japan: A Pictoral Portrait

I wrote a book review on Japan: A Pictoral Portrait on Goodreads.com today.  The review is appended below.

I’ve been reading a lot of books on Japan, manga, games, and otaku culture, and traditional crafts and food, because of a number of projects that I am working on related to travel and other business.  On the one hand, I’ve been trying to get a better understanding of the “Cool Japan” business being pushed by the Japanese government.  On the other, I believe that there are many “cool” arts, crafts, and businesses being largely ignored by most Japanese and the Cool Japan movement.

One of the important things I think that is being neglected by contemporary Japan is the Satoyama.  A documentary film narrated by Sir David Attenborough, Satoyama: Japan’s Secret Watergarden, summarizes well for English speaking audiences what is meant by the term.  The Satoyama is critical for the well-being of Japan especially because the nation is mostly mountainous.  Only about 10% of its land mass is flat plains ideal for farming and housing.

In the book, we can see how so many of Japan’s customs and traditions developed through its rough landscape.  While there is no “return to the past,” I think that there are ways of returning some of the values that can be found in tradition, and that many contemporary people are feeling stress and pain because we feel severed from those timeless ways.

Japan: A Pictorial PortraitJapan: A Pictorial Portrait by Kenzo Takada
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Japan: A Pictorial Portrait is an easy book to read; after all, it is, as it says, a “Pictorial Portrait.” The photography is excellent, though one might think that the photos would be even better in a larger format. This might make it a better “living room table” book, but I found that the smaller format makes it a better book to carry in a bag/briefcase to plan a trip, even if the trip only exists in the imagination.

The book makes a trip to Japan seem a lot more desirable and impressive than it might seem for most people unaccustomed to Japan’s history, culture, and beautiful scenery. But I found the book to be a beautiful reflection of the nation I’ve learned to love over the past 25 years of my life living in Japan. There were many scenes that I have found to be extremely gratifying, as well as others that I someday hope to see.

I read the book to review some of the locations and situations that I intend to capture in a travel documentary I am planning to work on. It didn’t end up providing any specific information that I intend to use, but the book made me feel good, almost like after a very satisfying meal. This, in turn, is very close to the feeling we intend to create in our documentary, although instead of gratification, we also hope to instill a thirst for more from our audience. Nevertheless, I highly recommend the book for anyone interested in travel in Japan.

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