The Mad Kyoto Shoe Swapper and Other Short Stories from Japan

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Title: The Mad Kyoto Shoe Swapper and other Short Stories from Japan

Writer: Rebecca Otowa

Publishing House: Tuttle Publishing

Date of Publication: March 24th 2020

Rating: 5 stars

‘’Well, don’t. You’re a foreigner. You have to understand it’s not our business. We don’t interfere. It’s the Japanese way.’’

Thirteen exquisite stories written by an American woman who married into a Japanese family, and moved in the Land of the Rising Sun. Stories of love, family, marriage, motherhood, duty, heritage. Stories of silence and secrecy. Stories of convictions and an all-powerful desire to hide everything under the carpet. Stories of people for whom the phrase ‘’if we don’t speak about it, it doesn’t exist’’ gas become a daily adoration.

‘’And, of course, lots of them were looking at their phones. The universal pose of modern man. If we don’t watch out, our spines will curve back into a neanderthal shape, and our evolution will start going backwards.’’

Well, we are worse than that, actually. It is derogatory for the Neanderthal man to be compared to our sorrowful, pathetic contemporary existence when education and respect have been substituted by selfies, sexual obsession and ignorance.

The Rescuer: A kind spirit has the responsibility of rescuing idiots (I mean, careless passengers…) who are glued on their phones in a station in Tokyo.

‘’And now you’ve deserted me. You’ve gone to the Pure Land and I’m left in Hell.’’

Genbei’s Curse: A young woman is left to care for her tyrannical father0in-law. But life works in mysterious ways and, ultimately, in circles…

‘’The day of the trial by fire dawned bright and crisp. A fine white ground most was already dissipating in the mild warmth of the rising sun. The tall cypresses looked down on the shore, absolutely motionless, their dark depths pierced with slanting sunbeams.’’

Trial By Fire: The incredible, true story of the dispute between two villages that had to be decided through a trial by fire.

‘’How could anyone just say no when asked to do something? Especially a woman? She tried to remember if she had ever done such a thing.’’

Love and Duty: An American teacher tries to explain the different meaning of Valentine’s Day to a Japanese coworker. But this isn’t actually about opposing cultural perceptions. It’s about a culture that dictates women to be silent, complacent and obedient.

‘’Ah! There was the shrine, the cedars still standing tall, clumps of snow sticking to their dull green sides. And here was the corner of the shopping street. But there was no steam rising from the metal chimneys.’’

The Turtle Stone: The story of a traditional sweet shop and its unique decoration through the eyes of its owner.

Rhododendron Valley: The sad story of a man who has to cope with extremely difficult news.

‘’My children! You have taken away my children! Where are they?’’

Uncle Trash: An elderly resident has filled his house with old paper, clothes and various objects, taking hoarding to a whole new level. When his family decides to put an end to this without even asking him, all Hell breaks loose. A brilliant story about the ignorance with which we treat elderly people and a shocking ending.

Watch Again: A young woman meets her estranged husband in the metro. A husband that wanted children because his father demanded it. A husband who wanted his ‘’food’’ cooked by his wife, a husband who resented her success, a husband who wanted a slave, not a companion. Can there really be a second chance when a woman has to put up with this attitude? Can he actually change? My answer is a huge, written in neon: NO!

Showa Girl: The writer narrates the childhood and adolescence of her mother-in-law. A story of quiet beauty.

‘’These people were going to squeeze her between them till there was nothing left.’’

A Year Of Coffee and Cake: Two women, an American and a Japanese, bond over cakes and family troubles. Amanda is asphyxiating in her marriage, and her neighbour provides a pleasant destruction. But is she actually what she seems? This story will shock you to the very end. And judging from ALL the books on Japan I’ve read (by Japanese and foreign authors) this must be an extremely difficult country to find yourself as the ‘’wife’’.

Three Village Trees: A teacher contemplates on the changes of her students. A young man who was abused by his father exacts his revenge. A worker seeks recognition. Three village tales of a frustrating reality.

Three Village Trees: A teacher contemplates on the changes of her students. A young man who was abused by his father exacts his revenge. A worker seeks recognition. Three village tales of a frustrating reality.

‘’I’m trudging over beige winter grass under a tumultuous sky. Wool from my hat tickles my eyebrows, and from my scarf is damp and cold on my cheek. Wind pushes at my back. Cold arms, cold legs, eyes tearing up, nose running. I prospect in my pocket for the wad of tissues I always carry on winter walks. A mountain dusted with snow looms in the distance across the rice fields.’’

Rachel and Leah: A foreign woman married to a Japanese family contemplates on her husband’s expectation, her own wishes and constant compromises, illness and honesty.

The Mad Kyoto Show Swapper: The tender story of a young man with the habit of swapping shows, and a deep love for Casablanca, set in the uniquely beautiful city of Kyoto.

Stories inspired by anecdotes, Ottawa’s husband’s family myths, personal experiences, actual occurrences, observations and incidents that have been taken place in urban areas, compose a collection that is both sensitive and raw, and an eloquent depiction of the cultural gap that sometimes we are unable to bridge.

‘’She doesn’t know me. Even my son doesn’t know me. They all think they know me, they think they have pinned me down, just another slightly troublesome older woman. They think it’s all right to stop thinking about me.’’


  1. Sounds like quite a lovely read. Terrific review as well!

    Liked by 1 person

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