Books on Japan: Other Japan Books
Other Books on Japan I
Longtime Japan resident and journalist Robert Whiting's classic book on Japanese baseball is as fresh today as when it was published. The book begins with the arrival of Bob Horner, a 29-year-old bona fide all star who was still in his prime when he arrived to play for the Yakult Swallows. Waiting for him when he landed at Narita Airport were 200 journalists, a team owner who confidently predicted--and expected--that the overweight Horner would hit 50 home runs (Horner was assigned the number 50 on his uniform as a not so subtle reminder), and a year contract worth $2 million. What Horner did not know was how different yakyu (literally, field ball) would be from the baseball he knew in America. The regimentation of Japanese teams, the rules governing many aspects of life both on the field and off - and the adjustment of moving around the world to live in a very different culture - had been and still is the undoing of many players. Whiting's work is about more than baseball and sports; it is about how Japan and Japanese approach things, how that which is imported must first be Japanized. Highly recommended.
Jumpin' Jimminy - A World War II Baseball Saga: American Flyboys and Japanese Submarines Battle it out in a Swedish World Series
If you are looking for a feel-good, somewhat improbable, and nostalgic read, search no further. Jumpin' Jimminy meets all those criteria and more. During World War II, when American bombers could not make it back to England following a raid to Germany, they often headed for neutral Sweden. In 1944, a total of 119 of these B-17s made it to Sweden. American fighters that landed in Sweden were officially interned but allowed quite a bit of freedom - to do more or less anything they wanted.
Based on these facts, Skole creates the fictitious tale of an American bomber crew composed of some of the best baseball players in the European theater. Led by a Boston Brahmin, this ragtag bunch is stuck in Sweden when a Swedish Major Karlsson informs them that a Japanese submarine crew is in similar straights - can play much better than any local team - and looking for a game. The result is a convoluted and amusing tale of keeping the Americans in Sweden long enough to arrange a "World Series" against the Japanese crew members that had run aground on the Swedish coast. They have to wait until spring so in the intervening time they get jobs, mix with locals, and prepare for the Series. A fun read.
Yakuza films have largely been ignored by film critics, but the recent success of Kitano Takeshi and the rediscovery of legendary directors Fukasaku Kinji and Suzuki Seijin has led to more interest in the genre than ever before. Japan Times film critic Mark Schilling, author of several well-received books on Japanese film and pop culture, has written a ground-breaking tome on Japanese gangster films that will appeal to both newcomers whose only exposure to the genre has been Hollywood movies starring Robert Mitchum and Michael Douglas, and die hard fans. A lot of books on Japanese film are mind-boggling and difficult to follow because the author crams in dozens of names and hundreds of titles without any sort of organization. The Yakuza Movie Book , however, is organized with great care and style and is very easy to follow. The first 150 pages are worth the cover price alone: there's a brief but concise history of Yakuza films; profiles of top actors and directors, including a rare interview with the aforementioned Suzuki Seijin (Branded To Kill , a favorite of Ghost Dog director Jim Jarmusch) and a fascinating exchange with one of Japan's busiest actors, Aikawa Sho (Dead or Alive ), who has appeared in over 140 films since 1988. The book contains reviews of over 120 films and Schilling provides enough plot details to assist readers whose ears are not fine-tuned to the rough and tumble language spoken by Japanese gangsters.
72 pp with color photos
With an introduction by former US Ambassador to Japan Edwin Reischauer, Donald Richie's Introducing Japan is a lovely coffee table book. It features extraordinary photographs by some of Japan's leading photographers. The book has sections on Tokyo, Nikko, Kamakura, Mount Fuji, Chubu (the area around Nagoya), Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Kobe, Hokkaido, and more.
Longtime Tokyo resident Donald Richie has been in Japan since the end of the War, and has been witness to the tectonic changes that have taken place since then. He has penned short pieces to accompany the photos, and, at the end, several essays on Japanese history, language, government, and economy. A beautiful book that you will return to over and over again.
96 pages, 80 full color pages
Kaori Shoji is in charge of the Tokyo book in this lovely series put out by Kodansha. And what a gem she has put together. With a nicely-written piece by Tokyoite Graham Fry to introduce the book and its subject, the photos jump out at the reader.
Seeing Tokyo is divided into sections on downtown (Asakusa, Ueno, Yanaka, Nezu; Ryogoku, Sumida; Ginza, Nihonbashi, Tsukiji), the "new"
satellite cities (Omotesando, Shibuya, Shinjuku; Roppongi, Aoyama), and
the Imperial Palace and Marunouchi.
This wonderful text takes the reader into "old" Tokyo and new. For anyone with the slightest interest in one of the most dynamic cities in the world - this is a must have book. You will come back to it over and over again.
Stone Bridge, 2005
By the 1980's, it had become hard to find a single film worthy of the respect afforded world-class Japanese directors like Ozu and Kurosawa. Not only had the film industry gone into steep artistic decline, the studio system that was responsible for films like Ugetsu Monogatari and Rashomon was in financial ruin. Then in the 90s, almost out of nowhere, independent directors, who had been shut out of the system for most of its history, began to emerge with highly original stories and innovative ways of telling them. Now, the success of The Ring and Miyazaki Hayao with foreign audiences has led to a lucrative market in Hollywood remakes of Japanese horror films and legions of anime enthusiasts all over the world.
To catch up on the films you've missed or learn more about the ones you've seen, there is no better guide than the just-published The Midnight Eye Guide to New Japanese Film . The book's authors, Tom Mes and Jasper Sharp (creators of midnighteye.com, a Japanese cinema website), have focused on 20 contemporary directors they deem the most creative and, following a synopsis of each filmmaker's career, review a number of their more important movies. The final chapter discusses a sampling of important films by a variety of directors with less developed bodies of work or older filmmakers with a recent work of interest.
Names like Imamura Shohei (Pigs and Battleships ) and Fukasaku Kinji (The Yakuza Papers ) are mentioned in passing in Donald Richie's books, but nowhere will you find such a thorough discussion of their work in English. The chapter on the ultimate independent director, Suzuki Seijun (Branded to Kill ), is also a very welcome addition to the literature as is the one on Nara-based Kawase Naomi (Sharasoju ) , the only woman featured. Other sections spotlight filmmakers like Ishii Sogo and Tsukamoto Shinya who have risen from the underground and retain strong cult followings.
With essential information on DVD releases and subtitles for each of the 97 films reviewed and over 150 photos, Mes and Sharp's book is a treasure that is sure to dictate your viewing habits for several years to come. By that time, with any luck, a companion volume will be available.
by Ken Belson and Brian Bremner
Of the 400 characters on the Sanrio roster, Hello Kitty alone accounts for nearly half of the company's annual sales. In their book, Belson and Bremner set out to explain how a mouthless cat has come to compete with Mickey Mouse and Snoopy for world domination. Kitty first appeared in 1975 on a vinyl coin purse under the word "Hello" The success of the design spawned more products and an initial flurry of popularity, but it wasn't until the mid-90s that the character really took off. The surge of interest is credited in part to the coming-of-age of the original Kitty fans, who began to yearn for an increasingly varied line of merchandise for themselves and their children. Thus, 20,000 items around the world now sport the image. The authors devote over 200 pages to the tale of Kitty. Though fascinating details are to be found throughout, the overly large print encourages the thought that a long magazine piece on the subject would have been sufficient. The chapters on Tsuji Shintaro, the Yamanashi-born founder of Sanrio, and the backlash against Hello Kitty are the most memorable for those who are not smitten with the corporate fat cat.
by Atsushi Kita
Dr. Noguchi's Journey is the biographical tale of Hideyo Noguchi's life. And what a life it was. Born into a family of sharecroppers in pre-war Japan, Noguchi suffered a serious burn as a child in the snow country of north where he was raised. The result of this was that his left hand was rendered useless, a stump. Moreover, emotionally, Noguchi was scarred for life. Surgery later allowed him some use of the hand.
Noguchi was a driven and talented man who propelled himself from rural poverty through Japanese medical school and on to the United States. There he became a star researcher at the Rockefeller Institute, working on diseases such as syphilis and tropical illnesses.
Inspiring and well translated.
by Sokyo Ono
The majority of Japanese people claim to be adherents of Buddhism. The majority of Japanese also claim adherence to Shinto, and while most visitors to Japan can claim some knowledge of Buddhism, Shinto, on the other hand, is barely known. Elements of Shinto will be encountered on any trip to Japan, either by the multitude of Shrine entrance gates (torii ) that will be found everywhere in city or country, the innumerable festivals ranging from small local affairs to huge annual extravaganza's like the Gion Matsuri, or even in that most Japanese sport - Sumo. Shinto permeates Japan. In this slim book you will find a well-rounded introduction to Shinto, an explanation of the Shrines and architecture, explanations of the various paraphernalia you will see (ropes around trees, zig-zag paper, altars etc), even explanations of the clothing worn by Shinto priests. There is a chapter on Festivals and worship rituals, and a brief synopsis of Japanese mythology. The author is an insider, so his views on the social and political elements of Shinto I find a little biased, especially his glossing over of State Shinto's involvement in militarization and WWII, but overall this is an excellent introduction to a fascinating subject.
Not since D.T. Suzuki has the evasive quality of Zen been explained so
well for the Western reader. Uchiyama Kosho was the head abbot of Antai-ji, a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto, until 1975. Born at the beginning of the
Taisho Period, Uchiyama's dream was to create ideas that would be
of help to others. This book is his gift to training monks as well as
lay people who were following the path of Zen.
Opening the Hand of Thought was translated and edited by three of his disciples: Tom Wright, Jisho Warner and Okumura Shohaku. It is a mature book on zazen (seated meditation) written for the serious devotee with the fervent hope of reaching the other shore - not of enlightenment but of surpassing suffering.
Uchiyama's basic teaching is that we should not be consumed by our thoughts, which create the drama of desire. Instead, he urges us to simply let go of random thoughts as they arise and believe that they are the same as the floating clouds in the blue sky. The book expounds the central theme of "letting go of grasping, calculative, self-profiting thought" - until somehow one is convinced to throw in the towel and retire from the rat race. He suggests that we accept today, who we are now, and not ridicule others or ourselves. Then we will find a life that is outside of opinions, devoid of material wants and discover the value of "existence".
Although he never left Japan, his life's theme was connected with both Eastern culture and Western traditions. Before being ordained as a monk, he studied Western philosophy and Christianity at Waseda University in Tokyo and this may be the reason he was able to convey the mysterious language of Zen so fluidly to the non-Japanese reader. His teachings are about seeing our life through a larger perspective. For Uchiyama living in a monastery and practicing Zen was to strive to attain the highest wisdom while living a spartan life. It is a life for those who no longer perceive the use, aim and meaning of present "civilization" worthy and prefer to follow the ancient path of Buddha.
John Einarsen's Zen and Kyoto is a welcome guide for those with an interest in visiting the ancient capital and entering the world of Zen. As a young aspirant studying in Hokkaido, Einarsen sojourned to Kyoto, where after running out of funds, he wrote, Xeroxed and assembled by hand a guide for Westerners visiting Kyoto. Now, a quarter of a century later, the circle is complete and the book realized.
The guide comprises an overview on Zen, a short history, the Heart Sutra, maps, contact numbers, and events, venerable monks and a closing section on Zen and culture. Between his words are his photographs, which give the book an almost sublime beauty. The images allow the words to penetrate still deeper.
Written in both English and Japanese, it will also help Japanese people with their English-speaking guests. A guide, a light, with bits of ancient wisdom such as this quote by D.T. Suzuki, "Life is a sumi-e painting which must be executed once and for all time without hesitation, without intellection, and no corrections are permissible or possible. Zen therefore ought to be caught while the thing is going on, neither before nor after. It is an act of one instant....to get hold of this fleeting life as it flees and not after it has flown."
And just when a feeling of self-satisfaction begins to arise in one's breast about the amount of knowledge acquired, the final page of the book breaks our illusions with: "Random ideas are relatively innocuous, but ideologies, beliefs, opinions, and points of view, not to mention factual knowledge accumulated since birth are shadows which obscure the light of truth." And we are thrown back to where we began, empty. That is Zen. No mind; alive and well, thriving in the ancient capital of Kyoto.
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by Caroline Pover, Ai Kawabe (illustrator)
For western women resident in Japan, this is the bible, the encyclopedia, and the Hold Grail all rolled in one. In spite of a somewhat flippant - but nevertheless clever - title, Being A Broad in Japan covers all the details women will have when living in Japan. It is comprehensive on, among other topics, survival (emergencies, finance, hair, etc.), home, health, relationships, becoming a mother, jobs and the workplace, Japanese language, and leaving Japan.
However, this guide is much more than a list or a yellow pages - though it is both of those. It is interspersed with quotes and anecdotes from the lives of many women who have struggled with some aspect of living in Japan. In the section on relationships, one woman voices the commonly heard refrain about western men in Japan: "Foreign guys are a big disappointment here. Mostly, they aren't interested in foreign women. Also, I find that many of them, after getting so much attention in Japan, start thinking they are really great." Another women touches on the loneliness many feel, in particular for lesbians: "If I were in New York, not only would I have more women to choose from for potential friendship, I would also have a developed circle of friends to support me. I have not been on my own in 18 about years - and the loneliness, coupled with the foreign land, has been profound."
There is much advice, many a telephone number, basic Japanese language support, and much more. Indispensable for both those coming and for those still struggling with some aspect or another of Japan.
by Michiko Chiba, Yuichi Tanabe, Takashi Tojo, Tsutomu Muraoka
This handsome coffee table book traces the history of the Japanese dog to its Paleolithic roots. There are today six officially recognized Japanese dogs: Akita, Shiba, Kishu, Shikoku, Kai, and Hokkaido. In addition, though unrecognized by Nippo - "the largest organization dedicated to preserving and managing native breeds" - there are also four unrecognized breeds: the Japanese Spitz, Japanese Terrier, Chin, and Tosa Fighting Dog. The book includes sections on Nippo standards, detailed descriptions of each breed, and the history of dogs in Japan. In particular, the section on Hunting and Japanese Dogs is fascinating. The writers occasionally slip into hyperbole and stereotype of the "we Japanese" variety. A final section on Well-Known Dogs in Japan reintroduces the oft-told tale of Japan's best-known dog: Hachiko. This Akita is known to all Japanese. The urban legend has it that Hachiko went every night to meet its owner at Tokyo's Shibuya Station - long after the owner was gone and dead and Hachiko had been moved to a distant part of Tokyo. The legend gained currency in pre-war Tokyo and was co-opted in the build-up to war - especially the dog's tenacious loyalty. Foreigners in Tokyo have long hinted at the station-master's sweets as what really lured the "loyal" Hachiko. Whichever version you believe, you can see Hachiko today as he was immortalized in bronze. The statue in front of Shibuya Station is one of Tokyo's best-known meeting points.
by Ryokyu Endo, Michael Christini (Translator)
Ryokyu Endo's latest book, The New Shiatsu Method, Helping the Body to Heal Itself, outlines the fundamental differences between Western and Eastern healing methods in an easy-to-read, nearly narrative format. He clearly explains the natural development of Tao Shiatsu, beginning with the classic shiatsu method, moving to Zen Shiatsu and finally to Tao Shiatsu . Tao Shiatsu introduces new elements to the practice including ki training for the practitioner as well as an expansion of the classic set of meridians and tsubo , the lines along which ki energy flows and treatment points, respectively. An important distinction of Tao Shiatsu is that, unlike classic Shiatsu, tsubo are not fixed points that can be mastered by studying a chart, but instead are dependent on the individual. Endo emphasizes that the dynamic nature of ki necessitates changes to the original form of shiatsu . Because ki changes in individuals and communities, shiatsu must adapt as well to contemporary needs. Endo explains the concept of an ever-changing stream of ki from personal experience, classical Eastern philosophy, as well as modern research in quantum physics, creating a thought-provoking topic for his readers. The flow of this book is quite natural; the first four chapters ground the reader in the basic elements necessary for ki work, emphasizing ki-oneness between the practitioner and the giver. The next three chapters provide specific instruction for Tao Shiatsu treatment, while the seventh chapter presents the Basic Form used in all Tao Shiatsu clinics in a detailed, clearly illustrated step-by-step format. This book is certainly useful for both the beginner just stepping into the world of Tao Shiatsu as well as the more experienced practitioner who wants to delve deeper into the theoretical basis of their shiatsu practice.
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