Banana Yoshimoto is one of the more awesome pseudonyms out there, and her novel Goodbye Tsugumi is an interesting contemplation on friendship, health, and life. Mr. Wapojif purchased the book in 2003 whilst he was in his first year of university.
Written in 1989, it didn’t make it to Europe until 2002! Quite the wait, but it’s a concise little novel (almost a novella, frankly) which centres on the lives of two young Japanese girls who have grown up together by the seaside.
The story focuses primarily on Tsugumi, an ailing and petulant young lady, and her cousin, Maria. The latter is all set for life at university and will be leaving the family inn for the big city, whilst the former is left to stay at home and ruminate about her illness.
After Maria clears off, her family suddenly announces it will be selling the inn, leaving Maria to hurtle home for one final summer of reminiscing.
The real grit of the tale is the relationship between Maria and Tsugumi. They have, how should we say, a difficult time of it.
Think of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman and you’re sort of there (minus the illegal drug dealing) as there’s genuine love between the two, but they don’t particularly get on and spend most of their time sparring verbally and getting upset.
It’s a quiet little story which has a whimsical and otherworldly feel to it, greatly enhanced by the seaside setting and the gleeful sense of nostalgia which is created. Top bananas, then, we have to say.
What? Now, you see, in Japan (more on this below) you can get away with a fantastic name like that, but in the UK you’d be pelted with bricks for daring to be different.
Anyway, Goodbye Tsugumi received mixed reviews, oddly enough, although was turned into a Japanese film in 1990. For its gentle charm and contemplation on youth and life, we’d say this little book is absolutely worth your time and patience. Give it a whirl.
Banana Yoshimoto and Notes on Kawaii
Finally, a quick note on the author and her unusual name. It’s a pseudonym, of course, and her real forename is Mahoko. Apparently, she chose Banana due to its inherent cuteness and as it’s “purposefully androgynous”.
Japan treats cuteness in a different way to the rest of the world. Kawaii, as it’s known, is qualified in context to Japanese culture and plays a major part in their national identity.
Think Pikachu and various other Nintendo characters, Studio Ghibli, cats, clothing styles, behaviour (giggling uncontrollably), food, and plenty of other things and you’re getting there.
Not everyone’s chuffed about it, with one individual called Soichi Masubuchi writing a book called Kawaii Syndrome and claiming “cute” has overtaken traditional Japanese culture. However, the general acceptance seems to be that it’s part of the nation’s cultural identity and is here to stay. We can live with that.