地球星人 🌏 Book Club ・ Week 4

地球星人 ・ Week 4

Week 4 18 December 2021
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Vocab Sheet

Anybody should feel free to add to the vocab sheet. Read the guidelines on the first sheet- even if a word is not yet included you can use the spreadsheet as a tool to get help.

Spoiler Courtesy

Please follow these rules to avoid inadvertent ネトバレ. If you’re unsure whether something should have a spoiler tag, err on the side of using one.

  1. Any potential spoiler for the current week’s reading need only be covered by a spoiler tag. Predictions and conjecture made by somebody who has not read ahead still falls into this category.
  2. Any potential spoilers for external sources need to be covered by a spoiler tag and include a label (outside of the spoiler tag) of what might be spoiled. These include but are not limited to: other book club picks, other books, games, movies, anime, etc. I recommend also tagging the severity of the spoiler (for example, I may still look at minor spoilers for something that I don’t intend to read soon).
  3. Any information from later in the book than the current week’s reading (including trigger warnings that haven’t yet manifested) need to be hidden by spoiler tags and labeled as such.

Discussion Questions

Feel free to use these questions as a framework or a starting point for responses. I also encourage people to post their own discussion questions!

  1. What sentence/passage gave you the most difficulty? Feel free to request some help, or if you figured it out on your own break it down for the rest of us!

  2. What was your favorite new vocab word from this week’s reading?

  3. Was there any passage that you found particularly intriguing? Did it resonate with you (either positively or negatively)? Was it surprising? Offer any insight or new perspective? Was it just beautifully written?

  4. What do you think of Natsuki’s worldview? Is there truth to it, albeit oversimplified perhaps? Is it a criticism of Japanese culture?

  5. Describe Natsuki’s relationship with her mother. Why might her mother act the way she does? How does this affect Natsuki?

  6. What are your impressions of Mr. Igasaki?

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Well, this was…something. I need to get my thoughts in order, because my impressions changed a lot as I was reading further.
I have quite a lot of things I’d like to mention, so instead of unsightly spoiler tags, I’ll hide them under cuts. Assume there’s spoilers for this week from here on:

Natsuki's worldview

What an interesting, chilling, yet weirdly accurate description of society that was. And how sad that an eleven year old can already have such a cynical worldview. I really like that she’s a fighter though. She’s figured out how society works (in a gross overgeneralization, but it’s a workable model), then decided to work hard to secure her place in it, in the role that she feels is more fitting for her. I’ve got to admire her spirit, while at the same time wanting to hug her and tell her she doesn’t have to feel this way.
I also love how she’s observant enough to realize that even adults get judged, and get called names, even when they’re doing all they’re expected to do.

Mother

It’s becoming more and more apparent that the mother resenting and scolding Natsuki is her default behaviour, regardless of what Natsuki is actually doing. Where that comes from is not yet clear. But judging from the pharmacy scene, she is a bitter woman in general, not only towards Natsuki. I wonder what she has had to deal with to be this way. Whatever the mother’s reasons, Natsuki’s trash can comment broke my heart. And it’s obvious she too lives in fear of being thrown out of her house, just like Yuu. I can definitely see where both their escapism comes form.

Sister

The sister was very passive in what we’d read so far, but her brief appearance here made her seem more like a bully herself. It’s common for people who are the target of bullying in one environment to actually be bullies themselves in another, but it was hard to watch. I still wonder whether she has some special sensitivities though, because a phone call shouldn’t have disturbed her so - unless she was just being purposely mean of course.

Language, culture and general questions

I’ve often read how in Japan it’s expected to put yourself (and yours) down in a conversation, while praising the person you’re talking to. So at first I wondered whether the mother’s constant criticising of Natsuki in public wasn’t as bad as it seemed in my Western eyes, but rather in accordance with Japanese good manners. But the people present at such scenes seemed taken aback by the intensity of the criticism, and it seems to also take place exactly like this in private, so I assume it was extreme even by Japanese standards?

When the sister interrupts the phone call, someone says "邪魔”. Is this Natsuki or Kise? Is it sort-of-polite like お邪魔します as Kise entered the room, is it “You’re being a nuisance” from Kise to Natsuki, or the same from Natsuki to Kise because of the kick?

What exactly is a 塾? It seems to be cram school to prepare students for upcoming admission exams, but Natsuki goes to a normal class for students not preparing for exams. What does that mean, not preparing for exams? Is it just because she’s fifth year and she will change classes soon, or is it something else? And now that I mention this, how much time has passed exactly from the beginning of the chapter until the end of this week’s reading? I didn’t notice much indication of time passing, and at first I thought it was all happening days after they came back from the interrupted Obon, but then by the end Natsuki doesn’t see much of Igasaki (just eww) any more, and it’s only a two-digit number of days until she expects to see Yuu again.

Igasaki (really, I have no words) says to Natsuki when we first get to meet him: 「奈月ちゃん、社会よくなってきてるね」. Does this mean, “Natsuki, you are becoming a good member of society?”

Igasaki again. When he’s requesting things from Natsuki, he’s using ごらん and あげる for himself. As far as I understand, these are words reserved for you superiors (out of politeness or because of actual status), yet he uses them for himself. Is this common for teachers and superiors, to speak in honorific language about themselves to pupils or subordinates? I’m still trying to wrap my head around this honorific/humble language thing.

As for the essence of what’s going on in that cram school. It’s very hard to say no to a figure of authority, even more so for a child, and even more so for a child who’s getting no positive reinforcement or support even at home, but could she really not call him out, or report him? How would that play out in the Japanese system? Would she get support, or would she be even worse off after doing that?

I’m sure I still I have much more I’d like to discuss, but I’ll stop here for now.

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I have not quite finished this week’s reading, but I want to share my thoughts on Natsuki’s character and worldview.

Just as the main character in コンビニ人間, she feels as if she is not really a part of the society she lives in. She has a rather materialistic view of the society (child producing factory, aiming at being able to buy her own rice). She doesn’t want to become like the others, but only to ‘function as a useful tool’, in order to not be excluded.

She sees that the adult world is not perfect and not fair, but hasn’t the courage to rebel against it (her mother blaming her publicly, her cram school teacher’s petting). I don’t know whether it is politeness or respect for the adults that causes her to even apologize for her unworthiness or her denial of the cram school teacher’s sexual advances.

It is shocking to see that she feels inferior, living as a parasite on her family and has serious fears of being thrown out. Her only allies are Yuu and perhaps also her teacher Miss Shinozuka, both outcasts like herself.

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That is what I thought, too, but the English version of the book says “You’re doing so much better at social studies now, Natsuki”, so 社会 would be the abbreviation for a school subject.

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One more thing I remembered (not really a spoiler, even though it appears towards the end):

三角コーナー

One of those words where I understand all of its parts, but still have no idea what it is just by looking at it.
Turns out it’s a sort of triangular strain placed at the corner of the sink. Not sure if it’s for straining leftovers you need to throw away, or vegetables you just washed before using in cooking/salads, but it seems very practical and looks like this:


This didn’t fit very well with the context in the book though, so adding トイレ I got results like this:

So basically any sort of container that fits in a corner. :slight_smile:

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Response

I’ve been discussing this book with a Japanese friend (who has requested me to stop reading because I would get so upset over some stuff) but when I mentioned Natsuki’s mom putting her down this way, she too said that it was extremely abusive. I think, for the most part, the Japanese don’t put kids down in front of others. At work, whenever I tell parents how good their kids are doing in class, they always just respond with, “Is that so?” or “Oh, really?” I’ve never encountered a parent who criticized their kid before other than, “Oh, but they can work a bit harder.”

Response

I could be wrong but I read that as Kise telling Natsuki that she’s being a nuisance either for talking so loudly on the phone (or just having friends in general and she’s just hating on that which is why she kicked her). An older sister probably won’t use お邪魔します their younger sibling, especially that at age.

Response

Juku isn’t just an after-school thing where kids prepare for exams. It’s a very broad term that could also mean tutoring, remedial classes, or advanced classes. A lot of parents enroll their kids in juku so that they can get ahead of the curve in the public school system. A lot of people enroll their kids in public elementary schools reinforced with juku so that they can pass the private school entrance tests for junior high school. However, with Natsuki’s case, I think she’s just enrolled in juku to stay on track at school because her mom thinks she’s either dumb or wants her out of the house for as long as possible.

Response

Elementary school teachers usually speak to their students in the polite form to actively model the language for them so that they pick it up easily.

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Here are a bunch of random thoughts I wrote as I was reading.

The beginning of chapter 2 is giving me [コンビニ人間 reference] Shiraha vibes. Except it’s more ‘David Attenborough’ than ‘Jomon era’. [This week’s reading] At first I thought ‘huh, I guess this book is set in a dystopian society huh?’, then I realised this was just a typically Murataesque way of describing our ‘ordinary’ society :sweat_smile: It is cynical, yes, but to someone who has been repeatedly told she is ‘useless’ and ‘a burden’, I guess it makes sense to look at the world from the position of ‘how to be a useful member of society’.

Another [コンビニ人間] parallel is the fact that society is so merciless to atypical people. Just like Keiko was mocked behind her back, so too Miss Shinozuka is rejected by the people around her. In Murata’s works, no one is allowed to be different with impunity.

[Other Murata works in general] Again, we see a teacher being a sexual predators. Predatory teachers are such a recurring theme in Murata’s works, I wonder if it’s autobiographical…? I thought the sanitary napkin scene was the most fucked up instance yet :face_vomiting:

This bit made me feel sad reading it:

家の中にゴミ箱があると便利だ。私はたぶん、この家のゴミ箱なのだと思う。父も母も姉も、嫌な気持ちが膨らむと私に向かってそれを捨てる。

And later on, the resignation with which she says ゴミ箱の時間だ。It is sad to see that she has had to learn coping mechanisms at such a young age.

Something I thought was really significant is that we saw the neighbour’s reaction to the mother’s criticisms of her daughter. The fact that she responded in a taken aback manner is like a prism for our own reaction, I think. If, while reading it, we had any doubt that the criticism was excessive, the neighbour’s reaction confirms that “we’re not the only ones who think that.” In chapter 1 it was a slow crescendo of red flags where it may not have been instantly apparent whether this was abuse or ‘mum on a bad day’. Now we know.

I see that @omk3 has been thinking along the same lines and raises an interesting point. From the first week, I have had a strong reaction whenever I read about the mother, because I felt like it was very transgressive behaviour. But your remark about in-group-deprecation in Asian cultures makes me realise that response was partially informed by my own Western biases. It happened to be a correct hunch with hindsight, but a biased one nonetheless!

Overall, I have been getting more and more [Matilda] vibes from this. The hostile parent, the golden child sibling, the ‘magical powers’, the idea that you don’t fit in with your family… even the supportive teacher!

Grammatically, I found this interesting: 自分でご飯を自分に買ってあげられるようになったら. The fact that when you give something to yourself, apparently あげる is used. Or is that because it is partially from Shinozuka’s perspective? :thinking:

I am not sure she even has any desire to report him at this point. It seems like she isn’t convinced anything is actually wrong: すこしだけおかしいことは、言葉にするのが難しい。She knows that it feels off, but can’t quite ‘prove’ it. Later on she says ‘why would such a handsome guy have any interest in me anyway? I must be imagining things’. In her mind, there is too much plausible deniability from his side for her to even be able to believe he’s crossing boundaries, let alone for her to feel like she would be able to make that case to a third party.

But you raise interesting questions; if she did reach the point where she was sure she was being wronged, would she have any recourse? Personally, I think she’d have a difficult time with it. In the West, victims of sexual abuse have a notoriously uphill struggle with getting justice, especially if there is no direct evidence but just their word against the abuser’s, and if the abuser is in a position of authority (and thus, credibility). I don’t imagine the situation is much better in Japan.

@omk3 Thanks for your sleuthing with regards to the toilet bins! I did wonder about the logistics of sanitary napkin disposal in Japan :grin:

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That’s a very good point. He seems to be very skilled in phrasing things as if they’re perfectly acceptable and within a teacher’s duties, even going as far as challenging her to doubt him: 「先生は何か変なこと言ってる?」. I thought the sanitary napkin episode would be an obvious red flag even for a child, but then it seems like she has no one to discuss such things with so that she can get a measure of what feels off to others. Certainly not her mother or sister (again, where’s the father in all this?), and apparently not even her close friend. As far as I can tell she hasn’t even told her about her “wedding”, something I would consider big news. So if she’s really keeping these experiences to herself, then I’m sure it’s even easier to feel like she’s the one misunderstanding things. Being constantly criticised for her perceived incompetence and inability to fit in would only reinforce this. It makes my blood boil, honestly.

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Abusers often have a knack for picking out people with low self-esteem, or people with low credibility. I feel like the teacher knows exactly what he’s doing, and that out of all his pupils she is least likely to give him trouble.

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(Sorry, pushed the wrong button on my phone…)

Well, that was a week’s reading in which a lot happened and it’s even almost time for Obon again. I definitely hadn’t expected that.

I thought that perhaps what disturbed her so about the phone call was that Natsuki has friends that she can chat to in that way and Kise might not (but it’s hard to tell because we really don’t know much about Kise yet).

Yes, I agree that she is uncertain about how ‘improper’ it is and like she says whether it isn’t just that she is too self-conscious about it. I have never had to experience anything remotely like this so I cannot imagine what it’s like, but I do think that these are thoughts that a child (or perhaps even a grownup) might have at such a time, out of a human tendency to downplay the seriousness of the situation that you are in.

Perhaps I’m projecting too much, but I also thought that her use of the word おかしい might be related since it can mean ‘improper’ but also just ‘strange’ or ‘funny’. I don’t know for sure, but there are probably more definitive words for ‘improper’ in Japanese (probably at least some kind of jukugo word).

It might still be an intentional double meaning by the author. :thinking:

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Well,
what on earth. Felt mildy sick while reading that last part, not gonna lie.
I feel so bad for Natsuki. She really doesn’t have it easy in any part of her life. Heartbreaking that she actually seems to believe the negative stuff her family says about her.
Based on her family’s behavior so far, it’s also not hard to picture them not believing her even if she did say something about the teacher. Even telling her friend might be tricky because she seems to like the guy so much. I think I agree that Natsuki might not even be truly aware of how bad that situation is, but even if she was, it would be hard to blame her for not saying anything. That situation would be difficult even with a functioning support system, which she doesn’t even have, so… What a shitty situation to be in.

Random question, but do we know what year the story takes place in? I was wondering whether Natsuki would potentially have the internet as a source of information (since she doesn’t have anyone supportive in her life that she could ask). I don’t remember any mentions of computers or cell phones so far, just the landline, so I suppose it might not quite be present day?

On the topic of phones - unless it just wasn’t mentioned, it doesn’t seem like she ever talks to Yuu on the phone. I wonder why. You’d think that was the next best option if you miss someone you can’t see in person for a year…

Language question (sort of):

I'm not sure I get this part:

私は拳をぎゅっと握りしめた。これも最近覚えた魔法だ。親指を握ると、手の中に暗闇ができる。上手すると、手の中の暗闇を、真っ暗な、宇宙に近い色にすることができる。

You can’t really clench your fist so hard that your hand turns black… can you? Am I reading this wrong? What exactly is she doing here?

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She is saying that she just learned a new magic where when she squeezes her thumb (i.e. tucks it into the fist) then it gets dark inside of the hand (in this little cavity that is surrounded by the palm and fingers), and when this is done very well, it gets about as dark as outer space.

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I’m just sitting here, trying to reproduce that hand movement :laughing:
I guess it works when you try to look into your hand from the side where the thumb is not? Either way, I think I get the idea. Thanks!

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I imagine it to be something like this:

image

Well, I mean, if you look inside, of course the darkness is gone, right? :joy_cat: So the whole point of it is believing that it is there.

By the way I do believe that it can get as dark as outer space inside my fist.

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Not necessarily. If you leave a little bit of space between your fingers and palm, and then look through that little hole that forms where your pinkie is, it’s pretty much pitch black.
The next line in the book is

私は手の中の宇宙を見るのが好きだった。もっと上手になったら、来年の夏、由宇に見せてあげよう。

so I figured it was something actually visible and not just imaginary. But it probably also doesn’t matter that much :laughing:

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Ah, I was more thinking along the laws of Physics. You know, if you can look inside, then light rays can also go inside, and therefore it cannot be 100% dark, technically speaking. But yeah, for a 10-year-old that method might be totally sufficient :joy_cat:

Good point! So she really looks at it :slight_smile: Thanks for the clarification!

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I think this week for me it was Natsuki’s world view.

The humans nesting in their city of neatly lined up baby factories. People serving the city as two kinds of tools. The home room teacher moving as society’s chess piece. I just really like this kind of writing.

A slight parallel with かがみの孤城: it reminds me a bit of Masamune’s view of how compulsory education causes everyone to blindly do as their told, intimidated by teachers of inferior intelligence because it is the normal thing to do. The big difference being that for Masamune (and his parents) this is a reason to rebel against the system, whereas Natsuki is still striving to at least fulfil her duty as one type of tool. However, as Natsuki grows older and into adolescence (and learns from her experiences) I can totally see her changing course and rebel as well.

Not necessarily, I think. Maybe more a criticism of suburbanism.

I don’t think it is that sad. I think Natsuki is right at that age where children go through an existential phase where they suddenly (think they) see the world for what it is, in simplified (as you and @jhol say) but very strong terms. As grownups we might think that these are sad thoughts for a child to have, but I think it is part of the adolescent process (I certainly went through some black and white opinions as a teenager) and later you learn that the world is more nuanced (both in positive and in negative ways…)

You mean クラッシュボンバー笹本? :wink: (Is that my favourite word this week?) I think that that right there is one reason why the mother acts like that (Natsuki is simply the next one in the pecking order), although I’m also expecting that we’ll learn more about クラッシュボンバー’s past later. And I think there is also a bit of the old pick-on-the-second-child thrown in.

To me, Natsuki seems on the cusp of independence from her mother: she still often says that her mother is right about what a dropout she is, but I feel that deep down inside she already knows that that is not true. But at the moment she only explicitly thinks that way about her magic.

Mr. Igasaki

That was uneasy to read. He seems to run a sophisticated scheme where he probably thinks that he can always claim that it’s all just a big misunderstanding and it was all just in the interest of education.

The whole thing was chilling, but this in particular for me: 先生はどうやってそれが私のものだと見分けて持って来たのだろう? As if the guy wasn’t already creepy enough…

I’m not entirely sure he is only doing this with Natsuki. Just before the last scene, Natsuki remarks that it hadn’t happened for a long time. Either he had restraint (which I doubt) or his attention was on other girls for a while.

By the way, how do we know that he is called Igasaki and not Ikazaki? Is that from the English edition? I don’t remember any furigana (which was slightly frustrating).

All of this is just in addition to all of the excellent comments above. I feel like I want to quote all of your comments to add I agree, but I’ll leave it at one big “I agree!”.

Oh, and favourite word of the week: all of the nicknames. It’s a lot of fun to pick them apart to figure out their meaning.

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Yes, he is called Igasaki in the English translation.

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Speaking of names, how should I read her friend 静ちゃん’s name? Is that just しずか?

Some questions about the text this week:

In the paragraphs just before the phone call with 静ちゃん, Natsuki at some point says:

宇宙船が見つからなければ、私はきっと他の誰かとつがいになって、世界のために人間を産まなくてはいけなくなるだろう

My question

Why would she have to do that if the spaceship is not found? I would think that she would have to get with someone else if the spaceship is found because then Yuu would leave her, right?

Or (I just thought of this as I was typing) does she mean that if the spaceship is found, she and Yuu would leave together, but if the spaceship is not found, then they stay, but Yuu might not be able to have children because he is an alien (which she mentions in the previous sentence) so then she has to get with someone else to fulfil her duty? Man, it’s pretty complicated to be married to an alien…

In the scene with her mother and the neighbour, her mother says:

お嫁の貰い手もないだろうしね、…

I assume that this means something along the lines of:

Natsuki probably not being able to get married (because she is such a disgrace) but it’s a difficult sentence for me.

It literally says something like “she’s probably not someone who receives (貰い手) being a married woman (お嫁)”?

It’s hard for me to wrap my head around how it is clear in which direction the ‘receiver’ works (apart from context). In particular because お嫁 can also mean daughter-in-law, which obviously does not apply here.

I also had some trouble with the small talk about Yukatas between Natsuki and 静ちゃん when she arrives at the Juku:

金魚の可愛い柄のやつ、この前見たんだ

But that was only because I didn’t know yet that やつ can also mean ‘thing’ (which makes more sense here than ‘dude’ :smiley:).

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I figured that for whatever reason she simply wouldn’t be permitted to to marry him.

I watched The Power of the Dog on Netlfix which has some powerful themes on strength—true strength, and the illusion of strength. What I really like so far about this book is how undeniably strong Natsuki is. She is able to be the trash can and accept all the abuse, which is very sad, but she never folds under it. In fact, it only reinforces her resolve to study hard and try to become a better member of society. The fact that she can keep everything in perspective and not simply pass the abuse onto someone else is true strength. Contrast that with her mother who at first appears strong, bossing Natsuki around and telling her how weak she is. But now we’re seeing that maybe she’s not in control of her life like she wants to be. Maybe she was abused, as I think others have speculated. Maybe she’s projecting her own weakness onto Natsuki…

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