That is one part of our collection of books about Japan. This is excluding most novels, all (minus 1) manga and erm, some recipe books. I have a terrible weakness for Japan, and it is entirely possible that I see book-buying a way of experiencing the country when I’m not in it. And my not-being-in-Japan takes up quite a bit of my life, so that explains the book hoarding.
We like Haruki Murakami (A Wild Sheep Chase, Kafka on the Shore, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), Banana Yoshitomo (Kitchen, Hardboiled and Hard Luck, Goodbye Tsugumi), Kōbō Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes, Natsume Sōseki’s Botchan and Kokoro amongst others.
When I grow up, I will finish at least one Kenzaburō Ōe book.
If you’re interested in photography and a little art theory, Setting Sun: Writings by Japanese Photographers is an excellent read. The book is a compilation of writings and artist statements, though they are written more like personal narratives than museum write-ups. It is very readable and gives great insight into the psyche and intentions of the photographers and their work. Photographers featured in the book include Eikoh Hosoe, Nobuyoshi Arashi, Daido Moriyama and Masahisa Fukase.
I love photobooks, and Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s and ’70s is an amazing book on seminal photobooks published during the period.
Alan Booth’s The Roads To Sata and Looking For the Lost. Booth walked the 2000-mile distance from Cape Sōya in Hokkaidō, the most northern point in Japan, to Cape Sata in Kyūshū, the most southern point. His observations about the country are honest and meaningful, insightful, and witty without being too smart-arse. Sata was the book that set my (Japanese) wanderlust ablaze.
On the other hand, Will Ferguson’s Hokkaido Highway Blues can be just a little too smart-arse at times. But this book about his (supposed) cherry blossom chase up the length of the country is mostly a darn funny read. There’s a “revised and fully restored” version of the book called Hitching Rides With Buddha.
Tokyo on Foot is artist Florent Chavouet’s memoir about Tokyo. He spent six months in the city and did the impossible – he actually managed to draw maps for the Tokyo suburbs he visited. Amazing, since we couldn’t even figure out where we were most of the time. Totally envious of his (artistic and way-finding) talent.
Also: Takaki Naoko’s (高木直子) comics about her solo travels in Japan make for a lighthearted read. Pretty informative too. Her comics have been translated into Mandarin, and are available at Kinokuniya.
And not forgetting, there’re the Tokyo and Kyoto Art and Culture Maps we wrote about a few weeks back.
Jake Adelstein’s Tokyo Vice is a riveting and revealing book about crime and the Japanese yakuza. This might give you second thoughts about the general safety of the country, but my hypothesis is that if you are the sort to pick up a book about the Japanese yakuza, you’re pretty game for wild, dangerous travel. Sadly, unless you’re looking, Tokyo is not really a place for trouble.
People Who Eat Darkness: Love, Grief and a Journey into Japan’s Shadows. This book about the murder of Lucie Blackman by Richard Lloyd Parry is a page-turner – it kept me up for a few nights.
Michael Booth’s Sushi and Beyond is a fun read about Japanese food and culinary scene. This will make you crave all kinds of Japanese foods. Okay, maybe except whale.
Robert Twigger’s Angry White Pyjamas details his year as a student at the Yoshinkan Senshusei course, an especially intensive and punishing instructor aikido course. Entertaining.
Also, I’m slowly getting to Donald Richie.
Oh, StarHub has a new Hello! Japan channel on channel 149. Think Japan Hour marathons, but interspersed with Ultraman Mebius. I like Hungry Hoppers (weekdays, 7.30pm). By the way, the Japanese title for that show is “おにぎりあたためますか” (Do you want me to heat up the onigiri?) which is what the konbini people will ask at checkout if your purchase includes an onigiri.