Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, April 17, 2010

"Train Man" by Hitori Nakano-Some reflections on Japanese Literature

Train Man by Hitori Nakano (2004, 403 pages-translated from Japanese by Bonnie Elliot)

About six months ago I began reading Japanese novels.   I started out just buying what I could find in the book stores here in Manila, popular,  well known books.   I did it more or less to satisfy my curiosity.     Soon I discovered Japanese novelists to match nearly any European heritage writer.    I see now that I have to concede there may not be Japanese novelists to equal the very Pantheon of the western canon but there are numerous ones as good or better than western writers of the second tier and for sure third level.    I do not see this as controversial assertion.   I will say that Japanese novelists are in fact very much Euro Centered writers.  Many of the best of them have advanced degrees in French or English literature.   One of my goals now is to read all the available translated works of the best Japanese writers.   I have only just begun in this project.  Having done a bit of research (though I do need some more info and help on this) I think since WWII about 1000 works of Japanese literature have been translated into English. has a list of about 600 works in translation. (of course many are no longer in print.)   I also want to get to know better the Japanese novel as a whole.  To this end I have read a number of types of books:   historical  novels, existential novels, love stories, crime novels, pre-WWI classics, collections of short stories, magical realism, novels by Nobel Prize winners and best sellers you can read on the subway.    

With Train Man I have now read my first Internet chat room novel.   This novel was a million seller in Japan in just a few short months.   It was made into a movie and  TV series also and there have been several mangas based on it.  The lead character, known simply as Train Man is a self styled Geek with no experience whatsoever with women.   He seems to be in his early 20s.   One day while riding a train in Tokyo he sees a woman being harassed by a drunk.   He tells the drunk to leave the woman alone and the drunks runs  away.   The woman is so grateful she asks for the man's name and address so she can send him a token of her appreciation.    She send him an expensive set of cups.   The train man is shocked.   He is a regular in a message  room where all the participants seem to be young men like himself.   He posts his experience and he begins to be flooded with advise and questions.  What does the  woman look like, was she flirting with him etc.   Some how he works up the courage to ask her out for dinner.   He is very slow to move and he posts everything he does in the room along with constant requests for advice.   We see his messages and messages from numerous others.   Much of it is as completely inane, just like such places are.    We get to learn a bit of the lives of the train man as well as the woman, Hermes.   We see the advice his Internet friends give him-work your way into her life-make your self indispensable along with some silly advice about how to push her into a romance which it takes him a long time to figure out if she wants.   

In my recent post on Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford  I used a term of Edwardian era slang when I said it was not a work you should "lollipop your way through" (meaning read casually only paying half attention etc).   Train Man is a book that should be lollipoped through.   I thing it became a best seller as it is so easy to read and I bet it was read on many a train and subway and bus in Tokyo and left behind when finished.   I guess you keep going because we do kind of like the Train Man  ("train man" becomes his message room name) and we want to see what will happen next.   I guess it is OK escapist fiction for those interested in seeing how a message board novel works or who just, like me, want to read a lot of different types of Japanese novels.   I could see this book as a sold at the grocery counter check out or subway booth kind of item.   I am glad I read it but I see no reason for most people to run out and read this book.   A lot of people will see this book as just silly.   I could find almost no information on the author on line.   If anybody has seen some please point me to it.

In terms of future reading, I am looking for Japanese "chic lit",  science fiction, and good historical novels and would greatly appreciate any suggestions.


@parridhlantern said...

Not a book, like yourself I'd go out of my way to read, but if I saw it somewhere cheap I might purchase it, so another one for the Jap-lit archive then.

Mel u said...

parrish lantern-exactly how I see the book-if you find it somewhere cheap then it is worth reading as another Japanese novel-