Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Summer Reads: Books About And Inspired By Japan

Bet you can't read just one. Via.

It's the last week of summer and we assume you're headed out of town or just in need something to keep your mind off the crushing fall season about to tumble upon you (or maybe that's just us). Behold our first ever Japan-related reading list! Enjoy these bestsellers and perennial favorites—perfect for the beach, poolside, or any well-lit destination your Labor Day Weekend takes you. Stay cool and have a great end-of-summer!

Tokyo Vice, Jake Adelstein
A firsthand look at Japan "from the underbelly up" by the only American to be admitted to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police press club. Read excerpts at NPR and Metropolis. 

The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture, Ruth Benedict
Whether promoted as essential reading or panned as a populist mainstream misreading, there's no denying the lasting influence of Benedict's seminal piece of cultural studies (just be sure to follow it up with some of the more contemporary books on this list.) Acclaimed for its accessibility and eloquence, if not accuracy or scholarship, the book recently got the "Mad Men" bump.

Snakes and Earrings
, Hitomi Kanehara

A dark tale that explores one girl’s dangerous obsession with fashionable body modifications in present day Tokyo. Winner of the Akutagawa Prize for Literature in 2003.

Japanamerica, Roland Kelts 
The Village Voice calls Kelts' lively distillation of the otaku invasion of America "a Wired magazine article on steroids." Read the book's foreword.

The Selling of the American Economy: How Foreign Companies Are Remaking the American Dream, Micheline Maynard
Japan plays a key role Maynard's lucid and insightful re-education of foreign investment in America. Read The Times excerpt.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell
Behind this wildly popular, rip roaring adventure tale is a well researched and richly described Japan at the turn of the 19th century, including the strange but true story of the artificial island of Deshima—the only place foreigners were permitted. Check out excerpts at The Times, NPR, and from the author. Plus, Dave Eggers really liked it.

Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami
This modern classic coming of age story sold more than 4 million copies in Japan in its 1987 release and established Murakami around the globe. Read it before the film adaptation is released later this year.

Edwin O. Reischauer and the American Discovery of Japan, George R. Packard

A graceful biography of the charismatic man who helped steer Japan toward democracy and then wrote its definitive English-language history. Japan Times review.

The Japan Journals: 1947-2004
, Donald Richie
An intriguing record of the nation from one of the world's most influential Japanese culturalists. Richie paints a fascinating firsthand postwar picture of Japan and the ritzy glamour of the film industry. The Times says "wonderfully evocative and full of humor, but also honest, introspective and often poignant."

Confucius Lives Next Door, T.R. Reid
Known for his trenchant, funny, and deeply knowledgeable commentaries on NPR, Reid discovers the "postwar miracle" of Japan when his family is transplanted there from the Midwest. Examining East Asia's impressive social stability, he highlights the many benefits (and some drawbacks) of the "Asian Way."

Edokko: Growing Up a Foreigner in Wartime Japan, Isaac Shapiro

Born in Tokyo in 1931, Shapiro, a famed New York lawyer, shares  Japan's lasting influence on him and his Jewish family transplanted from Europe.

The Tale of Genji, Murasaki Shikibu
This 11th century masterpiece by the Lady Murasaki is considered one of the world's first novels, brimming with the subtleties of the era's etiquette and ritual. Of course, a classic of such historical significance has no less than three lauded  translations to choose from: the unabashed Edwardian eloquence of the 1933 interpretation by Arthur Waley (who's story is itself fascinating), Edward Seidensticker's more literal 1976 version, and the more recent and faithful Royall Tyler interpretation from 2001. Notes one JS staffer: "Although Waley took considerable liberties with the original and did not have the resources of modern scholarship at his disposal, his elegant writing has an appeal that cannot be matched by the more accurate versions by Seidensticker and Tyler." While you mull how to choose a translation, prep for reading with images of the story's many locales.

In Praise of Shadows, Junichiro Tanizaki
This classic treatise on Japanese aesthetics retains the elegant prose that Tanizaki employed in his many lauded works of fiction.

Buddha, Volume 1: Kapilavastu, Osamu Tezuka
A manga retelling of the life and times of Gautama Buddha (nee Siddhartha) that is as entertaining as it is enlightening. BBC calls it "a vibrant, action packed epic" (link includes an image gallery). TIME's rich overview notes: "filled with beauty, cruelty, drama, comedy, romance and violence, Osamu Tezuka's Buddha encompasses the entirety of life in a masterpiece of graphic literature."

For even more staff picks, click here.

Japan Society Staff

UPDATED 9/4/15


Jeff H said...

I surprise myself: I've read three of the ten already!

For those not ready to sift through the tome-like complete Tale of Genji, I want to recommend "A String of Flowers Untied; Love Poems From The Tale of Genji" by Jane Reichold. A wonderful, romantic way through the tale by way of it's 700 or so tanka verse. I loved it.

Anonymous said...

Wow - I've ready or have on my shelf to read most of the stuff on this list. I picked up a copy of "Confucius" on the cheap the other week, but between that and so many of the other books I have, it's hard to choose where to start!

me. said...

I've only read three of these as well,too many books so little time...but will try and check out the rest of these.

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