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FICTION

Umiuso

[Mirage]

By Nashiki Kaho

Iwanami Shoten, paperback ed. 2018. 220 pp. ¥800. ISBN 978-4-00-602298-3.

Also published in: Chinese(traditional characters), French, and Italian

In the late 1920s a young geographer travels to a small island in southern Kyūshū to carry out research, over time getting to know the local people. The island’s mountains were once a popular retreat for Shugendō ascetics and the site of numerous temples where Buddhist and indigenous religious traditions mingled. These temples, though, now lie ruined and buried in overgrowth.

    The young man is searching for “the silence and the scenery left behind after something decisive has passed.” Through his relationships with an elderly couple and a hermit-like recluse who lives in one of the few Western-style buildings on the island, he comes to feel the tangible presence of the island’s past. He gazes at the mountains that people revered as sacred, eats rice balls wrapped in butterbur leaves, and stands under waterfalls to purify himself.

    The natural beauty of the surroundings soothes the pain the young man suffers in losing his fiancée and parents in short succession. The island’s temples were destroyed in the anti-Buddhist movement that erupted in the aftermath of the 1868 Meiji Restoration. But even after that upheaval, the atmosphere of these sacred places is still a forceful presence on the island. In gentle and precisely weighted prose, the author draws a moving portrait of the culture and past of this fictitious island. The book ends with an epilogue written 50 years later. What sights await the geographer when he returns to the island after so many years? This beautifully written story is filled with affection for the vanished landscapes of Japan. (NK)
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By Nashiki Kaho

Nashiki Kaho

Born in 1959. Won the Japan Association of Children’s Literature Scholars Newcomer Prize, the Niimi Nankichi Children’s Literature Prize, and the Shōgakukan Literary Prize for Nishi no majo ga shinda [The Witch of the West Is Dead]. Won the Murasaki Shikibu Prize for Literature in 2006 for Numachi no aru mori o nukete [Through the Forest with a Marsh]. Won the Yomiuri Prize for Literature in 2010 in the essays and travel journals category for Watari no ashiato [The Trail of Migration].

Translation rights inquiries

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