Wabi Sabi — Beth Kempton

I really enjoyed Andrew Juniper’s book, Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence so i thought i’d may as well give Beth’s book a read as well.

However, unlike Andrew’s book, which i seemed to remember focussed more on the actual aesthetics and the Zen side of Wabi Sabi, with Beth’s book we look deeper into the lifestyle and world view of this wonderful concept.

In reading this book you soon become aware that Beth really has done a lot of homework, lifework, career work and academic work on Japan, and she does a wonderful job of bringing another take on the concept of Wabi Sabi to us non-Japanese readers who are always eager to learn more.

When it all boils down to it, it’s essentially a self help book coming from a really interesting angle.   There’s plenty of food for thought in here for anyone looking to make their life even a little bit better tomorrow than it was yesterday.   I’m fairly certain that everyone could find at least one thing in here to help improve their own lives in a really good way.

Beth’s Page

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A Man — Keiichiro Hirano

A man dies who isn’t who he claimed to be.   Left behind is a wife, daughter and step son of the imposter, and also an ex-girlfriend and the family of the man who he claimed to be.

In steps Kido to figure it all out for everyone, a lawyer whose own life is a bit on the rocks.   Kido becomes obsessed tracking down the real Daisuké and figuring out who the imposter really was and why he would do such a thing.   And while the tracking goes on through the book Kido begins to question his own life and failing marriage.

In Kido’s searching for the real Daisuké and the imposter’s true identity we are taken on a journey about life itself: who are we really if we can just jump into someone else’s past and assume the rest of their life as our own?

Keiichiro’s Page

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The Book of Tea — Kakuzo Okakura

In direct contrast to The Wisdom of Tea, in which we are taken on a 25 year journey of a Tea practitioner from their very first lesson, in The Book of Tea we are given the history of Tea itself and its associations through the ages with Eastern religions and philosophy.

As such, this book is wonderful and it makes one realise that there is so much more to Tea than simply throwing some tea leaves in a pot.   There are some great passages in this book where Kakuzo has some wonderful rants about western culture which are a delight to read.   One can really get a vision of just how coarse the Devon Cream Tea in a sea side cafe — not forgetting morning tea in mother’s finest china with a biscuit — is when compared to Japanese Tea in a traditional tea hut, even though the English will proclaim these two tea ceremonies of theirs as the height of culture.

A must read for all who enjoy reading about Japan and its culture, and anyone who enjoys a cup of tea, however you may take it.   Written over 100 years ago and is as relevant today as it was when it was written.

Kakuzo’s Page

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The Wisdom of Tea — Noriko Morishita

If you enjoy reading about Japan and its culture then this book will be very much for you.   In The Wisdom of Tea Norika tells us about her first 25 years journey learning all about Tea and in so doing gives us a wonderful view inside this part of Japanese culture that most of us would never have gotten to see.

Starting at 20 years old, Noriko is badgered into going to Tea lessons by her mother and cousin and only agrees to go so that she can go to a cafe with her cousin afterwards to hang out and be 20 year olds.   Little did she know at the time that 25 years later she would still be going to the same lessons every Saturday and writing a book about her experiences in the Tea room.

What looks from the outside to be a fairly simple thing, as Noriko takes us on her 25 year journey she makes us realise many of Tea’s facets and depths as she slowly learns that Tea is a life long learning experience that will only end when we end life itself.

After reading this book, all i can say is that if i knew where i could get Tea lessons near me i’d be signing up tomorrow.

Well worth a read for everyone interested in Japanese culture, Zen and other such things.

And if you haven’t read it already, do be sure to have a read of The Book of Tea, which further explores the history of this wonderful beverage and culture.

Noriko’s Page

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The Cat and The City — Nick Bradley

There are parts of this book that totally felt like Nick has taken Ghostwritten and number9dream, put them both in a mixing bowl, threw a calico cat in and stirred them all together.   Which is not a bad thing as they’re both excellent reads, and, as it turns out, so is The Cat and the City.   Although, having said that, Nick does have his own writing style and the underlying theme of the story is completely different.

This is one of those reviews where i feel i can’t say as much as i’d like to say without giving away the book’s ending, which is a bit annoying, both for me and, i imagine, anyone wanting a review.   So i’ll just do my best without ruining it for anyone: i’m sure if anyone wants to have it ruined by reading a more in depth review they’ll soon find one somewhere on the internet.

At first this is what appears to be a collection of short stories, however, each is interconnected by a calico cat and various characters that keep appearing around various parts of Tokyo. Slowly, over time, a back story begins to coalesce.

I wouldn’t put this down as an easy read because you do have to keep track of some of the characters who randomly appear — and their relationships — add to this that most of the characters have Japanese names and it becomes a bit of a challenge.   Then there’s the Japanese terminology that is peppered throughout, for which most of us will need to stop occasionally and use “Look Up”.   All in all it is quite a challenge but it is well worth the investment if you have the sort of mind that likes reading books that require you to make a bit of effort.   If, however, you like your stories spoon fed to you by mother at bedtime then i would probably not bother as you’ll probably just end up getting totally lost, confused, annoyed and ultimately blame a really good book for your own failings.

One could ask why is all this chaos necessary?   I would suggest that it’s meant to portray Tokyo and it’s metropolitan area of 37,468,000 people, all passing on the streets, trains, taxis, etc.; pretending to ignore each other while obviously being continually affected, being extremely polite while ultimately suffering inside, and being so distant from each other while being so very near.

Anyway, like the two David Mitchell books, mentioned above, i really enjoyed it and if you do make the effort i’m sure you will to as it’s a great story spread out all over one of the world’s greatest cities.

Nick’s Page

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The Travelling Cat Chronicles — Hiro Arikawa

So yeah, i love cats and i love most things Japanese, so eventually i had to get around to pulling this out of “The Pile” and reading it.

It’s one of those books that one just flies through, and i was always eager to dive back into it whenever i got a few moments spare.

Nana, a street cat, is our wonderful narrator, who gives us a delightful cat’s eye view of Satoru’s world as he drives around Japan visiting each of his childhood friends trying to get one of them to adopt Nana before he dies, but Nana has other ideas and is determined to stay with Satoru until the very end.

It’s through this cat’s eye view, and through each childhood friend we visit, that we get to learn, bit by bit, about Satoru’s life: a life of tragedy, loss and grief, and how these things shaped Satoru.   I think i’d put it on the shelf with The Little Paris Bookshop, also a well written book about tragedy, loss and grief with some cats in it.

Yes folks, a definite must read for anyone who likes cats.

Warning:   you may get a little soggy eyed at the end — cats can do that to you.

Hiro’s Page

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A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees — Yoshida Kenkō

This small book is a selection of quotes from Essays in Idleness.

The writer begins the book with this statement:

What strange folly, to beguile the tedious hours like this all day before my ink stone, jotting down at random the idle thoughts that cross my mind …

We are then regaled with a selection of those random thoughts, and quite good thoughts some of them are too.

Although written approx 1330 in Japan, a lot of these thoughts are as relevant today in the wider world as they were back then.   Yes, admittedly, some might be a bit dated and endemic but there are some very timeless thoughts for the modern, wider world to enjoy as well.

There’s also a delightful curmudgeonliness to the thoughts, like you’re listening to your favourite grand parent having a rant about what’s bothering them this week.

I shall certainly get a copy of Essays in Idleness and have a full read of Yoshida Kenkō’s thoughts.

Kenkō’s Page

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