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Tag: 2013-2014

Ghosts of the Tsunami

Photo credit: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dylan McCord, 3/18/2011. Creative Commons.

Much has been said of the impact of the March, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, as well as the consequent disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. The event wrought massive destruction and caused upwards of 15,000 casualties. Many affected cities and towns still have not recovered, almost three years later. Ruth, in A Tale for the Time Being, worries that her invisible correspondent-through-the-ages, 16 year old Nao, has met her fate in the tsunami; Ruth’s fears were echoed, and are still echoed, by people across the world whose friends and family were in Japan at the time of the disaster. According to the National Police Agency of Japan, 2,640 people across the country are still missing and unaccounted for.

Photo credit: Petty Officer First Class Matthew Bradley, US Navy, 3/15/2011. Creative Commons.

Less has been said, however, about the harm done to Japan’s social and spiritual life. As Richard Lloyd Parry points out in his recent essay “Ghosts of the Tsunami,” Japanese culture traditionally focuses on the spirits of dead ancestors, who often play a relatively active role in the spiritual life of a family or an individual. With so many dead in one fell swoop, what happens to those who are left alive? And what happens to the spirits?

“I met a priest in the north of Japan who exorcised the spirits of people who had drowned in the tsunami,” begins Lloyd Parry’s essay, and from there he embarks on a journey through Japan’s spiritual landscape, which was no less shaken by the tsunami than the buildings and houses and streets. Between dead ancestors with no one to care for them and survivors forced to leave their ancestors behind as they fled their homes exists an ocean of grief. “Ghosts of the Tsunami” attempts to navigate this ocean.

You can read Richard Lloyd Parry’s “Ghosts of the Tsunami” here on the London Review of Books website.

As a reminder, we are still accepting nominations for the 2014-25 Go Big Read selection.  Our theme this year is “service,” and you can read more here about what we’re looking for. If you have a book in mind that might fit the theme, let us know. The nomination deadline is February 1st, so hurry!

Using the book in the spring?

Instructors! Are you planning to use A Tale for the Time Being in your spring courses? Do you want your students to be able to access the book for free? If so, fill out our request form and we’ll add you to our list of participating courses for the spring.

For students in spring courses, we send out vouchers that can be redeemed at six campus libraries (Chemistry Library, College Library, Ebling Library, Memorial Library, Steenbock Library and Wendt Commons) for free copies of the book. If you need us to send you hard copies of the book for your teaching assistants, or if you need your own desk copy, you can indicate so in the request form.

If you’re still not sure whether you’ll use A Tale for the Time Being this spring, don’t worry! Just send us an email (gobigread at to request a free review copy.

Goodreads Interview with Ruth Ozeki

In case you haven’t gotten enough Ruth Ozeki yet, check out this awesome interview with our Go Big Read author! Goodreads readers submitted questions about A Tale for the Time Being, and Ruth Ozeki sat down with the interviewers to chat about the book, her writing process, her concepts of reality and fiction, self, creativity and everything in between. Below, a few quotations worth thinking about:

feeling is that as a person, as a storyteller, I want to be very
careful with the kinds of things I put into the world. I want to make
sure that I am writing from a place of integrity, whatever that might
mean. For me, it means that I am writing in the most honest way I know.
And that doesn’t mean telling the truth.

books grow out of my preoccupations. So I am a being in time, and
things are happening in the world around me, and I read about them or
experience them and react to them. I become interested, I start to
investigate, I ponder them. In a way, the writing of a novel is less
about telling a specific story and more about allowing a process of
inquiry to shape what happens on the page. These events will happen in
the world, they’ll enter my mind, I’ll start to think about them, and
the juxtapositions will somehow start to generate story. At that point
my job is just to follow that.

books grow out of my preoccupations. So I am a being in time, and
things are happening in the world around me, and I read about them or
experience them and react to them. I become interested, I start to
investigate, I ponder them. In a way, the writing of a novel is less
about telling a specific story and more about allowing a process of
inquiry to shape what happens on the page. These events will happen in
the world, they’ll enter my mind, I’ll start to think about them, and
the juxtapositions will somehow start to generate story. At that point
my job is just to follow that.

Has your appetite been whetted? Head over to Goodreads for the full interview.

Guest Post: Reflections on the Nov. 14 talk by Professor Gene Phillips

It was enlightening to see the concept of Zen Buddhism depicted in
images at the talk by Professor Gene Phillips (Professor in the
Department of Art History; Director of the Center for East Asian
Studies). One of the things that Professor Phillips discussed was how
Zen monks in medieval Japan were commissioned to paint inspirational ink
images based on koans (questions that a Zen Buddhist master gives to
his disciples in order to help them understand the concepts of “mu”
[nothingness, emptiness] and the universe’s fundamental non-duality,
which leads them to enlightenment: the goal, the ultimate state of mind,
in Buddhism).

To learn more, see Professor Phillips’s book, The Practices of Painting in Japan, 1475-1500.

Photo by Hiromi Naka, Japan Outreach Specialist, the Center for East Asian Studies

Ayako Yoshiumra, the Center for East Asian Studies

Guest Post: How to Read a Book

A Tale for the Time Being invites us to read in a slightly
different way than many of us are used to. 
Not only does the book alternate between two narrators, but when we read
Nao’s diary, we’re reading it as annotated by Ruth, whose chapters are told from in the third-person voice.  It took me a while to realize that the
footnotes in Nao’s diary are written as though they were written by the
character Ruth, not the author Ruth.

If you’re interested in other approaches to reading, you may want to listen to
the November 24, 2013, edition of the public radio show To the Best of Our Knowledge.  The Nov 24 show is all about “How to Read a Book.” Hearing Billy Collins’ read his poem “Reader,” immediately made me think
of Tale.  There’s also an interview with an author who
wrote a novel which features another novel written in the margins of the book,
among other thought-provoking segments.

Beth Harper
Reference Librarian, Memorial Library

Go Big Read Films and Visual Resources

I would like to recommend some visual resources from our campus
libraries that relate to this year’s Go Big Read book, A Tale for the
Time Being

Documentary films about Kamikaze Pilots:

The Last Kamikaze: Testimonials from WWII Suicide Pilots

(streamed online; UW login needed)

Wings of Defeat (DVD)
(D792 J3 W56 2007)

Zen Buddhism:
Erleuchtung Garantiert (Enlightenment Guaranteed) (DVD)
(PN1997 E723 2000)
middle-aged German brothers travel to Japan in search of inner peace.
But many obstacles await them. Will they find the key to enlightenment?

Zen (DVD)
(BQ9449 D657 Z46 2011)
This recent feature film, starring the famous kabuki actor Kankuro Nakamura VI, relates the biography of the Zen master Dogen, who figures prominently in Ozeki’s book.

One Precept: Zen Buddhism in America

(streamed online; UW login needed)

Funeral Rites in Japan:
Departures (Okuribito) (DVD)
(PN1997.2 O387 2009)
of the 2009 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, this film
chronicles an ex-cellist’s transition to a new life as a mortician in
his hometown in the Tohoku region of Japan.

Ayako Yoshimura
Japanese Studies Collection Assistant

Interview with Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney

Did you miss seeing Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney discuss her book Kamikaze Diaries at Central Library on Tuesday? If so, don’t worry! Check out this interview with Professor Ohnuki-Tierney, filmed at the Virginia Festival of the Book in 2010.  

Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers is one of the texts used by Ruth Ozeki in her research for A Tale for the Time Being, and details the lives and deaths of Japanese students drafted as kamikaze pilots during World War II.

Thanks to Laurie Wertmer of the Memorial Library Reference Department for finding this video for us!

Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney at Central Library, 11/12

Kamikaze Diaries by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney

If you attended Ruth Ozeki’s talk on October 28, you may have heard her mention Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney.  Ohnuki-Tierney wrote Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers and Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms: The Militarization of Aesthetics in Japanese History, which Ozeki used for her research for A Tale for the Time Being.  In her interview with NPR, Ozeki says in reference to Cherry Blossoms:

It was a collection, a study of the diaries of the kamikaze pilots who had been conscripted from Japan’s top universities. So these were the young, bright minds of Japan, and these men, these young men, were beautiful writers. And they wrote these just heartbreaking letters and diaries….Many of them did not want to participate in this at all but, you know, the situation was hopeless — there was no option for conscientious  objection, for example — so they were forced into this, accompanied by an enormous amount of angst. And so I think the idea for those three characters came from this reading and studying that I was doing.

If you are interested in learning more about the experiences of the Japanese soldiers, Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney will be at the Central Library, 201 Mifflin St. on Tuesday, November 12 at 7:00 pm. Ohnuki-Tierney is the William F. Vilas Professor at the University of Wisconsin.

Lisa, Librarian at Madison Public Library – Central Library

Zen Buddhism: An Art Historian’s Perspective

Next Thursday, November 14, join Go Big Read and the Center for East Asian Studies for a discussion of Zen Buddhism, the Japanese belief system explored in A Tale for the Time Being. Gene Phillips, Professor of Art History and Director of the Center for East Asian Studies, will present a talk titled “Zen Buddhism: An Art Historian’s Perspective.”
The lecture begins at 6:00pm and will take place in room L140 of the Elvehjem Building. We hope to see you there!

Learning Lab: Lens on the Collection, featuring A Tale for the Time Being

Lens on the Collection: Click to expand
Tucked in and sometimes overlooked among its vast print holdings,
the UW-Madison library system also offers students a dizzying array of movies. Some
are popcorn classics, box-office hits widely known and loved worldwide.  Yet library patrons are likewise able to
access thousands of film titles that didn’t set any box-office records but are
perhaps more thought-provoking than their more famous compatriots.  Certainly, movies should entertain, however the
best entertainment expands your outlook, and gives insight to the perspectives
of people from different cultures and mindsets. With such a wide selection of
films at our disposal, how does one sort through the vast, sometimes dispersed
holdings to select the right film for the right situation?
The LSS Learning Lab Library, located on the second floor of Van
Hise Hall, is here to help.  Each
semester, the Learning lab selects a new theme for its Lens on the Collection series, highlighting several related films
from its extensive foreign film collection to provide patrons with a focused
guide to the Learning Lab’s film holdings. 
This Fall, Lens on the Collection
focuses its attention on twelve feature films meant to complement Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, this year’s Go Big Read selection. Ozeki’s novel delves deep into the troubles
confronting contemporary Japanese culture, teenage angst, and the difficulty of
forging meaningful relationships in the fast-paced modern world. As fans of foreign cinema are no
doubt aware, many of these themes have already been explored by talented filmmakers
from around the globe:  think of the work
of Leos Carax, Michel Gondry, and Bong Joon-ho in Tokyo; Sofia Coppola in Lost
in Translation
; Eric Khoo in Tatsumi,
to name just a few examples.   
While A Tale for the Time Being and each of our films remain
thought-provoking works of art in their own right, our hope is that by pairing
and partnering these works, book and film, we can help provide the broader
campus audience a fuller appreciation of the themes these works raise. By
combining these different forms of media, we believe that readers and viewers will
be better able to consider the troubles of modernity, the challenges facing
contemporary Japan, and the problems we all wrestle with as individual human
So as you finish this
year’s Go Big Read, and head into the
weekend wondering what to do for a bit of entertainment, don’t settle for the
umpteenth re-watching of Twilight or Harry Potter. Dig deeper for something
you haven’t seen before, something more thought provoking, something out of
your comfort zone. You just might uncover a new favorite and challenge your
perspective in the process.
~Lane Sunwall~
The Learning Lab in 259 Van Hise Hall provides drop-in study
space, audio and video playback equipment, computers, and an extensive media
collection of thousands of DVD/video materials from over one hundred different
foreign languages.  Past and current Lens on the
posters and selections can be found online or on the poster board in front of the Learning Lab in Van
Hise Hall.  To check out movies from the Lens on the Collection, visit our
friendly staff at the LSS Learning Lab, or order them online at