If there’s anything in my life that I’m stupendously grateful for, its my Asian Studies programme at Uni. While occasionally I find myself frustrated with some of the materials used in my classes (so much of it is not #OwnVoices, which makes learning specific topics authentically a bit challenging), the essence of the subject matter and a few of the teachers have helped my passion for the study of Asian cultures, history, and languages to flourish with such vigour. Once in a while when I’m feeling like I’m lost in life, being able to grasp onto these things that drive me so profoundly helps me maintain perspective and to keep moving forward.
One of the ways that I do this is by finding and reading as much #OwnVoices materials as I can about everything that interests me in the field of Asian Studies, especially as it relates to Japan. I’m constantly on the look-out for books and articles by Japanese people about their culture, history, economics, society, and so much more.
Between January and February, while I was getting acclimated (i.e.: stressed out) to my new school schedule, I visited a local bookstore in town that is owned by a kind Japanese man and his wife. I’m kind of a regular there, so stopping by is as much about checking in on them as it is for my thirst of books. Anyway, while I was paroozing their shelves, I discovered some vintage history books for pennies on the dollar. A couple of them are titles that I have been trying to find for years. Suffice to say that I was so beyond stoked when I came across them. I know there are plenty of Japanophiles out there, so I figured it would be neat to share them with you all.
100 Million Japanese by Masataka Kosaka: This is one of the very first complete history books released in English, and I managed to find a first edition in unbelievably fantastic condition. It released in September 1972 and basically covers the political, economic, social environment in Japan since Emperor Hirohito’s surrender to the modern day (1970s).
Bushido: The Soul of Japan by Inazo Nitobe: This exposition on Japanese thought was published in 1969 and the version I found is another first edition. It talks about what was once essentially a religion for the nation, all the way through to the end of the Second World War. A few of the sections include The Duty of Loyalty, Sources of Bushido, Education and Training of a Samurai, and The Institutions of Suicide and Redress.
The Buddha Tree by Fumio Niwa: Niwa’s first novel to be translated into English, The Buddha Tree was a critique on the materialism of the modern Japanese Buddhist Church, while also being an intensely though-provoking discussion on human weakness. Niwa was the son of a Buddhist priest and was raised in the precincts of the Sōgen-ji Temple, which was the royal burial chamber of the Ryūkyū Kingdom. Unfortunately, the temple was destroyed in 1945 during the Battle of Okinawa.
Edo Culture: Daily Life and Diversions in Urban Japan, 1600-1868 by Nishiyama Matsunosuke: Not a vintage release, but still a supreme find nonetheless, Edo Culture is a collection of Nishiyama’s writings that provide a foundational introduction to the Tokugawa Shogunate and its cultural history, which includes the daily lives of the people and diversions of urban life. Some sections include Edo Temples and Shrines, The Social Context of Nō, and Edo-Period Cuisine. Nishiyama Matsunosuke was one of the most instrumental figures in the study of the Tokugawa period of Japanese history.
The Emperor Horikawa Diary by Fujiwara no Nagako: This was written around 1109 and was the diary of a woman that attended Emperor Horikawa. It’s the first English translation of a work that provided keen insight of court life during the Heian Period and I found a first edition of it from 1977. The Heian Era is one of the periods of Japanese history that I have a very special obsession for, and I am planning on writing my Master’s thesis on topics pertaining to the period. So, any books that I can find on the Heian Era is going to basically be irresistible treasure for me at this point.
Japanese Destroyer Captain: Pearl Harbour, Guadalcanal, Midway—The Great Naval Battles of the Pacific as Seen Through Japanese Eyes by Captain Tameichi Hara: Captain Hara was an Imperial Japanese Naval commander who fought during the Second World War. He was the only commander that survived the war from beginning to end. The study of World War II from Japan’s perspective is a close second obsession of mine after the Heian Era. When I discovered this memoir sitting on the bottom shelf collecting dust, my jaw hit the fucking floor. I’ve read much about the Imperial Japanese Navy from Westerners’ lens, so it’ll be incredibly fascinating to read about it from a Japanese position, particularly someone of prominence who fought in it.
Japan, Inc.: Introduction to Japanese Economics by Shōtaro Ishinomori: This is a graphic novel that introduces readers to the current (1980s) structure of Japan’s economy and its relationship to world economics. I flipped through this a bit and it looks like a hilarious, satirical critique of the issues that Japan had during the mid to late 1980s with trying to balance out their economy.
The Way to Nirvana in Shinnyo-en: Shinnyo-en is an order of Japanese Buddhism that essentially stems from Shingon Buddhism, which is one of the very few Vajrayana lineages left in Eastern Asia. I’ve never been able to find anything on Shinnyo-en before, at least not in translation. This tiny booklet goes over the gist of what Shinnyo-en entails, its history, and its function. I’m looking forward to seeing how it differs from Jōdo-Shinshū Buddhism, which is what I practise.
Those are all the #OwnVoices historical books that I’ve found between January and the end of February. I honestly don’t know where I should begin because they all seem like they’re going to be bloody brilliant. But if I had to choose, it would be a coin toss between The Emperor Horikawa Diary and Japanese Destroyer Captain. A close third would be Edo Culture.
Did I mention that I really fucking love being a student of Asian Studies?