Pearl Oyster Shell – Ten Nights of Dreams, Part 1

The next Japanese language selection I have chosen for this year is Natsume Soseki’s “Ten Nights of Dreams” (夏目漱石の”夢十夜”), which is a short story rather than a novel. All of the dreams are written from the first person perspective and have a sinister feel. Widely available in English translation, it’s available online in Japanese at this link, complete with furigana:


While translations are nice, it’s always preferable to read these stories in their original languages where possible if you have the skills. There’s really no substitute for encountering the original text with no filters.

Night 1 begins with the narrator describing a dream where he is sitting at the bedside of a beautiful woman who is dying.  Though she looks vividly alive with her ruddy coloring, he decides she really is dying. They speak briefly about her death, and she makes a few last requests for him to fulfill. The descriptions are lush, and the story has a morbid, romantic undertone to it that is quite attractive and Poe-like.

The impossibility of the dying woman’s request for the narrator to wait by her grave for 100 years gives it an air of fantasy, too, though one eccentric request the narrator can more easily comply with is to dig her grave with an oyster shell.  The imagery of the oyster shell glowing like the moon and the way the narrator uses star fragments fallen to earth to mark the woman’s grave is quite stunning and cosmic. The woman reappears as a white lily, which in both eastern and western art symbolizes innocence and purity.

Night 2 begins with a Buddhist priest retiring to his room. He had been kneeling on a cushion in a dim, lamplit room decorated with a hanging scroll and smelling of incense. It’s nighttime in a large temple with few signs of human activity. The narrator is a warrior seeking enlightenment under the Buddhist priest, and he needs to attain this tonight or else he will commit suicide. He has a short sword with a red-lacquered sheath under the futon, and he takes it out and makes a practice swipe with the bare blade in the darkened room. The text goes into a detailed description of the blade.

Feeling the intensity of the moment, the warrior thinks about the way the bald Buddhist priest berated him. He starts to feel physically uncomfortable as he waits for enlightenment to come, which leaves him angry and disappointed, but he persists and carefully notes his perceptual changes to determine if he has finally achieved enlightenment. In the end, when the clock sounds near his tatami mat, he reaches for his sword. 

Night 3 is another Poe-style, ghostly story like night 1. The narrator is carrying a 6-year-old child on his back through rice paddies. The child, who belongs to the narrator, has gone blind and has a shaved head. The child talks to the narrator as an equal, which the narrator points out. The level of Japanese in the child’s dialogue does seem somewhat low and of a type one would use with intimate, equal relationships and probably isn’t suitable for a young child addressing his father. I think he should be using the forms a style above the speech pattern he uses here. But generally the child seems very knowing and mature. After a beautiful if brief description of the rice paddies and a heron, the narrator admits he finds the child unsettling and asks the boy why he is laughing.

They talk a bit about the child’s blindness and how difficult it is for the father to help him, though the father denies it. The conversation takes a cold, dark turn as the boy seems to have some foreknowledge of what they are approaching even while the father contemplates abandoning the boy since he’s so creepy. The ending really socks it to the reader, its detailed description of the narrator’s emotions heightening the tension.

The mention of Jizo at the end of the story adds an interesting layer since in Japan, Jizo is the Buddhist protector of children, often depicted as bald and child-like. The children he protects are those who die young or before they are born. Stone statues of him, especially smaller ones, are very common across Japan. Here we have the creepy child whose weight and baldness echo Jizo’s own form so that the father, who is guilty of a crime, compares the child to a Jizo statue at the end.  It adds a really sinister touch to the piece.

Night 4 begins with a bench surrounded by stools out in a wide dirt area near a shining black table where an old man is drinking sake and eating vegetable snacks. He has a white beard, and his face is turning ruddy from the sake. Nearby a god pumps water. I’m not sure who this is, but the figure is referred to as kami-san, 神さん, which is pretty limited in meaning as far as I know. The fact that it’s in a dream makes it even more curious. There are lots of other words for a barmaid if that what she is that could be used here and aren’t.

While he’s drinking, she asks him where he lives and if he is leaving, but he drinks more bowls of sake.  The narrator is a spectator here, and he follows the the old man when he takes the woman’s suggestion and gets up to go. The old man has a gourd hanging from his waist, which is commonly seen in pre-modern East Asian stories, and has a square box on his back.

They arrive at a willow tree where there’s a crowd of a few dozen children waiting, and the old man laughs and pulls out a yellow hand towel from his packs. Putting it on the ground and drawing a circle around it, he takes out a pipe to play, telling the children the towel will turn into a snake. They watch intently as he dances around it, though the towel doesn’t change. Eventually, the old man stops and retrieves the towel, putting it away.

The narrator wants to see the snake, so he follows the old man past the willow tree. He watches the old man walk into the river, muttering drunkenly to himself about the towel turning into a snake. The narrator hopes to still see the transformation of the towel into a snake when the old man eventually comes out on the other side of the river, but the old man has disappeared beneath the water and never re-emerges.

What’s interesting about the imagery here is the Biblical nature of it, which Soseki probably was familiar with since he was well versed in Western literature and studied English at the university, even traveling to England at the turn of the 20th century. During this time period, knowledge of the story of Moses and the Egyptians in Exodus with the rod turning to a snake and the parting of the Red Sea should have been commonly known.

Night 5 is a dream that takes place during an ancient war where the narrator is a warrior captured by the enemy. It includes a detailed description of the enemy leader’s primitive appearance. After the enemy leader sits down outside on an overturned jar while the narrator sits on the ground, the enemy leader gives him the choice to live or die. When the narrator says he chooses death, the enemy leader stands up and pulls out his sword, but the narrator halts him with a request to see the woman he loves before he is executed. The enemy leader agrees, but only if she arrives before the cock crows in the morning, another possible Biblical reference in the string of dreams.

The perspective of the story shifts abruptly away from the narrator to the woman, who is frantically trying to get to the camp in time on her swift white horse. A plot twist ends the story with an explanation that a Shinto female demon is the narrator’s true enemy. I think this dream doesn’t flow as well as the other four so far, though the whole category of dreams generally implies a less than tidy narrative.

Five more nights to cover, and I’ll look at those in the next post.

Part one of a two part series.

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Resolving the Hard Feelings Over the Concubine Xiang Incident – Princess Returning Pearl: Companion in the World of Mortals, Volume 61, Part 2

In the last half of this series selection, the Princess Returning Pearl novel, 瓊瑤全集的《還珠格格:紅塵作伴》, we pick up the story at chapter 56. Most of the chapters have between three and five scenes. Chapter 56 starts off with Xiao Gezi asking Xiao Yanzi if they’re really leaving. I think they may be leaving her behind. Ziwei discovers that her handmaid Jinsuo has arrived. Jinsuo has been looking for them along with another character named Liuqing. A messenger comes to warn them of a crowd approaching the courtyard, and the group decides to flee. They all rush to the carriage, Erkang and Yongqi taking the reins, but Fulun intercepts them and asks the four main characters to come inside and talk with him.

In the next scene, they gather in the small room again to talk about the Emperor and debate returning to the palace. Fulun assures them the Emperor won’t blame them for their actions in the Concubine Xiang matter, that bygones will be bygones. This is the whole storyline in the original TV show’s season two when Qianlong takes a Tibetan princess who is very young and already romantically involved with a bodyguard as a concubine if I recall. It has been a lot of years since I saw the show. Xiao Yanzi and Ziwei were sympathetic to Concubine Xiang and kept her out of Qianlong’s way, and he was furious that he couldn’t be with her due to their meddling.

Fulun said Qianlong heard they were injured and sent a doctor to help them. He says the Fifth Prince is Qianglong’s favored son and Erkang is Qianlong’s favored minister, so Qianlong is eagerly awaiting their return home.  They mention identifying an enemy from another faction who is there to assassinate them while Fulun generally tries to allay the groups’ suspicion of Qianlong. Erkang asks Fulun if the young people can consult together without him present since they’re still quite unsure of Qianlong’s intentions.

In the next scene, Erkang and Ziwei are in a bedroom looking deeply into each other’s eyes while they discuss returning to the palace with Qianlong. Ziwei says she is afraid and doesn’t want to return, and Erkang says he won’t go back if she won’t. Ziwei thinks they should continue to travel south. Meanwhile, in the next scene, Xiao Yanzi and Yongqi are also in a bedroom talking about the situation with Qianlong when her theft of the persimmons also comes up. Finally, Erkang emerges and gives Fulun their answer. Since they don’t seem to want to return to the palace, Fulun returns to Beijing, upset.

The next day at the palace, Qianlong gets the news while visiting the Dowager Empress, his mother. He asks how they are doing, and Fulun says he found them well in Nanyang. Qianlong specifically wants to know about his children Yongqi and Ziwei.

Chapter 57 returns to Xiaojian and the group of young fugitives after Fulun leaves. Erkang thinks they are now free to do as they please, but Xiaojian wonders why Yongqi and Xiao Yanzi don’t want to return to the palace. Xiao Yanzi answers that she now has a brother, wants to travel in scenic areas and learn sword fighting, so she doesn’t want to return. Life in the palace for upper class women was very restrictive, and they were confined to specific parts of the palace only and couldn’t go out like this during that time period. Xiaojian mentions wandering princes in history, and he wonders what will happen if Yongqi becomes king.

Ziwei talks about going to Yunnan, but Jinsuo pledges she won’t leave her but will go anywhere with her, but I think Ziwei objects to this. Erkang and Liuhong consider where to go and ultimately ask Xiaojian if they can borrow Brother He’s house for a wedding. Three days later, everyone prepares for Liuqing and Jinsuo’s wedding at Brother He’s. Then, they all go to Yunnan city’s biggest drinking establishment where they run into Fulun and surprisingly Qianlong himself who has personally come to the city to talk with him. They quibble over how they are using too formal language with Qianlong now, and they all apologize.

This scene continues in chapter 58. The group leaves the drinking establishment and returns to the He household. They tell the rest of the group about their meeting with Qianlong, and the others are a bit shaken to hear about it, but they all eat dim sum and decide to return to Beijing. Xiaojian gets upset and leaves the party with Erkang. When they reach on a mountain, Erkang confronts Xiaojian about some secret he has. Erkang knows Xiaojian has been talking with Xiao Yanzi about avenging their father, so Erkang wants to know Xiaojian’s secret, which he thinks he can guess. It turns out that Xiaojian’s father was a government minister whom Qianlong had beheaded, and Erkang thinks Xiaojian is using Xiao Yanzi to get into the palace.

Later, Fulun and Qianlong visit the He household to meet the whole group, and Qianlong talks with the group and has a laugh with Xiao Yanzi.

In chapter 59 after Qianlong leaves, Xiaojian returns to his room and starts gathering his luggage while Xiao Yanzi watches. She says she won’t let him go, and Erkang asks if he’s sure he wants to. Xiaojian says he wants to go to Beijing with them but can’t. However, by the next section he is still traveling with them and Qianlong on the way to the palace. Qianlong has the four girls in his carriage with him and sits between Xiao Yanzi and Ziwei.

When they arrive back in Beijing and enter the palace, Concubine Ling gathers everyone in the palace to greet them. The four main characters go to the Dowager Empresses palace to greet her, and we have a few intervening scenes into the next chapter with the Empress, the Twelfth Prince and the Dowager Empress.

By chapter 61, the minor intrigue with the Empress and Dowager Empress continues. There’s some drama involving the Empress thinking her young son has left her, but Ziwei brings him back to her, and the Dowager Empress decides to go to visit Ziwei and Xiao Yanzi despite the cold weather. The chapters ends with a high-spirited celebration where Xiaojian has a drink with Qianlong.

The final chapter begins with Xiaojian teaching Xiao Yanzi swordfighting while the others look on and ends with the princesses’ double wedding.

As usual, the book ends with an afterword from the author.

Part two of a two part series.

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