A Plump Pillow

Leanne Ogasawara in the Dublin Review of Books:

A bewildering beginning. A German man has a dream that his wife is cheating on him. He wakes up enraged and boards a flight to Tokyo. Why? He has no idea. Arriving in Tokyo, he encounters a young man trying to commit suicide. The German man, Gilbert Silvester, is an adjunct professor, specialising in the religious significance of beards in art and film. Because of his occupation, he can’t help but notice the young man standing precariously on the edge of the train station platform ‑ not because the young man seems in peril but because he has prominent facial hair, something Gilbert did not expect to find in Japan. Striking up a conversation, he learns that the young man is trying to commit suicide. To distract him, Gilbert suggests a trip to find a more poetic place to die. And so, this odd couple embark on a journey north to Matsushima.

People in Japan go to Matsushima for the scenery. Oysters too. But mostly it’s for the scenery. Countless pine-clad islands scattered around the bay make for an unforgettable sight. No less a figure than Matsuo Basho set off on his famous trip, recounted in The Narrow Road to the Deep North, because he “could hardly think of anything else but seeing the moon over Matsushima”. Basho travelled to Matsushima with his trusty companion Sora, much as Gilbert travels with Yosa Tomagotchi, the suicidal youth.

More here.