Donald Richie
Donald Richie began writing regularly for The Japan Times in 1954, initially writing film and stage reviews. In the early '70s he began writing book reviews and continued contributing until 2009. He wrote more than 40 books on Japanese aesthetics, and he is widely considered the pre-eminent expert on Japanese cinema.
For Donald Richie's latest contributions to The Japan Times, see below:
Jan 18, 2000
Feminist and dutiful daughter
MIRROR: The Fiction and Essays of Koda Aya, by Ann Sherif. Honolulu: Hawaii University Press, 1999, 224 pp., $42 (cloth), $16.95 (paper). Koda Aya (1904-1990), the youngest daughter of the Meiji novelist Koda Rohan, began her writing career late, after the death of her famous father. Her first works, written when she was 43, were about him -- more particularly, about what life had been like with him.
Jan 10, 2000
Getting under a tattooist's skin
TATTOOING THE INVISIBLE MAN: Bodies of Work, 1955-1999, by Don Ed Hardy. edited by Francesca Passalacqua. Santa Monica, Calif.: Smart Art Press/Hardy Marks Publications, 1999, 300 pp., profusely illustrated, color and b/w, $90. In 1972 Don Ed Hardy, already a tattoo artist of note, made his first trip to Japan. He had long admired the ukiyo-e culture, particularly the prints that had inspired Edo-style tattooing, and now he was invited to come and work with Horihide (Kazuo Oguri). Hardy thus became the first Westerner to tattoo in a traditional Japanese environment.His customers were "carpenters, traditional tradespeople and a lot of yakuza," and Oguri was full of traditional tattoo lore that he willingly imparted. At the same time, however, "he was also in love with the flashy life of the gangsters."
Jan 4, 2000
The glorious mess of Bangkok
BANGKOK: Then and Now, by Steve van Beek. Bangkok: AB Publications, 1999, 132 pp, with numerous color and b/w photos, maps, drawings, etc. unpriced. Writing in 1900, the American consul residing in Bangkok marveled that only 35 years earlier there had been no streets in the capital, that all traffic was carried by boats. Even now, he wrote, "numerous canals still compete with the street traffic."
Dec 1, 1999
Kawabata and great truths
FIRST SNOW ON FUJI, by Yasunari Kawabata. Translated by Michael Emmerich. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 227 pp., $24. This collection of stories, plus an essay and a dance-drama, was originally published in 1958 as "Fuji no Hatsuyuki." It is late Kawabata -- most of the major works had already appeared, the author wrote much less during these years, and he died in 1972.
Nov 24, 1999
Gilded lilies of the Tokugawas
EDO: ART IN JAPAN 1615-1868. Edited by Robert Singer, foreword by Earl A. Powell III. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998, with assistance from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs and the Japan Foundation. 480 pp., 281 color plates. Unpriced. THE EYES OF POWER: Art and Early Tokugawa Authority. By Karen M. Gerhart. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999. 212 pp., 38 b/w plates. $38.95 "Edo" is not only the name of a city, now Tokyo; it is also an era, 1615-1868, one during which Japan was governed by some 15 generations of a single clan, the Tokugawas. Like "Rome," the term refers to both a place and a time, and its influence can be variously assessed.
Nov 17, 1999
An eyewitness to early Meiji
REMEMBERING AIZU: The Testament of Shiba Goro, edited by Ishimitsu Mahito, translated with an introduction and notes by Teruko Craig. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999; 160 pp., $37 (cloth), $19.95 (paper). A popular account of the beginnings of the Meiji Period (1868-1912) has it that the incompetent Tokugawa government was overthrown and the system of administration reorganized through the efforts of several forward-looking clan leaders. These were, notably, those of Satsuma (Kagoshima), Choshu (Yamaguchi), Tosa (Kochi) and Hizen (Saga). Despite later quarrels among themselves, it was these disaffiliated daimyo who put the country on the road to prosperity.
Nov 10, 1999
Homage to an image maker
HAYAO MIYAZAKI: Master of Japanese Animation, by Helen McCarthy. Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 1999, 240 pp., 8 pages in color and 60 b/w images. $18.95. The biggest domestic movie hit of all in Japan was the 1997 "Princess Mononoke," an animated film created by Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli. It was the most successful of a group of highly successful "anime," among them "My Neighbor Totoro" and "Porco Rosso," works that had defined the genre. All the films made a lot of money, some of it abroad, and attracted an amount of attention, some of it scholarly.
Nov 2, 1999
And a drum shall lead them
THE ROUSING DRUM: Ritual Practice in a Japanese Community, by Scott Schnell. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, pp.364 with b/w photos xxvi and maps. $59.00 (cloth); $33.95 (paper). Interpretations of that folk festival, the "matsuri," vary. Kunio Yanagida, the founder of folklore studies in Japan, defined it as "man's attending to and living in the company of the gods." Though the word is variously translated as "rite" or "festival," the sacred character of the gathering is seen as paramount.
Oct 26, 1999
Enjoy the neglected noh plays
DRAMATIC REPRESENTATIONS OF FILIAL PIETY: Five Noh in Translation, by Mae J. Smethurst. Cornell East Asia Series, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 1998, pp. 172, unpriced. Most Western writings on noh have been concerned with that category known as "mugenno," visional noh -- highly poetic, spiritually infused. Since this interest has come to characterize noh in general, other categories have been neglected.
Oct 19, 1999
A celebration of sacred sex
THE COSMIC EMBRACE: An Illustrated Guide to Sacred Sex, by John Stevens. Boston/London: Shambhala, 1999, 190 pp., 120 b/w photographs, $18.95. The notion that sexual relationships are honorable, fulfilling and beneficial is obviously true, yet this truth has experienced the greatest difficulty in being publicly acknowledged.
Aug 31, 1999
Shakespeare comes as you like it in Japan
SHAKESPEARE AND THE JAPANESE STAGE, edited by Takashi Sasayama, J.R. Mulryne and Margaret Shewring. Cambridge University Press, 1998, 357 pp., 45 British Pounds. More than 50 years ago I went to my first Japanese staging of Shakespeare. It was "Hamlet," in Tokyo, and what I remember best is that when the prince of Denmark and his court lay sprawled on the boards, Puck tiptoed in and, after looking about, delivered his speech about what fools these mortals be.
Jul 20, 1999
Screening for image and reality
THE DOUBLE SCREEN: Medium and Representation in Chinese Painting, by Wu Hung. London: Reaktion Books, 1996, 296 pp., with 170 illustrations, 20 in color, 14.95 British pounds. Just what is a traditional Chinese painting? This is the question asked and answered in this magisterial work of imaginative scholarship and cultural insight.
Jul 6, 1999
From combat to sport and art
ARMED MARTIAL ARTS OF JAPAN: Swordsmanship and Archery, by G. Cameron Hurst III. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998, 244 pp., with b/w photos. Though people today are more inclined to study the martial arts of Japan than such culturally expected forms as tea ceremony and flower arrangement, books on the subject rarely venture beyond the instructional. The academic level is usually low and errors of historical fact are common. Few practitioners have acquired the training necessary for serious scholarship, and few Japan scholars have chosen to practice the martial arts.
Jun 29, 1999
'Kaempfer's Japan': Tokugawa Edo as never before
Engelbert Kaempfer, German physician and historian, first arrived in Japan in 1690 to take up the position of physician at the Dutch trading agency on the island of Deshima in Nagasaki Harbor. Although Japan had already secluded itself, the Dutch traders were allowed a certain amount of freedom. This included traveling to Edo (now Tokyo) on the annual tribute mission. Kaempfer went twice, in 1691 and 1692.
Jun 8, 1999
The darkest shores of the soul
SHIPWRECKS, by Akira Yoshimura, translated by Mark Ealey. New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1996, 180 pp., $21. Though Akira Yoshimura, born in 1927, is the author of some 20 novels, this is the first to be translated into English. Perhaps the reason for the delay is that he is better known as a historian of the Pacific War. Two of his recountings have been published in translation: "Senkan Musashi" appeared as "Build the Musashi: The Birth and Death of the World's Greatest Battleship" (Kodansha, 1991), and "Reishiki Sentoki" was published as "Zero Fighter" (Praeger, 1995).
May 18, 1999
Culture: mirror or straitjacket?
THE WORLDS OF JAPANESE POPULAR CULTURE: Gender, Shifting Boundaries and Global Cultures, edited by D.P.K. Martinez. Cambridge University Press, 1998, 212 pp., unpriced. THE WORLDS OF JAPANESE POPULAR CULTURE: Gender, Shifting Boundaries and Global Cultures, edited by D.P.K. Martinez. Cambridge University Press, 1998, 212 pp., unpriced. As Mark Schilling said in his indispensable "Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture," postwar popular culture "has been extraordinarily fertile, vibrant and commercially successful." Its reverberations have been such that it has achieved academic status and is something at which scholars are looking.
May 11, 1999
Cartoon eroticism, for real
EROTIC ANIME MOVIE GUIDE, by Helen McCarthy and Jonathan Clements. London: Titan Books, 1998, 192 pp., b/w photos, 12.99 British pounds. Japanese animated films, familiarly called "anime," have become well-known worldwide. With the success of the 1988 "Akira," the genre became a sound commercial export and its popularity (mainly on home television) continued, thus justifying the publication of Helen McCarthy's "The Anime Movie Guide" in 1996.
May 4, 1999
Childhood memories of Calcutta under the Raj
CHILDHOOD DAYS: A Memoir, by Satyajit Ray, translated by Bijoya Ray. New Delhi: Penguin Books (India), 174 pp., with b/w photos and pen drawings by Satyajit Ray, Rs 200. The memoirs of film directors are often confined to early memories. Ingmar Bergman writes of his childhood, Akira Kurosawa gets up to the creation of "Rashomon" and then stops, Jean Renoir writes most warmly of his early days, and Satyajit Ray has a whole volume dedicated to his boyhood.
Apr 20, 1999
Soseki's deep well of sadness
CHAOS AND ORDER IN THE WORKS OF NATSUME SOSEKI, by Angela Yiu. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1998, 251 pp., $42 (cloth). This, the first full-length study of Soseki in English, is based upon the proposition that "beneath the emphasis on order, responsibility and a clear sense of morality, [there] lurks a dark, romantic voice that repeatedly directs our attention to the forces of chaos." Though this is true of every writer, it is perhaps a bit more self-evident in Soseki, whose chaotic depths were sometimes noticeable.
Apr 13, 1999
Writer forever true to himself
THE LEGEND OF GOLD and Other Stories, by Ishikawa Jun. Translated by William J. Tyler. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1998, 300 pp., $46 (cloth), $27.95 (paper). Jun Ishikawa (1899-1987) remains less known in the West than other Japanese writers of equal stature. With the publication of this volume, however, several more of his works become available in English. This is due to the devotion of William Tyler, whose translations of the 1936 "Fugen" ("The Bodhisattva," 1999) and the 1946 "Meigetsuju" ("Moon Gems," 1985) introduced Ishikawa to English readers.


Historically, kabuki was considered the entertainment of the merchant and peasant classes, a far cry from how it is regarded today.
For Japan's oldest kabuki theater, the show must go on