By David Yamaguchi The North American Post
UW student Benjamin Narkmon has asked me for a Japan reading list in anticipation his junior year abroad, starting in the spring (“Journey to the East,” napost.com, Oct. 28). As I needed to prepare one for him, I might as well share it more broadly.
A starter list for a lifetime journey of 1000 “ri” (2400 miles) follows.
1. Lafcadio Hearn, “Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan” (1894, Houghton, Mifflin). Here, his essay, “My First Day in the Orient,” is magical and timeless. The entire volume makes a good companion when riding trains in Japan.
2. Sei Shonagon, “The Pillow Book” (1991, Columbia Univ. Press). Her observations on daily tenth-century court life show that Japanese then were just like us, only wittier.
3. Donald Keene, “Anthology of Japanese Literature” (1955, Grove Press). This opens the treasure box!
Asian American Travel Memoirs
4. Lydia Minatoya, “Talking to High Monks in the Snow” (1992, Harper Collins). A burned-out mid-career academic gets her groove back in Japan and China.
5. Marie Mutsuki Mockett, “Where the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Goodbye” (2015, Norton). Mockett, a frequent visitor and semi-insider, travels to Tohoku in the wake of its 2011 earthquake. Her mother’s family is a Buddhist temple family there.
6. Cristopher Benfey, “The Great Wave, Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics, and the Opening of Old Japan” (2004, Random House). A brief romp through history with Herman Melville, John Manjiro, Edward Sylvester Morse, Mabel Loomis Todd, Hearn (again), and others. Loomis Todd was the first woman to climb Mount Fuji.
Travel Guidebooks, Maps & Compass
7. One to two travel guidebooks. These are always useful. You’ll want one on Tokyo and one on Japan in general. While I like the Lonely Planet series, I suggest perusing several brands at UW Bookstore to find two to your taste. These should be the latest versions, as travel conditions are always changing. (By contrast, titles 1-6 can be purchased used.)
8. Paper folding travel maps of Japan. Having at least one in your travel bag adds to the journey. You’ll want ones that show place-names in both kanji and English.
9. A hiking compass makes a good complement to 7 & 8. While not a book, you can use it with them to find your way on your own, in city or forest.