A Japanese Mirror Paperback – 1 Aug 2012
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About the Author
Ian Buruma is the Henry R. Luce Professor of Human Rights and Journalism at Bard College in New York state. His previous books include God's Dust, The Wages of Guilt, Anglomania and Murder in Amsterdam, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Best Current Interest Book and was shortlisted for The Samuel Johnson Prize. He was the recipient of the 2008 Shorenstein Journalism Award, which honoured him for his distinguished body of work, and the 2008 Erasmus Prize.
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That said, A Japanese Mirror is still a fine and enlightening book. Harajuku could be encompassed in the chapter on The Human Work of Art as a place where "people are not interested in real selves and no attempts are made to hide the fake", or, as covered in the chapter on The Art of Prostitution "what meets the eye in Japan is often all there is ... the fetishist ikon is so powerful that the real thing becomes superfluous." The artifice is seen where Lady Macbeth played by a famous Kabuki star is enjoyed because it is more artificial, more skilful and thus more beautiful.
The Japanese obsession with a cult of death is explored in the chapter on The Third Sex, a world where `many men perish because they are too beautiful' - perhaps reflected in the rock n roll anthems of `die young, stay pretty.' The author links this to the suicidal death of Mishima - I think a bow drawn too long in that case.
And so the book progresses through the world of the Yakuza, Nihilists and Shinto - the latter particularly interesting, equating the "empty chamber in the holiest part of a Shinto shrine" to the diffusion of power and responsibility to avoid loss of face , "ultimate responsibility lies in that empty space, in other words, with nobody".
Buruma concludes that the Japanese are, in all, a gentle people, "with hardcore fantasies of death and bondage, but few of these dreams appear to spill over into real life." This is a very worthwhile read for anyone with a more than passing interest in Japan.