Other Japan Books IV

Other Books on Japan IV

Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Shrines of Japan's Ancient Religion

Shinto Shrines: A Guide.

Latitude 20

by Joseph Cali (with John Dougill)

ISBN: 978-0824837136
328 pp

There are currently over 80,000 Shinto shrines in Japan. Although the number is down from the 200,000 or so in the late 19th century, Shinto shrines are still ubiquitous across much of the archipelago and form an important part of Japanese society. This book explains what Shinto is, the functions of the shrines and looks at depth into around six dozen of the most important ones.
Following a succinct explanation of what Shinto is and a history of the religion the authors take readers on a journey across Japan, separating the major shrines by geographical regions. Cali and Dougill's book dedicates up to eight pages for the major shrines such as Ise shrine in Mie prefecture, Fushimi Inari in Kyoto and the shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji in Tokyo. The explainer on why Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine is controversial is particularly strong.
A number of lesser-known shrines are also selected for inclusion and boast strong arguments about why they were chosen. All entries feature sumptuous photos, a list of special features, location information, foundation date, particular kami (spirits) that can be worshipped at the shrine, what the name means and a list of major festivals held there. 
By reading this book you can learn why there are significantly less Shinto shrines now than in the 19th century, which shrine has a connection to Thomas Edison, why mirrors are important objects in Shinto, why there are many more shrines than priests and why some shrines have statues of foxes while others favour deer.
Cali and Dougill also explain the meaning behind the costumes worn by priests and different sections of the shrine buildings, something that many Japanese nowadays may be unfamiliar with. Their book though, rather than a long, dull essay on what Shinto is, is more like a guide book suitable for both a general reader or a shrine spotter. There is a festival calendar at the back of the book allowing you to find out what Shinto festivals are being held when and where throughout the year across Japan. The glossary is also useful.
The small, but significant Shinto shrine on the summit of Mount Fuji is included in the book; the only noticeable absence is the Shinto shrine within the grounds of the Ryogoku sumo stadium in Tokyo. In addition, there is disappointingly little written in the book about the strong ties between sumo and Shinto, although there is mention of a one man sumo festival where grapplers wrestle against an unseen spirit.

Simon Duncan

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Cutting Back: My Apprenticeship in the Gardens of Kyoto

Cutting Back: My Apprenticeship in the Gardens of Kyoto.

Timber Press

by Leslie Buck

ISBN: 978-1604697933
279 pp

In her mid-thirties, Leslie Buck dropped out of her California life and into a new one in Japan. She moved from a progressive, alternative West Coast milieu to medieval Kyoto.
Already an accomplished landscaper prior to making this decision, she had always wanted to go to Japan - specifically, Kyoto - to apprentice with a master gardener.
Thus begins a journey of self-discovery, a trial fraught with stress, new challenges, and the unknown.
She arrives in Kyoto speaking almost no Japanese. In spite of this, she manages to land a job with one of the leading gardeners in Kyoto, the ancient capital with its many gardens located in the city's temples, shrines, and villas needing to be cared for.
Cutting Back is Buck's story of her quest and her time in Kyoto, both professionally and personally.
Japanese gardening is a man's world, a man's occupation, and an absolutely hierarchical work place. Orders are not questioned but carried out, your superior is right, no matter what you may or may not bring to the job.
For a foreign woman to thrive in this environment requires a level of grit and fearlessness most are not endowed with.
And, for a male reader long resident in Kyoto - in the part of Kyoto that is home to many of the best known gardening companies and gardeners - Cutting Back is not, thankfully an "Eat, Live, Pray" type of memoir. There are of course wise older Asian men in the book - her boss - but he is reticent like almost all Japanese craftsmen. He does not tell, he shows. Thus, there are few scenes of wisdom being dispensed to an eager young foreigner in the mysterious East - Hollywood trope - and many of the actual work in the gardens and Buck's daily life in the city.
Does the author return to the US a more enlightened and holistic person after her time in the gardens of Japan's ancient capital? Read this excellent memoir to find out.

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Kampo: A Clinical Guide to Theory and Practice, Second Edition

Kampo: A Clinical Guide to Theory and Practice, Second Edition.

Jessica Kingsley Publishers

by Keisetsu Otsuka (Translated by Gretchen De Soriano, Nigel Dawes)

ISBN: 978-1848193291
224 pp

Like much of Japanese culture and technology, Kampo, a traditional medical system, derives from classical Chinese medicine. Like all elements of foreign culture incorporated into Japan, though, Kampo has diverged from the original and become an entity unto itself.
The term Kampo is used in Japan today to refer generally to non-Western medicine - the pouches of crushed up leaves and animal parts you really don't want to know about - used to cure colds, aches, and more.
More broadly speaking, though, Kampo includes diagnostic methods, therapeutic approaches, and the above medicines.
In cities around Japan, one can find shops that specialize in Kampo. The "pharmacist" will listen to your illness and then, based on that, make up medicine for you while you wait. For those who do not speak or read Japanese but have an interest in treatments a bit less harsh than what is available at a hospital, Kampo: A Clinical Guide to Theory and Practice, Second Edition, is a good introduction.
Dr Keisetsu Otsuka's work remains the classic of its field. This is not bedtime reading; it is a clinical handbook that summarizes diagnostic theory and methodology. From there, it outlines 80 principal formulas. In addition, it includes a comprehensive index of 120 major herbal formulas and 180 individual herbal ingredients.
Once when in Hong Kong, I stumbled into a large Chinese Medicine emporium. It was full of display cases filled with the actual ingredients - plant, animal, etc., dried - and explanations in English and Chinese. A well-dressed middle-aged gentleman asked what I was looking for. He turned out to be a doctor of internal medicine who was getting something for a cold. "If I get cancer, I will get treatment from colleagues I knew in medical school who work in large hospitals here in Hong Kong. For daily issues, though, I am a regular at this shop."
For those who subscribe to that view, Kampo: A Clinical Guide to Theory and Practice is a great reference tool.

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The Art of Japanese Sword Polishing

The Art of Japanese Sword Polishing.

Kodansha International

by Setsudo Takaiwa, Yoshindo Yoshikara, Leon & Hiroko Kapp

ISBN: 4-7700-2494-0
192 pp

To understand the art of Japanese swords is to understand the sword itself. The great connoisseurs of the renowned Japanese swords were also themselves polishers. To forge these swords takes a prodigious amount of time. Finishing the sword, however - bringing out its color, texture, and final shade - is the work of the sword polisher.
This is the first book in English that examines in detail the techniques used by the great polishers, who train for years. The book is lush and lavish; it is filled with beautiful photos.
The authors themselves include Setsuo Takaiwa, a leading sword polisher working in Japan; Yoshindo Yoshihara, a leading polisher who lives and works in Tokyo; Leon Kapp, a molecular biologist who has written extensively on swords and polishing; and Hiroko Kapp, who is a correspondent in Tokyo.

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The Flowering Spirit

The Flowering Spirit.

Kodansha International

by Zeami, translated by William Scott Wilson

ISBN: 4-7700-2499-1
160 pp

Based on the fifteenth-century classic Fushikaden text by Noh founder Zeami, The Flowering Spirit is a new translation of this work. Written between 1400 and 1418, Fushikaden became a "secret, sought-after guide to life for Zeami's acting troupe." As late as the 1600s, the only people with access to this work were actors and the samurai class. Not until the latter part of the 19th century did Fushikaden gradually begin to become available to the general public. Although Fushikaden is about Noh drama, Zeami incorporates into his text his philosophical outlook on the art of life - "the way" - and how one goes about living according to these principles. Therein, you will find invaluable teachings on the aesthetic and spiritual culture of Japan.
Noh was the art form of choice for the samurai class; and many of its principles echo those of martial arts. Zeami incorporated Zen Buddhism, classical Japanese poetry, and his knowledge of the aristocratic lifestyle to bear in this work.
Reading The Flowering Spirit offers unique insight into Japan from a "new" perspective. William Scott Wilson, who has contributed quite a body of work in translation of classic works, has added an introduction to Noh, an appendix containing a translation of one of Zeami's greatest plays Atsumori, and an afterword. Even for the general reader, an invaluable text.

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Loving the Machine

Loving The Machine.

Kodansha International

by Timothy N. Hornyak

ISBN: 4-7700-3012-6
160 pp

Did you know that Japan produces half of the world's industrial robots and is the most automated society on earth? Or that robotic baby seals have been used in research as a way of promoting the mental wellbeing of Japan's rapidly increasing elderly population? Robots certainly have a special place in the hearts, minds and daily lives of the Japanese. They hold a prominent place in the pages of manga read by millions as well as share an honored position alongside humans in factories and workshops across the archipelago.
In Loving The Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots, Timothy N. Hornyak explores the history and development of robots in Japanese culture: from the proto-robotic clockwork automatons of the Edo Period to Aibo, Sony's robot pet dog, to Mighty Atom, the popular superpowered robot boy manga character. The book traces the history of robot making in Japan as well as surveys the depiction of robots in art and media. Hornyak also compares and contrasts the attitudes towards robots in Japan and the West and explains the massive popularity of robots in Japan as, "Simply because they are simultaneously science and fiction." The field of robotics is indeed where science and imagination, the present and the future intersect.
The full-color photographs throughout the book are a perfect complement to the text. A perfect addition to the home libraries of science geeks, robot otaku, fans of Japanese popular culture, or anybody interested in cutting-edge technology.

Lee-Sean Huang

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Principles of Reiki: What it is, how it works, and what it can do for you

Principles of Reiki: Buy this title from Amazon.

Singing Dragon

by Kajsa Krishni Borang

ISBN: 978-1848191389
128 pp

Kajsa Krishni Borang has been practising and teaching reiki since the early 1980's and in this easy to understand book she explains what it is and how it has helped her and her patients.
Borang first came into contact with Reiki when she was living in an ashram in India and Wanja Twan - a fellow Swede - introduced her to this ancient Japanese healing system. Twan learnt Reiki directly from Hawayo Takata, a Reiki master who was born in Hawaii and is credited with being the first person to bring Reiki from Japan to the west and spreading it through decades of teaching in America and Canada.
Principles of Reiki can easily be read and digested in one sitting, being a short book written in a simple style that doesn't require or presume any prior knowledge. Borang explains what Reiki is, how she came to know it, how it differs from other methods of healing and the impact it had on her life.
This book is accessible to novices but at the same time should also prove to be interesting for those who give or receive Reiki. Principles of Reiki has an interesting chapter on the history of the practice in Japan and how it spread overseas. The bulk of the book however is much more personal as Borang talks about her experience learning, teaching and using Reiki.
There are also numerous examples of the author using her knowledge of this healing method to help patients with various physical or psychological problems. Somewhat surprisingly there is also a chapter on using Reiki to treat plants and animals.
Throughout the book as the author recalls her life, she talks about living in England, France, India and Sweden and traveling to the Middle East, North and South America and yet she doesn't appear to have made a pilgrimage to Japan, the spiritual home of Reiki.
If you approach this guide to the ancient Japanese healing system as a sceptic, Borang is unlikely to change your mind as the evidence of her healing powers only comes from her. On the other hand if you are curious about Reiki or an avid practitioner you are sure to get a lot out of this book which is part introduction, part autobiography. The book concludes with some tips for finding a good teacher.

Simon Duncan

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Japanese Holistic Face Massage

Japanese Holistic Face Massage: Buy this title from Amazon.

Singing Dragon

by Rosemary Patten

ISBN: 978-1848191228
144 pp

Japanese holistic face massage has been used for centuries for both overall health purposes and to maintain a youthful complexion. Like much of traditional culture in Japan, it has its origins in China. It is based on an ancient system of Chinese medicine. Japanese Holistic Face Massage is an easy to read guide that covers how to perform the massage and also discusses the therapeutic benefits of the massage. Author Rosemary Patten begins her work with a concise account of the philosophy that supports Japanese holistic face massage. For example, she introduces Ki/Qi/prana, acupressure, and the Five Elements. Japanese Holistic Face Massage is richly illustrated and includes step-by-step instructions: the movements of the massage. Patten also showcases the health aspects of Japanese face massage. For massage therapists, health care professionals, people with interest in massage and wellbeing, this is your book.

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