Shōgun

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Read 23/12/2020-06/02/2021

Rating 4 stars

James Clavell’s Shōgun was published in 1975. Five years later, it was adapted into a television mini-series starring Richard Chamberlain, which I was allowed to stay up past bedtime to watch. Ten years after that, the novel reached 15 million sales worldwide. It’s a true blockbuster novel. I hadn’t read the book until my friend Lisa lent me her copy, a well-read 1982 edition she picked up on the pound shelf at the local superstore. When I started reading it, it felt like pure escapism. There came a point, though, during my reading, when real world events made me reflect on the way human nature doesn’t change, our political systems behind their veneers of democracy are still feudal at heart, and to live through interesting times makes you fodder for future historical fiction. Shōgun is still a cracking yarn, though. Continue reading

Tokyo Ueno Station

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Read 17/10/2019-20/10/2019

Rating 4 stars

Tokyo Ueno Station is a ghost story, an alternative history of Japan and a critique of Japanese society. Beginning among the homeless community who live in and around the busy commuter station near Ueno Park, it reaches back through time to the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, the post-war economic boom, the migration of workers to Tokyo to help build the Olympic park in 1964, and the devastating tsunami of 2011.

The narrator of the tale is called Kazu. Through him, we see a different Japan to the one portrayed in travel programmes and newspaper articles. It’s a harrowing story of loss and abandonment. Continue reading

Sweet Bean Paste

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Read 02/12/2018-06/12/2018

Rating: 3 stars

My best friend lent me this book. She knew that I would enjoy it, and she was right.

Within the first couple of pages, Durian Sukegawa’s description of the novel’s setting made me yearn for Japan and the holiday adventures my husband and I like to take exploring the side streets and everyday bits of Japan away from the tourist attractions. The description of the dorayaki shop where Sweet Bean Paste is set made me think of the Japanese drama series Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories. Continue reading

On the Narrow Road to the Deep North

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Read 21/01/2018-31/01/2018

Rating: 5 stars

My 300th post! How good that it should be a five star review of a book that celebrates the 300th anniversary of something.

After the bleakness of The Secret River, I felt in need of something calming, and what could be more calming than an account of a pilgrimage undertaken on the 300th anniversary of Basho’s 1689 journey to the Tōhoku and Yamagata regions of Japan? Continue reading

Wrong About Japan

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Read 20/09/2017-22/09/2017

Rating: 4 stars

My husband noticed this on the non-fiction shelves in the library. I like Peter Carey’s novels, and a memoir of how he and his teenage son became captivated by manga and anime and travelled to Tokyo to meet artists and directors in each industry sounded interesting. Continue reading

Silence

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Read 22/08/2016-28/08/2016

Rating: 3 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room Olympic Challenge

A while ago, I read John Dougill’s book about the Hidden Christians of Japan, in which the author goes on a pilgrimage of sorts to understand the history of Christianity in Japan. Dougill refers to Endō’s novel Silence. I was reminded of it when I read that Martin Scorsese was directing a film adaptation of the novel. And so, I bought myself a copy. Continue reading

Book Review: Japanese Society by Chie Nakane

I was reminded of this book today, while discussing Colourless Tsukuru and his Years of Pilgrimage over on The Reader’s Room. Here’s a review I wrote on my Japanophile blog.

Japanophile

Japanese Society by Professor Chie Nakane was a ground breaking book when first published in 1972, and has been cited in many books that followed it. It needs updating to take into account the changes in Japan that have happened over the past 40+ years, but its scope and anthropological investigative style means it’s still worth reading today.

I read the Pelican edition, which came out in 1973. I picked it up because I was interested in the perception that the Japanese are different to Westerners, and in how popular Western tropes of Japanese people being hard working, company loyal, and socially rigid in behaviour and levels of language had become so entrenched in Western thinking. I found the book to be full of interesting background to the development of Japanese society and why the Japanese behave the way they do in comparison to other nations, and found the social anthropology…

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