Morikami Book Club

Open to all Morikami Members

Embark on a thrilling literary journey with Benefactor member Christine Carton and fellow Morikami members as they kick off a brand new season of riveting book explorations!

To join the Morikami Book Club, please reach out to Christine Carton at christinec@gate.net.

All meetings will be held on the second Wednesday of each month at 12 pm at the museum.

Morikami Book Club 2023-2024 Selection

June 12 – The Widow, The Priest, and The Octopus Hunter- By Amy Chavez

When American journalist Amy Chavez moved to the tiny island of Shiraishi (population 430), she rented a house from an elderly woman named Eiko, who left many of her most cherished possessions in the house—including a portrait of Emperor Hirohito and a family altar bearing the spirit tablet of her late husband.

Why did she abandon these things? And why did her tombstone later bear the name of a daughter no one knew? These are just some of the mysteries Amy pursues as she explores the lives of Shiraishi’s elusive residents.

Morikami Book Club 2024-2025 Selection

October 16 – Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan: By Herbert P. Bix

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in this groundbreaking biography of the Japanese emperor Hirohito, Herbert P. Bix offers the first complete, unvarnished look at the enigmatic leader whose sixty-three-year reign ushered Japan into the modern world. Never has the full life of this controversial figure been revealed with such clarity and vividness. Bix shows what it was like to be trained from birth for a lone position at the apex of the nation’s political hierarchy and as a revered symbol of divine status.
Influenced by an unusual combination of the Japanese imperial tradition and a modern scientific worldview, the young emperor gradually evolves into his preeminent role, aligning himself with the growing ultranationalist movement, perpetuating a cult of religious emperor worship, resisting attempts to curb his power, and all the while burnishing his image as a reluctant, passive monarch. Here we see Hirohito as he truly was a man of strong will and real authority. Supported by a vast array of previously untapped primary documents, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan is perhaps most illuminating in lifting the veil on the mythology surrounding the emperor’s impact on the world stage. Focusing closely on Hirohito’s interactions with his advisers and successive Japanese governments, Bix sheds new light on the causes of the China War in 1937 and the start of the Asia-Pacific War in 1941. And while conventional wisdom has had it that the nation’s increasing foreign aggression was driven and maintained not by the emperor but by an elite group of Japanese militarists, the reality, as witnessed here, is quite different. Bix documents in detail the strong, decisive role Hirohito played in wartime operations, from the takeover of Manchuria in 1931 through the attack on Pearl Harbor and ultimately the fateful decision in 1945 to accede to an unconditional surrender. In fact, the emperor stubbornly prolonged the war effort and then used the horrifying bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, together with the Soviet entrance into the war, as his exit strategy from a no-win situation. From the moment of capitulation, we see how American and Japanese leaders moved to justify the retention of Hirohito as emperor by whitewashing his wartime role and reshaping the historical consciousness of the Japanese people. The key to this strategy was Hirohito’s alliance with General MacArthur, who helped him maintain his stature and shed his militaristic image, while MacArthur used the emperor as a figurehead to assist him in converting Japan into a peaceful nation. Their partnership ensured that the emperor’s image would loom large over the postwar years and later decades, as Japan began to make its way in the modern age and struggled—as it still does—to come to terms with its past. Until the very end of a career that embodied the conflicting aims of Japan’s development as a nation, Hirohito remained preoccupied with politics and with his place in history. Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan provides the definitive account of his rich life and legacy. Meticulously researched and utterly engaging, this book is proof that the history of twentieth-century Japan cannot be understood apart from the life of its most remarkable and enduring leader.

November 13 – Before the Coffee Gets Cold: By Toshikazu Kawaguchi

In a small back alley of Tokyo, there is a café that has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. Local legend says that this shop offers something else besides coffee—the chance to travel back in time.

Over the course of one summer, four customers visit the café in the hopes of making that journey. But time travel isn’t so simple, and there are rules that must be followed. Most important, the trip can last only as long as it takes for the coffee to get cold.

December 11 – Kintsugi: By Tomas Navarro

Japanese Kintsugi masters delicately patch up broken ceramics with gold adhesive, leaving the restoration clearly visible to others. Psychologist Tomás Navarro believes that we should approach our lives with the same philosophy. Everyone faces suffering, but it is the way in which we overcome our troubles and heal our emotional wounds that is key. We shouldn’t conceal our repairs; they are proof of our strength.
Navarro presents real solutions to genuine problems that he has seen in his professional practice. His anecdotes demonstrate that it is possible to transform adversity or setbacks into strength. His psychological understanding and perspective will leave you feeling courageous and prepared, should you experience misfortune, be it heartbreak, a job loss, or bereavement.
Often practiced alongside Ikigai (or the art of finding one’s life purpose), Kintsugi shows you how happiness can be found again, often against all odds. A painful experience can, in fact, make you a more determined individual, ready to face the world with optimism.

January 8 – Silent Parade: By Keigo Higashino

Detective Galileo, Keigo Higashino’s best-loved character from The Devotion of Suspect X, returns in Silent Parade, a complex and challenging mystery—several murders, decades apart, with no solid evidence.
A popular young girl disappears without a trace, her skeletal remains discovered three years later in the ashes of a burned-out house. There’s a suspect and compelling circumstantial evidence of his guilt, but no concrete proof. When he isn’t indicted, he returns to mock the girl’s family. And this isn’t the first time he’s been suspected of the murder of a young girl; nearly twenty years ago he was tried and released due to lack of evidence. Detective Chief Inspector Kusanagi of the Homicide Division of the Tokyo Police worked on both cases.
The neighborhood in which the murdered girl lived is famous for an annual street festival, featuring a parade with entries from around Tokyo. During the parade, the suspected killer dies unexpectedly. His death is suspiciously convenient but the people with all the best motives have rock-solid alibis. DCI Kusanagi turns once again to his college friend, Physics professor and occasional police consultant Manabu Yukawa, known as Detective Galileo, to help solve the string of impossible-to-prove murders.

February 12 – A Woman of Pleasure: By Kiyoko Murata

When Aoi Ichi learns that her father is coming to visit, she is delighted. The young woman—a child, really—hasn’t seen him since the previous year when she left their village on the southern Japanese island of Iojima for a mansion in the city of Kumamoto. “There are lots of men/but only one I love/my one and only pa,” she writes in her journal. She buys gifts for him to take to her mother and older sister and sweeps the street in front of her workplace with gusto. But he comes and goes without seeing her, “afraid to look his daughter in the eye.” He’s there only to sign a new promissory note with her employer borrowing more money against her labor, which is sex work. Such quiet devastation weaves through “A Woman of Pleasure,” the first book to be published in English by the venerated novelist Kiyoko Murata (translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter). Like many of the women in this unflinching and humane portrayal of prostitutes in early-20th-century Japan, Ichi comes from a poor rural family; she is the daughter of a sea diver mother and a fisherman father—the latter of whom, desperate to make ends meet, sells her into prostitution when she is 15. In a brothel in Kumamoto’s licensed quarter, Ichi finds herself under the wing of its highest-earning courtesan, or oiran, the impossibly elegant Shinonome. Tasked with training the younger girl in makeup, manners, and grooming, Shinonome finds herself alternately frustrated and charmed by Ichi’s strong will, eventually developing a grudging respect for “the monkey child from the island.”
Before Ichi can begin to entertain customers, though, she must attend the Female Industrial School, where another veteran, Tetsuko, teaches the women of the “pleasure quarter” how to relinquish their “dreadful” regional accents and write elegant letters to clients. One of the novel’s more sympathetic characters, Tetsuko understands the stakes of these lessons: The better her students perform their duties, the sooner they can work off their debts and earn their freedom. The depictions of life in the brothel are simple, merciless, and deeply affecting. New workers are corralled daily into a room nicknamed “the inferno” where they are trained to please men, practicing on the house’s young, unwilling manservants as their peers look on. “Never in her life had she suffered as much as then,” Murata writes of Ichi’s turn. “Her vision had gone cloudy, her eyes seeming to shoot sparks as something inside her burned and charred.” But even as the brothel takes Ichi’s innocence, the school empowers her with a means of self-expression: a journal whose blunt, poetic entries punctuate the story with private revelations of anger, grief, and hope. In Tetsuko’s classroom, the novel also nimbly shifts into a broader register, exploring the larger forces shaping these women’s lives. One example is the Livestock Emancipation Law, which technically granted prostitutes freedom using the language of animals, though it was never enforced. Like cows or horses, it reasoned, sex workers could not be expected to repay their debts. Even “New Greater Learning for Women,” an 1899 book by the writer and philosopher Fukuzawa Yukichi that extolled the study of physical education and physics for both sexes, contained a classist caveat: Working girls are “excluded from discussion because they are not human to begin with.” This novel, of course, is committed to the opposite principle. Small rebellions bloom as the prostitutes grow more confident in their rights. Ichi and her peers find hope in organized resistance, with their collective humanity in the face of brutality forming Murata’s irrefutable and beautiful argument.

March 12 – Stranger in the Shogun’s City: By Amy Stanley

A work of history that explores the life of an unconventional woman during the first half of the 19th century in Edo—the city that would become Tokyo—and a portrait of a city on the brink of a momentous encounter with the West.
The daughter of a Buddhist priest, Tsuneno was born in a rural Japanese village and was expected to live a traditional life much like her mother’s. But after three divorces—and a temperament much too strong-willed for her family’s approval—she ran away to make a life for herself in one of the largest cities in the world: Edo, a bustling metropolis at its peak.
With Tsuneno as our guide, we experience the drama and excitement of Edo just prior to the arrival of American Commodore Perry’s fleet, which transformed Japan. During this pivotal moment in Japanese history, Tsuneno bounces from tenement to tenement, marries a masterless samurai, and eventually enters the service of a famous city magistrate. Tsuneno’s life provides a window into 19th-century Japanese culture—and a rare view of an extraordinary woman who sacrificed her family and her reputation to make a new life for herself, in defiance of social convention.

April 9 – Honeybees and Distant Thunder: By Riku Onda

Tender and intense, Honeybees and Distant Thunder is the unflinching story of love, courage, and rivalry as three young people come to understand what it means to truly be a friend.
In a small coastal town just a stone’s throw from Tokyo, a prestigious piano competition is underway. Over the course of two feverish weeks, three students will experience some of the most joyous—and painful—moments of their lives. Though they don’t know it yet, each will profoundly and unpredictably change the others, forever.
Aya was a child prodigy who abruptly gave up performing after the death of her mother and is now trying for a comeback; Masaru, a childhood friend of Aya who came to the piano through her insistence that he learn to play, is now reunited with her after many years and is equally invested in both his and her success; Akashi, who is older and married, works in a music store and is the “old man” of the competitors, hoping for a final chance at success; and Jin, a sixteen-year-old prodigy, the free-spirited son of a beekeeper who travels constantly and has no formal training (and doesn’t even own a piano) yet whose mesmerizing insight into music has brought him to the attention of one of the world’s most celebrated pianists, the late Maestro Von Hoffman.
Each of them will break the rules, awe their fans, and push themselves to the brink. But at what cost? Beloved in Japan, Riku Onda immerses us in the world of music—from piano masterpieces to the buzz of bees and the rumble of thunder—which crescendos to a surprising ending in this rich and vibrant novel.

May 14 – African Samurai: By Thomas Lockley

This biography of the first foreign-born samurai and his journey from Africa to Japan.
When Yasuke arrived in Japan in the late 1500s, he had already traveled much of the known world. Kidnapped as a child, he had ended up a servant and bodyguard to the head of the Jesuits in Asia, with whom he traversed India and China, learning multiple languages as he went. His arrival in Kyoto, however, literally caused a riot. Most Japanese people had never seen an African man before, and many of them saw him as the embodiment of the black-skinned Buddha. Among those who were drawn to his presence was Lord Nobunaga, head of the most powerful clan in Japan, who made Yasuke a samurai in his court. Soon, he was learning the traditions of Japan’s martial arts and ascending the upper echelons of Japanese society.
In the four hundred years since, Yasuke has been known in Japan largely as a legendary, perhaps mythical figure. Now African Samurai presents the never-before-told biography of this unique figure of the sixteenth century, one whose travels between countries and cultures offer a new perspective on race in world history and a vivid portrait of life in medieval Japan.

June 11 – Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation: By Michael Zielenziger

The world’s second-wealthiest country, Japan once seemed poised to overtake America as the leading global economic powerhouse. But the country failed to recover from the staggering economic collapse of the early 1990s. Today it confronts an array of disturbing social trends, notably a population of more than one million hikikomori: the young men who shut themselves in their rooms, withdrawing from society. There is also a growing number of “parasite singles”: single women who refuse to leave home, marry, or bear children. In this trenchant investigation, Michael Zielenziger argues that Japan’s tradition-steeped society, its aversion to change, and its distrust of individuality are stifling economic revival, political reform, and social evolution. Shutting Out the Sun is a bold explanation of Japan’s stagnation and its implications for the rest of the world.

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