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It appears that when the Japanologist Alex Kerr was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, his tutors despaired at his unorthodox use of his time there, with one particularly testy don complaining, “He researches only the ephemera that draw his interest,” going on to rail against Kerr’s fascination with “superstitions, myths and oddities.”

The tutor’s final word on this non-scholastic approach to research was that his young charge “waves these peculiar interpretations around as if they were sparklers.” In Kerr’s latest work, from which these anecdotes were taken, we get plenty of sparklers, small but telling illuminations into whatever engages the author’s curiosity. For this we must be grateful.

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