We received “99 Tears” as a gift and since it was a relatively thin paperback book I decided to try it out.
It’s a set of 12 short stories, each written by a different Japanese author. The settings and characters are all different, but they all share an emphasis on interpersonal relations, especially those with family. Generally they start with a depressing setting, and by the end there is some deep, touching revelation which I guess is supposed to make you cry.
Though I have gotten emotional over a book before (including Japanese works), most of the stories in this compendium really didn’t touch me that way. I think this was not only because of the contrived, cheesy plot points (ex: the main character is expecting to be proposed to by her boyfriend, when in fact she discovers he just decided to marry another woman), but also because the stories are too short, without enough time to really get to know the characters.
To be honest, I’m not really a short-story person, generally favoring long, epic, novels which go on and on, although I have started learning to appreciate shorter works gradually over the last few years. Because of my slow reading speed in Japanese I also tend to avoid extremely long novels.
My favorite of the bunch was “The recipe of happiness” (幸せなレシピ), which involves an older woman picking up an injured thug and offering him a chance to start life over if he agrees to work in her restaurant for 5 years. In exchange, she will hide him from the gang that he’s become involved with and teach him how to become an expert cook. I enjoyed not only the premise, but also a great creative twist and satisfying ending. I could see this being made into a movie and have even considered trying to translate part of it to English as an exercise.
In one of the other works, a family takes a trip to the Japanese island of Enoshima (江ノ島) which I had not been familiar with before. Though the story was a bit drab, I gained interest in that island and hope to visit the natural caves as well as the “Bronze Torii” (青銅の鳥居) there someday.
Linguistically, the Japanese matched my ability well, and if you have studied for a few years with a good grasp of grammar and most Joyo Kanji under your belt you could probably get through it. The amount of furigana (“kanji pronunciation hints”) was quite low, however, so it’s not the most fun read if you are weak in Kanji.
Though the part of me that enjoys fiction (I’m a big sci-fi fan) was turned off by the real world settings and situations, I think the interactions of family members is a valuable source of expressions for Japanese learners. Also the down-to-earth elements makes it much easier to understand the flow of each story.
Overall, not a great set of stories (unless you are a big fan of soap-opera drama), but was still a fun read and good learning experience. I wouldn’t go out of my way to pick it up, but if you can get it on discount or used it might be worth your while.