Japan Explained to Westerners

Five books exploring the Japanese culture and its appeal on the West

  • Japan Explained to Westerners

East and West, Japan and Europe, Japan and the United States: ever since the year 1853, when the American military fleet of Commodore Perry reached the Yokohama Bay and ordered the Japanese authorities to open their ports and businesses, Japan and the Western world have been observing, studying, and exploring each other with the intensity of someone who sees the other as an unintelligible mystery but cannot help investigating it. Here are five books that tell a story about this reciprocal exploration.
Sōseki Natsume, Grass Pillow (1906)
Recognized as the most important author of modern Japan, Natsume (1867-1916) tells the story of a wayfarer wandering around the Japanese mountain villages, as a metaphor for the journey of life. The protagonist collects stories and encounters and turns them into reflections, outlining a profile of Japan in the beginning of the 20th century and the new role of the artist.
Fosco Maraini, Japanese Hours (1957)
Maraini compares 1950s Japan with the Japan he has known during the Second World War, when, after September 8, 1943, he was imprisoned for 11 months for his refusal to swear loyalty to the Republic of Salò. A naturalist and an anthropologist, Maraini describes the fascinating and mysterious complexity of the Japanese rules of social behaviour, the extraordinary design skills of a population emerging from post-war destruction and the architecture of the daily rituals that are a crucial part of the individual identity.
Shūsaku Endō, Silence (1966)
This book tells about the struggle between the Japanese feudal Lords of the 17th century (Togukawa period) and the first Japanese Christian communities born around European Jesuit missionaries. The theme of sacrifice in the name of a Lord, earthly or divine, is the fundamental point of contact, confrontation and clash among the historical events that highlight the violence with which this principle, in its various meanings, was defended to the extreme.
James Clavell, Shogun (1975)
British navigator John Blackthorne fortuitously approaches the Japanese coast in the 17th century, towards the end of the feudal lords' struggles. One of these Lords, Yoshi Toranaga, welcomes Blackthorne to his court and initiates him into the customs, rituals and rules of local daily life in the shadow of which Toranaga will become a Shogun through power strategies.
Alex Kerr, Lost Japan (1994)
An American graduate with a degree in Japanese at Yale and in Chinese at Oxford, Kerr has been the first non-Japanese author to win the Shincho Gakugei literary prize. Kerr tells the story of contemporary Japan and explores the growing gap between rampant hyper-technology and tradition - the latter being the backbone of national identity which survives in ever-smaller spaces such as the small Shinto temples in the shadow of the skyscrapers.

Author : The Slowear Journal


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