Books on Japan: Other Japan Books
Other Books on Japan II
Faber & Faber
Why did film making legend Martin Scorsese describe The Emperor and the Wolf as a "must read" for those interested in Japanese cinema? Well, it may have something to do with the fact that, remarkably, there has been no English-language biography of legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa until this work. Nor, almost as remarkably, has there been one of legendary actor Toshiro Mifune. But perhaps most striking of all is the fact that film historian Galbraith has attempted a combined biography of these two icons of Japanese film.
The reason for such an unusual and ambitious approach is made clear from the start - it was the pair's movie collaborations that cemented their standing as great artists. The result of Galbraith's decision to follow their lives as they entwined and grew apart is a hefty tome, but one that will reward anyone who is intrigued by the premise. Despite its physical size, the book's contents are not weighed down by academic prose (though it contains exhaustive notes for those who seek them). Galbraith's extensive interviews with the cast and crew intimately connected with Kurosawa and Mifune have resulted in a living portrait of both, filled with fresh quotations that, while they may occasionally come off sounding a little clumsy in their English translations, add human depth to Galbraith's intelligent tracing of the course of their lives.
Another English-language first is the extensive filmography which details all the movies of the autocratic director (the eponymous Emperor) and his enigmatic leading man (the Wolf) - even those made before they achieved such a status. This includes summaries of films that are no longer extant, or unavailable in the West, making it a unique resource for those researching the men or their works.
The Emperor and the Wolf enlightens us by comparing and contrasting its two subjects, but also by indirectly doing the same with Japan and the West. Galbraith not only provides us with the thoughts of Kurosawa's and Mifune's domestic allies and detractors, but also with the reactions of commentators and audiences in the United States and elsewhere to their work. Thus the author is tuning in to a fascinating intercultural artistic dialogue that has much to offer movie buffs and media analysts alike.
by Taro Gold
From the author of Open Your Mind, Open Your Life and The Tao of Mom, Wabi Sabi introduces readers to the "imperfection" of much of Japanese art and craft. And how this is the source of true beauty and growth. Gold highlights how Wabi Sabi embraces "weakness" and "flaws" to produce beauty. It is a short step from Japanese porcelain and traditional homes - in which goods aged from use were revered as objects of beauty - to human foibles. Gold espouses a universal Wabi Sabism that celebrates that which is imperfect in all of us. Singing off key, the small "mistakes" we all make - by acknowledging and accepting these, we can according to Gold lead fuller and happier lives. Lovingly illustrated.
Kuniaki Imoto is a Japanese physician who from the age of five began to learn from his father the holistic healing method known as "seitai", meaning "a body in good order". According to the principles of seitai, the human body regulates its own health, and so-called "illness" is in fact merely the manifestation of a bodily imbalance which, under normal circumstances, it can act to redress. However, Dr. Imoto contends, lifestyle factors misalign the all-important, grounding bones of the spine, and prevent the proper flow of "ki", our life-force. Then Western medicine merely treats the symptoms rather than the underlying cause: this imbalance. His book presents us with his own, enhanced version of seitai, named, modestly enough, Imoto Seitai. It begins with seven postures designed to diagnose one current state of misalignment and disrupted ki-flow, moves on to recuperative techniques, and finishes with a set of maintenance exercises. The final pages contain a handy summary chart outlining symptoms (for example, constipation), underlying cause (overeating), the parts of the body that are involved (four vertebrae in this case), treatment (less food, and two specific exercises), and in some cases a hot-towel treatment (on the abdomen).
Filled with numerous instructional photos, The Seitai Method is impressive in its scope and radical but consistently argued approach. But it may put off some people with bald generalisations such as "the human body becomes sick in order to cure problems that arise in the body". It sees a cold, for example, as a natural and indeed desirable bodily reaction to internal imbalance rather than a viral attack on the immune system -- but taking the argument to its extreme, I wonder whether the author would consider virulent influenza or cholera to be similarly "curative". Still, when I showed the book to my father, he obtained considerable relief from joint pain by following the simple exercises to free up his ki circulation. The Seitai Method may well have a place on your bookshelf next to the conventional medical guide.
by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, William Scott Wilson (Translator)
Hagakure, or "In the Shadow of Leaves", is a guide for samurai made up mainly of seemingly unrelated anecdotes and sayings that are intended to provide insight and guidance in how to live, in conduct. Not just in how to live, but rather in how to live in the spirit of Bushido - the legendary Way of the Warrior.
The text was prepared as the Period of Warring States was ending - and with it the raison d'etre of the samurai class. Peace and prosperity brought with it a need for merchants and administrators, not samurai and their ancient codes. And thus the existential dilemma: how to live in an era that lacked warfare.
Ivan Morris has called Hagakure "The most influential of all samurai treatises ever written." It is the samurai's answer to Pascal's Pensees - though without any of the logic or mathematical precision. The "philosophy" rejects the practical and convenient and material in favor of the intuitive, in favor of the Way. The Way, of course, is complete disregard for self, an embracing of death: "the way of the samurai is found in death." The only way to serve one's Lord was to be ever ready to die on his behalf. For many years, this text was known only to those who served directly under the author. The author himself wanted it thrown in a fire. In more recent times, Yukio Mishima counted himself a devotee.
The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura has become a minor classic of writings on Japan. The author, a well-known art historian and collector who spent some time curating in the USA, wrote 3 books in the first years of the twentieth century. The purpose of all 3 books was to "explain" a misunderstood Japan to western audiences, a field of publishing that has continued to produce large numbers of books right up to today. His dislike of the West and his belief in the superiority of Japan shine through in all three books, and The Book Of Tea contains a fair amount of rantings to this effect, but getting beyond that it is very well written, especially considering it was written in English, and a good introduction to "Teaism", the Way of Tea. However it contains few concrete details of the tea ceremony itself, rather uses the tea ceremony to illustrate Japanese philosophy and aesthetics. After a brief history of tea, including a potted history of China, he comes to the heart of the book which is an explanation of Zen, the philosophy behind the tea ceremony. In this he excels, managing to explain succinctly a topic that few have managed to do so lucidly. If you are wanting a basic introduction to Japanese culture, or to Zen, this small book will pleasantly provide it.
by Kyuzo Mifune
This book, a classic work by a renowned master, provides the student of Judo with clear, step-by-step instructions for hundreds of techniques and variations accompanied by around 1,000 black and white photographs of the author and his students demonstrating them. It will be a valuable resource for judo practitioners looking for commentary from one of the true greats of recent times.
Of course, those without a background in Judo will not make progress with this book alone. Even the photographs will be of little help to those not already familiar with the basic movements of the art. All martial arts, being inseparable from regular practice, can only find partial expression in print. General readers will be able to appreciate Mifune's introduction to the history of judo and his thoughts on the philosophy of life that its practice entails.
by Ben Mezrich
Ugly Americans tells the story of young Ivy league graduates based in Osaka who made millions dealing in hedge-funds in the early 1990s.
John Malcolm (a pseudonym), a middle-class football player from Princeton, arrives in Tokyo in 1992 to play in an all-star game and meets a powerful hedge fund trader by the name of Dean Carney, who has much in common with the Gordon Gecko character from Wall Street.
Carney hires Malcolm to work in the Osaka office of his company even though he has little understanding of finance, but his prot is a quick study, and soon Malcolm is rubbing shoulders with the inner circle of young Ivy League hot shots dressed in ten-thousand-dollar suits who boast of their sexual conquests and shady deals in exclusive nightclubs and brothels. Malcolm gets into some trouble with the yakuza and has to make the deal of a lifetime in order to free himself from their grasp. Despite the hype, Ugly Americans never delivers the thrills it promises and is a real let-down.
Mezrich spends too much time drooling over the Japanese sex industry and not enough time on the specifics of hedge-fund trading. He also seems to think that Osaka is some backwater hick town: "There are about a hundred-thousand foreigners living in Tokyo. In Osaka there are maybe fifty gaijin in the whole fucking city. For some of the natives, you might be the only white person they see all year. And for some of the chicks, you might be the only white dude they fuck in their life." (Mezrich was also sloppy in concealing the identity of "John Malcolm" whose real name has been outed in several reviews on Amazon.)
Actor Kevin Spacey has recently acquired the rights to turn Ugly Americans into yet another gaijin-in-Japan movie. Matt Damon, call your agent.
by Toshiro Daigo
Judo is one of the oldest and most revered martial arts in Japan. Over hundreds of years, it has developed three primary areas of technique: throwing, grappling, and striking. Of these, throwing (nage-waza) can be counted among the most fascinating and thrilling of any martial art.
Due to the increased popularity of judo in recent years, there has been a corresponding increase in technique. Kodokan Judo: Throwing Techniques attempts to and does outline the basic maneuvers - on up to the most advanced moves. The book has over 1800 photographs. The text that accompanies this makes even the smallest point clear.
Toshiro Daigo was the chief instructor at Kodokan, which is a mecca for judo-ka. A must for fans and practitioners alike.
Donald Richie is the undisputed western doyen of Japanese film, and this makes his updated guide to the industry's first century indispensable to the Japano-cinephile. Richie guides us adroitly and eruditely from the very first, unnamed motion picture of 1899, which simply captured dancing geisha, through to the multi-award-winning film Nobody Knows (2004) by Kore-eda Hirokazu. Small but numerous and well-chosen black-and-white stills provide a useful illustration of his observations throughout.
Richie is careful to place the films in their cultural and historical context, while remaining conceptually agile enough to return to films that have either directly influenced later works, or, perhaps even more significantly, share recurring aesthetic or thematic elements. He is happy to jump around in time a little if it illuminates a commonality or a contrast worth pointing out. One of his main contentions is that Japanese movies on the whole work to 'present' rather than to 'represent' - that is, their origins in highly stylized art forms such as kabuki have lent them and their audience a consciousness of form with "no assumption that raw reality is being displayed". He is quick to acknowledge the myriad influences of western film on the Japanese, but finds in this favouring of the representational mode a distinctively Japanese reworking of these elements that has gone on to influence western directors in its own way.
This new edition is made even more useful to the general reader by an up-to-date list of videos and DVDs of Japanese films readily available in the West. It is by no means an exhaustive record of Japanese film of any era - many quite recent films are still only available in the original Japanese - but it gives a realistic idea of what translated material is out there, as well as a frank assessment of its artistic merits.
Shinto is notoriously difficult to define. Common definitions range from "the ancient indigenous religion of Japan" to "an invented tradition of the Meiji State", both of which conceal more than they reveal. Consequently most histories of Shinto leave out details that contradict the ideology or viewpoint of the writer. Finally though, there is a history translated into English that covers most of the strands that have been woven into creating what is now known as Shinto. The authors treat "kami worship" as the unifying thread that connects Japan's ancient religious practices with Shinto as it is known today and approach it as a religious system composed of three parts; constituents, network, and substance. Constituents are the people who make and carry the religion, and include the makers, founders, priests etc as well as the people who are the believers and participants in the rituals. Network forms the organization of the religion, in "hard" form such as sacred sites, shrines, etc and in "soft" form, the hierarchy of the organizations etc. Substance refers to the message of a religion, its scriptures as well as its sermons. How all of these parts have changed, sometimes slowly, sometimes dramatically, is the basis of this book. By using such a broad definition of Shinto the authors are able to include those practices collectively known as "Folk Shinto", as well as "Sect Shinto", "Shinto-derived new religions", and even Shugendo, which, until the Edo period was at least as much Shinto as it was Buddhism. The book is divided into four time periods, beginning with Ancient and Classical Japan wherein Shinto is firmly placed within an East Asian religious system, thereby denying its oft-claimed uniqueness. The second section, The Medieval Period, focuses on the merging of the Kami with Buddhism, including the ways Japanese Buddhism was influenced by Kami worship as well as vice versa, producing Sanno Shinto, Ryobu Shinto, and Watarai Shinto, among others. The third section, Early Modern, examines the whole slew of Shinto Schools and sects that arose during the period that was dominated by Confucian philosophy including the nativist National Learning movement of such scholars as Norinaga and Atsutane whose studies were instrumental in creating the forms Shinto took in the final section, the Modern Period. The final section feels a little skimpy, a little too fast; it covers a lot of ground in fewer pages. It doesn't miss any of the major points though and ends with an overview of the major sects and Shinto influenced New Religions. I can't recommend this book enough; it works as an excellent bridge between the overly-simplistic histories of Shinto such as are found in a lot of introductory literature on Shinto and the increasing number of more advanced studies that focus on narrower aspects or time-periods of Shinto history.
by Dave Lowry
Dave Lowry, former apprentice to master swordsman Shinkage-ryu, documented his initial journey in Autumn Lightning while still in the US. The journey continues in Persimmon Wind, Lowry's latest work. When his teacher returned to Japan, Lowry vowed to follow him to Japan. Ten years later, he finally set out.
Persimmon Wind documents his time and experiences in Japan. Part cultural anthropology, part martial arts primer, part profound insight into a Japan few will ever see, Persimmon is a wonderful book.
Lowry is a prolific writer who writes on martial arts and Japanese culture.
by Alan Booth
Alan Booth was a Brit whose forte was walking around Japan. His first book on the subject, the classic The Roads To Sata, was published in 1985 and documents his epic journey on foot from the northern tip of Hokkaido to the southern tip of Kyushu, a trip that one critic described as a 2,000 mile pub-crawl. Looking For The Lost, his last book, was published in 1994, shortly after his untimely death from cancer, and it concerns three shorter journeys on foot through the hinterland of Japan.
The first journey takes him to the Tsugaru peninsular in Aomori Prefecture where he follows in the footsteps of Dazai Osamu, a novelist who revisited his hometown in Tsugaru forty four years earlier. The second journey finds him in Kyushu, retracing the route taken by Saigo on his final retreat, the reality of which bears little resemblance to how it was portrayed in Hollywood's rendition in The Last Samurai. The final walk finds him heading north out of Nagoya in search of remnants of the Heike, the clan that was virtually wiped out in the Genpei War of the late twelfth century. On all his walks he stays mainly to the back roads, not mountain trails, and he usually sleeps in ryokan or minshoku, not in a tent, leading to interactions with local people (invariably over a beer or three), and combined with his encyclopedic knowledge of Japanese history and culture we gain insights into a Japan that is little known by those who stick to the cities and major tourist sites. This final book also contains many of his reflections on how Japan has changed in the 25 years since he first lived here, noticeably that travel for foreigners is much easier now. Excellent travel writing.
First published in 1985 and superseded only partially by more recent books, The Haiku Handbook remains the best introduction to haiku written in English. It occupies a niche between the works of Harold G. Henderson and R. H. Blyth, being more comprehensive than the former without the koan-like paradoxes of the latter.
In addition to chapters fulfilling the title's promise to show how to write, share, and teach haiku, it also includes a short history of haiku from Basho's predecessors to modern haiku around the world, as well as chapters on related genres such as senryu and haibun. Although The Haiku Handbook is geared towards newcomers to the genre, it also contains material of interest to more experienced haijin (haiku poets). This includes in-depth discussions on Buson's "Visit to Uji" and Basho's revisions of one of his most famous haiku, as well as a season word list for quick reference.
Apart from the outdated resource section, this book is still one of the clearest and most comprehensive introductions to haiku in English and is also a handy reference work for experienced poets.
Peter D. Evan
translated by Brian Hutchins
Way of the Baby: Secrets of Mastering the Parent is another book that seeks to tap into the Eastern or Japanese "way," the path that dictates form and brings enlightenment. This small book, though, is not devoted to flower arranging or a martial art but rather how to raise a parent. Western readers seeking ways of understanding their little of bundle of joy may experience that "a-ha" moment of recognition when reading this text. The original text was written by Seiya Kuramoto, a seventeenth-century samurai from Gunma, Japan. It documents how babies come to master their parents. It is divided into five sections: The Earth Book, The Water Book, The Fire Book, The Wind Book, and The Book of the Void. At the end The Earth Book section, there is a list of nine main principles. For example, in The Earth Book, #5 is "a toy appears more interesting in the hand of another." And, so indeed it does. And, so indeed will all parents nod in recognition. This book is thus a How To aimed at the pre-literate set. Parents are thus left to disseminate and consider how the little one is progressing in its domination of the household. The translation appears fairly literal. This is not criticism, but rather a comment on the organization of the text, which, like Japanese prose, allows for and encourages digression. To some Western readers, this may be disconcerting at first. If you go with the flow of the book as a whole, you will enjoy it.
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