Cultures are sometimes imagined as definable commodities with clear edges and centers. This tendency to essentialize is especially common when it comes to Japan, famous for its geographical and historical isolation. However, deeper exploration into almost any subject reveals the nature of culture to be one of movement, change, and flow. In KJ 106, we will examine the blended edges of cultures, how they are interpreted and then reinterpreted, how they are viewed from within and from without.Read More
Ever since our ancestors gazed skywards or closely observed the wonders of the natural world around them, they saw patterns in cycles and found ways to recall them. Different cultures around the world have developed systems to mark the passage of time, and every calendar reveals something about how the people who created it related to the world around them. The ancient Japanese almanac of 72 micro-seasons provides a map of time that is a fascinating mixture of culture and nature.Read More
As recently as the early 20th century, verdant and productive rice fields dominated the flat lands on the northern outskirts of Kyoto, squeezing small villages up against surrounding foothills. However, in post-war years this fertile farmland has been encroached on and overwhelmed by waves of suburbanization.Read More
Toshi (1901-1995) is perhaps most famous for her anti-war activism and The Hiroshima Panels, a series of artworks on the aftermath of the atomic bombing, both of which she carried out in conjunction with her husband Maruki Iri. Given this legacy, it is all the more salient that in a late interview she called herself “a war criminal.” Toshi explained that during WWII she took commissions for children’s picture books glorifying the war. Though she did so to prevent from starving, she felt that this did not absolve her of her guilt. The Art of Persistence is about this tension between moral imperative and survival, not only during this particular time but throughout the whole of Toshi’s life.Read More
Robert Aitken, the late Zen priest of Honolulu’s Diamond Sangha, once wrote that “Drowsy contentment may be a condition close to realization. It is a kind of emptiness, of nondifferentiation, where the ten directions melt: inside and outside become one.”Read More
From KJ 101: As water is essential to all life, both its presence and its absence, its sufficiency, its excess, as well as its paucity, have fundamentally affected, profoundly influenced, and indeed guided the lives of Kyoto people in countless ways… In this article, I address Japanese religion through the lens of water within the context of Kyoto’s geography of surrounding mountains, waterfalls, and rivers, its long history, and its especially high concentration of shrines, temples, and tucked-away religious sites.Read More
For more than 400 years, villagers in the northern mountains of the Yamashiro basin (an area now incorporated to the modern administrative system of Kyoto city) have developed a special relationship with trees—in particular, with one specific type of tree, the cedar or Cryptomeria japonica, called sugi in Japanese.Read More
William Olsson’s adaptation of Catherine Hanrahan’s semi-autobiographical novel Lost Girls & Love Hotels (September 2020) is a visceral inquiry into trauma, survival and the people who help us see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Although the main character, Margaret’s (Alexandra Daddario) background remains elusive, cinematographer Kenji Katori conveys the duality of her frame of mind through shifting surroundings, offering a riveting sensory experience.
The city Robert Whiting stepped into in 1962 bore little resemblance to the urban utopias of its ambitious future architects and town planners. The capital’s long-suffering residents stoically put up with contaminated rivers, suspect tap water, the extraction of night soil by suction trucks, and legions of rats. In the short interim between the end of the war and the author’s arrival, Tokyo’s hastily created, prefabricated structures were already in an advanced state of decomposition. Surveying the broken, odiferous city, ravenous crime groups, known as yakuza, closed in like hyenas…Read More
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.”Read More
The samurai is iconic to Japanese history. These two titles provide the reader with engaging depictions of an ancient warrior culture. Strokes of Brush and Blade: Tales of the Samurai is a collection of historical short fiction by modern Japanese authors. Forty-seven Samurai: A Tale of Vengeance and Death in Haiku and Letters was written in English by Hiroaki Sato, prolific Japanese author and translator.Read More
KJ100: EXTRA! On this page we present additional views, impressions and visions of Kyoto, as an ongoing project complementing our print edition, KJ100: ‘100 Views of Kyoto – a Tribute.’ Kyoto View 18: Finding Home – Lauren W. DeutschWhen I passed a huge statue of Kannon, standing guard 24/7 by the door of one of…Read More
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…Read More
The Japanese word ‘shokunin’ is often translated as ‘artisan’ in English. Although it isn’t incorrect by definition, the translation seems to lose the spirit of what a shokunin does. I’m reminded of this every time I explain the works and lives of shokunin to an overseas audience, which happens to be what I do for a living.Read More
A kotatsu is a low table with a blanket or quilt spread over it and a heating device inside. In old houses like ours, the area under the table is often actually sunk into the floor, so the legs can stretch out and the feet can rest directly on the little heater.Read More