I’ve been fascinated with Japanese culture ever since I discovered the power of transformation anime at the fragile age of nine. Since then I’ve been an avid anime watcher/ manga reader and eventually an admirer of Japanese culture.
Don’t misunderstand, I celebrate by mixed blood and embrace both cultures I’ve been born into but my exploration and appreciation of Japanese culture is a personal interest. I want to understand where the creators of some of my favorite anime/manga/movies come from.
Not so recently, I’ve taken an interest in Japanese literature as well. Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 trilogy was the first I read and immediately I was hooked. Based on that pleasant experience, I don’t hesitate to buy his books but he isn’t the only Japanese author out there.
I think I was at Virgin Megastore when the beautiful cover of the novel, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, caught my eye. The blurb claimed that the character that finds Nao’s diary could have a life-changing experience. The blurb also teased about how it might change my life and I thought why not?
The first thing you learn when reading this book is that everything and everyone is a time being. At first I thought it was a personal philosophy of the author but later on I found out it’s from Zen Master Dōgen Zenji’s book, Shōbōgenzō.
“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”- Nao, A Tale for the Time Being
I believe that explaining what a time being is helped change my expectations for the novel. I had understood time being as the English compound word used to show the present. That this is a story for now. And such a meaning works for how the story is built and transcends into reality because I was reading the story in those previous moments that were once the now.
Speaking of the now, the protagonist, the owner of the diary, tries to understand the meaning of the word now.
“But in the time it takes to say now, now is already over. It’s already then.”-Nao, A Tale for the Time Being
Do you think she figured it out?
That’s one of the many details she discussed in her diary. Nao wrote about her family, home life, school life, her great-grandmother Jiko and her summer at the temple, and all the other pieces that fabricated her life up until the last page. In fact, Nao is never physically present in the story. It’s through her diary you learn that she is a little eccentric, caring, perverted, and insightful. Overall, her life is sad and hard, and I think she was only truly happy when she was at Jiko’s temple. She suffers… but she overcomes it and learns from it.
Ruth, the woman who finds the diary, had pages dedicated to her reactions to the diary, figuring out the mystery behind the diary (is Nao real?), and introducing us to life and the people on the small island she and her husband ,Oliver, live in. Honestly I was far more interested in the Nao chapters which affected my concentration whenever I turned to the Ruth chapters. Now I’m left with the question…
Did the diary change Ruth in anyway? Did I change in anyway?
All I can say for now is that both Ruth and I ended up caring for Nao even though neither of us have met her (Ruth might but I never will). That’s one change.
The novel covers aspects of Japanese culture, both positive and negative. From the practice of staring at jellyfish to reduce stress (page 49 ) to the Japanese perspective of suicide expressed in Yatsutani Haruki’s letter. Additionally, all the Japanese words are translated so I found that useful since the past two months I had been trying to learn new Japanese words. Perfect timing.