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 Michael Hoffman

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Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is a fiction and nonfiction writer who has lived in Hokkaido by the sea almost as long as he can remember. He has been contributing regularly to The Japan Times for 10 years. His latest novel is "The Naked Ear" (VBW/Blackcover Books, 2012).
For Michael Hoffman's latest contributions to The Japan Times, see below:
Sunset at Cape Puyuni in Hokkaido, Japan. The northern island is home to the indigenous Ainu.
JAPAN / History / The Living Past
Jan 21, 2024
To Bird, a savage. To Chiri, alive and aglow.
When given a pen, Yukie Chiri wrote about the Ainu in ways outsiders never tried to understand.
There are no villains in Saikaku's stories … just people caught more or less helplessly in life's vortex.
JAPAN / History / The Living Past
Dec 17, 2023
Tales of a Closed Country: Part 3
There are no truly evil villains in Ihara Saikaku's stories, just people caught helplessly in life's vortex.
Many moods come and go, inspiring our art. Though love could be fleeting, it proved the most inspirational of all.
JAPAN / History / The Living Past
Nov 27, 2023
Tales of a Closed Country: Part 2
Even Japan's "sakoku" policies couldn't deter the lovers, artists and poets from their muses. After all, we humans tend to look for beauty where we can.
Was Japan's "sakoku" a prison? What else, when rulers were absolute, and law a weapon in the hands of high against low.
JAPAN / History / The Living Past
Nov 24, 2023
Tales of a Closed Country: Part 1
Long before COVID-19 was known, the gates to Japan slammed shut. It was an era of "sakoku," the closed country, but was it a prison?
History recorded the thoughts and actions of rulers and warlords, but what did the average folk think in that time? Were their days filled with angst, passion or poignancy?
JAPAN / History
Sep 17, 2023
Writers find a new muse in the 20th century: the ordinary person
The past at its very best spread its benefits thinly, leaving the masses to make the best of things beyond the reach of civilization’s light.
The wedded rocks of Meoto Iwa in Mie Prefecture.
JAPAN / History
Aug 20, 2023
Good and evil defined by God … or gods
Much of our understanding of good and evil can be traced to definitions created by religion. Which religion (and definition) depends on where you live.
Japan Times
JAPAN / History / THE LIVING PAST
Jul 16, 2023
Japan’s Nero? The shogun who dabbled in art while Kyoto burned
As Kyoto tore itself apart, Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa busied himself with art in his sanctuary. His indifference may have birthed today"s Japan.
Japan Times
JAPAN / History / THE LIVING PAST
Jun 18, 2023
Artistic beauty in the eye of a Neolithic beholder
From Neanderthal funeral rites to the temples of the Nara Era, art has been a part of our lives. At what point was beauty considered for its own sake, though?
Japan Times
JAPAN / History / THE LIVING PAST
May 23, 2023
Hell is a crab cannery ship in industrial Japan. The way out? Russia.
Stories of brutality from the era of industrialization are testament to the sacrifice of former generations, sacrifices that resulted in what we take for granted today.
Japan Times
JAPAN / History / THE LIVING PAST
Apr 16, 2023
Democracy in half measures? Then let violence come.
Did the toiling masses give up on Japanese democracy ahead of the war because it was coming from the mouths of the upper classes who exploited them?
Japan Times
JAPAN / History / THE LIVING PAST
Mar 18, 2023
When Emperor Meiji opened Japan, a little democracy sneaked in
Inspiration was drawn not from liberal Britain but from authoritarian Germany. The parliament was partly appointed, partly elected — by an electorate of wealth.
Japan Times
JAPAN / History / THE LIVING PAST
Feb 19, 2023
What makes a good priest — good looks or a knack for violence?
It was a time when the temples owned great tracts of land. The priests who managed them were armed and pugnacious, ready to defend and possibly extend.
Japan Times
JAPAN / History
Jan 22, 2023
The Heian and Edo periods couldn't have been more different, which is why it's odd they ended in such a similar way
The transition from Heian Period peace to the war-prone Kamakura Period was a rough one. Surprisingly, the transition from conflict to the boardrooms of modern Japan were just as rough.
Japan Times
JAPAN / History / THE LIVING PAST
Dec 18, 2022
A musical history told through centuries of Japanese literature
The modern ear, tuned to the aesthetics of a different timbre, may find that one era's beauty is another's cacophony.
Japan Times
JAPAN / History / THE LIVING PAST
Nov 20, 2022
The challenging journey that led to Nara's crown jewel
Image and temple were each the largest structure of its kind, dwarfing all work previously done in a country whose culture had never before, and rarely since, valued size for its own sake.
Japan Times
JAPAN / History / THE LIVING PAST
Oct 18, 2022
Kamikaze drones in Ukraine conjure memories of Japan's own bombers
When Japan's military came calling, it was educated and sometimes bookish soldiers who were among those who volunteered for a desperate kamikaze mission.
Japan Times
JAPAN / History / THE LIVING PAST
Sep 18, 2022
The journey that never was: A Viking explorer in Heian Japan
If a Viking ship had landed on the shores of Japan instead of North America in the 10th or 11th centuries, what would they have found and how would it have changed history?
Japan Times
JAPAN / History / THE LIVING PAST
Aug 21, 2022
The 'mother' of the modern otaku charted her own bug-obsessed path
One of Japan's original eccentrics, the "lady who loved insects" ignored the trends of her day and was content to be herself u2014 a valuable lesson to the generations that followed.
Japan Times
JAPAN / History / THE LIVING PAST
Jul 17, 2022
Daisetz T. Suzuki: Zen enlightenment is not an idea, it’s an experience
Japanese Zen master Daisetz T. Suzuki gets philosophical with an eminent British historian of Japan.
Japan Times
JAPAN / History / THE LIVING PAST
Jun 19, 2022
How the Jewish community found a home in Japan
A bestseller from 1970 compares and contrasts two peoples more different than alike, and yet both sharing a sense of uniqueness.

Longform

Hideo Shimoju points to a possible site that his fellow neighbors may relocate to. Such relocations have happened before, but not preemptively.
In disaster-prone Japan, some communities consider major moves