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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

Dr. Noguchi’s Journey: A Life of Medical Search and Discovery
by Atsushi Kita, translated by Peter Durfee (Kodansha International, ¥2,500)

When new bank notes were introduced last
year, it was a shock to bid farewell to Natsume Soseki, that grand homme of Japanese literature, from the ¥1,000 note and welcome in his stead Hideyo Noguchi. How could Japan, a leader in the field of hair maintenance, do business under the eye of such an ungroomed usurper? One suspects the increasingly unkempt Junichiro Koizumi had something to do with it.

No book (or person) deserves judgment by cover alone, and so I felt it only fair to set forth on Dr. Noguchi’s Journey. Biographer Atsushi Kita gives a detailed account of Noguchi’s voyage from rural poverty to international renown. Born into hardship in Meiji Japan, Noguchi’s young life spiraled further downward when a severe burn left one hand permanently misshapen. Surgery restored partial use of the injured appendage, but the stigma was lasting and drove Noguchi to compensate with intellectual achievement for what he felt he lacked physically.

The poor farm boy eventually became one of the world’s leading bacteriologists, working for a time at the Rockefeller Institute in New York. But his accomplishments did not come without a price. A penchant for drink and brothels frequently left Noguchi without even the means for daily subsistence, and the Japanese scientist relied heavily on the kindness of his mother and friends, who would go so far as to pawn their own treasured keepsakes to keep him in the black. The book is as much testament to the loyalty, trust and close- knit ties of rural Japan as any of Noguchi’s individual achievements.

The biography does not approach the entirety of Noguchi’s life at an even keel. Certain childhood episodes or scientific breakthroughs are described in minute detail (such as Noguchi’s onetime encounter with a ferocious dog), yet the introduction of Noguchi’s wife takes place in five brief sentences without prior hint or foreshadowing.

Fortunately, the author does not neglect to explain the reason behind Noguchi’s distinctive coif. In the words of one Viennese scientist, “You see how his hair curls up and sticks out from the top of his head? That’s how I know his greatness!” Frizzy-haired readers, take heart. Colette Randall


Tokyo Sightseeing
(Magazine House MOOK, ¥933)

I always feel sorry for tourists in Tokyo, wondering the streets looking bewildered, using guide books too try to comprehend the incomprehensible. This is not a city you can learn; it’s a city you live. Tokyo, for me, is not about the Meiji Shrine or Sensoji. Or other guidebook favorites. The Lonely Planet can point you to Kabukicho to look at the neon, it can even suggest somewhere to drink there, but it can’t predict the surprises that make Tokyo an experience as well as a destination.

The guidebook that best conveys the true scope of the city is Tokyo Sightseeing. In English with some Japanese, Tokyo Sightseeing is produced by Brutus, part of the empire of Magazine House, which also publishes Casa Brutus, Hanako, Tarzan and dozens more. Brutus and Casa Brutus are two of the Japan’s most stylish mags, and Tokyo Sightseeing is in the same vein: big on graphics, small on text and unrivaled in terms of content. Indeed, there are places recommended here—sento with a view, Japan’s coolest restroom, 24-hour kaiseki—that will be news to even the most seasoned Tokyo expatriate. Old-timers can even test themselves with the spot-the-old-plate-of-sushi contest. And, appropriately for a city where looking is half the fun, much of the 104-page book is given over to photographs, making it as valuable on a coffee table as in a backpack.

Tokyo Sightseeing was released in 2002, which means some of it is out of date (the much-missed Harajuku Aux Bacchanales, for instance), but Magazine House says it does not intend to publish a new edition, so grab one while you can. AV

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