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Book bite

by Mio Yamada

SEEING JAPAN (three-volume boxed set), by Charles Whipple, Juliet W. Carpenter, Kaori Shoji. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2005, approx. 90 pp. per volume, 11,400 yen (cloth).

“Seeing Japan,” the boxed set, presents three different visual journeys: Japan as a whole, plus the country’s two famous cities of Kyoto and Tokyo.

Crammed with photographs, each book provides readers with sound bites of information written by an eminent foreign resident of Japan, a foreword by a distinguished Japanese, various short essays, and a map and chronology chart on the inside cover.

“Seeing Japan,” by author and feature writer Charles Whipple, explores Japan by region, depicting the “iconic Japan” found in theater, arts, culture and technology. It ends with a chapter of essays covering geography, history, climate, media and social issues.

“Seeing Kyoto,” which fits essays by Japanese fiction translator Juliet Winters Carpenter alongside photographs, covers the history, culture and lifestyle of the city. It also has a chapter about Kyoto’s connection with the neighboring city of Nara, which is often known as “Little Kyoto.”

The last of the triplet, “Seeing Tokyo,” is by feature writer and film reviewer Kaori Shoji, with a foreword by the British Ambassador to Japan Graham Fry. Shoji splits Tokyo into eight areas: Asakusa, Ueno Yanaka, Nezu; Sumida River, Ryogoku; Ginza Nihonbashi, Tsukiji; Kanda, Akihabara; Kagurazaka, Korakuen; Omotesando, Shibuya, Shinjuku; Roppongi, Aoyama; and the Imperial Palace, Marunouchi.

Short paragraphs of information accompany photos of all aspects of the city — temples, cuisine, fashion, shopping — and juxtaposes the old with new. Photos of recent additions to Tokyo such as Mori Building’s Roppongi Hills complex can be found alongside images of old-style shopping malls, shrines and restaurants just as they really appear in the city.

Shoji’s six essays at the end of the volume — history, transportation, lifestyle, food and drink, pop culture and fashion — fill the gaps that images cannot purvey to give an all-around view of Tokyo.