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To round off the week, five articles that delve into Japan’s rich history, warts and all:

  • After a false start earlier this year, nearly 200 rare photos covering Japan in the 1853-1912 period — gathered through months of painstaking negotiations with museums and archives all over Japan — are finally on display in Tokyo until Jan. 24, writes Alice Gordenker. And it was worth the wait. For those who can’t attend or won’t in the current coronaviral climate, there’s an online guided tour in English streaming live on YouTube in a matter of hours.
  • In his book “The Japanese: A History in Twenty Lives,” Christopher Harding scales Japan’s history down to the level of the individual with portraits of the eminent as well as the overlooked. The book can act as a primer for the archipelago’s long and complex story, or as a refreshing take on familiar periods for those already well-versed in the emperors, shoguns and battlefields, writes Iain Maloney.
A picture by an unknown photographer of Mukojima in Tokyo, a popular place for outings. Color photography did not yet exist when the photo was taken between 1882-97, so artists added color by hand. | TOKYO PHOTOGRAPHIC ART MUSEUM
A picture by an unknown photographer of Mukojima in Tokyo, a popular place for outings. Color photography did not yet exist when the photo was taken between 1882-97, so artists added color by hand. | TOKYO PHOTOGRAPHIC ART MUSEUM
  • “Family Crests of Japan” is a comprehensive presentation on a subject few people give much thought to, but which reveals much about Japanese values. Both a guide and art catalog, the book helpfully groups kamon (family crests) into easily understandable categories. Those with a taste for finite detail will love this publication, writes Stephen Mansfield.
  • The Yosakoi Festival in Kochi is a titan among summer celebrations. But this year, COVID-19 concerns meant that for the first time ever, it didn’t happen. Luckily, the story doesn’t end there. The birthday last month of local historical hero Sakamoto Ryoma offered locals the perfect excuse to try again. Eric Margolis explains how they pulled it off in the age of the coronavirus.
  • “Humor was bawdy, song was lusty, brothels breathed elegance, courtesans were artists, sex was culture and a man — if of the right sort — could have himself quite a time of an evening and a night,” explains Michael Hoffmann, enjoying himself perhaps a tad too much as he transports readers from the Reiwa Era to Meiwa-Era Edo (now Tokyo) in his Living Past column.

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