The Street of a Thousand Blossoms

( 34 )


It is Tokyo in 1939. On the Street of a Thousand Blossoms, two orphaned brothers dream of a future firmly rooted in tradition. The older boy, Hiroshi, shows early signs of promise at the national obsession of sumo wrestling, while Kenji is fascinated by the art of Noh theater masks. 

But as the ripples of war spread to their quiet neighborhood, the brothers must put their dreams on hold—and forge their own paths in a new ...

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It is Tokyo in 1939. On the Street of a Thousand Blossoms, two orphaned brothers dream of a future firmly rooted in tradition. The older boy, Hiroshi, shows early signs of promise at the national obsession of sumo wrestling, while Kenji is fascinated by the art of Noh theater masks. 

But as the ripples of war spread to their quiet neighborhood, the brothers must put their dreams on hold—and forge their own paths in a new Japan. Meanwhile, the two young daughters of a renowned sumo master find their lives increasingly intertwined with the fortunes of their father’s star pupil, Hiroshi.

The Street of a Thousand Blossoms is a powerfully moving masterpiece about tradition and change, loss and renewal, and love and family from a glorious storyteller at the height of her powers.

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  • The Street of a Thousand Blossoms
    The Street of a Thousand Blossoms  

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Tsukiyama has long been known for her emotional and detailed stories. This time, she has gone even deeper to explore what happens to ordinary people during frightening and tragic times.” —-Lisa See

“A fascinating, intricate portrait of Japanese customs and rituals that ?oods the senses.” —-USA Today

“Tsukiyama has the soul of a storyteller.” —-The Denver Post

“A sweeping saga if ever there was one. . . . The spirit triumphant—-whether of individuals or of nations—-makes for an eternally rewarding theme.” —-The Washington Post Book World

“[Tsukiyama’s] Zen-like telling of the brothers’ dramatic stories infuses this poignant tale with the essence of Japan.” —-Elle magazine

“A writer of astonishing grace, delicacy, and feeling.” —-Michael Chabon, author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Louisa Thomas
The Street of a Thousand Blossoms has epic ambitions—considerable scope, encompassing the years 1939-66; a multitude of significant characters; and recurring moments of tragedy and redemption. But it's written in the reassuringly small-scale style of a folk tale, characterized by short anecdotes and a heavy dose of morals…Tsukiyama's prose is simple and slow, at times seeming to strive for the kind of eloquence found in a Noh play, whose centuries-old art depends on stylized action to create tension and drama.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

In her ambitious sixth novel (Dreaming Water ; The Samurai's Garden), Tsukiyama tackles life in Japan before, during and after WWII. The story follows brothers Hiroshi and Kenji Matsumoto through the devastation of war and the hardships of postwar reconstruction. Orphaned when their parents were killed in a boating accident, the boys are raised by their grandparents in Tokyo. In 1939, Hiroshi is 11 and dreams of becoming a sumo champion, and soon Kenji will discover his own passion, to become a master maker of Noh masks. Their grandparents, Yoshio and Fumiko Wada, are vividly rendered; the war years and early postwar years, centered in their home on the street of the novel's title, are powerfully portrayed. Hiroshi and Kenji reach pinnacles of success in their chosen fields as well as in love, and while Tsukiyama's close attention to historical and geographical detail enriches the narrative, she isn't as successful when describing Hiroshi's wrestling career; the matches all begin to blur together. The lingering effects of war, on the other hand, are clear, and these, combined with a nation's search for pride and hope after surrender comprise the novel's oversized heart. (Sept.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

After a foray into more contemporary fiction, Tsukiyama (Dreaming Water) returns to the historical fiction genre and brings to life another sumptuously written work. Set in Japan and spanning over 25 years (1939-66), the novel unravels the hardships and triumphs of two brothers raised by their loving maternal grandparents following the loss of their parents in a tragic accident. The dreams of older brother Hiroshi of becoming a sumotori(a sumo wrestler) and younger brother Kenji of becoming a Noh theater mask artisan are quelled by the onset of World War II. Passages describing the devastation wrought by the atomic bombings upon their lives and of those close to them, particularly the family of sisters Haru and Aki, who later becomes Hiroshi's wife, are well written and emotionally gripping. Taking readers on an emotional roller-coaster ride, Tsukiyama deftly illustrates the meaning of resilience without shying away from life's lows as limbs are mangled, children are lost, and characters die either in accidents or by their own hand. As in her other novels, Tsukiyama proves to be adept at capturing sensory detail, whether she's creating the world of sumo or of Noh mask making. Essential for Asian American fiction collections in public and academic libraries [See Prepub Alert, LJ5/15/07].
—Shirley N. Quan

Kirkus Reviews
A disappointing saga of brothers in World War II Tokyo. Tsukiyama (Dreaming Water, 2005, etc.) was perhaps aiming for a restrained grace in her narrative of two boys growing up amidst the destruction of war, but instead the novel offers little more than a listless chronology of Hiroshi and Kenji's triumphs and sorrows. Beginning in 1939, the Japanese war in Asia has little impact on the young boys who live in a quiet district in Tokyo. As toddlers their parents died in a boating accident, and ever since the two have been raised, and doted upon, by their loving grandparents, Fumiko and Yoshio. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, life becomes gradually more miserable; there are blackouts, food shortages and the dangerous Kempeitai, a neighborhood association that serves as spy, extortionist and executioner to those under their jurisdiction. Nevertheless, the boys still have ambitions-older Hiroshi is to become a sumo wrestler and Kenji a mask maker for the Noh theater. Kenji and Hiroshi are lucky enough to survive the fire bombings that devastate Tokyo, but others are not so fortunate-namely Haru and Aki. The two young girls escape but watch their mother perish, an event that has long-lasting effects on both the girls and Hiroshi and Kenji. After the war Hiroshi becomes an apprentice sumotori (in the stable owned by Haru and Aki's father) and Kenji goes to university to study architecture. As they become young men, they realize their dreams as Hiroshi climbs the professional ranks of sumo and Kenji gives up architecture for a quiet studio space to carve masks. They both marry (Hiroshi to the suicidal Aki) with tragic results, but through their support of each other, and the nurturing ofloved ones, they recover some sense of well-being. Though Tsukiyama creates a vivid portrait of war-time Tokyo and the city's rebuilding, the history overshadows the characters living it. Hiroshi and Kenji move through the years, yet there is little to draw the reader into their emotional lives. Reserved storytelling damages a potentially riveting tale. First printing of 125,000
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312384777
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 8/5/2008
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 256,237
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Gail Tsukiyama is the bestselling author of five previous novels, including Women of the Silk and The Samurai’s Garden, as well as the recipient of the Academy of American Poets Award and the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award. She divides her time between El Cerrito and Napa Valley, California.

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Read an Excerpt



A Day of No Regrets

A white light seeped through the shoji windows and into the room, along with the morning chill. Except for the futon he slept on and a teak wood desk, the pale, spacious room was empty. Hiroshi Matsumoto breathed in the grassy fragrance of the tatami mats, the sweet and stirring February air; his thoughts wandering to the cherry blossoms that would soon be poised like flakes of snow upon their branches. The trees that lined the streets of Yanaka, would be in full bloom, and the labyrinth of narrow alleyways would swarm with tourists stopping to admire the Japanese quince, daffodils, and blue triplet lilies blossoming in flower boxes that crowded the teeming walkways. As boys, he and his brother Kenji pushed single-file past the old wood and stone houses to the park. Now, there were few of the old buildings left, long since replaced by brick and concrete. Despite the sharp edge of memories that stabbed just below his ribcage, he still loved this season best, just as Aki always had — the doorway to spring — each morning gleaming with new possibilities.

Almost twenty years ago, his youthful agility had rekindled a national passion for sumo wrestling. In a country devastated by atomic bombs that flattened cities and scarred their spirit, Hiroshi’s speed and strength helped to revive the pride of his nation with every victory. He could barely contain the joy he felt when at last he climbed the ranks. Not until he found courage enough to touch with two fingers the nape of his wife Aki’s neck did any thrill ever match it.

Hiroshi pushed off his covers and stretched his body the full length of his extra large futon, his muscular girth still impressive at his age. He had always valued strength and speed more than some other rikishi, sumo wrestlers who gained inordinate amounts of weight to dominate a match by their size. At thirty-seven, he was a good deal older, and at six-foot one, over a hundred pounds lighter than the heaviest wrestlers, who weighed in at four hundred pounds. Hiroshi sat up and fingered the faint rise of a scar that ran along his hairline and ended at his right temple, then rubbed his belly and pushed his rough feet to the edge of the futon, his calluses a souvenir of barefoot practice on dirt and wooden floors. So many years, he thought to himself, and he touched for luck the soles of his feet, first the left, then the right, as he did every morning. As Hiroshi heaved himself up from the futon and reached for his kimono, he felt again that first step onto the dohyo. The smooth, sacred clay surface of the elevated straw ring was a blessing after years of discipline, training, and rituals. The scratching of his bare feet on the tatami mats made a sad insect sound, not unlike the swish of salt thrown down on the ring to drive out the evil spirits.

Competition had been a strong and potent drug. Everyone and everything disappeared as soon as he entered the ring, as if his life had simmered down to that very moment in time and nothing else mattered. Nothing and everything. He wondered once more if it had all been worthwhile — the sacrifice of family, friends, and lovers for a sport. And only now, too late, could he see the cost of it all as Aki’s accusing stare flashed through his mind.

A sharp knock on the shoji door brought him out of his reverie. He quickly tightened the sash of his yukata kimono, and grunted permission to enter.

The door slid open. It was Haru, dressed in a dark blue padded kimono with a pattern of white cranes. It looked new, yet strangely familiar to him, as if Aki had once worn one similar to it. It was Haru who had first introduced him to her sister, a lifetime ago. Aki was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen — her clear, milky-white skin, the smooth, sharp curve of her chin, her hidden fragility. Haru’s movements were quick and definite, her 0.dark eyes as intense and intelligent as they always were. Every morning, no matter the weather, she was out walking in the garden with his six-year old daughter. And though Takara shared her mother’s classic beauty, he saw Haru’s strength emerging more and more in her each day.

Haru bowed. “We’ll be leaving for the stadium soon,” she said. “Kenji-san is coming for us after he picks up your obachan.”

He watched Haru’s poised figure and the same straight nose and thin, crescent moon eyebrows that graced both sisters. They would all be there at his retirement ceremony, his grandmother, brother, Haru and Takara. “Hai,” he said, swallowing.

She moved across the room to slide open the shoji windows, admitting a cool breeze from the west. It filled the room with a sudden breath of promise. He cleared his throat but said nothing.

Instead, it was Haru who spoke, as she looked out at his acre of blossoming sakura trees. “A day of no regrets,” she said, as if reading his thoughts.

And suddenly, something tender and inconsolable gripped his chest, an entire life boiled down to these last hours. He rubbed his eyes and nodded, always amazed at her astuteness. “What do you see?” he asked.

Haru turned to him again. “Such beauty…” she began, without finishing her sentence...

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Reading Group Guide


A Child of Other Histories

An Original Essay by the Author

The greatest gift of being a writer is the ability to live many different lives. As author David Malouf writes: “Fiction allows us to step beyond what we are, and what we think we know and believe, into other skins and other lives; to become, in imagination and for a time, the children of other histories; to understand from within how the world might look from there, and how we might, in other circumstances, respond.” It’s a lovely definition of both the writing and the reading process.

I’ve always considered myself a child of other histories. My mother was Chinese from Hong Kong and my father was Japanese from Hawaii, though I was born in San Francisco and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Growing up, I loved to read and hear my mother’s stories, which surely stirred my imagination and my desire to travel and write. Little did I know that these two cultures would play such a big part in my writing identity. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with the customs that make up a culture, and I relish my early travels to Hong Kong and seeing stacks of wooden boxes filled with snakes, whose gall bladders were squeezed out and drank down with rice wine to increase male virility, or hearing the high singsong voices of the fruit vendors calling out as they came down the street, balancing baskets of oranges, star fruit and bananas on wooden poles across their shoulders. I can still see my grandmother step out on the terrace to bargain with them down on the street below.

So much of that history is sadly gone now, but I can thankfully resurrect them in my stories. The richness of the Chinese and Japanese cultures is endless, layers that I’m constantly uncovering. And what better way to explore and define a culture then through their subcultures? My curiosity about social groups who have managed to exist outside mainstream society and create their own fascinating worlds, their own sense of family, has been an ongoing theme in my work, whether it be the silk working women in my first novel, Women of the Silk, the leper colony in The Samurai’s Garden, or the mother and daughter separated from the world due to illness in Dreaming Water. It’s a theme that continues to intrigue me in my new novel, The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, which follows two brothers, Hiroshi and Kenji Matsumoto, growing up in Japan through World War II, the occupation, and into adulthood, spanning the years from 1939-1966. Hiroshi will eventually become a sumo wrestler, while the Noh Theater plays a big role in the life of his younger brother, Kenji.

The Street of a Thousand Blossoms allowed me to discover the world of Sumo, a social group that has long fascinated me. Like many people, I’ve always wondered how and why such young men would train to become so big, only to fight in matches that might last no more than a minute or two. What I learned was that strength and speed were just as important as size, and that their regimented lives were extremely arduous and disciplined. When I visited Ryogoku, the sumo district in Tokyo where the tournaments are held, one of my greatest highlights was seeing the sumotori walking down the street, the sweet lingering scent of bintsuke, the wax used to hold their topknot in place, wafting through the air. Those who reach the ranks of champion and grand champion are national heroes, and are as popular as the movie stars in Japan. They were fascinating to watch, both imposing and dignified, still keeping the traditions that were begun some fifteen hundred years ago.

In the process of researching and writing, I realized the sport of sumo was symbolic of the Japanese culture itself—in its rituals and religion—and in its belief of honor and defeat. Writing Hiroshi and Kenji’s story gave me a glimpse into a complex world that moved far beyond what began as an interest in sumo. More than anything, The Street of a Thousand Blossoms is the story of family and love, the futility of war and the resilience of a country and her people. Hiroshi and Kenji represent part of the new generation after the war, whose family and country become a source of their strength and inspiration. Ultimately, as distinctive as all cultures are, it’s our common humanity that provides the greatest stories. In the end, we are all children of other histories.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 34 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 34 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2012

    This is one of my favorites!!

    I loved everything about this story! The attention to detail was amazing and all of the characters were very well intertwined, which I loved. I found myself very emotional throughout the entire book--you can really connect with all of the characters. I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a thoughtful, emotional, and well-detailed story. This book is too good to pass up!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 2, 2012

    I loved the Japanese names and terms scattered through this book

    I loved the Japanese names and terms scattered through this book. I wnated to say them all! I have a tendency to predict (correctly) the outcome of most books, but this one was a bit different than I thought. I loved all the characters, I could see the "movie" in my head as they performed the writer's words. And once again, it gave me some insight of historical events from a non-American point of view. I hated for this book to end.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2012

    Highly recommended

    Ms. Tsukiyama is a masterful storyteller. A beautiful story of a family's love, loss and devotion through World War 2 and into the 1960's set in Japan. I didn't want the story to end!

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  • Posted October 10, 2011

    Another amazing feat

    Tsukiyama has a talent for creating an amazing and beautiful world in her books. As always, the heart wrenching tragedies are wrought wth graceful and delicate moments of love, faith, and hope. She is so talented, and this book is no exception.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2011

    Terrific read. Compelling history and story

    A long journey through tough times with one family but many other interesting characters.

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  • Posted June 30, 2010

    Enjoyed the book, but...

    I very much enjoyed this story. The descriptions were such that you could picture the characters and their situations in your mind quite clearly. It was easy to feel their joys and sorrows. I became so engrossed in the story that I really was sad to see it come to an end; I wanted it to go on! I would love to read more from this author.

    The biggest disappointment and drawback for me, and the reason that I gave only 4 stars, had nothing to do with the story itself but rather the presentation. The first half of the book is so riddled with typos that I almost stopped reading it. There aren't quite as many typos in the second half but still enough to be annoying. The typos really did detract from the overall reading experience for me. Hopefully this is not a common ebook experience because I found it to be very frustrating.

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  • Posted December 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Family, loss, tradition, art and sport. A timeless story of Japanese history, family, and culture.

    I found this book at the airport not having previously heard of the author. I'm looking forward to trying all her others now! This poignant book starts with orphan brothers. We follow them through war and loss marriage, family and their careers which encompasses their history, their culture, and their future all as powerful Sumo Wrestle loved by the brought up by the trainer, and the brother the mask maker holder of tradition. A book i ever wanted to end.

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  • Posted November 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Beautifully written

    This book was filled with tragedy but it was also very beautiful. It taught me that no matter what happens in your life to never lose hope.

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  • Posted October 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Gail Tsukiyama's novel, "A Street of a Thousand Blossoms" offers a realistic portrayal of family life in Japan during the time period of the Second World War and after. The plot is poignant, touching, and focuses on identity.

    The book cover design depicting Cherry Blossom branches is a metaphor of the importance of family life in Japan, of relationships, and most importantly, of filial piety and deep-seated cultural values. The plot tells the story of a middle-class Japanese family who have suffered both personal loss and the side-effects of the devastating atomic bomb. The author explores family and romantic relationships through the lenses of sumo training and noh mask making.

    The resilience of love and the human spirit, despite tragedy, triumph in Gail Tsukiyama's novel. She transcends the reader into the daily discipline and routine of Japanese life through the well-loved sumo sport, the training demanded of sumo wrestlers, and the perfection of noh masks, both being symbolic of identity and love.

    The characters grow through the story that spans three decades, and their triumphs and losses leave a lasting impression on the mind of the reader. For those who want to learn more about Japan, this novel offers an excellent understanding of the cultural value system, of social expectations, and of filial duty.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2009

    An education in two ancient arts

    Again, Tsukiyama's unique manner of storytelling about a culture and society, while foreign to the average reader, allows the reader to emphasize with a family who must endure tragedy, defeat during war and survival of the human spirit.

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  • Posted February 21, 2009

    I could not get through this book

    I was SO disappointed in this book.
    I read Woman of the Silk by this author & loved it.
    Unfortunately, I didn't feel the same about this book. There were so many characters, I felt lost & I had a hard time following the story.
    I suffered through about 200 pages before I put this down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2007

    beautifully written

    As always, Gail Tsukiyama has shared with her readers a beautiful story in her signature style that enraptures the audience. The setting is in pre World War II and follows the life of a Japanese family throughout the war and changing times. Having this heritage myself, I was intrigued as to how this book would compare with so many others that have been dissapointing. I found the depictions to be accurate and meaningful. As with all her books, I devoured it within a few days. Im only sorry its over now.

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    Posted September 9, 2010

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    Posted October 20, 2011

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    Posted September 9, 2011

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    Posted March 24, 2012

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    Posted December 30, 2008

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    Posted February 15, 2011

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    Posted December 19, 2008

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    Posted October 2, 2009

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