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3.94  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,098 Ratings  ·  147 Reviews
Isaku is a nine-year-old boy living in a remote, desperately poor fishing village on the coast of Japan. His people catch barely enough fish to live on, and so must distill salt to sell to neighboring villages. But this industry serves another, more sinister purpose: the fires of the salt cauldrons lure passing ships toward the shore and onto rocky shoals. When a ship runs ...more
Paperback, 180 pages
Published February 15th 2000 by Mariner Books (first published 1982)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Henry Avila
Oct 10, 2014 Henry Avila rated it it was amazing
Nine-year-old boy , Isaku, struggles in the sea, reaching out for the driftwood, but the big waves constantly move over his small body , and then, pushing him out towards the deep water, on the back flow, as hard rain comes down relentlessly. He can barely keep on his feet, the large piece of wood, almost as big as him, is stubbornly, stuck between the rocks. The weak Isaku finally succeeds in removing it, the other villagers pick their driftwood easily and bring them back to shore. The boy gets ...more
Apr 08, 2011 Mariel rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Sting's soul cage
Recommended to Mariel by: Lauren
I have not reviewed Akira Yoshimura's Shipwrecks. It felt like I had. Nope, the goodreads page is insisting that I have not. It's blank. What would I have said? (This isn't feelings mabelline. I'm born with the word stutterings. Swear it.) I have conversations in my head. Well, I used to all of the time. I've grown more inward inward and less imagined hopeful outward so the mental conversations aren't me making up whole dialogues of what I wished would be said as much as me talking to me. (If ot ...more
Jan 19, 2015 Algernon rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015

Kinzo had been laid up at home since summer. One day he had lost his footing and slammed his back against a rock while out spearing octopus on the reef. Unable to work, he became a burden on his family. In a village flirting with starvation, an invalid would be written off as dead.

Shipwrecks is not a story for the faint of heart. It is a tale of strife and pain, of lives spent in backbreaking work for little to no return, of pragmatic decisions that to an outsider may look like crimes against
Not your typical bloated historical fiction. I want to rant about how wonderful this was, and tell you in detail about all the twists, turns and revelations, but that would ruin it for you.

It's a short book. The story pivots around a small impoverished fishing village in medieval Japan, where life is ruled by nature and guided by rather dubious moral codes. Frequently on the verge of death, and isolated from the general populace, villagers cling to sea worship and their ancestors' rules of cond
Nancy Oakes
Jan 22, 2009 Nancy Oakes rated it really liked it
Shelves: japanese-fiction
What a great book! The book itself is very small, but by the time you get to the end you realize that there was a lot to this story. For example, in what is a story set in medieval Japan, you get the following topics that are (imho) apropos in the modern world: how human beings use religion as a tool to cover up their own self interest, and how sometimes evil deeds are performed in the name of self preservation and the mob is drawn into the performance of these deeds without any thought about wh ...more
Jul 27, 2015 Ray rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This is a strange little book about a youth - almost a man - growing up in a marginal coastal village in nowheresville Japan. The people are so poor that it is common to sell themselves as servants for a fixed period, in this way their families can avoid starvation.

The village has next to no useful crop land so everything is harvested from the forests and especially the sea. The harvest includes shipwrecks which are lured onto the rocks by the villages. A shipwreck is a rare event but when it d
Nov 07, 2012 David rated it it was amazing
Shelves: big-red-circle
Mishima's "The Sound of Waves" and Oe's "Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids", but with a love affair that goes no further than an exchange of gifts. I loved this perhaps the most. No one would ever know how Isaku felt about Tami. And she would be the love of his life. Isn't that adorable? Why doesn't anyone do that anymore? Nowadays, he'd probaby have a #photo of his "Tami" #tattoo on @Twitter

I also loved that everyone in this book is like me; the kind of person who wakes up thinking "Yay! Friday!" a
Jun 25, 2008 Heather rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I loved this book, and the way it left me feeling. Yoshimura paints poignant scenes of the hardships of life in a remote village on an isolated seacoast of Japan where villagers are often on the brink of starvation. In the face of these hardships family members sell themselves into indentured servitude to protect the next generations, and employ a more desperate and sinister technique--luring ships onto the rocky shore, then murdering and pillaging for food and goods. Though the shipwrecks are f ...more
Jan 18, 2008 Jessica rated it it was amazing
A wonderful read: an isolated seaside village in medieval Japan which relies on the booty from shipwrecks to sustain themselves, and so lures unsuspecting ships to their dangerous shores. Nicely written, a fascinating account of village and family life and customs. Sounds anthropological I realize, but it's a novel and a good one.
Nov 02, 2014 William1 rated it it was ok
My God, this is flat. There's no subtext. What I mean to say is that in the books I like, really like, there's an overarching resonance. The writing can be sonorous with what's left unsaid. I can't find that here, which makes for a very one-dimensional story.
Dec 19, 2009 Tony rated it really liked it
Yoshimura, Akira. SHIPWRECKS. (1982; this ed. 2000). ****. This was the first of this author’s many books to be translated into English. He was born in 1927 and was president of Japan’s writer’s union at one time, and is a member of International PEN. In this novel, he tells the story of a village in medieval Japan. It is a small fishing village of only 17 families. They spend every available hour of their day seeking food to keep themselves alive. Young boys are taught to fish from the time the ...more
Sep 21, 2015 Jana rated it really liked it
As the seasons change, one medieval Japanese village barely survives its harsh days – hunger is all present constantly present. It’s lightly depressing, there is no plot and nature is dooming domina matrix and main fatality. Very intriguing and absolutely different from anything hyper and glittered. There is no resistance in this book, just stoical acceptance of God’s will and nature.
Jun 16, 2016 Danm rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
What a great storyteller, and what a great story. It's not often you come across a writer who can tell a story with simplicity yet in a highly effective manner. You need to read between the lines a little here to understand the messages (and the overall message), but that's what makes it great. If you want a little preview without any spoilers...

A boy lives in a Japanese fishing village where he must learn to provide for his family via fishing, but the village always prays for o-fune-sama. This
Emi Bevacqua
Aug 29, 2009 Emi Bevacqua rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, asia, haunting
This is how I started a review of a Japanese film I enjoyed: Dark depressing, slight hope, darker and more depressing, hope again, cruel fate, roll credits. That's pretty standard format for Japanese film; and Japanese literature is much the same, but without the credits.

Shipwrecks is set in medieval Japan, a family in an impoverished fishing hamlet whose father had to sell himself away into a three year stint of indentured servitude for the family's survival. Upon leaving he asks his hardworki
Nov 25, 2009 Jacquelyn rated it it was amazing
This is a beautifully told tale, tautly written, evoking another time (we don't really know when) in an isolated coastal village in Japan, where the villagers live according to strict traditions and morally questionable practices that ensure their survival. It's a small jewel of a book that takes you into this culture and - in spite of the obvious problems with their beliefs - makes the reader a part of this community, sympathetic to the choices that they make.
Oct 14, 2012 Simon rated it it was amazing
Magical picture of another time and place. When I started it I had no idea what the setting was and it took a while to click into focus. That was a nice way of reading this book. If you're going to give it to someone else don't tell them too much about it. It unfolds nicely in several stages. I think it engages gently in moral questions as well as being beautiful.
Jul 29, 2012 Nikos79 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While I 'm checking reviews over books, I have noticed many many times words like depressing, sad, dark, are followed by ratings of 1 or 2 stars. Something which is really annoying for me. I cannot understand why a sad theme should be a bad feature on a book.

Well, here is my view. This book is beautifully sad and wonderfully tragic. I 'm trying to respect any view over books but if you can't really understand how I find these characteristics so positive you should better go and watch a comedy -
Sep 22, 2010 Meaghan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a remarkably bleak novel. Written very simply and without have much of a plot, it's a grim portrait of life in a desperately poor fishing village in medieval Japan. The villagers light fires on the beach to try to lure ships onto the reef. If a ship wrecks on the reef, they kill the survivors and loot the cargo. Yet you can't blame them for this, for they are always on the brink of starvation. They barely eke out a living by fishing, and people regularly sell themselves into indentured s ...more
Wiebke (1book1review)
I struggle with this, it was very slow and repetetive and nothing much happens. But after some time all the repetition starts to make sense and make you think about the monotony and repetetiveness of the life of the people in that village. It also made me think about how different my life today is and how little I could bear life in that village. Which is completely opposite to the main character's thoughts who couldn't live anywhere else.

Yeah, I think it was one of those books that is not that
Apr 17, 2016 David rated it really liked it
This is a very vivid book, transporting. The place, events, and characters really seem to come alive. The arc seems a little simplistic and it seems to be a matter of when the final tragedy will strike as opposed to whether, but that's the way it's supposed to be and the characters proceed onward.
Libros Prestados
Dec 31, 2014 Libros Prestados rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
El libro deprimente del año, sin duda. Mi padre se ha superado.

¿Es bueno? Sí. ¿Es corto? Sí, pero para lo que cuenta no necesita más. ¿Es tristísimo y hace que "Las cenizas de Ángela" parezca una comedia? Sin duda. Nos cuenta la vida de un pueblo costero muy pequeño en el Japón medieval, y con un lenguaje corto y conciso, en cortas líneas, nos traza un retrato costumbrista del lugar y sus gentes. De hecho, la forma de narrar parece un poco rara al principio, pero una vez que te acostumbras, logr
Dec 30, 2009 Dave rated it really liked it
Poignant novel told through the eyes of 9-year-old Isaku, whose village in medieval Japan relies on the wreckage of merchant ships to survive. Depictions of medieval life and customs amidst the harshness of peasant life make this a compelling, entrancing read. Surprisingly this is Yoshimura's only novel that has been translated into English.
Sep 09, 2007 Brenna rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
A small fishing town in Japan is starving and chooses to purposefully lure ships onto the rocks so that they can salvage whatever they can from the wreckage. This behavior leads to frightening consequences.
Ben Loory
Oct 28, 2012 Ben Loory rated it really liked it
historical fiction from a world so strange and desperate it could almost pass for fantasy. i only wish i hadn't read a blurb about it first and had the entire ending ruined.
Jan 07, 2009 Bern rated it it was amazing
Fishing villagers lure in ships with burning salt cauldrons. A young boys take on subsistence living and murder. Cool.
Feb 20, 2016 Danielle rated it liked it
‘Shipwrecks’ by Akira Yoshimura is set in the middle ages, in a remote, desperately poor fishing village on the coast of Japan. The villagers not only live off fishing but also off the distillation of salt. The salt distillation also serves another purpose: the fires of the salt cauldrons lure passing ships toward the shore. When a ship runs aground, the villagers kill the crew and loot the cargo. Due to the ofunesame (= a ship that founders on the rocks as a gift from the gods) the villagers ca ...more
Mar 23, 2012 Libyrinths rated it really liked it
A short book about a small fishing village in medieval Japan. But it's hardly that simple. Yoshimura crafts a masterly story. His realism in descriptions of the village, its surrounds, of the sea and fishing, of the seasonal cycles, make one feel as though one were there. The constant threat of starvation becomes visceral for the reader. While the imagery may linger in the mind, his gradual revelations about the village and its secrets are what will haunt the reader long after the book is finish ...more
Nov 06, 2011 Kevin rated it it was amazing
Shipwrecks is a story of a poor coastal village in medieval Japan as a young boy, Isaku, is coming of age. Isaku's father has sold himself into debt-bondage, so though only nine years old he has to learn the skills of an adult to help his mother support the family on the brink of starvation. The story develops slowly as Isaku learns and develops the skills needed to survive the harsh realities of this isolated village. All the while he and his fellow villagers hope and pray for the rare O-fune-s ...more
Feb 15, 2013 Matty rated it it was ok
Shipwrecks has probably the most boring prose, characters and plot of any book I've read in a long time. On the other hand, the subject matter was just interesting enough that I was able to finish it quickly. The book follows the life of some island villagers in feudal Japan who rely on O-fune-sama, which (as you will find out in the first couple chapters) is when a ship wrecks itself on the shore and the villagers get to plunder the wreckage. It's also a coming-of-age story for the protagonist, ...more
☽ Moon Rose ☯
Aug 16, 2013 ☽ Moon Rose ☯ rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to ☽ Moon Rose ☯ by: Henry Avila
In the beginning, a stark simplicity seems to emanate from this short novel of Akira Yoshimura, bringing to life the remoteness of ordinary provincial living set against an impoverished fishing village in total detachment as it lies on an isolated and secluded coastline of Japan. This reclusive backdrop captures the vivid imagery of man in the realm of nature amid the desolation of survival that suitably describes this poor coastal village always on the verge of starvation, from which dwells a s ...more
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The World's Liter...: Lesley's choice: Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura 3 25 Aug 17, 2012 09:30AM  
  • The Wild Geese
  • Blue Bamboo: Japanese Tales of Fantasy
  • The Hunting Gun
  • The Waiting Years
  • Fires on the Plain
  • The Lake
  • The Broken Commandment
  • The Sea and Poison: A Novel
  • Black Rain
  • The Paper Door and Other Stories
  • The Ruined Map
  • Rivalry: A Geisha's Tale
  • A Cat, a Man, and Two Women
  • The River Ki
  • Tales of Moonlight and Rain
  • The Three-Cornered World
  • The Silent Cry
  • Inspector Imanishi Investigates
Prize winning Japanese writer. Akira Yoshimura was the president of the Japanese writers union and a PEN member. He published over 20 novels, of which in particular On Parole and Shipwrecks are internationally known and have been translated into several languages. In 1984 he received the Yomiuri Prize for his novel Hagoku (破獄,engl. prison break) based on the true story of Yoshie Shiratori.
More about Akira Yoshimura...

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