Japan Culture Institute •
A Hundred Things Japanese •
Nothing can completely prepare a Westerner for living in Japan, but this book does its darnedest. One hundred brief essays examine daily experiences: the sybaritic pleasures of bathing at sento, the addictive fascination of pachinko, the colorful pageantry of children’s festivals.
But this isn’t a flossy guide to a picture-book land of pagodas, cherry blossoms, and kimono. The 60-plus contributors, who hail from all parts of the globe, have used the topics as an exploration into the Japanese psyche, in all its polite, pragmatic, deeply refined, and—to us gaijin—often baffling aspects. So in the same culture with the exquisite sensitivity to hold Buddhist masses each year for broken sewing needles, you routinely find men urinating in public without a second thought.
You wouldn’t want to undertake travel to the Far East without knowing what it really means when someone repeatedly refuses an offer of hospitality, or why you’re expected to do the same. And it’s a safe bet that no other book offers advice such as this: “When on a picnic make sure to break your chopsticks in two after use, lest a wily devil find them and use them for his own nefarious ends.”
Despite its 1975 copyright, A Hundred Things doesn’t feel dated, except in that many of the photographs are black and white. All the concepts presented here, from the ubiquitous manga to the celebration of Tanabata, are Japanese perennials. And each of these 100 vignettes takes you a little closer to an understanding of this complex, nuanced land.