Ink Wash Painting and Grief 「線は、僕を描く」(Sen wa Boku wo Egaku)

Ink Wash Painting and Grief 「線は、僕を描く」(Sen wa Boku wo Egaku)

線は、僕を描く
(せんはぼくをえがく)
by 砥上 裕將 (Togami Hiromasa)

 

Author: 砥上 裕將 (Togami Hiromasa)
Genre: novel, college, melancholy
Great for: Advanced (JLPT N1+)
Length: 317 pages

Amazon Japan: 線は、僕を描く
Bookwalker Japan: 線は、僕を描く (can test read on BookWalker with 試し読み!)
(The manga is also available on Amazon and Bookwalker Japan.)

 

Japanese Synopsis (from the book)

まさか水墨画をめぐる小説が、これほどまでに心をゆさぶる物語であるとは思いもしなかった。

両親を失い、空白を抱えていた「僕」は、紙に「線」を引く芸術を一から学び、練習を重ねることで、やがて失っていた自分を取り戻していく。生きている瞬間をとらえようと描き続け、自らの美をつかむ。現代の青春求道小説として、力強く胸に迫る作品だ。

 

English Synopsis (translated by JTalk Online)

The Lines That Draw Me

I never thought a story about ink wash painting would sway the heart so much.

After losing both his parents and surrounding myself in white space, “I” learn from scratch an art of pulling “lines” on paper. After building up practice he finally regains the part of himself that was lost. He continues to draw in a way that captures the moment of life, capturing his own beauty. It’s a modern tale of finding youth and an incredibly moving novel.

Ink Wash Painting and Grief 「線は、僕を描く」(Sen wa Boku wo Egaku) Orchid

Why You Should Read 線は、僕を描く (Sen wa, Boku o Egaku)

線は、僕を描く is an absolutely beautiful piece of fiction and Togami Hiromasa’s debut novel. It won the 59th Mephisto Prize (2019); the Osama Branch Book Award (2019); got 6th place in the 17th Kinobesu (2020); and received 3rd place in the Honya Taisho (2020).

If you liked the anime March Comes in Like a Lion or Run With the Wind then you’ll probably like this book. It deals with similar themes: a talented male college student struggling with trauma and depression.

(It seems a little ridiculous that there are never novels or shows about the healing powers of therapy, only through extra-curricular activities. But Japan is sadly infamous for their lack of acknowledgement of depression and mental illness.)

 

The protagonist, Aoyama, is incredibly likable. The author did a great job describing the weight of depression without saying he’s depressed. He moves through life out of habit until one day he comes in contact with Shinoda Kozan, a master ink wash painter who takes Aoyama under his wing.

Aoyama slowly learns more ink wash painting, the world around him, and more importantly, himself.

 

This book doesn’t have any fantastical or shocking twists, and Aoyama is a bit of a Gary Stu, but I still found myself hooked. I loved every character, every development, and every scene with ink painting.

 

Why Japanese Learners Should Read 線は、僕を描く (Sen wa, Boku o Egaku)

One of the best aspects of this novel was learning more about ink wash painting. It is also the reason why I highly recommend this book for JLPT N1+ levels.

Unlike Violet Evergarden, this novel was easier to read as it dealt with a lot of day-to-day events. However, was more difficult because I had never come in contact with the terminology used for 水墨画(すぼくが)or ink wash painting before.

It also challenged me to get better at remembering character’s names as the furigana for names is never repeated. (Luckily there’s a list of characters at the start, which made it easier when I forgot how to read their names.)

This novel is an easier read when equipped with N1 level kanji and vocabulary. Had I been a lower level I think I would have struggled with juggling new terms and the specialized language of ink painting. (As well as the abstract descriptions used throughout the story.)

I racked up 185 new words from the whole book, but I doubt I’ll study them because so many of them were obscure field specific terminology. However, I did learn some great general information about ink painting. So even if I don’t study the terminology, I still learnt something new!

Ink Wash Painting and Grief 「線は、僕を描く」(Sen wa Boku wo Egaku) Grapes

Ink Wash Painting Related Vocabulary

One thing I struggled with this book was picturing what was being described. I ended up looking up terms in Google images so I could see what the characters were seeing.

Here’s some of the field specific ink wash painting related terms from the book. (The following isn’t all of them)

Painting Vocabulary

水墨画 すいぼくが ink wash painting, India ink painting
ふで brush
筆洗 ふであらい brush cleaner
画仙紙 がせんし drawing paper
すみ ink stick
すずり inkstone
うるし lacquer
輪郭線 りんかくせん outline, border line
滲む にじむ to blur, spread
筆致 ひっち stroke of the brush
文鎮 ぶんちん paperweight
画賛 がさん inscription (legend) over painting
がく picture frame
揮毫 きごう writing, drawing
無形 むけい abstract
祖型 そけい prototype

Nature / Subject Vocabulary

四君子 しくんし the four gentlemen (plum, chrysanthemum, orchid, and bamboo)
らん orchid
うめ plum
たけ bamboo
きく chrysanthemum
くき stalk, stem
薔薇 ばら rose
とげ thorns
牡丹 ぼたん tree peony
つぼみ buds
葡萄 ぶどう grapes
つる vine
笹竹 ささたけ small bamboo
椿 つばき camellia
竹林 ちくりん bamboo grove, thicket
四時 しじ four seasons

 

You can see some of the text and how ink wash painting is done with this advert of the book from Kodansha!

 

Summary

線は、僕を描く is a great, slow paced but challenging novel. It teaches you a lot about ink wash painting, a subject I don’t think even many Japanese know much about.

The characters were all very likable and although the story wasn’t out there, it will still hook you.

I don’t think this book is for everyone but I highly enjoyed it.

If you don’t want to read the novel or think it will be too difficult there’s a manga of it too!

Ink Wash Painting and Grief 「線は、僕を描く」(Sen wa Boku wo Egaku) Manga

 

Other Books You Might Like

Fantasy, Mystery「かがみの孤城」(Kagami no Kojou)

War, Humanity, and Letters「ヴァイオレット・エヴァーガーデン」(Violet Evergarden)

 

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