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MATSURI: Japanese Festival Arts, by Gloria Granz Gonick. University of Washington Press, 2003, 256 pp., $40 (paper).

The UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History has published eight books on Asian textiles in the past 14 years, and it seems particularly proud of this latest addition “Matsuri,” which focuses on Japanese festival textiles. The pride stems from good reasons as the museum itself has an impressive 2,500 items of Asian textiles, and Gloria Granz Gonick, writer and curator, has invested 11 years in the museum’s latest Japanese festival exhibition as well as this book.

While researching and curating, Gonick also managed to fit in a master’s degree focusing on Japanese design, culture and language, which hints, as you may have guessed, that this is a book weighted with text. What had been in danger of becoming a museum catalog of informative but not exactly light-reading material has become, by virtue of Gonick’s unpretentious text, an easy read for those who like traditional Japanese art and design.

For those who are not textile fanatics, don’t dismiss Gonick’s hard work hastily. This is not a 256-page book solely about fabric. Gonick covers some history of the matsuri, starting with Shinto festivals; explains the spiritual influence on festivals from Buddhism to Confucianism; and even covers a little politics. Her textiles include costumes, masks, decorated festival wagons, banners, scrolls and tapestries. There are plenty of colorful images and beautiful museum pieces, but particularly pleasant are the candid shots, which show off the matsuri atmosphere at its best.

Gonick’s book is a pretty good guide to Japanese festivals. And for those who wish to see Gonick’s passion first hand, a list of festivals in the appendix and a map just after the preface, although slightly vague, provides good pointers.

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