Book review: Inhabitation


by Teru Miyamoto
Translated by Roger K. Thomas
Counterpoint Press
春の夢 first published in 1984
320 pages
Japanese Literature


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World literature is getting more and more one of my favorite genres, especially coming from Japan. I enjoy participating every year in the Japanese Literature Challenge, and I managed to read 8 books in  the 13th edition of the challenge. Alas, there were many more I had planned to tackle. So I’m glad I finally got to read Inhabitation, by Teru Miyamoto, considered to be among Japan’s most widely read living authors. Kore-eda,  the director of Shoplifters, also made the movie Maborosi, based on another book by Teru Miyamoto.

We meet Iryo Tetsuyuki, who is renting an apartment on the outskirts of Daito. It is  so cheaply built and kept, that the landlady hasn’t even asked the power company to turn the light on when he moves in. So he has no choice but fumble in the dark to hang on the wall the cap his girlfriend has offered him.

The next morning, with the light finally on, he is horrified to discover the nail for the cap actually went through the body of a lizard, an animal that he naturally hates. The lizard is stuck there on the pillar, but still alive.

Tetsuyuki himself is stuck in life, at several levels.
The reason he chose this crowded residential area is that he’s in hiding: when his father passed away, the latter had drawn promissory notes, and the bank is now requiring the son to repay them back, which is a lot of money, especially for this young man close to graduation and to his mother working really hard in a restaurant. Once, the bank even  showed up in the middle of the night with physical threats. So both his mother and he moved out and decided to live separately to escape these terrible loan sharks. But can they really hide from them?

Tetsuyuki starts a little job as a bellboy to help pay off the debts. The situation in his workplace isn’t helping either, with more dread there, amid the jealousy, pettiness and shady business going on among the staff.

He is also stuck in his relationship with Yoko. He does love her, but doesn’t feel he can marry her with this huge debt over him. And then he wonders if she’s faithful to him.

Tetsuyuki is very lonely and starts interacting with the lizard as with a human being, and a daily confidant. And even identifying himself with the animal and losing sense of reality sometimes:

It became unclear which was dream, which was reality: his self as a human being, or his self as a lizard…
The self that was dreaming and the self of his waking consciousness –how were they different?
Chapter 4

He didn’t want to fall asleep. He had a feeling that next time he wouldn’t wake up but would just remain a lizard forever.
Chapter 5

He is also stuck in a kind of philosophical question, constantly agonizing if he should keep feeding his lizard or just kill it.
The book indeed gets symbolic and deeper, and addresses questions of life and death, human nature, love, happiness, and issues found in the classic by
Shinran (1173-1263)’s disciple, called here Lamenting the Deviations, also known as Lamentation of Divergences (Tannishō歎異抄).

And then Tetsuyuki gets involved in the mysterious requests of a strange foreign couple who came to stay at the hotel where he works and need a guide to travel around.

I really liked the mysterious and metaphysical aspects of the novel. It actually felt like a good mix between Kafka and Haruki Murakami.
I thought the translation was superb.

The ending was an excellent find.
I definitely want to read more books by Teru Miyamoto, for instance Phantom of Lights and Other Stories. Have you read it, or would you like to read it along with me? What do you think?

VERDICT: Mysterious, strange, metaphysical: a great way of discovering a Japanese master, the winner of many awards.

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Any other book by him you think I should really read?

In full compliance with FTC Guidelines, I received this ebook free of charge through Edelweiss Plus, for review. I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.


6 thoughts on “Book review: Inhabitation

  1. Great review! If this book is really a mix between Kafka and Murakami, it should be the perfect read for me and I love books that tackle philosophical themes you describe, not to mention a guy that starts to identify himself with a lizard! This one goes straight to my TBR, thanks!

    Was it Koreeda’s Shoplifters that is based on one of Teru Miyamoto’s books? That would be interesting, but I cannot seem to find this source book if it is Koreeda’s Shoplifters in fact. I am a huge fan of the director and will read anything that he read and put to the screen.


    • Yes, I think you will love this book!
      I can’t find where I found this information about Shoplifters, it’s actually wrong! It was another book by him he adapted. I see he gave an opinion of this book on the publisher’s page, maybe that’s where the information I read somewhere was taken from – too hasty reading. Thanks for noticing, I edited it.


    • Be sure to check my link about the Japanese Literature Challenge, lots of great ideas of books to read there. I’m currently reading and loving The Inugami Curse, by Seishi Yokomizo


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