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The Asian ApertureBook Review of The Cape and Other Stories from the Japanese Ghetto by Kenji Nakagami
POSTED BY JASON FETTERS, January 12, 2014    Share

Kenji Nakagami takes the reader on a journey that few foreigners get a chance to experience and that is a look at Burakumin. In Japan, the Burakumin are the social outcasts that are forced to deal with discrimination and racial hatred and live in ghettos in oppressive poverty. It is not the areas that most tourists will ever visit.

The reason the Burakumin are outcasts goes all the way back to Japanís feudal era when people were considered impure due to occupations such as executioners, undertakers, and slaughterhouse workers and they made up the bottom of Japanese society. Even in modern times the ancestors of Burakumin face extreme prejudice in terms of marriage and employment.

Nakagamiís fiction paints the villages of the Burakumin for the entire world to see. Through his descriptive prose, you feel the slum houses, red light districts, and bars come alive. It is if Nakagami is taking you by the hand and showing you the neighborhood that he grew up it. However, the charactersí lives are honestly presented by someone who could only be Burakumin himself and had an upbringing in that type of environment.

No matter what economic or social class that you feel you are a part of, Nakagamiís characters have something that everyone can identify with. You may not agree with all their actions but with his psychological insights that come out in his characterís thoughts, you can see the logical and understand how someone raised in such a place arrived at the decisions that they do.

In The Cape, the first of three stories in this collection, the twenty-four year old Akiyuki struggles with his identity as he pines away his time thinking about his father who abandoned him and impregnated other women in the neighborhood. Akiyuki has no clear understanding of who his real siblings are. The girl working as a prostitute in a bar could be a sister or a half-sister. The person he calls his father is probably his stepfather. As he wanders his neighborhood with the small supermarket and bars, he gets the feeling that his real father is looking at him, staring at him, and studying him.

Each character in the story has noble and flawed characteristics that exist in every social and economic structure. They all have their own hopes and dreams and must overcome seemingly impossible odds such as starvation. Akiyukiís mother is forced to sell household items just to obtain food for Akiyuki and his sisters. The Cape is a look into the world of the Have Nots and how despite all the pain and suffering they are forced to endure, somehow continue on and grow stronger in the process.

The second story is House on Fire and again the man in the story thinks back on his upbringing and wonders if the man he calls his father is really his father. He follows this man who likes to cause trouble by gambling away his money, having no money to give the mother of his kids, and burns down houses and businesses because it makes him feel good. He is driven by this swelling up of violence inside him that leashes out at others and compels him to start fires.
When the boy, with the arsonist father grows up, he has a wife and children of his own. He also causes trouble by excessive drinking and beating him wife when he returns home from a night out with the boys. His anger burns up inside him and destroy lives all around him.

Finally, the last story called Red Hair is about a man who meets a young girl with red hair by the bus stop. He takes her home to his small and mundane apartment and together they engaged in sex. The woman cannot get enough of her new lover. When the man goes to work and comes home early because there is no work for that day, the woman jumps on him. The majority of Red Hair takes place inside because that is where all the action is.

At the end of the story, it is raining and neither one cares because they are so engrossed in sex that they is no reason to be concerned for the weather because no matter what, they will remain inside where they will keep each other happy.

Kenji Nakagami is able to take the dark strain of Japanese racism and exposes it in ways they have never been explored before in modern Japanese Fiction. He has a unique poetry in his prose that makes the so called low lives into beautiful people. No matter what kind of lives they have or how much pain and trouble that have caused others in the past and no matter what hardships they face on a daily basis, as a reader, you find yourself rooting for them, hoping they will make it, hoping that they will sustain their existence and be able to have the same quality of life as others.
There is much to gain from reading Kenji Nakagami and his portrayal of the Burakumin that will revealed through his stories people that are a lot like us.

I never knew how bad these people had it until reading Nakagami and now Iím glad I did because it shows how every place anywhere in the globe have those people that the rest of society shuns and would rather get rid of then accept.

Highly Recommended Reading!!

"The Asian Aperture" is ©2014 by Jason Fetters. All contents of Crazed Fanboy are ©2014 by Nolan B. Canova and Terence Nuzum.

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