Archive

Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

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…

Advertisements

Review: Shochiku Grand Kabuki – Salle Jean Vilar

September 19, 2018 Leave a comment

Théâtre National de Chaillot, Paris, France, 13 – 19 September 2018

Japonismes Theatre de ChaillotJaponismes 2018: les âmes en résonance’ (souls in resonance) is a celebration of Japanese culture taking part in Paris and other cities in France to mark 160 years of friendship between France and Japan. As part of the celebrations two Kabuki actors, Nakamura Shidō II and Nakamura Shichinosuke II (whose grandfather Nakamura Kanzaburō XVII was one of the first Kabuki actors to perform Kabuki in Paris at 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…

Review: Ehon Gappō ga Tsuji

 

Evening performance of the Grand April Kabuki at the Kabukiza Theatre, Tōkyō: 2 April – 26 April 2018.

Ehon Gappo ga Tsuji poster croppedEhon Gappō ga Tsuji (’The Revenge of Gappō at the Crossroads’) is a ‘kizewamono’ (gangster play) which premiered in the 5th lunar month of 1810 at the Ichimuraza Theatre in Edo (modern day Tōkyō). Dramatised by Tsuruya Namboku IV from a popular novel this rarely performed full length play (toshi kyōgen) was last staged in April 2012 at the National Theatre in Tōkyō with, as in this performance, the 74 year old veteran 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 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…

Film Review And Q&A: ‘Blade of the Immortal’ (無限の住人- Mugen no Jūnin) Takashi Miike

October 13, 2017 Leave a comment

Fights involving different types of weaponry leave nothing to the imagination!

Blade of the Immortal posterFilmed in Kyōto and based on the manga series of the same name by Hiroaki Samura ‘Blade of the Immortal’ is Takashi Miike’s 100th film, his previous films in the jidaigeki genre include ‘13 Assassins’ and ‘Hara-kiri; Death of a Samurai’. The film follows Manji (Takuya Kimura) who after witnessing his sister die and lying on the battlefield near death is made immortal by a strange nun called Yaobikuni (Yoko Yamamoto) who infects him with a Buddhist Lama’s ‘sacred bloodworms’ (kessen-chu) which help his body to regenerate after Read more…

Theatre Review: Ninagawa Company ‘Macbeth’.

October 13, 2017 Leave a comment

 

Presented by the Barbican in association with Thelma Holt, Saitama Arts Foundation and HoriPro Inc

macebth barbican.jpgCo-produced by The Japan Foundation

Barbican, London 5-8 October

Theatre Royal, Plymouth 13-14 October

After Yukio Ninagawa’s death nearly a year and a half ago in May 2016 his ‘Ninagawa Macbeth’ (and this is the only one of his Shakespearean productions he allowed to use his name) returned to London this year after a thirty year absence for a memorial run at the Barbican in London and the Theatre Royal in Plymouth with the help, amongst others, of Read more…

Film Review: Mukoku

October 3, 2017 Leave a comment

A departure from director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri’s graphic, often ultra-violent style!

Mukoku-p1Kengo Yatabe (Gō Ayano) is a fifth dan Kendoka who used to be a Kendo instructor at the local high school. His father Shōzō (Kaoru Kabayashi), who he detests and loves in equal measure, was also his Kendo teacher and had a bad reputation for being a brutal practitioner of the technique associated with ‘satsujin ken’, a murderous sword, as opposed to ‘katsujin ken’, a life giving sword. His father is in hospital in a vegetative state after a dreadful incident involving both father and son and his mother has died, something he is struggling to come to terms with. He has given up his Read more…

Film Review: Boys For Sale – Bai Bai Bōizu

September 26, 2017 1 comment

Premiered in the UK as one of the official selection at the 25th Anniversary of the Raindance Film Festival 2017.

Boys for Sale logoWhat might at first seem like a potentially titillating documentary on male prostitution in the Shinjuku 2-chome area of Tōkyō, reportedly the largest urban gay area in Asia, becomes something fascinating and shocking in equal parts. One wonders as the documentary progresses at what point the historical Japanese openness and acceptance of male-male sex as a necessary part of human life became something to be frowned upon and kept hidden. Adrian ‘Uchujin’ Storey, who 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…

TV Review: Tokyo Trial Four-Part Mini-Series

September 12, 2017 1 comment

In the wake of World War II, 11 Allied judges are tasked with weighing the fates of Japanese war criminals in a tense international trial! 

Tokyo TrialProduced by NHK, FATT Productions and Don Carmody Television

Distributed by NHK in association with Netflix

Released in Japan and worldwide on Netflix in December 2016

Directed by Pieter Verhoeff and Rob W. King 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 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 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…

Review: The Old Jōruri Puppet Play ‘The Tale Of The High Priest Kōchi’

June 13, 2017 2 comments

Performance was held on 2nd and 3rd June 2017 at the British Library.

London performamce small format croppedThe evening, attended by around 250 people, opened with a welcome from Mana Takatori, the Director General of the Japan Foundation, and Hamish Todd, the Head of East Asian Collections at the British Library. Then Professor Torigoe Bunzō described how the manuscript was discovered and how valuable it is given that it is the only extant original copy.

In 1962, when at the time he was a Professor at Waseda University, Torigoe Bunzō was teaching at Cambridge University and Read more…