Michael Hoffman


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).
A monk practices "zazen" (seated meditation), a practice that the monk Dogen said would help one cast aside the world in service of the Way.
JAPAN / History / The Living Past
May 17, 2024
The joy of Zen — Part 1: Prose
The writings of the monks Eisai and Dogen sought to determine the proper way to live on this Earth, in harmony with the Way.
"Great Japan History Briefing Session, the 15th Empress Jingu." Expedition in Korea. The legendary Empress Jingu setting foot in Korea. Painting by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi in 1880.
JAPAN / History / The Living Past
Apr 18, 2024
What would Sigmund Freud have thought of Japan’s largely peaceful history?
In an exchange of letters, Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud discussed human nature when it comes to why people go to war. How does Japan fit in?
Chojuro Kawarasaki plays Kuranosuke Ooishi in Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1941 film “Genroku Chushingura” (The 47 Ronin). The story, sometimes told with 46 retainers, has fascinated Japanese audiences since first being performed as a puppet play in 1748. 
JAPAN / History / The Living Past
Mar 15, 2024
Edo samurai spirit: From the battlefield to the stage
Life under the Tokugawa shogunate wasn't exactly freedom but neither was it constant war. The Japanese instead sated their bloodlust with theater.
An ukiyo-e print by Utagawa Kuniteru depicts the assault of Asano Naganori on Kira Yoshinaka, an incident that triggered the tragedy of the 47 Ronin and one that was re-created in the play “Chushingura.”
JAPAN / History / The Living Past
Mar 8, 2024
Revenge: A dish seldom served in Japanese history but still cold as ice
When Confucius was asked, "Should we kill those who are evil?" The response came, "What need is there for you to kill?"
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.


People wait for the main act to begin at Summer Sonic, which holds simultaneous music festivals for those in Tokyo and Osaka.
Can Japan's summer music festivals adapt to a post-pandemic reality?