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Start brushing up on your kanji to prepare for the annual Japanese Language Proficiency Test, this year taking place on Sunday, December 3 throughout the country. Passing the coveted ikkyu (level one) is considered the ultimate mark of achievement for a non-native speaker, indicating a comprehensive level of fluency and a guaranteed boost on a resume. Those who want to take the test must apply in advance by September 5, and application forms can be picked up for ¥500 at many bookstores (see www.jees.or.jp for a complete list). Results will be announced mid-February.

For more information, call the Japan Educational Exchanges and Services at 03-5454-5577. NU

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
762: Exhibit C
760: Art Space Tokyo
758: Bar Flower: My Decadently Destructive Days and Nights as a Tokyo Nightclub Hostess
756: Lala Pipo
754: The Erotic Odes
752: Travels in the East
748: Translucent Tree
746: Japanese for Daydreamers
744: Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide
742: Tokyo Guidebooks
740: America & Other Poems
738: Losing Kei
736: Tekkon Kinkreet: Black & White
734: A Wild Haruki Chase: Reading Murakami Around the World
732: Unbeaten Tracks in Japan
730: Noon Elusive and other stories
728: Midori by Moonlight
726: From Marco Polo Bridge to Pearl Harbor: Who Was Responsible?
724: Erotic Haiku
722: Vibrator & Sayonara, Dream-eater
720: Love Poem to Tofu & Other Poems: Poetry & Calligraphic art
718-719: A Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics
717: The Astro Boy Essays
714: Mrs Fergusonís Tea-Set, Japan and the Second World War: The Global Consequences following Germanyís sinking of the SS Automedon in 1940
712: Goodbye Madame Butterfly: Sex, Marriage and the Modern Japanese Woman
710: Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom
708: Urayasu Tekkin Kazoku
706: Yakuza Moon: Memoirs of a Gangsterís Daughter
704: The Swordless Samurai: Leadership Wisdom of Japanís 16th-Century Legend Toyotomi Hideyoshi
702: Tokyo Year Zero
700: Japonisme: Cultural Crossings between Japan and the West
698: The Pillowbook of Dr. Jazz
696: Kamakura
694: 69
692: Border Town: A Novel
690: A Diplomat in Japan
688: Glory In A Line: A Life of Foujita, the Artist Caught Between East and West
686: Crossfire
684: Japan-ness in Architecture
682: Nectar Fragments
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
648: Japan Modern: New Ideas for Contemporary Living
646: The Couch Potatoís Guide to Japan: Inside the World of Japanese TV
644: My Handís Tired & My Heart Aches: Letters from Japan 1995-2005
643: Kamikaze Diaries
642: The Blue-Eyed Salaryman
640: Certainty
638: Modern Japanese House
636: Native American in the Land of the Shogun
634: The Reindeer People
632: Undercurrents: Episodes from a Life on the Edge
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
618: Do You Know What it means to Miss New Orleans?
616: A.A. Gill is away
612: JRock, Ink.
610: Toppamono: Outlaw, Radical, SuspectóMy Life in Japanís Underworld
608: Mao: The Unknown Story
606: Japan Houses
604: A Hundred Years of Japanese Film
602: Sai Kon Tan: 100 All-time Precious Proverbs
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

The Yasukuni Swords: Rare Weapons of Japan 1933-1945
by Tom Kishida (Kodansha, ¥4,500)

Courtesy of Kodansha International

With Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine boiling blood as ever, it’s a perfect time for a book about the legendary Yasukuni swords. They were forged between 1933 and 1945 at the request of the military, but in contrast to the inferior gunto, mass-produced for the infantry, the Yasukuni-to are works of art. Only 8,100 were made before the war, and they are literally priceless. By law they cannot be removed from Japan, and many of the swordsmiths have been designated living Intangible Cultural Assets (sure beats MBA after your name). The swords also stir up guilt and ill association. The Tanren Kai forging center at the Yasukuni Shrine is now a tea house—but many would still rather not remember how potently the swords symbolized the unification of Bushido and brutal militarism. Their spiritual significance was in part why the Allied Forces declared them illegal after the war. This event, along with the Sword Hunt of 1588 and the Meiji anti-samurai decrees are described unsmilingly as the “Three Crises” by Tom Kishida, who writes with the grace of someone bashing his face against the keyboard. Luckily, most of the book is a random collection of short essays, interviews with the smiths and some rare pre-war photos of soldiers looking dangerous. Plus the swords do look cool. Roy Mustang

Japan’s 21st Century Vision
(National Printing Bureau, ¥798)

courtesy of national printing bureau

Gripers in the Metropolis Mailbox, hold your tongues. Japan will soon be paradise on Earth, according to a 303-page report by a panel of the government’s Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy. Sound boring? Here’s the short version: Japan must embrace reform, or face tragedy like “the allegory of the boiled frog in water that is heated, but very gradually, to death.” To avoid such an unpleasant ending, the government will become efficient and businesses will embrace competition (Takafumi Horie, take note). Japan will be “a country without walls that does not discriminate by age, gender or nationality,” to invigorate society and make the country “the world’s information portal (front door).” After a long day at work manning the world’s front door, the multicolored residents of Japan—who, by the way, have “superior linguistic skills” and “tolerance toward different values and ways of life”—will put their feet up, while their robot (every household will have one) cleans the dishes, washes laundry and so on. Not enough room in your apartment to put your feet up? No worries! Rented apartments will be the same size as private homes are now (fewer people = more space). And if that’s not enough, just move, because “people will find it easier to change residences” (goodbye, key money!). But there will be no pollution and no one will smoke, so you won’t want to move anyway. But won’t war with China and/or North Korea ruin the party? Fuhgeddaboutit! Japan is going to “win the world’s trust” to make a peaceful region with “close international cooperation.” The Chinese obviously didn’t get the memo. AV

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