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 PAST ISSUES
776: Tokyo Fiancee
774: Japanís Minorities: The Illusion of Homogeneity
772: Sparkling Rain: and other fiction from Japan of women who love women
768: Population Decline and Ageing in Japanóthe Social Consequences
766: The Diving Pool
764: Showa Japan: the Post-War Golden Age and Its Troubled Legacy
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712: Goodbye Madame Butterfly: Sex, Marriage and the Modern Japanese Woman
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704: The Swordless Samurai: Leadership Wisdom of Japanís 16th-Century Legend Toyotomi Hideyoshi
702: Tokyo Year Zero
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680: Love Hotels: The Hidden Fantasy Rooms of Japan
678: Shutting Out the Sun
676: The Passion of Phineas Gage & Selected Poems
674: Princess Masako: Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne
672: Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the US
670: Autobiography of a Geisha
668: Japanese Portraits: Pictures of Different People
666: Bedtime Eyes
665: Secret Memoirs of the Shoguns: Isaac Titsingh and Japan, 1779-1822
664: Skin Museum
662: The Midnight Eye Guide to New Japanese Film
660: The Haiku Apprentice: Memoirs of Writing Poetry in Japan
658: Last of the Red Hot Poppas
656: Lost Girls and Love Hotels
654: In the Pool
650: Wrong About Japan
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646: The Couch Potatoís Guide to Japan: Inside the World of Japanese TV
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643: Kamikaze Diaries
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636: Native American in the Land of the Shogun
634: The Reindeer People
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630: The Snake that Bowed
628: The Black Lizard & The Beast In The Shadows: Two Classics of Suspense and Detection
624: Inside and Other Short Fiction: Japanese Women by Japanese Women
622: Modern Asian Living
620: Japanese in Mangaland
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612: JRock, Ink.
610: Toppamono: Outlaw, Radical, SuspectóMy Life in Japanís Underworld
608: Mao: The Unknown Story
606: Japan Houses
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600: Shadow Family
598: Dr. Noguchi’s Journey: A Life of Medical Search and Discovery 596: Oh Pure and Radiant Heart
594: Inspired Shapes: Contemporary Designs for Japan’s Ancient Crafts
592: Remembering Japanese Baseball: An Oral History of the Game
590: The Japanese Spa: A Guide to Japan’s Finest Ryokan and Onsen
588: Chibikuro Sambo
586: The Yasukuni Swords: Rare Weapons of Japan 1933-1945, Japan’s 21st Century Vision
584: Japanese Dishes for Wine Lovers, The Stadium: Architecture for the New Global Culture
582: Snakes and Earrings, The Very Small Home

Snakes and Earrings
by Hitomi Kanehara (Vintage, ¥1,449)

The book that put forked tongues on the cultural map, Snakes and Earrings isjust the kind of novel that sells a million copies: A journey of sex, violence and body modification that won the prestigious Akutagawa literary prize for its beautiful 19-year-old author, Hitomi Kanehara.
Lui is a beautiful, young “Barbie girl” who descends into the Shinjuku underworld after meeting Ama, whose forked tongue mesmerizes her. Akutagawa Prize judge Ryu Murakami (who won the award himself in 1976 for Almost Transparent Blue) clearly considers Kanehara an heir to his literary kingdom of permissive sex, drugs and aimless youth, and Kanehara’s prose is clipped and meticulous in a way that has both traditionalists and the literary avant-garde excited about a new Japanese style.

Whereas top dog Haruki Murakami’s minimalism is abstract and dreamlike, Kanehara’s is uncomfortably immediate and graphic. It’s a style that well suits the taboo-defying teenagers who confidently straddle Japanese pop culture. Punching text messages into their mobile phones, they are perfectly trained in the new Japanese literary style: short, shocking, and morally unbound.

Some people resent Kanehara for her age, her culture, and her pulchritude (Lui is as much of a hottie as the author whose photo dominates the inside back cover). The thing is, it really is hard to sympathize with a main character whose good looks and stable upbringing mean she’s never had the experience of not being wanted, either physically or emotionally. Lui’s response to her silver-spoon environment—by extension Japan’s broader consumer-driven society—is to descend into violent and invasive sex, alcoholism, anorexia, and a total lack of moral empathy with other human beings (her only major emotional response being when her boyfriend mysteriously disappears: “Why? Why did he leave me all alone?”).

If there is such a thing as a modern Japanese zeitgeist of alienation this seems to be it: I have everything therefore I have nothing. It’s just a bit hard to look past the too-cute, too-rich teenage girl who doesn’t care about anything. For her age, Kanehara’s writing is tight; maybe with time she’ll have something more to say. C. Thomas

 

The Very Small Home
by Azby Brown (Kodansha International, ¥3,500)

The business of squeezing into tight clothing can be a terrifying experience. The business of squeezing into an even tighter home can be a dream come true, that is, if you live in the homes featured in The Very Small Home: Japanese Ideas For Living Well In Limited Space. Author Azby Brown, an architect and Yokohama resident, traveled Japan surveying the tiniest of houses and his book profiles 18 inspiring homes with innovative solutions to a “very small” problem.

Brown favors a big idea approach to small design. (As any artisan will tell you, building without restriction is easy, it’s simplifying structures to their purist elements that require real skill). Brown believes that to live in a very small house one must choose a major design feature or key idea and let it define the home. It could be a wall of glass, a central atrium or changes in floor or ceiling levels. Brown uncovers unconventional ideas too, like a living room looking directly into the garage (for a couple in love with their sports car) or a house made entirely of glass shutters.

This book is aimed at those intending to build. It is an ideas book to help create a home with “good bones.” At the back, there are useful chapters on flexible partitioning, compact storage solutions, strategies for brightening the home, designing nooks, configuring the bathroom and kitchen;— all fully detailed with simple easy to understand sketches. Trina O-Hara-Thawley


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