July 11, 2009

Take Me Away...to Japan!

Take Me Away
As a lover of books that take place in different cultures and are about different cultures, Take Me Away is a way to share this love with you, my readers and friends!

Each week I feature a different country or culture (ex. Cherokee, Jewish, etc. that do not have a specific country per se) and list some books that can transport you there.

I am keeping a map of the countries we visit and a list of the specific cultures, which you can see at the bottom of this post. Here is a list of where we've been so far:

This week we are visiting the country of Japan. Click on the titles of the books to go to Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.com to read reviews and/or purchase the book.

Here is an easy to see map of Japan:
To learn more about Japan and Japanese Culture, click here.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
An epic on an intimate scale, Memoirs of a Geisha takes the reader behind the rice-paper screens of the geisha house to a vanished floating world of beauty and cruelty, from a poor fishing village in 1929 to the decadence of 1940s Kyoto, through the chaos of World War II to the towers of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where the gray-eyed geisha Sayuri unfolds the remarkable story of her life. Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

In a Tokyo suburb a young man named Toru Okada searches for his wife's missing cat. Soon he finds himself looking for his wife as well in a netherworld that lies beneath the placid surface of Tokyo. As these searches intersect, Okada encounters a bizarre group of allies and antagonists: a psychic prostitute; a malevolent yet mediagenic politician; a cheerfully morbid sixteen-year-old-girl; and an aging war veteran who has been permanently changed by the hideous things he witnessed during Japan's forgotten campaign in Manchuria. Genre: Fiction Publisher: Random House

Across the Nightingale Floor (Tales of the Otori Series #1) by Lian Hearn

Sixteen-year-old Takeo's village has been massacred by an evil warlord, and he is about to be slain by the men who murdered his parents and neighbors. At the last moment, his life is saved by a nobleman, who claims the boy as his kin and begins his education. But nothing is as it seems. Takeo discovers that he has rare powers that are useful to those around him. As he grows into manhood, he must decide where his loyalties lie: with his noble master and adoptive father; with the Hidden, a secret, spiritual sect whose beliefs are forbidden; or with the Tribe, the assassins and spies who consider him one of their own. A story of treachery, political intrigue, and the intensity of first love, set in a world ruled by formal ritual and codes of honor, Across the Nightingale Floor crosses genres, generations, and genders to captivate fans of all ages. Genre: Fiction, Mystery; Series Publisher: Penguin Group

Eat Sleep Sit: My Year at Japan's Most Rigorous Zen Temple by Kaoru Nonomura

At the age of thirty, Kaoru Nonomura left his family, his girlfriend, and his job as a designer to undertake a year of ascetic training at Eiheiji, one of the most rigorous Zen training temples in Japan. This book is Nonomura's account of his experiences. He skillfully describes every aspect of training, including how to meditate, how to eat, how to wash, and even how to use the toilet, in a way that is easy to understand even for readers with no knowledge of Zen Buddhism. This first-person account also describes Nonomura's struggles in the face of beatings, hunger, exhaustion, fear, and loneliness, the comfort he draws from his friendships with the other trainees, and his quiet determination to give his life spiritual meaning. After writing Eat Sleep Sit, Kaoru Nonomura returned to his normal life as a designer, but his book has maintained its popularity in Japan, selling more than 100,000 copies since its first printing in 1996. Beautifully written, and a fascinating insight into a lifestyle of hardships that few people could endure, this is a book that will appeal to all those with an interest in Zen Buddhism and to anyone with an interest in the quest for spiritual growth. Genre: Travel, Spirituality Publisher: Kodansha International

A Year in Japan by Kate T. Williamson

This delicately crafted artist's journal offers colorful impressions of a young woman's extended visit in Kyoto, Japan. Williamson's watercolors are playful, bright and spare, and each section illustrates a theme or topic that has inspired the artist/author over her travels to a country devoted to attention to detail. For example, Williamson explores numerous rituals of dining, such as offering a guest green tea accompanied by a piece of wagashi, or bean paste confection, and illustrates over two pages the elegant lunch she ordered at a temple serving shojin ryori, the vegetarian cuisine of Zen Buddhist monks. The sacred rope that unites the "male" and "female" rocks of the Shinto site Meoto-Iwa warrants both an intimate view (the rope) and a full, breathtaking seascape of the wedded rocks. Williamson renders eye-catching holidays from August's O'bon, featuring a trio of three white-socked and sandaled feet under pink kimonos, to April's stately sakura (cherry blossom) season. Some of the people Williamson depicts are sumo wrestlers wearing headphones and riding the subway, and two geishas side by side in full regalia—one apprentice, the other professional. For travelers to Japan, and those who treasure their visit, this is a splendid record. 350 color illustrations. Genre: Japanese History, Travel Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press

Japanland: A Year in Search of Wa by Karin Muller
At age 34, American documentary filmmaker, writer, and judo maven Muller spent a year in Japan searching for the meaning of life. Her narrative account is both raucous and revelatory, full of piquant observations of Japanese culture, from sumo wrestlers and samurai warriors to a 1,400-year-old ascetic mountain cult known for walking on hot coals. Muller's renderings of her Japanese host family, who lived in the Tokyo suburb of Fugisawa, are wonderfully edgy: tall, salt-and-pepper-haired judo master Genji, whose stern manner is offset by a mellifluous laugh; frosty-hearted Yukiko, the Japanese equivalent of a Stepford wife; and single 28-year-old daughter Junko, who, much to her family's chagrin, shows no signs of settling down. The author, who headed to Japan in pursuit of wa (the Japanese word for harmony), returned with a reverence for geishas, an appetite for sauteed crickets, and an appreciation for the contradictions that suffuse life in Japan. A companion PBS documentary, Japanland Memoir , will provide another avenue of sharp commentary from Muller, whose previous books and films have documented her adventures in South America and Vietnam. Genre:Publisher: Rodale Books

The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki Shikibu
This is widely considered to be the world's first novel. I am reading this book now as part of a read along with other bloggers. Click here to see my first post about it.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Do you know of some books that take place in Japan that you want to share? Or do you want to share other thoughts? Please leave a note in the comments!

Be sure to check back next week for a trip in books to Spain!

The Take Me Away Map of Countries Visited:

create your own visited country map
or write about it on the open travel guide


  1. Japan is another culture that I think is fascinating to read about. I have Across The Nightingale Floor in my TBR pile... actually I got it for my little brother, and then he loaned it to me to read. He really loves the entire series.

    There's also Battle Royale, which is like a modern Lord of the Flies scenario.

    There are some great books here I am definitely going to put on my TBR list!

  2. Oh, I love books set in Japan! Two I highly recommend are Fudoki and The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson. I'll keep this list in mind for the next Japanese Lit challenge.

  3. I want to go to Japan with you! My son spent a summer in Japan and he loved it and still loves to read about Japan - I'm going to show this list to him.

  4. The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama is one of my all time favorite books. Some of her books are set in China but 1000 Blossoms is set in Japan.

  5. I have to say that books set in Japan are my favorite! My fist experience was actually Memoirs of a Geisha, but then I started reading more and have fallen more and more in love! I really enjoyed Snow Country by Kawabata. Great!

  6. What a wonderful idea. Japan is a wonderful culture to read about. I have read Across The Nightingale Floor and Memoirs of a Geisha. Both, very good.

  7. You featured some really great looking books. I've read Geisha and loved it. I was an exchange student in Japan in 1987...loved every minute of it so I think I may have to pick up a few of these to read!! Once again I love this feature on your blog!!!

  8. Memoirs of a Geisha was one of the best books that I have read this year. I love all geisha style books.

  9. First, wanted to let you know I have problems accessing your blog through Internet Explorer. It's fine through Netscape, though. Don't know if it's just me.

    I liked "Memoirs of a Geisha" very much--it's been a while since I've read it but I remember the basic story so well. I haven't read any of the other books on your list--they look interesting!

    The only other Japanese writer I can think of is Yukio Mishima. I've read some of his works but I'm not sure how well-known he is (as he died a long time ago).

  10. I would recommend also Fear and Trembling by the French author Amélie Nothomb. It is a hilarious and also somewhat disturbing account of a young woman's year working in Japan and how difficult it sometimes is to understand a different culture and society.


  11. Great way to immerse yourself in another culture! Educational and entertaining at the same time!

  12. what a neat feature!

    If you like mysteries, I've enjoyed Miyuki Miyabe's All She Was Worth, and Shadow Family.

  13. Japan is very mysterious to me in terms of how patriotic and nationalistic the Japanese people are. Consider I'm Asian, I don't feel completely 100% in understanding their psyche. My American friends think the culture very impenetrable. They have worked in Japan for years and have met a few or no local friends.

    As to literature, Japan has a lot to offer. I enjoyed memoir od a Geisha. I think A Year in Japan looks very interesting. :)

  14. heidenkind- I am glad you found some new books for your list! I think Asian countries and cultures are really fascinating, too.

    Nymeth- Thanks, Nymeth! And I will put those 2 recommendations on my list, too!

    bermudaonion- Oh cool! I hope he finds something to read from it. I would love to really visit Japan.

    Kaye- Thanks for the recommendation! I came across this book, but not having read it, I wasn't sure if it was set in China or Japan. Thanks for letting me know!

    Michelle- Memoirs of a Geisha was my first real trip into Japan, too! It is one of my favorite books. I really liked learning about the culture of the geisha. I have not read Snow Country, but will look that up definitely! Thanks, Michelle!

    Mari- I actually have not gotten to Across the Nightingale Floor, but I have heard it is wonderful. It is part of a series. Have you read the other ones?

    Staci- Thank you, Staci! You are so sweet! I love that others like to read books about other cultures and in other countries as much as I do. It's wonderful! I am always jealous of those who studied abroad. I did not, choosing to stay stateside with my then fiance. What a mistake! That is one thing I do regret. But hopefully I will get to visit Japan one day! I am glad you found some interesting books here!

    Scrap girl- I have also heard Geisha of Gion is good. Have you read that one?

    Valerie- I will have to try Mishima out. I haven't read any of his books. As far as accessing my blog through IE, you are not the first to say that. I have contacted Blogger about it but have not received an adequate response as to what the problem is or how to fix it or that they are doing anything about it. I do know Firefox works, and now I know Netscape does. I am glad you got over here and thanks for alerting me to the problem. Sorry about that!

    Tiina- That sounds like an interesting book. Thank you for the recommendation! I will have to add it to my ever-expanding list. :)

    jenclair- Oh, I love it. I am fascinated with other cultures. I could talk about them and ask questions about them all day. Just this afternoon I had a discussion about Indian culture and Hinduism with my sister's fiance's family. I loved every second of it!

    raidergirl3- I do enjoy mysteries. I will check those out. Thanks for coming by and thanks for the recommendations!

    mattviews- Japan does have so much to offer in the way of literature and poetry. I really like learning about the culture. Were you born and did you grow up here or in Asia? I would love to talk with you about it sometime if you are willing.

  15. I love Japan lit! A couple of my most fave authors from Japan are Kenzaburo Oe and Yasunari Kawabata. For lighter fare, there's Banana Yoshimoto.

  16. How fun to read this post! You've celebrated some of my favorites (Murakami, of course, and Eat Sleep Sit) but also shown me a few new authors. Please join the Japanese Literature 3 Challenge which I'm hosting beginning this July 30 if you're so inclined. I'd love to have you and others who have commented on this post about how much they like Japanese literature!

  17. What a great post! There are several books in your list I'd love to read, and The Tale of Genji has been on my list for ages - the size of the book has put me off a bit, though.

  18. claire- Thank you for the author recommendations! I will check those out.

    bellezza- I will check out the challenge. I would love to participate but it depends on how much time I will have for it. I have too many going on to finish for the end of the year.

    Belle- I am reading Tale of Genji now and it is a bit overwhelming. I've read over 300 pages and I've made only a small dent in it! It is a well-written and interesting story, though.

  19. This is just a great series! I admire you for doing it and the amount of work that must go into it!


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