水たまりで息をする - Informal Reading Group

Re section 4

It’s very true that he’s behaving like a child and she’s treating him like one in this case, but judging from the “you don’t need to cook for us after work”, he’s probably not like that generally. Although now that I think about it, a child would probably prefer take out than home-cooked food, they tend to be more exciting :grin: By the way, I’m very surprised neither of them realized that they could just heat up the bottled water so that he doesn’t have to suffer the cold.


Section 13

I’m surprised we didn’t get to see the husband’s reaction after his mother left, even though it’s obvious he realized this wasn’t exactly a spontaneous visit. Is it possible they didn’t comment on it at all? On the other hand, he obviously knows what it was about, and discussing it won’t lead anywhere much. I liked Itsumi’s little act of pointless defiance there at the end. So far it was her against her husband, but now that another person is involved, it’s more like she’s moved towards his side a bit, and it’s her husband and her against the world. Let us work it out ourselves. She spoke to a dead phone, but it was an interesting glimpse into how she’s feeling about it.

Section 14

So Kenshi is about to lose his job (or is it just his position?) and he’s been aware of it for the longest time, yet never did anything about it or even discussed it. I still suspect he’s fed up with his work and living in a big city, and this somehow manifests itself in this extreme aversion of (what to call it?) “processed” water. Yet it seems he craves contact with natural water, to the point that he’s willing to travel 5 hours there and back on a weekend just to have a dip in a river. Surely with frequent trips to nature or moving to a smaller town he might have avoided this massive breakdown he’s having?
So stinking up the workplace is harassment too. I wouldn’t call it harassment myself as in my mind harassment involves the deliberate exercising of power to oppress others in minor or major ways, but looking around there’s also the definition of “unwanted behaviour that makes others uncomfortable” which fits quite well.

Section 15

I always find it funny and sweet how it’s perfectly natural (and expected) to properly greet the deceased members of the household when entering a home. Itsumi’s mother instantly realizes what’s going on with Kenshi (it’s painfully obvious by this point, I assume), and suspects depression. But would a depressed man be so enthusiastic about traveling to a faraway place to take a dip in the river?

Section 16

I almost expected a sex scene when he turned to her after drying in the sun, but no, he was just happy. Their dynamic feels very much like mother and son, possibly troubled teenager that gets his mother’s unquestioning support while she secretly worries about him to death. I loved the descriptions of nature, they felt so real. It’s been a while since I’ve visited such a place and I felt like I was there with them. I too get a feeling of “this is right, this is as it should be” whenever I’m in nature. If I start avoiding tap water at some point, I’ll let you all know. :eyes:


Finished section 4.

I agree with y’all that he really behaves like a child, from the „it’s cold“ and „I need a towel“ to the underlying issue of “I suddenly have a problem (with water? with tap water? with the chlorine smell? with the feeling on the skin? … we don’t know, maybe he doesn’t know either) but I’m not telling you about it, you need to find this out yourself”.
On the other hand, she fully takes on his problem and tries to “solve” it without being asked for it and without deeply understanding it. She seems to be very kind and understanding and just focused on “the solution” - on the other hand she turns into a “control person” by forcing him to shower and telling him where to wash.
And regarding phryne’s comment about this influencing their relationship: was there so much of a relationship to begin with? :thinking:

This all sounds very “cliché” Japanese to me :thinking: (and I know a few Japanese people who exhibit behaviours like these to a certain extent) so I’m really wondering whether the author wants to point to these behaviours here? I guess it might lead to half of the (Japanese) audience saying “oh my god” and the other half saying “well yes, perfectly normal” just like with おいしいご飯?


Re: Section 4

To me she seems quite matter-of-fact. If I was in her place I’d probably question his aversion to water, or try to discover the reasons behind it, or try to minimize it (“come on, it can’t be that bad, a shower only takes a few minutes, just do it”), but she just accepts it. She totally respects what he’s telling her, even if she doesn’t understand it, without questioning it or making fun of it. And, as you say, tries to find a way around it that respects his newly laid boundaries.

Why not though? Other than no mention of sex whatsoever, they seem to be very comfortable around each other. There seems to be mutual respect and familiarity, nothing like the unbalanced but more traditional relationship her mother must have had with her father (judging by the waiting for him to have dinner however late he got home).


Forgot to write about what I read yesterday!

Section 17

Rain prevents them from going to the same place again the next day, but they do take a walk near a lower part of the river. Itsumi realizes that part of her expects any kind of craziness from her husband, like stripping naked in front of people to get in the water. And why not? It wouldn’t be way crazier than what he’s done so far - he seems to be casting off one social convention after another. I wonder why she hesitated sharing the names of the flowers with him, even though she clearly wanted to. It looks to me like she’s torn between moving closer to him or moving away.

Section 18

All those years he barely visited her hometown, now he’s rushing to it on his own. He was already on his way while she was still at work. Does he even still have a job? Itsumi has an interesting daydream about their life in her grandma’s old house. I think the happiness she saw in him that day by the river affected her deeply. She felt the pain of being a stranger to the beloved natural enviroment of her childhood while there, but she’s still a responsible adult who wouldn’t think of giving up the life she has made for herself just to be back.

Section 19

Away from the city and his job, Kenshi is free and happy. Bathing in the river, going down the mountain on a bicycle, he oozes happiness. Now he reminds me of a dog, who, after being shut in an apartment for years, is finally allowed to run free in the wild. Much like that dog though, he’ll need to return to his base for food and shelter at some point.

Section 20

Kenshi cooks a nice meal (does he use tap water for cooking? And come to think of it, how does he get haircuts without washing his hair?) and announces he’s leaving his job. He presents it as his own decision, which I suppose it is, directly or indirectly. Surely that should have been something to discuss beforehand with his wife? She is shocked, even if she expected it - the consequences from his little eccentricity are starting to become painfully real and permanent. Once again though, she takes his decision for granted - doesn’t complain, doesn’t voice any objections. There would be no use anyway. Her feelings are complicated though. I wonder about that prank show that was on tv. The comedian falls into a pit, but it turns out to be soft and safe after all. Is that a metaphor for their life? What will happen next?


Hmmm, I think that’s what I was aiming at - she respects him. (For me that is a type of kindness and understanding.) But “matter-of-fact” as a description works for me as well.

I don’t think they share much. Unlike her parents, they don’t even share their meals - each of them buys the food they want and eats it when they come home. So, apart from sharing the same bedroom (I guess) and sex (which is not mentioned) they could be just flatmates, and it would not feel different to me. :thinking:


Sections 21-23 (end of chapter 2)

I get it. I’d be like her, overthinking everything. Without a child to turn a marriage into a “family”, the link between husband and wife is weak. I don’t mean that a child secures a marriage (of course not), nor that there’s nothing bonding a couple together other than children. What I mean is, love is an elusive thing, hard to define, hard to be sure you’re feeling it at a time when you’re doubting everything else. With the husband making drastic changes in his lifestyle (and I understand why he doesn’t ask or expect Itsumi to join him, because he knows he’s the “weird” one and doesn’t want to impose that on her), Itsumi is left wondering what to do, and why. There’s nothing keeping her in Tokyo really. She has no real friends, no connections there. But as it’s her husband who deviated, on his own accord, from their prescribed common path, she’s left wondering whether she’s doing well to join him. She wants to. She wants to be with him, and she wants to be in her home town. But that was never the plan, nor did it come out of a joint discussion - it was her husband’s personal need, and she’s tagging along without even being asked. It’s hard to not second-guess even the most basic things in such a situation.
I found it extreme that she started deleting contacts from her phone the moment she quit. Does she want to cut ties with Tokyo so completely, or does she want to make sure she doesn’t change her mind? Why did she feel more restricted, instead of more free, as she did so? No life-changing decision is easy, especially when it’s not entirely your own.

Almost forgot to comment on this in section 22 (no major spoiler):

I couldn’t find ぼっとん in my dictionary so Google came to the rescue. Here’s an explanatory image:

So basically a traditional Japanese toilet that collects everything in a tank for 汲み取り. Which of course made me feel very guilty about still not having finished 糞尿譚. Maybe I should give it a go soon.


Finished section 5 aka chapter 1.

I still don’t get that whole water-denial thing. She checked back with him on what happened the day he returned soaking wet, and it turns out he had been the scapegoat for the revenge of a colleague who dared not go against the boss, so he turned towards him instead. She is shocked by this because she realizes that her husband is so kind that he is an easy target. So far so plausible, but why does he refuse to wash ever since? Did he really develop an aversion against water because he was forcefully exposed to it? Or is this some secret attempt to take revenge on his colleague? He doesn’t seem to bear a grudge against him, though - he even praises him for working hard and being successful since the incident :thinking:

I had halfway expected that we’d get some insights into their sex life, as they were both in the bedroom right after he had washed, which could have been a nice opportunity for some intimacy. But nothing happens. Maybe that is an insight into their sex life, after all.

And finally, we have a nice post-rationalization - dogs rarely bathe and yet we love them and hug them :thinking: That goes hand in hand with the sexless marriage, no? …


Re: Section 5

I never understood the significance of that incident either. Was it what sparked his aversion to water, or was it just used as an illustration of his character? I’m still unsure.

Section 24

Life seems to be good at home (and the husband is now waiting for her with freshly cooked food apparently), work life not so much. Wild rumours about the reasons behind her return are circulating, as one would expect in a small town where everyone knows (about) everyone else. Interestingly, Itsumi seems to have as much a sense of disconnect from her new life as she had in Tokyo, as if she’s watching someone else’s life instead of living hers.

Section 25

I found this section disturbing. The fish should have been returned to the river ages ago, but it seems Itsumi’s mother wanted to teach her a lesson about responsibility - and failed. After so many years of indifference and indecision, why did she have to return the fish to the river on that particular day, when the river was dry? Surely the thing to do was to return with the fish, and try again another day? Ask her mother to keep taking care of the fish for a little while longer if she had to leave before that? But no, she still makes no decision at all, which is of course still equivalent to making one. In a place where she’s not even sure the water is suitable, right between the river and the sea, she just leaves the fish in the bowl, expecting what exactly? I wonder what happened in the end. Judging from the lack of water in the bowl even after a night of rain, someone must have found the bowl in the morning and thrown fish and water in the sea, I guess.
This episode, more than anything else, served to illustrate for me how Itsumi lets passively life take her wherever, with no resistance, taking no responsibility and no deliberate action. It was spelled out several times throughout the book, but I felt it here stronger than anywhere else for some reason. In this sense, (おいしいごはん mild spoiler) she is exactly like the protagonist of おいしひいごはん. Different people in different situations, exact same lack of agency.

Section 26

Was this a sex scene? An almost sex scene, rather. In any case, she’s moved closer to accepting her husband as he is than ever before. I looked up あかたろう, the story really does exist.

Section 27 (the end)

I don’t understand why the whole book was spoiled in the summary, I really don’t. Thinking back to the fish story, is her husband just like that fish that she left near the river until he/it disappeared? Was she as negligent in taking care of her husband as she was of the fish? Were they now alive and free, or had they suffered a horrible end? Were they at least happy in their freedom at their last moment (if indeed they’re dead)? Is Itsumi as innocent and well-intentioned as she wants to believe? How much of what happened to them was her responsibility?

Itsumi was one of those people who have an internal narrator in their brain, commenting on their every thought and action, constantly criticizing and second-guessing. The result is that she was always watching herself as if she was a stranger (“I’m running to the river in slippers, I must love him, that’s a relief. Wait, how can I be relieved at a moment like this? I must be horrible” :joy:). This feels very familiar to me. :eyes: Not sure I’d seen it in a character in a book before.

What now? Is Itsumi mourning her husband? Is she still frantically searching for him? Is she secretly relieved? Indifferent? Will she move back to Tokyo? Will she stay there? Who will make decisions for her now?

As for her husband, I’m thinking he just really wanted to be free of his previous life, and as close to nature as possible. He was happy living near the river, swimming in there every day. Maybe he was happy as he was carried away by the violent waters. He must have had a warning. From the moment rain starts to fall until the river swells, it’s not just seconds surely. Maybe he entered the rough waters on purpose. Maybe that’s exactly what he wanted for himself, to be one with that water in the end.


Started reading the book today and just finished section 2. I really like it so far! It seems like this is going to be a fun read. :smiley:


Section 6:

Was he seriously considering stepping out into the rain naked at first, or is that my imagination? I am talking about this part:



Section 6

I think that’s what he was considering, yes. :sweat_smile:


Section 5 clarificaiton question:

click click

What’s confusing me the most in this book is the conversations being part indirect speech and part direct speech sometimes which makes it hard to keep track of what’s been said, who said and if it was actually said or not lol Am I alone with this?

Like this bigger section: 体がくさくて汚いというのは、[…] どんな目で見られているのか知りたい。



First there’s this what seems to be things she asks her husband (or would like to ask?) in indirect speech and then there’s that direct speech sentence I thought was the reply by her husband but the last sentence says it’s her reply? But to what? I’m really confused and can’t wrap my head around who said what - would love someone help me clear this up.


His question comes way before that:


After his question, she goes on an internal monologue about how of course she wants him to, but she wants him to take a bath for his sake. And how his questions makes it sound like he’s doing it for her sake only, etc etc. And she’s wondering how he’s seen at work, and she would like to ask him all those questions, but she doesn’t, and simply replies, “yes, if you ask me like that, then yes, I want you to bathe.” Even though she has all these questions in her head, they stay unspoken. And she basically takes the easy way out, so to speak. The only things said out loud here are the ones in 「」, everything else is internal monologue.


Ohhh, I thought she already replied to that just in indirect speech and thenm completely forgot about that when I tried to make sense of the above, haha.
At this point I’m not even sure if any of that indirect speech so far has been non-internal. But I think there was at least one time where the husband replied and it was said indirectly? Can’t remember at which point in the book it was, though.

Anyways, I just read it again and it makes much more sense now :sweat_smile: Thanks for the help!


There definitely have been situations where direct speech / things said out loud were not in brackets, so you’re not misremembering or anything. But I think most of it has been quite “straightforward” in the sense that it was usually followed by a verb that made it clear it was said out loud? I tried to find an example, and at one point pretty early into the book, there’s sentences like わたしも分かんない、と答えて、… Which is rather unambiguous.


I think I’ve gotten the other ones right then.
I guess this time I was mainly thrown off because I kind of disregarded or forgot about 「衣津実は、どうしても、おれに風呂に入ってほしいの」 by the time I arrived at けれど彼女はそう答えた。 and didn’t backtrack far enough :smile:


After a week-long reading break, I finally finished section 12 and 13, where the mother in law called 衣津実 and came to visit and then called again. Something interesting happened in these two chapters. More and more I get the feeling that 衣津実 actually is the weird one here. Why does she not talk to her husband and find out what is wrong with him and how to make it better? Why does she “enable” his mental illness or whatever it is? You can’t really fault the guy for feeling this way, but if he’s ill, it sort of is her job to tell him “dude that’s not normal, please go to the doctor”. Not saying that she alone is responsible for his well-being, but they are married? Just very very odd couple dynamics here. She really does not seem to care all that much about him, is the only conclusion I have.

But it’s kind of weird that the mother in law would call her and not her son, she could also talk to him directly.


Looking back at my own comments on these sections, it’s where I got the feeling that 衣津実 is actually siding with her husband, or is at least undecided. Rather than trying to change him, she has tried to see things from his own point of view (for example by not taking a bath for a few days herself). She seems to be dissatisfied with life in Tokyo (no close friends or sense of community), but she doesn’t seem to be the type to try and change things she doesn’t like. Instead, she just accepts them. As for the mother, I too am surprised that she doesn’t try to communicate with her son at all, but instead goes through his wife, with whom she never -if I remember correctly- had spoken privately before. I wonder how much of that is culturally natural. Although it’s hard to define “natural” in a situation like this. I wouldn’t think it comes up very often.


I agree.
However the difference between acceptance and disinterest seems to be a very fine line. For me she seems to be more on the side of disinterest. Not just disinterest in her husband, but in her whole situation and her own life as well. She just lives life and, as you said, doesn’t try to improve her situation in any way. She can’t even answer the mother in law’s most basic questions about his situation, for example why he doesn’t bathe, and that he doesn’t talk about work with 衣津実 at all (that might have been section 14)
Never change a running system, seems to be her motto, no matter how bland and unfulfilled her life feels. (But maybe it doesn’t feel that way to her. It’s just difficult as an outsider to comprehend how she can be satisfied living like this. Which might be the whole point of the book)