Monday 11 November 2019

Week 3 - Non-Fiction November

Week 3: (Nov. 11 to 15) – Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert (Katie at Doing Dewey): Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

As discussed in my week 2 Non-Fiction November post, I'm keen to know more about the GDR, life behind the Wall and the impact of the Wall coming down in 1989. So if you have any expert knowledge on this topic, please feel free to share in the comments.

However this week, I will turn the non-fiction gaze back to me, to show off  highlight some of the stuff I know, thanks to books!

Previously I have explored the Holocaust, Coco Chanel and Napoleon.

My 2014 Holocaust and Coco Chanel Be the Expert post is here.
My 2017 Holocaust Be the Expert post is here.
My 2018 Napoleon Be the Expert post is here.

This year we will travel to Japan.

My fascination with Japan goes back to my high school days when I studied Japanese for two and half years. Sadly, I am nowhere near as proficient in the language as that impressive claim might otherwise sound. But my obsession with cherry blossoms, tea ceremonies and Hiroshima dates back to this time.

I vaguely remember watching the TV series of Shogun back in the early 80's, but priests running around old Japan with swords failed to really capture my imagination. Not long after, A Town Like Alice was turned into a TV drama in Australia starring a young Bryan Brown. Here I learnt about many of the Japanese atrocities that happened in Malaysia in WWII. When my family moved to Cowra and I started taking Japanese classes, these were the two stories which formed my main views about Japan.

Quickly I was caught up on Cowra's own very personal history with Japan during WWII via the so-called Cowra Break-Out. Cowra still maintains a Japanese war cemetery from this time and now has a beautiful Japanese Garden created by Takeshi "Ken" Nakajima. This is where I caught the Japanese fetish for cherry blossoms. For five formative years during my teens, whilst we lived in Cowra, visiting the gardens in the spring time was the thing to do and something to look forward to. Long before selfies and hashtags, I was hooked on getting photos of swirling pink blossoms!

During my China phase in my twenties, I read a number of stories and histories that depicted the Japanese soldiers in China between the two world wars and into WWII. It was not a happy experience for the Chinese.

Over the years I have also read and watched a number of stories about the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour, life in Changi prison, the fall of Singapore, the battle of Midway, the Kokoda Trail, the Burma Railway, the Vyner Brooke nurses captured in Singapore and James A Michiner's Sayonara.

It has only been in the past decade or so that I have finally started reading books set in Japan, written by Japanese authors.

Murakami was my first love, but I have broadened my range into Japanese classic literature, popular fiction and haiku (including Basho's travelling haiku classic Narrow Road to the Interior).

You can check out ALL the books on my blog that have been labelled 'Japan' or you can read about my non-fiction picks below.
  • The tsunami of 2011 has spawned many books including Strong in the Rain by Lucy Birmingham & David McNeill. But my favourite was Ghosts of the Tsunami by Richard Lloyd Parry - an in-depth study into the effects of the tsunami on one particular community.

For tales of modern travellers in Japan try:
  • Jane Lawson's Tokyo Style Guide - full of amazing vibrant photography.
  • Neon Pilgrim by Lisa Dempster - a terrific description of a young woman's attempt to walk the 88 Temples of Shikoku.
  • Peter Carey wrote a slim volume about taking his teenage son to Japan in Wrong About Japan.
  • And I wrote a post in which I discuss the best travel guides to take to Japan.

Children's books also feature on my backlist:
  • Yoko's Diary edited by Paul Ham was an award winning book about the story of a Hiroshima victim and her half-brother, who survived.

I continue to LOVE books about the food and culture of Japan. Most of these are still reads in progress, as I dip in and out of them when I can.
  • Tokyo Local by Caryn Liew & Brendan Liew
  • Tokyo by Steve Wilde & Michelle Mackintosh
  • Rice Noodle Fish by Matt Goulding
  • Shinrin-yoku by Yoshifumi Miyazaki
  • Onsen of Japan by Steve Wilde & Michelle Mackintosh

And because I can't help myself, I have a collection of non-fiction books about Japan, waiting for me to have the time to read them. Have you read any of these? Which ones should I prioritise?
  • Lonely Planet's Best of Japan
  • Hokkaido Highway Blues by Will Ferguson
  • Riding the Trains in Japan by Patrick Holland
  • Absolutely on Music by Murakami and Ozawa
  • Autobiography of a Geisha by Sayo Masuda
  • The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura
  • Men Without Women by Murakami
  • Hiroshima by John Hersey
  • Lost Japan by Alex Kerr
  • On the Narrow Road: Journey into a Lost Japan by Lesley Downer
  • The Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan by Ian Buruma

It took 35 years, but last year, for my 50th birthday, I finally saw cherry blossoms in Japan! It was a truly magical experience. Worth the wait in pink gold!

If you have any more inspired choices about travelling, living or eating in Japan, or any biography/history recommendations about the Japanese experience of WWII, I'd love to know.

Arigatou-gozaimasu ありがとうございます


  1. Hokkaido Highway Blues is excellent; I haven't read any of the others. It's somewhere I'd like to go, too, I have to say. It was on the list for our honeymoon, but Iceland won! I'm trying to work out which books to write about for this week - I might do one on Iceland or Virginia Woolf (or Iris Murdoch!) and then one on some of the books I want to read on rewilding or birdwatching.

    1. They all sound like interesting options Liz. And I can HIGHLY recommend Japan for any type of holiday. It's definitely on our return list.

  2. The closest I've come to Japan is
    a french woman learning calligraphy in China:
    I'm calligraphy is common in both Japan and China.
    Have a look at these photos and be amazed!
    Fabienne Verdier

    1. I can see how calligraphy could become addictive. i used to love practising my hiragana exercises. I had copybooks with page after page of individual characters as I tried to perfect them. It was soothing and meditative, long before I even knew what that was!

  3. You might want to read Midnight in Broad Daylight by Pamela Rotner Sakamoto

    1. Thank you - I'll check it out Lisa.

  4. If you're open to fiction, there's a good one called Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (2018)... I bet you've already read Hiroshima by John Hersey (1946) about the a-bomb incident? Another good fiction: The Ginger Tree by Oswald Wynd (1977)...

    1. I loved the Convenience Store Woman and Hiroshima is on my TBR list.
      The Ginger Tree sounds like my cup of tea.

  5. Great post! I've only read Hurakami's book about running and a few fiction books set in Japan, so this is an area I am woefully under-read in. There's obviously a rich history and many books and topics to explore. I'll have to look into some of them!

  6. You must add one more nonfiction book about Japan: The Roads to Sata by Alan Booth. It's my favorite of all the books I've read centering on Japan.

    Wait. One more: A Year in Japan by Kate T. Williamson. It's beautiful.

    1. Thanks Deb, both of those books look perfect! I hope they're still in print.

  7. That's a fantastic list. That must have taken you quite a while to compile. Quite interesting. :)

  8. Definitely Absolutely on Music, with 2 great people!
    Men Without Women is actually a collection of short stories, very enjoyable.
    I have enjoyed a lot 2 other nonfiction on Japan:
    and this one

    1. Thanks Emma. I already had Ikigai on my wishlist, but I hadn't come across a Geek in Japan before - it is now on my goodreads page :-)

  9. I'm sure it was a wonderful & memorable experience being able to visit Japan. Thanks for all the recs!

  10. I don’t think I’ve read much non fiction about Japan apart from a book or two about the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima many years ago, one of which was Hiroshima by John Hernsey.
    Thanks for sharing your reading list

  11. This is a great post Brona - very thorough. My fascination with Japan started in high school too - but in the late 1960s. I didn't learn the language but I had a Japanese penfriend which lasted for about 5 or 6 years when she stopped writing, quite out of the blue. I've never quite gotten over it because I felt it may not have been her decision. I have read quite a bit of Murakami's What I talk about ..., and I have Alex Kerr's Lot in Japan next to my bed. I have started it, and am enjoying it, but I keep getting distracted. I'd recommend it. I have Men without women on my TBR too. I have also read Richard Lloyd Parry's People who eat darkness true crime expose about the English woman abducted and killed in Tokyo. Not such a cheery book though. I believe he has done a book on the 2011 tsunami which I'd like to read.

    1. Ha, I meant, I've read quite a bit of Murakami! I've read ALL of What I talk about ...!!

    2. I can highly recommend Richard Lloyd Parry's tsunami book. It was utterly fascinating and devastating in equal measure.

  12. Really enjoyed this - I've never been to Japan but would really love to go one day. The photo with the cherry blossoms is beautiful!


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