7/18/19

&: Diary (7)



(July 15th, 2019) I make a living sitting in front of a Macbook screen and can go for days without speaking to anyone but Asumi, maybe a cashier at Maruetsu. I live in Tokyo but it doesn't really matter. A trip up to Adachi Ward to Kita-Senju feels like a trip to another country, even though it's only seven minutes away on the Hibiya Line. It's almost an island, I guess, separated from Arakawa by the Sumida and from the rest of Adachi by the Arakawa. Another up-and-coming neighborhood at the north end of the Hibiya Line, a place that most Tokyoites still avoid, and now the developers are putting in towers and suburbanites are buying them up. It looks like any other outer ward transit hub, but maybe with better restaurants, maybe more massage parlors, and still a bit of charm down the shopping arcades.

This city is grinding my brain to dust. This is a country where the messier parts of social interaction are stripped away, everything scripted, for the most part. I wish I could avoid that essentialist view of the country. But it's not some kind of "the character of the Japanese" thing. It has nothing to do with that. The rest of the world will look like this—maybe it already does. I wouldn't know. I never go anywhere. Social isolation is the norm in Tokyo. That is how life is structured. The idea of striking up a conversation with a stranger is unheard of. Avoid all potential conflict. There's the graph of how people meet now floating around, hockey stick for "Meeting online" but, here, there's not even that: sixty-something percent of Japanese men in their late-20s are unmarried, approaching fifty percent for men in their early-30s, and then they enter into childless marriages with emotionally distant wives that they see for a combined sixty minutes a week. The men work a hundred hours a week, spend the remaining time drinking, commuting, and sleeping, and their wives sell crocheted dog sweaters on Mercari.

This entry isn't going anywhere. I said before, I pitched a book about gentrification in East Tokyo to a publisher, who seemed interested, but they read a sample and said, "There's nobody talking in here. We have a long section with ****** ******** who works as a ******* ***** **** but she doesn't seem to add anything to the narrative. We need more voices." I'm sure it could be done, but I can't do it. I'll say it again, I miss that Chinese straightforwardness of 咱们交个朋友吧. That kind of thing can often be mercenary, at first, but it can develop into something else. But I guess there is something to be said for being left completely alone. But this is just complaining about a book pitch going nowhere and living in Tokyo. I'm sorry.



(July 16th, 2019) Raining for a week, my clothes are going moldy, a dark blue gabardine trenchcoat, coated in a thin film of greyish-green, canvas sneakers with patches of fuzz across the sides. Hung the trenchcoat under the air conditioner, watched it turn solidly blue again, a few traces of grey behind the buttons. Sky cleared and I walked all the way south to Parco Ya (stylized as PARCO_ya, which I'm not going to adopt). Whole city full of tourists, I complain again, should have gone out to Kita-Senju again. Ate a slice of banana cream pie, drank a cup of coffee at Harbs, watching Issey Miyake crepe skirts in primary colors waving gently under blasts of air conditioning. Picked up a shirt. Walked through Matsuzakaya. Whatever complaints I have about the city, I love the department stores as much as I love the narrow old arcades of Taito or Arakawa. Their time is done, especially in a place like Ueno. They must do most of their business on the ground floor, cosmetics and shoes, discount vendors... It feels lonely on the upper floors. I took a holiday last year, stayed in Ginza, only a short train ride away, spent a few days rarely leaving those big beautiful department stores, Mitsukoshi, Takashimaya, Wako... Walked back downtown through Okachimachi, through that block thick with jewelry stores, up through the Korean shops around Okachimachi, looking in the military surplus stores around the hospital, the pachinko machine companies with window displays of their latest offerings, and back to Shitaya.



(July 17th, 2019) On a walk to Maruetsu. Can see the neighborhood changing, day to day. What got taken out here? I can hardly remember. It was an empty lot for a while, exposing the corrugated tin side of the building to the south and the water-damaged stucco of the building to the north. Maybe the lot has been empty since as long as I've been here, but I seem to recall an older building there... I can't say for sure. Looks like it'll probably be a small apartment tower, just like the one they're putting in around the corner. There's another hotel going up down the road, too, following the APA that just opened up beside Maruetsu. Doesn't matter that the tourists will stop coming. That's not the program. The city is being changed for another purpose. It might be peak tourism, but the Olympics will be the beginning of a new era, with the city increasingly opened up for investment. The tourism is like an extended open house for a new, neoliberal model of Tokyo. It proves that Japan is stable, even with geopolitical tension, mild trouble with neighbors, and open for business. I guess. Just ordered the Jules Boykoff's Celebration Capitalism and the Olympic Games. Maybe I can sharpen these ideas into something. But how odd, I remark for the thousandth time, to live in social housing in the center of a miniature East Tokyo real estate boom, hotels and new apartment blocks going up all around. I'll be gone soon, too. Went home from Maruetsu with six tiny plastic envelopes of chickpeas to make hummus, a log of tuna, asparagus, eggplant, and okra.

7/11/19

&: Broken Wings: Jia Pingwa's Controversial Novel Explores Human Trafficking And Rural China

Broken Wings is uncompromising and brief. It is told from the point-of-view of Butterfly, a young woman who is kidnapped while working with her parents in the city. She is transported to rural Shaanxi and sold as a bride to an impoverished villager, who imprisons her in a cave. Her captor rapes her and she bears his child. The police eventually locate Butterfly and save her from the village, but she is forced to leave her child behind. Not long after, she makes the decision to return to the countryside, though much is left unclear—for both Butterfly and the reader.

When People’s Literature Publishing House put out Broken Wings ... he found himself caught in the middle of a literary controversy.


Please read: Broken Wings: Jia Pingwa's Controversial Novel Explores Human Trafficking And Rural China at SupChina.

You can also read: an earlier collection of notes on Broken Wings, some of which I drew from for the SupChina piece, Jia Pingwa fever and The Earthen Gate at Paper Republic, which covers the avalanche of Jia Pingwa novels in translation, and this entry recounting a trip to Jia's hometown earlier in the year.

I've written and thought about Jia Pingwa and recent translations of his novels quite a bit over the past year. I'm preparing a translation of Qinqiang《秦腔》with Nicky Harman, which should be out late this year or early the next, and traveled out to Xi'an to visit the author. I've got a few more pieces planned, which should appear somewhere soon, and I'm about to take another trip out to Xi'an at the end of the month.