Saturday, July 02, 2011

Hello Japan! July mini-challenge: Non-Fiction

Hello Japan!
Hello Japan! is a monthly mini-challenge focusing on Japanese literature and culture. Each month there is a new task which relates to some aspect of life in Japan. Anyone is welcome to join in any time. Everyone who completes the task will then be included in the drawing for that month's prize. For more information, just click on the Hello Japan! button above.

July's Topic

Wikipedia describes non-fiction as "an account, narrative or representation of a subject which is understood as fact. This presentation may be accurate or not; that is, it can give either a true or a false account of the subject in question. However, it is generally assumed that the authors of such accounts believe them to be truthful at the time of their composition." Whatever your interest, non-fiction can be a fascinating insight into real people, places and events. And through non-fiction we can gain a better understanding of the world around us.

July's Task

The Book of TeaThis month's task is to enjoy some non-fiction about Japan.

The most obvious way to complete this month's task is to read a non-fiction book about Japan. It can be about history, or current events. About a Japanese tradition, art or culture. Japanese society. Religion. Economics. Politics. Technology. Fashion. Food. Travel. A biography or memoir. A cookbook!

A few possibilities:
Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan by Jake Adelstein
Geisha by Liza Dalby
A Geisha's Journey: My Life as a Kyoto Apprentice by Komomo and Naoyuki Ogino
Princess Masako: Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne by Ben Hills
The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo
Hitching Rides with BuddhaGoodbye Madame Butterfly: Sex, Marriage and the Modern Japanese Woman by Sumie Kawakami
A Year in Japan by Kate T. Williamson
Hitching Rides with Buddha: A Journey Across Japan by Will Ferguson
The Pillowbook of Sei Shonagon
The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan by Ivan Morris
Quakebook / 2:46 Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake
... and so on.

If you don't have time for a book, you could read an article or short piece in a newspaper or magazine or online. You could also watch a documentary. Or view a collection of photographs. Basically, anything that is non-fiction, about real people, events or some aspect of life in Japan.

July's Prize

This month's prize is a copy of the book, Pray for Japan. Originally it was a website ( compiling the tweets and messages of support from around the world in response to the earthquake and tsunami on March 11th. Now it's available as a bilingual book, with English translation under each entry in Japanese. And all proceeds from the book go to support the Tohoku area affected by the disaster. This article explains more about the project: Tweets to cheer disaster victims find way into books.

You can complete this month's mini-challenge by writing a blog post, telling us about what you did, and adding a link to your post, or by simply leaving a comment with your answer(s) on this post. If you prefer, you can also email me at inspringthedawn AT gmail DOT com with your submission. You are welcome to post or comment more than once and add the relevant links below. I love it when you are enthusiastic about a topic!

Once you have completed the task, don't forget to come back here to add your link to the Mr. Linky below. Please submit the link to the actual post, not just to your top page, and please only submit links to posts relating to the Hello Japan! task for this month. Any other links will be deleted. Thank you for your understanding. Please let me know if you have any questions.

The small print: Links in this post to Amazon contain my Associates ID. Purchases made via these links earn me a very small commission. For more information please visit my About Page.


  1. Yay! What a topic!^.^ I'm currently reading Will Ferguson's "Hokkaido Highway Blues" (republished in 2005 as "Hitching Rides with Buddha") and I have to say I'm already in love with Fersuson's language (so far away from scientific) and the way he decribes Japanese. This guy would be a perfect trip-partner, I think.

    July's topic is also a great opportunity to read "A Year in Japan" in full;)

  2. Well. seems like a good time to read one of the books on my wishlist that you've already mentioned in this post:

    * Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan
    * Princess Masako: Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne
    * A Year in Japan

    The Book of Tea wasn't on my list yet but that's an omission on my part because I've heard about it before.

    OR... I could finally write that wrap-up post on Sei Shonagon's The Pillowbook or Hans van de Lugt's 'Democracy in Chains'.

    As always there's too much to choose from! LOL

  3. Sound like a great challenge! May I also humbly suggest my non-fiction e-book: "Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband," interviews with 14 Western women married to Japanese men about the joys and challenges of cross-cultural marriage. You can find out more here:

    Yoroshiku onegai shimasu!

  4. Would it be okay to read this book:

    I have got it through bookcrossing and it is based upon the authors true experiences working a year in Japan.

  5. I think I may have posted in error about my participation. But Yes I would like to join in this month and read about Japan!

  6. litera - Perfect timing! Will Ferguson has a fun sense of humour. I agree, it really would be interesting to travel with him. I need to read some of his Canadian travel stories.

    Gnoe - LOL. I never did a final post on The Pillow Book either. I'm hoping to read Tokyo Vice this month, or maybe The Book of Tea. Or both if I have time! Lots to choose from is good though. :)

    Wendy - Thanks for reminding me about your book. I'm sure there is lots in there that I can relate to.

    Uniflame - Sure. I think she embellishes a bit, but I know she's writing from experience. You should watch the movie, Fear and Trembling, too. It's quite amusing.

    JoV - I'm glad you'll be joining in this month! The Mr. Linky is for completed posts so I deleted your link for now. Just come back once you've done the challenge with the link to your post. You can find the link to this post in the right sidebar or by going to the Hello Japan! main page via the linkbar. :)

  7. The book of tea looks good! Have a great week :)

  8. I think I'm going to give Christopher Ross' Mishima's Sword: Travels in Search of a Samurai Legend a try. I've been meaning to read it for a while now. From what I heard, it's an odd mix of biography and travel memoir but a good read.

    I'll be reading it this month, but my review for it won't be posted until August.

  9. Since I didn't want to wait till the end of the month again with the chance to run out of time, I wrote the post today :)

  10. I read Jay Rubin's "Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words." Here's my review:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Rubin is an academic, but here he writes for a general audience in an engaging, easygoing style, in much the same way as the subject of this book does (which makes sense since Rubin is one of Murakami's translators).

    Rubin takes us from the start of Murakami's writing career through his short-story collection, after the quake. As he ends this book, Rubin gives 'clues' as to what Murakami is working on, and the Murakami fan now knows that it's Kafka on the Shore.

    For those who feel Murakami writes about 'nothing,' Rubin has some revelatory passages on 'meaning', though he allows that Murakami is mostly about the sound of words (thus the title, I suppose, and an allusion to the references to music in his work) and imagination. Murakami says his style first developed because he wanted to write but had nothing to say. I feel that may be true of his first novel, but is also somewhat disingenuous as his work seems to always at 'least' be about the individual trying to find his place in this world of chaos, a theme of many writers.

    I especially enjoyed hearing of Murakami's writing process. The man seems constitutionally unable to not write. And I learned much about his 'place' in Japan. As with many of his works, he is a paradox -- both of, but (even more so) extremely different from his country.

    It's best to read this if you've already read most of the works elaborated on here. Also, be sure to read Rubin's appendix on translation and re-translation -- it's quite interesting.

  11. Phew! This is one of the rare moment in my entire year I get the chance to fully participate in July Mini-challenge, due to time constraint. Link posted.

    Non-fiction is my cup of tea and hope this selection of mine informed. Thanks for hosting this Tanabata. Cheers.

  12. Okay, so I had a whole list to choose from and decided on something else... LOL I had hoped to finish Murakami's Underground: The Tpkyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche - Part 1 in time for today's Sunday Salon -- but I don't even have time for a TSS right now! And I only got to the last person on the Chiyoda Line anyway. Still have the Marunouchi Line, Hibiya Line and Kodemmacho Station to go.

    My thoughts so far. I really like the unsentimental, undramatic way Murakami relates the story through the mouths of the sarin gas attack survivors. The facts speak for themselves: what happened is impressive as it is so there's no need to emphasize. Letting several eyewitnesses have their say gives a kaleidoscopic view of the events. It also shows people remember things differently and the truth lies somewhere in between.

    So. I can only say Murakami is doing a great job. The book is candid, humane and respectful to the people involved. I can't wait to read on and I'm especially curious about part 2 too, which involves members of the Aum Shinrikyo sect. I have faith M will be the same objective interviewer here.

    Reading Underground is part of my plan for a small project on Graasland. The gas attack has left a great mark in Japanese society and several of my favourite 'artists' have used it in their work. Two parts of David Mitchell's debut novel Ghostwritten (1999) evolve around a terrorist planning an attack in the Tokyo underground. The last chapter is also called Underground. Film director Hirokazu Kore-eda made the film Distance (2001) in which family members meet at a lake where their loved ones, who were part of a cult modeled on Aum Shinrikyo, commited mass suicide after having sabotaged a city's water supply. And then Haruki Murakami tried to understand why such an act of terrorism could have happened through interviews in this work of nonfiction from 1997/1998. I guess all great artists are looking for the answer Why?.

  13. Sheila - Thanks. I keep getting distracted by other books but must get back to The Book of Tea.

    Ash - That sounds interesting. Please link up to your review, even though it's no longer July, and I'll add it to the next link list.

    Uniflame - Well done on finishing it early in the month, and thanks for taking part. :)

    Teresa - I really need to finally get a copy of this and read it one of these days. It does sound like a must read for any Murakami fan. :P

    JoV - Very glad you could join in the Non-fiction month! And I very much enjoyed reading your thoughts on Underground. :)

    Gnoe - Why is a very good question. I'm glad you're enjoying (that's not the right word, but you know what I mean) the book so far.

  14. I know I'm late, but I finally posted my review for Mishima's Sword. It's a very interesting and engaging book. Recommended for those interested in Yukio Mishima or Japanese swordsmanship.


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