Mistress Oriku – Matsutaro Kawaguchi

Posted 31 December, 2008 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 17 Comments

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Title: Mistress Oriku – Stories from a Tokyo Teahouse
Author: Matsutaro Kawaguchi
Date Finished: Dec 31, 2008 #73
Pages: 270
Rating: 3.5/5

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!

17 Responses to “Mistress Oriku – Matsutaro Kawaguchi”

  1. This sounds interesting. I am half Japanese, and I like hearing about books that can put me in touch with Japanese culture. I notice that you have Kafka on the Shore on your list. I just read it and thought it was really great. I hope you enjoy it.

  2. This does sound good! Thank you for the review and recommendation, Trish. Like Kathy, I love reading books about other cultures and I especially like historical settings.

    Have a Happy New Year!

  3. if there’s gonna be another japanese literature challenge I have to join! I love everything about Japan and I should explore more its literature. This one sounds quite entertaining!

  4. *Bermuda – I’m becoming really fascinated by the Japanese culture–this was a great one for that.

    *Charley – I had hoped to get to Kafka this year, but I’m really looking forward to it! Like I mentioned above to Kathy, Japanese culture is so fascinating!

    *Gautami – Happy new year to you!

    *Literary Feline – There wasn’t a ton of actual history in the book, but cultural aspect was really great to read about.

    *Nicole – There is definitely a lot of food talk in this book! I love Japanese food. :)

    *Valentina – I bet Bellezza will host again–it’s such a fun challenge! I’ve loved learning more about the Japanese culture.

    *Stephanie – Happy new year to you, too!

    *Nymeth – Happy new year, Nymeth! Before reading this and Snow Country I didn’t know much about teahouse culture, but it is really interesting to read about.

  5. Eva

    This sounds so good! I think I’m going to add it to my ‘Lost in Translation Challenge’ list, since I doubt I’ll get to it by the end of January. :)

  6. If you are looking for more books for the challenge, you might try Shiokari Pass by Ayako Miura. It is set in Hokkaido at the turn of the nineteenth century and is about christianity in Japan.

  7. *Eva – This would be a great one for Lost in Translation! I hope you enjoy it.

    *Lenore – Thanks for the great suggestion! I’m new to Japanese literature, so I’ve been trying to get as many new ideas as possible!

    *Dar – I hope you have a wonderful new year as well. :)

    *Valentina – I’m trying to avoid challenges right now that will require me to read books I don’t already own. I didn’t have any Japanese literature either before the challenge.

  8. I just stumbled across this book at the book store. I am glad you reviewed it and now for sure will read this soon. Thank you! To answer your question earlier. I stayed in Colorado for Christmas and New Year. Probably won’t make it to Utah for a month or two. Although, Houston and I have talked about a trip to Texas. He has family there too.

  9. I’m late to this one. Sorry!

    Sounds like a great book. I’ve always been interested in Japanese culture. I really enjoyed your review. I’ve never read Snow Country, but if it’s anything like Memoirs of a Geisha, it must be good!

    –Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

  10. *Michelle – It’s very different from Memoirs of a Geisha, but it was still really interesting. Hope you like it! Where does Houston have family at? If you come down, you definitely have to call me!!

    *Anna – Like I was telling Michelle above, it is different from Memoirs–not quite as fluid as a normal novel. But it was still a good piece to learn more about the Japanese Arts.