Life Studies Blog (Old)

September 18, 2005

Donald Richie, Image Factory: Fads & Fashions in Japan (by M)

I read the book, Donald Richie, The Image Factory: Fads & Fashions in Japan. Reaktion Books (May 3, 2004), Photos by Roy Garner, in Japanese translation published last month. This is an interesting book not only for foreigners but Japanese readers who are interested in contemporary Japanese fads and fashions such as manga, pokemon, keitai, Hello Kitty, and others. I wrote a book review of this book for a certain newspaper, which will appear there in two or three weeks.

Of course this is a good book, but I was a little frustrated after reading it, because this book did not step outside the traditional paradigm of "Japanology," and was filled with cliches frequently found in the books on Japan that have been published to date.

For example, the author talks about "
pachinko" and concludes that a pachinko parlor is a shrine and it reminds us of Zen. One of the aims of Zen is to liberate one's self by annihilating it, and so is the same for pachinko. (See p.126, Japanese translation). This analysis is interesting. However, I detect a whiff of the desire of Japanologists to find "Zen" lurking behind things or phenomena unique to contemporary Japan. Many people have imagined that behind the mysterious Japanese culture lies the deep influence of "Zen." I don't know whether their hypotheses are true or not. Instead, what I strongly feel is their "desire" to re-discover "Zen" in every aspect of contemporary Japanese culture and society. Of course, Richie's analysis of pachinko might be a very sophisticated irony because he pointed out in the foreword of Japanese edition that this was a book of irony.

I was working for International Research Center for Japanese Studies for 8 years as a research associate. I heard a number of presentations on Japanese culture given by scholars visiting Japan. They were very interesting and stimulating, but at the same time, they seemed to share a similar perspective, and this perspective was also shared by Japanese scholars speializing Japanese culture. I don't know how I can say this, but anyway, I found the same one in Richie's book. I don't mean to offend Richie's work. This is the topic I have to tackle.

I would like to hear your comments on this topic.

Photo: Books in my office.

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  • This book is on my reading list, but I must admit that I am approaching it with prejudice. I fear he may be another pop culture writer trying to make money.

    Apparently, the sense of 'knowing' or showing some 'final' understanding of something (proof of a primal cause) is more important to some than the thing itself.

    We know that many cultural paradigms of Japan shaped Zen, rather than the other way around. I hope this is not an "ahh - quaint and simple people" book.

    To me this type of 'culture labeling' is rhetoric and sophistry - for example, the US government spends millions convincing people that human induced global warming does not exist. The scholarship and methods they use is designed to prove arguments, not to inform.

    But I have not read it yet, so I feel obligated to give him a fair chance. And I am interested in whether or not he explores the idea that this may, in fact, be a brain chemistry phenomenon, common to any humans that have enough peace-time to pursue these activities.

    By Blogger Roy, at 11:49 PM, September 18, 2005  

  • Thanks, Roy. Probably this book is very interesting to those who do not know about Japan, but those people who have lived here once or who have read other books on Japan must want to say something to the author. It is true that he knows VERY WELL about current fads and fashions in Japan, actually in Tokyo. Another thing I was frustrated with was that he did not seem to love manga and cosplay so much. Young guys around the world who love Japanese anime and manga will object to some of Richie's comments on manga and cosplay.

    By Blogger Masahiro_Morioka, at 4:16 AM, September 19, 2005  

  • I want to add one thing. Actually, I was reading Richie's essays on Japanese films in (probably) Japan Times 20 years ago. Those essays were very interesting and stimulating. This is one of the reasons I decided to write a book review of his new book when I was asked to from a newspaper.

    By Blogger Masahiro_Morioka, at 5:13 AM, September 19, 2005  

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