I have to admit that I approached this book with more than a modicum of dread. My knowledge of Japan and Japanese culture is sparse at best. I remain confused as to which item on the Japanese buffet is sushi and which is sashimi. However, I do know that the worst hangover of my life was after drinking hot sake to excess one evening. I have abstained from Japanese liqueur ever since.
Jet Black and the Ninja Wind (ISBN 978-0-8048-4402-4, 2013 Tuttle Publishing) was co-written by a husband and wife team of Leza Lowitz and Shogo Oketani, which I found interesting in just how they managed this. Did they sit side by side? Did they write alternate chapters? Or did one write and the other worked as sub-editor? You will not get the answer from the inscrutable Orientals!
The book has 50 very short chapters, so the reading of it is not difficult, even though I find the Japanese names somewhat difficult to get my head around. Let alone pronounce.
The story revolves around a young Japanese American known as Jet Black, who is unwittingly raised by her mother to be a ninja. Her mother believed in the Japanese legends and her tribe’s culture, which was being eroded after a previous onslaught.
Forces against her tribe (the Emishi) recognize the young Jet Black as the promised savior who has returned as per the urban legend, and will do anything to kill her. This is where the action in the book turns it into a thriller, as ninja Jet has to use everything her mother taught her, even how to turn invisible.
It turns out that the tribe Jet belongs to has a matriarchal lineage and a secret history, passed on down through the women, and Jet Black as the last of the line. Whether she liked it or not, she had become part of the secret, and thought of as keeper of the secret.
Of course, no Japanese thriller could be without its Yakuza, and the Japanese mafia gets its place in the tale as well.
You also get a dose of Buddhism and even Christianity thrown in for good measure, including a brother for the Christian’s Jesus!
With the very short chapters, generally four to six pages, but some as short as three, the pace is rapid, though once again, unfamiliarity with Japanese terminology will slow you down, trying to remember what the art of sozu was, for example.
An explanation of just how Japan became known as the Land of the Rising Sun from the original hinomoto is there on page 77, plus much more Japanese history.
This book will be of great information for those with an interest in, or knowledge of, Japanese history and contemporary Japan. By melding current western ethos and Amerasians with Japanese roots, the book shows an interesting comparison and highlights the one Japanese American who can change the course of Japanese history.
At B. 475, it is an entertaining read, though it is subject to the interest and knowledge proviso above, and a little too metaphysical for me.