Book review: Socio-political debut sheds light on Japan’s indigenous Ainu, Arts News & Top Stories

The Rainbow Upopo

By Daniel Cheng
Fiction/Lightning Supply Inc/Paperback/386 pages/$30.95/OpenTrolley
3 out of 5

Singaporean Daniel Cheng, a administration govt with expertise within the hospitality and gaming business, has a tender spot for Japan, the place he has often travelled to.

This impressed his debut novel The Rainbow Upopo, which is centred on the Ainu, the indigenous folks of Hokkaido. They’ve till just lately been disadvantaged official recognition of their ethnicity and compelled by politicians to assimilate into wider society.

Such socio-political observations come to the fore within the novel, alongside vivid, transporting descriptions of Hokkaido’s huge nature.

Cheng intently bases the plot on real-world occasions. An built-in resort (IR) is being inbuilt Hokkaido within the fictional city of Kabashiro.

Such initiatives have been controversial in Japan. Kabashiro’s real-life twin is town of Tomakomai, situated south of the New Chitose Airport, that had been thought to be a entrance runner to host one among three IR initiatives till the plug was pulled in 2019.

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The youthful Hokkaido governor Matsumae Michikage – along with his “trademark megawatt smile” – has a real-life parallel in Governor Naomichi Suzuki, 40, who was the youngest ever to turn out to be a prefecture chief in 2019 on the age of 38.

And simply as in the actual world, a nationwide museum devoted to the Ainu is dubbed political tokenism by the federal government after years of suppressing the group’s tradition and heritage.

The Ainu’s battle to be recognised, in addition to their battle with the paperwork, is exacerbated in The Rainbow Upopo with a multi-billion-dollar IR mission at stake.

Elected officers dangle guarantees of jobs and a windfall resulting in city revitalisation – which the Ainu see as benefiting solely the wealthy.

All this involves a head when, in the midst of IR development, an Ainu ancestral grave will get desecrated, which ominously ups the stakes for a tribe wealthy in native legendary folklore.

But, Cheng’s in-depth information and analysis generally turn out to be a double-edged sword.

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Narrative move is often sacrificed for what comes throughout as journalistic reporting and even textbook writing.

In a single chapter on a North Korean missile that flies over Hokkaido – once more primarily based on true occasions – the characters launch right into a didactic dialogue of whether or not Japan airspace has been encroached.

Nonetheless, The Rainbow Upopo is an uplifting David-versus-Goliath yarn that pits the Ainu in opposition to an American-Japanese conglomerate, with company sabotage and main protests thrown into the combination.

Those that are eager about Japanese political, cultural and societal points – with a splash of mythology – will recognize this learn.

In case you like this, learn: A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami, translated by Alfred Birnbaum (Classic Books, 1982, reissued 2000, $21.81, obtainable right here). First translated into English in 1989, Murakami’s third novel is a surrealist journey by way of Tokyo and Hokkaido, the place the protagonist interacts with a disenfranchised Ainu youth.

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