International Internship Program (IIP), Kodansha, 2008
The IIP was established in 1979 by the Japanese government to introduce Japan’s culture, geography, social habits, politics & economy. This book, written in both Japanese & English, is based on the real experience of more than 10,000 Japanese interns sent by IIP to 52 countries as “Cultural Ambassadors” over the past 22 years.
The book has two main purposes; for Japanese to rediscover themselves, as well as introducing Japan to non-Japanese. The book has four parts: This is Japan, Japanese Life, Japanese Culture and the Shape of Japan today.
The book includes sections on geography & climate, ceremonies & transportation, sumo & flower arranging, Japanese mentality & mass communication, and many others. It also talks about key sources of Japanese pride – for example, beautiful scenery & excellence in culture & art, as well as explaining some key Japanese concepts – for example, communication without words, & gestures in Japan.
It is a wide-ranging & interesting introduction to the country.
Shusaku Endo, New Directions, 1990
This book is a collection of eleven short stories taken from two Japanese anthologies, and draws deeply on aspects of the author’s own life and Catholic faith, using his experiences and insight to imbue his characters with authentic emotional and spiritual contemplation and experiences of suffering, seemingly the main linking theme of most stories.
The disappointment is that, despite Christian experiences and understanding, the characters never seem to appreciate how God’s greatness is reflected in their imperfections and shortcomings.
However, with a little research into Endo’s life and thoughts, the stories also offer an interesting insight into the viewpoint of a Japanese man who has to some extent inherited his Christian faith.
Endo’s interesting viewpoint of martyrdom and apostasy also makes these stories thought provoking and challenging. As such I would recommend the collection, but beware that some of the stories can be a bit emotionally draining!
Shusaku Endo, New Directions, 2000
This is book contains 5 short stories or chapters from stories written by the Japanese, Catholic author Endo. Each story has a different theme, but each gives an insight into Japanese culture and thinking, particularly in the area of relationships.
Although I found it insightful to read, I wouldn’t naturally choose the rather negative topics which included martyrdom, prostitution and death. I also found it frustrating that the individual chapters had no connection and that no comment was made as to why they had been chosen. Overall, although I benefitted from reading this I would have preferred to read a complete novel.
Kathryn Lasky, Scholastic Trade, 2004
Kazunomiya is the fifth book in the royal diaries series by Kathryn Lasky. It’s aimed at an audience of 13years and up and is the diary of a young princess born into a world of international isolation in 1846, in Japan. Set in the imperial court her diary tells of royal intrigue, arranged marriages, and family loyalty set in a world where beauty and literature are celebrated.
The book is full of lovely detail about her life as a woman and also describes how the unstable political situation affected her life. She is known by some as a forgotten royal who was actually a gifted child and whose poetry and waka (31-syllable poems) are still celebrated today.
I recommend this story to the younger generation.
Giles Milton, Sceptre; New Ed edition, 2003
This book is for those who enjoy historical narrative and wish to read about a real life role model for James Clavell’s Shogun (also a popular read.)
The back cover reads… In 1611, London’s merchants received an intriguing letter written by a marooned English mariner named William Adams, who had been living in the unknown land of Japan for more than a decade. Seven adventurers were sent to Japan with orders to find and befriend Adams. It was believed he held the key to exploiting the opulent riches of this forbidden country, but when they arrived they discovered that Williams had ‘gone native’.
I read this book in order to make a start in educating myself in Japanese history, to better understand the culture and to be inspired to go native myself! It was an enjoyable read and a good start into Japanese history.
Iris Chang, Penguin (Non-Classics); Reprint edition, 1998
This book tells of the brutal events which occurred in the southern Chinese city of Nanking in 1937-38. It is of interest to those of us in Japan, because of the allegations which are made about the actions of the Japanese Imperial Army, and their ongoing consequences for the relationship between Japan and China today.
Bare numbers don’t tell the whole story, but are significant; it is thought that within 6 weeks, 260 – 350,000 Chinese people were killed, and 20-80,000 women were raped. However the author, Chang, who is of Chinese descent, devotes almost as much space to an account of the events, as to an analysis of ‘The Second Rape’ – the apparent conspiracy of silence which has been maintained ever since.
It makes for grim reading, apart from one ray of light; a group of 22 Americans and Europeans – many of them Christians – stayed in Nanking throughout the slaughter and rescued around 300,000 Chinese from the soldiers. Fascinatingly, they were led by a prominent Nazi, John Rabe…but that’s another story!
This is a very disturbing book, which is nonetheless important for understanding 20th century Asian history. Only read it if you have a strong stomach!
Ayako Miura, OMF, 1991
This book, written in letter-form, describes a girl growing up in a single parent family. The author describes her struggles, especially with her broken family relationships, and the pain which results from the sin of others, as well personal sin. The book also shows that through God’s love and forgiveness one can experience hope and renewal.
This book is interesting and insightful, and shows how God can live in the hearts of – and even work through – broken people. However deep-rooted our pain or hatred, God can save us.
However, for people who haven’t had much contact with Christianity, the introduction, as well as some other passages might be difficult to understand. Having said that, I learned a lot from the book; for example, how painful it is when somebody is bullied, and how much these experiences can shape and even control a person’s later life. I also learnt how people can influence a person’s life for good or bad.
I would recommend this book, as it might help to understand people who have had similar experiences. You could give it to Japanese friends, but should be prepared to talk about it with them.
Shusaku Endo, Kodansha, 1982
“Silence” is set in 17th century Japan, when Christians were persecuted, missionaries had been expelled, and Christianity was punishable by death. Two Portuguese priests travel to Japan, to locate and comfort hidden Catholics, and to discover the truth about their former respected mentor. Endo recounts how officials at that time created an anti-Christian system.
The theme of the book is: How can God be silent whilst his children are suffering?
Would I recommend this book? Parts of the book are repetitive, and the climax was personally and theologically unsatisfying. Also, if your emotions are influenced by what you read, or you struggle with the question of suffering, then I wouldn’t recommend it. However, I learnt that persecution does not automatically lead to church growth, and I would recommend this book for the following reasons;
Kappa Senoh, 講談社インターナショナル, 2002
This is an autobiographical novel set in Kobe during the 1930s and 1940s, with characters based on real people.
The novel follows the build up to WW2, all the way through to the end of the war, from the viewpoint of a ‘typical’ Japanese family in Kobe. In some significant ways, however, the family was far from typical. They were part of a local church and had a considerable number of foreign friends prior to the war. H, the main character from whose perspective the story is written, is remarkably non-conformist and skeptical in his reaction to the events around him.
Nevertheless, the story gives a helpful insight into the period as well as an interesting contrast between the faith of H’s father and mother in relation to the beliefs around them. H’s own reaction to their faith in the context of the war is also worth noting.