Saturday, May 31, 2014

We Japanese book review

We Japanese: Being descriptions of many of the customs, manners, ceremonies, festivals, arts and crafts of the Japanese, besides numerous other subjects  is probably one of the best treasuries of old Japan out there and affordable as well. Prepared by the Fujiya hotel at Hakone it consists of a whole collection of one or two pages descriptions of customs, folk tales and more. These vignettes were originally prepared and printed on the menu cards by the hotel for the sake of both the local and foreign visitor. These became so popular that were gathered in three volumes.

By the looks of it, the flagship 1950 edition combines all three previous volumes. Most of the entries are illustrated with drawings, but some b&w photos are also included. The info is current to 1950, but some of it dates back to at least 1934 which makes the book a time capsule of sorts. As an object it is traditionally bound and enclosed in an unfolding case which shuts with a bone (faux?, real?) pin. There appear to be at least three different designs for the cover which is texturized. Each page is folded double.

The descriptions and stories are concise, insightful, frequently delighting. Since these only are a page or two, they allow reading at odd times. An index is included, but does not cover absolutely all, so some digging is still needed to find all there is to know about some particular topic.

We Japanese came on my radar it after reading Ryokan by Fahr Becker (also recommended) which borrows from it on a dozen or so occasions.

Despite its relative rarity, it surprises me how low it can be bought for. I got mine for around $20, but I've seen it as low as $12. I say one should grab a copy even if for a gift. This kind of value offers are not easy to come by.


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