Book Announcement: Japanese Screens

Japanese Screens
By Claire Akiko Brisset, Torahiko Terada, Anne Marie Christin

Japanese screens (byobu, meaning “barrier against the wind”) are made of wooden lattices with two to twelve panels, covered with a paper or fabric canvas. They are unique for being beautiful artworks as well as portable furnishings, acting as backdrops for court ceremonies or partitions for intimate tea services. Artists have embraced screens as three-dimensional objects, creating dynamic compositions that guide the viewer’s eye from one panel to the next.

This sumptuous book explores the 1,300-year history of Japanese screens. The authors, leading experts on Japanese art and culture, describe how screens developed from the eighth to the twenty-first century, from their ceremonial use in palaces and temples to their functional and decorative use in ordinary Japanese homes. They examine the stylistic evolution of screens and the wide variety of subjects, such as animals, the seasons, The Tale of Genji, and calligraphic designs.

Bound in the Japanese style and housed in a handsome clamshell box, this volume also comes with a poster-sized reproduction of an exceptional screen, suitable for framing. Japanese Screens will be an essential addition to any art lover’s library.

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Book Announcement: Regimes of Desire: Young Gay Men, Media, and Masculinity in Tokyo

Regimes of Desire: Young Gay Men, Media, and Masculinity in Tokyo
Thomas Baudinette

Shinjuku Ni-chōme is a nightlife district in central Tokyo filled with bars and clubs targeting the city’s gay male community. Typically understood as a “safe space” where same-sex attracted men and women from across Japan’s largest city can gather to find support from a relentlessly heteronormative society, Regimes of Desire reveals that the neighborhood may not be as welcoming as previously depicted in prior literature. Through fieldwork observation and interviews with young men who regularly frequent the neighborhood’s many bars, the book reveals that the district is instead a space where only certain performances of gay identity are considered desirable. In fact, the district is highly stratified, with Shinjuku Ni-chōme’s bar culture privileging “hard” masculine identities as the only legitimate expression of gay desire and thus excluding all those men who supposedly “fail” to live up to these hegemonic gendered ideals.

Through careful analysis of media such as pornographic videos, manga comics, lifestyle magazines, and online dating services, this book argues that the commercial imperatives of the Japanese gay media landscape and the bar culture of Shinjuku Ni-chōme act together to limit the agency of young gay men so as to better exploit them economically. Exploring the direct impacts of media consumption on the lives of four key informants who frequent the district’s gay bars in search of community, fun, and romance, Regimes of Desire reveals the complexity of Tokyo’s most popular “gay town” and intervenes in debates over the changing nature of masculinity in contemporary Japan.

Thomas Baudinette is Lecturer in International Studies, Macquarie University, Australia.

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Fun Link Friday: Mini Tokyo 3D

Everyone knows someone who is obsessed with Japan’s easy to navigate public transportation system. Whether you’re memorizing stops and their short jingles and reflecting nostalgically on the line that took you to and from work or school all the time, there’s a lot to love! Even if you can’t be in Japan right now, you can still get some virtual experiences of the trains with Akihiko Kusanagi’s Mini Tokyo 3D page.

Drawing on public transportation data, this site provides a real-time 3D digital map of Tokyo’s transportation system, coloring each line and animating their travel (and even showing delays!). You can poke around in multiple languages, access live cameras that stream on Youtube, and even toggle layers for special events (fireworks) or weather (rain).

As the name suggests, Tokyo is the focus of the map, but it would be really cool to see it expand in the future. Hopefully the developer will also keep updating with extra features that let us live vicariously in more ways through our favorite transportation lines. Explore some more on the Mini Tokyo 3D website!

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Book Announcement: Tenkō: Cultures of Political Conversion in Transwar Japan

Tenkō: Cultures of Political Conversion in Transwar Japan

Edited By Irena Hayter, George T. Sipos, Mark Williams

This book approaches the concept of tenkō (political conversion) as a response to the global crisis of interwar modernity, as opposed to a distinctly Japanese experience in postwar debates.

Tenkō connotes the expressions of ideological conversion performed by members of the Japanese Communist Party, starting in 1933, whereby they renounced Marxism and expressed support for Japan’s imperial expansion on the continent. Although tenkō has a significant presence in Japan’s postwar intellectual and literary histories, this contributed volume is one of the first in English language scholarship to approach the phenomenon. International perspectives from both established and early career scholars show tenkō as inseparable from the global politics of empire, deeply marked by an age of mechanical reproduction, mediatization and the manipulation of language. Chapters draw on a wide range of interdisciplinary methodologies, from political theory and intellectual history to literary studies. In this way, tenkō is explored through new conceptual and analytical frameworks, including questions of gender and the role of affect in politics, implications that render the phenomenon distinctly relevant to the contemporary moment.

TenkōCultures of Political Conversion in Transwar Japan will prove a valuable resource to students and scholars of Japanese and East Asian history, literature and politics.

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Book Announcement: Wild Lines and Poetic Travels: A Keijro Suga Reader

Wild Lines and Poetic Travels:
A Keijiro Suga Reader

Edited by Doug Slaymaker

This volume of essays and translations analyzes the prodigious and wide-ranging output of Keijiro Suga. Based in Japan, Keijiro Suga’s works are wide-ranging and multilingual. His volumes of poetry have been shortlisted for a range of poetry prizes, and he was awarded the 2011 Yomiuri Shinbun Prize for Travel writing. He has translated dozens of books and has authored or co-authored more than fifteen other books across various genres. He is, by his own introduction, a poet first, but is also a prolific book reviewer, an astute theorist, and an insightful critic. His presence and contributions have been profound in many countries around the globe.

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Book Announcement: Pilgrims Until We Die: Unending Pilgrimage in Shikoku

Pilgrims Until We Die:
Unending Pilgrimage in Shikoku
Ian Reader and John Shultz

The Shikoku pilgrimage, a 1400 kilometre, eighty-eight temple circuit around Japan’s fourth largest island, takes around forty days by foot, or one week by car. Historically, Buddhist ascetics walked it without ceasing, creating a tradition of unending pilgrimage that continues in the present era, both by pilgrims on foot and by others in cars. Some spend decades walking the pilgrimage, while others drive it repeatedly, completing hundreds of pilgrimage circuits. Most are retired and make the pilgrimage the centre of their post-work lives. Others who work full-time spend their holidays and weekends as pilgrims. Some have only done the pilgrimage a few times but already imagine themselves as unending pilgrims and intend to do it “until we die”.

They talk happily of being addicted and having Shikokuby?, ‘Shikoku illness’, portraying this ‘illness’ and addiction as blessings. Featuring extensive fieldwork and interviews, this study of Japan’s most famous Buddhist pilgrimage presents new theoretical perspectives on pilgrimage in general, along with rich ethnographic examples of pilgrimage practices in contemporary Japan. Pilgrims Until We Die counteracts normative portrayals of pilgrimage as a transient activity, defined by a temporary leave of absence from home to visit sacred places outside the parameters of everyday life, showing that many participants view pilgrimage as a way of creating a sense of home and permanence on the road. Examining how obsession, devotion, and a sense of addiction aided by modern developments and economic factors have created a culture of recurrent pilgrimage, Pilgrims Until We Die challenges standard understandings of pilgrimage.

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Book Announcement: Rethinking Locality in Japan

Rethinking Locality in Japan
Edited By Sonja Ganseforth, Hanno Jentzsch

This book inquires what is meant when we say “local” and what “local” means in the Japanese context.

Through the window of locality, it enhances an understanding of broader political and socio-economic shifts in Japan. This includes demographic change, electoral and administrative reform, rural decline and revitalization, welfare reform, as well as the growing metabolic rift in energy and food production. Chapters throughout this edited volume discuss the different and often contested ways in which locality in Japan has been reconstituted, from historical and contemporary instances of administrative restructuring, to more subtle social processes of making – and unmaking – local places. Contributions from multiple disciplinary perspectives are included to investigate the tensions between overlapping and often incongruent dimensions of locality. Framed by a theoretical discussion of socio-spatial thinking, such issues surrounding the construction and renegotiation of local places are not only relevant for Japan specialists, but also connected with topical scholarly debates further afield.

Accordingly, Rethinking Locality in Japan will appeal to students and scholars from Japanese studies and human geography to anthropology, history, sociology and political science.

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Book Announcement: Green with Milk and Sugar: When Japan Filled America’s Tea Cups

Green with Milk and Sugar
When Japan Filled America’s Tea Cups

Robert Hellyer

Today, Americans are some of the world’s biggest consumers of black teas; in Japan, green tea, especially sencha, is preferred. These national partialities, Robert Hellyer reveals, are deeply entwined. Tracing the trans-Pacific tea trade from the eighteenth century onward, Green with Milk and Sugar shows how interconnections between Japan and the United States have influenced the daily habits of people in both countries.

Hellyer explores the forgotten American penchant for Japanese green tea and how it shaped Japanese tastes. In the nineteenth century, Americans favored green teas, which were imported from China until Japan developed an export industry centered on the United States. The influx of Japanese imports democratized green tea: Americans of all classes, particularly Midwesterners, made it their daily beverage—which they drank hot, often with milk and sugar. In the 1920s, socioeconomic trends and racial prejudices pushed Americans toward black teas from Ceylon and India. Facing a glut, Japanese merchants aggressively marketed sencha on their home and imperial markets, transforming it into an icon of Japanese culture.

Featuring lively stories of the people involved in the tea trade—including samurai turned tea farmers and Hellyer’s own ancestors—Green with Milk and Sugar offers not only a social and commodity history of tea in the United States and Japan but also new insights into how national customs have profound if often hidden international dimensions.

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Book Announcement: Gazing at the Moon: Buddhist Poems of Solitude

Gazing at the Moon:
Buddhist Poems of Solitude

Translated by Meredith McKinney

Clear and clearer
with the moon the heart
swells widening
out toward
what distant end I know not

A fresh translation of the classical Buddhist poetry of Saigyō, whose aesthetics of nature, love, and sorrow came to epitomize the Japanese poetic tradition.

Saigyō, the Buddhist name of Fujiwara no Norikiyo (1118–1190), is one of Japan’s most famous and beloved poets. He was a recluse monk who spent much of his life wandering and seeking after the Buddhist way. Combining his love of poetry with his spiritual evolution, he produced beautiful, lyrical lines infused with a Buddhist perception of the world.

Gazing at the Moon presents over one hundred of Saigyō’s tanka—traditional 31-syllable poems—newly rendered into English by renowned translator Meredith McKinney. This selection of poems conveys Saigyō’s story of Buddhist awakening, reclusion, seeking, enlightenment, and death, embodying the Japanese aesthetic ideal of mono no aware—to be moved by sorrow in witnessing the ephemeral world.

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Book Announcement: Okada Toshiki & Japanese Theatre

Okada Toshiki & Japanese Theatre
Edited by Peter Eckersall, Barbara Geilhorn, Andreas Regelsberger and Cody Poulton

Playwright, novelist and theatre director Okada Toshiki is one of the most important voices of the current generation of Japanese contemporary theatre makers. He founded his globally influential theatre company chelfitsch in 1997. Using a unique style and a distinctive language, his plays address issues such as social inequity, life in Japan after the 3/11 Earthquake, and posthuman society. Okada is a theatrical visionary showing undercurrents in everyday moments and the strangeness of being alive in our time.

In Okada Toshiki and Japanese Theatre, Okada’s work and its importance to the development of contemporary performance in Japan and around the world is explored. Gathered here for the first time in English is a comprehensive selection of essays, interviews and translations of three of Okada’s plays by leading scholars and translators. Okada’s writing on theatre is also included, accompanied by an extensive array of images from his performances.

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