Books about Japanese Culture

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Introduction: Japan’s culture has evolved over time right from the Jomon period (a time in pre-historic Japan) to the modern day. Japan’s culture has been influenced by the cultures of Asia, Europe and North America. The people of Japan have experienced long periods of isolation from the world during the Tokugawa shogunate (the last feudal Japanese military government) that existed between sixteen hundred and three and eighteen hundred and sixty-seven.

Here are a few popular books written about the ever-changing culture of the Land of the Rising Sun.

  1. The Tale of Genji: By Murasaki Shikibu: Written in the eleventh century, this book is about life in Japan during medieval times. Though this is a very long novel and has fifty-four chapters, it is worth a read. It depicts the court life in Japan from the tenth to the eleventh centuries.
  2. Geisha-The Life: By Mineko Iwasaki: This is a chronicle based on the life of the author right from the time she was five years old. She talks about her life in the world of geishas and how she was bound by tradition and rules. She also studied ancient art, music and formal customs and languages of the geisha. She reveals that she felt that the concept of the geisha has been misunderstood and distorted over time, and that since no woman has spoke out in public she felt it was important to do so. Through her book we get a vivid picture of life in a different world.
  3. Speed Tribes: Days and Nights with Japan’s Next Generation: By Karl Taro Greenfled: This glimpse into the subcultures of Japan significantly debunks the western perception of Japan’s being a controlled and orderly society. A tale from the lives of the youth of Japan and how they grew up amongst the harsh surroundings.
  4. Shogun: By James Clavell:   A courageous English adventure involving an indestructible Japanese warlord. A story of a young and beautiful lady who is torn between two worlds, love and life. A unique saga of time and place bustling with conflict, passion, lust and the drive for power.
  5. Kimono: By Liza Dably: An unusual book that reveals the history of Japan’s nation dress, the kimono. It is a symbol of Japan that embraces simplicity, elegance and beauty. Over the centuries, the kimono has been modified since it was imported from China. The changes reflect the changes in Japanese culture over the years.
  6. Japanland: A year in search of Wa: By Karin Muller:   Documentary film-maker Karin Muller takes us on a journey to discover the ancient heart of modern Japan. An enticing book about a country of contradictions.
  7. Toto-Chan: The girl in the window: By Tetsuko Kuroyanagi: An attractive collection of childhood that tells us about the ideal school in Tokyo during World War Two. Children learnt with fun, love and freedom. The school had classrooms that were actually old railway cars, and was run by Sosaku Kobayashi, who believed in freedom of speech and activity.
  8. The Makioka Sisters: By Junichiro Tanizaki: Set in Osaka a few years after the Second World War,this is the story of four noble women who strive to preserve a way of life that is disappearing. The eldest girl,Tsuruko, sticks to her family name even as her husband prepares to move to Tokyo, while Sachiko tries hard to make sure that her younger sisters have a stable future. While the other two sisters, Taeko and Yukiko are on their own battle. Taeko fights by getting into various romantic flings, the still spinster Yukiko is still hostage to her family ties.

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