South of the Border, West of the Sun
First edition (Japanese)
Kokkyō no Minami, Taiyō no Nishi
Published in English
|Media type||Print (Paperback)|
South of the Border is a song about Mexico. But what is west of the sun? Shimamoto called it hysteria Siberia and told one story: "Try to imagine this, you’re a farmer, living all alone on the Siberian tundra. Day after day you plow your fields. As far as the eye can see, nothing. To the north, the horizon, to the east, the horizon, to the south, to the west, more of the same. Every morning, when the sun rises in the east, you go out to work in your fields. When it’s directly overhead, you take a break for lunch. When it sinks in the west, you go home to sleep. In the winter they stay home and do indoor work. When spring comes, they head out to the fields again. Anyway, that cycle continues, year after year, and then one day, something inside you dies. Maybe nothing or maybe something in the west of the sun. At any rate, it’s different from south of the border.” 
Hajime grew up in a small family. It could be called the minimal familial unit as he was an only child. Being the only child, in a society where two children is the norm made him feel inferior. The most unendurable is the prejudice against only children by others. Many think that not having siblings means one must be spoiled by their parents, sickly, and extremely selfish. These accusations irritate him, but deep inside he fears they are true. He tried to remain unseen and ignore these weaknesses, but someone always happened to point his lack of siblings out. Friendless and aloof his childhood was dominated by solitude and isolation. Hajime's peace did not remain unharmed even during his university years, where the polarizing environment of campus politics made turned the world even more hostile towards him. He opposed the economical bubble of post-war Japanese capitalism. However, later on, with the help of his father-in-law's capital, he opens a Jazz club, and according to his benefactor's wishes, Hajime invested his earnings into the stock market and real estate, and quickly became rich. Although he becomes an accomplished man by all metrics, having amassed and established a family, he feels something is lacking. He remains unfulfilled and believes the cause might be something he had lost during his boyhood...
Shimamoto appeared while Hajime feels inferior as the only child in his family. They were 12 years old when they met, and she was like a ray of sunshine to open Hajime‘s heart. Shimamoto was a very pretty girl but polio has left her lame, even though Hajime still thought she was very pretty and different from others. The solitary Hajime encountered with Shimamoto who also came from a one-child family and found that there were many common points between each other. However they soon became good friends whom could share their secrets with each other. They spend long afternoons in her living room listening to Liszt and Nat King Cole on her father's prized new stereo, and talking with a pre-adolescent openness that becomes erotic only in retrospect. They were in a delicately poised relationship and had a period of pure and amused time. Shimamoto saved Hajime and gave a great support to his unbearable isolated world. For Hajime, Shimamoto’s existence was not just the end of the loneliness, more importantly he found the resonance of the mind from her. Shimamoto filled the missing sense of his life, she was the indispensable existence. They separated when entering junior high-school and moved to different areas. Dramatically, they met each other at 36 years old again. Hajime is catapulted into the past unreservedly but Shimamoto suddenly left him without a word after they spent a night together. Shimamoto is a beautiful, intense and mysterious woman; we don’t know any background of her later life. We know that she had a baby who died in infancy. She was single, not working, but had a very decent quality of life.
Yukiko was married to Hajime at her age of 30. But Hajime rarely mentioned her in the 6 years’ marriage life as a husband, until he met Shimamoto again at his age of 36. The author only slightly mentioned her. However, the image of Yukiko as a wife is still pale. Until the end of story, Yukiko as a woman and a wife had the first initial conversation with Hajime, while he feels helpless since Shimamoto left. Her figure was clearly fleshed out, and played a vital role in the end of the story, such as she pointed out Hajime is egocentric, and he only pays attention to his own feelings while ignoring other people's feelings, especially her psychological process in the marriage life. In addition, she has been acting as a traditional wife who always listen to her husband, but suddenly standing in a strong position in the end and lecture the husband how to be a better man. She is the person who can love and light up others in love, and only her love is not destructive in this novel. Her husband's betrayal once made her desperate, however she returned to love and opened her heart to accept her husband.
Hajime, born in 1951, belongs to the first birth tide of Japanese post-war. At that time the aftermath of war is almost nonexistent. Japan has just recovered from the rubble and entering the high-speed development period, but lacking of laborers and material resources. Therefore, the State encourages people to have children to build their homes. Most families had at least two or three children and middle-class families who have only one child such as Hajime are rare. Hajime is forlorn being the only child without any siblings, and therefore develops a relationship with books and music in his childhood. This situation and people’s prejudice affect him personally establishing a little solitary and obsessive view of the world.
Part of the title, 'South of the Border,' refers to the song as sung by Nat King Cole. However, there is no evidence that Nat King Cole actually ever recorded this song. The other half refers to an Inuit syndrome called Piblokto or Arctic (or Siberian) hysteria.
The novel tells the story of Hajime, starting from his childhood in a small town in Japan. Here he meets a girl, Shimamoto, who is also an only child and suffers from polio, which causes her to drag her leg as she walks. They spend most of their time together talking about their interests in life and listening to records on Shimamoto's stereo. Eventually, they join different high schools and grow apart. They are reunited again at the age of 36, Hajime now the father of two children and owner of two successful jazz bars in Aoyama, the trendy part of Tokyo.
With Shimamoto never giving any detail as to her own life and appearing only at random intervals, she haunts him as a constant "What if". Despite his current situation, meeting Shimamoto again sets off a chain of events that eventually forces Hajime to choose between his wife and family or attempting to recapture the magic of the past.
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