Kazuo Nakamoto's life in inner-city Tokyo is one of tea and tofu, of American TV and rock 'n' roll. Kazuo is nine. It is the mid-1960s, just after the Japan Olympics, and Kazuo dreams of being a track star. He hangs out with his buddies, goes to school, and helps with household chores. But Kazuo's world is changing. This bittersweet novel is a deft portrait of a year in a boy's life in a land and time far away, filled with universal concerns about fitting in, escaping the past (in this case World War II's lingering devastation), and growing up.
J-Boys author Shogo Oketani is a writer and novelist who grew up in Tokyo in the mid-1960s.
About the Author
Shogo Oketani was born in 1958 and raised in Tokyo. Following studies in the humanities at Keio University, he became an active writer and translator. He is well known for his translations of modernist poet Ayukawa Nobuo, for which he and his wife, author and translator Leza Lowitz, received the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature from the Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture at Columbia University, and a grant from the NEA.
Avery Fischer Udagawa grew up in Kansas and studied English and Asian Studies at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. She holds an M.A. in Advanced Japanese Studies from the University of Sheffield. She has studied at Nanzan University, Nagoya, on a Fulbright Fellowship, and at the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies, Yokohama. She currently parents, writes, and translates in a bicultural (Japanese/American) family living north of Bangkok.
Table of Contents
While their parents can't stop talking about how hard Japan had it during the war, all nine-year-old Kazuo Nakamoto and his friends want is to be Olympic runners, drink real rather than powdered milk, and eat hamburgers like Wimpy in Popeye. Set in working-class Tokyo in 1965, the fifteen interlocking stories in J-Boys" illuminate daily life in the period of rapid postwar economic growth, including a widespread fascination with Western culture and the economic and psychological repercussions of World War II on the next generation. In moving and lyrical prose, J-Boys also broaches important social issues like prejudice against ethnic Koreans and the struggles of rural farmers.
Stories from J-Boys have appeared in Wingspan (All Nippon Airways in-flight magazine), Kyoto Journal, and Another Kind of Paradise: Short Stories from the New Asia Pacific (Cheng & Tsui, January 2009).
The Tofu Maker 2
Yasuo’s Dream 13
A Hard Day’s Night (Bathing and the Beatles) 42
New Friends (Part I) 60
New Friends (Part II) 74
What Wimpy Ate 89
Pet Phrases (Mother and the War) 110
Christmas and Report Cards 122
Winter Work 129
Yasuo’s Big Mouth 142
Kazuo’s Dirty Mind (Keiko Sasaki’s Story) 163
A Farewell in the Snow 191
Spring: Enfance Finie 217
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
There are not a lot of novels in translation for children or adults concerning the lives of ordinary people in peace-time Japan. The stories in Shogo Oketani's debut novel are set in the past, but their realistic portrayal of Japanese life is extremely refreshing.Tokyo, 1965. Kazuo, the main character of this episodic novel, has a sense of Japan's tragic past via his mother's memories of the war, which ended 20 years before, and of a shiny, new future, suggested by the American shows broadcast on his family's brand new TV. He tries out hamburgers and miruku (powdered milk mixed with water), dreams about having a room of his own like Beaver, all while flying a bamboo kite, throwing beans to cast out demons, and engaging in other traditional Japanese activities.The chapter entitled "J-Boys" touches upon the discrimination of the descendants of Koreans forcibly sent to Japan, while "Yasuo's Big Mouth" revisits the ravages of war. Other chapters have a lighter tone, such a "Bathing and the Beatles" in which Kazuo and his pals ponder the popularity of Western music. This novel has an elegiac tone that would appeal to adult readers, but it also clearly depicts Japanese culture, making it accessible for kids. Period photos and copious cultural notes accent the text.
J-Boys is a series of short, anecdotal stories covering Kazuo's life between the October and April of one year. Each story is basically concerned with one or two aspects of Japanese culture and Tokyo life in the 1960s: tofu, public bathhouses, education, New Year's, memories of WWII, etc. Not only is the cultural and historical information interesting, but tracing the melding of traditional Japanese culture with Western influences is fascinating as well.While the information presented in this book is interesting, the plot is not, mostly because with the short stories there is little cohesion between the chapters besides the same setting and characters. Only one story really stood out to me: "Kazuo's Typical Tokyo Saturday," where Kazuo notes the inevitable changes to the city and its culture as it faces the passage of time and incursion of new influences. I think that J-Boys would probably be much more enjoyable as a read-aloud between parents and their children or teachers and young students, reading a story or two a day instead of attempting to plow through the book like it's a novel as older readers (myself included) have a tendency to do.
This is a very sweet autobiographical novel about a young boy growing up in Tokyo in the 1960s. The book does well in balancing both a pleasant narrative and an informative peak into a Japanese child's school and home life. It captures the mood of Japan shortly after Tokyo hosted the 1964 Olympics, and how a child would feel being raised in the shadow of World War II while Western influences began to soak through. While Kazuo and his family celebrate distinctly Japanese holidays and live in a home typical of their county, he loves American television and wonders what hamburgers taste like. J-Boys also does well in giving insight to Japanese society at the time, such as their school system, bath houses, and cooking. The book includes many sidenotes throughout and has a glossary with cultural and historical information to fill in the reader, especially the younger readers this books is aimed at.While this book is educational about a point of time in the recent past, it also has the universal appeal of being about a young boy and his friendships and relationships, as he grows up in a time of transition for himself, Japan, and the world.