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‘Musashi: An Epic Novel of the Samurai Era’ encapsulates feudal Japan

By Kris Kosaka

 

mushashiThose with an interest in feudal Japan are urged not to miss Eiji Yoshikawa’s samurai epic, “Musashi: An Epic Novel of the Samurai Era” — just don’t expect historical accuracy. In telling the story of Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1685), the famed swordsman and author of “The Book of Five Rings,” Yoshikawa’s sprawling novel relies mostly on imagination and invention, much to the dismay of historians.

Yet the fact remains that “Musashi” has enjoyed great popularity since it was first serialized in the Asahi Shimbun in 1935, inspiring various movie and television versions and even becoming the basis of a popular manga. Read more

Source: The Japan Times


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Burton Watson, 91, Influential Translator of Classical Asian Literature, Dies

By William Grimes

Burton Watson, whose spare, limpid translations, with erudite introductions, opened up the world of classical Japanese and Chinese literature to generations of English-speaking readers, died on April 1 in Kamagaya, Japan. He was 91.

His death was confirmed by his nephew William Dundon.

For nearly six decades, Mr. Watson was a one-man translation factory, producing indispensable English versions of Chinese and Japanese literary, historical and philosophical texts, dozens of them still in print. Generations of students and teachers relied on collections like “Early Chinese Literature” (1962), “Chinese Lyricism: Shih Poetry From the Second to the Twelfth Century” (1971), “From the Country of Eight Islands: An Anthology of Japanese Poetry” (1981) and “The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry: From Early Times to the 13th Century” (1984). Read more

Source: The New York Times


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‘Beauty and Sadness’: Yasunari Kawabata’s last published novel explores the extremes of human emotion

By Kris Kosaka

beauty and sadnessNobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata’s “Beauty and Sadness” is a sparse and elegant dissection of the messiest human emotions.

It’s also a study in Japanese aesthetics, as the central characters all have some connection to the arts, and Kawabata deftly paints their worlds with mesmerizing imagery and use of detail.

Successful writer Oki Toshio, 54, longs to hear the New Year’s bells in Kyoto with his former mistress, Otoko Ueno, who was only 15 when Oki seduced her. The forbidden, passionate affair had resulted in a stillborn child followed by Otoko’s suicide attempt. Married with a young son, Oki considers suicide himself until the couple are separated when Otoko’s mother intervenes. Read more

Source: The Japan Times

 


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Sawako Ariyoshi’s ‘The River Ki’ explores characters who swim against life’s current

By Iain Maloney

When we read Japanese history it’s easy to forget that the revolutionary changes that washed through the country from the 19th century into the 20th all took place within a single human life span.

Sawako Ariyoshi takes this notion as the premise for her 1959 novel “The River Ki.” The book follows the life of Hana, the daughter of a wealthy family in Wakayama, from her teenage betrothal to her elderly senility.

Raised to value the customs of old Japan, rapid modernization soon leaves her behind. Her daughter, Fumio, embraces feminism and Japan’s new international outlook, rebelling against her mother’s folk wisdom and superstition. Fumio raises her children abroad, ever on the move, until the outbreak of World War II forces them back to Japan. Read more

Source: The Japan Times


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‘Pachinko’ author Min Jin Lee on how Japan’s ethnic Koreans keep beating the odds

By Nicolas Gatting

“I got lost all the time,” says writer Min Jin Lee with a charming laugh, sitting in a hotel lobby in San Francisco’s Japantown.

Before a promotional appearance at a bookstore, she spoke to The Japan Times about writing her new novel “Pachinko,” a historical saga tracing four generations of a Korean family in Japan.

Despite the acclaim of her fiction debut “Free Food for Millionaires” in 2007, which was a best-seller in the U.S., Lee suffered existential self-doubt when producing her follow-up: the first English-language novel about the experience of Japan’s ethnic Koreans.

“I thought, ‘Nobody wants this book and I’m an idiot for having worked on it so hard,’ ” says Lee, who admires writers such as Leo Tolstoy and Charles Dickens. “But to succeed in writing, you must be willing to look stupid for a long time. ‘Pachinko’ took so long because I got it wrong so many times.” Read more

Source: Japan Times


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Translated A-bomb book reminds us of the horrors of war

By Mie Sakamoto

A recently released English translation of a Japanese book about 321 junior high school students killed by the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima is a poignant reminder of the inescapable suffering and militaristic indoctrination of youth at the time.

“Ishibumi” — meaning “cenotaph” — was first published in 1969, following a Hiroshima Television Corp. documentary about the bombing, and the first English translation of the text was published last December.

The motivation to produce an English edition almost five decades after the original was released came after former U.S. President Barack Obama visited Hiroshima on May 27 last year, said the book’s editor, Naomi Saito. At the time, outspoken Japanese writer Ayako Sono wrote in a newspaper column that “Ishibumi” was the “only book” that needs to be given to the president. Read more

Source: Japan Times


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Translated A-bomb book reminds us of the horrors of war

By Mie Sakamoto

A recently released English translation of a Japanese book about 321 junior high school students killed by the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima is a poignant reminder of the inescapable suffering and militaristic indoctrination of youth at the time.

“Ishibumi” — meaning “cenotaph” — was first published in 1969, following a Hiroshima Television Corp. documentary about the bombing, and the first English translation of the text was published last December.

The motivation to produce an English edition almost five decades after the original was released came after former U.S. President Barack Obama visited Hiroshima on May 27 last year, said the book’s editor, Naomi Saito. At the time, outspoken Japanese writer Ayako Sono wrote in a newspaper column that “Ishibumi” was the “only book” that needs to be given to the president. Read more

Source: Japan Times

 


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‘Picture Bride Stories’: Stories of the resilient women who traded Japan for the cane fields of Hawaii

By Nicolas Gattig

“I thought if there was a way to walk across the ocean (back) to Japan, I would have done so.” This is how Haruno Tazawa remembers her early experience as a “picture bride” — the name for the more than 20,000 women who, during the period of restricted immigration between 1908 and 1924, left Japan to marry Japanese men mainly in Hawaii after only seeing them in photographs.

In “Picture Bride Stories,” Barbara F. Kawakami interviews 16 of these women who sailed to Hawaii, including Tazawa. A rich tapestry of immigrant lives, the book is narrated with generous sweep and great anthropological detail. A recurring theme is the hardships many of the women endured on the sugar plantations where they worked. Read more

Source: The Japan Times


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Professor Who Wrote of Korean ‘Comfort Women’ Wins Defamation Case

By Choe Sang-Hun

SEOUL, South Korea — A professor whose book about Japan’s World War II-era military brothels angered Korean women who once worked there was acquitted on Wednesday of defaming the women.

The professor of Japanese literature at Sejong University in Seoul, Park Yu-ha, published “Comfort Women of the Empire” in 2013. She has since faced civil and criminal complaints from nine South Korean women who said they were forced to work at the brothels during the war.

A year ago, Ms. Park lost a civil lawsuit when a court said she had defamed the women with “false” and “distorted” content in her book and ordered her to pay each of the nine 10 million won, or about $8,500.

But on Wednesday, Ms. Park won the criminal case. In a case closely followed by the South Korean news media, a judge in the Eastern District Court in Seoul ruled that her academic freedom must be protected. Read more

Source: NY Times


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Mishima and the maze of sexuality in modern Japan

By Damian Flanagan

In June 1948, novelist Osamu Dazai committed suicide. The 38-year-old, who had just completed his masterpiece, “No Longer Human,” and whose fame was peaking, jumped into Tokyo’s Tamagawa Canal with his mistress, Tomie Yamazaki, and drowned.

With his acid wit and nihilistic vision, Dazai had been the key author who benefitted from the easing of censorship after Japan’s defeat in World War II. He scandalized and fascinated postwar society with his personal lifestyle — fathering children out of wedlock — and the fearless manner in which he depicted nontraditional relationships.

He undermined one of the key tenets of sexuality in modern Japan by suggesting that “romantic love” doesn’t always lead to marriage and happiness. Read more