and a link to the minis!
Cho’s grandmother, Yui Imai, grew up in a town that, in 1920, was absorbed by Shinjuku. Living in what was then called Naito-Shinjuku, the Imai family farmed muskmelons. They did as well as muskmelons allowed.
Naito-Shinjuku was an energetic post town, though as inaka (country) as bumpkin could be. The train to Tokyo passed through only every few hours. Missing one, a would-be passenger might enjoy the Starbucks of the day: the tea stalls outside stations similar to those depicted by Hiroshige Utagawa in his series, The Sixty-Nine Stations of the Kiso Kaidō.
Outside Naito-Shinjuku Station stood two tea stalls: one named after the fox (inari), and the other after a raccoon dog (tanuki), which is an actual thing, and deeply creepy:
Back in the day, red blankets were all the rage. (Look closely at the Utagawa!) In all likelihood, our aspiring passenger would have wrapped himself in one so artfully laid out — unless it was raining; in which case he simply wouldn’t go into Tokyo. No one did, when it rained. Records show that on rainy days, the number of riders was zero.
I am on the verge of making up that Yui Imai’s family were not farmers. Rather, they owned the tea stall named after the tanukui because — look a that thing! What writer could resist such a detail? Yui could have one as a pet.
During the war and unbeknownst to Yui, her future husband’s mercantile background was put to use by the Japanese military. Eichi was quickly promoted to supply sergeant. Meanwhile, Yui’s father and brother were sent to fight, never to return. Her mother and the baby died in the bombings. Starving and alone yet determined to survive, Yui made her way to Shinjuku.
“Alle C. Hall has created part fever dream and part epic journey of survival, recovery and awakening: a world with characters who search for the truth about themselves and the people who have hurt them.”
— Ronit Plank, When She Comes Back and Home is a Made-Up Place.