My journey through the world of writing and everything that lies in between…

Posts tagged ‘Japan’

Character Name Hunt

I’ve been actively hunting for names for the characters in LotS (ha, I love the shortened version of my book’s title :P). I’m one of those writers that has to find names that are symbolic for the characters, too, so it makes it even harder than just searching for names.

Oh, and the names are Japanese, so the hunting has been even harder. It’s not like searching for a name in English where despite the spelling, it generally means the same thing. For example, in English,  my sister’s name, Caitlynn, can be spelled many different ways: Caitlyn, Caitlin, Kaitlyn, Kaitlin, Katelyn etc. But the variants are all based off the Irish or Welsh version of Catherine, which means “pure.”

 However, from what I’ve found, Japanese names may sound and be spelled the same in English, but it could be totally different Japanese, depending on what kanji is used in the spelling of the name.

For example, one of the names I’m considering for my MC:

Spelled “Miyuki” in English. However, it can mean anything from “beautiful snow” with the kanji 美幸 to “deep snow” with the kanji 深雪, to “beautiful fortune” or “beautiful happiness” with the kanji 美幸. That’s not counting the hiragana and katakana spellings. And even these may be wrong; I can’t read Japanese so these characters can be completely off.

Anyway, I’ve decided to try and not focus too much on the techinical aspects and just focus on the English spellings, at least for now.

Here are some of the possibilities for my MC, the legendary Yuki-onna. I’m giving her a human name, for much of the book she’s going to be human:

Chiyoko (child of a thousand generations, child of forever). This one could be interesting since she spands at least three centuries.
Kasumi (mist) I like the way this one sounds, but mist is appropriate in some ways because as the Yuki-onna, she’s not made of much more than that.
Mayumi (beauty, wonderful). Just because I like the name 🙂 And the fact that as a human, she’s renown for her beauty.
Miyuki–silence of deep snow/beautiful snow/deep snow . This one is fairly obvious; I’m leaning towards this one the most because of the “snow” aspect, and it’s more elegent than just plain Yuki.
 
I’m also in the process of picking out names for the minor characters, but I’m not as concerned about the meanings for them. The only one that’s close to certain will be her husband Minokichi, whose name is taken directly from the myth in Hearn’s Kwaiden, which I’m using as inspiration for the second half of my novel. Even then, I’m not 100% certain on keeping the name, but we’ll see.

Do you put a lot of work into finding the perfect names for your characters? How do you go about it? If your characters are set in a different culture, how do you overcome the hurdles of the language barrier?

As always, I love to read your comments! And I don’t mind hearing any constructive criticism on the names I’ve chosen here, too 🙂

Lady of the Snow: The Setting

I finally narrowed down the actual town setting of Lady of the Snow. After hours of searching through various places in Japan (literally, I lost track–it had to be 8-10 over the past two weeks), I decided to set it in the picturesque Nikko.

It was the place that I instantly felt was right for the setting. I had a few other possibilities but none resonated with me like Nikko. Why did I choose the city? A number of factors:

  • The town existed when my book starts (Muromachi period, circa 1350s or so) and already was a well-established village (founded sometime in the 700s)
  • The climate. The town had to be in a pretty mountainous area (which isn’t hard to find in Japan). What cinched it though was the fact that Nikko is known for having a climate similar to the chilly region of Hokkaido because of its elevation. This means that this is a great place for a lady of the winter since winter is longer here than in other areas.
  • The temples, specifically Futarasan Shrine, which enshrines Ōkuninushi, the ruler of the unseen world of spirits. Not sure how much it will play a part in the book, if any, but it seemed like something I may be able to use 🙂 (Also, if you look at the Wiki page about the shrine, the bridge that leads to the shrine, called the Sacred Bridge, was once the header of my blog)
  • The picturesque scenery 🙂

I know that the most well known version of the legend (and the one I’m basing parts of my story off of) has it in an unnamed village in the old Musashi province (modern day Tokyo Prefecture, Saitama Prefecture and part of Kanagawa Prefecture) but I couldn’t seem to find a place to set it that I liked. I hesitated at first but realized it’s my book and I can set it anywhere in Japan I want 😛

Now to figure out other characters besides Yuki-onna and the two love interests. 😛 And I also need to figure out a name for her from her human life…then it’s time to plot the out the book.

Completely Taken Over

Another story came to me today. Rather suddenly actually. Once it came, I couldn’t race fast enough to a Word doc to type the summary out.

A historical paranormal/fantasy based off the legendary Yuki-onna.

This will be something rather different for me.  I’ve never written fantasy before, although this is probably still more historical based with paranormal elements. It’s mostly based on myth but there’s definite historical aspects to it too.

 

Traditional Image of Yuki-onna

Traditional Image of Yuki-onna

I think it stemmed form me reading all these Japanese myths lately and this one really inspired me. Mostly I wondered about how such a creature came about–and then I came up with an entire backstory for her.

Modern Portrayal of Yuki-onna

Modern Portrayal of Yuki-onna

It’s going to be loosely based off some of the myths about her and have some aspects from the story in Lafcadio Hearn’s Kwaiden.  

I’m uber excited about starting this project, but I can’t do too much of it just yet. I still have to finish my other book too–I don’t want to put that one completely aside. Anyway I at least have something to work on when I get a little discouraged with my other one. 🙂

Writing About a Different Culture

If you’ve even followed this blog for a little bit, you probably know that I’m writing a novel set in Japan in 1890, with an MC that’s half Japanese and half American. I simply love writing about other cultures, but I know for a fact I am probably writing the culture wrong. I know there are aspects of my story that need changing because I put my Western viewpoint on Eastern characters–a big no-no if the book is going to get any respect.

 I am at a disadvantage because of it and it does get overwhelming a lot of the time. I’m often asking myself,”why couldn’t you have just set this in a place where you know the culture?” But then the other part chimes in, saying “Because you LOVE this. You love the culture, even if it’s not your own.”

So I press onward, marking the places I know I’ll have to go back and research, hoping that there’s not too many changes needed (I am trying my best the first time to get as many aspects about the culture correct as possible). I am certain though, that if this gets published, there will be those readers/reviewers that criticize me, asking why this thoroughly Caucasian girl wrote about a culture completely different from her own. Simple answer: Because I love it.

 I don’t think we should be narrowed by our heritage in what we write. Obviously, we’ll know most about our own culture and feel most comfortable writing about that. If we are writing about one that’s different from ours, we have to be careful not to put our own cultural views on it. I am assuming the reason this isn’t done very often is because it can be a difficult process and because of the amount of research needed to portray the story accurately. But it’s worth it.

I’m always finding something new about the Japanese culture that I find so fascinating–especially how it was back in the 1890s! I guess my point after this rambling post is this: don’t be afraid to branch out and write about another culture. It can be daunting but very rewarding too. And don’t let other’s comments dissuade you either–prove them wrong 🙂

Travel Back in Time

I was doing a bit of research on the town much of my book takes place in and every time I look for info on it, I’m overcome by the desire to actually travel there.

It’s easy to see why the town of Kakunodate has captured my imagination. I have such a clear picture in my head of what it would have been like for my MC to come there, a small village then, after living in busy Tokyo her entire life. It would have been like stepping back in time, to a place of living history, much like it would be now more than a hundred years after my book is set.

I long to go there and do research and take my own pictures. Alas, traveling to Japan from Ohio is not exactly cheap.

Maybe someday. 🙂 For now, I’ll be content looking at my array of online pictures.

Pieces Falling Into Place

Don’t you love it when pieces of your story begin to fall into place? Especially if you’re doing historical fiction and you find something that just would be a great fit into your storyline?

Where does this come from, you ask? Well, after my initial idea was found to be quite inaccurate  (see Pitfalls of Historical Fiction entry for more details), I decided to try and make a decision on the path of my novel by doing a little research.

And I think I’m going with path #1.

I know most in the comments were leaning towards #2 but Kaiyo is so firmly established in my head as half Japanese and American that I feel that changing her appearance would essentially be changing her entire character. I really tried to picture her in the second option, but I just couldn’t see her without some other aspect of her personality changing with it. (That and Kaiyo pretty much began to throw a tantrum at me trying to “change” her. Gotta love these tempermental characters.)

So I went looking for something that would make #1 plausible and came across something. Instead of a politician, her father would be the head of a zaibatsu, or a business conglomerate of the time, often family run and operated (See the Wikipedia entry on Zaibatsu here). An example of a zaibatsu is the modern day company  Mitsubishi. They first developed in 1870 as a shipping firm. Of course they eventually expanded into coal mining, shipbuilding, banking, real estate and eventually the auto manufacturer (as well as many other industries today). They were also the same company that developed the Mitsubishi Zero of World War II as well as other famous Japanese bombers.

Anyway, enough of the history lesson. 😛 This information makes it more plausible for my character’s parents to meet. If Kaiyo’s father is the head (or at least someone close to the head of the company) in a similar fictional zaibatsu (loosely based after Mitsubishi) that was a shipping firm, it’s more likely that they would interact and work with American entrepreneurs coming in to “modernize” the country in the late 1860s and 1870s, thus providing an opportunity for her American mother to be introduced to him. Though mixed relationships were still uncommon (especially for an American woman and Japanese man) I do know that the possibility of such is historically accurate as I read about a real, though unnamed, married couple in Clara’s Diary: An American Girl in Meiji Japan.

Also, by 1890, the zaibatsu had significant influence on politics as they would often give substantial amounts of money to the party they supported. This could play a role in the antagonist’s arrival (a member of the terrorist organization Genyosha) and the reasoning behind using Kaiyo as leverage and blackmail. Books and film have portrayed these organizations as often involved in shady dealings and have connections to the yakuza (which would also tie into the novel, although at this point in history the yakuza were still mainly involved in gambling and street peddling).

I have to do more research on this, but I’m thinking that this makes things more realistic and accurate for my book without changing my character and trying to morph her appearance in my mind’s eye. Who knows, it may not work after all and I may be forced to go that route anyway, but for now I’m going to try and make this one work.

The Insurmountable Task of Researching One’s Novel

I’ve discovered very early on that it’s incredibly challenging researching for a novel that takes place in a culture and in a place completely different from your own.

Since my book in set in Japan in the mid-Meiji era (1890), it’s posing to be a challenge. For one, as an American and “westerner” I’m not experienced in the Eastern culture, so I really have to immerse myself in books, videos and other sorts of research to put myself there and not make any major cultural gaffes.

And then there’s the language barrier…I don’t exactly speak Japanese (although I’m hoping to learn at some point). I know a few words and phrases; I know how people are addressed (-san, -chan, -sama, etc.). Still it’s difficult creating what I would think is semi-accurate dialogue.

And of course, it’s really hard setting my book in a real town that’s basically remained unchanged since that time and can only rely on pictures online and descriptions of it to put it in my book. Unfortunately, with limited income, I can’t really afford a two-week trip to Northern Japan to do the really great research I’m dying to do.

Oh and I can’t forget the whole aspect of involving the yakuza in my book. Finding detailed information on this has been frustrating at best. I’m thinking it has something to do with the fact that it’s still a bit of a taboo talking about this vast and incredibly complex “underworld.” I have found a few books and some information on the Web out there but not enough detail for the time period I’m needing. Most of the information comes from part of the Taisho period (1912-1926) and then a great deal during the Showa period (1926-1989). Mine takes place in 1890…I know it existed then–they’ve been around since the Edo period. And I also know it probably vaguely resembled the modern yakuza. All I can ever find for my time period is a page or two at most of info…

I’m not giving up though. I just have to find another way to go about it. And I will not sacrifice historical and cultural accuracy–books like that make me extremely annoyed as a reader; I do not want to put my readers in the same boat.

I suppose this is part of the fun of being an aspiring novelist!

Tag Cloud