Time With Ourselves - Lessons on Loneliness From Japanese Literature - tortoise general store

Time With Ourselves - Lessons on Loneliness From Japanese Literature

Posted by Ruby Zuckerman on

Yet again, here we are, thinking about how to cope with the continued isolation so many of us have been experiencing this past year. Here at Tortoise, we are hoping that this winter is the final push - and thought we would spend some time focussing on the beauty and joy in spending time alone with yourself, free from the distractions of a busy social life. 

Girl reading on tatami mat with slippers, incense, tea, wrapped in blanket

Pictured: Hasami Large Natural Mug, Tomoro Pottery Incense Holder, Over-dye Blanket, F/Style Slippers, Wabi-Sabi Book 

There are lots of lessons to be learned about this lonesome beauty from Japanese literature - which has been concerned with themes of isolation and solitude for over a thousand years. We've collected some wise writerly words, paired with our favorite cozy, thought-provoking items for making the most of this strange winter. 


“What need have I for a palace? Rather to lie with you where the weeds grow thick.”

- The Tale of Genji, Shikibu Murasaki  

In the early eleventh century, the first ever novel was written: The Tale of Genji by Shikibu Murasaki. A sprawling story that includes over 400 characters, Murasaki wrote The Tale of Genji for the entertainment of Japanese noble women and ladies-in-waiting. During the Heian Period (794 - 1185), imperial court women were not allowed much freedom, so... they wrote. 

Three pairs of slippers lined up against a tatami mat

It's fun to imagine these Japanese women, whispering together about the scandalous plot written by Murasaki. Maybe, as they passed through hallways, they wore traditional straw slippers. Today, 900 years later, any slippers are a must-have for stay-at-home life. Make sure your feet are comfortable while you're working on your own literary masterpiece!


1000 yen bill featuring Japanese author Soseki


“You see, loneliness is the price we have to pay for being born in this modern age, so full of freedom, independence, and our own egoistical selves.”

- Natsumi Soseki 

From 1984 until 2004, author Natsumi Soseki's portrait appeared on the 1,000 yen note. His stories often center around the economic hardship faced by ordinary Japanese people. For Soseki, much of the isolation faced by the Japanese public came from rapid Westernization, and the decay of Japanese tradition. 


Studio photo of traditional F/Style candle


F/Style, one of our favorite brands at Tortoise, is similarly concerned with the preservation of Japanese tradition. Founders Emi Igarashi and Wakano Hoshino bring us these traditionally crafted candles, made entirely from natural oils, paraffin wax, and washi paper. These candles are handmade in a style that dates back over 500 years - the center of the candle is hollow, which allows for oxygen to be sucked up through the wax, resulting in a big, bright, clean flame. Pair with this minimalist copper candle stand for a trip back in time.


Still from Japanese film, the Woman in the Dunes


“The most frightening thing in the world is to discover the abnormal in that which is closest to us.”

- Kobo Abe 

Kobo Abe's strange stories were adapted into even stranger films in the 1960s. Often compared to Kafka, Abe is known for writing surreal and nightmarish stories about contemporary citizens. Although he approaches these themes from a slightly different sensibility, one of Tortoise's favorite artists, Mitsuru Koga, also explores the strangeness in our seemingly mundane lives. 



Driftwood Dinosaurs documents Koga's ephemeral sculptures of dinosaur fossils. "How can the human imagination reconstruct what has been lost?" asks Koga, with these monumental sculptures that call to mind even more philosophical questions. His other book, Atelier, includes a series of sculptures inspired by the objects in his own art studio. Deceptively simple, nothing is exactly as it seems in Koga's work. 



“The room was filled with a kind of stillness. Not simply an absence of noise, but an accumulation of layers of silence...”

- Yoko Ogawa

Yoko Ogawa, a contemporary Japanese novelist, writes deeply psychological novels. Her characters often don't seem to fully understand the motivations or desires behind their actions... 



Thoughtful time alone can help us be more intentional than the characters in Ogawa's novels. Whether we're sitting down to meditate, read a book, or relax after a long day, incense can help us connect to our present moment and pay attention to our needs and desires. Our Premium Aloeswood Incense, made with the most precious aromatic resin in the world, is back in stock and ready for your meditative needs. 



“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

- Haruki Murakami 

 Murakami is an internationally recognized name - his contemporary novels have been translated into over 50 languages and sold millions of copies outside of Japan. Part of what makes him so popular is his unique way of observing the world around him. 



This user's guidebook was put together in 2019, full of the best designs worldwide. Helpful for tool-lovers and amusing in its own right, this book is perfect for sitting down and understanding exactly what designs fit you and your unique perspective.


“That's the advantage of insomnia. People who go to be early always complain that the night is too short, but for those of us who stay up all night, it can feel as long as a lifetime. You get a lot done.”

- Banana Yoshimoto  

Yoshimoto began her writing career while working full-time as a waitress at a golf-club restaurant in the late 1980s. As you can imagine, the nighttime became an invaluable place for her writing. 



To keep yourself going while you find yourself working-from-home at odd hours, use our Origami dripper for optimum, caffeine-packed pour overs. Not only is the design of this dripper playful - the angular grooves actually stabilize the dripping speed for a perfectly flavored cup of coffee. And if you're not a coffee drinker, don't worry! Our Ippodo tea selection is freshly restocked. 



“When crossing a river in bright moonlight, I love to see the water scatter in showers of crystal beneath the oxen's feet.”

- Sei Shonagon

Another Heian era masterpiece, The Pillow Book was the personal diary of court lady Sei Shonagon. Completed in the year 1004, the book is full of astute observations about the beauty of everyday life. 


Katsumi Komagata's cut-out paper children's books are full of similar observations. With starkly beautiful text (in Japanese, French, and English) and brightly colored paper, Komagata tells simple stories about emotional interactions with the world around us. 



“Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.”

- Jun'ichirō Tanizaki 

Tanizaki is well known for his fiction, but In Praise of Shadows, a book investigating Japanese aesthetics, is equally mesmerizing. Beauty is most acutely felt in contrast - may the joy of being reunited with our loved ones overwhelm us when this period of solitude comes to an end!


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