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Matt Treyvaud
For Matt Treyvaud's latest contributions to The Japan Times, see below:
Japan Times
CULTURE / Books
Aug 27, 2016
Demythologizing Pure Land Buddhism
The bulk of "Demythologizing Pure Land Buddhism" is a collection of essays by Rijin Yasuda (1900-1982), a Shin Buddhist thinker in the modernizing tradition of Kiyozawa Manshi (1863-1903). Yasuda "taught a conception of Amida and the Pure Land that made them existential realities in the present," as translator Paul B. Watt puts it in his introduction: The Pure Land for Yasuda was not a cosmic bliss dimension but rather "that place where sentient beings discover their true identity as the Tathagata."
Japan Times
CULTURE / Books
Aug 20, 2016
Network of Knowledge: Western Science and the Tokugawa Information Revolution
From the 17th to the 19th century, Japan's only official window on the West was the Dutch factory in Nagasaki. The trickle of scientific and geopolitical information that came through with the merchant ships was gradually curated by enthusiasts into rangaku or "Dutch learning," arguably laying the foundation for Japan's rapid Westernization following Commodore Matthew Perry's arrival in 1853.
Japan Times
CULTURE / Books
Jul 16, 2016
'Strange Glow': A grounded, intelligent look at radiation
"Strange Glow" hits all the notes you'd expect from a book described as "the story of people's encounters with radiation" — from physicist Ernest Rutherford's overturning of the"plum pudding" model of the atom to the "radium girls" who were poisoned by the glow-in-the-dark radium paint they applied to watch faces. But author Timothy J. Jorgensen does more than just retell the anecdotes. He uses them to illustrate his main argument: radiation is not an unfathomable bogeyman, but a well-understood phenomenon whose effects on health can and must be rationally considered given the challenges facing humanity.
Japan Times
CULTURE / Books
Jun 4, 2016
'Mechademia 10: World Renewal' attempts to link 3/11 and parallel universes
Mechademia is an annual English-language academic journal on Japanese pop culture and related topics. Each issue has its own theme, and volume 10's is "World Renewal." In theory, this includes not only the branching timelines and parallel worlds of games and anime such as "Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni" ("Higurashi When They Cry") and "Puella Magi Madoka Magica," but also the epochal 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.
Japan Times
CULTURE / Books
Feb 27, 2016
A privileged perspective on WWII in 'My Shanghai, 1942-1946: A Novel'
Partly inspired by the wartime experiences of author Keiko Itoh's mother, "My Shanghai, 1942-1946" is a comfortably old-fashioned epistolary novel told entirely through diary entries. The story begins in January 1942 as London-educated protagonist Eiko Kishimoto arrives in the Shanghai International Settlement with her businessman husband, and follows them through to their postwar repatriation to Japan.
Japan Times
CULTURE / Books
Feb 20, 2016
'Japan: The Precarious Future' is a sobering summary of looming disasters
Ominous demographic trends, ineffective governance, the not-if-but-when prospect of another devastating earthquake ... the litany of topics addressed by "Japan: The Precarious Future" will already be familiar to readers of this newspaper. A collection of essays from specialists in relevant fields, the book offers a sobering one-volume summary of where Japan stands — or rather, stood a couple of years ago. Chapters were written between 2012 and 2014, so its coverage of some fast-moving topics already feels outdated. This isn't the fault of the authors, of course, but since the book's forecast horizon was only three to five years into the future to begin with, time is not on its side.
Japan Times
CULTURE / Books
Feb 13, 2016
Monstrous Bodies: The Rise of the Uncanny in Modern Japan
In the the late 19th and early 20th century, when Japan's modernization was well underway, Japanese readers acquired a taste for a certain kind of monster: the twisted almost-human, bearing a grudge and wreaking havoc on the unsuspecting and upright citizens around them. Critics have long seen a connection here, and in "Monstrous Humans" Miri Nakamura, associate professor of East Asian Studies at Wesleyan University, offers a new take on this idea, arguing that these "modern monsters" were not throwbacks to Japan's premodern past but rather distorted reflections of the newly imported ideals of modernity itself.
Japan Times
CULTURE / Books
Jan 2, 2016
New Selected Poems
In the introduction to "New Selected Poems" Shuntaro Tanikawa is described as a "poetic volcano," but a volcano, like the proverbial hedgehog, only does one big thing; Tanikawa offers something new in every book.
Japan Times
CULTURE / Books
Dec 26, 2015
Flipping back through the good reads of 2015
Before we turn the page on the year, here's a selection of our reviewers' favorite books.
Japan Times
CULTURE / Books / ESSENTIAL READING FOR JAPANOPHILES
Dec 19, 2015
The Karma Of Words
Subtitled "Buddhism and the Literary Arts in Medieval Japan," William R. LaFleur's book surveys an expanse of Japanese literary history ranging from the "Nihon Ryoiki" of the early ninth century to Basho's posthumous "Narrow Road to the Deep North" (1702). This is a more generous definition of "medieval" than usual, identifying the key characteristic of the era as the supremacy of the Buddhist canon in Japanese thought rather than any particular political arrangement.
Japan Times
CULTURE / Books
Dec 12, 2015
Monster Of The Twentieth Century: Kotoku Shusui And Japan's First Anti-Imperialist Movement
Educated in both the Confucian classics and European liberalism by political theorist and statesman Nakae Chomin (1847-1901), Kotoku Shusui (1871-1911) came to be one of Japan's fiercest advocates of radical progressivism.
Japan Times
CULTURE / Books / ESSENTIAL READING FOR JAPANOPHILES
Oct 31, 2015
Unpacking philosopher Kojin Karatani's 'Origins of modern Japanese literature'
"Origins of Modern Japanese Literature" is a radical reexamination of how Japanese literature developed after the 1868 Meiji Restoration. It's made up of a series of essays by Karatani Kojin that were originally published in the late '70s, a time when new critiques of modernity were gathering steam in Japan. Karatani's main argument is that modern literary themes such as "the landscape" and "childhood" are not timeless, culturally neutral concepts that the modernists happened to take an interest in, but products of modernism themselves, with specific and intelligible histories. These histories, however, are suppressed by the same "inversions" (as Karatani puts it) that bring the themes into being: "In the very moment when we become capable of perceiving landscape, it appears to us as if it had been there, outside of us from the start."
Japan Times
CULTURE / Books / ESSENTIAL READING FOR JAPANOPHILES
Oct 17, 2015
'Little Songs of the Geisha' collected by an American anthropologist
The label kouta (which roughly translates as, "little song") has been applied to any number of popular Japanese music forms over the centuries. But these days, the word usually refers to a specific genre of shamisen music that evolved in 19th-century Edo (present-day Tokyo) from existing popular styles, particularly hauta (roughly, "short songs"). The first kouta is traditionally said to have been "Chiru wa Uki" ("Those that fall float"), composed in 1855 by "Joruri" puppet theater singer Kiyomoto Oyo (1840-1901), and by the early 20th century kouta was a lively and varied form — and a vital part of a geisha's repertoire of light entertainment.
Japan Times
CULTURE / Books
Oct 3, 2015
The long and short of male circumcision in Japan
For most of its history the Japanese archipelago knew nothing of circumcision. Contact with missionaries and merchants from Europe did little to raise awareness of the custom, and the procedure does not seem to have been a high priority for the promoters of Western ideas and technology during the Meiji Period (1868-1912). Even today, circumcision at birth remains extremely rare in Japan and the medical establishment's attitude toward the procedure is lukewarm at best. And yet Tokyo alone is home to dozens of clinics offering to relieve men of their prepuces, hinting — with greater or lesser explicitness — at the new world of possibilities that this sacrifice will bring.
Japan Times
CULTURE / Books / ESSENTIAL READING FOR JAPANOPHILES
Sep 5, 2015
'Norito' ritual prayers show ancient Japan struggling with its spiritual identity
The norito (ritual prayers) found in the 10th-century "Engi-shiki" ("Procedures of the Engi Era") have fascinated Japanologists for over a century. In the introduction to his 1878 translation of the norito, Ernest Satow suggested that they could offer insight into "the rites practiced by the Japanese people before the introduction of Buddhism and Chinese philosophy." More recently, they have also attracted attention from linguists interested in the earliest attested stages of the Japanese language.
Japan Times
CULTURE / Books
Sep 5, 2015
An analysis of 'Koji Kondo's Super Mario Bros. Soundtrack'
Is the soundtrack to the original Super Mario Bros. game a musical achievement and pop-culture milestone on par with Miles Davis' Bitches Brew? Author Andrew Schartmann sets out to build exactly this case in "Koji Kondo's Super Mario Bros. Soundtrack" — part of Bloomsbury's 33 ⅓ series on classic albums — by developing arguments he made in his earlier work on video-game music, "Maestro Mario."
Japan Times
CULTURE / Books / ESSENTIAL READING FOR JAPANOPHILES
Aug 29, 2015
'Jodo Shinshu' explores one of Japan's most powerful Buddhist sects
Jodo Shinshu, also known in English as "Shin Buddhism," is usually identified as the most popular denomination of Buddhism in Japan. Based on the teachings of Shinran (1173-1263), it arose as part of the "New Buddhism" of the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), which included Zen and Nichiren Buddhism as well as other Pure Land sects — the mainstream for Japanese Buddhists.
Japan Times
CULTURE / Books / ESSENTIAL READING FOR JAPANOPHILES
Aug 22, 2015
'Murasaki Shikibu: The Tale of Genji' unlocks Japan's legendary 1,000-page novel
Dennis Washburn's new translation of "The Tale of Genji" brings the total number of English options to four and a half, but the novel remains as daunting as ever. How do you approach a 1,000-page novel from 1,000 years ago, in which most of the characters don't even have proper names? The book's insight into the human condition may be timeless, but the mores of Heian Period (794 to 1185) court society can be baffling to modern readers.
Japan Times
CULTURE / Books
Aug 15, 2015
'Hokusai's Great Wave' continues to wash over Western culture
Before ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai died in 1849, he famously said that if only heaven had granted him five more years he could have become a true painter.
Japan Times
CULTURE / Books / ESSENTIAL READING FOR JAPANOPHILES
Aug 1, 2015
How 'Guri and Gura' became the most famous mice in Japan
Since their first appearance in 1963, the friendly field mice Guri and Gura have been unshakable pillars of Japanese children's literature. They're known to all and lovingly referenced in the most unexpected places — even in the heavy metal parody manga "Detroit Metal City."

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