A beautiful land with a diverse culture very different from our own, Japan offers a wide range of possibilities for exploration through reading, from ancient shoguns to modern anime, there is bound to be something for everyone. Here are some suggestions.
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. If you haven’t read this gem of a book, now is the perfect time. Memoirs is an inside look at the mysterious, often misunderstood world of the geisha, a uniquely Japanese occupation. Set in the 1930s, the beautiful, serene face of the geisha hides an often harsh and brutal reality. A fascinating read.
Shogun by James Clavell. This is the best kind of historical fiction, completely immersive and impossible to put down. We are introduced to late 16th century Japan through the eyes of a shipwrecked Englishman named Blackthorn. This is a Japan that is still ruled by military shoguns and has been long isolated from the Western world. The massive culture shock, the beauty and brutality of this foreign land and the lives of the people in this drama are unforgettable. Read it. (There’s also an epic movie, staring Richard Chamberlain)
Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. A blend of surreal and fantasy, Murakami’s novels have been popular in the US for years. Imaginative, philosophical, experimental, intense are all words that describe this novel about a man searching for his wife’s lost cat. Of course, there is much more going on than that simple story line would indicate.
The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz. As the first commoner to marry into the royal family, Haruko, worldly and well-educated, faces cruelty and suspicion in the Imperial court, suffers a nervous breakdown and becomes mute after the birth of her son. Years later, now Empress herself, she must persuade another worldly and well-educated young woman to marry her son. This book draws heavily from real stories of the Japanese Imperial family and royal court.
Shall We Dance (DVD) Please, please I beg you – do not watch the version of this movie that stars Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez. It might be a fine movie, but it entirely misses the point of the original Japanese version. In Japanese culture, men and women do not touch in public, even if they’re married. A businessman taking up ballroom dancing is shocking; this is the story of one man who, dulled by routine and boredom, falls in love with the beauty of the dance he glimpses every day on his train ride home and takes the leap to learn. Yes, it’s in Japanese and you’ll have to read the subtitles – buck up! It’s so completely worth the effort (and it’s funny too!)
I am planning on reading A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton which explores the long term consequences of Nagasaki and long-held family secrets. I also plan to watch the movie of Memoirs of a Geisha; I’m not sure how well it will follow the book, but it should be beautiful to watch.
What about you – what are you going to read/watch/listen to this month?