Damian Flanagan Title: Damian Flanagan
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The Japan Times


JAN 21, 2017

The triumphant second coming of Endo's 'Silence'

Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of “Silence,” Shusaku Endo’s tale of Catholic missionaries suffering brutal repression in 17th-century Japan, has met with mixed reviews. Some have found it ponderously overlong and, for those unfamiliar with Japanese history, baffling in context. It is, in fact, not a ...


JAN 14, 2017

Mishima and the maze of sexuality in modern Japan

In June 1948, novelist Osamu Dazai committed suicide. The 38-year-old, who had just completed his masterpiece, “No Longer Human,” and whose fame was peaking, jumped into Tokyo’s Tamagawa Canal with his mistress, Tomie Yamazaki, and drowned. With his acid wit and nihilistic vision, Dazai ...


DEC 17, 2016

Natsume Soseki and 'The Orient's No. 1 Elevator'

What is the top tourist destination in the Kansai region? Is it Kyoto’s geisha district? Is it the temples and bamboo forests of Arashiyama? Is it the town of Yoshino, with Japan’s most famous cherry blossoms? The majestic views from Mount Rokko in Kobe? ...


DEC 17, 2016

Love, obsession and perverted desires in Japan's age of steam

Japan began to open its doors to the West in the 1850s, after centuries of remaining closed. In the following decade, foreigners’ “concessions” were established in port cities such as Yokohama and Kobe to cope with the new visitors. The Japanese, with their characteristic ...


NOV 26, 2016

The hidden heart of Natsume Soseki

Dec. 9 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Natsume Soseki (1867-1916), a novelist widely regarded as being the one of the greatest writers of modern Japan. Events commemorating this anniversary have been held throughout 2016 but, in case you think it will ...


NOV 19, 2016

The shifting sexual norms in Japan's literary history

More than 3,000 women and almost 900 men — that’s the number of lovers the main protagonist in Ihara Saikaku’s 1682 novel “Koshoku Ichidai Otoko” (“The Life of an Amorous Man”) tallies up as he reminisces. Saikaku, born in Osaka in 1642, became a ...


NOV 5, 2016

Kofu: the mountain fortress of warlord Takeda Shingen

In Akira Kurosawa’s classic 1980 film “Kagemusha” (“Shadow Warrior”), the 16th-century daimyo Takeda Shingen is mortally wounded by a sniper after being lured by the sound of a flute during a castle siege. Takeda’s clan know that rival warlords Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu ...


OCT 8, 2016

The 'onsen' retreat that transformed Natsume Soseki

Shuzenji, an onsen (hot-spring) town in the heart of the Izu Peninsula, is a little piece of heaven. Nestled in the densely wooded hills of Shizuoka Prefecture, its collection of baths, guesthouses and shops line up on either side of the rushing Katsura River, ...


SEP 24, 2016

Shizuoka: Where writers go to hide from the world

Ask a Japanese person which part of Japan they most associate with writer Lafcadio Hearn and they are likely to instantly respond: Matsue, a seaside town in Shimane Prefecture. Hearn is the man who introduced Japan to the West in the Meiji Period (1868-1912) ...


AUG 13, 2016

Writing Technology in Meiji Japan

The industrial and social revolution that Japan underwent in the Meiji Era (1868-1912) was accompanied by an equally tumultuous revolution in the Japanese language. It’s perhaps hard to fathom today that throughout the latter half of the 19th century, an almost unbridgeable gulf existed ...


JUL 30, 2016

Bushido: Soseki, 'Star Wars' and the samurai

In September 1912, Gen. Maresuke Nogi — a hero of the Russo-Japanese War — committed ritual suicide. His sensational death took place on the day of Emperor Meiji’s funeral, making it an act of junshi (following one’s lord in death) and a high-water mark ...


JUL 30, 2016

'Inventing the Way of the Samurai': Debunking the myths surrounding Bushido

Oleg Benesch’s “Inventing the way of the Samurai” is a seminal, scrupulously researched work that teems with ideas. Its content is profoundly relevant to current political developments in Japan, as questions about the Constitution and the nation’s identity come to the fore. Inventing the ...


JUL 23, 2016

Wandering the 'real Japan': Following the far-north footsteps of Alan Booth

Renowned travel writer Bruce Chatwin believed passionately in the importance of walking in the wild. The problems of humanity, he contended, were borne out of people being settled and static. But if you wanted to rediscover your nomadic self in a heavily urbanized country ...


JUL 23, 2016

Bushido: The samurai code goes to war

In a scene from the 1957 film “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” a haughty British Col. in a prisoner-of-war camp confronts the camp’s Japanese commandant. Citing the Geneva Convention as justification, he argues that his officers should not be forced into manual labor ...


JUL 23, 2016

'The Maid': A mind reader probes the intimate thoughts of her employers

In Japan, true feelings (known as honne) are often hidden behind the mask of a false front (tatemae). So the comic potential of a mind-reading maid working in private family homes — encountering sexual frustrations, jealousy and the mutual resentment of parents and their ...


JUL 16, 2016

Bushido: The awakening of Japan's modern identity

Opinions are divided when it comes to Japan’s current Constitution, issued during the U.S. Occupation of 1945 -52: Is it an American imposition that unfairly refuses to recognize the nation as a “normal country” or a precious war-renouncing document that reflects Japan’s unique status ...


JUN 18, 2016

Why are Japanese women still bewitched by the Brontes?

Some years ago a sassy Osaka lady asked me to introduce her to the pleasures of Western literature. I duly handed her a variety of classic books, including “The Turn of the Screw,” “Heart of Darkness,” “Lolita” and “A Study in Scarlet.” They were ...


MAY 14, 2016

'Spectacular Accumulation' explains three warlords' obsession with objects

In “Spectacular Accumulation” Morgan Pitelka relates the thrilling interactions between three “unifiers” of Japan in the tumultuous decades of the late 16th century and early 17th century. This trio of warlords includes the bloodthirsty Oda Nobunaga, the vainglorious Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu who ...


APR 30, 2016

'Toddler-Hunting and Other Stories' is feminist fiction at its most disturbing

“Toddler-Hunting and Other Stories” is a superb collection of short stories written in the 1960s by one of the most significant feminist writers of postwar Japan. Toddler-Hunting and Other Stories, by Kono Taeko, Translated by Lucy North.276 pagesNew Directions, Fiction. Kono Taeko — who ...


APR 23, 2016

In search of Japan's own Shakespeare

April 23 marked the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare (1564-1616), the greatest dramatist of the English speaking world. The anniversary has a particular resonance here: Few countries in the world have embraced Shakespeare with Japan’s sustained passion. The Bard in Japan: ...


MAR 5, 2016

Ryu Murakami turns on another light in Tokyo's lurid basement

This collection of short stories arrived with a warning from the publisher: “Graphic sexual content.” Perhaps it was worried that reviewers would blush to the tips of their toes upon reading it. However, anyone who has encountered Murakami’s excruciating 1992 sadomasochistic film “Topazu” (“Tokyo ...



JAN 30, 2016

The Whale That Fell in Love with a Submarine

Akiyuki Nosaka (1930-2015), was a man of many parts, variously a singer, lyricist, comedian and politician as well as a novelist and short story writer. His diverse successes in later life however betrayed an extraordinarily traumatic youth that saw his mother die soon after ...


JAN 23, 2016

Insect Literature

The Berlin-based author Yoko Tawada recently remarked that one of the difficulties she faced when translating Kafka’s short story “Metamorphosis” into Japanese was that the associations Japanese people had with insects — even presumably giant beetles — were different to those of Europeans. Tawada ...


JAN 16, 2016

Lost Japan

Originally published in Japanese in 1993 (with the English translation following in 1996), “Lost Japan,” the first book by Alex Kerr, has recently been re-released by Penguin. A fascinating chronicle of Kerr’s diverse interactions with the country, the book spans such subjects as restoring ...


JAN 2, 2016

A Fantastic Journey: The Life and Literature of Lafcadio Hearn

Paul Murray, biographer of both Lafcadio Hearn and his close contemporary Bram Stoker, has combined working as a writer with a distinguished career in the Irish Foreign Service, including a stint in Tokyo in the 1970s before eventually becoming Irish ambassador to South Korea. ...



DEC 26, 2015

Flipping back through the good reads of 2015

Before we turn the page on the year, here's a selection of our reviewers' favorite books. 


DEC 26, 2015

Partners in Print: Artistic Collaboration and the Ukiyo-e Market

The purported thesis of this book — that the art of publishing is a collaborative process involving the cooperation of writer, illustrator, patron, publisher and (shock) even consumer — seems obvious. Yet the four academic essays on ukiyo-e art contained within are both stimulating ...


NOV 21, 2015

Yukio Mishima's enduring, unexpected influence

Forty-five years ago this week — at just after 10 a.m. on the bright, cold morning of Nov. 25, 1970 — a telephone rang at the Tokyo home of popular enka singer Hideo Murata. On the line was author Yukio Mishima, a man who ...


NOV 14, 2015

'Living Carelessly in Tokyo and Elsewhere' with translator John Nathan

John Nathan arrived in Japan in the early 1960s and set about constantly pushing his limits, becoming the first Westerner to graduate from the esteemed University of Tokyo. And by age 25, he had published a translation of Yukio Mishima’s “The Sailor Who Fell ...



NOV 11, 2015

Let women and the world into kabuki and watch it flourish

Kabuki has the ability to enrich the imagination of the world; it should not be held back by insular vision and outmoded conservatism.


OCT 24, 2015

Natsume Soseki goes back to hell in 'The Miner'

Natsume Soseki’s 1908 novel “The Miner” has often been regarded as an oddity. It stands aloof both in subject matter and style from the two great “trilogies” Soseki penned between 1908 and 1914. The Miner, by Natsume Soseki, Translated by Jay Rubin. 264 pages ...



Lefkada's Hearn: Europe reclaims its literary 'lost son'

The Greek island of Lefkada, rising from the Ionian Sea south of Corfu, is famed for its white beaches and vertical cliffs from which the poet Sappho is said to have leaped to her death. The island is also claimed as the one of ...


SEP 12, 2015

Jesus Christ, the Nobel Prize and Shusaku Endo

In 1994, on the day when Kenzaburo Oe was announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature — the second Japanese writer to receive the award — eminent literary scholar Donald Keene received a long-distance call from Peter Owen, publisher of novelist ...


SEP 12, 2015

Martin Scorsese and experts analyze Shusaku Endo's 1966 novel in 'Approaching Silence'

An adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel “Silence” — about Jesuit priests and Christian converts suffering repression in 17th-century Japan — is currently being filmed by Martin Scorsese in Taiwan and scheduled for release next year. Approaching Silence, Edited by Mark W. Dennis and ...


SEP 5, 2015

Literature critic John Nathan dissects Japan's Nobel Prize laureates

There is one critic of Japanese literature that towers above the rest: professor John Nathan, erstwhile associate of Yukio Mishima, Kenzaburo Oe and Kobo Abe. But he’s not only a respected critic, Nathan’s extraordinary career has seen him in the roles of film director, ...


AUG 29, 2015

Mishima, Murakami and the elusive Nobel Prize

Will he or won’t he? It’s about the time of year when the Japanese media descends into a frenzy of speculation about whether Haruki Murakami will land the Nobel Prize in literature, becoming the first Japanese literary laureate since Kenzaburo Oe in 1994. There ...



AUG 22, 2015

Descending to the depths of Yukio Mishima's 'Sea of Fertility'

It was 45 years ago this summer that Donald Keene, a leading critic and translator of Japanese literature, visited Yukio Mishima at his summer writing retreat on the Izu Peninsula. This was the last time the two close friends would leisurely enjoy each other’s ...


AUG 1, 2015

New translation of the world's oldest novel

‘The Tale of Genji,” written by Murasaki Shikibu around 1,000 A.D., is regarded by many as the world’s first novel and is arguably the most influential work of Japanese literature ever written, inspiring countless other works of drama, fiction and fine art. The Tale ...


JUN 6, 2015

'Chopsticks' sifts through the cultural mysteries of Asia's eating implements

In Q. Edward Wang’s hands, chopsticks are transformed from banal, everyday objects to a means of contemplating both the unfolding of world history and the subtleties of social norms. Chopsticks: A Cultural and Culinary History Q. Edward Wang, by 224 pages.Cambridge University Press, Nonfiction. ...


FEB 14, 2015

The three-cornered world of Glenn Gould and Natsume Soseki

Two years after it was published, a copy of Natsume Soseki's novella "The Three-Cornered World" was placed in the hands of one of the world's most celebrated pianists, Glenn Gould.

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