This is the third of Kerr’s books I’ve read. The first, I found vital, the second not so much. So this sits neatly in the middle, for me. Where it departs from the first two books, though, is in its level of personality: in Another Kyoto I think the reader receives much more of a sense of the author as a person. (more…)
This is the second of Alex Kerr’s books on Japan that I’ve read, and it certainly doesn’t hold back. It’s critical – rightly so, in many cases – of the ornate, backhander-rich culture that permeates government and industry, of the blinkered educational aims of the country, of the done-with-mirrors, waiting-for-collapse economic system, the addiction to government works and needless halls that bankrupt cities and swell construction coffers, the lack of regulation and the wholesale disregard for culture, simplicity and the landscape which outsiders associate with Japan.
The man’s distaste and fear couldn’t be better conveyed if each chapter were entitled SHIT’S FUCKED in 72-point type, followed by pages of onomatopoeic screams.
And yet part of me – as a big ole gaijin myself – wonders how much of the writing is the result of the foreign lens being brought to bear, with the baggage that brings. (more…)
Originally published in 1993, this revised edition of Lost Japan is Alex Kerr’s examination of aspects of Japan that are slowly disappearing. It’s an exploration – admittedly by an outsider, though a long-term resident – of the parts of Japanese culture which, after hundreds of years, are vanishing in the wake of economic miracles and crashes, and with the rise of technology. (Kerr would later write about different forms of downturn in Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Japan, though that work is concerned with modern declination.)
Kerr‘s an interesting fellow, and the aspects of his biography woven into the book’s structure intrigue: born in Maryland, he grew up in Yokohama, and studied such that he could be thrust back into Japanese life. Organised Japanese studies seemed to disagree with him, so he struck out on his own, on a path which led to a love of art (and time as a dealer), associations with Texan developers, and guardian angel for a house in the Iya Valley – as well as figurehead for a trust designed to fight the effects of depopulation in rural areas. (more…)