In 1980 Cathy N. Davidson traveled to Japan to teach English at a leading all-women’s university. It was the first of many journeys and the beginning of a deep and abiding fascination. In this extraordinary book, Davidson depicts a series of intimate moments and small epiphanies that together make up a panoramic view of Japan. With wit, candor, and a lover’s keen eye, she tells captivating stories—from that of a Buddhist funeral laden with ritual to an exhilarating evening spent touring the “Floating World,” the sensual demimonde in which salaryman meets geisha and the normal rules are suspended. On a remote island inhabited by one of the last matriarchal societies in the world, a disconcertingly down-to-earth priestess leads her to the heart of a sacred grove. And she spends a few unforgettable weeks in a quasi-Victorian residence called the Practice House, where, until recently, Japanese women were taught American customs so that they would make proper wives for husbands who might be stationed abroad. In an afterword new to this edition, Davidson tells of a poignant trip back to Japan in 2005 to visit friends who had remade their lives after the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995, which had devastated the city of Kobe, as well as the small town where Davidson had lived and the university where she taught.
36 Views of Mount Fuji not only transforms our image of Japan, it offers a stirring look at the very nature of culture and identity. Often funny, sometimes liltingly sad, it is as intimate and irresistible as a long-awaited letter from a good friend.
Empathy infuses Davidson's reactions to the Japanese and lifts this graceful, balanced account of her experiences in their country above the ordinary. Her book's title, taken from the series of woodblock prints by the famed late-18th century artist, Hokusai, reflects her will to see many different and sometimes contradictory aspects of the culture, to avoid stereotypes and to admit a range of emotions. Between 1980 and 1990, she visited Japan four times, twice for year-long assignments as an English professor at Kanzai Women's University. She struggled with the language, made do with standard cramped living quarters, reached out within the acceptable social forms to fellow teachers, students and neighbors. She ate native foods, accepted the invitation of a male colleague to tour the pornographic boites of Osaka's ``Floating World,'' stayed overnight with the priestess of a matriarchal communal religion, and generally learned to feel so much at home that she occasionally thought of herself as Japanese. Through women friends, Davidson ( The Book of Love: Writers and Their Love Letters ) came to understand their power in this society as well as their needs. Her charmingly drawn word-pictures resonate.