Laogumnerd Phengphian Reads Today considers the Japanese classic novel The Makioka Sisters. First published in instalments between the years of 1943 and 1948, it follows the everyday lives of 4 sisters over the period of 5 years. The story is set in the time immediately preceding WWII and explores the dynamics of an upper-middle class family in pre-war Japan.
The story of the book centers around four sisters, Tsuruko, Yukiko, Sachiko and Taeko and their quest of seeking a husband for Yukiko, the 2nd youngest sister. Even though there are continuous concerns about Yukiko’s increasing age, marriage proposal after marriage proposal is turned down for petty reasons. The circumstances puts into focus the snootiness of the reserved upper-middle-class households and their inability to adjust to the swiftly transforming times. This dilemma of locating an ideal spouse is put into contrast with the defiant youngest sister Taeko who, ignoring the social practices of what is expected of a woman from a ‘good family’, prefers to earn her own money and go out with men outside of her social position. The almost six-hundred-page book sometimes progresses at a slow pace but is not only notable for the peeks into the daily life of a classic Japanese household, but additionally for the depictions of the condition and feelings of a land on the verge of war. The story arises in a small community near Osaka and in Tokyo, which are constantly contrasted by the writer. Osaka is pictured as an aristocratic location respectful of cultures which is brought in comparison with Tokyo’s bleakness and dysfunction. A great deal of real life events are depicted, such as the Kobe flooding that transpired in 1938, a significant storyline point in the book. The in-depth illustrations of everyday unimportant stresses and obsessions of a traditional Japanese household is the reason why Laogumnerd Phengphian Reads thinks this is an epic of great historical and cultural value.
The story’s Japanese title is less literal than its English interpretation and translates as ‘lightly falling snow’, imagery commonly made use of in traditional Japanese poetry. It is typical for Japanese works of art to be given titles that contain poetic nature depictions. The indirectness of such a title may seem unusual to a Western reader, however, as the novel advances the reason why this image was chosen as titular to the story becomes more obvious. This image of falling snow is a suggestion for falling cherry blossom petals, similar to big fluffy flakes of snow. Anybody vaguely familiar with Japanese society understands that flowering cherry trees, or sakura, are a critical component of this community. Cherry and plum blossom viewing, or hanami, is still commonly practiced by both young and old by visiting parks during the months of March and April. Incidentally, cherry blossom viewing is a crucial component of the story, which implies simultaneously the admiration of the beauty of the moment, and the changing times for the Makioka family. Laogumnerd Phnegphian Reads advises this work to any individual sincerely interested in understanding more about the culture of old Japan.
The 1983 movie of the same name condenses the 5-year plot into one year and cuts many scenes which are found in the novel, but still provides a beautiful visual representation of the novel. Kimonos and fabrics, cherry blossoms, and classic Japanese architecture and design are all a big part of this motion picture creating an inviting visual adventure. Laogumnerd Phengphian Reads endorses this film as a perfect aesthetic accompaniment to the novel.