For those in need of an escape into the past, five journalistic jaunts into various periods of Japanese history:
- “Speak, Okinawa” tells the story of a daughter’s effort to reclaim her mother’s heritage. Elizabeth Miki Brina’s memoir reveals how country and culture are connected to identity as she interweaves her narrative of growing up in the U.S. as the child of a non-English-speaking mom and an American dad with the history of Okinawa, writes Kris Kosaka.
- In Japan Times Gone By, read all about how a foreign English teacher dealt with a purse thief in 1921, a pretender to the Japanese throne in 1946, the crown prince opening a pre-Olympic Games in 1971, and the (still ongoing) battle to give spouses the right to keep their surnames upon marriage 25 years ago.
- The stone wall of a castle in Osaka that was built by feudal warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi has been revealed after being hidden underground for some 400 years. After the former Osaka Castle was burnt down in 1615, the Tokugawa shogunate buried the castle in dirt and constructed a new one on top.
- Matsuo Taseko burned with fervor to serve Japan’s gods and emperor, but she could not wield a sword and lamented her “weak body of a useless woman.” She would wield her poetry instead. In a two-part series, Michael Hoffman tells the story of the rise of early Japanese nationalism and how the peasant poetess Matsuo took Kyoto by eloquent storm in the tumultuous 1860s.
- In another The Living Past column, Hoffman looks at the psychology of health in “The Tale of Genji,” which suggests that enlightenment may be the cure for what ails you. In the Heian Period, evil spirits were the bane of people’s lives — like microorganisms are to us today — while holy rites were premodern vaccines.