Four Seasons in Japan
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Author: Nick Bradley
Review of Four Seasons in Japan
“’You don’t have to, though,’ his friend said, with a tilt of his head. ‘You can do whatever you like, man. It’s your life. Don’t live it for other people.’”Nick Bradley, Four Seasons in Japan
If you love heartwarming stories that don’t shy away from real life, Four Seasons in Japan is your book. If you’re at something of a crossroads in your own life and work, there’s even more reason to read it.
Nick Bradley’s new novel is a lovely, heartfelt, and gently transformative read, and one of the best books about finding a new path in life that I’ve come across in 2023.
So, what’s Four Seasons in Japan about?
In short, it’s a cozy book about Japan through the seasons. Directionless characters finding a new path and purpose. Omniscient cats. Creative work. Studio Ghibli vibes. Mountaineering. Love. Loss. A reminder to put down your phone and head to the mountains instead.
There are a few stories within the book – each one delightful – starting with that of Flo, our Oregon-born protagonist who’s living in Tokyo and achieving her translation dreams but feeling more lost and empty than ever.
At the start of the book, Flo doesn’t feel like working, or even reading, until she stumbles upon a lost book in the subway that gradually brings her back to life, rekindling her purpose, creativity, and belief in the world’s beauty.
As she translates this book, The Sound of Water by Hibiki, an author who seemingly doesn’t exist, Flo falls in love with its characters. (As I quickly did too.)
We meet Ayako, a fierce old woman who runs a coffee shop in the town of Onomichi. Staying with Ayako is Kyo, a young man haunted by loss as well as his recently failed exams, who wonders if his talent for art will ever come to anything or if he should continue trying to get into medical school.
What follows is a gorgeous book within a book that threads together themes of meaning and purpose, youth and ageing, and solitude and connection. It’s a book about the ups and downs of life, or as Ayako describes to Kyo, navigating both the mountains and the valleys, no matter the weather:
“Without losing to the rain,’ Ayako quoted the Miyazawa Kenji poem. ‘Without losing to the wind.”
The novel also includes so many reminders to kindle your creativity, no matter how slow your progress:
“But the important thing is that you turn up, you get out your pen, and you draw one small thing, one line at a time. That’s how you achieve something big.”
I didn’t realise the book was largely set in Onomichi until I started reading, a place I visited after cycling the Shimanami Kaido route with Iain a few years back (which is also mentioned in the book, in the context of ideal guests for Jun and Emi’s hostel).
There was a heatwave in Japan during our visit – and I was fairly miserable on my bike for much of the cycle – but the memories of cycling alongside the Seto Inland Sea, as well as visits afterwards to Hiroshima and Miyajima (where we also hiked up to the viewpoint, like Kyo and Ayako) came flooding back during this read.
I didn’t rush through Four Seasons in Japan, but as with my comments on Tan Twan Eng’s The House of Doors recently, that’s absolutely not a criticism. I think a slower, more contemplative read also matches the philosophy of this lovely book perfectly.
Thank you, Nick Bradley, for writing this book.