Sunday, November 21, 2010

キノの旅 (Kino No Tabi - Kino's Journey)

Japanese cover
 I stumbled upon this book while I was browsing a secondhand bookstore in Japan. I had heard of this book before, because it was made into an anime (Japanese animation show), but never really got into it. But when I saw this book at the store, I said to myself, Why not? and went ahead and bought it. I am glad to say I didn't regret this decision. Kino's Journey changed the way I view certain issues, and opened up a new way of thinking for me.

Kino's Journey takes place in a fictional world where the countries are surrounded by walls, and the rest of the land is a barren terrain where bandits lurk. Each country is very unique, with its set of culture and people. Our protagonist, Kino, is a girl in her teens, and travels around the world with her talking motorado (a 2-wheeled vehicle; in short, a motorcycle) named Hermes. She has one rule that she always follows upon traveling: to stay in one country for only 3 days and 2 nights. Kino insists that that is enough to get to know the country. For protection and hunting, she carries around 2 guns that she named "the Cannon" and "the Woodsman", as well as multiple knives.

The structure of this book is interesting; it is made so that one chapter equals Kino's stay in one country, and also is non-continuous, meaning that the time at which she goes to a certain country is very mixed up and random. But it is not the structure that made me want to write a review of this book. It is the philosophy that comes with each travel Kino takes.

"The world is not beautiful. Therefore, it is."
This is the one phrase that keeps coming up in this novel. It almost felt like that phrase was pushing me to think harder, deeper, about its meaning. My interpretation is this: The world is filled with oppression, tragedy, and hate. But that is what makes the happy, peaceful days all the more precious. And this is a theme well covered by the author, Keiichi Sigsawa. Throughout the book, Kino goes to countries stained with what we view as unnatural, immoral behaviour, as a result of following through what those people thought was right.

Kino with Hermes

In one country, the people believed that one could fully understand the other by understanding their pain, and their thoughts that go through their head, and invented a substance that allowed you to hear another person's thoughts, as long as they drank that substance as well. The result was disastrous. Couples fought when they realized that they disagreed with your hobby or taste in music, and broke up. Relatives went mad when they heard the frantic thoughts of a man who was dying. Politicians in the same party found out that they were actually trying to get rid of the other, and got into a big fight. Finally, everyone avoided each other by living alone, and far apart, because that was the only way they couldn't hear each others' thoughts.

 While traveling to another country, Kino meets a man who says that, in that country, murder is not illegal. He thinks the country is probably a madhouse, and boasts that he will kill all he wants once he gets there. In reality, the country was very peaceful. The citizens there were people who had killed because they had to, not because they wanted to. They knew the wieght of life, and were determined to let no murder occur. Therefore, when the man arrived, got his citizenship, and declared that he will kill anyone who gets in his way, the citizens remove this threat to society by killing him.

The stories in this novel are disturbing, and yet you get drawn into it. I felt like I was a different person, somehow, when I read this novel. It urges you to open a new door to your way of thinking. And Kino's stance to different culture and way of thinking was very inspiring. She doesn't agree or disagree to them; she just takes them as they are. However, if they ever move to harm her, or put her life in danger, she doesn't hesitate to eliminate them. If this book has taught me anything, it is to never reject something, be it food, religion, or even an individual person, without first understanding what it is. In other words, don't judge a book by its cover.

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