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Donald Richie, Image Factory

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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.

 -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

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