This is one of my favorite Japanese novels!
The book I will be reviewing and accessing today is 神去なあなあ日常. In this review, I will be referring to it in English as Wood Job, which is the name of the Japanese movie created based on this novel. It was written by the fairly popular Japanese author Shion Miura(三浦しをん). I am a huge fan of this author and love how she is able to showcase so many different worlds in her novels. Her writing style does different between novels and some are harder then others.
I bought this book at Chicago’s Kinokuniya for 10.99.
Why did I pick this book?
I decided to get this book because I loved the movie Wood Job. Back when I lived in Japan, my partner and I would often go to a DVD rental store and pick out random movies to watch. I fell in love with Wood Job right from the start.
Recently, I’ve been interested in story lines about people living in Japanese cities, and their journey moving to the country side and getting used to a new life style. This is most likely because that is what I am planning to do in the near future! I am not sure why it took me so long to decide, but hopefully by next summer that is where I will be living.
The setting for both the movie and the book are the same. This is the story of 18 year old Yuuki Hirano from the large city of Yokohama, Kanagawa. He is going through a transition period of his life after high school where he felt directionless and was then pushed into this seemingly random and inescapable experience of studying Forestry in the deep countryside of Japan. In this forestry program, the students spend a short time going to school followed by a year long internship with a forestry company. Yuuki ends up living with one of the teachers from school while working in a very small and remote village of Kamusari in Mie Prefecture. He does not do so willing and often tried to plan out different escape routes. He slowly progresses from letting life happen to him to taking a hold of his actions and becoming a adult member of Japanese society. This book touches on life style in the country side, Shintoism, and growth within new situations.
The characters in this story remain mostly the same as they are in the movie, but there is more room to go into each character’s personal stories While the plot lines in both the book and the movie are similar, there are enough changes to make it feel like a different story. But like the movie, the book is also made in a light hearted way that makes it easy to read. I did enjoy the book a little bit more then the movie, but I think that is mostly personal preference as I really enjoy the pace of Japanese literature.
One nice feature on included in this book can be found on the back cover. I am not sure if all printed versions of this book have included this, but there are pictures and a quick description of 6 of the main characters.
The book felt much more realistic then the movie in the good way. There were a few things that bothered me in the movie such as the number of children. In the movie there were a lot of kids who lived in super small village filled with elderly people. And while yes, in the country side they do have blended classes where teachers are instructing multiple grade levels in the same room… but the school in this movie only had one teacher? This seemed very odd to me. In the book, there was only one child in the village and he had to travel over to the next town to go to school. That is what living in the Japanese country side is like.
My favorite part of this book is how to forest and mountains are treated as a character in the book. I loved the personification and respect that all of the human characters had for nature.
I was surprised by the amount of time that it took me to get through this book. Since this was going to be the first book that I read with the resolution to read until completion, I assumed that it would take me a long time to read. I guess it might be because I waited to long in my Japanese journey to really get into novels, but it wasn’t too bad! Due to the nature of the specific vocabulary used in this book, I did need to use a dictionary often as there were many words that I wasn’t able to get them meaning through context clues.
For those who are book lovers and thinking about picking up a Japanese novel, I recommend doing so as soon as possible. I think even just having a few novels sitting around your house will increase your comfort level with books. Reading was not as intimating as I thought it would be and I wonder why it took me so long to finally start doing it. I don’t exactly recommend this book to be the first book that a new reader buys. There are many other easier books out there to choose from. But in the end, the book has to be something that you are very interested in regardless of the level of difficulties.
Vocab: Level N2 who are willing to use a dictionary
A strong point for this book vocabulary wise for a language learner is the fact that it is written from the perspective of an 18 year old Japanese man. He doesn’t use flowery language and I found all of the illustrative descriptions to be fairly straight forward and easy to understand. But I would still recommend this book for those studying for JLPT level N2 who is willing to use a dictionary while reading this book. Besides the specific vocabulary groups, I don’t think a reader who has a N2 level vocabulary would get frustrated when looking at the general vocabulary terms used in this book. I wouldn’t recommend this book to a learner for is looking to get by only using context clues. This would be more for someone who is looking to challenge themselves and expand their vocabulary into more specialized areas while having the comfort of a high percentage of familiar words and causal language. The specialized vocabulary introduced is used often, making it easy to reads to retain for long term usage. As with most books, if you take the time to use a dictionary for the first few chapters you will find that you need the dictionary less and less.
Decent amount of furigana, with the start of each chapter there will be more furigana to remind you of the reading of certain words and character’s names.
Specialized Vocabulary Groups:
Forestry, Mountain based geographical features, Features of Tradition Japanese Houses, and Shintoism.
While not many, there are technical terms related to forestry that the average native Japanese person might not be familiar with. While reading this book, some of the terms you might see for the first time are terms like tree trunk and tree bark. Due to the fact that the average language learner might spend many year using Japanese without hearing these words, I feel like there are many times when using a dictionary will greatly help with understanding this book.
There were some omionpeias, but those are easy to look up in a dictionary and just through context I feel like I was able to guess the meaning for the most part? Guessing ominopenias is still a skill I am working on cultivating.
Grammar: Beginner Level N2
I found that the grammar in this book should be known by a student who is beginning to study N2 grammar structures. Depending on the textbook or source the reader has been using, I think maybe even a level N3 understanding might be enough for this novel. I did not find the grammar in this book difficult and everything seemed very straight forward. I think this may because it is written from the point of view of an 18 year old Japanese man. Both the descriptions and the dialog are written in what I would consider causal form.
While the main character of the book speaks in standard dialect, the people of Kamusari speak in a different dialect. Mie is usually considered as being part of the Kansai region of Japan, but the people of Kamusari don’t speak with a Kansai dialect. The dialect used effects verb endings, but it should be easy for readers to understand. There are phrases and vocabulary specific to this dialect as well. But the book itself goes into the explanations as the main character begins to slowly get used to the dialect himself. This will help you understand the phrases that might not be easy to look up using dictionaries.
Readers who have experience with any dialect in addition to standard dialect shouldn’t have a problem understanding the basic meaning of the character’s dialog.
This book is easy mode culture wise. There are no modern cultural references or slang. I did not find any cultural references to music, historical figures, or celebrities.
Almost all cultural topics touched upon in the story are explained in great detail. This is due to the fact that everything in the Japanese country side is new to Yuuki and he has no idea what is going on most of the time. People are him have to take the time to explain everything to him. As a language learner, I loved that feature in the book and felt that I really related to the main character. Anytime I found myself thinking ‘What are they talking about?’, Yuuki was thinking the same thing.
The main two locations referenced in this story of Kamusari and Yokohama. But all you really need to know about these areas is that Kamusari is in the countryside and Yokohama is a large city. No deeper knowledge is needed to understand the role these locations play in the plot.
The biggest cultural topic that you will run into is Shintoism. There are references to purification ceremonies, meetings with the gods, and other related topics. These are words that many language learners might not be familiar with, so again a dictionary will help you quickly understand these terms. The main character of the book is also not very familiar with Shintoism so there are some explanations in the book concerning religious concepts and traditions.
While this book will teach you more about the culture of living in Japanese countryside, I don’t think reader need to start out with a deep understanding of Japanese culture. I think this book could be a good learning tool to understand more about what it means to mature in Japanese society.
This book is a standard size Japanese paperback with 330 pages along with an afterword. I prefer books around this length currently due to the high price I pay for novels while living outside of Japan.
Who should read this book?
People who have an N2 level understanding of Japanese who are interested in Japanese countryside life. People who liked the movie Wood Job. People who have an interest in plants and nature.
Books: There is sequel to this book called 神去なあなあ夜. Please use caution when purchasing either the first or second book as both have very similar titles. Usually books will have the kanji for up or down on the spine to help you ensure that you are picking the right book(下上), but this novel doesn’t have that feature.
TV: There is a 4 part drama called Little Forest that follows a girl who moves back to the county side after spending a few years living in a city. She moves back into the house she used to live in with her mom. This story focuses on independence, cooking, and reflection on the main characters relationship with those from her past. I really enjoyed this series and revisit it often.
Movies: There are 2 movies that I have seen recently that I feel are related again to the theme of transitioning from city life to country side life.
HOME 愛しの座敷わらし is the story of a man who was forced to relocate to the country side as punishment for taking a career risk. He and his family move into a large traditional Japanese home and the family has a bit of a rough time adjusting. Old Japanese religious traditions and folklore play a large role in the plot. You will also get a chance to fully visualize the terms related to traditional Japanese houses that you learned while reading 神去なあなあ日常. This movie is very light and easy to watch.
The last media recommendation I have is an animated movie called おおかみこどもの雨と雪. In this movie, the main character falls in love with a werewolf and has two children. Through circumstances out of the family’s control, she is left alone to try to raise the children. She decides that it would be easier to hid the wolf part of her children if they lived in the countryside region that she suspects her late husband is from. They adjust to their lives while the children grow to understand more about their unique situation and the choices they have to make in their lives.
This is the first Japanese novel that I have read to completion. I consider myself to be around a level N2 in Japanese and I did not think of this book as difficult to get through. I think this book would suit a level N2 learner who is interested in expanding vocabulary past JLPT lists. I think the book feel very light hearted with easy grammar, making the book a good choice to use as a vocabulary booster without being over whelming. I recommend it to anyone likes the movie ‘Wood job’ or who is interested in story lines of people moving to the country side and adjusting to a new life style.