Reader’s resources

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.

Cultural Resources

Oh! contains several references to Japanese cultural icons, places, and people. Here are some of them:


Cherry blossoms
cherry blossomsIn 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

goCalled 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

Japanese gardens
gardenBased 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

Hot springs
onsenZack 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
numazuZack 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

yokohamaIn 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
subwayA marvel of transportation systems, Tokyo’s subways and trains are reliable, clean, and crowded. Zack zips around Tokyo on them: go there

Mos Burger
mosZack 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


Motoori Norinaga
norinagaBorn 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
cosplayZack 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

yakuzaYakuza 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
suicideResidents 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.

Aokigahara Forest
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.

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
• Canada hotline:

2 responses to “Reader’s resources

  1. I would like to put forward a perspective on the real reasons behind the unacceptably high suicide Japan from Japan and so will limit my comments to what I know about here in Japan but would first like to suggest that western media reports on suicide rates in Asian countries should try harder to get away from the tendency to orientalize the serious and preventable problem of increased suicide rates here over the last 10 years by reverting to stereotypical ideas of Asian people in general.

    Mental health professionals in Japan have long known that the prime causes for the unnecessarily high suicide rate in Japan are unemployment, the effects of bankruptcies, and the increasing levels of stress on businessmen and other salaried workers who have suffered enormous hardship in Japan since the bursting of the stock market bubble here that peaked around 1997. Until that year Japan had an annual suicide of rate figures between 22,000 and 24,000 each year. Following the bursting of the stock market and the long term economic downturn that has followed here since the suicide rate in 1998 increased by around 35% and since 1998 the number of people killing themselves each year in Japan has consistently remained well over 30,000 each and every year to the present day.

    The current worldwide recession is of course impacting Japan too, so unless very proactive and well funded local and nation wide suicide prevention programs and initiatives are immediately it is very difficult to foresee the governments previously stated intention to reduce the suicide rate to around 23,000 by the year 2016 being achievable. On the contrary the numbers, and the human suffering and the depression and misery that the people who become part of these numbers, have to endure may well stay at the current levels that have persistently been the case here for the last ten years. It could even get worse unless even more is done to prevent this terrible loss of life.

    During these last ten years of these relentlessly high annual suicide rate numbers the English media seems in the main to have done little more than have someone goes through the files and do a story on the so-called suicide forest or internet suicide clubs and copycat suicides (whether cheap heating fuel like charcoal briquettes or even cheaper household cleaning chemicals) without focusing on the bigger picture and need for effective action and solutions. Economic hardship, bankruptcies and unemployment have been the main cause of suicide in Japan over the last 10 years, as the well detailed reports behind the suicide rate numbers that have been issued every year until now by the National Police Agency in Japan show only to clearly if any journalist is prepared to learn Japanese or get a bilingual researcher to do the research to get to the real heart of the tragic story of the long term and unnecessarily high suicide rate problem in Japan.

    Useful telephone number for Japanese residents of Japan who speak Japanese and are feeling depressed or suicidal: Inochi no Denwa (Lifeline Telephone Service):

    Japan: 0120-738-556 Tokyo: 3264 4343

    Andrew Grimes

    Tokyo Counseling Services

  2. Mr. Grimes, Thank you very much for your enlightening contribution to this issue. And best wishes on your important work.

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