It's all about Japan
A Year in Japan
Kate T. Williamson
Princeton Architectural Press; January 2006
The Land of the Rising Sun is shining brightly across the American cultural landscape. Recent films such as “Lost in Translation” and “Memoirs of a Geisha” seem to have made everyone an expert on Japan, even if they've never been there. But the only way for a Westerner to get to know the real Japan is to become a part of it. Kate T. Williamson did just that, spending a year experiencing, studying, and reflecting on her adopted home. She brings her keen observations to us in A Year in Japan, a dramatically different look at a delightfully different way of life. Avoiding the usual clichés Japan's polite society, its unusual fashion trends, its crowded subways, Williamson focuses on some lesser-known aspects of the country and culture. In stunning watercolors and piquant texts, she explains the terms used to order various amounts of tofu, the electric rugs found in many Japanese homes, and how to distinguish a maiko from a geisha. She observes sumo wrestlers in traditional garb as they use ATMs, the wonders of “Santaful World” at a Kyoto department store, and the temple carpenters who spend each Sunday dancing to rockabilly. A Year in Japan is a colourful journey to the beauty, poetry, and quirkiness of modern Japana book not just to look at but to experience.
Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat: Secrets of My Mother's Tokyo Kitchen
Naomi Moriyama & William Doyle
Dell Publishing; November 2005
It's well-known that Japanese women have the lowest obesity rate in the industrialised world (3%) and the highest life expectancy (85 years), and that their cuisine is based on simplicity. Tokyo native Moriyama puts a human face on this phenomenon that of her mother, Chizuko, in this well-organized, persuasive introduction to a non-Western everyday cooking plan. Just as Moriyama reconstructed Chizuko's cooking practices for herself and her co-author husband, Doyle, she shows readers the elements of Chizuko's kitchen. She details its pantry ingredients, including bonito (fish) flakes and daikon (radish) and tools such as a rice cooker and wok. Most recipes are based on at least one of the “seven pillars”-fish, vegetables, rice, soy, noodles, tea, fruit-and are familiar and easy to make (Shrimp and Vegetable Tempura, Teriyaki Fish, etc.). Cooking tips abound, but what adds is the useful eating advice, such as “Hara hachi bunme,” or “Eat until you are 80 percent full.” It's a call for moderation that occurs throughout other cultures, and if it's the Japanese version that speaks to readers, good for Moriyama.
Knopf Publishing Group; January 2005
Natsuo Kirino's novel tells a story of random violence in the staid Tokyo suburbs, as a young mother who works a night shift making boxed lunches brutally strangles her deadbeat husband and then seeks the help of her co-workers to dispose of the body and cover up her crime. The ringleader of this cover-up, Masako Katori, emerges as the emotional heart of Out and as one of the shrewdest, most clear-eyed creations in recent fiction. Masako's own search for a way out of the straitjacket of a dead-end life leads her, too, to take drastic action. The complex yet riveting narrative seamlessly combines a convincing glimpse into the grimy world of Japan's yakuza with a brilliant portrayal of the psychology of a violent crime and the ensuing game of cat-and-mouse between seasoned detectives and a group of determined but inexperienced criminals. Kirino has mastered a “Thelma and Louise” kind of graveyard humour than illuminators her stunning evocation of the pressures and prejudices that drive women to extreme deeds and the friendship that bolsters them in the aftermath.
Compiled by SANYAT SATTAR
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