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Book Review of Traveller's Literary Companion To Japan Edited by Harry Guest

Book Review of Traveller's Literary Companion To Japan Edited by Harry Guest TRAVELLER'S LITERARY C O M P A N I O N T O J A P A N Edited by Harry Guest In Piint Publishing Limited Brighton, UK 1994, pp339 Soft cover £12.95 ISBN: I 873047 75 4 Hard cover £38.00 ISBN: I 873047 70 3 My first reaction to this book: W h a t a lovely idea! T h i s book is composed largely of extracts from historical novels and diaries, each of which makes references to a spe• cific place. As tourists visit famous temples in Tokyo or dip into the hot springs of a well-known resort, they can enjoy the description given by an earlier visitor, perhaps a Japanese poet in t h e 1600s or an American teacher in t h e late 1880s. T h e book's editor, H a n y Guest, lived in Japan for seven years dur• ing the late 1960s and early '70s. He has combed t h e body of writing in English about Japan and selected for inclusion pieces which com• ment on many well-known places. O n e example, a favorite area of mine, is t h e ever-bustling Asakusa Temple on t h e eastem edges of t h e old "inner-city'' (shita-machi) dis• trict of Tokyo. Its large red gate dedicated to the God of T h u n d e r marks t h e entrance to a long line of stalls selling traditional candies, trinkets, children's toys and sou• venirs. T h e shops lead toward a huge incense burner from which purple-blue smoke circles about. T h e fragrant incense smoke should be wafted toward t h e body to give protection. Direct it toward t h e head to improve concentration. Pat it on the throat or chest to avoid a cold. W o m e n rub it on t h e belly, hoping for a safe pregnancy. Beyond t h e incense cauldron lies BOOK REVIEW an imposing Buddhist hall and to t h e left stands a tall pagoda. T h e temple and its precincts have long been a magnet for Japanese tourists, as Guest shows through two pieces, t h e first written in 1289 by a court noblewoman, when t h e area was part of a com• plex of fishing villages, and the sec• ond in t h e late 1940s, while Tokyo still lay in ruins after the end of the war. Most of the outstanding names of Japan's literary tradition are rep• resented in t h e book. Lady Murasaki Shikibu, whose Tale of Genji recounts court life in the early 1000s, appears along with Natsumei Soseki, one of the best- loved writers of the Meiji period in the late 1800s. There are extracts from t h e poet Matsuo Basho, who wrote in t h e 1600s (indeed, how could any work about Japan's liter• ary tradition exclude him?), as well as examples by Mishima Yukio, who committed public suicide at the Headquarters of the Self- Defence Forces in Tokyo in 1970. Guest has also given us selec• tions from writings by many west• ern visitors who have been observing and commenting on Japan for over t h e past 100 years. Lafcadio Hearn, whose photo taken while wearing traditional yukata robes is in the book, came to Japan in 1890 and became fascinated with traditional ghost stories told by t h e local populace. T h e accounts of these stories which he published caused the Japanese of t h e time to take a new look at them and to find a new appreciation for a very old genre in Japan. Oswald Wynd, another western observer of Japan, was b o m in Tokyo in the early 1900s, the son of Scottish missionaries. During World War 11, h e acted as an inter• preter while interned in a P O W camp and from the late 1940s, began publishing highly acclaimed novels about Japan. Surely the biggest money maker among this sort of "Japan hand" has been James Clavell, whose novel Shogun became a bestselling book and an epic movie in the '70s. Readers are treated to extracts from the writ• ings of both men. In sum, this is the sort of travel• ling companion which all who love reading will want to take with them to Japan. But travelling compan• ions, alas, are sometimes a burden as well as a joy. In several ways this book fails to be as much of a trav• eller's helper as it might have been. T h e historical account is quite muddled and the typical reader will not be able to glean a clear picture of the various historical periods and their salient characteristics. T h e literary extracts focus too much on descriptions of the physical sur• roundings, as if the editor took too literally his goal of creating a travel guide. T h e strength of much Japanese writing lies in having t h e human characters immerse them• selves within the physical setting and in that way they impart an essence to the world outside. This point is missed in almost every piece chosen for inclusion. Finally, the extracts for many locations appear out of historical order, or the precise historical period is not indicated, so t h e reader has no help in forming a clear mental picmre of the scenes being described. Because of these reservations, I can recommend the book only hes• itantly. 1 would like to see the lovely idea of this traveller's literary companion reworked into a new edition for Japan which would cor• rect the shortcomings addressed above. Ronald Suleski 8 3 LOGOS 6/2 © WHURR PUBLISHERS 1996 http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Logos Brill

Book Review of Traveller's Literary Companion To Japan Edited by Harry Guest

Logos , Volume 6 (2): 83 – Jan 1, 1995

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Publisher
Brill
Copyright
© 1995 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands
ISSN
0957-9656
eISSN
1878-4712
DOI
10.2959/logo.1995.6.2.83
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Abstract

TRAVELLER'S LITERARY C O M P A N I O N T O J A P A N Edited by Harry Guest In Piint Publishing Limited Brighton, UK 1994, pp339 Soft cover £12.95 ISBN: I 873047 75 4 Hard cover £38.00 ISBN: I 873047 70 3 My first reaction to this book: W h a t a lovely idea! T h i s book is composed largely of extracts from historical novels and diaries, each of which makes references to a spe• cific place. As tourists visit famous temples in Tokyo or dip into the hot springs of a well-known resort, they can enjoy the description given by an earlier visitor, perhaps a Japanese poet in t h e 1600s or an American teacher in t h e late 1880s. T h e book's editor, H a n y Guest, lived in Japan for seven years dur• ing the late 1960s and early '70s. He has combed t h e body of writing in English about Japan and selected for inclusion pieces which com• ment on many well-known places. O n e example, a favorite area of mine, is t h e ever-bustling Asakusa Temple on t h e eastem edges of t h e old "inner-city'' (shita-machi) dis• trict of Tokyo. Its large red gate dedicated to the God of T h u n d e r marks t h e entrance to a long line of stalls selling traditional candies, trinkets, children's toys and sou• venirs. T h e shops lead toward a huge incense burner from which purple-blue smoke circles about. T h e fragrant incense smoke should be wafted toward t h e body to give protection. Direct it toward t h e head to improve concentration. Pat it on the throat or chest to avoid a cold. W o m e n rub it on t h e belly, hoping for a safe pregnancy. Beyond t h e incense cauldron lies BOOK REVIEW an imposing Buddhist hall and to t h e left stands a tall pagoda. T h e temple and its precincts have long been a magnet for Japanese tourists, as Guest shows through two pieces, t h e first written in 1289 by a court noblewoman, when t h e area was part of a com• plex of fishing villages, and the sec• ond in t h e late 1940s, while Tokyo still lay in ruins after the end of the war. Most of the outstanding names of Japan's literary tradition are rep• resented in t h e book. Lady Murasaki Shikibu, whose Tale of Genji recounts court life in the early 1000s, appears along with Natsumei Soseki, one of the best- loved writers of the Meiji period in the late 1800s. There are extracts from t h e poet Matsuo Basho, who wrote in t h e 1600s (indeed, how could any work about Japan's liter• ary tradition exclude him?), as well as examples by Mishima Yukio, who committed public suicide at the Headquarters of the Self- Defence Forces in Tokyo in 1970. Guest has also given us selec• tions from writings by many west• ern visitors who have been observing and commenting on Japan for over t h e past 100 years. Lafcadio Hearn, whose photo taken while wearing traditional yukata robes is in the book, came to Japan in 1890 and became fascinated with traditional ghost stories told by t h e local populace. T h e accounts of these stories which he published caused the Japanese of t h e time to take a new look at them and to find a new appreciation for a very old genre in Japan. Oswald Wynd, another western observer of Japan, was b o m in Tokyo in the early 1900s, the son of Scottish missionaries. During World War 11, h e acted as an inter• preter while interned in a P O W camp and from the late 1940s, began publishing highly acclaimed novels about Japan. Surely the biggest money maker among this sort of "Japan hand" has been James Clavell, whose novel Shogun became a bestselling book and an epic movie in the '70s. Readers are treated to extracts from the writ• ings of both men. In sum, this is the sort of travel• ling companion which all who love reading will want to take with them to Japan. But travelling compan• ions, alas, are sometimes a burden as well as a joy. In several ways this book fails to be as much of a trav• eller's helper as it might have been. T h e historical account is quite muddled and the typical reader will not be able to glean a clear picture of the various historical periods and their salient characteristics. T h e literary extracts focus too much on descriptions of the physical sur• roundings, as if the editor took too literally his goal of creating a travel guide. T h e strength of much Japanese writing lies in having t h e human characters immerse them• selves within the physical setting and in that way they impart an essence to the world outside. This point is missed in almost every piece chosen for inclusion. Finally, the extracts for many locations appear out of historical order, or the precise historical period is not indicated, so t h e reader has no help in forming a clear mental picmre of the scenes being described. Because of these reservations, I can recommend the book only hes• itantly. 1 would like to see the lovely idea of this traveller's literary companion reworked into a new edition for Japan which would cor• rect the shortcomings addressed above. Ronald Suleski 8 3 LOGOS 6/2 © WHURR PUBLISHERS 1996

Journal

LogosBrill

Published: Jan 1, 1995

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