The Mad Kyoto Shoe Swapper and Other Short Stories

Rebecca Otowa (Author)


"Otowa has woven a series of delightful vignettes of life in Japan, from a true historical story of feuding villages to a man who steals shoes at temples...and some highlighting the cultural differences between Japanese and American sensibilities, especially for women." -- Ginny Tapley-Takemori, translator of Convenience Store Woman

From the unique standpoint of an American woman who married into a Japanese family and has lived in Japan for more than thirty years, Rebecca Otowa weaves enchanting tales of her adopted home that portray the perspective of both the Japanese and the foreigner on the universal issues that face us all--love, work, marriage, death, and family conflict.

The collection includes:
  • A Year of Coffee and Cake--A young American wife in the Tokyo suburbs suspects her next-door neighbor of murdering an elderly relative.
  • Rhododendron Valley--An elderly man decides to commit suicide to deal with his terminal illness and to spare his family pain.
  • The Mad Kyoto Shoe Swapper--A reclusive young Japanese man enjoys the strange hobby of stealing shoes from temples, but it gradually consumes him.
  • Genbei's Curse--A downtrodden woman loses her temper with her demanding, sick father-in-law. Years later, old and sick herself, she can now empathize with him.
  • Trial by Fire--A true story passed down through the author's family of a gruesome trial to settle a land dispute in 1619.
  • Love and Duty--The Japanese custom of "duty chocolates" (chocolates gifted by women to men on Valentine's Day) has repercussions for an American and a Japanese woman.
  • Uncle Trash--Told in the form of newspaper articles, this is the story of an old man, his hoarding addiction, the annoyance it brings his family, and his eventual revenge.
  • Watch Again--A man starts stalking his ex-wife and learns something about himself in the process.
  • Three Village Stories--A tea ceremony teacher, a vengeful son, and an old man ostracized by his community are the protagonists in three vignettes of village life.
  • The Rescuer--After meeting his death in a train accident, a young man finds himself in the position of rescuing others from the same fate.
  • Showa Girl--Based on a true story from the author's family, a girl of fifteen has an arranged marriage with an older man just back from a POW camp in Russia in 1948.
  • Rachel and Leah--An older American woman reflects on her long and not always happy marriage to a Japanese man.
  • The Turtle Stone--Going from the 1950s to the present, this is the story of one man's efforts to keep the family cake shop alive in a Kyoto that is constantly modernizing.

Illustrated throughout with the author's own black-and-white drawings, this captivating volume offers a unique and lovingly rendered insight into everyday life in modern Japan.

Product Details

$14.99  $13.79
Tuttle Publishing
Publish Date
March 24, 2020
BISAC Categories:

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About the Author

Rebecca Otowa was born in California, and studied Japanese Language and Culture at the University of Queensland in Australia. In 1978 she went to Japan, and never left. After graduating from Otani University in Kyoto, with an MA in Buddhism, she married the 19th-generation heir to a country estate nearby. In the years since, she has brought up two sons, taught university-level English, played music, acted on stage and kept a vegetable garden, but she eventually returned to her two great loves--writing and drawing. Besides two books At Home in Japan (2010) and My Awesome Japan Adventure (2013), she has been a translator and columnist and has organized two shows of her paintings.


"Otowa has woven a series of delightful vignettes of life in Japan, from a true historical story of feuding villages to a man who steals shoes at temples, a traditional sweets store being left behind as the neighbourhood changes over time, a pathological hoarder, and some highlighting the cultural differences between Japanese and American sensibilities, especially for women." -- Ginny Tapley-Takemori, translator of Convenience Store Woman
"Endurance, duty and obligation are the underpinnings of Japanese society. The very knowledgeable Otowa seasons her tales with these traits to reveal the complexity of Japanese culture, past and present."-- Judith Clancy, author of Exploring Kyoto, Kyoto: City of Zen and Kyoto Gardens
"These finely crafted stories, intriguing in themselves, are remarkable for their insights into Japanese culture. These never feel 'forced' but emerge naturally from the narrative, with the reader left to ponder the implications. A true delight in every way!" -- John Dougill, author of Kyoto: a Cultural History, Zen Gardens and Temples of Kyoto and founder of Writers in Kyoto
"...beautifully written stories that sharply illuminate aspects of life in Japan with understanding, empathy, and wry humor. Against the backdrop of her own experiences and those of her family, the author uses creative imagination, keen observation and deep compassion to tell stories with heart." -- Juliet Carpenter, translator of A True Novel
"Rebecca's short stories will stay with you. With a hawk's eye for details and in crisp prose, her stories explore duty, empathy, and despair in Japanese society. She doesn't shy away from her subject matter and her stories ring of truth. Her illustrations are similarly detailed and give the book a charming innocence." -- Stuart Ayre, illustrator of Ein Spaziergang in Japan (A Walk in Japan)
"...Otowa has faithfully observed and incorporated into her stories the minutiae of life in that country, both ancient and modern...without the air of orientalism and exoticism that can make stories about Japan seem like an appendix to a travel guide....And for those who have not lived in Japan, these bite-sized tales will provide a welcome and refreshing change from over-sentimental accounts of cherry-blossom and geisha, or wide-eyed manga and anime Japanese heroes, while providing glimpses of a country that are rarely experienced by other residents, let alone casual tourists." -- Hugh Ashton, author of Tales of Old Japanese, At the Sharpe End and Leo's Luck
"Families and friendship, marriage and motherhood, ageing and death feature in these engaging and thought-provoking tales by a gifted story-teller and illustrator."-- Dr. Jann Williams, author and editor of Writers In Kyoto Anthology III
" eclectic assortment of tales that are likely to entertain and intrigue readers in equal measure." -- The Japan Times