Anyone familiar with me and my work will know that I love Japan. Der! Obvious much? A couple of weeks ago I started a new blog series to talk about how I deal with my withdrawals from Japan. Seems like an absurd concept when I say it out loud but at quiet times I often find myself thinking about where in Japan I would like to go next, or perhaps thinking about cooking some Gyoza dumplings for dinner, or watching that new Japanese animation feature. In that first blog entry on this topic, I wrote about playing with images. And not just the ones I have taken. The core concept was about my photography taken whilst in Japan but the principle can be applied to anything you are passionate about. Not just travel to a single destination. You can check out that blog right here.
Today I want to continue the theme of influencing my life with Japanese culture as a means of feeding my desire to travel back to Japan and sink into the culture once more. And one of my very early influencers was Japanese manga. So what is manga? In short manga is the Japanese version of comic books. But they are, in my opinion far more complex and artistic. They come in a novel size book usually only with black and white images. There are a lot of stylised elements in manga that make it unique and its history dates far back in Japanese history to the 12th and 13th centuries. It is a Japanese cultural phenomenon as people of all ages enjoy manga. I myself began reading manga as a teen and began with the infamous Astro Boy. Whilst to many Astro Boy represents a fairly modern concept, it’s creator – Osamu Tezuka – first created “Mighty Atom” in 1951. I also love all of the works by Shirow Masamune who created masterpieces such as Ghost In The Shell and Appleseed. Manga series can span dozens of books and be a running series for years.
Japanese design and culture are so tightly interwoven that they form such a strong impression of what makes Japan unique. Over the years I have collected books that range from Japanese architecture and gardening to Japanese art and geek culture. It is a very broad category indeed. One of my favourite books in this genre include the Hokusai Exhibition book from the National Gallery of Victoria. This was a truly incredible body of work that covered Hokusai’s long history as an artist. It was so good I went twice just to absorb all there was to see. The book gives me the opportunity to his works whenever I want. Another great book is the A Geek in Japan book. I picked up this book in Osaka a couple of years ago and fortunately it is all in English. I love this book as it talks all about geek culture, or ‘otaku’ and how such cultural changes manifested from traditional ideals and international inputs.
I wouldn’t have gotten very far in my travels of Japan if I had not consulted travel books to find out information about places and sites I wanted to see. I know that there is a wealth of information online and I did use those resources extensively when planing my trips to Japan. But ultimately I mapped out my journeys first with travel books and especially the Lovely Planet guides. I have one that covers all of Japan as well as specific guide just for Tokyo and Kyoto. These are very handy and relatively inexpensive guides for travellers and give a wealth of information. They cover everything from seasonal variation, places to eat, stay and play and everything in between. Super handy. I also picked up a more non-traditional travel book Tokyo Style Guide, written by Jane Lawson. This book is more focused on indulgences such as food, drink and shopping. Jane goes to great detail to describe small walking tours through various parts of Tokyo.
The last book I wanted to briefly talk about is the book Fukushima by Mark Willacy. Mark is one of Australia’s most well respected journalists. This book is a tough read as it goes into Mark’s first hand experience of the Tohoku Earthquake that struck off the Eastern coast of Japan on 11 March 2011. He takes the reader through the impacts of the earthquake – one of the biggest the world has ever experienced, the subsequent tsunami that wiped out whole villages both on the coast and inland and finally the nuclear meltdown that was triggered at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power station when crippled by the flood waters. I found it a really interesting read as it details a horrific scenario but shows the spirit of the Japanese people to weather disaster after disaster and still push forward.
I love having visual reminders of not only my journeys to Japan but also about the Japanese culture. Having such books on-hand means that I can grab one and read up on a certain part of the Japanese lifestyle that interests me. Or more obviously learn more about my next travel destination and begin to form some plans and ideas. Books are not for everyone and as I mentioned there is so much information on the internet. But I still enjoy picking up an actual book no matter what it is about as I am quite a book nerd. Thank you for indulging me in my passion. Read on.