Week 3: (Nov. 11 to 15) – Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert (Katie at Doing Dewey): Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).
As discussed in my week 2 Non-Fiction November post, I’m keen to know more about the GDR, life behind the Wall and the impact of the Wall coming down in 1989. So if you have any expert knowledge on this topic, please feel free to share in the comments.
However this week, I will turn the non-fiction gaze back to me, to
show off highlight some of the stuff I know, thanks to books!
Previously I have explored the Holocaust, Coco Chanel and Napoleon.
This year we will travel to Japan.
My fascination with Japan goes back to my high school days when I studied Japanese for two and half years. Sadly, I am nowhere near as proficient in the language as that impressive claim might otherwise sound. But my obsession with cherry blossoms, tea ceremonies and Hiroshima dates back to this time.
I vaguely remember watching the TV series of Shogun back in the early 80’s, but priests running around old Japan with swords failed to really capture my imagination. Not long after, A Town Like Alice was turned into a TV drama in Australia starring a young Bryan Brown. Here I learnt about many of the Japanese atrocities that happened in Malaysia in WWII. When my family moved to Cowra and I started taking Japanese classes, these were the two stories which formed my main views about Japan.
Quickly I was caught up on Cowra’s own very personal history with Japan during WWII via the so-called Cowra Break-Out. Cowra still maintains a Japanese war cemetery from this time and now has a beautiful Japanese Garden created by Takeshi “Ken” Nakajima. This is where I caught the Japanese fetish for cherry blossoms. For five formative years during my teens, whilst we lived in Cowra, visiting the gardens in the spring time was the thing to do and something to look forward to. Long before selfies and hashtags, I was hooked on getting photos of swirling pink blossoms!
During my China phase in my twenties, I read a number of stories and histories that depicted the Japanese soldiers in China between the two world wars and into WWII. It was not a happy experience for the Chinese.
Over the years I have also read and watched a number of stories about the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour, life in Changi prison, the fall of Singapore, the battle of Midway, the Kokoda Trail, the Burma Railway, the Vyner Brooke nurses captured in Singapore and James A Michiner’s Sayonara.
It has only been in the past decade or so that I have finally started reading books set in Japan, written by Japanese authors.
Murakami was my first love, but I have broadened my range into Japanese classic literature, popular fiction and haiku (including Basho’s travelling haiku classic Narrow Road to the Interior).
You can check out ALL the books on my blog that have been labelled ‘Japan‘ or you can read about my non-fiction picks below.
- The tsunami of 2011 has spawned many books including Strong in the Rain by Lucy Birmingham & David McNeill. But my favourite was Ghosts of the Tsunami by Richard Lloyd Parry – an in-depth study into the effects of the tsunami on one particular community.
- I adored Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I’m not a runner, but this books still resonated on so many levels. Highly recommended.
For tales of modern travellers in Japan try:
- Jane Lawson’s Tokyo Style Guide – full of amazing vibrant photography.
- Neon Pilgrim by Lisa Dempster – a terrific description of a young woman’s attempt to walk the 88 Temples of Shikoku.
- Peter Carey wrote a slim volume about taking his teenage son to Japan in Wrong About Japan.
- And I wrote a post in which I discuss the best travel guides to take to Japan.
Children’s books also feature on my backlist:
- Yoko’s Diary edited by Paul Ham was an award winning book about the story of a Hiroshima victim and her half-brother, who survived.
I continue to LOVE books about the food and culture of Japan. Most of these are still reads in progress, as I dip in and out of them when I can.
- Tokyo Local by Caryn Liew & Brendan Liew
- Tokyo by Steve Wilde & Michelle Mackintosh
- Rice Noodle Fish by Matt Goulding
- Shinrin-yoku by Yoshifumi Miyazaki
- Onsen of Japan by Steve Wilde & Michelle Mackintosh
- Lonely Planet’s Best of Japan
- Hokkaido Highway Blues by Will Ferguson
- Riding the Trains in Japan by Patrick Holland
- Absolutely on Music by Murakami and Ozawa
- Autobiography of a Geisha by Sayo Masuda
- The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura
- Men Without Women by Murakami
- Hiroshima by John Hersey
- Lost Japan by Alex Kerr
- On the Narrow Road: Journey into a Lost Japan by Lesley Downer
- The Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan by Ian Buruma
It took 35 years, but last year, for my 50th birthday, I finally saw cherry blossoms in Japan! It was a truly magical experience. Worth the wait in pink gold!
If you have any more inspired choices about travelling, living or eating in Japan, or any biography/history recommendations about the Japanese experience of WWII, I’d love to know.