My husband is a serious anime fan and after having my own obsession with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a kid, I’ve also had an interest in the real history of ninja and samurai. So I guess it wasn’t all that surprising that I checked out our copy of A Very Short Introduction to Modern Japan when it came across my desk. This useful little book gave me a quick outline of Japanese history for the the last 200 years, basically the end of the samurai era to today’s technology-driven society. Unfortunately, it was so short that I wanted to know more. Luckily we have a lot of great books about modern-day Japan.
If you’re more of a history buff like me, we have several books about Japan during World War II including Blossoms in the Wind: Human Legacies of the Kamikaze by M. G. Sheftell which tells the story of the suicide pilots who were often used by the Japanese at the end of the war. So Sad to Fall in Battle: An Account of War by Kumiko Kakehashi tells the story of General Tadamichi Kuribayahi who defended the island of Iwo Jima and refused to use the suicidal tactics of kamikaze pilots and banzai charges. This book was also the inspiration for the movie Letters From Iwo Jima.
For those who just want to see the really cool weapons, there’s Colin Roach’s Japanese Swords: Cultural Icons of a Nation : The History, Metallurgy and Iconography of the Samurai Sword. This large book has lots of detailed photos of the swords described as well as artwork showing the swords in action. It discusses not only the physical traits of the weapons, but the history of the society that created them.
To learn a little more about Japanese social customs, there’s Lovesick Japan : Sex, Marriage, Romance, Law by Mark D. West, which details the way love and intimate relationship have been ruled on in Japanese courts. For passionate Americans, Japanese relationships can seem rather loveless, with courts deciding all manner of relationship issues, including whether or not a person is actually in love. This is definitely an eye-opening look at the way a different culture treats our most personal relationships.
And finally for those who share my husband’s love of anime and its print counterpart, manga, we have Manga and Philosphy edited by Josef Stieff and Adam Barkman. This collection of essays explore the cultural differences in Japanese manga and American comics, often getting at larger cultural differences as well. With titles such as “Why Are There So Few Superhero Manga?” and “Why Do They Look White?” this looks like a fun but informative read.
So no matter your interest in the Land of the Rising Sun, the Prairie State College Library has a book to satisfy your interest in the country of Japan.