Mar 15, 2009

From Japan's heart of darkness

A hundred years ago, a young scholar named Kunio Yanagita traveled to remote Iwate Prefecture in search of stories that reflected people’s lives. Yanagita was born at an epochal time when Japan was flinging off its feudal past and embracing modernity. He wanted to ...

Nov 2, 2008

Nothing funnier than a comedian in a kimono

RAKUGO: Performing Comedy and Cultural Heritage in Contemporary Tokyo, by Lorie Brau. Lexington Books, 2008, 274 pp., $75.00 (cloth) Of all the Japanese arts, rakugo traditional comedy is one of the most impenetrable for foreigners. The premise is simple: kimono-clad practitioners tell old funny ...

Tackling the 'Zainichi' experience

| Sep 9, 2008

Tackling the 'Zainichi' experience

Sitting across from best-selling New York author Min Jin Lee in a Tokyo expat cafe, I can’t help thinking that the heroine of her debut novel “Free Food For Millionaires” is the one sipping ice tea and talking sex. Like Lee, protagonist Casey Han ...

The face that launched a thousand robots

| Aug 20, 2008

The face that launched a thousand robots

KYOTO — Eighty years ago, an exhibition was held in Kyoto to celebrate Emperor Hirohito’s ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne. It was a grand affair in the style of a world expo, with lavish pavilions showcasing Japan’s might as an industrial and colonial power. ...

Tips from Japan that really work

Jul 13, 2008

Tips from Japan that really work

URAWAZA: Secret Everyday Tips and Tricks From Japan, by Lisa Katayama, with illustrations by Joel Holland. Chronicle Books, 2008, $14.95 (paper) Ever want to cure a stuffy nose, but nothing works? Try stuffing scallions up your nostrils. Your bedmate won’t stop snoring? Tape a ...

Matsui's graceful robots evoke human emotion

| Dec 5, 2007

Matsui's graceful robots evoke human emotion

It’s a truism that the Japanese are experts at dressing up unpleasantness in cute garb. The ubiquitous cartoon workmen characters bowing in apology at construction zones are meant to make months of jackhammering slightly more bearable. Ditto for robots and the future. With a ...

Asimo steps closer to Honda's Astro Boy goal

| Oct 24, 2007

Asimo steps closer to Honda's Astro Boy goal

Honda’s humanoid robot Asimo is so amazingly graceful for a machine that it’s hard to believe there isn’t a man inside that walking spacesuit. In the 1980s, engineers at the automaker began with a pair of mechanical legs and a dream of creating a ...

Japan traces robots' past, future

| Oct 24, 2007

Japan traces robots' past, future

“Robots will become the Ford Model T of the 21st century,” says Japanese scientist Hirohisa Hirukawa. If the car that put America on wheels is any guide, robots will have a revolutionary effect on people’s everyday lives. They have already transformed manufacturing industries around ...

Sep 30, 2007

The Murakami addiction

Murakami Haruki: The Simulacrum in Contemporary Japanese Culture, by Michael R. Seats, 2006, 384 pp., $70 (cloth) Haruki Murakami’s novels have much in common with potato chips. Both are often addictive and both are often ultimately unsatisfying. Yet one can’t help but buy another ...

Aug 19, 2007

Osamu Tezuka: Fighting for peace with the Mighty Atom

The Astro Boy Essays: Osamu Tezuka, Mighty Atom, and the Manga/Anime Revolution, by Frederik L. Schodt. Stone Bridge Press, 2007, 248 pp., $16.95 (paper) When legendary manga and anime artist Osamu Tezuka visited the 1964 New York World’s Fair, he met a man he ...