Imagine a ten-sided house. Add to it murder mystery enthusiasts, each bearing a famous crime writer’s nickhame. Add a sprinkling of weird fiction ghostliness and gothic murder. Then kill everybody.
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…)
I’d read a couple of Mitchell’s books many years ago, and it wasn’t until I picked this one up, looking for some transport reading that I realised (given its Japanese subject-matter) I was predisposed to liking it. The enjoyment it’s given has me kicking myself at leaving it on the shelf until now.
The four years of research required to create the book are well-spent; the historical verisimilitude is pretty much untouchable. Precision of detail is paramount, though it’s not forced down the reader’s throat. The Sakoku era – when foreign contact was forbidden, only ended with the arrival of Commodore Perry’s ‘Black Ships’ – is faithfully rendered. The outpost of Dejima – the only place trade was available, near Nagasaki – is brought to life without the distancing one usually finds in novels writing about the past. Some of the island’s denizens are a little more stereotypical than you’d imagine – especially the wanking monkey named after William Pitt – but nothing breaks the mood. (more…)