Book Discussion Groups
These questions will spark interesting discussions if you’re reading Oh! A Mystery of ‘mono no aware’ with your book club or just a group of friends. (Warning, they may contain some spoiler information if you haven’t read the book.) Download the questions.
Oh! contains several references to Japanese cultural icons, places, and people. Here are some of them:
In Chapter Two (see the sample chapter), Zack and Kumiko attend a flower viewing party, in Japanese called hanami. Company groups, families, and friends gather at their favorite spot to picnic and appreciate the beautiful arrival of spring (but mainly picnic). One of the most famous places to view cherry blossoms (sakura) is Yoshino: go there
Called the National Game of Japan, go has simple rules but complex strategies. Part of the strategic difficulty of the game comes from finding a balance between conflicting interests (as in life!). Zack learns a little about strategy in the novel. A description of the game is here: go there
Based on minimalism and natural forms, Japanese gardens contrast considerable from formal English gardens. In the novel, the professor has a garden at home and at work. There is also a surprise, hidden garden near the end of the novel. A good introduction to Japanese gardens is at: go there
Zack enjoys the luxurious relaxation of an onsen, hot springs bath. Most are found in a traditional inn called a ryokan. For more information: go there
Numazu, Suruga Bay
Zack lives in Numazu, Shizuoka prefecture, on Suruga Bay. A medium sized town it is famous for seafood and its proximity to Mt. Fuji and Hakone. Some additional facts are here: go there
In the novel, Zack’s grandfather left for the U.S.A. from Yokohama Bay. Also, Zack and Kumiko trace one of the characters to Yokohama. For some images of the city, go to: go there
Tokyo subways and trains
A marvel of transportation systems, Tokyo’s subways and trains are reliable, clean, and crowded. Zack zips around Tokyo on them: go there
Zack spends a lot of time eating and just sitting in the ubiquitous MOS Burger fast food restaurants (“Making people happy through food.”). His favorite is one of the rice burgers. The corporate site is here: go there. And some photos: go there
Born in 1730, this Japanese intellectual coined the term mono no aware and wrote extensively about it. Without him, there would be no Oh! See the mono no aware page on this site for more information.
Performers at Harajuku
Zack meets street performers in Harajuku, a neighborhood in Tokyo where performers, musicians, and cosplay (a combination of “costume” and “play”) youth gather. Here is some of the cosplay: go there. And a video of a band: go there
Yakuza are Japanese organized crime syndicates. One of the characters is a wannabe Yakuza and Zack finds his story from a tattoo artist. For more information: go there. And on tattoos: go there
Aokigahara suicide prevention teams
Residents of the towns at the edge of the Aokigahara Forest try to stop people from committing suicide in the forest. They post signs, go on patrols, and monitor security cameras. See this report: go there
Suicide and Japanese Suicide Clubs
Tragically, suicide is the leading cause of death in Japan among people under the age of 30. In the past Japan was traditionally tolerant of suicide, for example when it was required for samurai who dishonored their lord. Currently, the lengthy period of economic woes and other factors have been blamed for the high rates of suicide and the emergence of so-called “suicide clubs.” Cultural anthropologist Chikako Ozawa-de Silva has studied these factors (see full article).
Ozawa-de Silva tells us suicide in the United States is primarily studied by looking at individual psychology and factors such as depression. In Japan the focus is more on social pathology, economic factors, a “culture of suicide” and cultural aesthetics. But in contrast to the popular Japanese opinion that suicide is one way that individuals can assert their autonomy in a collectivist Japanese society, suicide pacts seem to involve individuals giving up, or subordinating, their autonomy to a collective decision, a group choice.
Further she explains, the absence of ikigai (the worth of living) among suicide website visitors. Their view of suicide as a way of healing shows that analyses of social suffering must be expanded to include questions of meaning and loss of meaning. Researchers should also consider Japanese conceptions of self in which the connectedness of all things, including the choice to die, is of utmost importance.
In Oh!, some of the story takes place in the Aokigahara Forest at the foot of Mt. Fuji. Aokigahara Forest is a real place and is unfortunately known for a number of suicides each year. Most of the suicides are individuals who go into the dense “Sea of Trees” and die of exposure or other ways. A few go as couples or groups. The local residents are not pleased with the stigma of living close to the infamous spot. They have posted signs at well-traveled spots (“Please reconsider killing yourself”) and patrol the area, as well as perform the grim task of searching for victims. http://www.japanzine.jp/article/jz/957/the-suicide-woods-of-mt-fuji
Suicide Hotlines There are many online and telephone hotlines who help people considering suicide. Here are a few
• US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK and http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
• Canada hotline: http://www.suicideinfo.ca/csp/go.aspx?tabid=40