Marie Kondo and the Life-Changing Magic of Japanese Literature

In Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, the miniseries revival of Gilmore Girls, Emily Gilmore decided to sell her huge French Provincial-style mansion in favor of a serene beachside abode in Nantucket. With such an enormous house, of course, comes with an enormous possession. As part of her process both in grief after the death of her husband Richard and in downsizing, Emily chose to heed to the decluttering philosophy of “sparking joy,” created by Japanese organizing consultant Marie Kondo. The Mindy Project also made a similar reference to Kondo’s philosophy in the series’ fourth season. I started a bookstore job a week after the Gilmore Girls revival was released. I saw Kondo’s books displayed with the cover facing out and not with the spine. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was published in 2011. An English translation was released in the United States in 2014. Kondo was named one of TIME’s 100 most influential people in 2015. Both of the episodes, which featured the scenes mentioned earlier, were released in 2016.

It was also around this time that I was about to begin my post-collegiate career. After months of self-loathing and ill-fated incidents, I got a job as a content writer for a small company that manages multiple websites and publish non-clickbait clickbait articles. Their target demographic is women who like freak medical conditions, mommy diary entries, and Teen Mom. I kept a bookstore gig on top of my main work in order to keep my head above the water and pay my student loans. It would be an understatement to say that the first two months was exhausting; in fact, it was emotionally and physically taxing both for me and my boyfriend. I didn’t pay any more than a glance at Kondo’s books even after that quick reference on the television shows. Work, stress, and responsibilities kept me on a leash and restrained me from venturing even an inch from the path.

Last January 1st, Netflix released Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, a reality television series where Kondo takes in choice middle-class clients around Los Angeles and help them declutter their homes through her philosophy. Her persona and “spark joy” philosophy took years to snowball into the sphere of pop culture. Kondo defines the spark of joy as something similar to the feeling of “Tokimeki,” or the fluttering of the heart. It happens when your body reacts positively once you touch and hold an object. It doesn’t stop after the process of decluttering and organizing is over; Maintenance of order—or at least prevention of impending mess—is also part of the KonMari method. As the American landscape continues to degrade due to heavy stress caused by the neglected natural environment, the shit show politics, and the increasingly ominous consequence of hyper-capitalism, Kondo’s philosophy offer people—who unknowingly define themselves by the amount of clutter they drown their bodies in—a method and an outlook to reassess their lives and deal with existential crises.

I usually kept my things categorized and neat, although in an annoyingly half- assed manner. For example, I’m organized by way of that I would put most of my books that I’ve read into a medium-sized box to set aside; I’m neat by way of that I’d keep loose things out of sight by just storing them wherever I could. I put the KonMari method into practice for the first time, so as million other people with access to Netflix. I was only able to do the first half of the method, which is clothes and books. Even so, I picked up the gist of Kondo’s philosophy and learned enough to apply it for an extended period of success.

At the same time that Kondo becomes a household name in America, a country in which capitalism and ownership of material things rank higher than personal peace and development, a recent slew of Japanese literature was beginning to make its prominent space in readers’ bookshelves and Amazon wishlists. These works pale in comparison to other novels the Western publishing industry prefer to value and respect, yet they have proven to offer more depth and compassion through their mastered concision. Using the philosophy of “spark joy” as a lens elucidated these books and further enhanced the reading experience. Japanese novels not only served exquisite sentences and paragraphs, but they also gave ample time to bask in their words, relish the emotions I felt, and reconsider my perspective as if I was doing it on my own.

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami (translated by Allison Markin Powell) was the first Japanese novel I read. Originally published in 2001 as “センセイ の鞄” or The Briefcase, it only made its American debut in 2017. Hence, I was able to grab a copy. Strange Weather in Tokyo follows Tsukiko, a woman in her late 30s, as she develops a relationship with her former high school teacher, addressed as “Sensei,” after they met one night in a bar. Despite only having roughly 192 pages, it took me a week to finish it. Kawakami weaved the formation of romance between the two characters through the changing seasons in a realistic pace: slow and acclimatized by shared loneliness and subtle concern for one another. The experience continued in between and after reading. I think about the veiled yet natural process of how Tsukiko and Sensei fell in love. They faced the heartache and growing age that brought them to that bar and pondered on what is most essential to their lives over bottles of beers and hot sakes.

While Kawakami’s novel dwelled on realism as most humans comprehend it, Yukiko Motoya’s collection The Lonesome Bodybuilder (translated by Asa Yoneda) had a different version of human nature in mind. The stories involve conflicts such as the resuscitation of a dying marriage and the inescapable repercussion of restrictive gender roles. The characters resolve these issues by crossing the line to the absurd without any

questions regarding their lack of logic or reason. Motoya doesn’t loiter in setting up the stories. She’d start with a seemingly normal or mundane situation for a page or two, and then one radical decision would take the world upside down. In the title story, a wife who has been married to her husband for seven years has struggled to find new ways to revive the excitement in their marriage decided to become a bodybuilder. In “The Women,” a man found himself in a sudden duel to the death against his girlfriend. Various interpretations lurk in Motoya’s stories. However, she would sometimes humor the probable apophenia, which is the tendency for humans to read too much from things on the surface level. A woman with a high-level position in advertising started seeing a face in an ordinary object in “I Called You By Name.” Motoya exposes how we usually embed meaning and sentimentality in our memories and possessions just so we could say we lived a profound existence.

One taught me that bliss can still exist despite wallowing in emotional solitude; the other taught me that a revision of self requires subjection to the unknown. I read both books for more than a year apart. I’m still just as lost as I was back then. I also went through Lion Cross Point by Masatsugu Ono and Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. Whether these novels grapple common human concerns with either metaphorical absurdity or realistic account of life experiences, the truth would always be with you from the beginning of each story. There will be no deception; the narrative would only linger for the purpose of delivering an artful and enlightening journey.

This is not a manifesto on the perceived healing potentials of Japanese culture. Despite its clear logic and coherence, Kondo’s philosophy of keeping material things that make you happy was met with skepticism and candid racism by people who are, let’s say, have a skewed perception regarding democracy and the advantages of capitalism. Kondo, with her petite frame and eyes that smiled with her mouth, was exoticized into a Japanese forest spirit who would enter your home after you had dropped to the floor and sobbed due to a gigantic mess and bestowed upon you the wisdom to get your shit together.

The KonMari method and the Japanese novels that recently made its US debut offer fresh, honest, and wonderful perspectives, which also serves as antitheses to the prevailing traits of the American dream: materialistic, capitalistic, and redundant. They’re even more necessary and urgent in the current political climate. As the world revolves faster and technology becomes more and more dominant, I can admit that I am struggling to keep up. I am still a mess. Hopefully, by immersing myself to these writers, I can find another way to mold a more favorable path for myself and for my destination.

The Souvenir

The Souvenir tells the tale as old as time: a young woman, on the verge of realizing her potential, gets involved in a relationship with an older man who’s as destructive as a water damage. She is a film student who has the ability to ask for money from her parents in guise of  camera equipment needs and he is an alleged employee at the foreign affairs department who has a habit of asking for small bills. It’s the kind of relationship that feels familiar to the human condition in varying degrees and time, although the film is set in 1980s London (the story is based on director Joanna Hogg’s memories and reflections). The Souvenir has all the elements of an auteur creation, yet Hogg felt no obligation to fill in the spaces between the looks, the small talks, and the connection. She just had to make the film reflect not only what she went through, but also what she became as a result. Then, she added a soft, film reel-inspired filter.

Honor Swinton Byrne is Julie. She is sheltered in her own world in the form of a two-story apartment, throwing parties where she would drift around her guests taking photos and taking in tenants without really knowing how to deal with them. She goes to a film school and works on a project about an impoverished boy living in a port city. However, her attempt to explain her thesis indicates that she has no idea what she’s trying to do. Her lack of understanding of her subject shows that she fails to grasp the reality outside of her apartment. Julie is privileged, naive, and vulnerable to the opinions of others. And Anthony pounces on the earliest opportunity to allure her with a quixotic fantasy

Given who Byrne and what her experience are, it should be no surprise that she’d be able to portray Julie in the purest way possible. Byrne’s roundish features evoke youth and her facial blankness beams freshness and innocence, a quality shared with someone who just started their first day in their internship. Julie is unperturbed by the chicanery kissing her on the lips, even though others have told her that they’re smeared with the influences of heroin. Byrne presents a performance that is expected from an actor in her film debut. It also helps that the actress who plays Julie’s mother Rosalind is Byrne’s mother in real life, Tilda Swinton. The layers added by the offscreen relationship bring depth, warmth, and easiness to Julie and Rosalind’s scenes together. Byrne is a revelation in the sense that you can do anything and be yourself as long as everything is handed to you.

The film’s title refers to the rococo-style French painting by Jean-Honore Fragonard. Bathed in a soft dusky glow, it depicts a young girl in a pink dress carving her and her lover’s initials on a tree after receiving a letter from him. The painting marks the beginning of Julie and Anthony’s courtship, in which they discuss what the girl’s emotions are, to its closure. Its art history roots only exacerbates the pretentiousness of Hogg’s approach to auteurism. The inspiration from the painting adds no depth to the film’s attempt to champion honesty, growth, and learning.

The Souvenir achieves a status of sublimity due to Hogg’s confidence to tell a story that’s very personal yet so dependent to the audience’s feelings. David Raedeker’s mastery of invoking obscurity and delicacy of a memory, setting the senses back in time while depicting complex emotions. Its success leans more to what the crew created in terms of production and not to what the film really is.


Book Report: On photography, surrealist expressions, and the current moral and political state of the Philippines.

As much as I enjoyed reading Susan Sontag’s On Photography, I’m quite disappointed to report that I retained not a single exacting sentence about the image-taking practice from the book. Photography, to me, remains a mysterious concept. Its properties and mutability allow it to be used: from shooting journalistic narrative to creating art to documenting quotidian life. Photography levels the system in which humans based on in relation to one another: race, class, and gender. Anyone can take a photograph. I thought that I would end up knowing more about the field and determining the reason for me to relive an old hobby, but I was left even more confused. However, the confusion had only given me a bit of a courage to do whatever I want. Yet, this sense of surging intrepidness then feel unfocused and without a goal to set on.

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When I went back to the Philippines for a couple of months in summer two years ago, the country had just elected a new president. The president had garnered enough infamous controversy with his beliefs, values, and behavior to make his first action to transform the Philippines into his ideal moralistic nation by initiating an order to allow the extrajudicial deaths of people suffering from or victimized by drug abuse to continue to the point that the Filipinos were emboldened to turn on against each other. I thought about learning about what I had missed while I was gone and write about the current state of the country. Criticize the Philippine society that seems as if it’s just floating down the Pasig River, being suffocated by its own garbage, without salvation in sight. However, as soon as I got a touch of the situation, I felt like I wasn’t versed enough to tackle such project. I lost the essence of being Filipino. Hopefully, by learning more about the Philippines today and by revisiting classic Filipino art and literature, I’d be able to regain the confidence of my Filipino self. And F.H. Batacan’s Smaller and Smaller Circles ignited my mind to a humble yet solid start.

“Do you really have this friend in Petersburg?” My new favorite sentence has convinced me that by the time I reached that part in The Judgment I will definitely enjoy reading Franz Kafka. Of course, I’ve heard of him before, but I simply didn’t find time to explore his literature. His surrealist ideas and language may have probably augmented the debate on writing with a concise, direct style versus a superfluous, hifalutin one. After I finish The Metamorphosis, I’d put him on hold for a while. I believe he may have a mental use for me in my future endeavors.

Thank you for being late.

After contemplating about the nature of my punctuality, from the days in high school, when I usually showed up an hour before the flag ceremony commenced, to the days in which I planned on starting this website, I realized that I was inclined to arrive earlier than the supposed time not because of the perceived advantages that I can reap, but of the assumption that there was nothing else to do at the state from which I departed from. 

It also doesn’t help that considerable punishment awaits tardy people. My single moment of tardiness throughout my high school life gave me an automatic fail for my Religion exam. Aside from that and a few minor mishaps, getting to my point of arrival as early as possible had been a self-proclaimed virtue. That lasted until the class of 2009 graduated and my friends went to begin their collegiate career while I had to postpone my own.

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Relinquishing the virtue of punctuality introduced me to my first of many existential dreads. I was left behind. Although my friends were somewhat understanding and hopeful for my situation, I still felt embarrassed about it. The future depended on papers and approvals, on the mythical American dream. I desired to move on from an uninspiring situation, but I had nowhere else to go. I was stuck. I had the chance to contemplate on the uncertainty of my life, but I never did. I was only a 15-year-old non-student who was stubborn enough to insist that forcing things to happen in your life only exists in a delusional mind. 

I was truly naïve the way that I held myself up to meet standards and embody virtues when I rarely make an effort to do so because I thought that I could get anything I want even with unhoned attempts. Privilege from private education, from being born male, no matter how paltry, can really bloat the sense of self-entitlement on a man.

I haven’t yet recovered from that obstacle, and I think it was because my brain refused to acquire and store any valuable lesson. I would still try to make things work, even though it felt most of the time like I was trying to align the heavenly bodies to open the gates of prestige with my two soft, non-calloused hands. 

As the processes of the world become faster with technology and the Internet, I simply can’t keep up. I’m running a little late, maybe longer. It feels like I'm being punished, but I had no idea how to atone myself. I can only hope that they will understand why, and it will be worth the wait.