The Garden of Words by Makoto Shinkai

The Garden of Words, novel by Makoto Shinkai

The Garden of Words is a novelisation of a 2013 animated film of the same name written and directed by Makoto Shinkai. Translated to English by Taylor Engel, it is a story of two lonely souls finding comfort in the company of one another after running into in a garden on a rainy day.

Takao is a 15-year old student with steadfast ambition to become a shoemaker. His parents divorced a few years ago and he has lived with his mother and elder brother since. Now his mother is going to live with her boyfriend and his brother is also moving out to live with her girlfriend. He is quiet and conscientious boy who fills his solitude with part-time job and passion for shoemaking.

Yukari is a 27-year old woman who has been avoiding to go to work after a gossip about her was started. She had been bullied and got depressed since. Every morning she gets out of bed and leaves for work but she ends up going into the park instead as she is unable to overcome her fear. She has lost her appetite and mainly consuming chocolate and beer.

One rainy day on his way to school, Takao decides to skip his morning class and go to a park instead. He meets Yukari who has been skipping her work. Before she leaves, Yukari cited a piece of tanka (Japanese poem) that makes Takao puzzle. He determines to skip his morning class when it rains. During that monsoon season, they continue to encounter in the park on rainy mornings and converse but never formally introduce themselves. When the rainy season ends, Takao stops visiting the park. One day he meets Yukari again at the most unexpected place and discovers about her.

.. this book is the novalization of a 2013 animated film of the same name, which I directed. Meaning I wrote the novel for a movie I directed myself. However, the original movie was a 46-minute, midlength featured film shown only from the perspectives of Takao and Yukino. In contrast, in the novel, I increased the number of narrators, boosting the amount of content until a film version would have run over two hours, and reassembled it. I tried to write it in such a way that both people who’d seen the original film and people who hadn’t would be able to enjoy it.

from Afterword

This novelisation adds back stories of the two protagonists and with new narrators reinforcing more depth to the main characters as well as to the story. Makoto Shinkai’s narrative is very meticulous. The proses are beautifully enticing. Correspondingly, the translation is eloquent and fluid. I think because of him being an animator, he brings as much visual to his storytelling as he does in his anime which can be quite exhaustive. Sometimes it leaves me with nothing to imagine but to follow his detailed portrayal of sceneries and emotions.

The Garden of Words, novel by Makoto Shinkai
The Garden of Words, novel by Makoto Shinkai

They were soumon-ka, romantic poems sent by a man and woman to each other, If it rains, will you stay here? the woman’s poem said, and the man’s responded, It doesn’t have to rain I’ll stay if you want me to.

from Chapter – 8

Along with Man’yōshū poetry, the metaphorical representation of rain and shoes are well befitting to the story. An abundant use of simile might bore some readers as it can attenuate the essence of the story. Me being a total sucker for similes and metaphors, it is a visit to the candy store. Such a joy to read where a multitude of sentiments are represented with nature and its charm. The epilogue, a slight extension of the original story, gives a satisfying warm hug for someone who has been drenched in the rain after watching the film. It is an exquisite book with a bunch of (vague) reminiscences.

I watched the Garden of Words (Kotonoha no Niwa) back in 2017 and has been obsessively in love with it. The tenderhearted story is deeply affecting and its visual are enchanting. The story of a relationship between a minor and an adult can be cringeworthy but how the story was handled was impressive. I discovered other anime films by Makoto Shinkai after that and his famous works are 5 Centimetres per Second, Children who Chase Lost Voices, Your Name, and Weathering with You.

If you haven’t seen his films, please give it a try. Many people love Your Name and it can be said as quite a global phenomenon. However, the Garden of Words remains as my absolute favourite. I also adore the tanka featured in the story. There’s a slight difference in English translation of these poems in film and the book. Both has its beauty of its own but I tend to like the translation in the movie better. Perhaps because it has been imprinted in my mind for quite a long time.


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