Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

This book tells the heartbreaking and horrific story of the British prisoners of war who were forced to build the Burmese Railway during World War II. When Reg Twigg joined the army at the outbreak of the war, he expected to be sent to fight the Germans in Europe, but ended up in Singapore when it fell to the Japanese.

The conditions that these mainly British, Australian and Dutch soldiers endured were beyond imagining, and they died in the thousands – either murdered by the sadistic guards, or were so starved that their bodies couldn’t survive. Dysentry and Cholera were rife in the prison camps and it became commonplace for the soldiers to find themselves burying their former comrades.

That Reg survived is partly due to luck, and partly due to his own resourcefulness. He harvested illicit pumpkins from the kitchen rubbish (a risk that could have seen him punished by death if he had been caught) and trapped snakes and lizards to eat.

I don’t know if I could say that I enjoyed this book – given the subject matter, it’s not exactly a pleasant read. But it’s fascinating and gripping in the same way that a horror film can be – except that this was real life for so many.

I learned a lot about the famous bridge over the River Kwai (for example, it wasn’t over the Rover Kwai at all!) and a LOT about the Burmese Railway which Reg and his fellow prisoners were forced to build. It was an absorbing insight into a dreadful time. I do recommend this book, but be prepared for some upsetting scenes.

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The Mikado is the third of three Gilbert and Sullivan operas performed at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, as part of the G&S Festival 2014 (the previous two being The Pirates of Penzance and Iolanthe).

Nanki-Poo, a wandering minstrel, arrives in the town of Titipu, Japan, to find the love of his life, Yum-Yum, the ward of Ko-Ko.  Yum-Yum had been engaged to Ko-Ko, but he has been sentenced to death for flirting(!).  However, Nanki-Poo is dismayed to find that not only has Ko-Ko been pardoned, but that he has also been appointed to the post of Lord High Executioner, and the wedding to (a reluctant) Yum-Yum is back on!  Lots of comic twists ensue, providing lots of laughs and glorious music, all leading up to a joyous finale.

Nick Allen, who earlier in the week took on the role of Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance, was Nanki-Poo, and he played the role just right, swinging from utter joy at finding the love of his life, to utter despair when he realises that they can’t be together.  Bruce Graham was perfect as Poo-Bah, an inept politician who holds a number of conflicting positions.   John Savournin played Pish-Tush, a noble Lord with great humour, and Simon Butteriss was absolutely brilliant as Ko-Ko, raising both laughs and sympathy from the audience.  Ko-Ko is a cruel and selfish character, but he’s so completely inept at his job that he is hilarious to watch.  Super performances too from Claire Lees as the vain but loveable Yum-Yum, and Sylvia Clarke as Katisha, an elderly lady who believes that she is betrothed to Nanki-Poo.

The songs were all beautifully performed and staged.  I loved Ko-Ko’s song about a list of potential candidates for execution.  This song is often updated for modern performances of The Mikado, and in this production, Ko-Ko sang about a certain Uruguayan footballer with a penchant for biting opposing team-mates and those who voted for UKIP in the recent European elections.

The scenery and costumes were spectacular, and the musical ensemble numbers were fantastic – so imaginatively and cleverly staged.  If you want an evening of comedy and music performed to the highest standards, try and catch the Gilbert and Sullivan Festival on tour.  This is a show not to be missed.

(For more information about this production, or the Gilbert and Sullivan Festival 2014, please click here.)

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I loved this book, and wish that I had read it earlier. It tells the life story of Chiyo, who is sold as a child and despite a very tough beginning with her new ‘family’, becomes a hugely successful geisha named Sayuri. It is set with WWII as a backdrop, and the book also charts how the war affected not only the geisha trade, but life in Japan as a whole. We also learn how through Sayuri’s life, she craves the love and affection of one man in particular, from when she was a child to when she was a woman. Life is not easy at first for Sayuri. Forced to leave her family behind, she is treated like dirt by the people with whom she goes to live, and the older geisha Hatsumommo in particular, makes her life extremely difficult.

It is narrated by Sayuri, and it is easy to forget that this is not an autobiography, but rather a fictional (albeit factually correct) account of this woman’s life. It is difficult to believe that an American man wrote this book. Sayuri is a very sympathetic character, even if some of her actions are hard for a Westerner living in the 21st century to relate to – I found myself rooting for her the whole way through.  She was well drawn and utterly believable – as were all the characters, including Sayuri’s nemesis Hatsumommo.  Ironically, the one character who I felt was not as well depicted as the others was Chairman Ken, who Sayuri fell in love with.  I loved Mameha – another geisha, who took Sayuri under her wing.

The writing is wonderfully descriptive, and it really immersed me in the time and place where the book was set.  Some fantastic prose, which was a joy to read purely for the sake of reading it.

Overall, this was a fabulous book, which is also hugely informative about the traditions and rituals involved in becoming a geisha. As a result of reading it, I have ordered three non-fiction books about the history and life of geisha.

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