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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

Remembering Japanese Baseball: An Oral History of the Game
by Robert Fitts (Southern Illinois University Press, $19.95)

Ever wonder what would happen if a
couple of well-lubricated baseball players went toe-to-toe with an East German hockey team on the streets of Roppongi? This is just one anecdote from American Robert Fitts’ new book that provides a fascinating and amusing account of playing pro baseball in Japan from an outsider’s perspective. Fitts conducted 25 interviews with players who toiled in the Pacific and Central Leagues at some point in their careers. They weren’t always successful on the field, but they do have some great stories to tell.

From Japanese-American Cappy Harada, who was instrumental in getting major-league ballclubs to tour Japan in the ’50s, to the exploits of pitcher Eric Hillman, who left the Yomiuri Giants in 1997 under a cloud of controversy, the first-person accounts span many eras and even more personalities. They include Brad “Animal” Lesley, who would perform a sumo ritual after striking out batters; pitcher Clyde “Crazy Righto” Wright, who became so incensed at being taken out of a game that he tore up his uniform; and slugger Daryl Spencer, who was intentionally walked so often that he started to hold the bat upside down.

Not least among them is Wally Yonamine, who forged out a Hall of Fame baseball career in Japan by being as aggressive on the field as he was gentlemanly off it. Yonamine, a former pro football player, was so intent on fitting in with his Yomiuri teammates when he arrived in Tokyo in 1951 that he took to sitting near windows during meals so that he could discreetly discard some of the exotic culinary treats he had no stomach for.

And as for the fight with the hockey team in Roppongi? Well, as Clyde Wright tells it: “We got our butts kicked pretty good. They had the slap sticks and we were the pucks!” Rob Smaal


Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro (Knopf, $24)

The simplistic premise (bio-engineering is bad) of Never Let Me Go risks assuming an incredible naiveté on the part of the reader. But Kazuo Ishiguro is a worthy Booker Prize recipient, and he is not so presumptuous.

Ishiguro is the master of using the microcosm as macrocosm parallel. The Remains of the Day, his most celebrated work, recounts in heartbreaking minutia the emotionally repressed life of an English butler that strikes a poignant chord against our own existences spent in meaningless servitude and hapless miscommunication.

Never Let Me Go once more brings the reader into close acquaintance with its narrator, Kathy H, who, it turns out, is part of a privileged set raised at Hailsham, a sort of boarding school where the students are being harvested for organs. This cruel truth comes as no surprise to the reader, who is left wondering why Ishiguro took so long to reveal it. The novel meanders to its climax, pausing for Kathy to recall moments from her past—losing her favorite cassette; petty fights with friends; and intimacy with Tommy, the unspoken object of her adolescent affections.

The purpose of her existence may be abnormal, but the personality that emerges from Kathy’s cloned DNA is as typically human, unique and banal as one might encounter anywhere. She is like us—thwarted and pathetic.
Perhaps the parallel runs further. Reunited, Kathy and Tommy unsuccessfully apply for “deferral” to grant them a few more years together. When they resignedly accept their fate, the reader wants to scream in bewilderment! Their movements seem largely unmonitored, so why not run away? Why plod ceaselessly toward a dismal and depressing fate? Why not choose life?

The answer, I suspect, may be found among our city’s salarymen and OLs. Why work 12 hours a day and return home after the children are asleep? Why toil endlessly for European cars and handbags? Why not choose life? Colette Randall

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