Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Tokyo: A View of the City by Donald Richie

It's common to get nostalgic. It seems there are entire industries based on looking back 50 years, and lamenting the damage progress has done in consuming what made the past a golden age.

Donald Richie's Tokyo: A View of the City is just this kind of look back from circa 1999 - a look at the culture and every day life that built the core neighbourhoods of Tokyo, what had gone, what had come, and what was just ahead.

Finding Japan: Early Canadian Encounters with Asia by Anne Shannon

Finding Japan is a huge - and pleasant - surprise. Many readers will be just like me having never realized that the connections between Canada and Japan were so rich, varied, and deep.

Finding Japan: Early Canadian Encounters with Asia looks at this long history. It starts even before U.S. gunboats opened a closed island Japan to the world -- with the story of the Canadian son of an HBC trader who marooned himself in Japan, and ended up teaching English to the man who would translate for the Americans when the arrived in their black ships.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Message to Adolf by Osamu Tezuka

The best literature serves to open your eyes to something new, to reveal something you haven’t seen before. Books that meet this test are few and far between — and Message to Adolf by manga master Osamu Tezuka is firmly one of them. 

It’s all the more surprising through Western eyes because we just don’t expect to come across idea shaking literature in graphic form — manga, comic, or graphic novel. Message to Adolf shows we probably should.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Rice, Noodle, Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan's Food Culture by Matt Goulding

Rice, Fish, Noodle is the Japanese food travel book that I have been searching for. I also suspect it could be the food travel book the world has been waiting for. 

So many books of this genre scrape the surface. They revisit the same old things. They offer up yet another tired old description of the long traditions and wacky (to Westerners) food of Japan. Sushi. Ramen. Kaiseki. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Very Small Home by Azby Brown

Tiny houses seem to be all the rage these days. I’ve seen them profiled on talk shows, on news programs, and online. If you want to go back to the start, a great place is The Very Small Home: Japanese Ideas for Living Well in Limited Space by Azby Brown.

First published in Japan in 2005 and in English in 2012, the book profiles 18 very small homes in Japan - their layout, the features that make the space seem larger, and their techniques for packing a full life into a small home. The brilliant designs for storage are fascinating. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Whisky Japan: The Essential Guide to the World's Most Exotic Whisky by Dominic Roskrow

Whisky Japan: The Essential Guide to the World's Most Exotic Whisky is a sad book.

Don't get me wrong - it's an amazing book. But it's sad because it is also clear that so much of the amazing stuff described is going or gone. Specific age single malts from Nikka are gone. Bottles are investments not tasting delights. The future - at least how it will play out for whiskies - remains to be determined.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki

I don't think I've ever called a book life changing. Being a procrastinator at heart, whenever a book says “close this book and take this action NOW” my response is “nah later.” 

Well Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism is life changing and I'm already taking action. For the record, I am not becoming a minimalist. At least I am not planning to. I won't get down to just one small towel. I won't have just one plate. But I am already minimizing - and it’s the start of a journey. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Kyoto Gardens: Masterworks of the Japanese Gardener's Art by Judith Clancy

It seems that the more gardens you see in Kyoto the more gardens and temples there are left to see. And even though I told myself I'd seen enough gardens during my most recent four-day trip to the old Japanese capital, Kyoto Gardens had made me realize how I have scratched the surface. 

The book captures the essence of the key gardens and grounds each in four page profiles. Packed with pictures and accompanying short descriptions you get a quick look at and a bit of history of the garden and its temple or palace home. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Art of Japanese Architecture by Michiko and David Young

The Art of Japanese Architecture is a wonderful journey through the history of buildings in Japan. The book traces the origins of what we see today right back to pre-historic times. 

It's amazing to see influences traced back hundreds and even more than 1,000 years. It says something about the timeless nature of Japanese design.

The story is a lesson in Japanese culture - and how much it's always been about taking in other cultures and making them Japanese. The blending of the native Shinto and imported Buddhist architecture is the perfect example.