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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 Japanese Spa: A Guide to Japan’s Finest Ryokan and Onsen
By Akihiko Seki and Elizabeth Heilman Brooke (Tuttle, $26.95)

This book calls itself a guide, but its coffee-table heft means you probably won’t be bringing it on your travels. This is a guide to be perused as you plan your trip, not one to be carried in your backpack.

And what a trip it will be. The 28 ryokan (most of them built around onsen) that authors Akihiko Seki, a former trading company executive, and journalist Elizabeth Heilman Brooke have selected out of Japan’s thousands are among the country’s most sumptuous.

Strut like a daimyo (feudal lord) as Seki and Brooke escort you, assisted by lavish photography, to a different era of class and comfort. Near Tokyo, Hakone’s Gora Kaden, for example, was once a resort house for relatives of the Imperial family. A little farther away, the Bankyu Ryokan in Tochigi was founded as a refuge for the Heike clan after they were driven from the court in the 12th century.

In the ancient capital of Nara, Kikusuiro is the oldest inn and was originally opened as a lodging house for Buddhist priests-in-training 230 years ago. Even more exotic, Tsuru no Yu is one of Japan's "secret" onsen, while Miyazaki Ryokan is set amidst the sulfurous fumes of an active volcano, Mt. Fugen.

Particulars like addresses, contact information, websites and transportation details, as well as typical menus and the degree of English spoken at individual ryokan, mean you'll be equipped with all the knowledge you need to make an educated choice. But prices are not included—if you have to ask, it's probably too expensive. Dan Grunebaum


Tabloid Tokyo: 101 Tales of Sex, Crime, and the Bizarre from Japan’s Wild Weeklies
by Geoff Botting, Ryann Connell, Michael Hoffman and Mark Schreiber (Kodansha International, ¥1,400)

This is the book to send to those doubting friends back home who write every six months asking what you can possibly be doing in Japan, a country they think so stiff that the only evidence of a human response to anything is a deep bow. No matter how many times you explain that Japan is even crazier than Italy, they don’t get it. Well, this book provides the evidence.

Tabloid Tokyo is made up of stories printed in Japan’s uninhibited weekly magazines, the ones you see in convenience stores tied shut to discourage idle browsing. Here you learn, for instance, of the woman who gave herself sexually to her adolescent son to relax him and clear his head for his upcoming exams. You can read about the pet shop in Setagaya where you can take your dog or cat for a mudpack, a massage and a manicure. You hear about the 18-year-old budding beauties that like to have their pictures taken in automatic photo booths wearing only bikinis, which they then take off, sometimes with their boyfriends along for the ride. (This became such a fad that changing cubicles had to be put up next to the photo booths.)

Each of these little insights is slyly rewritten, not just translated. The authors have been taking over two-thirds of a page in The Japan Times every Sunday to fill us in on the delights they found the week before. Evidently the supply of stories is endless, as befits a national mindset as wildly inventive as Japan’s.

The book offers an insight into a dimension of life on these islands that is not celebrated by the Japan National Tourist Organization and as such is a cultural treasure. I am not embarrassed to tell you that the Small Print column at the front of this magazine has been known to succumb to the temptation to lift from the work of these hard-working researchers. Rick Kennedy

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