107 Goshitsu Tsushin: Kashiwai


I know I always say this, but bookstores are one hundred percent the best, and as convenient as online shops are (especially when I am in Canada and needing Japanese books), they will never, ever take the place of actual physical bookstores in my heart. For one thing, there is the sheer delight of being surrounded by all those books. Shelves and shelves of stories and ideas that, in theory, I could read at some point. All the possibilities! Bookstores make me feel like the world is bigger than I could have ever imagined, while at the same time, putting that world within arm’s reach. So I will always love Japan more than Canada for this reason at least. I passed through three different bookstores today, not on purpose, just because they were on the way to where I was going. To pass through three different bookstores in Toronto, I would have to actually plan it out, like the whole purpose of the trip would be going to those bookstores. And while I am not averse to a bookstore being the purpose of a trip, it doesn’t really invite casual browsing the way the overwhelming number of shops in Tokyo does.

And that, of course, is the other reason why physical bookstores will always be the bees’ knees for me: the random discovery factor. I’ve stumbled upon so many great books when I was noodling around in one bookstore or another. And it is such a thrill, the most delightful feeling to have that spark crackle in the air between you and the book in your hand. This, you somehow just know, will be a book I love. And even if it doesn’t end up being your best beloved, you still have that thrill to cherish, the satisfaction of having found something. Maybe it is some weird hunter instinct buried deep beneath our brains full of book-learning, but that moment of finding and getting is so, so satisfying.

I am still savouring that moment with my latest find and get, 107 Goshitsu Tsushin. The combination of the title (Communications from Room 107, roughly) and cover were more than enough to send those sparks flying, but then the obi on the back announces “Only I remember what everyone else has forgotten”, and I was digging in my bag for my wallet.

The manga is unusual in a lot of ways, the most obvious of which is that it’s entirely in colour. But a very specific, limited colour. The eighteen, very short stories that make the volume up all feature a young woman as the protagonist, and she is always uncoloured. As are most other humans who show up in these pages. The non-human parts of the images are coloured in subdued greys and greens for the most part, with some pops of yellow or pink. But not everything on every page is coloured, creating this interesting and beautiful space somewhere between colour comics and black and white. The stories told in this liminal space are similarly halfway to somewhere, halfway to nowhere. They actually reminded me a lot of the drawn poems of Saho Tono, in terms of content. Sometimes, there is plot-like narrative, but sometimes, it is just a moment captured in image and text.

107_KashiwaiThe titular story is a mere four pages and more on the drawn poetry side of things. Our narrator notices a page-a-day calendar in the window of an apartment she passes by every morning. It faces outward, not inward, and she wonders about the occupant of the apartment, who she never sees; the curtains are always tightly drawn. But the page is always torn off faithfully every day, and she begins to look forward to seeing it on her way to wherever she’s going. And then one day, it is yesterday’s page. And the day after that. And the day after that. Until soon, the calendar and the curtains are gone, replaced by a “for rent” sign.

kasiwai12_02aMost of the stories step further out of reality than this one. Like “Denwaban”, a shop with a wall of pay phones from various eras where you can call someone in the past and have the conversation you needed to have with them in that era. The girl who watches the shop and guides customers to the correct phone wonders if maybe the fact that she has no one to call means that she’s happy. In “Ongaku no Moyo”, our protagonist lives in a spaceship on another planet and teaches a triangular creature with legs but no ears how to listen to music through the patterns the vibrations make in sand spread out on the table. “Hyoryu” depicts a world of water, our hero living alone in a boat that was once a house, collecting ocean debris and labelling it, until one day, she finds a message in a bottle from another person and sets out to find them.

ckglfmnuyaajadvBut whether real or not, they all have the same sense of magic to them, like anything could happen within the pages, like the world is a mysterious and sometimes dangerous, sometimes magical place. And Kashiwai’s loose lines and watercolorish style, reminiscent of Machiko Kyo, make that world feel like a dreamy place of possibility, so that you’re not surprised in the slightest when the woman in “Tabi Suru Koibito” has a tree growing out of her eyeball. The stories hit just the right note between detailed and vague, best seen in the story “So”, which has the narrator wondering what was in the vacant lot before her. She imagines all the times she’s walked by this place, and in her memory, the lot is filled with grey scribbles, a placeholder for whatever was actually there. And then she peels back the green grass of the empty lot to see the layers of places that were there even before that.

The stories are all on the short-short side of things, but they are so well connected thematically that they feel like a single complete story somehow. They’re haunting in a good way; I haven’t been able to stop wondering about this book since I finished it. Apparently, this is Kashiwai’s first book, which seems incredible to me. It’s so confident in what it is, so assured. It’s also sad that this is their first book because now I have nothing else to read by them. I just have to wait for whatever they do next. And I will, eagerly, because 107 Goshitsu Tsushin is making so many promises.


6 thoughts on “107 Goshitsu Tsushin: Kashiwai

  1. I am going to Tokyo next month and I plan to visit the bookstores. I have some titles I want to get and you, yes, you, the temptress, has convinced me to seek this book out. One of the reasons I like your blog is because you have tons of suggestions like this. I like BL but it can be a bit repetitive, some of the stories are cute but unrealistic so this type of book is a breath of fresh air to me.

    Do you have any recommendation on where to go in Tokyo? I have been to Japan three times but I usually visited Kansai area.

    1. All the bookstores! I am a terrible influence! But honestly, this book is so lovely. I really recommend that you do seek it out when you’re here. And thanks! I’m glad my blog is opening the door to some new stories for you (even if it does mean money flying out of your wallet!).

      As for where to go in Tokyo, that is a big question! My favourite thing to do is go to bookstores, of course, and my favourite bookstore is maybe the Book First in Cocoon in Shinjuku. But Jimbocho is the place for noodling around in weird, specialized, used bookstores. Design Sight at Midtown always has interesting exhibitions on (the one that’s starting this week looks very cool and should still be on while you are here). The 6BT just down the street from Design Sight has an amazing vegan lunch set, featuring seriously delicious ramen. The National Film Center is a recent discovery. It’s super cheap and utterly fascinating if you are into movies at all. Kichijoji is a fun neighbourhood to just noodle around in, and you can go to the park there which is lovely. And on the other side of the park is the Ghibli Museum. Tickets sell out super fast though, so if that’s something you want to do, you might want to get tickets now. Anyway, those are just some things off the top of my head. If you let me know what you’re specifically interested in, I could maybe suggest something more in line with what you want to do.

  2. Thank you very much for the suggestions~ Are you still in Japan? The 6BT restaurant looks really really good. I will definitely try that one. If you have other vegetarian restaurants to recommend, please let me know. Singapore has some, but the good ones are usually expensive.
    I have visited the Ghibli museum but it was years ago during uni. That place is so magical, even better than Disneyland, imo.

    My interest are books,, museums and food, basically. I would only have 4 days to explore Tokyo. After that, I’d go to Miyajima, Hiroshima and Kobe. If you have suggestions on these cities, much appreciated too.

    1. I am still in Japan, but only for another week and then I have to head back to Canada. Are you vegetarian? I’m putting together a vegetarian restaurant map, but it’s still in the works, unfortunately. But I would definitely suggest you check out 8ablish in Omotesando. They do the most wonderful things with seitan! Gopinatha in Nakano is a little hard to find, but worth the effort. All of the Ain.Soph restaurants are so good too. All these places have great lunch specials too, so you can eat on the cheap!

      For museums, the New National Gallery is always a nice place to visit. The building’s lovely, and they usually have interesting exhibits. And the National Museum has a Zen exhibit on starting this month that looks pretty good. The Ghibli Museum is probably worth another visit. They just updated/renovated, and now you can sit in the cat bus even if you’re a grown up! And I also like the Asakura sculpture museum in Nishi Nippori. It’s a beautiful space in a quiet neighbourhood.

      As for your other cities, I can’t really help. I’ve been to Hiroshima and Kobe, but I’m not familiar enough with either place to offer suggestions. And I’ve never been to Miyajima, although I hear it’s great and I’d love to get over there one of these days. Anyway, hope this helps!

      1. Oh my God, thank you very much. I will try to visit the places you have mentioned. I am not a vegetarian, I have been trying to be one since my teens but it’s so hard. My high school and uni life were so hectic, I had no time to cook so my options were very limited. Then I moved to Taipei and it was like the vegetarian heaven. They have so many vegetarian restaurants, always with fresh ingredients and always so delicious. I was totally spoiled. Singapore, however, is Sahara compared to Taipei. How many days do you usually spend in Japan? Seems like you travel back and forth a lot.

      2. No problem! I hope you enjoy some delicious vegetarian food while you’re here! I know how hard it can be to get decent veg food, especially when you’re travelling.

        The amount of time I’m in Japan varies depending on why I’m here, but usually a month at a time at least and lately it’s been three or four months. So basically I am constantly travelling back and forth!

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