FICTION, POETRY & REVIEWS

The Possibly Enlightened Aplomb of John Solt

January 21, 2022

Best known as a “Japanologist” (a term he might reject) for his critical study Shredding the Tapestry of Meaning: The Life and Poetics of Kitasono Katue, John Solt is less known for his poetry. This collection, Poems for the Unborn, lovingly, methodically, assembled and presented here bilingually in hardcover, a coup of book design by Tetsuo Haketa, is drawn from the contributions Solt has made over 30 years to the private coterie organ, gui, an ongoing journal based in Tokyo.

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Required Reading

January 20, 2022

Editor Barbara Summerhawk explains in her useful introduction to the “Gender / Queer / Here” issue of the Tokyo Poetry Journal that in selecting the poets whose work appears in this volume she was taking a big tent approach: “ . . . there are no divisions in this book between lesbian/gay/bi/trans/intersex/asexual/ally; some poets have chosen to identify themselves a certain way in their bios, others have not.”

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A Silent Sage on the State of the World

December 30, 2021

Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet takes many of the greatest hits of Nhat Hanh and presents them as a single, running discourse on the perilous state of the world and how the Vietnamese Zen sect of Buddhism with which Nhat Hanh is affiliated — especially the socially active brand of “engaged Buddhism” he made popular in both the East and West — offers a viable road out of this human-created morass.

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A Cut Above

December 22, 2021

The samurai is iconic to Japanese history. These two titles provide the reader with engaging depictions of an ancient warrior culture.

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“What Becomes a Legend Most?”[i] Medieval Hobbies, Gift Giving and Grizzly Power Grabs

December 3, 2021

Spectacular Accumulation: Material Culture, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and Samurai Sociability by Morgan Pitelka. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 240 pp., $60.00 (cloth). Spectacular Accumulation: Material Culture, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and Samurai Sociability is, like a thought-filled offering, at the same time scholarly and accessible.                         In this fascinating analysis of ego-satisfaction among the leading influencers during…

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Savoring the Artisan’s Life in a Japanese Mountain Town

October 21, 2021

Water, Wood, and Wild Things: Learning Craft and Cultivation in a Japanese Mountain Town by Hannah Kirshner. New York: Viking Press, 368 pp., $26.00 (cloth). It was the writer Junichiro Tanizaki, in his book In Praise of Shadows, who famously described the mysterious beauty of a lacquer bowl when seen in the flickering shadows of…

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Complex Urbanism

October 20, 2021

Macau and the Casino Complex Edited by Stefan Al. Contributing Editors: Lee Kah-Wee And Natalia Echeverri; University of Nevada Press, 2018  224pp Stefan Al’s latest book Macau and the Casino Complex is the latest in his collection of seemingly bi-annual publications capturing the special urban conditions emerging in the Pearl River Delta. It follows Factory…

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Structures of Kyoto, Interrogated

September 10, 2021

Structures Of Kyoto: Writers in Kyoto Anthology 4. Edited by Rebecca Otowa & Karen Lee Tawarayama, 2021, Writers in Kyoto, 172pp., ¥1207. Structures Of Kyoto: Writers in Kyoto Anthology 4, edited by Rebecca Otowa and Karen Lee Tawarayama, features contributions from twenty-four writers. As was the case with WiK’s previous anthologies, it is an eclectic…

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Three Men and a Cat

September 10, 2021

Oh, Tama! by Mieko Kanai (translated by Tomoko Aoyama and Paul McCarthy). Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press, 152 p., $16.95. Cats have been prominent in Japanese literature since Natsume Soseki made his name with his debut, I am a Cat. Tama, the cat, in Mieko Kanai’s novel Oh, Tama! (translated by Tomoko Aoyama and Paul…

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Kyoto Dwelling

September 6, 2021

KYOTO DWELLING: A YEAR OF BRIEF POEMS by Edith Shiffert, Charles E. Tuttle Company 1987, 115 pages The poet Edith Schiffert resided in Kyoto from 1963 until her death, at the age of 101 in 2017. Her poems appeared often in KJ over the years. This review of her classic Kyoto Dwelling, from KJ7, Summer…

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Identity Crisis

September 6, 2021

Impossible to Imagine: A film by Felicity Tillack. Bayview Films. 2019 Impossible to Imagine, the title of Kyoto-based Australian filmmaker Felicity Tillack’s debut effort, doesn’t give the viewer much to go on. The film’s poster, with its serene tea house garden backdrop, suggests a romance and plenty of Japanese aesthetic beauty. While love does indeed…

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Neighbors

September 4, 2021

Two poems by Robert MacLean appear in KJ100, ‘Sweeping,’ excerpted from his new book Waking to Snow (Isobar Press, 2021) and a haiku from I Wish, a recent anthology from the Hailstone Haiku Circle. The cover of I Wish also appears—designed by wood-block artist Richard Steiner.  Robert and Richard were published together in KJ 5,…

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A New Generation of Rebel

September 3, 2021

Unfree Speech: The Threat to Global Democracy and Why We Must Act, Now by Joshua Wong with Jason Ng, Ai Weiwei (Intro.) and Chris Patten (Foreword) London: W. H. Allen, 2020, 268 pp., $11.07 (paper). Joshua Wong is the Hong Kong pro-democracy activist who became famous in 2011, aged just twelve, when he organized a…

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Behind the Scenes of Miyazaki’s Magic

September 3, 2021

Sharing a House with the Never-Ending Man: 15 Years at Studio Ghibli by Steve Alpert. Stone Bridge Press, 296 pp., $19.95. According to some, if you really love something you should never find out how it is made: the object of your admiration might lose its shine, its magic. If I felt that way I…

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The News from Seoul

June 15, 2021

A City of Han: Stories by expat writers in Seoul and other cities of South Korea, edited by Sollee Bae. Seoul: FWS Publishing, 2020. 121 pp., ¥1059 (paper). In this era of extreme global hypersensitivity to race and national narratives, it is arguably a high-risk proposition for a Western expat author in Asia to write…

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Spring 2021 Reads from Tuttle

February 28, 2021

The roundup of new books on Japan food, culture and travel by Tuttle Publishing.

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A life of art and activism

February 28, 2021

The life trajectory of Japanese American artist, activist, feminist and “Modern Buddhist Revolutionary” Mayumi Oda is recounted in her new autobiography.

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Another Pool Party in Saigon

January 18, 2021

The joke of it is that, like a lot of people out here, he has no home to go back to. You don’t move to Saigon if your life is going well. He doesn’t even speak to his family. He’s lost touch with his real friends in England.

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A Rare Pleasure

October 2, 2020

The few translations that do exist of particular haiku poets have focused on male poets such as Basho, Shiki and Issa. For these reasons alone, readers should welcome the translation of the work of a premiere Japanese woman poet artist-calligrapher, Kaga-no-Chiyo.

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Hidden Masterpieces

August 2, 2020

As canals are to Venice, gardens are to Kyoto, even if mostly concealed behind the walls of private residences, or within sub-temples that have not transformed themselves into tourist attractions.

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Cherry Blossom Epiphany: The Poetry and Philosophy of a Flowering Tree, by Robin D. Gill

May 25, 2020

“The Japanese have written thousands of poems about the cherry blossoms” is something I have said thousands and thousands of times over the years to my college classes in Japanese language…

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