BOOK REVIEWS: Japan

Some light reading material to get you excited about the upcoming Japan 2017 conference.


Lost Japan by Alex Kerr M.A.

This is an enchanting and fascinating insight into Japanese landscape, culture, history and future. Originally written in Japanese, this passionate, vividly personal book draws on the author's experiences in Japan over thirty years. Alex Kerr brings to life the ritualized world of Kabuki, retraces his initiation into Tokyo's boardrooms during the heady Bubble Years, and tells the story of the hidden valley that became his home. But the book is not just a love letter. Haunted throughout by nostalgia for the Japan of old, Kerr's book is part paean to that great country and culture, part epitaph in the face of contemporary Japan's environmental and cultural destruction. Winner of Japan's Shincho Gakugei Literature Prize, and now fully revised in a new edition. Alex Kerr is an American writer, antiques collector and Japanologist. Lost Japan is his most famous work. He was the first foreigner to be awarded the Shincho Gakugei Literature Prize for the best work of non-fiction published in Japan.

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Hitching Rides with Buddha by Will Ferguson

Will Ferguson's classic book about Japan, for all fans of the bestselling Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw. With the same fervour they have for outlandish game shows and tiny gadgets, the Japanese go nuts each spring when the cherry blossoms sweep from island to island towards the country's northerly tip. Will Ferguson was celebrating the event in the standard fashion. And after way too much sake he announced he would be the first person in recorded history to follow the blossom's progress end to end. To make it a challenge worth doing, he'd hitchhike all the way: relying on the kindness of some very weird and wonderful strangers. Mixing his penchant for biting observation with wicked humour, Ferguson starts at the southernmost tip of Cape Sata and heads north for distant Hokkaido. Whether he is doing the forbidden and not knowing it, or holding "conversations by non sequitur," it is a journey full of misadventures and revelations. The resulting travelogue is one of the funniest and most illuminating books ever written about Japan. "To make matters worse, I decided to hitchhike. Striking a heroic stance, I declared my intention to my Japanese friends to become the first person ever to hitchhike the length of Japan, end-to-end, cape-to-cape, sea-to-sea. This did not impress them as much as I had hoped. "Why would you want to do that?" they asked, genuinely puzzled. "There is no reason to hitchhike. That's why we built the Bullet Train." Others worried about my safety. "But," I would argue, "Japan is a very safe country, is it not?" "Oh, yes. Very safe. Safest in the world." "So whyshouldn't I hitchhike?" "Because Japan is dangerous." And so on. Now, I will admit that mooching rides across Japan is not a major achievement -- I mean, it's not like I paddled up the Amazon or discovered insulin or anything -- but I am the first person ever to do this, so allow me my hubris. When I left my home in Minamata City aboard a southbound train, I felt suitably bold with my backpack and muscular thumb. "I'm going to hitchhike the length of Japan," I told the man beside me. He smiled and nodded. "I'm going to follow the cherry blossoms." He nodded. "All the way to Russia," I said. He smiled again, and soon after changed seats. --from Hitching Rides with Buddha

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Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

This story is a rare and utterly engaging experience. It tells the extraordinary story of a geisha -summoning up a quarter century from 1929 to the post-war years of Japan's dramatic history, and opening a window into a half-hidden world of eroticism and enchantment, exploitation and degradation. A young peasant girl is sold as servant and apprentice to a renowned geisha house. She tells her story many years later from the Waldorf Astoria in New York. Her memoirs conjure up the perfection and the ugliness of life behind rice-paper screens, where young girls learn the arts of geisha - dancing and singing, how to wind the kimono, how to walk and pour tea, and how to beguile the land's most powerful men.

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Angry White Pyjamas : An Oxford Poet Trains with the Tokyo Riot Police
By Robert Twigger

A brilliant and captivating insight into the bizarre nature of contemporary Japan. Adrift in Tokyo, teaching giggling Japanese highschool girls how to pronounce Tennyson correctly, Robert Twigger came to a revelation about himself: he'd never been fit. In a bid to escape the cockroach infestation and sweaty squalor of a cramped apartment in Fuji Heights, Twigger sets out to cleanse his body and his mind. Not knowing his fist from his elbow the author is sucked into the world of Japanese martial arts, and the brutally demanding course of budo training taken by the Tokyo Riot Police, where any ascetic motivation soon comes up against blood-stained dogis and fractured collarbones. In Angry White Pyjamas Robert Twigger skilfully blends the ancient with the modern - the ultra-traditionalism, ritual and violence of the dojo (training academy) with the shopping malls, nightclubs and scenes of everyday Tokyo life in the twenty-first century - to provide an entertaining and captivating glimpse of contemporary Japan.

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