I stumbled upon this book while searching for others for the Japanese Challenge. I was looking specifically for Snow Country by Kawabata, and this one just happened to take its place on the shelf. Lucky me! This is my second read for the Japanese Challenge, and it was a great companion to Snow Country.
Mistress Oriku is a collection of eleven interrelated stories about the proprietress of a fancy teahouse outside Tokyo. Oriku is an extremely likeable character–she is middle aged, independent, kind, loving, and a little bit of a firecracker. The stories tell of how Oriku came to run the teahouse and the relationships that she has created over the years. While Oriku isn’t a geisha like the characters in Snow Country, her teahouse is a sort of hotel where guests come to stay, especially when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. Because of the circumstances, Oriku encounters many colorful characters–especially artists and actors.
I loved getting a closer look at the Japanese culture through this book. It is set mostly around the turn of the century (I’m not sure when the book was originally written and couldn’t find anything on the Internet). The Japanese arts were in full swing and this book felt like a really nice cross between Memoirs of a Geisha and Snow Country. While Snow Country focuses mostly on the relationship of the two main characters, Mistress Oriku is a well-balanced combination of relationships and events.
If you’re looking to learn more about pre-WWII (or even pre-WWI) Japanese teahouse culture, I’d recommend this book. It was a fairly quick read, the stories were all captivating, and there is a ton of dialogue, which was a great switch after the absence of dialogue in Lolita. Sometimes the stories are subtle, but sometimes they can be quite funny (though not laugh out loud funny…), and there is a constant sense of the end of the era–especially with the bittersweet ending. A good read to wrap up the year!
Happy New Year!