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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:
CULTURE / Books / THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF
Feb 11, 2007
On the line between East and West
Glory in a Line: A Life of Foujita--the Artist Caught Between East and West, by Phyllis Birnbaum. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2006, 332 pp., with photographs. $27.50 (cloth) The line referred to in this excellent biography of the troubled artist, Tsuguharu Fujita (1886-1968), is the "thin line of amazing flexibility and grace" that "outlined cat and nudes alike." It could, the biographer tells us, "sweep around a naked woman's body with much courage, following the curves of hips and calves, seemingly without a break."
CULTURE / Books / THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF
Feb 4, 2007
Thoughts behind the picture book
Ehon: The Artist And the Book in Japan, by Roger S. Keyes, foreword by Paul LeClerc. The New York Public Library in association with the University of Washington Press, 2006, 320 pp., 250 color illustrations, $50 (cloth) "Ehon" means "picture book," that is, a volume comprising pictures along with some text, or the text of a book with some illustrations. Hokusai's "One Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji" is a picture book composed mainly of prints, but so is the first printed edition of the "Tales of Ise," which has some illustrations amid the text.
CULTURE / Books / THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF
Jan 28, 2007
Why apologize profusely as a woman, when you can insult like a man?
A CULTURAL HISTORY OF JAPANESE WOMEN'S LANGUAGE by Endo Orie. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan, Center for Japanese Studies, 2006, 140 pp., $38 (cloth) When I was first studying Japanese back in 1947, I went to a local language school where the teachers were mostly older ladies, born in the Meiji Era (1868-1912). They taught the language of that period -- in the form that they knew it. As a result, we students spoke some anomalous Japanese.
CULTURE / Books / THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF
Jan 21, 2007
Sex in the Forbidden City
Rene Leys, by Victor Segalen, translated and with an introduction by J.A. Underwood, preface by Ian Buruma. New York: New York Review of Books, 2003, 210 pp. $14 (paper) "Who is this lad, this Belgian youth, who forbids Manchu princes possession of their future concubines? . . . . Who . . . has attained the heart of the center of the Within -- nay, better than the heart: the bed!" Thus rhetorically asks the author.
CULTURE / Books / THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF
Jan 14, 2007
Once in keeping with some of the best company
In the Company of Men: Representations of Male-Male Sexuality in Meiji Literature, by Jim Reichert. Stanford University Press, 2006, 282 pp., illustrations XI, $60.00 (cloth). The search for modernity in the Meiji Era (1868-1912) involved not only the discovery of some new subject matter but also the suppression of some of the old. As the author tells us in this interesting volume: "Certain topics were deemed out of step . . . nanshoku topped the list of undesirable topics."
CULTURE / Books / THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF
Jan 7, 2007
Through the Terayama looking glass
THE EXPERIMENTAL IMAGE WORLD OF SHUJI TERAYAMA, DVD four-volume box set. Tokyo: Daguerreo Press, Inc./Image Forum Video, 2006, color/monochrome, English subtitles, bilingual menu, audio commentaries (Japanese only) by Nobuhiro Kawanaka, Tatsuo Suzuki, Sakumi Hagiwara and Henriku Morisaki, 346 min., 18,900 yen Shuji Terayama (1935-1983), one of Japan's most famous poets and playwrights, first wanted to become a photographer. While still a child he hung around the local photo parlor so often that his mother finally told him that so much picture-taking would make him dwindle away to nothing at all.
CULTURE / Books / THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF
Dec 24, 2006
The spirit of classics in a luminous new translation
TALES OF MOONLIGHT AND RAIN by Ueda Akinari, translated by Anthony H. Chambers. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006, 236 pp., with 1776 edition woodcuts, $29.95 (cloth). Ueda Akinari (1734-1809), scholar and poet, is remembered for his collection of nine stories, the "Ugetsu Monogatari," first published in 1776. It has remained among the best-known works in the Japanese classical tradition, and was made even more famous by Kenji Mizoguchi's 1953 film version.
CULTURE / Books / THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF
Dec 17, 2006
The past captured by a photography of conflict
PHOTOGRAPHY IN JAPAN: 1853-1912, by Terry Bennett. Tokyo/Singapore: Tuttle Publishing, 2006, 320 pp., 404 photographs, $65 (cloth). This beautifully produced large-format photo collection is intended for the scholar. It is an illustrated historical accounting of all of the early photographers in Japan.
CULTURE / Books / THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF
Dec 10, 2006
Rediscovering a neglected tradition
THE BOOK OF INCENSE, by Kiyoko Morita. Tokyo/New York/London: Kodansha International, 2006, 136 pp., illustrations XX, 1,600 yen (paper) Incense came early to Japan. According to the fifth-century "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan), a whole aloeswood tree drifted ashore at Awaji. When the fisherfolk burned it, the smoky perfume eventually attracted the attention of Prince Shotaku. From there it was but a step into Buddhism, the sacred purposes of which incense still serves.
CULTURE / Books / THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF
Dec 3, 2006
Women on top -- where they belong
BAD GIRLS OF JAPAN, edited by Laura Miller and Jan Bardsley. New York: Palmgrave/Macmillan, 2005, 222 pp., photos XI, $26.95 (paper) What makes a "bad girl" bad? -- that is the question posed in this book. "The answer is that badness is attributed to such females by a sexist and male-dominated society that attempts to define, limit and control women.
CULTURE / Books / THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF
Nov 26, 2006
The persistence of culture
KYOTO: A Cultural Sojourn, photos by Gorazd Vilhar, text by Charlotte Anderson. Tokyo: IBC Publishing, 2006, 116 pp., profusely illustrated, 2,800 yen (cloth). The final plate in this exceptionally gorgeous photo collection is the jagged, mirrored facade of Kyoto Station, a structure so spectacularly in disagreement with its surroundings.
CULTURE / Books / THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF
Oct 1, 2006
Plain excitement of the Furin Kazan
THE SAMURAI BANNER OF FURIN KAZAN by Yasushi Inoue, translated with a foreword and epilogue by Yoko Riley. Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 2006, 210 pp., $14.95 (paper). Yasushi Inoue (1907-1991) was one of Japan's finest historical novelists. Works such as "Lou-lan," "Tun-huang" and "The Roof Tile of Tempyo" established his reputation and are still in print. Among his most popular successes are the fictionalized biographies of Confucius and Genghis Khan, and the 1959 "Furin Kazan" is still much admired.
CULTURE / Books / THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF
Sep 24, 2006
Monkey business can be serious literature
MONKEY by Wu Cheng-en, translated by Arthur Waley. London: Penguin Books, 2006, 352 pp., £9.99 (paper). After many years out of print, this famous translation, originally published in 1942, is this autumn back in the bookstores. It is a partial rendering of a 16th-century Chinese classic text, otherwise known as "The Journey to the West," by Wu Cheng-en, a collection of stories about the real-life journeys of a seventh-century monk, Hsuan Tsang.
CULTURE / Books / THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF
Sep 17, 2006
Monsters out of the closet
MILLENNIAL MONSTERS: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination, by Anne Allison, foreword by Gary Cross. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006, 332 pp., 48 b/w photos, $24.95 (paper). When I was a child, toys from Japan were kept in the cheapest bins of Woolworth's and Newberry's. Sparkler-wheels made of tin and sandpaper, little cardboard cars, shells that opened up to display paper flowers. After World War II, there was a like migration of childish gadgets -- a jeep made out of SCAP ration tin stamped: "Made in Occupied Japan."
CULTURE / Books / THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF
Sep 10, 2006
Demon swordplay
THE DEMON'S SERMON ON THE MARTIAL ARTS by Issai Chozanshi, translated by William Scott Wilson. Tokyo/New York: Kodansha International, 222 pp., with b/w illustrations, 2006, 2,000 yen (cloth). Early on, Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645), perhaps Japan's greatest martial artist, was complaining about the commercialization of the discipline. Even the implements of the martial arts were being proffered as merchandise, items for sale. Likewise the swordsman thinks of himself as something to be sold. "Technique is made into display, one talks of this dojo or that dojo, teaching this Way or that Way, in an attempt to gain some benefit."
CULTURE / Books / THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF
Sep 3, 2006
Japanese beauty doesn't come easily
BEAUTY UP: Exploring Contemporary Japanese Body Aesthetics, by Laura Miller. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006, 256 pp., $21.95 (paper). Beauty is big business. In Japan there are more people working in the beauty business than there are in wedding and funeral services, auto repair and software combined. Those beauty factories, the "aesthetic salons," are so many and are growing so large that the governmental ministry involved is at present creating a separate industrial classification for them.
CULTURE / Books / THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF
Aug 27, 2006
Korean voices from Japan's colonial past
HIDDEN TREASURES: Lives of First-Generation Korean Women in Japan, by Jackie J. Kim, introduction by Sonia Ryang. Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc., 2005, 240 pp., with b/w photos, $32.95 (paper). Jackie Kim, an unaffiliated freelance writer, has here compiled the oral histories of 10 first-generation Korean women who migrated to Japan. These women ranged from 72 to 89 years of age at the time of the interviews and were among the 2 million Koreans who came to Japan during its colonial period.
CULTURE / Books / THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF
Aug 20, 2006
The unique voice of Ryunosuke Akutagawa
RASHOMON AND SEVENTEEN OTHER STORIES, by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, translated by Jay Rubin, introduction by Haruki Murakami. London: Penguin Classics, 2006, 268 pp., £9.99 (paper). In what is still the finest assessment of Ryunosuke Akutagawa's life and work, Howard Hibbett complained that for most, the author's name meant merely a collection of exotic, misanthropic stories, and that this ironist and superb stylist had had an ironic fate abroad. "He has been the most amply translated of modern Japanese writers, yet his work has been sadly diminished by both the hazards of translation and by the loss of a rich extraliterary context."
CULTURE / Books / THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF
Aug 13, 2006
Painting a religion
ZEN MIND/ZEN BRUSH by John Stevens, introductory essay by Claire Pollard, forewords by Edmund Capon and Kurt A. Gitter. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2006, 144 pp., 78 plates, A$35 (paper). Zenga (Zen painting) usually designates the pictures and calligraphy of the monks of the Edo Period (1600-1868). As these ecclesiastics had not usually been taught painting, their spontaneous work did not rely on painting traditions. They had, on the other hand, studied calligraphy and consequently knew the discipline of ink and brush.
CULTURE / Books / THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF
Aug 6, 2006
Japan's baroque theater
KABUKI: Baroque Fusion of the Arts, by Toshio Kawatake, translated by Frank and Jean Connell Hoff. I-House Press, 2006, 358 pp. with 78 illustrations, 1,905 yen (paper). This is the new enlarged and revised edition of an important book on the Kabuki, originally published by the University of Tokyo Press in 2001 and released in English translation by I-House Press in 2003.

Longform

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