YARN Visits Japan (Writing with a Sense of Place)
This lesson combines a freeform discussion exploring Japan’s unique influence on YA literature with an exploration of the significance of setting for writers and readers.
- Read two stories, “Love Right on the Yesterday” and “Abandon Changes.”
- Learn about YA literature set in Japan.
- Discuss techniques that lend a sense of place to fiction writing.
- Respond to assignments that explore how setting impacts a story.
- Two YARN short stories, “Love Right on the Yesterday” and “Abandon Changes,” both of which are set in Japan.
- Some familiarity with Japanese literature and culture (see “To prepare,” below).
- A computer with internet access that can be viewed on an overhead screen.
To prepare, you should…
- Review the YARN site, including Meet the Editors, About YARN, and the submission guidelines.
- Assign “Love Right on the Yesterday” and “Abandon Changes” either as homework or reading during quiet study/library time. (Encourage note-taking.)
- Review the following articles from the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE (via their ALAN review): “The Power of Foreign Young Adult Literature” and “Japanese and Japanese American Youth in Literature.”
- Set up a computer with an overhead screen/projector/etc. in a suitable classroom.
- Open in different windows or tabs the two stories.
- Visit YAReview.Net to introduce YARN to the class, including its About page and submission guidelines.
- Begin with a student-driven summary of the selected readings to refresh everyone’s minds, focusing on surface elements like plot and characters.
- (Discussion Part 1: Japan and YA) Shift the discussion toward Japan. How was the setting represented in the texts? What specificwords or phrases created a sense of place? What are some elements within the story that seem particularly Japanese? Did anyone forget they were set in Japan? Did anyone like the stories more or less because of the setting? Why?
- For some classes, it may be prudent to discuss the concept of ethnocentrism–if necessary, relying on Professor Ken Barger’s page at Indiana University or, for more advanced groups, a discussion on the topic from the Center for Teaching Excellence at Fordham University.
- Many films explore the disorientation that Americans may feel in a culture that is both familiar but significantly different from their own (Lost in Translation, The Gods Must Be Crazy, Crocodile Dundee, The Darjeeling Limited, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and Moscow on the Hudson, for example). Ask the class if they can name any films that address this culture shock and whether they spotted any connections to the two stories under review.
- One of the most remarkable features about YA in Japan, which is slowly being adopted within the US YA community, is its multifaceted diversity. Not only are characters diverse, with LGBT in particular a regular part of YA in Japan, but different sub-genres of Japanese YA address different subcultural elements in the society itself. What sort of diversity, subcultures, or genre elements are evident in “Love Right on the Yesterday”? In “Abandon Changes”? (Bearing in mind each is set in Japan but written for and by Americans.)
- (Discussion Part 2: Setting)Continue discussion: Why is setting important? How did the authors remind us where we were? How might have setting “Abandon Changes” in, say, 1920s New York have made it different? What would “Love Right on the Yesterday” have been like if set in present-day Los Angeles? Would their genres change if we changed the settings this way?
- Consider when Yumi first encounters Rie Ando. How many details in this early paragraph are incumbent on the setting? How significant is the setting for character description here?
- Do the interactions between Yumi and her parents feel “typically” Japanese? How? Is it unfair (or even stereotypical) to draw this conclusion?
- How do details like Yumi’s preferred drink (Pocari Sweat/Calpico), or how she describes the talent scout from Morita-Pro (“salariman”), or how Rei describes the keitai superphones in “Abandon Changes” lend a sense of place? What vision of Japan do they help create in readers who may have never visited the country?
- How is Rei’s Tokyo different from Yumi’s Tokyo? Do the stories feel as if they’re set in the same city? Why or why not?
- Can something like a city be as important as a character? Do we expect characters to be organic?
- Review, synthesis: Ask the students what they learned about literary setting from this discussion? What did they learn about Japan from reading the stories?
Of the many potential assignments that can be derived from the above lesson, here are several writing assignments that are suitable for a range of skill levels.
- Assignment 1: In a short essay, explore: What is the difference between writing with a genuine sense of place and writing that doesn’t achieve a well-defined “setting?” OR How can writers avoid ethnocentrism in discussing a another culture? Draw upon “Love Right on the Yesterday” and “Abandon Changes,” as well as other readings from the course, to discuss.
- Assignment 2: In a short essay, compare and contrast Rei’s Tokyo from “Abandon Changes” with Yumi’s Tokyo from “Love Right on the Yesterday.” How do the details of the story create an “identity” for the setting?
- Assignment 3: The Harajuku district, one of Tokyo’s most famous locales, is the location of a key scene in “Love Right on the Yesterday.” But what would happen if Yumi from “Love Right on the Yesterday” or Rei from “Abandon Changes” was extracted from her own setting and placed in one with which you might be more familiar? In a short story inspired by the assigned readings, try revisiting the events of “Abandon Changes” or “Love Right on the Yesterday” to see how your hometown or the environs within your favorite city might significantly alter events.
For further reading:
- Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction–An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories edited by Holly Thompson (of which “Love Right on the Yesterday” is an excerpt) and Girl Parts (of which “Abandon Changes” is a sort of short sequel) are two excellent choices for students intrigued by the above lesson plan. Tomo itself has a blog and a reader’s guide with writing and discussion questions related to the book as a whole and for “Love Right on the Yesterday, too: http://tomoanthology.blogspot.com/
- Students who were especially excited about YA set in Japan might also want to check out “Tokyo Heist,” the first novel by YARN’s Fiction Editor Diana Renn.
For a follow-up lesson, see YARN’s earlier LP A Lesson in Crossing Cultures through Fiction