I can recommend hundreds of books to consider for your reading pleasure before your journey to Japan. However, I also realize that most of us do not have the luxury of time to entertain the notion of becoming a expert on Japan and just want to get a well rounded introduction. Well with that in mind I have selected my TOKU 10 listing of essential reading which is noted above at Amazon.com in my TOKU 10 carousel and below in my notes.
What I am reading now ... REIMAGINING JAPAN
What I just finished ... MINKA: MY FARMHOUSE IN JAPAN
Recently I received John Roderick's book MINKA: MY FARMHOUSE IN JAPAN from a dear friend. The book is a wonderful story of how the author acquired a farmhouse for only $14 and the subsequent trials and tribulations of rebuilding the structure and understanding the cultural divides of such an enterprise in Japan as a foreigner. My friend knew of my own passion for Japan and my desire to bring a minka to California in the future, so the book has been the perfect gift for me. But little did he know of the impact that this book would have on me in my journey to understand the joys of longevity at this stage of my life.
Recently I lost my dear Grandmother Winnie at the age of 94. She was and remains an inspiration to me. At the age of 85, after my grandfather Clifton passed away, my grandmother and I embarked on global travels together that would take us as far away as the Middle East and Europe. Many of you will remember long before the age of the internet my website Travels with Winnie that captured our daily activities while we were on the road together. Winnie lived her each day to its fullest and her zest for life touched so many around the world. I will never forget our celebratory dinner at Claridge's in London after our sailing on the QM2 from New York to Southampton, when she rose from the table in her gorgeous beaded gown and the entire restaurant stopped in silence to honor this great woman. For just a moment the world stood still - the joys of longevity.
John Roderick too lived his life to the fullest to the very end. He very reluctantly, and as he described it, "prematurely" retired from active work at the Associated Press in 1984 at the age of 70. He continued to work and in 1985 the Japanese Government awarded him with the Order of the Sacred Treasure for his lifelong reporting on Japanese and Asian issues. In his later years he spent much of his retirement at his restored minka farmhouse in Kamakura. At the age of 92 he even wrote about this own birthday and the AP honored him with a champagne lunch in New York City in 2006. In the same year he also started a series of articles on China as part of his coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. In February 2008, John Roderick wrote his last piece which was a personal reflection on his life. He died the following month in March 2008 at his apartment in Hawaii.
What I find most touching about this wonderful book is how one man fell in love with the people of Japan and how as an outsider he defined for himself the meaning of place and most importantly home.For more information on the book, follow the link below.
This is perhaps one of my favorite books of all time. You can read it in one sitting, but be prepared to read it again and again - brilliant. A simple and insightful introduction to the Japanese sense of beauty, written by one of the greatest Japanese authors of the 20th century.
Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers
This is an updated version of the enduring classic that first introduced the concept of “imperfect beauty” to the West. Text, images, and book design seamlessly meld into a wabi-sabi-like experience.
Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete . . .
. . . wabi-sabi could even be called the “Zen of things,” as it exemplifies many of Zen’s core spiritual-philosophical tenets . . .
Wabi-sabi is the most conspicuous and characteristic feature of what we think of as traditional Japanese beauty. It occupies roughly the same position in the Japanese pantheon of aesthetic values as do the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection in the West . . .
Wabi-sabi, in its purest, most idealized form, is precisely about the delicate traces, the faint evidence, at the borders of nothingness . . .
Author Leonard Koren was trained as an architect but never built anythingundefinedexcept an eccentric Japanese tea houseundefinedbecause he found large, permanent objects too philosophically vexing to design. Instead he created WET: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing, one of the premier avant-garde magazines of the 1970s. Subsequently Koren has produced unusual books about design- and aesthetics-related subjects. Koren resides in both America and Japan. For more information, visit www.leonardkoren.com.
The Book of Tea
Another great classic that uses the tea ceremony in explaining and interpreting traditional Japanese culture.
The Makioka Sisters
A delightful account of family life in pre-World War II Japan. A wonderful film version is also available.
Old Kyoto: A Guide To Traditional Shops, Restaurants and Inns
A wonderful guide to unique traditional shops in Kyoto. When first published it was my essential guide to learn about the city of Kyoto and how the traditional art forms continue to serve as the backbone and heart and soul of the ancient capital city of Japan. This book also served as a wonderful supplement to my first Kyoto Insider programs that became a favorite of travelers over the years.
Sources of Japanese Tradition, Volume One: From Earliest Times to 1600
Wm. Theodore de Bary (Editor), Donald Keene (Editor), George Tanabe (Editor), Paul Varley (Editor)
This is the very first book I was assigned at UC Berkeley and to this day I find it to be a wonderful source for the origins of things Japanese. This book is a wonderful compilation by some of the most prolific and knowledgeable authorities on the field. It great gives great insight into the foundations of Japanese tradition. Especially the influences of Shinto/animism, Buddhism, and China are thoroughly fleshed out. The book provides translations of portions of key historical and religious texts, providing ample explanations without forcing us to read through the whole texts. This allows us to focus on the main purpose of the book. Providing an historical lens with which to view Japanese society and tradition. Keep in mind though, its not a work for the completely uninitiated. The book takes an academic tone and will require you to read through some longer passages of writing written in the style of court records as was the fashion in earlier Japanese and Chinese historical writing. Great piece of academic literature and rather affordable compared to textbooks out there with similar subject matter.
Sources of Japanese Tradition, Abridged: Part 1: 1600 to 1868
Wm. Theodore de Bary (Editor)
This anthology starts where the previous edition ended in 1600.
Sources of Japanese Tradition, Abridged: Part 2: 1868 to 2000
Wm. Theodore de Bary (Editor)
The last in the series which covers 1868 to 2000.
Kitchen Banana Yoshitomo
In this translation of a best-selling novel first published in Japan in 1987, the young narrator, Mikage, moves into the apartment of a friend whose mother is murdered early in the tale. What seems like a coming-of-age melodrama quickly evolves into a deeply moving tale filled with unique characters and themes. Along the way, readers get a taste of contemporary Japan, with its mesh of popular American food and culture. Mikage addresses the role of death, loneliness, and personal as well as sexual identity through a set of striking circumstances and personal remembrances. In her simple and captive style, Yoshimoto confirms that art is perhaps the best ambassador among nations. Recommended for all fiction collections.
Katsura: Picturing Modernism in Japanese Architecture: Photographs by Ishimoto Yasuhiro (Museum of Fine Arts)
Originally published by Yale University Press in 1960, Katsura: Tradition and Creation of Japanese Architecture is the most significant photographic publication about the relationship of modernity and tradition in postwar Japan. Designed by famed Bauhaus graphic artist Herbert Bayer, Katsura comprises 135 black-and-white photographs by Ishimoto Yasuhiro depicting the 17th-century Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto, with essays by architects Walter Gropius and Tange Kenzo.
This new publication argues that Tange, motivated by a desire to transform the architectural images into abstract fragments, played a major role in cropping and sequencing Ishimoto’s photographs for the book. The author provides a fresh and critical look at the nature of the collaboration between Tange and Ishimoto, exploring how their words and images helped establish a new direction in modern Japanese architecture. The book serves as an important contribution to the growing scholarly field of post-1945 Japanese art, in particular the juncture of photography and architecture.