• $29.99

Publisher Description

Japanese culture has fascinated the West ever since the country’s doors opened up in the 1800s. In many ways, Japan has remained elusive, and people have travelled from all around the world to see for themselves how unique this nation remains. Another way of exploring this enigmatic culture is through its literature. The English language succeeds surprisingly well in revealing the Japanese sense of life.

Book One: The Tale of Genji is an exquisitely crafted classic work of Japanese literature written in the 11th century. Some consider it to be the world's first novel, or the first modern or psychological novel. The narrative of 54 chapters is embellished by hundreds of little poems spread like a string of pearls through the prose. The story recounts the life of Hikaru Genji, the son of an ancient Japanese emperor and a concubine. Removed from the line of succession, Genji pursues a series of love affairs and a career as an imperial officer. The plethora of characters is impressively well-rounded while the setting of the Heian era in the tenth and eleventh centuries is magnificently portrayed. 

Book Two: Basil Hall Chamberlain (1850 -1935) was a professor of Japanese at Tokyo Imperial University. This is his translation of the Kojiki ("Records of Ancient Matters”) which was compiled in AD 712 by Ō no Yasumaro at the request of Empress Genmei. One of the two primary sources of the Japanese national religion of Shinto, the Kojiki is a collection of myths, early legends, songs, genealogies, oral traditions and semi-historical accounts. Starting with a creation story, the narrative shifts from mythology to historical legends, and concludes with a chronology of the early Imperial line. It includes supernatural episodes and tales of romance, passion, and murder. 

Book Three: Bushido: The Soul of Japan is a seminal study on the way of the samurai, by the Japanese educator, Inazo Nitobe. From 1868, the beginning of the Meiji Era, Japan rapidly transformed itself from an isolated feudal society into a modern, industrialised nation state, influenced by Western philosophical and scientific ideas. Nitobe wrote Bushido in English to explain the samurai way to a western audience; it was later translated into Japanese. In the book, he explained the principles of the “bushi” (warrior) and “do” (way) and positioned Bushido in the historical paradigm of knighthood and chivalry. Using a combination of western and oriental thought, he illustrated the virtues of courage, benevolence, politeness, honor, self-control and loyalty with reference to Buddhism, Confucianism and Shintoism, as well as modern western philosophy and classical ideas from the Bible and Greco-Roman civilization. The book was a best-seller, and became an enduring classic; generations of scholars have consulted it to gain an understanding of the character of the Japanese people. 

Book Four: "The Book of Tea" (1906) by Okakura Kakuzō is a long essay which examines the role of chadō (Teaism) in the aesthetic and cultural aspects of Japanese life. The author explains Teaism as “a philosophy founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence”. Originally written in English for a western audience, the essay deals with the spiritual traditions of Zen and Taoism, as well as the secular side of tea in Japanese life. The author shows how tea as a metaphor inspired the elegant simplicity which characterizes - inter alia - the art and architecture of Japan. According to the philosopher Tomonobu Imamichi, Martin Heidegger's concept of “Dasein” was inspired by Kakuzō’s expression “being-in-the-worldness” for the philosophy of Zhuangzi who composed a foundational text of the Tao. Kakuzó concludes that Teaism in itself serves as a universal remedy for promoting peace and tranquillity. 

Book Five: Patrick Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), was an Irish writer known also by the Japanese name Koizumi Yakumo. His book Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things’ comprises two parts, the first being the "Kwaidan proper" and the second, "Insect-Studies" which consists of an essay each on ants, butterflies and mosquitos. According to the author, most of the folk tales and ghost stories in the first part were translated from old Japanese texts. The themes encompass resurrection, sacrifice, magic, and the realm of dreams. The story titled “Riki-Baka" is partly based on a personal experience of Hearn's, while “Hi-Mawari” is set in Wales and appears to be an account of a childhood experience. The three aforementioned essays in part two of the work examine the meaning of the insects and their imagery in art, literature, and religion.

Blaise Adams
hr min
March 26