Travel Through Japan with a Cat and a Japanese Soldier

This month I travel the furthest I have ever journeyed in books – Japan

enjoying the Japanese countryside in The Travelling Cat Chronicles and one of Japan’s former islands and WWII history in The Emperor of Any Place.

Stylized picture of a white cat sitting on branches with red, yellow ad orange leaves with a white van travelling down another branch.

Beautiful story showcasing loyalty and love – and a lot of Japan.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa ($21.80, Penguin Random House) is told through the perspective of Nana, a cat who is travelling across Japan with his owner Satoru. Satoru is visiting his longtime friends in hopes that someone can take his beloved cat. At each friend’s house, we learn a bit more about Satoru and Nana, as well as some of the beautiful places in Japan, including Mount Fuji, which as Nana exclaims, ‘looks so much more impressive close-up’.

“When that triangle-shaped mountain, with its base spread so wide, loomed closer, Satoru said, ‘That’s Mount Fuji.’

On TV and photos, it looks just like a triangle that has flopped down on the earth, but when you see it in real life it feels overwhelming like it’s closing in on you…You really need to see it with your own eyes though. If you’ve only seen it on TV or in photos, it will always remain just a triangular mountain sitting there. Like it was to me until right this very moment…(The) mountain was pretty darn impressive.”

A high compliment for a cat.

Nana and Satoru also take a ferry to the island of Hokkaido, which is flat with roads that are wider than that of Tokyo’s The sides of the roads are lined with dirt, rather than more concrete, Nana observed, allowing goldenrod and what Satoru thinks is wild chrysanthemums to grow.

“We continued our drive along the river, then down a hill, and emerged on a road that ran alongside the sea. ‘Waa-‘ ‘Wow’. We both shouted out at almost the same instant. ‘It looks just like the sea.’ He (Satoru) was talking about the pampas grass which spread out along both sides of the road. It’s white ears covered the flat, sprawling fields from one end to the other and swayed in the wind like white, cresting waves.”

Hookaido sounds beautiful with its rich black soil rich and its“white birches with pale trunks, mountain ash with red clusters of berries like bells”.

The Emperor of Any Place

Pink and blue sunset over blue water and blue islands.

The Emperor of Any Place, written by Canadian author Tim Wynne-Jones, is set between present day and in the islands off of Japan during the Second World War.

The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones ($23.99, Candlewick Press) flips between present day after the death of Evan’s father and the discovery of a book detailing the life of Isamu Oshiro, an Imperial Japanese Army soldier with footnotes and information from U.S. Army person Derwood Kraft, who is saved by Oshiro and later freed by “Griff”Griffin, who is Evan’s estranged grandfather, and the trio’s story.

During the Second World War, after the battle of Tinian, Isamu escapes the slaughter of his fellow men and washes up on a heart-shaped island he names Kokora-Jima. The island is in the Northern Marianas (and there is a heart-shaped island in this group of islands, which is now part of the United States.)

The story reads like a historical account of Isamu’s time on this island, including his rescue of Derwood, combined with the story of Evan and his grandfather.

While Isamu despises the jungle on the island with its snakes and biting insects, it seems like a beautiful place to be marooned on with its banana and papaya trees, coconut palms, coral trees more than 80 feet high with bright crimson flowers, and a beautiful lagoon with great fishing.

“At sunset, I climbed a grassy hill at the northern end of the island, a hill high enough that I could see the whole island with its white beaches and green heart,”Isamu said.

“And from there I perceived that it was, yes, heart-shaped….It was in the cleft at the top of the heart that I discovered the lagoon. A wide barrier reef crossed the northern reach and turned the voluptuously curving V-shaped bay into a warm sandy-bottomed shallow lake…The moon was frozen it its fullness, heavy with light, and I lay on my back in the water staring up at the stars.

Isamu is not the only thing that washes up on shore after the battle. He also finds crates of food and other supplies from a sunken American ship.

“I picked up a slim packet, as long as my hand, flat and wrapped in paper and foil. I opened it to reveal a hard flat brown stick. I smelled it, scraped the dark surface with my ragged fingernail, sniffed it again. Sweet. Then I tasted it. Ah, such sweetness. I dared to bite into it. Pock. A piece snapped off in my mouth. I let it sit there. It was not like anything I have ever tasted. I closed my eyes and savoured the substance now melting on my tongue.”

Isamu tasted chocolate for the first time as well as what a footnote suggested were purification tables and Spam.

“The flat, brown-coloured stick was a marvel, but some of the other food at times made me wonder if the rumours were true about the Americans being monsters, for there were cans of vile, gelatinous meat, or so I supposed it to be, though the site and smell of it made me retch.”

Apparently, it’s good for bait though.

A copy of these books was provided by Penguin Random House and Candlewick Press for an honest review. The opinions are my own.

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