March-April 2018 Schedule

Spring is nearly here, and some of my favorite Pittsburgh-area events are right around the corner along with some of my personal deadlines. First on my list is the publication of my forthcoming horror-fantasy novel, Sohyeon After Midnight, which should be ready to go in the next week or two. My fans who love shapeshifters will be in their glory with the new book, but it may make me late getting my next post up.

The weekend of April 5th through 8th, I will be speaking at Tekko, and this year my topics are as follows, times TBA:

The Tale of Genji New Reader Introduction
Musical Interludes: K-On, La Corda D’Oro and Beyond

(Before there was Harvey Weinstein, there was Hikaru Genji in 10th century Japan.)

Info on the event can be found here:

I hear back on the results of the IPPY Book Award on April 10th if I recall.

Then the weekend of April 13th through 15th, I will be manning my booth at Steel City Con selling my novels. I’m hoping to have my new novel available for purchase there, but right now I’m either going to just make it or just miss it. Info on that event can be found here. They have lots of great guests lined up:

Hope to see you at these awesome local events!


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The Wings of a Butterfly Draw A Noblewoman into a Sinister Plague – The Joseon Zombie Annals, Part 1

My interim selection for 2018 is the Korean language webcomic, “The Joseon Zombie Annals” by Gonma, which you can read here:

Joseon Zombie Annals 1

Right now it’s up to chapter 272, and you have to page back all the way to chapter one to start it since it runs backwards.  A little popup box to the right of the screen allows you to navigate back to the first chapter quickly by tapping the “<<” button. I will only be covering a limited number of chapters, giving an introduction to the characters and noting some of the more interesting plot points. Here is a screen shot of the “cover” with the navigation panel where you can see it on the bottom right:

Joseon Zombie Annals 2

The opening shots show a port where a nobleman talks with the slaves unloading cargo from his ship. Suddenly, a slave notices the nobleman’s face is turning pale and asks if he’s alright. He answers that perhaps the food in Japan didn’t agree with him, but shortly thereafter he spits up blood and collapses on the ground in front of the slave. Meanwhile, a strange couple standing on the roof of a nearby house watches the scene with interest. Here is a later screenshot of them, and the man looks like a Japanese samurai.

Joseon Zombie Annals 3

The story is set in Korea in the early part of 15th century, and at the beginning, the people are unaware a plague is spreading from the south.

The next scene shifts to Hanyang (the old name for modern day Seoul) six months later – the calligraphy in the scene blocks is very difficult to read in places, but I could make this one out. A noblewoman named Jin is summoned to the palace. She and her servant girl walk through the village.

At the palace, we see a noblewoman in white paying her respects to the Buddha along with two attendants in one of the pavilions. Jin and her servant are allowed into the palace courtyard, where Jin notices a butterfly out of season since it’s autumn. She follows the butterfly, and it leads her to the hall where the noblewoman is kneeling before the Buddha. The woman, known only as “respected believer,” notes Jin is a woman of noble blood and calls for an audience with the Crown Prince. The woman insists Jin’s appearance there is not a coincidence but is the work of heaven.

Joseon Zombie Annals 4

Jin doesn’t understand why she’s there in spite of the woman’s statement, but when the noblewoman has an audience with the Crown Prince, she tells him about Jin and discusses the plague that is spreading through the land. They also have a rather ominous conversation about how Jin will end up as a sacrifice in the temple in T’amna, while the manga block focuses on a sword that is displayed behind the Crown Prince. I don’t get that part of the conversation, but clearly Jin’s arrival has a lot more significance than Jin herself is aware.

Jin is waiting outside the audience hall when the noblewoman finally requests that she enter alone to talk with the Crown Prince. For his part, the Crown Prince is flustered since Jin is so beautiful. One of his guards, a handsome fighter named Muhyeok, coughs to bring the Crown Prince to attention. She introduces herself as the daughter of a Right Bureau government official, and when he asks her if she is willing to risk the danger of going to T’amna, she agrees to go if it will somehow end the plague. The Crown Prince then reveals that he and Muhyeok will accompany her to T’amna. She’s surprised to hear that, but he observes it’s as dangerous in the palace as it is without.

As they chat, night falls, and Jin’s servant is still outside waiting for her when one of the guards suddenly shows signs of illness. As he transforms into a zombie, the servant girl screams in terror, which brings Jin, the Crown Prince and Muhyeok out to see what’s going on. They witness one of the palace’s female attendants, now a zombie, attack another healthy attendant, and that’s the screenshot I kicked the post off with.  I think that block makes the zombies look more like vampires, but the monsters turn out to be pretty interesting for a number of reasons.

In chapter 2, the attendant then attacks the Crown Prince, but he fights her off. She falls, and they study her symptoms, wondering what this means for the plague. When they run out into the palace yard, they discover everything is in chaos since many more people have become zombies and are attacking. The Crown Prince restrains Muhyeok from fighting them, and they flee the palace on horseback, pulling Jin in a wagon behind them. Meanwhile, the Japanese couple is back on the roof watching the scene with some amusement.

Further down the road well after dark, an arrow hits the Crown Prince’s horse’s leg, and they all stop to tend to the fallen horse but find themselves surrounded by bandits deep in the forest.  They talk with them about a Master Byeongpan while the bandits still look like normal humans. This sequence starts to drop some hints that the men with Jin are actually in disguise. The man dressed as the Crown Prince calls his handsome guard “Cheoha,” a title usually reserved for the prince, and the guard calls the man dressed as the Crown Prince “Muhyeok.” So the characters are actually opposite of whom they appear to be, and this emerges clearly as the crisis gets worse. Jin realizes as much in the last block of the chapter.

The scene continues in chapter 3. Muhyeok expresses some concern that Master Byeongpan will take advantage of the situation and suggests the Crown Prince move on with Jin to reach T’amna. After the bandits’ leader commands them to kill the men and spare Jin, the bandits transform into zombies and attack the Crown Prince’s party, leading to an extended fight. The real Crown Prince flees with Jin, and the caption is an apology to Muhyeok, whom they had to leave behind to fight the crowd of monsters alone.

Joseon Zombie Annals 5

When Jin trips and falls, the Crown Prince can’t help her, but a cleaver flies through the air and takes out the lead zombie before it reaches her. A rogue fighter appears, and she recognizes him as Soonshin, someone she met in the city, though she doesn’t understand why he’s there. His flying blade looks really cool, so here is the manga block:

Joseon Zombie Annals 6

Some of the key fight or zombie scenes are presented sideways in long, dynamic blocks, which is a really interesting method that’s hard to take a screenshot of. Readers should flip through chapters one through nine to see the action for themselves since I can’t do it justice here.

Chapter 4 flashes back to Soonshin’s life in town. He’s a butcher preparing beef cuts across from a tavern, and in traditional Korean society, butchers were considered very low class and unworthy of respect. A nobleman harasses him for being rude as he does his work out in the courtyard.  His boss comes out and tries to calm the nobleman, apologizing to him for Soonshin’s behavior. He explains that many members of his family have been dying due to the plague, and he’s short on meat to sell. However, the nobleman gets even more belligerent.

Jin and her servant arrive in the middle of the nobleman’s tirade and intervene. She and the offended nobleman exchange an introduction, and her revelation of her father’s identity makes him hesitate a moment. When he suddenly runs off, Jin cheerfully talks with Soonshin, making him blush. The head butcher also talks with her about Soonshin, embarrassing him even further. He remains flustered and smitten with her for the rest of the chapter, even after they part ways.

Later, when Soonshin is walking alone through the city, he meets the nobleman again, who demands the meat he’s carrying. The nobleman’s huge younger sister appears, too, and the two of them threaten Soonshin, but the sister starts spitting up blue blood, turns into a zombie and attacks. Soonshin finds himself having to defend the nobleman with his cleaver. Suddenly, he realizes Jin is in danger and abandons the nobleman to find her. He just so happens to see the carriage she’s riding in as it comes out of the palace and follows it.

The flashback ends, and they are back in the forest where Jin is demanding to know what Soonshin is doing there. He blushes and is too flustered to speak to her again; the manga keeps a running interior monologue with Soonshin’s emotions as Jin pays attention to him, which is kind of interesting since it clearly positions him as her love interest over the Crown Prince. As they try to speak, the zombies spring back to life and chase them to a wood and rope bridge swinging over a chasm, flanked by a pair of thin, primitive statues. The statues are jangseung, Korean totem poles, which have a very distinct look that gives the bridge some character here. They flee across it, but Soonshin stops partway to keep the zombies from passing while the Crown Prince and Jin get to the other side.

Chapter 5 shows a stunning fight sequence with Soonshin wielding his cleaver against the zombies. He discovers that even when he beheads them, their heads reconnect quickly, and he has to fight them again. When he sees Jin has made it safely to the other side with the Crown Prince, he makes a run for it, the zombies close on his tail. In desperation since he can’t shake them, he cuts the bridge apart so the zombies can’t reach her, and he is on the verge of falling into the chasm with them as the bridge collapses.

The story cuts back to Muhyeok who is back in the forest fighting the zombies alone. He is also discovering that chopping the zombies apart doesn’t kill them as some blue energy or blood keeps the body together and regenerates it. As he starts to despair, all of the zombies around him dematerialize from their clothing, leaving it to flutter to the ground, as the Japanese samurai and his woman approach. Muhyeok wonders if they have some sort of special weapon that caused the zombies to disappear and realizes they are from Japanese – the word used here is waenara, not the modern ilbon, so let me give a little context for that designation:

This is an old Chinese term for Japan that is not that uncommon in the region’s historical novels and documents.

The Japanese samurai’s face is very scarred, though the girl with him is young and attractive. She is apparently an onmyōdō (yin yang) master, which is possibly why the zombies disappeared. The samurai talks about his resentment of Joseon’s people as he stabs Muhyeok first in the stomach, which is pixelated for some reason, then through the head before the scene cuts back to Jin and the Crown Prince, who are looking into the chasm where Soonshin is hanging on the cliffside by a rope.

In chapter 6, Soonshin crawls up the side of the ravine where Jin and the Crown Prince are watching him. Jin slaps him, angry that he risked his life like that, but he’s in a daze and blushing once again since she touched him with her hand. When she finally coaxes him to talk, he feels he can’t really tell her the reason he showed up is because he was worried about her. Instead, he mentions something about her traveling the wrong way…she admits they are going to T’amna, and Soonshin then eyes the Crown Prince dubiously.

He asks the Prince how old he is as they both get more aggressive toward one another. The Prince answers he is 17. When Soonshin suggests the Prince is too timid, the Prince gets angry enough to admit his true identity as a member of the royal family and pulls his sword on Soonshin. He and Soonshin get into a big fight over class divisions in their society, and they nearly end up coming to blows until Jin angrily intervenes and declares she will travel alone. They make up after her declaration.

We briefly see the samurai and his onmyōdō girlfriend again, then the very last scene in the chapter shows a zombie tied up in someone’s house at night. A man with glasses comes in with an axe and frees the zombie from his bonds, jubilant that he found the creature.

Chapter 7 shifts back to Soonshin, Jin and the Crown Prince, who are hiding out in the dark near a residence. At first they confront a large wild boar, then we see them serving meat from the boar by firelight in the courtyard of the deserted house. After Soonshin serves them a delicious dinner, they relax a bit, and he asks them why they are going to T’amna. The Crown Prince takes out a map to explain his plan, but he and Soonshin get in a fight again, much to Jin’s dismay.

While they are fighting, the man in the glasses with the axe comes out to find out what’s going on. He stomps out the fire, fearing it will attract the zombies, and tells them to come into the underground storehouse with him since it’s dangerous to be out. As Soonshin asks what zombies are, the zombies start to surround the house.  The man in glasses gives the group of heroes small white bottles of liquid to pour over their blades. This time, when Soonshin hits the zombies, their bodies turn to ashes, leaving their clothes to flutter to the ground, empty.

Joseon Zombie Annals 7

But Soonshin gets scratched by one of the zombies before he can stop it, and he wonders if that will turn him into a zombie, too. The fight with the zombies continues in chapter 8, but the Crown Prince and man in the glasses notice Soonshin’s unusual sword technique and wonder about it. The Crown Prince particularly marvels because Soonshin is merely a butcher. By the end of the chapter, Soonshin gets into a brief knife battle with the Crown Prince again, this time claiming he’s just being playful.

As they talk amongst themselves, we see a man hiding in the bushes watching them. The scene changes to show a regal house that the informant goes to with information about this special zombie-killing method. The man who lives in this house looks more like a character out of “The Three Musketeers” than traditional Korea, but he refers to the man with the glasses as the famous Joseon physician Heo Jun. He questions the spy about Heo Jun’s knowledge and if the physician told the others about this method. The spy calls the man of the house “kyojunim,” which refers to someone who is the leader of a religious sect, but there are no hints yet as to who this man is exactly. The sect leader tells one of the palace guards to bring Heo Jun to him the next day.

Meanwhile, Heo Jun takes Soonshin, Jin and the Crown Prince down into the storehouse where he kept the zombie earlier, and they talk about the zombie action they’ve observed. Heo Jun examines Soonshin, too, and determines he has an infection because the color of his eyes has changed. Indeed, looking back over the chapter, his eyes turn from brown to blue then back to brown for some reason, but this infection is somehow supposed to be evidence of an immunity. Heo Jun explains two types of immunity to the Crown Prince.

When the Crown Prince brings up the liquid Heo Jun gave them for their weapons, Heo Jun explains the zombie condition and their craving for human blood. Therefore, he discovered their weakness is garlic. These zombies seem to be a cross between zombies and vampires in actual fact, so the first impression we get with the palace ladies was correct. Heo Jun explains the situation with the outbreak in more detail to the trio. In chapter 9, they emerge from the storehouse to find a contingent of guards from the palace awaiting them….

Part one of a six part series.

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The Servant Who Once Painted Buddhist Images – Land, Vol.1, Part 3

This year’s literati corner book is the first story arc of Kyeongni Park’s Land series (박경리의《토지》), and this is the last post for my winter installment. We’ll pick up with volume 2 in the summer.

The story shifts in chapter 6, “A Seoul Yangban,” back to the Choi Champan estate where Wife Yoon greets a guest from Seoul. Cho Jungu, a relative of the Chois who has fallen onto hard times from his former yangban status, last came to the estate 6 years ago before Seohui was born. Before he retires to the men’s quarters, they talk about how long it has been. Cho Jungu has had his topknot cut off, and now his hairstyle is unbecomingly short.  His clothes are like the Japanese, and he wears a western-style hat and shoes that are all the rage in Seoul.

Choi Chisu wonders why his distant relative has come to stay with him. He is not happy to see him, but he does acknowledge the 1894 Kabo reforms that freed the slaves had a directive for them to cut their topknots. It is also mentioned here that the Donghak army also wants to kill yangban. Later in the chapter, Choi Chisu goes for a stroll with Cho Jungu.

In the next chapter, “The Shaman’s Daughter,” Wolseon rides on a ferry across the river on a cold, moonless night, thinking of her late mother and wondering why she came back to the village. She ponders whether her mother would think she is crazy because she is going to Yong’s house and acknowledges that she really wants to see Yong. She regrets that she was born the daughter of a shaman.

After she gets off the ferry, she finds Yong’s house.  In the lamplight, she sees Yong sitting on the floor smoking a cigarette. He looks up, calling out “Who’s there?” a few times. When he sees her, she explains she was just passing through and came to visit. She says she has to take the ferry back in the morning and lights more candles. They talk a bit, then he tells her to go to sleep, which she feigns. After midnight, Yong sits for a long time listening to the sound of Wolseon’s breathing.

The next morning at daybreak before the sun is up, Wolseon travels along the village road.  Running into someone in the dark, she screams – it is Imineo, who wonders why Wolseon is there at that time since she doesn’t live in the area. She thinks it is strange and improper. This chapter I think was particularly well-paced and had a nice overall effect.

Chapter 8, “Hoodlums and Witches,” starts the storyline of Kim Pyeongsan, who is out walking along the village road the next morning. After some banter with village woman Makttalneo, the chapter introduces his family, moves on to a scene with Kim Pyeongsan and Guinyeo at a tavern, which gets back into the story about Choi Chisu and his runaway wife. An interesting detail here is that Guinyeo tells him that she has a set of two gold rings and the genitals of a fox which have properties that allow a woman to bewitch a man she likes. Kim Pyeongsan guesses that she wants to bewitch Choi Chisu and maybe have a child with him!

Land v.1 p.68

Guinyeo and Pyeongsan, Interior Painting p. 68

The next chapter returns to Cho Jungu at the Choi Champan estate. A month has passed, and Cho Jungu has returned from a trip to Pusan. When Choi Chisu feels well enough, Cho Jungu plays baduk with him or they go to the archery ground to shoot bows. Later in the chapter, Cho Jungu is out in bad weather and decides he should to visit Kim Hunjang, who has just celebrated his 60th birthday. When he reaches Kim Hunjang’s manor, he calls out until Kim Hunjang appears at the door, asking what he wants. Cho says he wants to just shoot the breeze with him. He goes in, and they drink together, talking a little about regional politics.

In “Surprise Attack,” Kang Cheongtaek discovers Wolseon came to see Yong and is very angry about it. Yong is sitting in the yard smoking when the chapter begins but disappears as his wife takes over center stage, and Kang Cheongtaek gets into a conversation with village women Tumanneo, Makttalneo and Imineo when Chilseong stops by.

They admonish Kang Cheongtaek to not be jealous, but the women launch into a discussion of lovesickness and its cures, such as having a shaman use her gong and perform an exorcism to diminish its hold. At the mention of Wolseonneo, Kang Cheongtaek goes on another tirade against the “shamen bitches.” The women suggest she go to Wolseon’s house and see if she is there. She travels the 30 li road to the tavern and yells for someone to come out. When Wolseon answers, she tries to calm Kang Cheongtaek and reassure her that Yong isn’t there with her. Kang Cheongtaek expects peers into the house and doesn’t seem him there as she expected and just calls Wolseon more nasty names.

The next chapter begins with the women talking together again but gradually shifts to focus on Chilseon and Kim Pyeongsan. The men chat then go to a gambling den, staying out all night. At daybreak, they go to Wolseon’s tavern to sleep until noon.

The chapter “Seohui and Gilsang” takes an enchanting turn as it introduces the character Gilsang, who is an eager artist, carving some unspecified substance with his pocket knife and rubbing it smooth. Gilsang used to work in the Buddhist temple Yeonguksa painting Buddhist images. The novel mentions a couple of monks in this context, one of which is Monk Wugwan. Ultimately, Gilsang was sent to the Choi Champan estate to serve Choi Chisu, and he taught the slave Kucheon to write.

Now, Gilsang has made a mask, and when the paint dries, he takes it to the kitchen to show Bongsunneo. She is very moved by the mask and tells him where to find Bongsun, whom he goes to see at the detached house. Bongsun is sitting with Seohui in the yard by the lotus pond, watching a water strider and ant moving around there. The bugs become their main topic of conversation.

The second part of this volume is a bit shorter than part 1 and is titled, “Pursuit and Conspiracy.” In the first chapter, “Missing Woman,” Wife Yoon sends Gilsang to see Yong, and Bongsun tags along. The kids have heard stories that Guinyeo has run off to the mountains at night like Kucheon, perhaps possessed by a ghost, thought they wonder if her trip there could have a more mundane reason, such as going to the mountains to bathe.

When they arrive at Yong’s, Kang Cheongtaek launches into another round of abuse toward Wolseon as she grinds barley. She tells them Yong is in the rice paddy, so they wait until he returns after lunch to relay the request from Bongsunneo that he pick up two bolts of Wolseon’s ramie cloth on market day, which is two days way. When market day arrives, however, he finds the door doesn’t open and Wolseon isn’t there. He asks an old woman passing by her whereabouts and is on the verge of tears.

The next chapter shows a conversation between Wife Yoon and Choi Chisu along with a flashback to shaman Wolseonneo dancing crazily to a drum and gong during an exorcism. I’m not sure when this took place, only that this section uses only Chisu’s first name and it talks about how gloomy and solitary his childhood was, but Wolseonneo tells Wife Yoon to go to the temple because she can’t get rid of the ghosts attached to her.

Wife Yoon rides in a palanquin to the temple, but something dramatic is happening there with gunfire in the mountains and crowds of the Tonghak there five years earlier. When Wife Yoon is at the temple, she meets Kim Kaeju, though again I’m not certain of the timeline, but it seems like she already had their child together after he raped her at the time of this flashback.

In the present, Samwol comes in while Wife Yoon and Choi Chisu are talking together to bring Wife Yoon a letter that has arrived. It is from Monk Wugwan, who is inquiring about Kucheon.

After Yong has been back home for a few days after market day when he discovered Wolseon’s disappearance, word spreads about it among the women. The story then turns back to Kim Pyeongsan talking with Cho Jungu about the yangban. Later, Pyeongsan goes out and stays in an embankment near a water mill until the early evening when he meets Cho again. Cho hangs around to see why Pyeongsan is there and eventually notices a woman disappear into the mill. By the end of this chapter, they talk about parents and children and how a man who doesn’t have children with his wife thinks of finding another woman to take as a concubine to have a child with.

In the next chapter, “A Yangban’s Violence,” Imineo and Chilseong go to Hamantaek’s threshing ground. While the village women are there talking, Pyeongsan shows up, insults fly, then they get into a fisticuffs. Pyeongsan hits Makttalneo, whose nose starts to bleed. The others watching the fight says it’s the usual yangban misbehavior and discuss expelling Pyeongsang from the village.

Meanwhile, Kang Cheongtaek is in her kitchen chopping garlic to make kimchi. She spends some time reflecting on her rivalry with Wolseon for Yong’s affections.

The plot twist in chapter 6, “A Gold Rainbow,” came as a surprise. After Pyeongsan’s expulsion from the village, he sneaks around gambling dens and drinks, but then he meets Guinyeo again at the water mill. He asks her if she is still after Choi Chisu, and they discuss how if she has Choi Chisu’s baby, that alone will improve her social status. They decide to meet Chilseong that night, and maybe I missed them talk about the reason, but it turns out to not be what I would have expected.

When Chilseong arrives at the mill, Guinyeo is already there, but they don’t say anything until Pyeongsan gets there.  When they go into the place, they put candles before the three gods of childbirth, and Guinyeo makes her request there before the Buddha then conducts a ceremonial bath before she is united with Chilseong. It seems to imply some sort of wedding ceremony between them, but perhaps I’m misunderstanding that. They meet there regularly to try to have a child together, and Pyeongsan keeps their secret.

In the next to the last chapter, Imineo and Hamantaek come to Bongsunneo’s room at the estate to help her sew clothes for Chuseok, which indicates a year has passed since the opening chapter. Later, Bongsun joins them.

The final chapter is a little long. Choi Chisu goes hunting with Kang Posu. A lot of the chapter has Choi Chisu thinking about the incident with Byeoldangasshi running off with Kucheon and his mother’s stay at the temple back at the time she met Kim Kaeju. Days pass and he hears rumors before meeting up with Monk Wugwan. The men chat at the Buddhist temple, where Chisu says he’s looking for someone. A boy brings tea in for them, and they talk a little about Gilsang’s parentage, but Wugwan is evasive, saying he is the child of heaven and earth. Chisu stays at the temple a few nights and finally has a brief encounter with Kucheon before he goes to find Wugwan to say goodbye. The last lines of the volume describes the main hall of the Buddhist temple with the sounds of a wooden bell and chanting of sutras.

Part three of a nine part series.

Next time: we turn to the Hugo Award-winning Chinese sci-fi novel by Cixin Liu, Remembrance of Earth: Three Body Problem, with an intermission series featuring Gonma’s Joseon Zombie Annals.

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A Henpecked Husband Meets An Old Flame On Market Day – Land, Vol.1, Part 2

Kyeongni Park’s Land series (박경리의《토지》) kicks off in volume 1 with part 1, which is titled “Footsteps in Darkness.” The first chapter begins with a description of Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving, which is on Hangawi, or August 15, in 1897. Children wearing new clothes are roaming the village streets eating half-moon shaped rice cakes. The adults are observing ancestor rites, visiting graves and sharing food with their neighbors. A gong rings as an exorcism is performed, and everyone eats their fill of rice. The peasants have a day where they can forget toilsome farming and enjoy the exorcism and eat, while the children don’t have to endure scoldings. Still, the festivities also stir up people’s sad memories of years of famine and epidemics, and they can’t forget their destitution.

The next scene introduces the wealthy Choi Champan estate shining luxuriously in the sunshine. Two little girls, Bongsun and Seohui, are running around playing tag. Seohui runs behind a male servant’s leg, a man named Kucheon, and the girls are sent to the men’s quarters to greet Seohui’s father, Choi Chisu, the head of the household. Choi Chisu is chronically ill with a cough and has a rather gloomy expression and voice, which always frightens Seohui. He tells her to eat well so she won’t get a cold, then waves for them to leave as he succumbs to a severe coughing attack. Seohui obeys, feeling queasy and bursting into tears.

In the next scene, a female slave named Guinyeo stands at sunset before the men’s quarters. Although the country has already outlawed the slave system, there are still many male and female slaves at the Choi Champan estate. When no one answers Guinyeo from the pavilion, she enters to light the oil lamp and check on Choi Chisu, who glares at her. He asks her to spread out his bedding near the fireplace, and when he doesn’t answer any of her questions, she goes to her own room and looks at herself in the mirror.

The scene shifts back to Kucheon, who is roaming the mountains at night. The women in the village are all in love with him because he has a beautiful face, trim body, and a pure, childlike smile. He also knows how to read and write, secretly taught by Choi Chisu’s errand boy Gilsang, though he is a farmhand, but he can come and go as he pleases. On this night, he is wandering through the pine trees deep in the mountains.  He jumps over a brook and listens to the horned owl hooting. Standing on a large rock in tears, he looks at the moon and cries out. As his weeping dies out, he dashes into the mountains.

Land v.1 p.18

Illustration of Kucheon in Volume 1 of Land

A big scandal breaks in the next chapter, titled “A Mystery.” The Choi Champan estate has fallen under a blanket of silence because Choi Chisu’s wife Byeoldangasshi has run off with the farmhand Kucheon. Their relationship had been discovered and the couple jailed, but someone secretly left the doors open so they could escape. The incident isn’t even investigated; the servants in the household feel conflicted over the matter since they sympathize to some degree, but when a married woman with a child runs off with another man it is still an unforgivable matter, especially since she left her yangban nobleman husband for a servant. They all think Kucheon is a good man, and Byeoldangasshi is known to be a kind and beautiful woman. So everyone in the household but her daughter Seohui is silent.

Seohui is devastated that her mother has abandoned her, and she cries and faints in confused rebellion day and night. She even pleads with her absent mother to take her with them. Bongsunneo, Choi Chisu’s seamstress, pities Seohui and tries to comfort her, wiping her tears and discussing where her mother went. Seohui asks why she couldn’t go with her, and Bongsunneo explains that her mother went to Seoul, which is very far away, and that they have to cross the mountains where there are tigers and therefore had to go on foot rather than by palanquin.

Apart from this, only Guinyeo reacted differently, which irritates Bongsunneo. Bongsunneo’s daughter Bongsun asks her what Guinyeo is saying, and Bongsunneo doesn’t know how to answer her. Bongsun is only seven years old, and Seohui is five. At a pub, Bongsunneo confronts Guinyeo about her attitude, but Bongsunneo pauses to observe that her daughter Bongsun has a pretty voice that the servants like listening to, so she worries that her daughter could become a singing kisaeng, a very low class profession. Bongsunneo’s questions to Guinyeo leaves Guinyeo unimpressed with her anger, and Bongsunneo ends up flustered and stammering while Guinyeo remains cool and logical. Someone tells them to stop fighting and reminds them they all live under the same roof.

Bongsun goes outside, throws a stone in the lotus pond, and hums then sings a sad song about losing a mother, which makes Seohui cry. Another servant Samwol comes out and carries Seohui around on her back, telling Bongsun to stop singing such sad songs. When Guinyeo comes out, Seohui spits on her, and the group all has a good laugh.

The next chapter, “Market Day,” shifts to the storyline between Kang Cheongtaek and Lee Yong. Yong’s thatched house is glowing golden in the winter morning while he is distributing cattle feed in the stable and his wife Kang Cheongtaek is out in the yard sweeping furiously while complaining and sharply rebuking Yong. Yong tunes her out as he finishes his chores. She tells him not to go to the market and complains that Imineo is getting fat because she has too many kids. She also complains about how husbands are lazy.

Chilseong, Imineo’s husband, is sitting on the porch. Yong changes clothes and comes back out to leave with Chilseong, carrying a bag with two chickens in it. Kang Cheongtaek yells after them as they go, and they discuss how she is such a severe and jealous woman as they hurriedly head for the marketplace on foot. Their discussion on the way ranges from the Choi Champan estate’s land and the incident with Choi Chisu’s wife running off with a servant to Seoul.

They take the ferry across the river to the opposite side, arriving at the marketplace and ending up at a tavern, where they are greeted by the barmaid Wolseon. They discuss both Wolseon’s mother, who was a shaman, and the Choi Champan estate, particularly how Bongsunneo is doing.

The next chapter, “Village Women,” continues with this storyline by returning to Kang Cheongtaek. While Chilseong and Yong are drinking at the tavern, Kang Cheongtaek is waiting at home that evening out in the yard, gazing at the river. She calls Wolseon a wench and thinks Yong is probably glued to the bar she runs. She pities herself as someone who has it bad. The text notes again that she is a jealous woman who thinks all of the women have their eye on her handsome husband. She calls Wolseon more slurs.

She has already figured out that when Yong goes out on market day, he is with Wolseon. She knows he has been dropping by her tavern for a while now, therefore Kang Cheongtaek hates market days. Yong and Wolseon loved each other years ago but couldn’t be together because Wolseon is a shaman, a disdained profession similar to the low-class butchers. Yong and Wolseon couldn’t marry in spite of their deep love for one another because Yong’s mother was opposed, and she arranged for him to marry Kang Cheongtaek instead. Therefore, Wolseon left the village, but she returned the autumn before and set up a tavern on a three-forked road. Kang Cheongtaek continues her lament about the situation.

She knows she isn’t beautiful like Chilseong’s wife Imineo, and she thinks Yong’s interest in another woman is why she and Yong have no children. Complaining to the other women in the village about it, Kang Cheontaek continues to call her rival ugly names. However, Kang Cheongtaek, only 28, notices Imineo, who is three years older, is healthy and beautiful and barely looks pregnant at all with her white skin and glossy hair even in the middle of winter. The conversation eventually shifts to Byeoldangasshi. They ultimately are interrupted by Imineo’s child announcing Chilseong has returned.

In the last chapter I’ll be looking at for this post, chapter 5, “The Mask Dance,” Yong wears his traditional Korean overcoat, and Kang Cheongtaek shoots him a dirty look before they discuss going to watch a mask dance.

Here is a video of the sort of dance this chapter references, the ogwangdae:

It still is an unpleasant scene between the two of them, but it’s interrupted by the calls of a little girl and boy. Bongsun and Gilsang arrive, then Imineo, all asking if they are going to town to watch this dance. Once they arrive at the dance, Yong’s and Wolseon’s eyes meet, and they are drawn together like magnets. The text goes into an extended description of the dancers’ colorful masks and clothing as the performance starts. At the chapter’s end, Yong pulls Wolseon into a room, turns off the lights, and the two of them embrace in tears.

Part two of a nine part series.

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Free Noir E-Book Kumori and the Lucky Cat – Five Days Only!

In honor of the IPPY Award nomination of my wild, experimental noir novel Kumori and the Lucky Cat, the e-book version will be available for a free download on Amazon between January 30th through Feburary 3rd. Here is the link:

This is the first time I’ve ever offered the e-book on this one for free, and I definitely play with the stereotypes and tropes of noir as well as dystopian fiction by throwing in a magical talking statue and channeling the popular Japanese anime trope of the magical girl by using it with an adult female character. I hope the result is as fun to read as it was to write. So check out this limited time offer.


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The Cast of Main Characters Takes the Stage For An Epic Korean Novel – Land, Vol.1, Part 1


This year’s literati corner book is Kyeongni Park’s Land series (박경리의《토지》). The novel covers three generations of a family going through the modernization of Korea, and it was originally serialized in a literary magazine starting in 1969 and continued for 25 years.

The version I decided to use is the 12 volume, partially-illustrated edition for teens in easier Korean, but it will take four years to cover. The original Korean version runs to 20 volumes in the edition carried by the distributor I bought the youth version from. There is also a manga version in the works, but they have only prepared the first story arc. All of these sets are very expensive and hard to come by. You can buy the set I will be using here:

I will be covering part 1, which consists of volumes 1 through 3, in 2018. I did a profile of Kyeongni Park on my affiliate blog a few years ago, which I’ll post again here:

These books have a very nice set of appendices, which I will mine to aid people interested in the basic story who can’t read Korean as well as for students of Korean who may want to tackle these books in the original language. I will be preparing a study guide at the end of each story arc/year that we finish, rather than at the beginning, since it is such a complex book. Here is the cover art:

Land Vol 1 Cover

Land Cover Volume 1

For this post, I will work more extensively with the character list before we delve into the story. It’s a rather long list, but for an epic novel like this, a huge cast of characters is to be expected. I’m uncertain of how some of the names should be translated since they may not be personal names or they may refer to lower class characters, so those may take some time to sort out as we read and their titles and the naming conventions become clearer, so please bear with me. I’ve decided to leave them Korean-style last name first and reorganized the list according to related groups of characters.

Lee Yong – A Pyeongsari commoner.

Kang Cheongtaek – Lee Yong’s violent, unpleasant wife with whom he suffers intense marital discord since he has returned to his first love Wolseon.

Kong Wolseon – The daughter of the shaman Wolseonneo. She has been destined to be separated from her true love Yong Lee her whole life.

Wolseonneo – Pyeongsari’s shaman.

Monk Wugwan – A Buddhist monk at Yeonguksa Temple and Kim Kaeju’s older brother.

Kim Kaeju – Monk Wugwan’s younger brother. As a hero of the common people and leader of the anti-Japanese Donghak resistance, his character is based on the historical figure Kim Kaenam.

Let’s pause here and take a look for a moment at the Donghak peasant rebellion.  More details of the rebellion and social changes it brought are laid out here:

This commemorative video also gives you the basic details of that historical event:

Here is an article on Kim Kaenam (Korean only):

Choi Chisu – The nervous and cynical head of Choi Champan’s household.

Choi Seohui – Choi Champan’s only flesh and blood heir through Byeoldangassi and Choi Chisu.

Byeoldangassi – Choi Chisu’s wife and Seohui’s real mother.

Wife Yoon – Choi Chisu’s mother. When she went to pray for the soul of her dead husband at Yeonguksa Temple, she was raped by Kim Kaeju, and the subsequent birth of their son Kim Hwan is a deeply buried family secret.

Kim Hwan – Wife Yoon’s son with Kim Kaeju through rape. He has a noble personality and respectable appearance.

Lee Dongjin– Choi Chisu’s friend and Lee Sanghyeon’s father.

Kang Posu – Jirisan’s famous hunter. He accompanies Choi Chisu trekking through the mountains and falls in love with Gwinyeo, who is staying at Choi Champan’s house.

Guinyeo – A servant girl in the household of Choi Champan. She is full of resentment toward the yangban nobleman class and feels inferior because of her low social status.

Kim Gilsang – An orphan brought up in Choi Champan’s household. He later becomes their errand boy.

Park Sudong – Choi Champan’s honest and profoundly thoughtful manservant.

Bongsunneo – Choi Champan’s seamstress, mother of Bongsun. After her husband participated in the rebellion and had been driven out of the house, she settled in Choi Champan’s household.

Bongsun – Bongsunneo’s daughter who is good friends with Seohui.

Kim Yipyeong – A farmer in Pyeongsari.

Tumanneo –Kim Yipyeong’s wife.

Kim Pyeongsan – A military class, impoverished yangban without the nobility’s education or money.

Hamantaek – Kim Pyeongsan’s wife.

Kim Keobok – Kim Pyeongsan’s oldest son.

Kim Hanbok – Kim Pyeongsan’s second son.

Kim Hunjang – Pyeongsari’s all-around man in charge and Seohui’s teacher.

Chilseong – A farmer in Pyeongsari and Iminyeo’s husband.

Imineo – Chilsong’s wife and Pyeongsari’s most beautiful woman.

Cho Byeongsu – Cho Jungu’s son.

Cho Jungu – An impoverished yangban who is a distant relative of Choi Chisu.

Here are some photos of Yeonguksa Temple since it appears to be a major setting for this story:

This site appears to have actual photos of the TV series set for Land, which shows Pyongsari and the home of Choi Champan:

This is plenty to cover as an introduction to the series. Next time we will delve into the actual story and find out what has made this such an important novel for Koreans.

Part one of a nine part series.



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2018 New Year Reading Schedule

Happy New Year! This year, I have quite an ambitious plan laid out for this blog in 2018, but I’m going to do some rearranging of my selections. Because my Literati Corner selection this year is kind of complicated, I’m going to be doing whole series of books for all of my languages this year. I’ve already mentioned I will be covering another story arc for the Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni Kai series in Japanese, which will be a trilogy of books, and I have a Chinese language sci fi trilogy also on tap. If I can’t get through all three books during the year, I will bump the third book in each to 2019.

My regular Korean language selections will switch positions with my Literati Corner selection for the duration of the novel. My 2018 Literati Corner selection is going to be Kyeongni Park’s (Pak Kyongni according to older romanization) Land, which in the version I’m going to reading will be twelve volumes split into four, three-volume segments in the original Korean. I will only do the first segment this year, but I will end up covering the whole thing over the next few years. The one volume English language version I found went out of print quickly, and the book isn’t very well-known in the west anyway, so I really want to spend some time on it. Therefore, my regular Korean selections will pop up between series like the Literati Corner usually does. I will be switching off among the three languages as usual although I am doing related books because part of my objective in reading them is for my personal study as well as for public interest.

I actually covered this writer on my secondary blog a few years ago, so you can read up on her here:

I have a lot of other things lined up this year, though I will announce them closer to their dates. I will be continuing to roll out online courses on Korean culture and language, which you can read about here:

Lady Xiansa

Then, over the holidays I sat down with Joe Compton over at the Go Indie Now You Tube channel, and a portion of our talk was published this weekend as part of his latest show. You can check me out at the 100 minute mark here – the topic guide is in the video description:

Another item I was able to put together and publish a few weeks ago was my interview with UCLA translator/Chinese professor Michael Berry, which you can read at my second blog:

We had a nice chat about his new translation project, martial arts novels, and films among other topics.

Later this month, I’ll be speaking on the 13th at 1:30PM for the Parsec Science Fiction Writers meeting here in Squirrel Hill on “East Asian Archaeoastronomy.”

Otherwise, my first quarter of the year will be quiet, so I may be able to get you some more book reading videos for my novel The Vulpecula Cycle and publish the English version of my new horror novel, Sohyeon After Midnight, if everything goes as planned. Here is a brief description of the new project:

Sohyeon Choi and his family are an average second-generation immigrant family living in the affluent DC suburb of Addison. One night, an odd-looking man in an old-fashioned boat spirits Sohyeon away across the sky into another dimension, pulling him and his family into a war between two unknown worlds.

One of these strange, distant worlds is Khabu, land of the immortals, which is ruled by a queen whose tiger clan dominates her bird clan citizens. Within the ancestral crypt of the royal family, it is rumored Khabu’s ancient kings still live out their days in animal form, their time living among their human brethren long-forgotten. Khabu’s high priestess, Minha, searches for a champion to help them heal the rift between the queen and her rebellious brother who was been wandering other worlds in search of forbidden magic.

The second world Sohyeon encounters on his night voyages is Eokmisseun, a land of humans that has been ravaged by the demonic figure Litt, whose magic has forced the ruling council into hiding and turned most of the citizens into shadowy half-men with a taste for blood. Connected to Khabu through the gift of a flock of magical birds the underground leadership must use to communicate since they can’t freely travel through the capital city, one member of the council also holds another mysterious artefact, the only remaining silver dagger to be found in both lands. It is this heirloom that Sohyeon’s nighttime ferryman Pontol requests his help in retrieving, sealing Sohyeon’s promise with a bite on the hand.

So be on the lookout for my first post on Land!


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Prophecies of Murder Rock a Police Officer’s Memory – The Time Wasting Chapter, Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni, Part 2

Ryukishi Zeronana’s The Time Wasting Chapter continues as Akasaka goes sightseeing in Hinamizawa with Rika tagging along. His elderly tour guide Makino escorts him around the village, and Akasaka enjoys the fresh air and green scenery, though he thinks his cover story of sightseeing doesn’t make sense for a man whose wife is in the hospital having their baby. Rika suggests Akasaka come to her home, which has a good view of the countryside, and Makino explains her home is the Furude Shrine. Akasaka recalls what Ooishi told him about the shrine’s role in the Demon’s Abyss Defense Union. They take the car, and Akasaka gets another glimpse of the anti-dam banners around the shrine, some referring to Oyashiro-sama’s wrath.

Rika listens to their discussion of government policy, but when she is alone with Akasaka, Rika says all kinds of curious things as her demeanor drastically changes, such as “it has been decided that the dam will not be built.”  She concludes their visit with an ominous warning for him to return to Tokyo. He doesn’t understand what has come over her and asks who she is now since she doesn’t seem to be Rika anymore. She remarks about how afraid he seems of her now and laughs at him; he asks if she is joking, but she doesn’t clarify. When she comes back to herself, they go in for tea, and she doesn’t remember telling Akasaka to return to Tokyo.

A couple of brief sections come next, one with some unnamed characters who seem to be the kidnappers watching a car stop by their hideout, but they are relieved to see it is a colleague rather than the police. The colleague brought a bag of personal necessities, including pastry bread and ramen, but the boy has been sleeping. The suggestion is that the boy is the minister’s kidnapped grandson, but it is still very vague about the characters. They discuss letting the little boy go now that the minister has indefinitely frozen the dam building project in Hinamizawa.

The next section talks about the rainy weather forecast, then a third short section “Barley Tea, Black Tea, a Millstone and So On,” introduces Mion Sonozaki and Doctor Irie. Dr. Irie is examining the blood pressure of an elderly patient and joking around with her. The old woman is Oryo Sonozaki, matriarch of the Sonozaki house. She has her granddaughter Mion offer Irie some barley tea. Mion offers him black tea with sugar and milk instead, and after more wrangling about what sort of tea he wants, they talk about the weather and the dam project. Two other characters are also brought up here, Shimiko and Taeko, possibly children in the Sonozaki family, though I’m fuzzy on who exactly they are.

Moving on to the next major section, “June 17th Evening,” the story resumes with Akasaka receiving a phone call at his hotel. It is someone named Kanou, and he calls to find out what Akasaka has come up with in the investigation. Akasaka explains how he went sightseeing and describes his impressions of Hinamizawa. Next, he gets a call from Ooishi, who suggests they go out for dinner and drinking. They meet up with a couple of other guys to play a game of mahjong, which requires four players. They joke around a lot, talk about women and getting drunk. When Akasaka cautions him about drinking, Ooishi protests it’s on his off hours. One of the guys who joins them talks about how he hasn’t played mahjong since he was in school, and another is nearly 60 years old (though maybe it’s the same guy). There’s a lot of discussion here about safe tiles and fishing tiles, which are mahjong terms, so we get a blow by blow description of the game. Akasaka silently apologizes to his wife for spending his time this way while they are apart. The tail end of this scene has them discussing Minister Inugai’s kidnapped son and the family meeting held the night before at the Sonozaki house.  Here is a scan of the painting in the novel at this point showing the mahjong game.

Time Wasting Chapter 2

The mahjong game is not in the anime, and I want to point out that the author of the series has come out saying he really likes to swing from the extreme of showing his characters having fun and playing games with a lot of camaraderie to the really gruesome murders that characterize the main plot of the story. I have to admit it’s an effective technique, since it makes the characters very likeable and fun even as their dark side comes out or they are thrown into really evil situations. But this chapter is still Saturday night, and they can’t spend every minute investigating the case.

The second part of this chapter alternates between the men and the flashback of Sonozaki yakuza family matriarch Oryo and her granddaughter Mion, who are much more prominent in the book than they are in the anime version of the story arc. It’s interesting that it doesn’t have a subheading but just blends into the mahjong party as if it were a continuation of it, and it is a very long sequence.

Some of this family meeting is portrayed in the anime, which is one of the creepiest, most ominous scenes in the series, and that is the part where Oryo talks about the kidnapping and the rumors of the undercover Tokyo rookie cop sent to Hinamizawa to investigate it. But there are other important secondary characters present, such as village head Kimiyoshi and Mion’s father, but Rika is also there, too young to really understand what is going on but picking up enough of what is being said. Rika’s parents are also present.  Mion is also much more prominent in the scene, and she is of course much younger than in the rest of the series. She’s about 12 here, but she seems to always be at Oryo’s side and is introduced as the next generation’s head of the family, Oryo’s successor. Oryo of course is an old woman, and she is resting on her futon while the others are gathered around for a discussion.

Part of the meeting is about paying for mass communication methods and the defense union newsletter. They are considering their tactical needs in this war over the dam, and mass communication is an important part of that. Their newsletter had a price hike the year before, and they go into a deep discussion of the newsletter, which appears to be a subject particularly important to the Furudes and Kimiyoshis, so they have a larger role here than anywhere else I’ve seen in the franchise. Finally, the conversation turns political, getting to the subject of the Minister’s grandson’s kidnapping. This part explains how Mion’s father is actually a member of the yakuza straight up, and it explains that he is Oryo’s son-in-law rather than a Sonozaki by blood. The question of whether the Demon’s Abyss Defense Union was involved in the little boy’s abduction comes up and is debated, and some sinister jokes are made about the undercover policeman.

The day’s events wind down with three more brief sections, each with a different font.  One is a conversation with Minister Inugai regarding Akasaka’s investigation, the second is focused on another game, and the third section , “Something in a Demon’s Eyes,” returns to Oryo and Mion. Among other things, they talk about how the minister’s grandson and related to their enemy.

I’m going to skip the next major chapter division, “June 18th Sunday,” which starts off with Akasaka sleeping and getting a call from Ooishi. They drive around Hinamizawa, and Akasaka has another encounter with Rika before the story goes back to the kidnapped grandson. It describes the little boy’s relationship to his grandfather, shows more of the criminals who captured him, and ends with a a confrontation between the kidnappers and Akasaka and Ooishi.  This confrontation lands Akasaka in the local clinic with an injury.

The final major section, “June 18th Sunday Night,” begins with Akasaka losing consciousness. He wakes up in bed at the clinic and talks with Dr. Irie, who explains he was hit on the head and needs to rest for 24 hours, but Dr. Irie lets Ooishi visit with Akasaka. Akasaka asks if the kidnappers were arrested, and Ooishi explains what happened after he was wounded. The kidnappers fled the area, probably with the help of the villagers. Akasaka then asks about the minister’s son. Ooishi says the boy is now free but under police protection.

When they discuss Akasaka returning to Tokyo, Akasaka thinks about Yuki delivering their baby. Ooishi wonders whether it’s safe for Akasaka to recuperate at Hinamizawa’s clinic since the kidnappers weren’t apprehended and he is in enemy territory. Akasaka asks about calling Yuki and wants to use the lobby phone. Ooishi leaves as Akasaka makes his way to the phone. When he reaches the phone and dials his wife’s hospital in Tokyo, there’s no dial tone.

He starts looking for another phone in the office, but someone tells him there’s a public phone in the shopping district, so he leaves the hospital looking for it. When he reaches it, he finds the cord is cut. When he goes into the store to ask the attendant about the phone, the old woman directs him to another phone booth. He goes down the road to find it but discovers it too has its cord cut.

Leaving the phone booth, he sees a small shadow, a figure whose long hair is blowing in the cold wind. The little girl starts to talk to him, and he realizes it is Rika. When he does, he asks if she cut the cord and gets a little angry, asking her why she did that. She in turn talks to him about his fear, then asks if he knows the way back to the hospital. But instead, he goes with her back to the shrine, asking her if her parents would be angry to discover she was out late like this. She says they wouldn’t because they are too busy and forgot about her.

Arriving at the shrine, they look around and see the older villagers there drinking. Rika tells him it is the night of the Watanagashi festival. As they talk, Akasaka remembers what Ooishi said about being in enemy territory and fleetingly thinks of returning to the hospital. In the middle of the scene, they actually directly discuss the minister’s grandson, and Rika asks if Akasaka helped him. Then they talk about the news that the dam project has been stopped. But instead of being optimistic that their troubles have been averted, Rika talks about the murders that will take place each year, including her own murder. She says it has been decided, and he asks who has decided it? She doesn’t answer him.

Instead, Rika starts to describe the murders in detail. She predicts the dam project site foreman will die in Showa 54, and he turns out to be the 60 year old man Akasaka played Mahjong with the other night! In Showa 55, she says, it will be Satoko’s parents, though Akasaka doesn’t know who Satoko is. In Showa 56, Rika’s own parents will die. In Showa 57, Satoko’s aunt will die. Finally, in Showa 58, Rika herself will die. Akasaka doesn’t know what to say and doesn’t know how to comfort her. He ends up going back to the hospital.

The next few sections before the final scene are three more short pieces, all titled the same thing, “A Mother’s Diary.” They appear to be written by Rika Furude’s mother, though Rika is rarely named directly in any of the sections. Her mother usually refers to her as “that child,” あの子, and doesn’t mention her name until almost the end of the first passage. In the first of the diary entries, her mother declares she doesn’t like the child. She talks about parenting manuals and parents’ qualifications, wondering if she’s a bad mother.

She notes that Rika was different from the other kids in her kindergarten class. When they went on a field trip, everyone else was excited, but Rika was bored. At a sporting event, other kids were eager to participate, but Rika was bored. When the teacher read a fun picture book, Rika didn’t laugh, and she doesn’t like her mother’s delicious lunches. She has more complaints about Rika, though she does mention that the little girl is cute, but in the final line of the segment, she just says over and over how she doesn’t understand the girl.

The second diary entry begins with a statement about the child crawling into the futon with Oryo at the Sonozaki family meeting, explaining that Rika is the apple of Oryo’s eye and that Oryo thinks Rika is as cute as a cat. Rika’s mother, however, scolds her. She mentions not liking how crafty Oryo is and describes an incident that day that left her apprehensive. After coming home from shopping, she sees her daughter is alone in front of the local candy shop, and she gets into a controversy with the elderly owner over Rika eating candy without paying for it, which leaves Rika’s mother with a bad feeling. She knows her daughter is not a normal child and has heard the Furude family’s story that Rika could be the reincarnation of the shrine deity Oyashiro-sama.

The last of the diary entries gets into some events that happen at Rika’s school with her classmates on a school inspection day. The children are taught to handle knives, and Rika is very good with one cutting a fish, which surprises everyone. Her mother wonders how Rika learned to cook curry rice. She talks about the superstition that Rika is the reincarnation of Oyashiro-sama, noting that Rika was aware of even international news developments at her young age, and her mother isn’t sure why. She declares quite pointedly at the end of the passage that Rika isn’t the reincarnation of the shrine deity but is just her ordinary daughter!

The final scene of the book takes us back to Showa 60 (1985) in Hokkaido, which is the section title. This part goes back to the reunion between Ooishi and Akasaka seven years after the kidnapping case, and Ooishi tells him what ultimately happened in Hinamizawa. It is a very long segment that is much more detailed and juicy than in the anime.

Ooishi drives Akasaka to an onsen-ryokan, or a hot spring inn, and Akasaka talks about the night they played mahjong in Hinamizawa. He finally asks whether the kidnappers in the case were ever arrested. Ooishi says they didn’t find them when they searched the mountain but thinks maybe someone hid them until things cooled down, and then the kidnappers fled overseas.

Then they discuss how Akasaka went to Okinomiya the night he was looking for a phone and found them all with cut cords in Hinamizawa. When he called his wife at the hospital, he was told that she died in an accident. Akasaka thinks about the little girl who warned him that night to go back to Tokyo or he would regret it and how she cut the phone cords so he couldn’t call the hospital and hear the bad news. He tells Ooishi this and mentions hearing that Rika was believed to be the reincarnation of Oyahsiro-sama. She seemed to know about Yukie’s death and didn’t always seem to be herself.

Ooishi asks if his wife’s accident was investigated, and Akasaka says he was suspicious that it might be premeditated murder and really thought it was at the time. They get into a deep discussion of her accident and the kidnapping case for a few pages until Ooishi asks about Rika’s comments to him, asking if she knew why the great disaster happened in 1983. Volcanic gases from the “demon’s abyss” seeped out, killing the entire village of 2,000 people, an event which was known as the “Great Hinamizawa Disaster.” Ooishi mentions the murder of Oyashiro-sama’s reincarnation, Rika Furude, and Oyashiro-sama’s anger resulting from it. Akasaka didn’t hear about the murder, which surprises Ooishi. While Akasaka did hear about the disaster on the news and saw her name on the list of victims, he also acknowledged there was a five year gap between Rika talking about her own death with Akasaka and the great disaster or curse of Oyashiro-sama with the string of serial murders. So Rika was murdered and didn’t die in the disaster!

Next, Ooishi mentions the sealing of Hinamizawa and the discovery of two dead bodies from the village on the night of the Watanagashi festival, the body of a female burned in the mountains and of Tomitake, the traveling photographer. Then Ooishi discusses the strange suicide of Dr. Irie at the clinic, who took sleeping pills shortly before the disaster, and they talk about the possibility that he was murdered as well. Finally, Ooishi tells Akasaka the details of Rika’s murder: a group of elderly villagers found her body at the shrine at noon, and she had been gutted while drugged.

Ooishi explains the method of the murder was connected to the old meaning of the Watanagashi festival; when man-eating demons were said to live in the village, they would gut their human sacrifice victims. The word wata means “cotton” in the new festival incarnation but is a homonym for “intestines.” They also get deeper into Oyashiro-sama’s role – let me mention here since we’re getting into etymologies that the deity’s name is always written in katakana as オヤシロさま and doesn’t seem to have much in the way of double meanings that I can tell anyway – and the village’s sinister old name with its connection to hell. They consider whether that was some sort of divine curse.

Time Wasting Chapter 4

Anime Screencap of Rika and Akasaka

When the conversation returns to the subject of Hinamizawa being permanently sealed, Akasaka reveals that Rika told him all of this when he was in Hinamizawa, which surprises Ooishi. After Akasaka reels off each of her predictions for each year’s death, Ooishi asks why she didn’t flee, though I’m not sure that’s a reasonable expectation of a five-year-old child.

The section ends with a statement that the Hinamizawa area remains sealed and the disaster unsolved with the two policemen’s names the line before that, as if this was some statement they had made for someone.

Time Wasting Chapter 5

Anime Screencap of Hinamizawa After the “Great Disaster”

As with many East Asian novels, the book ends with an afterword by the author – incidentally, I got the Japanese 07 pronunciation of his name as zeronana based on the furigana in the back of the book over the numbers.

The Time Wasting Chapter is a good introduction to the series for adults outside of the anime fandom because it’s just one volume and manages to touch on the broader plot than is evident in the actual first story arc of the series, The Demoned-Away Chapter or subsequent chapters. Although it’s the fourth story arc of the question arcs, it brings out the gritty adult noir plot and connects it effectively with the supernatural horror plot centered on the village children. The earlier chapters are so focused on the kids that it takes a long time to get into the meaty adult backstory. I think the series deserves a much wider readership since it has a lot of psychological and sociological depth to it, plus I think the author has a real understanding of abused children and the family dynamic they are situated in.

I think the spookiest thing about a few of the story arcs that end like this one does is that, although the adults won the dam war and saved their village from being destroyed by flooding from the proposed dam, they somehow ended up in the same if not worse situation even though the dam wasn’t built: the village was sealed off and they were all dead. Even if you just look at this story arc, that ending suggests something more sinister rather than supernatural afoot. I’ll pick out a solution story arc to cover in 2018, so we can discuss this further. That 2018 series, of course, will have lots of spoilers, so be sure to watch the show or read the books (I’m not sure how the manga stacks up against the show, but it is available in English while the books are only in Japanese) before I run that series, or don’t read my series until you’re ready.

With that I’ll close out 2018. Next week I’ll have details on my reading plans and other activities for the new year.

Part two of a two part series.

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Mamoru Meets a Creepy Little Girl in a Doomed Village – The Time Wasting Chapter, Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni, Part 1

I’m finishing off 2017 with a one volume story arc in the popular series “Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni” by Ryukishi Zeronana (竜騎士07 “暇潰し編 – ひぐらしのなく頃に”), which began as an indie video game/visual novel that later expanded into an anime series, manga and light novels. This series is sometimes translated into English as “Higurashi When They Cry,” though the literal translation would be “When The Cicadas Cry.”You can purchase a copy of this pocket version in Japanese here:

Time Wasting Chapter

Cover Art of the Pocket Edition

This novelized version was published in 2011 and has 336 pages. The whole series runs to something like 16 volumes from start to finish, though not all of the anime is covered by the novels. I wanted to cover some of these books because I think the story is underrated and has very sophisticated horror-noir motifs and a complex storytelling style that is quite effective.  The novel versions also have some nice features in spite of them being based on a video game. Visual novels in Japan, however, are mostly text-based games with little player interaction, which makes them quite a decent source for adaptation to novels and manga. Since they also are more like the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” novels popular in the US in the 80s, they have different story paths with alternate endings, too, which explains some of the story’s odd structure.

The doujin self-publishing movement is very strong in Japan, and here is an overview of the general art hubs involved:

This is a pretty interesting English-language database of popular doujin, maybe only manga, but still a good resource for readers who want to get deeper into that subculture:

Of course, author Ryukishi Zeronana began as a doujin self-published game developer, and he is part of a group of game developers called 07th Expansion, and this is their website:

I know that some anime clubs are leery about watching the anime because they can’t make it past the first scene, which depicts a murder. As someone who doesn’t enjoy graphically violent fare, I actually thought that scene was tastefully done and that the anime was tolerable, while there are plenty of too-violent anime I won’t watch. The story was clearly never meant for kids to begin with.  What I hope to do with this book and the answer story arc I want to do from the series in 2018, is convince people with reservations to take a second look at it.  But even if you aren’t into gaming or anime, as long as you can read Japanese, you can enjoy the novels. I am going to cover this novel with non-anime fans in mind for a few reasons that I’ll get into later.

The basic premise of the story is that teenage Keiichi Maebara moves with his parents from Tokyo to the sleepy, picturesque little village of Himanizawa in 1983. Hinamizawa has a lurid, legendary history, and local politics are dominated by the three families, the Furude, the Sonozaki and the Kimiyoshi. The Furudes lead the local Shinto shrine, the Sonozaki are rumored to be a yakuza-mafia family whose elderly matriarch is considered the power behind the veil in the village, and the Kimiyoshi who don’t really have much of a reputation beyond competently running the local government. Keiichi, one of the few teen boys in the village, is very good-natured and falls in easily with a group of girls who also attend Hinamizawa’s one room schoolhouse.

Eventually, the sinister events taking place among the adults in the village intrudes upon the kids’ fun, so they also get drawn into the dramatic, mysterious string of murders that have been occurring over the past five years.  The murders are connected to a government-imposed dam building project that would have left Hinamizawa underwater. This project split the adults in the village mostly along class lines, and the murders were the fallout of the acrimonious battle among them, though some people believed the murders were of supernatural origin. Because the story is mostly told from the perspective of the kids and not the adults, it makes the storytelling all the more disturbing.

The “Time Wasting Chapter” is one of the “question” arcs in the series; certain story arcs are “answer” arcs. While all of the arcs can stand alone and have their own interesting interpretation of events with red herrings and alternative endings, you really don’t get the full effect of the storytelling or get to the noirish rationale for the murders once the culprit is revealed unless you see or read all of them. The “question” arcs bring to light various aspects of the murders and different characters’ theories about what they think is really going on, while the “answer” arcs finally reveal some of the truth about the situations presented in the “question” arcs.

This “question” arc is a powerful political and supernatural flashback to the events experienced by an outsider to Hinamizawa, a policeman from Tokyo, in 1978. It is one of the rare story arcs told from the perspective of an adult and not one of the kids in Keiichi’s circle of friends. Note that the series uses the old Japanese method for expressing dates with the name of the reigning emperor and the number of the year within his reign.  Therefore, the “Time Wasting Chapter” falls in the year called Showa 53. At this time, the heiress to the Furude Shrine, Rika Furude, who is a major character in the whole series, is only 5 years old. The volume begins with a short poem by her alter ego Frederica Bernkastel asking who the killer is.

The story begins with a first-person introduction set midsummer of Showa 60, 1985, by Mamoru Akasaka. Akasaka goes on a trip for a reunion with an old friend Kuraudo Ooishi, who is a retired police detective, in XX Prefecture – the author doesn’t specify location in some parts of the novel and notates it this way – in the city of Okinomiya. The two of them worked together 7 years before, and Akasaka thinks of the little girl he met back then and the abduction he was investigating. Ooshi’s family is from Sapporo, so there are some references to that city and Hokkaido, which provides a bit more grounding in real Japan for the setting for the story than the anime provides.

The next big section division comes with “The Start of the Summer of Showa 58 (1983).” This novel doesn’t have chapters but has very choppy breaks with sub headings of chapter sections, so it has a very random structure, which makes it kind of interesting and challenging as a non-native reader. The setting here is a location where there are a lot of noisy children, and someone nearby is listening to a car radio with news about traffic and the controversy surrounding the Hinamizawa dam construction opponents. There is a mention of a murder, riots and an appearance by Minister Inugai outside the Ministry of Construction in connection to it.

The man in the car listens to this and looks out the window. He’s there to get one of the children, Toshiki Inugai. In the confusion, someone calls bird-related code names out and, entering a gate, comes face to face with the little boy, who has a name tag on. Let me pause here to mention in passing an interesting detail.  The Japanese characters for the name Inugai actually mean “domesticating dogs.” This is a nice bit of wordplay since an important, secretive intelligence group more prominent in other story arcs is called the Yamainu, or “wild dogs.” If I recall correctly, the Yamainu call themselves by bird code names, and the name of the village at the center of the story’s intense drama, Hinamizawa, literally uses the Japanese characters meaning “young bird or chick watching swamp.”

The scene shifts to a telephone conversation. Minister Inugai, sits in his office as the phone rings, and whoever is on the other end of the line takes their time responding to him. Ultimately, it’s a weird phone call about the little boy, and most of the speaker’s dialogue is normal Japanese written in katakana, which we have established with other Japanese books suggests a non-standard accent. They say their piece and leave Minister Inugai sputtering into the phone.

In the next scene, Akasaka spends time with his pregnant wife in a section titled “Reflection with Yukie,” where the writing is even addressed to her in the second person “you,” which is pretty unusual to see in novels. He has a photo of her, talking about memorizing her and the memory being enough for him. He reminisces at length about his marriage proposal to her before going on to think about the birth of their child and guess its sex or try to come up with names for it.

Right now Yukie is in the hospital waiting to give birth to their first child, and he is apologetic that he won’t be there. Work has intervened in the form of this business trip. As he is leaving, he runs into his father-in-law, and they chat a bit. Akasaka says he knows this is a big sacrifice for Yukie, but his father in law seems to understand the situation and how prestigious his position is.

The next couple of sections send Akasaka through three different police bureaus as he gets drawn into the Construction Minister Inugai’s grandson’s kidnapping and the unrest over the dam project in Hinamizawa. The section titles are “Tokyo, Kasumigaseki Area, The Metropolitan Police Department’s Public Safety Bureau,” “ XX Prefecture, Prefecture Police Headquarters,” and “XX Prefecture, Shishibone City, Okinomiya Police Station.” Okinomiya is the largest city closest to Hinamizawa and plays a large role in the series in other story arcs. Mostly these sections provide some technical background to the investigation and again ground it in the real geography of Japan – Hinamizawa is of course a fictional town.

I’m not going to get bogged down in the details here since this is mostly skipped over in the anime version, but there are a few noteworthy things to mention. In Tokyo, they mostly discuss the Minister and the criminal gang they think snatched his grandson in a very kanji-packed segment. This is the part where Akasaka is first told he will be going to investigate in Hinamizawa and the dam project’s connection to the Minister. I guess this XX province is not close to Tokyo, so Akasaka can’t just come back easily when his wife has the baby. The name of the group that he is given to investigate translates to “The Demon’s Abyss Defense Union.” Hinamizawa’s old name was Onigafuchi, “The Demon’s Abyss,” and the legend was that demons had emerged there from the swamps, though this is not explained here and comes up in other the story arcs’ ample conspiracy theories.

Next, Aksaska heads to the Prefectural Police Headquarters where he is briefed on this opposition group and some sort of murder case, and they tell him about a list of the opposition group’s members. They discuss the group in terms of “violence doctrine groups,” which I guess just means they aren’t dedicated to using only peaceful means to get what they want. The opposition group has attacked the construction site, broken equipment, and set the construction office on fire. They also made a lot of threats toward and attacked anything related to the dam construction. This is why the police are now questioning their connection to the abduction of the construction minister’s grandson. A question comes up as to whether the group is yakuza, which leads to a mention of the village head’s son-in-law, but they don’t linger over this theory. Akasaka is also made aware that the kidnapping case has been kept under wraps, and he realizes this will definitely keep him from his wife.

Akasaka heads for Okinomiya deep in the remote part of the mountains. He arrives at the Okinomiya Police Station, where he meets Detective Ooishi, who is a major character in the entire series, so now things will get into full swing with the story. Here is another mention of the connection between the yakuza and the Demon’s Abyss Defense Union. Detective Ooishi is introduced to give Akasaka details on the S name, which refers to the Sonozakis, one of the prominent three families of the village connected to the Demon’s Abyss Defense Union. They list the officers of the village: the head of the village is from the Kimiyoshi family, the vice-president is the head of the Furude shrine, the Sonozakis are the village treasurers, and someone from the Makino family is village auditor. Two other positions with odd titles are also mentioned: the united front manager is a Kimiyoshi, and the public relations head is a Sonozaki.

By page 40, Akasaka finally arrives at his destination in a long section titled, “XX Prefecture, Shishibone City, Hinamizawa.” He talks at length here with Detective Ooishi again and another detective named Hondaya. By the end of the chapter, Ooishi regales him with the legend of the village being the home to man eating demons who spirit away people, how it wasn’t named Hinamizawa prior to the Meiji Era but was called “Demon’s Abyss,” Onigafuchi, implying that the Minister’s grandson might also have been “demoned” away and eaten! Hondaya and Ooishi spend a fair amount of this chapter laughing gregariously and joking around.

At one point in this segment, they drive off the main road onto a gravel road, passing a number of flags with slogans about the dam on them. The anime screenshot I’m posting below shows some of these, but there are some interesting ones noted in the novel that are a bit different: “The Hinamizawa Dam Project Resolution Repeal,” “Shame on the Puppet Prefectural Governor! Overthrow him!” “Protect the Village from the Unscrupulous Dam,” “Malice! Oyashiro-sama’s Curse!” Let me note at this point that Oyashiro-sama is the Shinto deity honored at the Furude Shrine (though in the anime, the statue looks oddly like Jesus), and the curse becomes a huge part of the conspiracy storylines in just about every story arc. Akasaka is non-plussed to see all of this, while Ooishi just smiles. Oiishi talks with Akasaka at length about the three families, particularly the Furudes who control the Shinto shrine since the shrine has become the center of the opposition defense union’s activities.

Time Wasting Chapter 2

Four brief chapters come next in a row, each with different fonts, too, perhaps as a way of breaking up the text more dramatically. First comes “A Telephone Call with Yukie” that is a fairly mundane call between Akasaka and Yukie. Second is “Visitor Greeting Appointment Notes,” which is a short section addressed to the Prefecture Chairman and an assembly of people directly and is about a twenty five year anniversary of the founding of the prefectural assembly. I wonder if this one is some sort of exhibit A in understanding the dam project since the project is mentioned in a few paragraphs.

The third section titled “Gears, Fire and a Taste of Honey” is way too surreal for me to make heads or tails of. It seems to be talking about two unnamed people. Finally, the fourth short segment is “A Trunk of Young Birds” is another short section with a different font that begins with a car stopping, and an elderly man opens his trunk and finds young birds, which may be a reference to the kidnapping, but again, as with the previous section, the character is unnamed.  Both of these seem rather surreal, though I didn’t study them too carefully since we have a lot to cover.

A major chapter division comes next with “June 17th, Saturday .” At this point, the story shows Akasaka getting around Hinamizawa. He is at his hotel, and Akasaka is feeling homesick thinking about his wife in the hospital.  When he goes out, people think he’s a newspaperman going sightseeing. He explains to them that this is his first visit to Hinamizawa. In the next section, “Hinamizawa Sightseeing,” Akasaka actually goes sightseeing in Hinamizawa and ends up at a bus stop where he encounters a sweet little girl who appears to be sleeping. When she wakes, they laugh and joke a little over the girl’s silly expressions, but she is eventually introduced to him as Rika Furude. Akasaka notices how the older man who is showing him around the village addresses her unusually with great respect and is puzzled by it until he realizes she is connected to one of the three head families in the village. She goes along sightseeing with them. Here is a scan of one of the handful of illustrations in the book showing Rika at the bus stop.

Rika at the Bus Stop0001

Illustration in “The Time Wasting Chapter”

I took an anime screenshot of the scene, too.

Time Wasting Chapter 1

Since this introductory post is getting kind of long, we’ll pick up with their sightseeing activities in the next post. Ryukishi Zeronana has a very playful, experimental style that comes out more in the novels than in the anime, and of course the reader gets to sink into more details at a leisurely pace in this format, such as focusing more on how many cigarettes Ooishi smokes while he talks to Akasaka, so it’s worth the effort if you can read some Japanese. He also uses some of the illustrations in the books as clues for the mystery in other story arcs, such as a handwritten police report or the note from Keiichi Maebera, which is a nice touch.  It should be a fun ride as we finish it up next time.

Part one of a two part series.

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False and True Form Combine When the Jade Hare is Captured – Journey to the West, Part 6

We’ve finally reached the final volume of Journey to the West in our series for the year, and it covers chapters 84 through 100.  The first line is rather fun, given how prevalent the idea that Sanzang the monk is irresistible as a man and as a high level spiritual master actually is in the story: “The story tells how Tang Sanzang kept his masculine essence intact and escaped from the terrible snare of mist and flowers.”  Sanzang is always running from women who want to marry him and demons who want to eat him, and this last volume is more of the same.  This volume has about ten story arcs of varying lengths, but I’m not going to highlight all of them.

The first arc begins during the summer when they meet an old woman and a small boy under tall willow trees.  The old woman warns them to go back the way they came because there is a persecution of Buddhists taking place up ahead in the capital of Dharmadestructia.  The king is trying to fulfill his 10,000 monk quota, and he has already murdered 9,996 monks.  Monkey sees that this old woman is really Guanyin in disguise.  He goes to investigate alone and finds the city inviting, so he steals clothes so they can pass through in disguise as laymen.

A whole lot of mischief goes on when they stay the night at an inn, but ultimately they end up crossing the path of one of the king’s officials and find themselves inadvertently being taken there in a trunk, which is mistaken for a trunk full of treasure.  Sanzang realizes they are probably going to be killed by the king, but Monkey uses his transformations to neutralize their enemies in the palace, which includes sleep-inducing insects and monkey clones instructed to shave everyone’s head.

When the palace ladies in the inner quarters got up to wash and do their hair before dawn the next morning they all found that their hair had gone.  The same had happened to all the eunuchs, senior and junior, who moved around the palace. They all crowded to the outside of the royal bedchamber, where they played music to wake the king up, all holding back their tears but not daring to speak.  Before long the queen in the palace woke up to find her hair gone too.  [Journey to the West, p. 2817]

The trunk is brought before the king, and he finds the monks hiding there.  Seeing that they are Buddhists, the king bows before them.  Sanzang tells him the truth about who they are and what their mission is.  The king converts to Buddhism on the spot and sends them safely on their way.

The next story arc covers the little band of travelers fighting with 30 or 40 evil spirits.  Story arc number 3 starts in Chapter 87 where they reach a walled and moated city that they think is India.  The local officials confirm their guess and explain that drought has brought hardship to their people and that food and goods are very expensive.  Everyone is in survival mode, so they invite the monks to pray for rain.

Monkey summons Ao Guang, the dragon of the Eastern Sea, to bring the rains, but the dragon has to get the proper Heavenly edicts and bring the generals to fulfill this request.  Then Monkey goes to try to get a heavenly edict from the Jade Emperor so Ao Guang can make it rain.  The heavenly officials argue with him about whether it is supposed to rain there.  Unsuccessful, Monkey returns to the city officials and explains how the ruling marquis has offended heaven, which is the reason for the drought, and he makes amends.  They succeed in bringing a rainstorm shortly after that, which results in 3 feet of rain.

Chapter 88 begins another longer story arc as they come across a different city in India, this time one whose ruler is particularly good to monks and Buddhists.  When they go to the palace to present their travel papers, however, the ruling prince is terrified by the ugliness of the monk’s companions.  The prince’s three sons, all martial arts experts, are therefore suspicious of Sanzang’s disciples.  They fight.  Ultimately, Monkey, Pig and Friar Sand are convincing enough that the three sons request to become their disciples, and they reluctantly agree.

Early the next morning the prince and his three sons came to call on the venerable elders again.  The previous day they had greeted each other with the etiquette appropriate to a prince, but today’s greetings were those appropriate to teachers.  The three young princes kowtowed to Monkey, Pig and Friar Sand, then asked with bows, “Will you let your disciples have a look at your weapons, honored teachers?”  As soon as Pig heard this request he happily brought out his iron rake and threw it on the ground, while Friar Sand tossed his staff against the wall.  The second and third young princes sprang to their feet to pick them up, but they might just as well have been dragonflies trying to shake a stone pillar: they both strained themselves till they were red in the face without moving the weapons in the slightest.  When their elder brother saw this he said, “Don’t waste your efforts, brothers.  Our teachers’ weapons are all magical ones.  Goodness only knows how heavy they are.” “My rake’s not all that heavy,” said Pig with a smile.  “It only weights a couple of tons – 5,048 pounds including the handle.”  The third prince then asked Friar Sand how heavy his staff was.  “It’s 5,048 pounds too,” replied Friar Sand with a smile. [Journey to the West, pp. 2949-2951]

The princes are so impressed they have smiths come to make them weapons worthy of sparring with those of Sanzang’s companions, but they are stolen overnight.  When the group goes in search of them, they have to fight a pack of lion spirits before they are finally able to continue their quick lessons with the prince’s sons before moving along on their journey.  This story arc wraps up at the end of chapter 90.

Next they come across another city without walls and wander through the markets and shops, eventually ending up at Clouds of Compassion Monastery.  A monk from the temple invites them in, and they learn they are there in time for the Moon Festival.

This was a night when the curfew was relaxed, so that there were huge crowds and a great commotion.  People were dancing, walking on stilts, wearing masks and riding elephants, pushing and crowding to east and to west as they looked all around.  When they reached the bridge of golden lamps the Tang Priest and the monks pushed forward for a look and saw that it consisted of three golden lamps each the size of a water vat and shaped like a two-storeyed pavilion with a light shining out through intricate gold and silver filigree openwork.  Glazed ceramic tiles inside the lamps reflected their light.  They were so bright they outshone the moon, and their oil was very fragrant.  [Journey to the West, p. 3035]

A howling wind interrupts the festival and sends the festival-goers running in terror.  The Tang Priest is swept away by the wind.  Monkey goes in search of him.  He finds him with three evil spirits on the mountain in their cave dwelling.  They fight, and the battle continues through chapter 92.

A month later, when they go to the palace of the King of India to get their travel documents stamped, they have a run in with the king’s daughter, who decides she must marry Sanzang.  It turns out the princess has been kidnapped by an evil spirit that replaced her as her double in the court.  His goal in marrying Sanzang is to absorb Sanzang’s essence and become an immortal.  This story arc lasts until chapter 96, and Monkey has to come up with a way to get Sanzang out of there during the wedding ceremony.  Of course, the situation culminates with a big battle between Monkey and the false princess.

In chapter 96, the party meets a man named Mr. Kou who has vowed to feed 10,000 monks, and he already has fed 9,996 monks so far.  After indulging Mr. Kou, the party moves on to spend the night at a ruined temple, but while they are there, bandits who noticed the lavish send off Mr. Kou gave Sanzang and his monks decide he must be so rich they should rob him.  After they murder Mr. Kou, the man’s sons blame Sanzang and write up a complaint framing him for murder.

As the bandits have a run-in with Sanzang, soldiers arrive, but they arrest Sanzang and his disciples instead of the bandits.  They are thrown in jail for the murder of Mr. Kou.  Late that night, Monkey uses his transformations to escape and return to the Kou household in time for Mr. Kou’s funeral.  He throws his voice, convincing the family Mr. Kou has come back to life, and he berates them for their lies about Sanzang.  They now decide to withdraw the charges against him that they brought.  Monkey goes to each of the people involved in the case and does the same trick, and Sanzang is finally released, but just for good measure, Monkey goes to hell to get Mr. Kou to come back and tell everyone who really has murdered him.

Chapter 98 begins the denouement of the book with Monkey taking Sanzang to Vulture Peak, an important holy site for the Buddha.  An elderly man ferries them along for more of their journey, and they finally arrive at the gates of their destination, Thunder Monastery.  They enter and present their passport to the Tathagata, whose subjects regale them with a banquet of immortal food and other treasures.

After the meal is over, two arhats take them to the pavilion where the treasured scrolls of the sutras Sanzang came to get are kept.  They give the scrolls to him, but they are counterfeits.  At one point, it says they are only picture scrolls rather than text, but when they leave and the wind scatters them, Sanzang and his monks see that the scrolls are blank.  Angry, they return to Thunder Monastery, get the true scrolls, and begin their journey back to the Tang Court at Chang’an with some supernatural help.  The scrolls get wet during a storm whipped up by an evil spirit, and they lay them out to dry on some rocks, but eventually they make it back to Taizong and his officials.  All 5,048 scrolls are presented to the emperor, and a banquet is prepared.  The next morning, their reward is read out for taking this journey and fulfilling this task.  They also ask Sanzang to recite some of the scriptures.  Sanzang and his monks, who have all been made Buddhas, return to Vulture Peak, and the novel ends with a prayer to the Buddha.

Part six of a six part series.

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