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The Inland Sea

by Mark Schilling

In his lifetime, Donald Richie was best known as a pioneering expert on Japanese cinema; he famously first brought the films of Yasujiro Ozu to the attention of the West, as well as writing the trailblazing “The Japanese Film: Art and Industry” with fellow cinema scholar Joseph L. Anderson. But among his many books, one that will probably keep his name alive the longest is 1971′s “The Inland Sea.” Usually placed in the “travel” section, this account of what seems to be a single island-hopping trip from Kobe to Miyajima, the “shrine island” near Hiroshima, was actually based on journals Richie kept on repeated visits, starting in 1962.

The Inland Sea, by Donald Richie.
STONE BRIDGE PRESS, Nonfiction.

Though packed with vivid portraits of people and descriptions of places he thought of as part of a vanishing “real” (that is, premodern and un-Westernized) Japan, the book is primarily valuable as Richie’s deeply informed and personal meditation on a place where he had lived most of his adult life, while never shedding his “outsider” status. His observations tend to the global and the aphoristic (“The Japanese mind has always reminded me of the Japanese garden, which is a place that nature plainly made but which man has just as plainly ordered”), but are never less than witty and perceptive. “You either love Japan or you loathe it,” he wrote — and as every fluently written page makes clear, he was of the former persuasion.

To end on my own personal note: Of the many books I read before first coming here, this was the one that most made me want to come. And the first long trip I took after arriving was to — where else? — the Inland Sea.

Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.

  • DA

    A true masterpiece. Richie should have won the Nobel Prize for this one.