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Irresistibile Giappone: the Corriere della Sera and IO Donna book series

During the summer of this year, Corriere della Sera launched a series of essays entirely dedicated to Japan: Irresistibile Giappone.

Over time I have read many volumes of this kind, which have always left me extremely disappointed and annoyed: they are almost always books full of prejudices and which proceed with a narrative steeped in stereotypes and clichés, not to mention the extreme presumption and arrogance that can be seen (in a far from veiled way) in the point of view of especially American and Spanish-speaking writers.

In short, they are almost exclusively banal and Western-centric texts.


Since many of you asked me on Instagram what I thought of this necklace, I wanted to buy it and read it entirely, in order to give you an honest and sincere opinion.

Irresistibile Giappone Cookingwiththehamster
Irresistibile Giappone | © Cookingwiththehamster

Japan Through the Looking Glass

by Alan Macfarlane (2007)


Alan Donald James Macfarlane is an anthropologist, historian and professor emeritus of King's College, Cambridge.

This book was written after a trip by Macfarlane to the Rising Sun as a visiting professor. During the visit he is fascinated by the art and culture of Japan but also by the great cultural shock, given by the enormous diversity of the country compared to the West.

Increasingly aware of his profound ethnocentrism, Macfarlane tries to explain this very distant world by applying "participant observation" while, in my opinion, partially understanding some social aspects, however forgivable - I think the author is sometimes guilty of naivety.


Samurai. Ascesa e declino di una nobile casta di guerrieri

by Leonardo Vittorio Arena (2002)


Leonardo Vittorio Arena is an Italian essayist, philosopher and orientalist.

In this book, with an almost fictional style as regards the prose (which I personally didn't love), the author reviews the samurai who have followed one another in Japan's past, emphasizing the most significant clashes, the changes social issues and, above all, on the decline of this group which has risen to the rank of myth - above all without hiding what accompanied and entailed their end.

It is an accurate volume, full of names and events, so it can be difficult but can still serve as a first smattering if you do not know this topic.


Il pensiero giapponese. Viaggio nello stile di vita del Sol Levante

by Le Yen Mai (2020)


Le Yen Mai, of Vietnamese origin, was born and raised in Zurich. She worked in the fashion field in Paris after graduating in Fashion Design and Brand Management. You work in Milan as a professional organizer.

It is a largely autobiographical book (in fact the author describes numerous episodes that took place during her travels in Japan), seasoned with pearls of wisdom that combine zealous Eastern philosophy understood in the Western way and the legacy of Marie Kondo.

An extremely superficial volume that adds nothing to what a Japan enthusiast already knows.


Lost Japan

by Alex Kerr (1993)


Alex Kerr is an American writer and Japaneseologist.

His father, a naval officer, was sent to Yokohama from 1964 to 1966. Back in the States, Alex studied Japanese at Yale and Chinese at Oxford. He then went to live in Kameoka (near Kyoto) in 1977 and worked with the Ootomo Foundation (a Shinto organization). Kerr bought an abandoned house in the Iya Valley and remodeled it with traditional elements in order to preserve the traditional arts and lifestyle of "Endangered Japan".

In this book Kerr tells of all these past of him and how this country has changed over the 35 years during which he lived there.

The text was initially published in Japanese Utsukushiki Nihon no Zanzō (美しき日本の残像, Last Glimpse of Beautiful Japan): it was such a great success that Kerr was the first foreigner to receive the 1994 Shincho Gakugei Literature Prize for best non-fiction work released in Japan.

In my opinion it is one of the few truly valid books written by an American on Japan, it is no coincidence that it was recommended to me years ago by a Japanese friend.


Lo spirito del Giappone

by Leonardo Vittorio Arena (2008)


With this book Leonardo Vittorio Arena tries to understand the great fascination towards the Land of the Rising Sun by Westerners since the end of the Second World War through philosophy, history and psychology.

Not basing itself on the Aristotelian principle, Japanese philosophy places the individual and the continuous calibration of harmony at the center of its attention.


Wabi Sabi

by Tomás Navarro (2019)


Great cult among fans of self-help books based on the forced mystification of the Orient and its philosophical aspects. A book in which the author (a psychologist by profession) pours all his enthusiasm for life and the little things of everyday life.

Extremely banal in my opinion.


Shinrin Yoku

by Annette Lavrijsen (2018)


Is there a more unreadable self-help book than this one? Hard to tell.

The author, a freelance writer, describes the practice of "immersing yourself in the forest", very common in Japan especially for those who live in the city. So far so good, pity that from the premise onwards the rest of the volume is a succession of boring descriptions on how to carry out this practice in everyday life, twisting and bending the primary meaning of the same according to the American lifestyle - with a good dose of hypocrisy, above all because of the cases brought as an example of the success of Shinrin Yoku in the West.


Hitching Rides with Buddha

by Will Ferguson (1998)


Will Ferguson is a Canadian writer and journalist famous at home for his humor on his compatriots, the same that pours throughout the book also on the Japanese.

Hitchhiking with Buddha tends to be an obnoxious book, especially in the beginning, as the author never fails to ridicule the Japanese people. I admit I had the instinct to abandon it already in the first half, but in the end I got to the bottom of it. As the text progresses, Ferguson gradually puts the teasing aside and focuses on the historical and naturalistic descriptions of the country.

I liked it? Not much. I remain of the opinion that the best travel book on Japan written by a Westerner remains the aforementioned The beauty of secret Japan.

Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life

by Héctor García, Francesc Miralles (2018)


I think this text is the most famous among those that have dealt with the topic of ikigai. Summarized in yet another self-help book, it deals with the various aspects of everyday life to live happily and for a long time.

Banal and boring.


A History of Japan

by Kenneth Henshall (2005)


The author is a British historian and orientalist who has produced numerous publications on Japan during his career. I found this volume in particular really well written and flowing despite the numerous dates and percentages in the economic field, which in fact do not slow down the reading.

More than an essay I consider it an excellent university tool for studying the history of Japan, precisely, without sales pitches but, on the contrary, I greatly appreciated the total lack of irony (common to Western authors) and the severe analysis of the most controversial aspects of the pre-period -Second World War, as well as the school system and the still controversial difficult relations with China and South Korea.

Must read absolutely!


Il Giappone in cucina

by Graziana Canova Tura (1994)


Finally a truly well written and respectful of tradition Italian book on authentic Japanese cuisine.

The author lived for some time in Japan when she still "wasn't fashionable", studying and practicing washoku with truly exemplary attention. The same that you will find in her recipes and, above all, in the description of etiquette and kitchen tools and for the table.

A really great cookbook!


Hagakure

by Yamamoto Tsunetomo (1716)


Yamamoto Tsunetomo was in the service of the daimyō Mitsushige of the fiefdom of Saga in an age of peace and the beginning of the decline of the samurai. When the daimyo died, Yamamoto became a Buddhist monk and composed the work on the spirit and code of conduct of the samurai.

Tsunetomo wanted the book not to be published but set on fire, but his disciple decided to make it public under the title of Nabeshima Rongo ("Nabeshima's dialogues"). It was then published saw the press in 1906 as Hagakure. The text was exploited by Japanese militarism in the first half of the 20th century, so much so that suicide bombers carried it with them as a death companion.


Literally "hidden by the leaves" or "in the shade of the leaves", it is one of the most important and significant works of samurai wisdom (bushidō, "way of the warrior) in the form of aphorisms.


Cerchi infiniti. Viaggi in Giappone

by Cees Nooteboom (2017)


Cees Nooteboom is a Dutch writer, poet and playwright.


This text collects numerous writings in over forty years of travel in the rising sun, describing its art, architecture, cities, antiquities, kabuki theater and landscapes with a poetic, philosophical style of rapture and great respect.


Wa

by Laura Imai Messina (2018)


Laura Imai Messina is an Italian writer who has been living and working in Japan in the academic field for many years.

Of her publications Wa is my absolute favorite. In this volume the author deals with 72 words to understand what Japan is through signs, imbued with hidden meanings.

It is an extremely dense volume, which requires great attention from the reader but full of meanings, just as if it were a sentimental vocabulary.


Go rin no sho

by Miyamoto Musashi (1645)


Classic of military strategy treatises: divided according to the five elements (water, fire, earth, air, vacuum) constituting the universe according to Taoism, it is a manual of combat philosophy with also practical instructions.

For true enthusiasts.


Wasan

by Toshimitsu Hirano (2014)


Wasan is Japanese mathematics, a particular tradition which developed above all during the Edo period (1603-1867) and which is quite distinct from the western one (yosan). Wasan combines science with philosophy and artistic creativity.


Bushido

Appearing for the first time in English in 1899, this text is a great classic that seeks to answer the question of the cultural (and moral) difference between East and West. The answer lies precisely in bushido (way of the warrior), the code of conduct that indicates the evincement of the fear of death and the importance of living in the present. Simply put: the spirit of the samurai.


Ikigai in love

by Ken Mogi, Thomas Leoncini (2020)


Ken Mogi is a scientist and researcher. Thomas Leoncini is a journalist and psychologist, in 2018 Pope Francis appointed him a lay member of the world synod of youth. Precisely for this last reason this book is truly unsustainable: if at the beginning it may appear an interesting and critical reading on today's world and love, going forward we realize that it is all a mixture of Catholic forcing.

To be avoided absolutely.


The One Taste of Truth: Zen and the Art of Drinking Tea

by William Scott Wilson (2015)


William Scott Wilson is famous for having translated numerous Japanese literary works, especially those relating to the martial tradition. In 2015 he was inducted into the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette, to "promote understanding of Japan through the introduction of Japanese in the United States".


The text explains very well the historical evolution of tea drinking starting from India and China up to Japan, home of the tea ceremony (sado), exploring the close link between Zen and this practice.

A very technical manual on how to drink and appreciate tea, perfect for those who want to approach this practice with seriousness and rigor.


Sata

by Alan Booth (1985)


Alan Booth is a British writer who, in this text, described his journey on foot from Cape Soya (the northernmost part of Japan located in Hokkaido) to Cape Sata (the southernmost part of Kyushu).

A well written, fascinating and moving book.

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