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 LEARNING

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

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
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
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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
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658: Last of the Red Hot Poppas
656: Lost Girls and Love Hotels
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650: Wrong About Japan
648: Japan Modern: New Ideas for Contemporary Living
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Oh Pure and Radiant Heart
by Lydia Millet (Soft Skull Press, $25.00)

We seem to love anniversaries these days—the darker, the better. Who celebrates the first moon landing anymore? Give us 9/11, D-Day, and the Big Mac-sized monstrosities of the only atomic bomb-generated genocides thus far: in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Sixty years ago this summer, the first nuclear (test) bomb was detonated at Trinity Site, New Mexico. Less than a month later, the two Japanese cities were leveled and several hundred thousand civilians killed in order to “end the war.”
To find peace, Americans unleashed a weapon that can destroy our planet in a little more time than it takes you to download pornography. Is it any wonder that the absurdities and ironies of “postmodernism” course through writers’ veins?
Fortunately, novelist Lydia Millet is fearless enough to let it bleed. In her fifth novel, she transports the three physicists behind the bomb—J. Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard and Enrico Fermi—into our benighted era. Through a dream-sequence via her protagonist, an unassuming Albuquerque librarian, the three are suddenly thrust, H.G. Wells-style, from the Trinity site to 2003. They adapt via genius, quoting rap songs and learning to smoke on the sly.

The time-travel narrative enables Millet to express modernist earnestness in a book of postmodern play. “Ignorance is timeless,” says the resurrected Oppenheimer, father of the nuclear bomb. “But at least we were ashamed of it.”

Millet sends the trio to Japan, where they encounter the treeless streets, awful urban architecture and insipid expats most Japan-based readers will recognize instantly. But they also encounter guilt—which lends this capacious novel a dimension of unexpected humanity.

The second half of the book slips into picaresque, as the physicists and their hangers-on embark on a mission for world peace, financed by a millionaire expat pot-head. The writing grows clichéd in places (the three men are “as fat as pigs”) and the proliferating characters devolve into stereotypes that are entertaining, but not revealing. The physicists become threats to the Pentagon, heroes to the wacky, and ersatz evangelical emissaries to religious fanatics. But throughout, Millet’s powerful intelligence carries the prose.

“We inhabit a culture that’s disgusted by intellect,” Millet said in a recent interview. We’re lucky she’s willing to challenge our loss of shame. Roland Kelts

 

The Enlightened Kitchen
by Mari Fujii (Kodansha International, ¥2,800)

Japan is famous for its vegetables, seaweed and tofu, but finding a restaurant that does not use fish-based dashi can be like looking for a skinny sumo wrestler. As a result, many vegans and vegetarians choose to cook at home.

Shojin ryori is vegetarian cuisine from Buddhist temples that avoids animal products and focuses on seasonal produce with minimal flavorings. Incorporating it into your kitchen repertoire is not only healthy, it’s easy. The author of The Enlightened Kitchen, Mari Fujii, is married to a Buddhist priest at a temple in Kamakura, and she has been teaching cooking for over 20 years. Her book offers creative recipes that are “suitable for vegetarians and vegans,” accompanied by delightful photos. There is also an informative glossary and some basic techniques outlined at the back.

Most of the suggested ingredients would be found in any typical Japanese kitchen. Tofu fried with almonds offers a crunchy crust to soft tofu, and there are two nutty dressings—one peanut-butter based, the other walnut—that are a snap to whip together to sprinkle on veggies.

More direction would make the recipes easier to work with, and I have to wonder if they were all tested—the fried pumpkin, for example, did not need 10 to 15 minutes in the pan. Nevertheless, this book will be a useful addition for people who want to add more vegetables to their diets. Yukari Pratt


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