Sunday, April 30, 2017

2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake

Released shortly after the 3-11 earthquake in Japan as a fundraiser for relief efforts, 2:46: Aftershocks offers a fascinating glimpse at the Tohuku disaster and its impact.

Those impacts are of course the ones felt locally - the devastation and the lives ripped apart. But it also pulls together stories from around the globe — and how a major disaster can touch so many lives so far away.

This collection of short pieces collected in the days after the disaster offers a poignant reminder of how big a challenge Japan faced. And how strong its people are.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Japanese Stone Gardens by Stephen Mansfield

Japanese Stone Gardens offers a wonderful glimpse at the unique art form of these gardens.

One chapter sets out to shatter the belief that Zen has long had an impact on gardens. In fact the book argues that the relationship is really something that began back in the 1950s and was outsiders seeing Zen in the gardens and inserting it into the process hundreds or thousands of years in the past.

What surprised me is the number of modern gardens at old temples or castles. I take this as proof that these gardens are living breathing things - even they are made of stone and sand.

The pictures are wonderful — and they are better than anything you’ll likely capture if you visit these gardens as a tourist. My pictures were filled with bad lighting and bad shadows — which makes this book an extra memory of my visits.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Japan's Master Gardens by Stephen Mansfield

Hey - get a few stone lanterns, put a couple of wooden bridges over water and plunk down a few rocks and then you have yourself a Japanese garden.

Wrong — even though this pattern is repeated again and again in the west. 

Japan's Master Gardens: Lessons in Space and Environment is a fantastic look at the wide variety of REAL Japanese gardens in Japan. The stories and many many photos offer more than glimpses of different styles and gardens around the island nation. Taken together they offer an explanation of what makes a Japanese garden --  the ideas and philosophies as well as their histories and evolution.

The images are beautiful and help build understanding. Like me, you’ll find this book will grow your list of must see spots in Japan.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Geek in Japan by Hector Garcia Puigcerver

A Geek in Japan: Discovering the Land of Manga, Anime, Zen, and the Tea Ceremony is such a great introduction to Japanese culture — and the modern cool Japan we are coming to know as well as the historic Japan.

The book is a fun read and may even surprise readers familiar with Japan with a few new explanations of culture and history.

Don't let the title fool you -- A Geek in Japan really offers up a whole lot of quick highlights of what makes up life in Japan. It touches on broad topics like traditional culture, the Japanese character, and daily life. All in all it's a wonderful introduction to what makes Japan unique.

The book also has a wonderful informal tone — which can help anyone planning a trip to map out their plans in a fun way.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto by Pico Iyer

Such a beautiful book. Though more than 25 years old, there is something timeless about The Lady and The Monk.

Even though Pico Iyer set out for Kyoto to live in a monastery and learn about Zen, he ends up revealing the very nature of daily life in Japan (and maybe just in life) through his friendship with a Japanese housewife. She's in 30s exploring new possibilities for her life

Along the way in telling the story of that friendship Iyer offers a revealing glimpse into the dual natures of Japan - modern and ancient, strong and sensitive, inward and outward focussed.

Even though this is from 1992, the story is timeless.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Little Tokyo Subway Guidebook by Ibc Publishing

My wife made fun of me when I bought The Little Tokyo Subway Guidebook: Everything You Need to Know to Get Around the City and Beyond. It turned out to be the best guide to the Tokyo subways I found.

What makes it invaluable is the book abandons maps that bear any relationship to geography. Instead, each subway line is mapped out in a simple straight line - all the stops top to bottom. You can track down which exits to use to get to specific places, where to connect to different lines, and even plan out travel times.

My only regret is there isn't an updated edition. I'll keep dreaming of that.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Hitching Rides with Buddha: Travels in Search of Japan by Will Ferguson

Canadian writer and humourist Will Ferguson offers up one of the strangest - and most delightful - travel books about Japan. 

Hitching Rides With Buddha takes on the challenge of following the cherry blossoms from south to north in Japan -- all using the rare transportation mode of hitching a ride.

Really this is a collection of great stories about the characters he meets on the journey -- and the kindness of strangers. It's a glimpse into a Japan not often revealed by Western writers.

It's a fun read and a great story of adventure and exploration of Japan bottom to top.

Supermarket by Satoshi Azuchi

I've often argued that a novel can provide a better glimpse into the real world than non-fiction. That is exactly the case with Supermarket.

This novel - originally published in Japanese in 1981 and translated in 2009 -  looks behind the scenes at a grocery store in Japan through the story of a banker who leaves his job to take on the challenge of helping his relatives run a supermarket in a small town.

It's a story of personal discovery and a look behind the curtain of businesses and home life in Japan. Along the way it touches on many aspects of life and society in modern Japan.

This book transports you to a Japan rarely covered by either fiction or non-fiction.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Tokyo on Foot: Travels in the City's Most Colorful Neighborhoods by Florent Chavouet

Every travel book is a personal memoir of sorts. How can anyone capture everything magical about a city - whether it's a small place like Vancouver or the world's biggest megacity?

Tokyo on Foot takes a totally different tack - it's a very personal memoir of the sights of Tokyo, collected in very sweet drawings.

The author would basically set up on corners in a few of Tokyo's neighbourhoods and draw people, buildings, or whatever struck his fancy. 

The homemade maps are priceless and brought back memories of the places my wife and I visited.

Such a fun read - and such an interesting window in Tokyo circa 2006.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Inland Sea by Donald Richie

I can't believe it took me so long to discover Donald Richie. I picked this up because it was about Japan and was pleased to discover one of the best travel books I've ever read.

Written in the late 1960s and early 1970s it captures what was then a vanishing way of life - one that is surely gone today.

On top of the keen observations of life and people in what at the time was a fairly remote part of Japan, the author is also shockingly honest about his inner monologue. It's travel on the outside and the inside.

Well worth a read.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Japan the Beautiful and Myself by Yasunari Kawabata

A short look at Japanese literature and art - or more correctly what is behind these things - make up that was Yasunari Kawabata's Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech in 1968.

In the span of 30 pages he leaps to the roots of Japanese arts in the 10th and 11th centuries. What's clear is the highest art is about what is not there rather than what is there. As well it's not so much about what is shown - but what it represents. Symbolism is the key. That's why a Japanese garden of stone and sand can represent not only mountains and fields but also rivers and waves. The same holds across literature, painting, and flower arranging.

A fascinating look into the heart of art.