An atmospheric and engaging tale of a mother and daughter who, twenty-three years apart, come to Japan each with their own objective, both with a strong sense of not-belonging and a desperate wish to find their place in life.
After her mother’s death, a young woman wants to learn to know Japan, the country of her father, whom she does not know. Hana has not even a name to find him nor a clue as to who he is or his whereabouts; all she knows is the ‘Teahouse’ her mother, Naomi, helped to create. Most of all though, Hana needs to find herself and to that end, she leaves behind her life in London, including her boyfriend, to travel to Japan. Terrified as she is no regular traveller, aboard the plane she meets Ed, a businessman and seasoned traveller. Hana feels glad to have a contact in Tokyo. Will she be able to find her father, to retrace her mother’s footsteps back to the ‘Teahouse’?
In Tokyo, Hana has trouble acclimatising: the boarding house is not what she expected nor is the fact that she has to share a room with someone else, Jess. Jess is an experienced globetrotter who fits in easily and seems to know all about the cultural habits of the country. She is a lovely roommate willing to show Tokyo to Hana but the latter is mostly interested in finding the ‘Teahouse’ – the only existing connection to her recently deceased mother. As Jess drags Hana along through Tokyo, she meets different people, one of them being Miho, good friends with Jess but with obvious reservations against Hana. Hana feels lost; if only she had held on to the phone number Ed gave her on the plane… But even if she is a bit anxious and has difficulty finding her way in Tokyo, Hana is determined to find the ‘Teahouse’ and her father. Who was he and why does no one seem to be able to help her?
Travelling back in time to the year 1989, the year Hana’s mother, Naomi, lived in Tokyo, we learn about her life with her boyfriend, whom she followed from England to Japan without thinking twice about the consequences. He can provide for her but she considers this as dependence and wants to earn her own living or go back home to London. Somehow, we are uncomfortable with all of this, feel suffocated with Naomi and wonder whether the two of them will stay together but, more importantly, will Naomi be able to make Japan her own and be no longer a stranger amidst this eastern society with its fascinating yet almost impenetrable culture? The lives of Naomi and Hana are cunningly woven into one atmospheric tale in which both mother and daughter, twenty-three years apart, find themselves in what to the outsider could easily be perceived as a dichotomous Japanese society.
‘Made in Japan’ is a beautifully crafted novel taking you on a magical journey to Japan in the year 1989, a country with an exotic culture of tradition and classes, dividing society into ranks. With its rich culture where architecture and styles are embedded in firm beliefs and daily life, Japan is evoking and inspirational but also has a darker side; the Japanese mafia who does not let go. For me, the daughter of a man who has been in a Japanese camp in Indonesia, whose childhood has been one of mixed feelings towards Japan, the country that had imprisoned my grandmother and her children, I wondered how ‘Made in Japan’ would make me feel and was perhaps as apprehensive as Naomi and Hana were towards Japan. This novel shows us Japan as a country that can easily spark your imagination and I find the concepts of architecture, so elaborately explained, enthralling and engaging – the insights into human behaviour enlightening.
In the end, love, grief, betrayal and deceit are universal emotions and behaviour – the same wherever human beings are and this well-written narrative combines it all. At first, I had trouble connecting to the characters but slowly, Naomi got under my skin and even though we do not perceive everything from her perspective, we get an insight into her life and way of thinking although I would have loved to learn more about her and her life’s motivation (I cannot divulge too much here as not to spoil the book). The downside of finding out more about Naomi’s life in 1989, is that Hana’s 2012 story slowly disappears into the background as Naomi takes over and her story is revealed. I was captivated by who Naomi was and the way she grew to love the Japanese way of living.
About the Author
S.J Parks, a literature graduate, has lived and worked in Japan. She has a writing MA from the University of London and now resides in England with her family. Made in Japan is her first novel.
|Publisher||HarperCollins (4 May 2017)|