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Book Review: Walking in Circles: Finding Happiness in Lost Japan. A Shikoku Memoir

November 11, 2020 Leave a comment

For the second time in seven years Todd sets off on the 88 temple 1,400 km Pilgrim’s Trail (Shikoku Henro) around the smallest, and possibly least visited by foreign tourists, of Japan’s four principle islands; Shikoku.

Read more…

Book Review: Yasuke: The True Story of the Legendary African Samurai

The remarkable life of history’s first foreign-born samurai, and his astonishing journey from Northeast Africa to the heights of Japanese society.

YasukeA quite astonishing and meticulously researched biography which isn’t written in an academic style yet is suitable for both the general reader and history buff. Thoroughly engaging it reads like a novel and really does bring Yasuke’s story to life in a way that a purely academic tome could not have done.

In the pre-amble the narrative briefly touches on the aftermath of Akechi Mitsuhide’s overthrow of his liege lord Oda Nobunaga at Honnō-ji Temple in Kyōto and, as one of Nobunaga’s loyal vassals, Yasuke’s involvement. The story, broken down into three sections; ‘Warrior’, ‘Samurai’, and ‘Legend’, then turns in ‘Warrior’ to the arrival in Japan in 1579 Read more…

Book Review: A Beginners Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations

A Beginners Guide to Japan Pico IyerA particularly idiosyncratic book this may not suit the tastes of some but is certainly one which provokes.

There are many and often inexperienced travellers to Japan who seem to think they understand the country after just one visit. The author and commentator Pico Iyer, who has lived in Japan for more than thirty-two years, seems to ‘beg to differ’. In this enjoyable romp, through a plethora of very varied perspectives from other commentators, philosophers and writers and also from his own experience during his time there, Iyer seems to assert that even after thirty-two years he no more understands Read more…

Book Review: Tokyo Stories: A Japanese Cookbook

January 7, 2020 1 comment

Tokyo Stories is a journey through the boulevards and backstreets of Tokyo via recipes both iconic and unexpected!

Tokyo Stories coverThough having published other books (his humorous biographical essays ‘Tune in Tokyo: The Gaijin Dairies’, his own Brixton restaurant cookbook ‘Nanban: Japanese Soul Food’, and other cookbooks of classic and modern Japanese recipes; ‘Vegan JapanEasy’ and ‘JapanEasy’) Tim Anderson first began to impact on the public consciousness in the UK with his appearance on, and winning of, ‘Masterchef’ in 2011. Since then he has gone on to work as a freelance chef, food writer and consultant and is a regular contributor on Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube, the Kitchen Cabinet on Radio 4, and has appeared on various TV programmes such as Read more…

Book Review: Midnight in Broad Daylight

A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds!

Midnight in Broad Daylight CoverThough the title of this book is taken from Sankichi Tōge’s poem about the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima this book isn’t actually all about that event; one chapter late on in the book is dedicated to the event with its post traumatic effects on the populace, and the family in particular, covered in subsequent chapters. It is quite frankly an astonishing and incredibly moving account of one Japanese-American family’s experience of immigrant status in the USA and the effect of the Great Depression, racism, movements of various members of the family back and forth between Japan and the USA in the lead up to the Second World War, the consequences for the various members of the family in situ in both countries during Read more…

Book Review: The Forty-Seven Rōnin: The Vendetta in History

John A. Tucker presents the first comprehensive historical study of one of the most famous events in Japanese history.

The 47 Ronin the Vendetta in History coverPublished in February 2018 this seminal work about the Forty-Seven Rōnin, one of the most famous historical tales in Japan, is probably one of the most accessible academic studies in the English language. It is very well laid out, the structure eminently logical, the referencing structure precise and the bibliography pleasantly well-stocked. Unsurprisingly, whilst Tucker does mention less reliable sources, he does not dwell on the conjectural discrepancies that arise from these, his suppositions being based on his analysis of empirical texts. There are a few black and white illustrations ranging from location and portrait photographs through to reproductions of illustrations both Read more…

Book Review: Eat Sleep Sit: My Year at Japan’s Most Rigorous Zen Temple

October 8, 2018 Leave a comment

By Kaoru Nonomura – Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter.

eat sleep sitFor anyone who has ever considered becoming a Zen monk this account is a serious wake up call to the rigours that novitiates at Eiheiji Temple in Fukui Prefecture, one of two main temples of the Sōtō school of Zen Buddhism, have to endure.

Founded by Dōgen in 1244 its claim that Dōgen was in residence at Eiheiji tends to outshine its rival Sōjiji, the other main Sōtō school of Zen with which it tends to compete, which is located in Tsurumi near Tōkyō, though in spite of the ‘rivalry’ those undergoing zuise training to complete their Read more…

Book Review: This Great Stage of Fools – An anthology of uncollected writings

August 7, 2018 3 comments

Written by Alan Booth. Edited by Timothy Harris with an afterword by Karel van Wolferen.

Cover photo of nebuta in Aomori by Brian KowalczykIt is a testament to Alan Booth’s skill as a writer that he is regarded by Japanophiles as one of the pre-eminent commentators on Japan and Japanese culture (though a culture far removed from Japan’s city environs). This even though only two of his books about Japan became mainstream publications, ‘The Roads to Sata: A 2000-Mile Walk Through Japan’ (1985) and, posthumously (Booth passed away in 1993), ‘Looking for the Lost: Journeys Through a Vanishing Japan’ (1995). *

‘This Great Stage of Fools’ is a comprehensive collection of his journalistic articles. Initial impressions were good and as this review progressed it became increasingly apparent that the Read more…

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…

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 3 comments

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 4 comments

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 5 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 2 comments

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 4 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 4 comments

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 2 comments

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…