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Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa: Sweet Bean Paste Review

Sweet Bean Paste Summary in one sentence: Life isn’t a pretty bed of roses for everyone yet, if one chooses, one can make the best out of anything.

Sweet Bean Paste Book Review
Sweet Bean Paste Book Review

I was seeing Sweet Bean Paste everywhere, especially on Pinterest. The internet made me buy Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sokegwa. I first read a few pages on Kindle as a sample and when I found it interesting, I ordered it from Amazon.

It took me almost 15 days to complete this 200-page book. Yes, tell me about it!

What’s the Story About?

Sweet Bean Paste revolves around two people, a young man who takes every breath under the debt of his dead employer and an old woman who has gone through so much in life that even the idea of hell sounds better to me.

When these two meet – they heal a part of each other.

I believe that’s the magic of human connection – when you two humans come together with pure intentions for one another, they heal the hidden scars of each other. Love has that capability, has it not?

If someone listens to you, sees the part of you that you hid so well from the world, and allows you to ‘complain, share and express,’ you feel you have just started living. 

On the other hand, when you have no one in the world to call ‘your own’ and you suddenly meet a person who says ‘I believe, you can do it,’ you start to look at yourself with new eyes.

That’s the power of human connection. And this is exactly what we witness in Sweet Bean Paste.

The young mad Sentaro works in a shop called Doraharu which sells Dorayaki (something that looks like Dora cakes from the Doraemon cartoon). His shop has been facing a big downfall in sales and if it goes like this, he would be fired. 

And that’s when this old lady, Tokue comes into play. She has been making sweet bean paste, the inside filling of Dorayaki, for 50 years. So, she goes to Sentaro and asks for a job. She gets the job on the condition that she is not allowed to show her face in front of customers.

You might wonder why.

That’s because Tokue suffered from an illness called Hansen. It’s a rare kind of disease which had no treatment and is contagious. Around the time of war in Japan, when this disease started to impact normal people, the ones who were infected used to be caged in a special kind of asylum without any contact with the outside world and restricted from ever stepping foot out in the real world. The diseased ones were completely erased from history – their identity destroyed and their families taken away from them as if they never existed. In some cases, their families were killed as well just in case they had already caught the disease.

Imagine living that kind of life!

Tokue lived that life. And now after all these years of punishment, she wanted to start new. She loves children. She loves to make Sweet Bean Paste and she makes it so good that it instantly increases the sales of Sentaro’s shop.

But if only life was a sweet bed of roses.

Hereafter, if I say anything, that would only spoil the story for you. The story then moves ahead with how Tokue’s perception changes her life and encourages Sentaro to make something out of his life as well. 

Let me tell you a few things I loved from Sweet Bean Paste:

Lessons From Sweet Bean Paste: Sweet Bean Paste Review

1. The Lost Art of Listening: 

When was the last time you sat down in complete silence to listen to the world around you?

I don’t mean listening to the constant noise of social media, or the opinions of people. I am talking about taking a step back, growing the patience inside you, and listening to the whispers of the world around and inside you.

In the story, Tokue talks about how she thinks everything in the world wants to be heard. Not just the people, but trees, air, flowers, and the like.

She says, if we just listen, we will find all the answers. 

Quoting in her words:

“We were born in order to see and listen to the world. And that’s all the world wants of us.”

– Sweet Bean Paste

To simplify it a little, I believe that we are too busy paying attention to the noise of the world which is – constant scrolling on social media, taking advice from strangers on a podcast, and worrying about the noises of the people we have created in our minds, or being so mindless that even you don’t know what the voices in your mind say.

However, our focus should be on – listening to the natural world which is – trees, wind, moon, sun, air, or the innocent voice of our soul which guides us towards our true path.

For example: When you are anxious, what advice do you get? Just take a walk in nature. And why is that so? Because nature calms us. It heals us. We are a part of nature. In fact, we are nature.

This is what I have interpreted from Tokue’s words. When people say they get the best ideas when they are in the bathroom, it’s not because your sh*t produces a chemical that makes you creative. It’s more like a metaphor. When you are more relaxed mentally, you automatically get to hear the answers your mind always had. 

It happens to me all the time. When I am alone and take time off from the worldly noise, I feel like I suddenly got the answer to something I was wondering about. I feel more calm when I spend time around nature. I feel like I am seen.

I don’t know what Tokue intended to say because, at the end of the story, it is mentioned that trees whispered something to Tokue. But what I understood is, the answers you want are inside you, you need to practice listening to it and that practice is to spend less time with the world and more with nature. Nature will relax you and bring you back to your core.

Ending it with Tokue’s words,

“Sniff the wind and listen to the murmur of the trees. I pay attention to the language of the things that don’t use words. That’s what I call listening.”

– Sweet Bean Paste

2. You Can Always Choose:

Life happens to everyone, doesn’t it? You are not the first or last or the only one to suffer, right?

But at the time of suffering, we often forget all these big talks. Because the pain is bigger than the wisdom.

However, standing right beside your current situation, there will be an option B – Choice. Choose what you make out of what you have been given. If God wasn’t kind to you, you can be to yourself.

Seeing Tokue’s journey, it made me question ‘How can someone still want to live let alone find the meaning of life?’

But Tokue does. She feels everyone has a meaning in life. And that meaning is to make something out of ourselves. That meaning is to believe that you are an essential part of the world. Without you, no one would have looked at your mother the way you do. No one would have loved your father the way you do. Your meaning in life, to be here, is bigger than you think and it is not limited to the pain or financial situation. 

So, choose what you want to focus on when you are in pain. You can either wait for a long time until it all gets over or you can choose to enjoy some parts of your life, even with pain. 


Irrespective of whether I enjoyed the story or not, I found these two lessons beautiful from the book. If you like slow reads with no extra drama or strange plot twists, you can give this book a read.

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