Japan for beginners
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I'm going to Japan next year! For a whole semester! As an, ulp, visiting scholar. My areas of study have been Indonesia and India, so while I've visited Japan twice and have longed to go back for a lengthier stay, this is all new. So much to learn! I am starting to create a reading list. Categories: practical matters (i.e. etiquette, travel guides); history (emphasis on social history, minorities, cultural practices); food/gastronomy/cuisine; and language (sociolinguistics, translation, Japanese as a second language) and of course, literature. Your suggestions?
For sociolinguistics, my "Orientalism and Occidentalism -- Is the Mistranslation of Culture Inevitable?"(the actual title has an ampersand, but Touchstones would not load it), should do well; it also gets into translation, which I checked it for 20 yrs in Japan (my book called Goyaku-tengoku (= mistranslation paradise), published by Hakusuisha, argues that not only are English and Japanese too difficult (relative to each other) for most translators to go it alone, but there is systematic mistranslation: subtle, grey English is turned into mechanical black and white Japanese to match the stereotype of the Occident). The book has many leads for you to find other books if you wish for more. It has some nice blurbs but no reviews so maybe Amazon or someone would give you a reward for a short review, too!
For food, I can't help mentioning another of mine: Rise, Ye Sea Slugs! with 900+ translated haiku re namako, gamat in indonesian? You may dive into separate chapters on slimy food that flees the chopstick and chewy food which takes people back to the stone-age and the relationship between it and drinking. From mouthfeel to mole exorcism by seaslug dragging, it is all there for you. (check out the reviews). And, if the fermented sea cucumber guts are still on sale when you arrive -- it is a late winter-early spring thing -- i would be grateful if you could find a wine-taster to explain the taste better than it is explained in the book. It can be added as a gloss to the next edition.
For history/cultural practices, Topsy-turvy 1585 might interest you. It has a long and strongly opinionated bibliography. For practical matters, i am not your man!
What do you have so far Nycticebus? If you want to learn the language I'd go with Minna no Nihongo. It's clear, reasonably good for self-study and pretty likely to be used in any classes you might attend. The other popular series, Japanese for Busy People, is not so good mainly because it's in romaji and you'll want to start on hiragana as soon as possible.
Actually, re-reading your post I'm not sure that's what you're looking for...
In terms of history I enjoyed The Making of Modern Japan, a history of the last 400 years. Unfortunately I don't have it with me right now but as far as I remember it had some social history. No reviews on Librarything but good reviews on Amazon.
For literature look at the literature thread here. What have you read so far and what did you think? It's difficult to suggest anything without knowing where you're coming from.
Thanks rm - I see your difficulty. If you've glanced at my catalog, you'll see I'm woefully weak in anything Japanese! I'll take you up on your recommendation of Marius Jansen - that's just the sort of history I had in mind. If you have any other suggestions along those lines, particularly something that touches on minorities, I'd be grateful.
I'm also making up a list of works on Chadau, based on suggestions in that thread.
As for language, I was hoping there might be something similar to what David Crystal has done for English - a kind of layman's introduction to the history and usage of Japanese (but in this case, written in or translated into English). I will also soon be starting study of beginning Japanese, but I'm interested in language practices generally, including such topics as gender differences, routine and ritual speech, use of slang, etc.
In the realm of literature, I'm open! Reading through the threads, I think I'll start with a work by Kenzaburo Oe (I've read some Yasunari Kawabata, and Yukio Mishima and am not too enthusiastic about banana Yoshimoto).
I hope that helps you see where I am, and inspires some suggestons.
That kind of book about the Japanese language sounds interesting - unfortunately I've never seen anything like it. Also, as I'm no longer living in Japan I can't pop into Maruzen and have a browse. A quick browse on Amazon gives only a few academic Japanese linguistics books.
I can't help mentioning Haruki Murakami for literature. Some people look down on him as a bit middlebrow but when he's on form I think he's genuinely good. Norwegian Wood turned him into a bestseller while The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is probably his best regarded critically. You might also be interested in Underground, which I mentioned on one of the other threads here. It's a series of interviews with people involved in the subway gas attacks in 1995, mainly victims of the attacks. It gives an insight into the lives of ordinary Japanese people that frankly wouldn't have made it into English translation if it didn't have the Murakami name attached to it.
However, I can see you're interested in the literary heavyweights. I found The Tale of Genji quite heavy going but The Narrow Road to Oku is enjoyable. In the modern era Natsume Soseki is essential reading and central in Japanese literature - the man used to be on the 1000 yen note. Other than that (and Oe, Kawabata and Mishima) the big names include Junichiro Tanizaki, Dazai Osamu, Shusaku Endo and Kobo Abe.
Oh and regarding travel guides, the Rough Guide, Lonely Planet and so on are much of a muchness but should have all the practical information you need, as well as brief introductions to several Japan-related topics. On the other hand Wikipedia provides a lot more information introducing Japan, not necessarily any less accurate. For instance the article on Japanese etiquette is quite interesting. If you're only interested in practical etiquette (foreigner-Japanese etiquette) this is probably enough as, in my experience, Japanese people tend to be quite forgiving of newbie ignorance.
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Choosing a language learning text tends to depend on your goal in learning, and your preferred style. I quite liked "Basic Functional Japanese" published by the Japan Times, although I'm not sure it's still in print. "Japanese for Busy People" is good, but be sure to get the kana version of the book if you're hoping to do more than learn a few phrases . If you're really interested in learning Japanese, don't hang around with other foreigners.
Check out the Japan Forum -- a good source of information on a wide variety of topics about Japan. Also a good place to ask questions. http://www.jref.com/forum/
There is a good book called Japanese Etiquette that I really like. don't know if it's still in print. I don't think any fictional works would be directly helpful.
Been a long time since the demise of the topic, but since I don't technically know when "next year" is for visiting scholars I thought I would make a few suggestions.
For food, if you're generally unfamiliar with anything but sushi and tempura the What's What in Japanese Restaurants is a great intro and more, to the details of their myriad approaches.
There's also a Lonely Planet World Food: Japan which is pretty good, pretty but not quite as helpful as the What's What book.
For depth and reference I find A Dictionary of Japanese Food indispensable.
There are many good books on the Japanese language now, and 20 new editions each day it seems. Some that have been helpful for me are Japanese Grammar (Barron's Grammar Series). It's small and easy to drop in a jacket pocket along with a micro-dictionary and phrase book. For something larger, there's many courses such as Japanese for Busy People in a few volumes with tapes/cd's. Easy Japanese by Jack Steward is very good, though one really needs to get their basics elsewhere.
For the cultural stuff I've found most that I've encountered in books on language. So Dictionary of Japan's Cultural Code Words ostensibly a dictionary and/or a book on language, really provides much interesting cultural concepts. Also true of Japanese in Action: An Unorthodox Approach to the Spoken Language and the People Who Speak It.
There are many other books that teach us interesting things about the Japanese and how they navigate their world and relationships. Mostly I get them one item at a time in myriad sources rather than in one big bad "ain't this different?" book. The two wonderful books by Alan Booth come to mind.
I remember a great book called Learning to Bow about an American (I believe) student adapting to the experience of living in Japan. You might want to check that out.
I have that book stashed in my garage, and encountered it just the other day. Anything to say about it? Good/bad, funny/frightening?
This is a bit of self-promotion, but I went to Japan as an exchange student having no background on the country when I was sixteen years old. I wrote a book about what my life in a Japanese family was like called 'Eating Soup with Chopsticks: Sweet Sixteen in Japan'. I just joined Library Thing, but I've tagged the book study abroad, travel, Japan, and teen romance.
Have a great time in Japan! I'd be happy to answer any questions.
"Ruth Pennington Paget"
#12 gscottmoore - Yikes, just saw this, what a late reply. I thought it was definitely worth reading/entertaining. It talks mainly about the culture shock: the surprises, the nuances, getting adjusted. But then, for some of us, that's the fun of travel/living abroad- experiencing the differences, so it would be a good primer but might also take away some of the discovery. :)
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