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Book Review: The Way Of Whisky By Dave Broom – Photography By Kohei Take

January 31, 2018 Leave a comment

‘Renowned whisky expert Dave Broom has been visiting Japan’s distilleries for the past 17 years and is recognised as a leading commentator on this fascinating whisky style… …Dave investigates what makes Japanese whisky Japanese, the secret of ‘Whisky-do’.’ (Octopus)

The Way of Whisky press imagesThe first impression on seeing this book, even without opening it, was expensive coffee table book. At a glance it is beautifully put together with stunning photography by Kohei Take. Thankfully, on reading the Introduction it becomes obvious it’s so much more than that. It’s the Introduction that nails the aim of the book and it’s surprisingly close to a Buddhist concept, that of seeing the universe in a sheet of paper (what the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh calls ‘Clouds in Each Paper’) except in this case it’s applied to Japanese whisky. It’s in this typically Japanese approach, highlighted by Glaswegian whisky expert Broom’s analysis, that there is so much more involved than just the brewing process; an in Read more…

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Book Review: On the Tracks of 007 – You Only Live Twice 50th Anniversary Guide to Japan

January 15, 2018 Leave a comment

Go on an exciting journey from Tokyo to Kagoshima, revisiting all the filming locations used in You Only Live Twice!

Front cover“Go on an exciting journey from Tokyo to Kagoshima, revisiting all the filming locations used in You Only Live Twice. From Osato Chemicals HQ to Tiger Tanaka’s countryside house, from Blofeld’s volcano base to the remote shrine where Bond married Kissy. An action packed adventure!” (Rear Cover)

Written by Martijn Mulder (author of “On the tracks of 007”), who, according to his Twitter account, is a writer – musician – traveller – historian – photographer living in Holland (sic) this is the field guide to film locations in Japan for the film ‘You Only Live Twice’ published to mark the 50th anniversary of the release of the film. Read more…

Book Review: Unbeaten Tracks In Japan By Isabella Bird

January 2, 2018 Leave a comment

A remarkable contribution to the world of explorative literature of early modern Japan!

isabella_bird_unbeaten_tracks_book_An interesting and charming read though interspersed throughout with comments, occasionally outrageous (e.g. ‘The Japanese have a perfect passion for children, but it is not good for European children to be much with them, as they corrupt their morals, and teach them to tell lies’), that illustrate stereotypical Victorian based attitudes and prejudicial perceptions towards the Japanese in a relatively undiscovered (at the time) country. Isabella Bird frequently exhibits a patronising pseudo-proselytising attitude towards the lower classes, cites their ‘national defects of concave chest and bow legs’, and refers to them as Read more…

Book Review: Ghosts Of The Tsunami: Death And Life In Japan’s Disaster Zone

December 15, 2017 Leave a comment

A deeply moving book by Richard Lloyd Parry!

Ghosts of the TsunamiAt 2.46pm Japan time on the 11th March 2011 a 9.1 magnitude earthquake struck off the Pacific coast of Tohoku. The earthquake moved Japan’s main island of Honshu 2.4 meters further east, moved the earth on its axis by between 10 – 25 cm, and at the time dropped Honshu’s Pacific coast by around one meter. It triggered massive tsunamis, some of which were up to 40.5 meters (133 feet) in height, some of which travelled up to 10km (6 miles) inland.

As is pointed out in the book it wasn’t the earthquake which caused most of the damage; most of Japan’s physical infrastructure is built to Read more…

Book Review: ‘The Meaning of Rice: And Other Tales from the Belly of Japan’ by Michael Booth

October 25, 2017 1 comment

Michael Booth and his family embark on an epic journey the length of Japan to explore its dazzling food culture.

meaning of riceIf this book were food it would have deep umami undertones. Michael Booth has written yet another intriguing account of food, cooking and Japanese cuisine in Japan as an accompaniment to his earlier and just as his readable companion piece ‘Sushi and Beyond: What the Japanese Know about Cooking’; a main course to his earlier amuse-bouche.

We re-join him ten years after his first book on a return trip to Japan with his family to explore some of the elements of Japanese cuisine left unexplored a decade earlier. Though at first not as liberally sprinkled with the tongue in cheek humour as ‘Sushi and Beyond’ Booth warms to his Read more…

Book Review: Another Kyoto By Alex Kerr With Kathy Arlyn Sokol

September 12, 2017 2 comments

An enchanting and fascinating insight into Japanese landscape, culture, history and future!

Another Kyoto book coverAlmost a follow up to his ‘Lost Japan’ the book is a written record of conversations between Alex Kerr and his colleague and friend the author Kathy Arlyn Sokol on their visits to various sites around Kyōto. As Kerr points out the various sections delve into and expound three major influences; South East Asia, China and Japan. It takes an “off the beaten path” look at what he has seen many times before, picking up on the details that usually go unnoticed when visiting temples and shrines. More casual in style than Kerr’s previous publications his chatty style makes this guide very accessible even if the information that it contains is much more Read more…

Book Review: Samurai Trails By Lucian Swift Kirtland

August 18, 2017 4 comments

A chronicle of wanderings on the Japanese high road!

Book coverOriginally published in 1918 by George H. Doran in NY and Hodder and Stoughton in London, two articles relating to the book entitled ‘On Foot Through Japan’ and ‘Adventures at the Bottle Inn’ by the same author were also published in the January and February 1918 editions of Harper Monthly magazine. Though this book has since been made available by a variety of publishers this review is based on the most recent Toyo Press publication in 2017.

The husband of the WWI photographer Helen Johns Kirtland (1890-1979), Lucian Swift Kirtland (1881-1965), a scion of the very prominent Kirtland family of Poland, Ohio (originally the Read more…

Book Review: Living Buddhas: The Self Mummified Monks Of Yamagata, Japan By Ken Jeremiah

August 17, 2017 1 comment

st AsianLong after death, these ascetics continue to be revered as Living Buddhas!

Living BuddhasCoincidental to the recent review of ‘The Old Jōruri Puppet Play ‘The Tale Of The High Priest Kōchi’ (himself a sokushinbutsu, or living mummy) at Diverse Japan this is, according to the author, the first English language book on the subject of the self-mummifying Buddhist monks of Yamagata Prefecture of North-Western Japan who, long after death, continue to be revered as Living Buddhas and are little known to the outside world. An earlier English language 20 page article from 1962 does exist, written by Ichirō Hori and entitled ‘Self-Mummified Buddhas in Japan. An Aspect of the Shugen-Dō (“Mountain Asceticism”) Sect’ (History of Religions, Vol. 1, No. 2. (Winter, 1962), pp. 222-242. The University of Chicago Press) and this is included in Read more…

Book Review: Samurai Assassins: “Dark Murder” And The Meiji Restoration 1853-1868 By Romulus Hillsborough

June 25, 2017 3 comments

This first-ever account in English of the assassins who drove the revolution details one of the most volatile periods in Japanese history!

Samurai Assassins coverHillsborough refers to this, his latest book, as ‘a study of the ideology and psychology behind the “samurai revolution”’ and that it certainly is. Thankfully for once, it is not a book that focuses on or sensationalises the assassinations of ‘foreign barbarians’ in a period in Japan when political assassinations flourished, not least of which were those of the foreigners residing in Japan. This a fact attested to by the British Legation’s interpreter Thomas McClatchie, himself a student of Kenjutsu under Sakikabara Kenkichi, in his 1879 letter to Morita Kan’ya’s invitation to visit the Kabuki theatre – ‘In Japan people like the so called rōnin with their katana swords have long been in Read more…

Book Review: Where The Dead Pause And The Japanese Say Goodbye – A Journey By Marie Mutsuki Mockett

December 5, 2016 1 comment

Its pages are often full of a light that illuminates a fundamental human experience!

where-the-dead-pause-and-the-japanese-say-goodbyeOn Friday 11th March 2011 at 2.46pm local time the 9.0 magnitude Tōhoku Earthquake, the most powerful on record to have ever hit Japan, struck off the Pacific Coast of Tōhoku triggering Tsunami’s some of which reached up to 133 feet (40.5 metres) and travelled up to 6 miles (10 km) inland. Nearly 16,000 people were killed, over 6,000 injured and just over 2,500 people are still missing. It is against this back drop that Mutsuki Mockett weaves her way through a landscape of grief; that of her own personal, complicated, grief at the loss of her beloved father, and that of the people of the region from where some of her ancestors came. Read more…

Book Review: Japanese Stone Gardens: Origins, Meaning, Form

September 13, 2016 1 comment

Written by Stephen Mansfield with a foreword by Donald Richie!

japanese-stone-gardens-book-coverWith a foreword by the formidable Donald Ritchie, in itself a recommendation, the Japanese Stone Gardens is divided into two parts. The first covers the pivotal points during the development of the Japanese dry landscape garden (kare-sansui), often referred to these days as a Zen garden. It explains how this developed from the pre-animistic use of stones as markers of space to their use as connections to the natural world and the landscape, their use as mystical vectors with which to communicate with the Gods, the influence of Korea and China, their eventual Read more…

Book Review: Samurai Revolution By Romulus Hillsborough

August 29, 2016 4 comments

The Dawn of Modern Japan as seen through the eyes of the Shōgun’s Last Samurai!

samurai revolution front coverThis book, based on twenty-five years of research by Romulus Hillsborough who spent sixteen years living in Japan, joins his growing portfolio of his other works on the pivotal characters and themes of the Bakumatsu Period and the Meiji Restoration bringing many of them together in a welcome work that covers the pivotal period that heralded the end of the Japanese feudal era and the beginning of the industrial and political modernisation of Japan.

Something of a tome ‘Samurai Revolution’ is written as two books. The first covers the conflicting interests of the Tokugawa Bakufu in Edo (modern day Tōkyō) and the Imperial Court in Kyōto and the inter clan alliances which had been forged nearly three hundred years before in the triumphs and Read more…

Book Review: Japanese Plays – Classic Noh, Kyogen And Kabuki Works

April 28, 2016 2 comments

Nothing reflects the beauty of life as much as Japanese theatre!

Japanese PlaysThe original Introduction gives a fairly detailed explanation of Noh, Kyōgen and Kabuki though there isn’t much in the way of explanations of each of the plays’ individual origins, historical context, or development, either in the Introduction or in the rest of the book at the beginning of each play, the intention perhaps to preserve the book in its original form. It would however perhaps have been helpful to provide some sort of reference material in say a selective bibliography, even if only for the most important plays.

Although this isn’t provided in the book’s current form research on the Internet would make it relatively easy to cross reference the plays on line to find more information even if the Internet is something that wasn’t available when the book was originally published in 1934. For example Read more…

Book Review: Photography In Japan 1853 – 1912

April 21, 2016 4 comments

A delight to the eye and a treasure trove of information!

Girl in Heavy StormPhotography in Japan 1853-1912 , originally published in 2006, provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of early photography in Japan often little known outside academic circles or those with a specific interest in the period when Japan was undergoing rapid modernisation.

Though most people are generally unaware of the larger scope of the world of early photography in Japan and the early photographs of both non-Japanese and Japanese photographers, some with little more than a passing interest may be aware of the photographs of Felice Beato, which have recently had a fair amount of publicity, some of which are included in this book. The book follows the beginnings of photography in Japan from its introduction by foreigners through its Read more…

Interview: Michael Booth Author Sushi and Beyond: What the Japanese Know About Cooking

August 5, 2015 2 comments

“I can’t walk down the streets of Japan without finding something unusual or peculiar. It’s just so stimulating.” – Michael Booth

Michael BoothAward winning food writer and traveller Michael Booth (author of the bestselling Sushi & Beyond: What the Japanese Know About Cooking) attended the popular three-day J-Culture festival Hyper Japan 2015 (photo report here), which was held at London’s O2 on 10-12 June, to participate in his first talk show with Japanese celebrity chef Rika Yukimasa, co-host of Read more…

Ningyo: The Art Of The Japanese Doll Competition Closed And The Winner Is…

October 8, 2014 Leave a comment

A winner has been chosen!

Ningyo - The Art of the Japanese DollThanks to everyone who entered the competition to win a copy of the book Ningyo: The Art Of The Japanese Doll.

Sadly there can only be one winner.

And the winner is… Read more…

Book Review: The Cherry Blossom Murder – A Josie Clark In Japan Mystery

September 29, 2014 Leave a comment

First in a series of books set in Tokyo!

cherry-blossom-murderIn popular manga and anime Tokyo Babylon, there is a character called Seishiro Sakurazuka who is a dangerous onmyoji posing as a friendly vet. He kills his enemies and buries their bodies under a huge cherry tree; in fact it is the only cherry tree that bears deep red blossom and even redder fruit. In The Cherry Blossom Murder, Londoner, Josie discovers a body under the cherry blossom and goes in search of the killer.

Josie enjoys all the pomp and circumstance of Tammy Izumo’s Tea Party, but doesn’t quite fit into Japanese society. She is a friendly sort, but Read more…

WIN NINGYO: The Art Of The Japanese Doll By Alan Scott Pate

September 21, 2014 8 comments

Hooray! It’s competition time again!

Ningyo - The Art of the Japanese DollFamed the world over for their intricate beauty, Japanese dolls (ningyo) have played an important role in Japanese art and culture. Ningyo: The Art of the Japanese Doll (read review here) is the first comprehensive book on antique Japanese dolls and figurines published in English. The book focuses on dolls in six categories:

  • GOSHO-NINGYO: Palace Dolls and Auspicious Wishes
  • HINA-NINGYO: Dolls for the Girl’s Day Festival
  • MUSHA-NINGYO: Warrior Dolls for the Boy’s Day Festival
  • ISHO-NINGYO: Fashion Dolls and Popular Culture
  • NINGYO IN THE THEATER: Entertaining the Gods and Man
  • NINGYO AND HEALTH: Dolls as Talisman and Tool

Read more…

Book Review: NINGYO: The Art Of The Japanese Doll

September 9, 2014 1 comment

The first comprehensive book on antique Japanese dolls published in English!

Ningyo - The Art of the Japanese DollNINGYO: The Art of The Japanese Doll, written by Alan Scott Pate, the leading expert on Japanese dolls in the US, is a stunning hardback coffee-table book published by Tuttle Publishing that focuses on an area of Japanese culture little explored by westerners.

More than a plaything, the Japanese doll is a decorative object that is the central focus of many festivals like the Hina Matsuri (the Girl’s Day Festival) which takes place in Japan every year in March. To the world outside Japan, Hina dolls with their elaborate well-detailed costumes are Read more…