Writing about Japan that doesn't suck
November 25, 2017 7:20 PM   Subscribe

What is some great, nuanced, insightful English-language writing you've read about Japan, particularly about culture and day-to-day life? Writing specifically addressing women's issues and LGBT issues is a huge bonus.

I'm one of those white Americans who's really interested in Japan and Japanese culture. I was briefly an exchange student in Japan during high school, speak the language not remotely fluently but more than beginner-level, and have been back several times since. I want to learn more about Japanese culture and get help contextualizing my experiences, and I really REALLY don't want to be an asshole about it.

Other specific areas of interest: countercultural movements, the roots of etiquette, societal changes in the past few decades, any and all performing arts, really awesome expat writing. But I'll read whatever. Books, articles, blogs, literally anything. Thanks!
posted by fast ein Maedchen to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Evanescence and Form.
posted by smoke at 8:08 PM on November 25, 2017

Bad Girls of Japan -- a collection of essays, I especially recommend the one by Laura Miller on Bad Girls photo booth play (period right before phone selfies).
posted by velveeta underground at 8:14 PM on November 25, 2017

Circle K Cycles is a very odd book (and hard to describe), but really worth a read. It's mostly nonfiction with some short fiction woven in, on the topic of Brazilian migrant laborers of Japanese descent ("dekasegi") and their efforts to make a life in Japan. The author is Japanese American, lived in Japan, then in Brazil for ten years, and returned to Japan with her Brazilian family to research the book. I thought it was really insightful and well-written.
posted by sunset in snow country at 9:35 PM on November 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Tweets? Mulboyne has some good observations and digs up postwar historical gems from time to time. Lots of daily life without exaggeration.

Speed Tribes: Days and Nights with Japan's Next Generation (1995) Karl Taro Greenfeld always gets picked up in Japan threads around here if you haven't already read it.

Jeez, I'm woefully out of touch
posted by Gotanda at 9:35 PM on November 25, 2017

Check out Donald Richie. I've only read 3 of his books (Different People, The Inland Sea and The Japan Journals) but def would recommend. His writing covers most of your interests.
posted by mdrew at 9:47 PM on November 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Karen Nakamura has written about deaf culture in Japan.
Sabine Fruhstuck (there's an umlaut in there somewhere, sorry) has written a couple of books about sex and gender in modern Japan, partly involving the Self-Defense Force.
If you are interested in the Korean minority in Japan, check out Sonia Ryang and (I think) John Lie.
Jennifer Robertson has at least one book on the Takarazuka all-female musical theater.
(I don't know if you are interested in fiction, but if you can get hold of James Melville's mysteries secondhand, they offer a light-hearted and sometimes satirical, but also affectionate and very precisely observed, view of daily life in Japan in the 1970s and 1980s.)
I feel like there must be other things too, but that's most of what comes to mind for now. (I apologize for the no links; these should all be easily googlable...)
posted by huimangm at 10:03 PM on November 25, 2017

Also, nippon.com is not an especially forward-thinking or progressive voice on the issues you are interested in, but is worth a read sometimes for one version of the background on current events and concerns that people have. Most of the content on Japan is translated from establishment academics or conservative press outlets. The sole article that comes up under LGBT starts with a showbiz photo and then goes through some discussion that is off-putting, to say the least, but is a version of the state of affairs and gives some history too. But, the point is that it gives a representation of very mainstream, middle of the road opinion--kind of what you might get if you asked a middle-aged business executive about Japan. So, do not expect cutting edge progressive analysis--if anything it is reactionary at times--but it is one domestic view of Japan in English, not the OMG cool Japan, anime, maid cafe, weird Japan expat view that is so common. Just keep in mind where the view is coming from.
posted by Gotanda at 10:04 PM on November 25, 2017

Anime Feminist puts together weekly links posts (blog tag) that specifically focus on this! They write a lot about anime, but the "Beyond AniFem" section is all about women's issues & LGBTQ issues in Japanese culture and politics.
posted by fire, water, earth, air at 10:12 PM on November 25, 2017

Not writing, but endlessly fascinating, are the Begin Japanology video series (30 minute episodes), which we've been watching off of YouTube.
posted by heatherlogan at 6:10 AM on November 26, 2017

I enjoyed Speed Tribes: Days and Nights with Japan's Next Generation. Taking place in the 80's, its not exactly current, but if you want countercultural movements this is a book.
posted by rodlymight at 6:26 AM on November 26, 2017

Sea of Crisis, by the always excellent Brian Phillips.
posted by antares at 5:44 AM on November 27, 2017

They seem to be on hiatus, but NeoJaponisme is worth a dig through. They did in-depth series on aspects of popular culture.
posted by Gotanda at 6:02 PM on December 2, 2017

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