Book List

Japanland – Karin Muller, a nuanced and in depth story about Japanese culture. You can buy the book and dvd’s with her documentary about Japan (also very good) on her site www.japanlandjourney.com.
Geisha – Liza Dalby, an American woman living the life of a geisha in Kyoto. Very interesting, an inside view into the real life of modern geisha.
The pillow book – Sei Shonagon, written by a member of the Imperial court in the Heian period and consists of collection of separate musings and lists.
Shogun – James Clavell, a novel about an Englishman shipwrecked in Japan, around the start of the Edo period. It’s probably not completely historically correct, but it helped me a great deal to get a better understanding of the Japanese mind. And in addition to that, it’s an exciting novel that I love reading over and over.
The Blue-Eyed Salaryman – Niall Murtagh, a story about what it’s like to live in Japan and work for a large Japanese company. A little superficial but can be good as a first introduction to the concept of ‘the salaryman’.
Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden, romanticized (and not always correct) novel about the life of a geisha. He was later sued by the geisha on whom he based his story, because she felt that he had misrepresented what she told him during his research for the book.
Geisha of Gion (UK) / Geisha, a Life (US) – Mineko Iwasaki, the autobiography of the geisha that Arthur Golden based his story on, a.k.a. what really happened.
Fear and Trembling – Amélie Nothomb, a hilarious account of what not to do when you are a foreigner working in a Japanese company. Although obviously satirical, it still offers an interesting insight into some of the culture differences between Japan and Europe.
Inventing Japan – Ian Buruma, a brilliant one-volume synthesis of the history of modern Japan. Very readable and informative (according to Finorgan, thank you for the suggestion).
A Daughter of the Samurai – Etsu Sugimoto, a remarkable memoir, originally written in english, by a woman who was born to a samurai family in feudal Japan in the mid 1800s. She lived through incredible changes in her country’s history and she wrote about it all with lyricism and insight (according to Finorgan, thank you for the suggestion).
Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things – Lafcadio Hearn, a collection of old Japanese folk tales and scary stories that are beautifully retold by an adopted son of Japan (according to Finorgan, thank you for the suggestion).

Books about Japan only available in Dutch (as far as I know)

Een Geschiedenis van Japan: Van Samurai tot Soft Power – Prof. W. Vande Walle (Acco 2007), een compacte geschiedenis van Japan (bedankt voor de tip, sensei).
Het konijn op de maan – Paul Mennes, oppervlakkig verhaal over een verblijf in Japan dat zich vooral beperkt tot ‘rare jongens die Japanners’, doorspekt met de seksuele en familiale frustraties van de auteur.
Vrouw breekt los – Kjeld Duits, een serie verhalen met als doel inzicht te geven in ‘het echte Japan’.
Japanse kroniek – Nicolas Bouvier, een nogal vaag relaas over de Japanse maatschappij (en redelijk verouderd ondertussen, de informatie dateert van 1956-1966).


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4 thoughts on “Book List

  1. Not that I want to advertise the Catholic University of Leuven, but prof. Vande Walle wrote a very compact summary about Japanese history as well:
    Een Geschiedenis van Japan: Van Samurai tot Soft Power, Prof. W. Vande Walle (Acco 2007)

  2. Three recommendations to add to your list:

    Inventing Japan, by Ian Buruma. A brilliant one-volume synthesis of the history of modern Japan. Very readable and informative.

    Daughter of the Samurai, by Etsu Sugimoto. A remarkable memoir, originally written in english, by a woman who was born to a samurai family in feudal Japan in the mid 1800s. She lived through incredible changes in her country’s history and she wrote about it all with lyricism and insight.

    Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things by Lafcadio Hearn. A collection of old Japanese folk tales and scary stories that are beautifully retold by an adopted son of Japan.

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