地球星人 🌏 Book Club ・ Week 8

地球星人 ・ Week 8

Week 8 22 January 2022
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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 ネタバレ. 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) needs 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. (コンビニ人間 Spoilers)The concept of a sexless marriage appears frequently in Murata’s stories. How does Natsuki’s arrangement with her husband compare to Keiko’s situation with Shiraha in Konbini Ningen?

  5. In what ways has Natsuki’s “factory” hypothesis been confirmed? Is it surprising that she’s held on to such an opinion?

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Thoughts on this week's reading

So, here we are, suddenly 23 years later, with our Natsuki all grown and matured. Or so we are led to believe at first. In fact, she seems barely different from her 11 year old self. Her world view hasn’t changed (in fact her husband too seems to have adopted its terms), nor has the degree of freedom she gets from her parents. Neither as an adult, nor even as a married woman is she completely free of them. I wonder why she couldn’t leave her home as an adult, never look back? She could support herself financially by then. Or why she had to ask anyone’s permission before going to Akishina with her husband? Whether she gets to stay in the house is a matter for her uncle to decide, since he’s managing the house, but staying anywhere nearby and just walking around should concern no one. And none of this should concern her parents. I’m probably missing something, but I don’t understand why either she or her husband needed an elaborate plan to escape their parents. I guess they just didn’t want the added burden of conflict. Pretending they fit in is easier.

Now hold on, ピュート is dead?!??

Seeing the mother and sister so many years later was interesting. They both seem to have mellowed a little, but maybe it’s just because they think that married Natsuki is no longer a problem. There were still bitter moments, like how Kise couldn’t stand the idea of Yuu being favored by Teruyoshi and how the mother referred to the Akishina house as being worthless and run down, with disgust in her voice, but that bitterness wasn’t directed at Natsuki herself. The mother even gently told Kise off once or twice - a nice change.

Where are all the men? As I feared (and contrary to what I hoped), Natsuki’s father barely spoke to her after the incident, not that he spoke all that much before. But he wasn’t even around when she visited. Nor was her friend’s husband around when she visited her. Nor has her own husband accompanied her on any of her visits. Is this all natural in Japan? Do couples lead such separate lives all the time?

The pressure to have babies is real, and I’m pretty sure it’s universal. I have friends who were relieved to leave the childbearing age behind them, so that they didn’t have to field insistent questions from relatives and friends any more. I didn’t get why Natsuki placed a handkerchief on her abdomen during the talk with her friend though? What did that mean?

I’m getting some worrying signs from our Natsuki. She seems to have detached herself from other people so much, she has to pretend to engage with them. The copying of a message’s tone and even emojis was a good example. I’m sure everyone does it to some extent, but she made it appear so calculated. Her detachment from all the babies is another sign, even comparing them with the silkworms from her grandparents’ house. Again, not everyone is naturally drawn to babies, but still. I just hope that she’s not reached a point where she’s devoid of all emotion. Although it might be interesting to watch her turning from victim to villain.

Also, so many rules! All her relationships are governed by rules, it seems. Although for now at least, her relationship with her husband seems to work better than the real marriages around her. There seems to be mutual understanding and respect there, so however that relationship started, theirs is no less a marriage in my eyes than anyone else’s.

Language questions

Natsuki uses the word 生産 when she talks about the babies. When I looked it up I got the translation “production”. The kanji have to do with life and birth, and indeed another definition (different reading) seems to be “live birth”, but I struggled to find examples of this word used for babies online. Searching for 生産された赤ちゃん mainly brought up results from an animated children’s movie, where indeed some babies are factory produced. Does anyone know whether it’s a natural expression to use, or whether it’s a sign of Natsuki’s detachment?

and:

それは警察沙汰にならなかっただけましで、くびになっても仕方たがないかもしれないなあと、夫の話を聞いて納得した。
Does this mean that it became a police matter or that it didn’t? What does ましで mean here?

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Probably working, while the women are being housewives and mother’s. :upside_down_face:

This was a theme present in コンビニ人間 as well. I agree that we all do it. We adapt to our social environment, and we do treat different people subtly (or not so subtly, sometimes) differently. Rather than seeing this as being calculating, I think our protagonist is just so much more aware of when and how they do this, since they struggle so much to fit in to begin with. I think that’s why she has so many rules. She has gotten used to and may even need a strict ruleset to interact with society, so it’s bled into her life in other areas. Or that’s what I think, at least. :smiley:

questions

She does see society as a 'baby making factory’s, so the image fits.

I’m not terribly knowledge about the topic of births in Japanese, but I do believe this is a conscious choice by 村田 and not the commonly used term. I feel like usually I see 出産 or simply 生まれた or a form thereof. :thinking:

It didn’t become a police matter. にならなかった is the negative past form of になる. まし means something like ‘better, preferable’, and だけまし is a bit if a set phrase. ‘At least it didn’t come to’, or ‘that it didn’t XYZ was the only saving grace’, a bit like that. The で I think is only the te form of です to connect the two clauses.

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That’s way more likely, true. You have to be aware of your every move when you’re constantly playing a game that doesn’t feel natural to you, and this is what life in the “factory” feels for Natsuki. I’m probably being way too suspicious, it’s just that having this huge time jump and yet seeing our protagonist virtually unchanged makes me try to find changes where there may be none.

Thanks for the language answers!

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About this week

I think her husband is a really interesting character. [コンビニ人間 comparison] I’m really glad to see that unlike Keiko and Shiraha, these two actually seem to like eachother. I think it’s interesting how the husband seems to talk about Akishina the same way people talk about their favourite movies. On p142 when he gets excited about possibly getting to see the silkworm room, the 送り火 river, trying すいこ, etc, basically referencing everything nice we’ve seen in the Akishina parts of the story so far, it has the same vibe to me as for example a diehard Twilight fan talking about possibly going on a pilgrimage to Forks :sweat_smile: I’m really curious why he latches onto Natsuki’s childhood nostalgia to this degree.

And I have to say, since we’ve presumably seen a more complete picture of Natsuki’s childhood than the husband, I feel a bit uneasy about him romanticising it this much. I think in particular because he’s getting so excited about parts of the pretty dark story we’ve read so far, it almost feels like seeing someone massively missing the point of the story or cherrypicking the happy moments and disregarding everything else. Which is definitely unfair because I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know about the rest, but I can’t quite get rid of this feeling.

To be honest, I hadn’t even questioned it much at first, her rules for living with her husband just seemed like pretty reasonable flatshare rules to me. But now that you mention it, it makes me think back to the rules Yuu and her made up about their marriage.

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Wow, that seemed like a pretty long section to me, maybe this is the most number of pages so far? The text also seemed pretty dense. It took me quite long to read, but I did enjoy a lot! I really like her ‘alternative’ ways of looking at the world. For some reason, it also gives me a lot of joy that I am able to read (and understand) prose like this in Japanese! In other words: this whole section pretty much resonated with me :smiley:

Lots of nice words this week (I made about five times as many notes as in previous weeks). I liked 相槌 in particular: these are the little noises during conversation (to indicate that you are still listening), right? (I think we all make them, but I’ve heard that they are particularly important in Japanese conversation.)

Also, we had another オランダ語 word: ブリキ (before, at the burial, we had スコップ). Being Dutch myself, each of those is a nice little surprise (“hey, I know that word” :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:).

Near the start of this week, she prefaces it with 小学生の私が感じた通り and I thought for a minute “oh, she considers it to be something she thought as a child and she’s grown over it”, but no, no, she hasn’t :smiley:, she’s even taken her husband along with her in her view of society. I don’t find it surprising that’s she’s held on to it and I even feel there is something to be said for it, but then I’m quite supportive of alternative lifestyles, including not having a lot of kids. I’m not sure if I’m getting too political here, but I do think it is too ‘normal’ to have (multiple) kids in today’s society (I feel there are too many people in the world already).

I don’t think her thoughts on babies are the problem. What is more worrying is that at some point she says that her husband is helping her to survive, but that she’s not really sure why she’s still extending her life (referring to the promise she made with Yuu, right?). It’s worrying that she doesn’t seem to see any purpose to her own life. I’m against relating that to her thoughts on babies because then we risk going into the direction that a woman’s life is all about bearing children. Instead, she must find her own value.

Great analogy :joy:

Yes, that’s also the impression that I got. In her narration she (Natsuki) seems to put a lot of emphasis on how separated their lifes are, but in the meantime, they seem to have built up a definite friendship or at least camaraderie. And she seems to have told him a lot about Akishina: he seems to know almost as much as us (with some obvious omissions) so they do talk to each other.

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Just in case my comments were misunderstood: I was referring to her reactions to her niece and her friend’s baby specifically. She seemed totally cold toward them, and even her word choices (see 生産 discussion, and reference to the silkworms) made me think that she saw them more like factory products than human beings. Based on this and various other tiny hints, none of which are conclusive evidence, I was speculating that she might have become too cold and unfeeling in order to cope, unable to form emotional connections. This has nothing to do with the value of having children or not, only with Natsuki’s degree of detachment.

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It was in fact the longest week in the book page-wise, but I also think there was a stylistic shift that came with the time jump. I think the language became more mature as Natsuki aged. That and the fact that we no longer had the context of continuity for the scene that was being set made this section more difficult than past weeks. I certainly felt like I had to do a lot more lookups.

I actually found the jump a bit jarring and didn’t enjoy this section quite as much as past weeks, but I did like reading about Natsuki’s relationship with her husband. (コンビニ人間 spoilers, minor 乳牛 spoilers) The whole marriage of convenience is a topic that Murata has explored a lot, and honestly this seems like the healthiest version of it that I’ve seen so far in her writing. I like that Natsuki and Tomoya seem to actually like each other. As others have said they seem to get along like good roommates.

There is a detached coldness to Natsuki that’s troubling. When she was a kid, she was certainly a bit of an outcast and had some strange thoughts, but she was able to form interpersonal connections and had her own ambitions, even if they were a bit depressing. I was especially disappointed that she couldn’t think of a good reason that her husband (or herself for that matter) should go on living. It seems that she was broken mentally as well as physically, which makes the events of her childhood even more tragic.

I loved learning this word for the first time because not only was it a cool new word with a cool kanji combo, but it also taught me a bit about Japanese language and culture, as well as a new word in English.

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I mean, this is pretty much how I felt after the week one reading. Sounded like an awesome fun time.

Is anyone else worried that 智臣’s reason for surviving is so that he can visit 秋級, and now it sounds like they’re going to visit 秋級?

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Ah, sorry for putting words in your mouth. I shouldn’t have done that.

I would be very surprised if it goes in that direction.

I didn’t get the impression that he is tired of life (he was just joking about wanting to die because the whole situation of him getting fired was so embarrassing, I think?). His fascination for nature (and houseplants :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:) is giving him a zest for life, is how it came across to me.

In fact, I have a language question about that:

Her husband says: 「いや、もう死んでしまいたい。死ぬ前に、一度、『工場』から自由になってから死にたい」

I’m having trouble parsing that second sentence. It’s almost as if he’s saying that before he dies, he wants to die once because he wants to get free from the factory. Or is this から as in ‘after a point in time’ so that we get something like ‘Before I die, I want to be free from the factory for once and then (〜てから) I want to die.’? But there is no ‘want to’ in 自由になって…

It’s seems you had pretty much the opposite reaction to mine :smiley:. For me, with this section the book actually became fun again. But I think that’s a sign of a good book: that different people enjoy different parts of it.

I was already expecting the time jump and I was all like: yes, this is the story that needs to be told. There are so many people in the world that have had to cope with abuse in their childhood and that have to deal with it for the rest of their (adult) life.

Regarding emotional coldness

This might be getting a little personal, but I don’t find her coldness that troubling. Maybe it’s because I’m quite a cold and unemotional person myself (I might actually identify with Natsuki quite a bit) (and I might actually be blind to my own personal problems). Why do we all have to love babies, love our family and enjoy sex and intimacy? There can be plenty of reasons (be it personal history or personality traits) why some people do not, and I feel there should be a place in society for those people too.

Natsuki’s family certainly hasn’t earned any rights to Natsuki’s love and when she described how she used that website to find a “husband”, I was all like: “Yes, you go, girl! Stick it to the man!” I really feel that she should find her own purpose in life and her own values. For me, the book is saying: it’s the norm to treat career and family (“the factory”) as one’s purpose in life, but some people want to get free from that norm. And then we get back to the age-old question: what actually is the purpose of life? I feel that Natsuki is struggling with that question.

Yes, I also think it is conscious choice by Murata. I feel that the whole ‘factory’ analogy is not just Natsuki’s cynical world view, it’s also a linguistic observation by Murata as if she’s saying: here we have this language in which there are all kinds of industrial terms in which we use kanji that are normally associated with life and birth. What does this say about us? :smiley:

We’ve often talked about how Murata language is simple and easy, but I get the feeling that that is really just the surface and that there are deeper meanings and little jokes hidden inside the sentence structures, word choice and kanji that she uses. It’s almost like a cryptic crossword where you have to figure out the hidden meaning. I guess that that is why I enjoy reading her work so much: that even with my very limited knowledge of Japanese language and culture I get to pick up on that a little bit. There must be so much more that is flying right by me :sweat_smile:

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Yes, it’s ~てから which means exactly what you suspected: てから | Japanese Grammar SRS

This is the “intransitive” (for want of a better word) form なる, so it means “to become free”. So altogether it’s something like “Before I die, I want to die after I become free from the factory [at least] once [in my life].

This sounds a bit weird in English, but it also sounds weird in Japanese (as my senpai confirmed).

Hah, funny, I’m also totally with @jhol on this one - I totally lost connection with the plot and almost felt like I wanted to drop the book… :woman_shrugging:

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I don’t think he was joking, although I’m not sure he was entirely serious and determined either. He does have his own baggage, that’s for sure. But he seems to not have traveled outside his hometown at all, so his childlike enthusiasm for a different kind of life should be able to sustain him, even after Akishina. Although I’m a little worried about what might unfold there, and how it will affect everyone involved.

On detachment etc

But that was exactly my point. As adults with their own income they don’t depend on their families for survival any more. I don’t see why Natsuki and her husband had to go into this pretend arranged marriage in order to escape their families. I’d imagine they could just choose the life they wanted, and cut ties with whoever took issue with that.

Of course not. Yet she continues to visit them and play the good daughter, even asking for their permission to go to Akishina.

What I described as coldness had nothing to do with desire for intimacy. It goes without saying that everyone should be free to make their own choices on all that.
We’ve seen Natsuki as a child do her “magic” and stop feeling on command, so that she doesn’t feel her mother hitting her, or her teacher molesting her. There’s even a hint that she may still be disconnected from her mouth (the lunch she cooked had no taste). So when I say cold and detached, I meant it in an extreme, possibly pathological way. I worry that Natsuki has shut herself off completely, and might even turn antisocial in a violent way. That’s just wild speculation though. She’s most probably just trying to cope in a world that functions in a way that is foreign to her.

No worries :slight_smile: I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t coming across as if I thought everyone should play happy families.

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You’re right, “why do they need this construct?” is indeed a valid question. More social norms that are apparently hard to break free from…

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This week’s reading felt like a double portion!

Interesting to see the silkworm room making a comeback. The scene with Shizuka has made its significance a bit clearer. It seems to be a metaphor for human society: everyone crammed together, made to procreate by an invisible hand. No individuality, no personal agency.

[清潔な結婚 spoiler] The way Natsuki’s and her husband’s relationship is described reminds me of the ‘clean marriage’ from 清潔な結婚, in that they seem more like roommates than a traditional married couple. It’s interesting to me that in Murata’s works ‘untraditional’ marriages (no kids; equal distribution of household labour) are only ever marriages of convenience. Can’t help but feel like that is some sort of comment on the current state of ‘normal’ marriages. If equal division of labour is abnormal, I don’t want to be normal! :crazy_face:)

[コンビニ人間 spoiler] Adult Natsuki reminds me of Keiko, mostly her general sense of detachment from society and ‘anthropological’ way of observing it. The way she consciously mimics Shizukachan’s use of emoji as a way of avoiding potential awkwardness. The way she feels meeting up with Shizukachan would be a chore, but also doesn’t want to be left behind completely by society.

[コンビニ人間 spoiler] Someone should’ve told Shiraha that he could’ve just gone to surinuke.com and all his problems would’ve been solved!

Favourite turn of phrase this week: 「女」として優等生.

Omg I totally didn’t register the connection when I saw it! Cool!

Lots of questions left… What the hell happened to make Kise behave somewhat normally toward her sister and for her mother to cease being so openly hostile? Is Teruyoshi’s “weird interest” in Yuu something to be worried about? What happened to ピュート?!?!

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I feel you there. I quit facebook years ago because I was tired of pretending my friends’ ugly babies were cute :upside_down_face:. It took nearly a decade of marriage for my wife’s parents to accept that we weren’t having kids, but just last month my Japanese mother sent me a message on LINE to the effect of “If you don’t have babies, you will be lonely when you get old.” The social pressure to conform is quite strong, especially in Japan, and it seems that Murata has a lot to say about that.

I wonder if part of it is Japanese culture. The pressure to stay connected to family and create the illusion of fitting in is just too strong to completely ignore. Another part may be that Natsuki wanted to maintain ties with her sister to get updates on Yuu, and wanted to leave the door open to someday seeing him again… Also, is it a characteristic for victims to want to stay connected to their abusers? I was surprised to find that Natsuki’s family kept her under wraps until she was in her thirties.

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I think in the moment, large time jumps are always a bit jarring for me. They’re immersion breaking and it can feel like a bit of a chore to push through when my momentum has been swept away. However, this may be more of a shortcoming of myself as a reader and (usually) the feeling is localized to the part immediately following the jump. I absolutely agree that this is the way the story needs to be told though and advise everyone to stick with it if you’re in my boat.

The coldness I was describing didn’t really have to do with Natsuki’s lack of interest in babies or intimacy (in fact I think Murata really makes some valid criticisms regarding the way people view the traditional family). It was more her way of treating relationships, like how she only seems to hang out with Shizuka as part of an act to put on for society without seeming to have other friends to speak of. In isolation this might not seem so bad, but in contrast with her past self who was a genuinely caring person who was willing to put herself in harm’s way for the sake of her friend, it’s a bit worrying. Perhaps the most worrying was this line (pg. 140):

止めるようとしたが、夫をこの世界に引き止める理由は特に思いつかなかった。夫に好きなものや、やりたいことがあればいいのだが、そういうわけではない。それなのに夫も、そして私も生き延びている。何のために生き延びているのか、と問われれば、私にもよくわからなかった。

(コンビニ人間 Spoilers) At this point I kind of see Natsuki as a Keiko without a コンビニ. In コンビニ Keiko’s reason detached way of thinking was a bit humorous, but knowing Natsuki’s past makes it feel more tragic in this context. I wish Natsuki, like Keiko, had a reason to live and not just survive, like Keiko did.

(コンビニ人間 Spoilers)

:rofl:

This actually made me a bit angry. Kise’s so quick to suspect Teruyoshi of a weirdly familiar relationship with Yuu just because Teruyoshi seems to have been genuinely kind to a boy coming from a difficult family situation, but she was so willing to write off her sister’s very real problems as a kid.

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I don’t think there’s necessarily anything untoward going on, but… I have a sense Teruyoshi might be Yuu’s father? Is that crazy?

Wait, didn’t you already read this in English? I guess I’ll see in a few weeks if I just made a fool of myself :grin:

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Quick question: How to understand the なあと in クビになたっても仕方がないかもしれないなあと、…?

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I think it’s just an elongated sentence ending particle followed by quoting particle と.

Coincidentally, we also had a discussion about な in the Death Note | Week 1 Discussion thread. な can be used to create a negative command and when it’s not, it is often pronounced in an elongated way (probably to make the distinction clearer).

@omk3 shared this link to a maggiesensei article: How to use the suffix 〜な ( = na) / ~ なあ ( = naa)

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@wiersm Thank you very much for the info.

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