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Okei: A Girl From the Provinces

 
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Owarikenshi
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 23, 2010 9:00 am    Post subject: Okei: A Girl From the Provinces Reply with quote
Calling all Bakumatsu fans!

This English translation of Mitsugu Saotome's 1974 novel OKEI (Alma Books Ltd (UK) 2008, ISBN: 978-1-84688-070-4) will have you feeling like you are right there "on the ground" as the Sat-Cho march on Aizu. Written from the perspective of an artisan's teenage daughter, it describes in gut-wrenching, believeable detail the desperate preparations of townspeople and bushi alike as they await the inevitable destruction of their world.

This novel goes into so much detail that I can only imagine the author had access to extensive first-person narratives; while it is of course fiction, it compares favorably to Shiba Goro's Remembering Aizu for pure Bakumatsu ambiance.

One could have a minute quibble about the protagonist's "road-trip" to Edo as the book opens; but I'm willing to cut the author slack in using this somewhat transparent plot device in order to set the scene. The destruction of Aizu-Wakamatsu is realistic, visceral, and as far as I can tell, admirably historically accurate.

The latter part of the book is about certain of the Aizu survivors' emigration to California to found the short-lived "Gold Hill" Colony; indeed, the author seems to have been inspired to write the book by the short, sad story of the historical "Okei" who is buried at the site of the old settlement.

There is also plenty of romance here to go with your history. Interestingly, the "hot" scenes alternate between male, female, and third-party perspectives, and take great pains with the mores of the time. In any case, this is totally one to take on your next 13-hour flight!

Owari
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Tornadoes28
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 23, 2010 9:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Thank you for this recommendation. I thoroughly enjoyed Shiba Goro's book so I would like to check this one out as well. The battle of Aizu is a very interesting aspect of the final days of the bakumatsu events. Although the overthrow of the Tokugawa was not by any means bloodless, I feel that it is regarded as a relatively bloodless civil war. For those who fought in Aizu, it was very violent and bloody.
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Rekijo
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 01, 2010 7:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
This is a very depressing book, I'm in a solemn mood just by reading it.
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Owarikenshi
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 02, 2010 12:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
What we call "depressing," they consider wabi-sabi and therefore good clean fun. Smile

What I liked about it was of all the juicy historical detail about the fall of Aizu Castle. Turns out the author's relatives were there . . .

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 02, 2010 8:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Oh, that idea of "life is imperfect, therefore it is beautiful." Sad I've just finished it a few days ago, and I'm still reeling by the tragedy of all the meaningless deaths by seppaku, even though I'm rather mentally prepared for it. The way this book is so matter of factly written is just oh... Crying or Very sad

And don't get me started on the protagonist samurai crush, I hated that guy so much he was the only guy I wasn't able to shed tears for in the book.
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Owarikenshi
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 03, 2010 2:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
<<and don't get me started>>

I thought there were plenty of obnoxious people to go around in that book, actually--just about like real life. This and Shiba Goro's Remembering Aizu, arer huge eye-openers in perspective, that there were definitely two sides to the "glorious," "bloodless," oh-so-civilized Meiji Restoration.

The popular view of Yoshinobu (Sat-Cho version) is that he was a hero for stepping down and handing the whole country "peacefully" to the Western army--well, tell that to the other side of The Family! Not to mention the entire populations of the loyal Northern han whose attempt to "do the right thing" as they'd understood it for the past 300 years resulted in the events portrayed in this book and more.

I'm actually surprised that Jidai-geki interest in this seems to begin and end with the Byakkotai mass-seppuku as some kind of anomalous, tragic "wreck on the side of the road"--the much bigger story, Aizu Castle, it's aftermath and the events that made it inevitable, is tragedy on the Shakespearean scale and then some.

I think it is difficult for us even to imagine the shock. It would be as if the Confederacy, (but led by Texas!) had not only swiftly and decisively won the American Civil War and toppled Washington--but then went on to invade Vermont and New Hampshire, burning Boston to the ground!

I suspect the reason it has not been more explored in fiction is that many are still rather uncomfortable with it.

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Owarikenshi
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 03, 2010 2:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Oh, yeah, and I know Boston is in Massachusetts. Very Happy

Forgot my reading glasses. . .

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Bethetsu
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 04, 2010 4:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Owarikenshi wrote:
I thought there were plenty of obnoxious people to go around in that book, actually--just about like real life. This and Shiba Goro's Remembering Aizu, are huge eye-openers in perspective, that there were definitely two sides to the "glorious," "bloodless," oh-so-civilized Meiji Restoration.
The story of Mito around the time of the restoration as described in Yamakawa Kikue's non-fiction Women of the Mito Domain is also very depressing.
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Owarikenshi
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 05, 2010 4:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
<<Women of the Mito Domain>>

Yes, that's another book which also provides terrific research material on the "background" to the more well-known events of the Bakumatsu. Mito was in truly desperate straits economically, made worse by the "blowback" from some of the early efforts of their shishi, who were very severely punished by the Bakufu when it still had teeth enough to do the job. They had a serious grudge early on, with the added incentive of their families starving to death if they did nothing.

Yet another interesting source is Hugh Cortazzi's Dr. Willis In Japan, about the eminent British physician who saw quite a lot of the country, and the war, during the Bakumatsu. His outsider's perspective, while interesting, conflicts however with sources like Shiba Goro, leading one to believe that many of his opinions might have been influenced by Sat-Cho propaganda, or at least he was fed only their perspective. His observations of the condition and demeanor of the Aizu commoners, for instance, differ radically from other primary sources so I take them with a pinch of salt.

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