By Rashaad Jorden (Yamagata–ken, 2008-10) for JQ magazine. A former head of the JETAA Philadelphia Sub–Chapter, Rashaad is a graduate of Leeds Beckett University with a master’s degree in responsible tourism management. For more on his life abroad and enthusiasm for taiko drumming, visit his blog at www.gettingpounded.wordpress.com.
Tuttle Publishing has released another selection of Japan-related books, and the following quartet includes works that touch on Japanese etiquette, language study, Okinawan history, and picturesque Kyoto.
While studying Japanese, I learned the term shikata, which is translated as the “way of doing things.” However, as the late lecturer and writer Boyé Lafayette de Mente thoroughly documents, kata represents a lot more than a translation of “form”: It is a concept present in just about every aspect of Japanese society, whether it be the business world, poetry, or sumo. In essence, kata guides the country’s etiquette.
In Japan, the process of accomplishing a goal is just as significant, if not more significant, than the actual result—a notable contrast to the West. De Mente defines kata as the “way things are supposed to be done,” and he educates readers on how the concept has shaped Japan throughout its history and the present.
The author also touches on other cultural differences between Westerners and Japanese (such as communication styles) and people reading the book will probably nod their heads in agreement as they read certain passages, such as “Foreigners can live a lifetime in Japan and not fully understand how the Japanese system works the way it does” and why Japanese often express amazement at foreigners who can utter the simplest Japanese phrase. Japan: A Guide to Traditions, Customs and Etiquette is really an exploration of the Japanese psyche.
If nothing else, you’ll be amazing at how different Japan seems from the West.
Those seeking an introduction to kanji, or just a way to brush up on them, should turn to William Matsuzaki’s work. The pad is an excellent tool for busy people: The 334 kanji it presents lends itself to a simple, one kanji-a-day memorization for those aiming to study at a relaxed pace. Furthermore, each page contains terms utilizing the featured kanji and tips on how to write its strokes.
The kanji appearing in the pad is really nothing out of the ordinary, as you’ll see them in many (if not most) materials geared toward relatively novice Japanese learners. Adding to the book’s appeal, the inclusion of spaces to write the kanji (as well as sample sentences featuring the characters) is most useful for those looking to bolster their knowledge of the language.
Like every other region in Japan, Okinawa is blessed with an enormously long history. The late George H. Kerr takes readers on a journey through numerous events that have shaped the island chain’s past, from the arrival of the Ryukyu’s first inhabitants to World War II. The book also includes images of prominent places and people in Okinawa throughout the years.
Kerr passed away in 1992, but more recent events occurring in Okinawa aren’t omitted. Regional history scholar Mitsugu Sakihara writes the two-part afterword and the latter section touches on post-World War II Okinawa up to 1999, including several pages devoted to the aftermath of its reversion to Japan in 1972.
Since the 21st century is absent from the book, it’s possible a lot of people will seek other materials to augment their knowledge of today’s Okinawa. But Kerr’s creation shouldn’t be pushed aside as he details the conflicts that have rendered the islands the center of numerous conflicts. This book is a lot more than write-ups of battles and tug-of-wars—stick with it and you’ll find fascinating tidbits about the islands, such as the role the potato has played in its development and how Okinawan culture developed in the prehistoric area.
Kyoto is majestically beautiful and serene. While that statement is as profound as saying Hokkaido is snowy, it’s wonderful to see reminders of why Japan’s ancient capital is such a special place.
Although Thomas Daniell provides extensive information about the domiciles and temples profiled, the highlights of this newly revised edition are decidedly visual. Akihiko Seki’s beautiful color photographs (more than 500 in all) will surely take you back to places in Kyoto you (probably) visited.
One thing you might be wondering is, how do I visit these marvels? While some of them are very much on the tourist trail (Kinkaku-ji, Ginkaku-ji), most of the locales featured will require some work to reach. It doesn’t help that information about access to the sites is lacking. However, a list of those spots profiled in the book appears toward the back, along with their addresses and websites.
Whichever residence you visit, you’re bound to be amazed.
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